Ali Bonar on Unstoppable with Kara GoldinAli Bonar, CEO and co-founder of Kween Granola Butter, joins me on today’s episode of Unstoppable.

As the co-founder of the first-ever spreadable granola, Ali came across this marvelous idea when nut-butters were difficult for her to digest. With her Nutrition degree from UC Berkeley, she was determined to make a hardy “butter” that was more nutritious than cookie butter.

Ali joined forces with her boyfriend to start Kween. The entrepreneurial duo’s “Granola Butter” has now been featured in publications like Business Insider, Rachel Ray Every Day, and Bon Appetit.

On today’s show, Ali and I talk about how she decided to invent Granola Butter, what it is like working with her boyfriend, the lessons she’s learned so far as an entrepreneur, and much more.

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

Unstoppable with Kara Goldin on Apple Podcasts

“I never thought that I would start my own food company, but it has been so fun and so rewarding.” – Ali Bonar

Show Notes:

  • What is granola butter
  • How to brand your company
  • Why authenticity is important
  • How to create new content
  • How to become an entrepreneur
  • The importance of diversification
  • What should be strategic goals
  • How to work with your significant other

“Have a back-up plan for your back-up plan for your back-up plan and always expect something to go wrong.” – Ali Bonar

Links Mentioned:

  • Connect with Ali Bonar:

Ali’s Instagram | Kween’s Instagram | Twitter | Kween Granola Butter

“When you’re reaching out and trying so hard, sometimes other things just seem to fall in your lap.” – Ali Bonar

Transcript:

Kara Goldin: Hi everybody, it’s Kara at Unstoppable and we’re so excited this morning to have Ali Bonar here from Kween & Co. Granola Bar. Thanks for coming over.

Ali Bonar: Thanks so much.

Kara Goldin: Ali just had her first show at the Fancy Food Show here in San Francisco, and we’re really excited to hear what she thought about that, but first I want to just get some background on Ali as an entrepreneur. So, where did you grow up? … Welcome, first of all, but I want to get some background on you. Where’d you grow up first of all?

Ali Bonar: Totally, yeah. I grew up in San Diego. I was actually born in Japan.

Kara Goldin: Oh wow.

Ali Bonar: Randomly. My mom [inaudible 00:00:42] but then we moved to San Diego shortly after that. And then I came up to the Bay for school and studied nutrition at UC Berkeley and kind of stuck around San Francisco for a couple years after that and now I’m back down in San Diego where I’m working on Granola Butter full time.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So Solana Beach. And how is, that like in building a company down there?

Ali Bonar: Yeah, it’s been fun. It’s definitely a lot slower pace than San Francisco. People are kind of … It’s more work-life balance I would say, and I really miss … the buzz of San Francisco. Just … people are up to bigger things up here … starting their own companies and stuff, but it has some really awesome just to have that kind of relaxation side of things when the rest of my life is in shambles.

Kara Goldin:  And the beach that you can actually go to and lay out.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And sun on a gloomy San Francisco day that we’re experiencing. Absolutely. … and so what gave you the idea to actually start this granola butter company.

Ali Bonar: It’s okay [inaudible 00:01:50].

Kara Goldin: Yeah, bar and butter. It’s a little early this morning.

Ali Bonar: When I was studying nutrition at Cal … I’ve always loved food and even in third grade, my mom said I would get up before everyone else and make sandwiches for everyone. I just love playing with food, making food. And so it was … a natural progression for me to just study nutrition and unfortunately, kind of developed an eating disorder in college while just learning all this nutrition information and it was kind of just information overload. I knew too much about nutrition.

Ali Bonar: So coming all through my college experience … every time I would take a bite of something I knew all the nutrition about it and it just became really stressful for me and … lost along the way the pleasure and joy of eating. And so a few years out of college I’m kind of still struggling with this … In my recovery I started to incorporate a lot more nuts and nut butters into my diet, which was something I had restricted for a long time. And delicious as they are, it was kind of digestively a lot to handle, especially I was working out a lot and just kind of sat really heavy in my stomach.

Ali Bonar: And so I was looking for like a nut-free spread that tasted really good and left me feeling really good. And the only thing that I could find was like that Trader Joe’s cookie butter, which is obviously a nutritionally not best.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, tons of sugar and … yeah.

Ali Bonar: But I mean it tastes amazing and so I was like, I kind of wanna make something that’s similar taste-wise, but has a better nutritional profile. And then it just dawned on me granola butter. Why has no one ever done that before? I Googled it on my phone and nothing really came up. I sat on the idea for a while and my boyfriend of five years, he’s holding a tech consulting business and we kind of realize that both of us would be great business partners, so we decided to go in together.

Ali Bonar: And so granola butter was born. … To tell you a little bit about it, it’s the first-ever spreadable granola. So it’s actually nut-free. It has the texture of an almond butter, use it the same way, drip it on smoothies, spread it on toast. Tastes kind of like cinnamon Teddy Grahams if you remember those.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Well, it has maple right?

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And a little bit of maple syrup in it, and that’s great. So I’m reading the, with my glasses on right now. So gluten-free oats, flax, olive oil, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt and spices. So a little bit … Is their cinnamon in here too or no?

Ali Bonar: Yeah. So we do like a pretty warming spice blend. So yeah, cinnamon and we keep the sugar low. It’s only three grams.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. It’s like that’s great. That’s amazing.

Ali Bonar: Yeah. It’s been super exciting. So we initially launched [inaudible 00:04:43] more like the millennial market, just people wanting to find new spread, but I realized all the schools now are nut-free and I don’t have kids so I didn’t really know that before, but all these moms were coming to us and they’re like, “Oh my gosh this is amazing because I couldn’t send my kids to school with a PB&J.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And sunflower seed butter, I like it but I think for a lot of kids it could be a little bit bitter, SunButter, and so all these moms are obsessed with Granola Butter. So now we’re top eight-free and nut-free.

Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. So … Did you always know when you were at Berkeley? Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur and go start a company? Or what were you … I speak a lot on college campuses and I’m always talking to students about … THey’re like, “Should I know now that I’m .. that if I want to go be an entrepreneur is there something wrong with me if I don’t know now?” How were you feeling back then when you were …

Ali Bonar: Totally. So I … Yeah I always was very head-down in premed, and I think, to be a doctor, and I thin it was really just due to the underlying fear of not really knowing what I wanted to do. It was … this set-out plan … okay, perfect. My senior I’ll have a next step and then I’ll have a next step, and it was just this trajectory that was already laid out for me and … then I had this kind of quarter-life crisis.

Ali Bonar: I remember I was doing some volunteer work in the hospital and it just hit me. I hate blood. I hate sick people. Why am I?

Kara Goldin: Why are you doing that? Why are you focused on that as a life decision?

Ali Bonar: Totally.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: I was like I had eight years of schooling ahead of me if I were to choose that path, so luckily I didn’t pursue that. Tons of respect for anyone who decides to be a doctor, it’s very important, but it was not for me. So I did the cliché SF tech thing, and so I went in and worked for a health tech company which was still kind of in my wheelhouse because I wanted to make a difference in some way at the end of the day.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: So I was with this awesome health tech company, and was there about three years, and really started to just miss nutrition again and miss working with food, and at that point my relationship with food had really healed and it just felt more stable, and was able to really surround myself with it again, and so that’s when I launched AvoKween, which is my personal-brand, if you will, Instagram account, chronicling self-love and body image and all the everyday things. … I never thought I would start my own food company, that’s crazy, but it has been so fun and so rewarding and you understand.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And how much do you think … Do people … Are they just finding you on Instagram? Do you feel like there’s a connection between the fact those people who are finding you first on Instagram and liking you and knowing you’re story and then they’re going and looking for your product?

Ali Bonar: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s been interesting because I, and I would love to hear your take too-

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: … in terms of separating a personal brand and your baby, and so obviously I started with AvoKween, but then I wanted to launch Kween & Co., which is just our brand Instagram, on the side because I wanted to separate them and I didn’t want my followers who had followed my personal journey from the start to be bombarded with product information all the time.

Kara Goldin: Yup.

Ali Bonar: ‘Cause that’s not really why they came, they were more there for the self-love aspect and I wanted to respect that, but it has been hard now that my life is Kween & Co., and that is what I do all day, so trying to differentiate. How do you, I don’t know …

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: … appreciate that.

Kara Goldin: So 14 years ago when we were starting Hint, frankly … Social was not there. It was … starting to become … I don’t know. I used to work for AOL. I would say AOL chat rooms were probably the closest thing, right? … I mean this was pre-Facebook and so there wasn’t even that … I felt like over time having come from a tech background I was always super interested in … new ways of communicating with people and the customers. I mean it sorta goes back to … I always laugh ’cause when I’m out speaking about building this brand, my husband’s our chief operating officer and people are always … I mean every time I’m out, “What’s it like working with your husband?” And I’m, “Listen, it’s actually easier. I have four kids.”

Kara Goldin: Building a brand and … My priorities are … and as your life gets bigger and more complicated it’s … I always say this, you have to put stakes in the ground around what’s important and you have to learn to say no, and I’ve never been really good at saying no and so I figured out my family is really important to me, and building Hint is really important to me. So I don’t have very many friends anymore … and I feel like for me social media is how I keep up with people, and then I’ll float in and see them once a year or whatever, and then we pick up exactly where we were … So I really see the good side of social media versus how people talk about “Oh I’m off social media for months and months.” And I’m like, “Oh hope you come back soon, ’cause I’d really like to see what you’re doing, and I miss you.” You know on sort of a weird level.

Kara Goldin: But because I was … really using it in that way trying to communicate, people were always, “Oh gosh I just saw you.” They knew I was starting Hint, but they were like, “Oh gosh I just saw you in Fresh Market in the South. That’s really cool. We know you live in San Francisco.” And so I decided to kind of integrate what I was doing from a business standpoint into my personal life and really start to talk about, “I’m on the plane now going to Alabama. Wish me luck … We’re talking to … Auburn University about getting our product into their campus.” And people were like, “Oh what happened?”

Kara Goldin: Then I started to really naturally, really organically have this dialogue with what was going on … And then I thought well there’s a lot more to that conversation that probably wouldn’t be appropriate on Facebook, and then I just decided that … I was already on LinkedIn and I thought, well maybe I should really start writing about the challenges of launching a brand in college campuses, that for our category Coke and Pepsi own all the rights, and I had no idea.

Kara Goldin: And people really started reacting, “Gosh I had no idea too.” And what was fascinating to me is a lot of the people that did react were potential consumers, they weren’t necessarily people in the food and beverage industry, and so I really started to build this audience of people saying, “Gosh you’re really teaching me something,” … they didn’t necessarily invest in my product other than the fact that they would potentially buy and they were doing totally different things outside, but they thought it was … They wanted to learn, right? And so, then I just thought if I can actually really start to write and build on things that I’m seeing then that’s how I’m gonna build my social media brand.

Kara Goldin: But then there came a point where I felt like there’s some stuff I want to talk about that is kind of heavy, that could be lobbying and policy stuff, for example, that really doesn’t have a place in the Hint marketing messaging in Halo. And so then I just decided well, what if i just say it’s from me? It’s stuff that I’m seeing out there that I find is really challenging. Or I can talk about … in my day-to-day life, too, while I’m trying to run a company how … I had these young babies and how people were talking about lean in and balance and everything, and I’m “Screw that. My baby has croup and kept me up all night and I don’t have any childcare, and it’s really hard.”

Kara Goldin: Right? And so, again, I think if you can actually really be your authentic self and generally be positive, but every once in a while show that … Life doesn’t always … it’s not perfect, and so I’ve always been one to sort of pick up on things … Like the lean-in thing … Well I read the book and maybe went to one luncheon that was around there. I always said that’s not really my life … I try to jump in but for me it depends on the day. I’ve got a family and I’ve got a commitment to them to be their mother and grow up and at the end of the day when they’re sick it rocks my world, right? And now it gets easier, now that they’re teenagers they actually don’t need, well they need me in different ways, right, than they needed me there.

Kara Goldin: I think that it really was organic. I didn’t sit there and say from a strategy standpoint, “Okay, let’s build the Hint brand and let’s build the Kara brand, but then I also started to see that I became … I would talk about these real-life things and then people as I was out speaking at college-universities, people would be, “Oh I read what you said on LinkedIn about this. And what do you think about this?” And I realized that in people’s minds they are tied. I’m still the founder and the CEO and I also run this company and also have this family.

Kara Goldin: I thought from an SEO standpoint, too, that we have to be able to tie those things together because sometimes people will remember … “Oh there’s that Hint product and there’s a woman that runs that company and she writes a lot on LinkedIn but I can’t remember her name.” That’s the way I live. Or, “She’s wrote about this thing and I think she’s a founder of a company in San Francisco, but I don’t really remember what the name of the company is …” So you have to be able to … I think it works best if you can tie all of those elements together that people will ultimately remember about you.

Kara Goldin: I think it’s like … When I hear private equity firms talk about that brands and … that shouldn’t have a story. Like they fear founder stories. I mean this, and I’ve heard this from lots of entrepreneurs that they’re, “Oh my investors don’t really want me to talk.” You’re pre-investor, right? You don’t have these people, but that’s sort of … one guy’s opinion that you shouldn’t be able to be talking about what your … How you built the story. I really, really believe that people buy brands today from individuals that they like, right? And when you don’t have brand stories then … you can definitely get an audience and get sales, but you have to buy a lot of billboards and have really great advertising that’s punchy in order to do it.

Kara Goldin: So I think it’s … people wanna write, the publications, people wanna write about founders’ stories, too, and they want … So I think you can get more bang for your buck, especially early on, but I think that that’s really important.

Kara Goldin: But anyway, so going back to you on the Granola Butter, I mean it’s such a great idea. It’s awesome. And you were telling me earlier that you just got into Pressed Juicery as well, and you can put it on a bunch of … Pressed Juicery if you guys aren’t familiar with them they have a yogurt, not in all of them, but they have a frozen yogurt and you can actually put the Granola Butter on there too, so that’s a great partnership.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, so that was really exciting. I mean that’s been … That was our first real big account and it’s interesting ’cause coming from the tech side of things, not knowing how slow food moves through your learning.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: So it was awesome to really finally see it come to fruition, ’cause it was about like nine months in the making of when we started talking to them to when it was on shelves, or in stores.

Kara Goldin: Did they just reach out to you? Or did you actually?

Ali Bonar: Well so it’s interesting, I actually had sent them samples, right when we launched in March for their editorial side, ‘Chalkboard Magazine.’

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And I guess, I think the founder [Hayden 00:18:16] had walked by and seen it on someone’s desk or something and tried it and was like, “We need this on our [inaudible 00:18:23].

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Ali Bonar: So I … have been reached out to by them, but … Yeah, I feel like stuff like that happens all the time where it’s like you’re trying to … when you’re reaching out and trying so hard, sometimes other things just seem to fall in your lap, seemingly I mean … we’re definitely grinding really hard.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And that’s actually something that … it reminded me is like, in speaking about social media and showing both sides of things, I think you do a really great job of showing the good and the bad and that’s something in 2019 I really want to do from a business side, because I think being an entrepreneur, especially in natural food and everything’s so glamorized on social media … It’s really easy to just show your wins, right? So posting, “Oh we’re a new topping at Press”-

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Ali Bonar: … and not showing the nine months it took to get there, and a machine that was supposed to help-

Kara Goldin: Broke or … yeah, yeah.

Ali Bonar: … broke, yes, exactly. So I’m really trying in the next year to kinda show the downfalls as well and just those moments of hardship where it’s … this is really tough and self-doubt and all that, but to that point it’s also a sort of [inaudible 00:19:30]-

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: Showing both yeah.

Kara Goldin: And it’s important. I have some … I would say, the one that I’m definitely doing Instagram and Facebook and some of the others, but about a year ago I got really into Twitter. I used to be that CEO who’d say, “I don’t understand Twitter,” and then I was … I’m always this person. If I actually articulate that I don’t understand something … my entire life, whether it was in athletics or in academics or whatever, I’ve always said that’s not okay. For me to say I don’t understand something, so I really need to dive in and understand it. So for me Twitter was that, and I wanted to come up with a conclusion that I either liked it or I didn’t like it, and I love it, and on a lot of levels.

Kara Goldin: Really that is the place where I find, “I missed my flight.” And, “Who else has done this?” And people are like, “Oh god, I’ve totally done that before.” And things that I say to myself, I mean I was literally on Friday night at Newark Airport sitting at a gate across from the other gate and I just … I was so tired. I was just staring and I must … I looked at the screen that said Seattle but I was in my mind it was San Francisco, it was the exact same flight times, and I just totally missed it, and then suddenly I hear all these people around me talking about Seattle and I was, “Oh, that’s kind of weird. Everyone’s talking about Seattle at the San Francisco gate. I wonder what’s going on.” And then all of a sudden I look up at the sign and I missed it by … it was the last flight of the day and I missed.

Kara Goldin: Then I talk on Twitter and I’m like, “I am a such a dumb ass, and the flight is gone. The United people were just laughing at me and it really wasn’t funny at all.” But I’m like, what do you do? You just have to … I went back to the city and went back to my place, and I just went to bed and got up early the next morning. I’m like, it’s life, you know. You can get upset or you can just say, “That will never happen to me again ’cause that was so pathetic.”

Ali Bonar: To make you feel better, that exact thing just happened to my mom and I. She was supposed to me at my college and we were at the airport, we were actually in Oakland, and we were at, I think it was, Pyramid Brewery, and we were having beers together, and that’s why missed it, which is even worse, ’cause we’re like, we’re so irresponsible.

Kara Goldin: I know. So I probably did it in college but I haven’t … I fly a lot.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And I was just … but I really chocked it up to … it was crazy. And then other things, like I’d had oral surgery last week, at the last minute. I cracked a tooth over New Year’s, and anyway, I ended up being in New York and having oral surgery, and I was joking with my cousin who’s a dentist and I was like, “I’m gonna film you,” because I didn’t really think it was that bad and then all of a sudden as I’m filming he was like, “Oh no, you need a root canal. You need all this.” And I’m, “Swilly, no I don’t. I don’t really need it.” And so, but it … in a strange way, again it’s like, “Okay I gotta run out of here right now to go to a meeting with somebody about Hint right now,” ’cause I didn’t want to miss that meeting.

Kara Goldin: I only had a few days in New York and my time there is very, very scheduled, and so again, like showing people that you get back up. You’re tired. You just keep going and then sometimes I’m like, “Okay, I’m really tired. I’m out for 48 hours. Adios.” And people like that kind of communication. They feel like they’re following me and then I’ll … I ran into somebody in the Belize Airport where I was over the holidays, and I don’t even know Kimmi if I told you this whole thing. Kimmi is from our team. She’s in the room, too.

Kara Goldin: Anyway they were, “Oh my god, do you work for Hint?” And I was laughing, because I was, “Oh can you tell?” My suitcase says Hint on it. All my kids have Hint swag on and they start laughing, and they’re like, “Oh I totally follow you on social media and I drink Hint all the time, and now you’re in Belize City and you’re …” And I said, “With no makeup on and my hair on top of my head.” And they were, “No but you …” I said, “What do you like about I talk about?” And they said, “Because you’re really real. You talk about how hard it is to start companies.” And I was like, “Are you an entrepreneur,” and they’re< “No but I thought about being an entrepreneur and I think there’s so many people that glamorize it and you’re just, I love what I do every single day, but it’s fricking hard. And you have the rest of your life that you’re dealing with.”

Kara Goldin: And so, anyway, I think that’s a big aspect. The more people can … and it sounds like you’ve done a lot of that already. I mean, I’ve seen some of what you’ve done, but I mean over the years … I think it’s also never be afraid. You don’t know when people enter the room, too, so never be afraid to backtrack a tiny bit and recap, right? Because I think that’s another issue where it’s … I’m sort of like assuming every day that people sort of understand where we are from a policy standpoint or … Like we don’t produce our product in cans because it has BPA, and there’s so many people, depending on where they entered the room, right, that they just don’t know what our opinion is on it. Don’t be afraid to go back.

Ali Bonar: That’s something that I need to always remind myself, because you always are in this mindset of, “I need to produce fresh content, fresh content,” right? I think now, especially going into the next year, I have less time to be creating content.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And more, not recycling it, but repackaging it.

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Ali Bonar: And especially with blog posts, those take so long, and so pushing out older blog posts or old recipes-

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Ali Bonar: That’s such a good point, because I was in my mind, “Oh, these are-

Kara Goldin: I’ve already done that. Yeah.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, but also even the people that have followed you, maybe they didn’t see it that day, you know? So you never know.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, totally. Yeah, no, it’s just … it’s funny. And it’s funny too when I’m out speaking, I get reminded about things that people thin are really interesting, like our first co-packer. People would ask, I was speaking at Harvard Business School last week in New York and people were asking me, how I figured out how to do a product that was shelf-stable without preservatives, and my feelings about the food and beverage industry early on when I was first starting out, I was … knocking on everybody’s doors. I wasn’t afraid to talk to people. I felt like in tech that that’s kind of accepted. They don’t necessarily give you the rule book, but they’ll point you in the direction to go talk to that person, and in food and beverage I just couldn’t find those people and basically just decided …

Kara Goldin: I tried really hard and it was really upsetting to me because I just thought … just because I hadn’t worked for Coke or Kraft, everybody was discounting the fact that I could actually go do this, and I’m like, “I built a billion dollar brand for a major internet company, I can actually go do this.” But it really, when you’re surrounded by people who give you so much self-doubt, that are doubting you too, and literally at the Fancy Food Show, I’ll never forget, a beverage company that was … they were probably a $50 million beverage company but they weren’t a billion dollar beverage company. I remember saying, “Oh god I so admire what you guys have done.” And they were like, “Can you move away from the booth because we really reserve our booth for buyers.”

Kara Goldin: And I remember being, “How rude.” Here I’ve shown authentic compliments of the brand and sort of how they built it, and basically they’re, “Get lost.” And this was just not a person running the booth. This was a major executive of that company that I was just, “Whoa.” That was so crazy, and I had never really heard that in tech. So I ended up going down one of the aisles at Whole Foods and seeing … not even searching for this, but one day saw a bunch of apple juice that was the pressed apple juice on the shelf, and I just happened to pick up the apple juice, and I thought, “Well this stays on the shelf more than a few weeks, and how do they actually … Do they use preservatives?”

Kara Goldin: This company was based in Watsonville, and I thought, “Oh, Watsonville, California. I kind of heard of it, maybe I passed it,” and then I looked it up and it was right by Santa Cruz, and then I thought, “Well maybe I can just call this guy. I mean what do I have to use?” I’ve just been told by the guy at the booth at Fancy Food Show to get lost, right? And so I called him up on the phone, and really nice, salt of the earth guy, and he was an apple farmer and I just said, “Listen, I’m just curious. Is your product shelf-stable? And you don’t use preservatives.”

Kara Goldin: He’s, “No.” And I’m, “How do you do it.” And he’s, “We heat the product. So it’s a pseudo-pasteurization process” And I’m, “Great I live in San Francisco, can I come down?” And he’s, “Sure, I’ll see you at … the only time I have available is at 2:00 a.m.” And I’m, “2:00 a.m.? What do you mean?” He’s like, “2:00 a.m.” And so I was, “Okay. I guess I’ll come down.” And he had all these reasons, like he goes out and picks the apples in the morning and he had all this … the lions were running. I was, “okay.”

Kara Goldin: So I looked at my husband and he was … thought this was a crazy idea and then I was, this is gonna be even crazier that we’re going down to these fields at 2:00 a.m. and, again, I had run a pretty significant business and it was not going to places at 2:00 a.m., but I was somebody will actually talk to me and have a conversation with me to help me figure out this puzzle that I’m trying to solve. So my husband went with me. We literally put our camping cots in the car, because we were, “What if we’re …”

Kara Goldin: We felt like these other co-packers that we had talked to oftentimes you’re sitting around and waiting, and I’m, “Maybe I’ll just kill … I don’t know. I don’t wanna sit in a chair and fall asleep, but maybe I’ll just sit there and wait for him.” So when we got there, it was so interesting because he was … We were asking him all these questions and he was, “Have you worked at Coke or Kraft or whatever?” And I’m, “No. I’m a tech executive, but I’m trying to figure all this stuff out.” And he’s, “I really admire that.”

Kara Goldin: If people … what I figured out is there’s not a lot of those people, but there’s some people out there and when you find ’em, you show them that you’ve got grit and that you’re curious and that you’re willing to work hard. So anyway, I think that story I haven’t told in a few years, and I told it at HBS, and these people were all, “Whoa.” You could just see the room be, “Oh my god.” And I’m, “Sorry HBS, but nobody teaches you that.” In undergrad school and business school you have to be humble and you have to … You don’t show up to an apple co-packer in your suit, right? You have to be able to sit there and be on his time and his schedule ’cause he’s doing you a favor.

Kara Goldin: Ultimately, 14 years later he’s still somebody that when we’re trying to figure out hard problems, we call him, and we’re, “Hey what do you think about this?” If we wanna do small-batch runs of our product, we’ll take it down to him and he understands that we need higher speeds for our product, so we can’t really run on his plant because it’s a lot slower, but he taught us so much and I think when you find, again, that sort of stuff along the way, I think it’s really important to entrepreneurs to be able to … There’s no rule book where you’re gonna find the answers to this stuff. You have to just keep digging and … anyway.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, I love that. My mom’s very similar, “Like that’s [inaudible 00:32:23]?

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And I remember growing up, she always would ask insane questions and I was so in my teenage angsty phase and I was so embarrassed, and I remember one day we were at a Rolling Stones concert in Chicago and we had flown out there as a girls’ trip.

Kara Goldin: Fun.

Ali Bonar: And she loves the Stones, and we had, I thought we had awesome seats, but she’s, “I’m gonna get down to the pit.” And she’s a dentist in San Diego and so she starts talking to the guy who works the lights, and she’s like, “Is there any way? I can trade you dental work in San Diego, for pit wristbands.” And these are like $2000 wristbands.

Kara Goldin: Oh my god that’s hilarious.

Ali Bonar: And in my mind I’m, “Mom, are you kidding me now?”

Kara Goldin: Why?

Ali Bonar: Of course he goes, “Oh my god. I live near San Diego. I need a dentist. He’s like, let me see what I can do.” He comes back with two pit wristbands.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: We were like 10 feet away from Mick Jagger the whole night.

Kara Goldin: Oh my god.

Ali Bonar: Something clicked in my mind that night.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: I’m a 15-year-old angsty teen and I was okay, you should ask.

Kara Goldin: Yeah and throw it out there.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: I think that’s so right, and you’ll get a lot of nos and if you’re trying to be an entrepreneur and you can’t really handle no, then being an entrepreneur probably isn’t for you, ’cause you will. But if you’re really, really focused on making it happen and solving a problem, then you’re just gonna figure it out in any way. Entrepreneurs ask me all the time, “Is there a book written about this stuff? Is there a certain consultant I should hire in order to go and figure out how to develop the product?” I don’t think there’s any right way.

Kara Goldin: I don’t think there’s any perfect consultant that’s gonna go solve the problem, and I always tell people … the interesting thing is, first of all even if you have all the money in the world to go and help you do that, yes it might help you get there faster, but you should really understand how to do things, because that’s when you really run into problems. When you’re a founder or CEO that just doesn’t really understand how you actually create these things, that’s when you really run into trouble, especially if you have challenges with your ingredients or whatever, or … there’s god forbid a recall or whatever. You have to be able to really understand the processes.

Kara Goldin: I think you never can … rest and say, “Oh that’s someone else’s job” in your company, even when you get to be 140 people like us … like I think you have to just always sort of touch on things as you start to scale the company.

Kara Goldin: So how did you develop this product? Did you … Everybody’s always asking, “How do you actually get it to product?” How long did it take you guys to do it?

Ali Bonar: Yeah. It took … So the first iterations were obviously just in my kitchen with a VitaMix blender, and they were terrible probably, and then we brought on Ari, who is our third co-founder. We met him … My boyfriend Eric, who’s also my co-founder, went to Jewish summer camp with him growing up, so they were like-

Kara Goldin: Awesome.

Ali Bonar: … these strong relationships are made, and so he was actually … He worked at Nomad in New York and some Michelin Star restaurants and so it was kind of-

Kara Goldin: So he had the culinary kind of …

Ali Bonar: He had the culinary, yeah.

Kara Goldin: … urge, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Ali Bonar: So he was in a fine dining space and new nothing about wellness, so it’s actually really fascinating to kind of hear his take on wellness. He’s [inaudible 00:35:38] those are scraps, like the bones you can throw in a pot.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: They’re charging how much for that?

Kara Goldin: Yeah, it’s crazy. I agree with him.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, and kimchi … yeah. So we brought him on and he just really refined the process and gave us kind of that culinary know how and added the depth of knowledge with spice blend and everything, it just took it to the next level. Right now we’re working out of a commercial kitchen down in San Diego and we still produce everything ourselves. So obviously we’re starting to look at scaling and co-packers and whatnot, but at the moment it’s been really awesome to self-produce and be able to iterate really quickly and do new flavors, and we’re launching a chocolate flavor next month.

Kara Goldin: Super fun.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, super fun, just … we can easily tweak, a little need more cacao, a little more this … Yeah, so that’s where we are right now.

Kara Goldin: And what were your first stores?

Ali Bonar: Our first stores were Rainbow Grocery in SF and then Napa Farms Market in Terminal 2.

Kara Goldin: I love those guys.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, they’re awesome.

Kara Goldin: Yeah they’re amazing.

Ali Bonar: And it’s been so … it was so fun at Fancy Foods this weekend to actually meet the buyers in person. You know when you’re just communicating with someone over email and you build them up in your mind as a small brand, ’cause they just each have so much power, and you meet them in real life and obviously they’re cool people, but you’re like, “Oh they put their pants on the same way as everyone else.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Yeah totally.

Ali Bonar: It’s awesome. So, yeah, those were our first stores and some small independent naturals up in the Bay Area, and then Erewhon in LA was actually pretty … one of our first stores as well.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Have you guys done … online, how big is that for you guys? Is it … what percent of the real net?

Ali Bonar: Yeah, it’s about a third.

Kara Goldin: That’s great.

Ali Bonar: Online is a third, retail, and then food service now with Pressed. We really started online just obviously on Instagram.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And that’s always gonna be my favorite, just because it’s so fun. You can immediately interact with a customer. We even … When we were just launching we had done an Instagram poll because we were thinking about maybe changing our name, and it was just fun ’cause it was Granola Butter won by a landslide, it was like 99%. It was so cool to just have that customer interaction, and then also they fell invested, like they’re helping build the brand.

Kara Goldin: Yup.

Ali Bonar: So I don’t know if you guys have done anything like that, but it was really cool to do it that way. The thing with online is it’s so volatile. We’ll launch a new flavor and then things spike, and then it’s nice to have the retail and the food service to kind of even it out-

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Ali Bonar: … sales-wise. Yeah I think just doing a combo of all three, and right now we’re still new. We’re kinda just seeing what sticks.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Yeah, no that’s good. That’s … well I always tell entrepreneurs, too, that it’s … For me, I’ve seen brands go away over the years and I think that the one consistent thread no matter what category in the food and beverage, is if you have all your eggs in one basket. Whether it’s like Target or whether it’s Whole Foods, or it’s … Somebody said to me early on when I was starting Hint that his biggest advice, he had, this guy, Josh [Dorf 00:38:55] who had founded a company called Stone-Buhr Flours. He was like, “You’ll eventually get into whole foods nationwide. You’ll like all these great winds but don’t rest.”

Kara Goldin: And I was, “What do you mean? That’s super cool if you get into Whole Foods nationwide.” And he’s, “You’ll get there, but the most important thing is if they have so much of your business then you’re at risk.” So he’s, “Always be figuring out how to diversify.” And that’s the thing that I see about online is that, I mean we deal with Amazon, but then we also have our own direct business and then we have Target and Whole Foods and lots of other things, and no percentage of our business is greater than 10%, and so I think that’s the thing … should be everyone’s goal no matter what size. And that may not be able to happen tomorrow, but …

Kara Goldin: That should be a strategical for any entrepreneur starting no matter what size you are is if you see that there’s too much weight, it doesn’t mean … change it tomorrow, but your goal is to actually shift it in someway so that you grow businesses, or distribution points along the way that really help you diversify and actually create less risk in your company. Because if … I know for a fact that were entrepreneurs when the acquisition of Whole Foods happened. Amazon came in and they really started to look at the data, and there were different … It was all over the map who survived in that whole thing.

Kara Goldin: So if you have 80% of your business in Whole Foods, that was a big deal.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And so if you were kicked out of there, then … I would hear Sprouts would look at that and wonder if they were actually looking at it correctly and … Some buyers would say, “Oh gosh, people can’t buy it at Whole Foods now, but now they can go buy it at Sprouts,” or then just depending on what side of the bed the buyer woke up on they could say, “Oh they’ve been kicked out of Whole Foods so they’re not gonna be able to survive, so we should kick them out too.”

Kara Goldin: And it was amazing. It really had a huge impact I think on the industry, and so the more that you can say, they’re a really important customer of mine, but we have the rest of our business, 90% of our business is in lots of other pockets, I think it’s super important.

Ali Bonar: Absolutely, that’s great advice.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, no I think it’s huge. So beyond the butter, can you talk to us about what else do you see? What’s 2019 gonna be all about? You’re testing lots of different things as you said.

Ali Bonar: Yeah. Yeah, testing lots of things. We’re gonna be also launching the single-serving packets.

Kara Goldin: Great idea.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, around March, so kind of like those Justin’s [crosstalk 00:41:49]

Kara Goldin: I love ’em.

Ali Bonar: And, yeah, we found actually we have a big cycling, ultra marathoners community, which I never realized but just they’re really excited for the packets ’cause I think … I’ve never done an ultra marathon, but I guess the nut butters are harder to digest and so it’s nice ’cause is our hella high in carbs for someone who is super active. But, yeah, I think the single-serving packets will be big and then just kind of growing. We’re at this point where we just wanna plan and expand, and all hands on deck, head down.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, it’s exciting, but also, as you probably know it’s every day is something scary.

Kara Goldin: I have a friend that we actually sponsor his team in LA and … it’s a cycling team.

Ali Bonar: Cool.

Kara Goldin: And they’re really active. They’re kind of like, he would hate for me to say this, but they’re older guys.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: They’re all like, you know, but they’re doing crazy things like biking from San Diego to Malibu, on a Saturday.

Ali Bonar: Oh gosh.

Kara Goldin: They’re crazy, and they’re all over 50.

Ali Bonar: Whoa.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, maybe some of them are in their late 40s, but they’re all probably late 40s and up. And it’s amazing what they’re able to accomplish. I mean these guys are lawyers and doctors during the day and then they get on a bike and Hint is … We’re one of their sponsors, we buy all their uniforms and stuff and they drink our water on these rides … but I would think they would be … when you get the packets out I’ll definitely, you should send them some because they are like … they’re pretty active and it’s a whole different community where people, I feel like people can say, “God if they can do it and they’re saying Granola Butter is how I’m getting there.”

Ali Bonar: Exactly.

Kara Goldin: It’s … yeah. And they don’t … it’s interesting. They don’t have millions of followers.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: But they actually have pretty good traction, people are watching them and “Oh I saw you guys.” And they’re all in these orange suits and they’re winning races all over the place.

Ali Bonar: That’s so cool.

Kara Goldin: Like a team, so it’s pretty … It just shows you what can be done more than anything.

Ali Bonar: That’s awesome.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, super, super cool. So what’s one of the biggest mistakes you think you’ve made along the way in … building this company. I always say, “Which one I should I talk about right now?”

Ali Bonar: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Kara Goldin: There’s so many.

Ali Bonar: All right, well I guess while we’re on the topic of Pressed. It was around Thanksgiving time, they sent over their big order and we had ordered this $15,000 machine that was supposed to help us just 10X our speed, production speed and everything, and actually, I was leaving for pretty much the first vacation I had taken since we launched. Eric and I were going down to Mexico for Thanksgiving.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: With his family, and so we had this weak timeline but we’re like, all right we’re gonna bang out this order, and the machine comes, and of course it doesn’t work. And we didn’t have a backup plan, you know? We had to kinda go back to how we were making it before which was very manual and a lot by hand and stuff, and so we pulled 16-, 18-hour days. We slept in the kitchen. My family came on Thanksgiving and helped us until 2:00 a.m., cranking out this last order, which in hindsight is gonna be an awesome family-bonding moment.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: But at the time it was me yelling at my brother for dropping all the …

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: In the moment it’s not very warm and fuzzy, but I think that just really taught me having a backup plan for your backup plan for your backup plan, and always expecting something to go wrong, like we were talking earlier. And just, you know, kind of letting it roll off your back. Being flexible, which is something that I’m excited to say that I’ve always kind of been flexible and able to roll with the punches, but also planning for failure.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: It’s been the-

Kara Goldin: Yeah like-

Ali Bonar: … optimistic. I’m, “It’ll be great. This new machine.”

Kara Goldin: But if you freak out and then it just … yeah, you have to keep your cool and figure out, “Okay, what are we gonna do?” Yeah.

Ali Bonar: Yeah. So we did it. We made it obviously. I had to go to Mexico a couple days later, but … that moment was kind of like, okay, we need to have some backups … just expect there to be a problem.

Kara Goldin: That’s great that you, yeah, that you were able to do that. How do you and your boyfriend divide things out?

Ali Bonar: Yeah, so that … is interesting because I didn’t know that your husband also was super involved, but … so that’s been kind of an adjustment just going from … He was working in consulting. He did tech consulting for [inaudible 00:46:15] and so he was … Monday through Friday in New York and so I didn’t see him. He was my weekend boyfriend.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Yeah.

Ali Bonar: I had a whole bed to myself. It was nice. And so now going from that to we’re with each other 24/7 … I think it’s awesome that he … We are very compartmentalized in what we do, so I do the social media, creative, marketing, sales, and he’s more technical, backend-type stuff, like our website and everything, more like eCommerce. So it’s nice we kind of have our own roles, but at the same time we do overlap with certain things, and just respecting each other is the biggest thing, you know?

Ali Bonar: My mom always said, “Date someone who … you both look up to each other. You both kind of feel like you’re getting the better end of the deal.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: And I’ve always felt that with him. I think the biggest trait in a partner is someone who I admire and respect, and I just really respect him and am really proud of who he is, and so I think just having that innate foundational trust is really important.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, totally. I think it’s … but it’s great that you’re bringing somebody in that’s different though, too. I think … I talk about that a lot as well, that it’s not so much about working with my husband as it is working with somebody who I totally trust and I like and who has a different skill set. ‘Cause I think the skillset thing is like the keeping. When I hear, two best friends from college are starting a company and they both do the same thing, I’m like, “Oh this is gonna be really tough.”

Kara Goldin: And again, not to say that it can’t be a little business, but whether or not it can scale to what they think it can be you probably need somebody else in to kind of … And it typically … I can almost see it now, when a couple of years it ends up, at most, it ends up being fine and then it becomes … Life goes on and one decides to start a family and then the other one is doing all the work and then it really starts to divide. So I think it’s just … I think it’s great to hear that you guys are really respectful of each other and that there’s clear divide of who does what, and like you said that you’re able to look at that person and say, “I have the better end of the deal ’cause I’m learning.”

Ali Bonar: Right. The hardest thing is just we never turn it off.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: Especially right now, we’re just working so many hours that it’s … there’s never not talking about work. I remember we had a date night recently, which is very rare. We’re like, “Okay we need to get out the house.” We went to dinner. We sat down, I was, “Okay, we’re not gonna talk about work.” And it was just, “What do we talk about?”

Kara Goldin: “What do we talk about?” Yeah, I know it’s so true.

Ali Bonar: But we love it, it’s like our baby, our passion, … it’s what we want to talk about.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And I think that’s okay. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to be, “Oh you know you can’t have a relationship if you can’t turn it off.” But I think it’s, again if you really enjoy what you’re doing. I mean, I remember early on when we were writing the business plan for Hint and we had young kids, too, and I’d say, “OH let’s go for date night” at this local place, the Grove, here in San Francisco. And I’d have a beer, but I’d still be writing the business plan, and … I was looking at my husband, he’s like, “This isn’t really a date night.”

Kara Goldin: And I’m, “Why? We’re having a beer. It’s kind of a date night. I’m fine with it.” And he was, “Okay.” And … it’s just, I don’t know. What … other people have definitions of what it’s supposed to be like, but I think it’s … I think it’s fine, and I think also if you’re really passionate about it … I think that I’ve seen this more and more, especially in the last year, I really think being an entrepreneur is like solving for the solution. Right? It’s every day, there’s … if you can wake up and you can say, “What about this? What about this? How do we do this?”

Kara Goldin: It’s not to say that it’s smiles every single day and it’s fun, but if the challenge is there and you feel like there’s still more problems to solve and you keep creating problems, that then you can solve, and you can keep doing that, what’s wrong with being able to talk to your boyfriend or your husband or … like that about that? “What do you think about this?” It’s just … and again, if you respect that person for having a different skillset than you then there’s nothing wrong with talking about it. … I mean we’re finding … as the Hint brand grows it’s so funny because even the times that we say, “Let’s turn it off,” then people will see us and then they’ll be, “Oh my god I wanna hear about what’s going on and stuff!”

Kara Goldin: So it’s not even us talking, but it’s … How do we just say, “Oh I’m not talking about that right now?” ‘Cause, you know, again, sometimes you run into these people who you don’t see every single day and they’re just excited for you, right?

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And they wanna hear what’s the latest and greatest. Anyway, I don’t think there’s any right answer-

Ali Bonar: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: … about it. But … I’ve heard a little bit, but what makes you unstoppable? This is our last question, so …

Ali Bonar: Ooh I love it.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Ali Bonar: I think what we talked about earlier, just my ability to try to channel my inner Leslie, that’s my mom, and just ask the unreasonable questions and not be afraid of the answer and not be afraid to put myself out there, because the worst they can say is no.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s great. Very, very cool. Well thank you so much for coming.

Ali Bonar: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, this has been so great and good luck.