Nikki Azzara, CEO and founder of P.S. Snacks, came to San Francisco for the Fancy Food Show, and I had the pleasure of snagging her away for a moment so that we could chat about her entrepreneurial journey.
When Nikki found out that she was gluten intolerant during college, she started a gluten-free food blog called Slender Seven. As the recipes gained traction, it became clear that there was a business opportunity for her to sell yummy treats that are actually good for you!
Nikki began selling her plant-based grain-free cookie dough and she named the brand P.S. Snacks. You can find P.S. Snacks online and in about 50 retail locations (and growing!).
Today, Nikki and I talk about what it is like to be a budding entrepreneur, how she got her brilliant good-for-you cookie dough sold in stores, who to look for when hiring a team, plus much more.
You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!
“I’ve actually been working quite a bit on infrastructural improvements so that we can grow. So it’s been a little bit of slowing down so that we can speed up.” – Nikki Azzara
- How to be gluten-free
- What is a commissary kitchen
- How to launch a business
- Why high school sports are important
- How to create sales content
- Why slowing down can help your business
- What to look for in a team
- Who to hire
“The lows are brief and painful, but if you can see the larger vision and know that there are thousands of people who are buying this and there are thousands of people that want it. That, to me, is the most important thing every day.” Nikki Azzara
- Connect with Nikki Azzara:
“There is so much that you can learn and do but you have to do it, and if you can figure it out on the fly then it almost makes it more exciting.” – Nikki Azzara
Kara Goldin: Hi everybody, it’s Kara with Unstoppable, and today we’re here on Unstoppable with Nikki Azzara with PS Snacks. Hi Nikki?
Nikki Azzara: Hello.
Kara Goldin: How are you?
Nikki Azzara: Good, how are you?
Kara Goldin: Super excited that you’re here today.
Nikki Azzara: Thank you for having me.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, totally. So Nikki is from Denver, or actually lives in Denver, I don’t know yet [inaudible 00:00:23] from Denver, and she’s here in San Francisco for the Fancy Food Show, so we got her to come over and join us for this morning before she goes back to the show. Thank you so much for doing that.
Nikki Azzara: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Kara Goldin: Totally. So first I’m just going to jump in and just ask a little bit about you. First of all, where did you grow up and what did you want to do, as a starting point?
Nikki Azzara: Yeah, I grew up in the Washington DC suburbs, so the Montgomery County, Maryland, about 25 miles outside of the city. It’s funny, I actually, I was asked that recently, what did I want to do when I grew up? One of the amazing things about this venture is that I didn’t really have the time to think about that because when I graduated from college, I immediately jumped right in. I guess looking back when I was younger, what did I want to do with my life? I think I was really interested in like houses. I remember telling my parents I wanted to be their real estate agent or architect or something like that. I soon after realized that I wasn’t cut out for the corporate world, and in high school, started coming up with ways to just make money in a more entrepreneurial fashion.
Nikki Azzara: So I started summer camps and doing all different types of things where I could actually interact with people in a way that brought me joy each day, but I can also make some money on the side.
Kara Goldin: So you talked about college? You we’re in college when you’ve thought this idea?
Nikki Azzara: I was, yes.
Kara Goldin: So how did that all come about?
Nikki Azzara: Yeah, so I went to Wake Forest University. I was studying undergrad business, taking electives and marketing and entrepreneurship. Again, always thought that I had this other kind of business route in mind where I was very passionate about doing something that didn’t require me to sit at a desk, just didn’t know what it was at the time. The big turning point for me was sophomore year. I found out that I was gluten intolerant while I was living on campus. I’ve always been very interested in health and wellness and passionate about food and I love to cook, and so I think it was just a culmination of all these different things.
Nikki Azzara: Then finding out that I was gluten intolerant while also taking all these business courses. It just was like the right place at the right time, and ultimately launched a food blog called Slender Seven, where I started sharing my healthy gluten free recipes that used seven ingredients or less. So that was really the foundation for PS Snacks.
Kara Goldin: Did you feel like, so you’re a sophomore, you’re just like, not feeling great and you figure out that you’ve got this issue. How did you feel, like, was it tough to sort of eat and live on campus? I mean, was it something that was like, did you really have to work in order to do that?
Nikki Azzara: Definitely. The biggest difficulty was that I wasn’t feeling great at times when I would eat certain things, but at the time, you know, couldn’t figure out what it was. But it was right before I studied abroad in Italy. So that was not the best timing finding out that I have to cut out gluten.
Kara Goldin: Pastas, breads.
Nikki Azzara: Exactly. So that was a bummer, but it ended up, I think just being a really good learning way for me to get acclimated, not only in a new environment, but just navigating gluten free lifestyle. It was honestly, just like the nature of the way that I eat and the way that we were raised. My sister and I were raised, just eat super healthy and I always prefer fish and chicken and vegetables anyways, so it actually wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting.
Nikki Azzara: I mean that was almost seven years ago and I feel like just feeling so much better and super happy that I ended up-
Kara Goldin: So were you in the dorms at the time, or were you-
Nikki Azzara: Yeah. I was living in dorms and then living in this apartment in Florence. We had access to a kitchen, so I was able to pretty well navigate this gluten free lifestyle and then moving back on campus, that was a big turning point because we had the dorm room and they were … sorry, we had the dining hall, which was, I mean it was great. There were options, again, I was like, “Hey, I’ll have the turkey burger, the chicken, the vegetables, the salad,” things like that. But also with the snacks, and there was so much that I couldn’t eat on campus, and there was a whole foods nearby.
Nikki Azzara: So I really started to spend a lot of time in whole foods finding these alternatives that fit my gluten free lifestyle, but also just things that weren’t too high in sugar or not too processed. I think because of that, it really challenged me to start learning about the food industry, just through experience, which was huge for this foundation.
Kara Goldin: That’s what I feel like has been the biggest challenge for the gluten free industry over the last few years since I’ve been going to the Fancy Food Show. The trade off is the sugar. It’s just like in the processed, and et cetera. People will say to me, “Yeah, I figured out that I was gluten intolerant and then I started eating all these gluten free foods and I gained all this weight, or I got type two diabetes, or something.”
Nikki Azzara: That’s something, I mean people will ask me all the time, either they’re trying to eat more of a gluten free lifestyle. I just think the biggest thing is like just cause you’re gluten free doesn’t mean you should start buying the gluten free bread because it doesn’t mean that it’s healthier for you. For me it was more a shift and like okay, I mean that sandwich looks really good but I’m going to get a salad instead, or I’m going to see if they have a lettuce wrap or I’m going to have the chicken, instead of pasta.
Nikki Azzara: So it was more just like a shift in general, where I wasn’t now eating gluten free cookies, because it wasn’t like I was really eating like handfuls of cookies before. So that was something that was really important. Just because you’re gluten free, don’t change your eating habits.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, exactly. So one of your products is the chickpea based cookie dough. You got to have cookies when you’re in college, right?
Nikki Azzara: Exactly.
Kara Goldin: How did you think up that?
Nikki Azzara: So I had this blog, Slender Seven and what I was trying to do with this was create or recreate, I should say, my favorite things that were not only gluten free but just healthier alternatives to those favorites. I mean I had over 500 recipes and as anything from smoothies that tasted like milkshakes, to main meals, to things with cooking with sweet potatoes because I still, I think that’s my favorite food of all time. Then I really started, so I tricked my sister into eating black bean brownies. I was over the holidays. I remember just like to get a huge kick out of the fact that I made these brownies; actually tasted really good and it was black bean based and I had come up with the recipe.
Kara Goldin: That sounds so good actually.
Nikki Azzara: Yeah, it was delicious. I’m the youngest or younger sister, there’s only two of us, but I got the pleasure and just kind of messing with her by making the black bean based brownies that were also peanut free. She has a peanut allergy. So that sparked my interest in creating a Blondie version. So my mom, when we were younger, she was always famous for making these Blondies, but of course, they’re so buttery and sugary and regular white flour and just kind of all the crap that was in with this home batch made Blondies, which was always like the famous thing. But again, it was like, “Okay, how can I recreate this in a way that’s healthier and gluten free, not just using gluten free flour?” So I ended up playing out with the chickpeas and made a recipe for chickpea cookies.
Kara Goldin: It was chickpea flour?
Nikki Azzara: No. I actually used chick pea puree, so almost like you’d be making a hummus, but instead you’re adding ingredients that make it have a sweet flavor profile and set up like olive oil and lemon juice. I’m doing coconut oil, almond butter, chocolate chips, vanilla things like that. So I had this recipe on the blog. Didn’t think much of it for, let’s call it eight months, except for the fact that it was one of the most popular on social media. All my friends would always ask me to make it, my family. I remember when I graduated that summer, I just was constantly making it for people that were in and out of the door, whether it’s at the beach house or my family’s house.
Nikki Azzara: That was this a-ha moment where I at the time, was looking for jobs in the food industry because I realized that’s what I was passionate about. But then through spending so much time at whole foods and trying to interview for consumer package good brands, I saw that there was an opportunity to launch my own brand and I wanted to start with this chickpea cookie, which actually the dough form was what I thought was the most compelling sell.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. How many years of school were you …
Nikki Azzara: Two months.
Kara Goldin: You just decided, “Okay, I’m interviewing, but I’ve got this idea for a product.” Then what did you do next? Did you just go and create the product?
Nikki Azzara: Yeah. I had always hoped that the summer after graduation I could just work on the blog and take some time to travel and just really chill, I guess, I mean, I’ve always been-
Kara Goldin: Chilling would be nice, right? [crosstalk 00:10:29] it’s really hard.
Nikki Azzara: At the time I was like, okay … I had a lot of friends that had already committed to banking jobs and consulting and I just again knew that I wasn’t cut out for that. So rather than rush into a career that I didn’t even know if that’s what I wanted, I just was trying to take some time to really do some soul searching about what it was that I wanted to do.
Nikki Azzara: That’s where I first stumbled upon the food industry; looking at amazing brands, going through whole foods and trying to figure out which one of these I could work for, where they were located, what sparked my interest. But ultimately saw that there was this need and opening in the market for the cookie dough. I think just being naive and super passionate, and again, not wanting to do the typical banking and corporate route, I jumped on the opportunity to turn this recipe into a consumer package good that I could sell to retail stores.
Kara Goldin: So to create the product, you needed some kind of funding. Did you self fund it initially?
Nikki Azzara: I actually first launched a crowdfunding campaign, and at the time, the product was going to be branded under Slender Seven, which was the blog that I had started. I had envisioned at that time, creating like a whole, I guess, ecosystem of the blog and the recipes and the products having, I guess kind of aggressively large vision to really build out this huge lifestyle brand.
Nikki Azzara: So ultimately, at the time, had this idea to brand it as Slender Seven; it was seven ingredients or less. We had cookie dough, the logo was a grapefruit. Again, it seemed like a good idea when I first launched. I ended up doing a crowd funding campaign, raised about $10,000 and that helped me join a commissary kitchen in Washington DC, where I could really get started. Lowered the barriers to entry and I could start producing and attempting to sell.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. How did those work? Like for people who want to like start a product? I’ve heard about these actually in the Bay Area.
Nikki Azzara: They’re popping up everywhere. And I worked out of one called Union Kitchen in Washington DC, and you basically pay rent to work in their facility. But the incredible thing is that it’s a license facility. So rather than me having to go out and get certifications and licensing to produce food products, that was already taken care of. I paid a monthly rent fee and then started working to create this package. Again, looking back, I think it was so … I’ve heard if you’re not embarrassed by your first package, like you’re doing something wrong.
Kara Goldin: You learn.
Nikki Azzara: You learn so much.
Kara Goldin: Somebody was asking and we talked about Skippy the other night. They were looking to develop a product and they wanted to know like how long it should take. They were very rule spaced. I just said, I mean at the end of the day, I would just make sure that it’s safe and ready to market, and see what the consumer says.
Nikki Azzara: That’s exactly what I was doing. I feel like I’m the definition of winging it sometimes, because on one hand, I think the fact that I did start this right after college, sometimes I’m at a disadvantage with the learning curve, but on the other hand, I mean, I don’t have a rule book to follow so I’m just going for it. The package was very amateur, but I started selling at farmer’s markets in Washington DC and I would team up with my friends, started a food truck and sell off their truck at Georgetown University. Really just, I feel like it’s kind of the quintessential founder story where I was just hustling in Washington DC, trying to make it work and see if the concept was catching on.
Nikki Azzara: I guess two big takeaways was I learned that this product was not built for farmer’s market. I needed to pursue the retail route. I also learned that the branding was just wrong for this type of product. So that was a huge pivot point for me. Not only could I not keep up with the blog because of this new business model I was pursuing, but I also … just the grapefruit, what it was, everything was getting lost. That was the moment where I realized, okay, CPG thing is for me. I’m going to pursue that only. So I stopped doing the blog and then rebranded to PS Snacks.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Did somebody help you do this, or like it’s like you’re renting the kitchen. Is there a co-founder?
Nikki Azzara: No. I feel like one thing that I’m super proud of is the network that I’ve been able to build just through these amazing relationships and mentors and people that I have always looked up to, whether it’s financially, like financial side of things, but also people in the food industry.
Nikki Azzara: So I’ve never felt … we were talking about this earlier, but I’ve never felt like I am alone, working on this venture. But you know, I think at the end of the day it’s like, “Okay, I’m also really excited to build out a team,” because it does get tough to do this as a one woman show.
Kara Goldin: How many people now in the company?
Nikki Azzara: Tough [crosstalk 00:16:03] Yeah, it’s me, I have an incredible community manager that works part-time. She’s based out of Philly. She takes so much off my plate with regard to sample requests and customer service and just things that are super important for us as a small business, but that I often just can’t get to every day. My mom helps me a ton. She’s been incredible.
Kara Goldin: Free friends.
Nikki Azzara: Exactly. [crosstalk 00:16:31]. I mean the support system has really just shined. I mean, it’s incredible how many people have been really a part of this journey that yes, I have not paid but have been so impactful and just like on a personal level, but also helping. I mean, I had friends, one of the best stories of the first UNFI order that I ever got, I had like eight days to fulfill. I think it was like four pallets or a couple thousand pounds, which was at the time was a huge deal.
Nikki Azzara: I had 25 friends come in over eight days and I was like, “All right, I’ll give you dinner. This will be fun, but can you help me?” Because everyone had in passing said like, “If you ever need help, let me know. I’d love to help out.” And I’m like, “Okay, well this is the time.” So 25 friends coming in to grind chickpeas and package and label and box up. I mean, it was one of those moments where it like, I’ll never forget it, but it was also that, I mean, that was a turning point and I’m like, “Okay, I need to find a co packer.”
Kara Goldin: I remember our first show was actually Fancy Food Show in New York and it was my husband and I and we were, and, I’d just had my fourth son.
Nikki Azzara: Oh my gosh.
Kara Goldin: It was like two weeks after I’d had a C-section, I’m at the show and I’m still trying to get him to the group, the whole thing, anyway. And so I called a bunch of my friends that used to work with me at AOL and I said, “We’re doing this trade show.” I had never been to the Fancy Food Show. I had been to like CVS, like a bunch of tech shows, but I had never been to the Fancy Food Show. So they tell me, I’m like, I’ve got a 10 by 10 booth. And I was like, “Okay, I got this.” And like literally, I had a card table and I went to like a party store and got something to like cover the card table.
Kara Goldin: We had a couple of chairs like folding chairs in the booth. Friends of mine in tech, they showed up there and they were like, “Wow, like you’re really not ready for this.” I was like, “I know, it’s so crazy.” We had a sign that said, “Hint Water.” I always tell entrepreneurs the story because I said like, that was probably our best show. Like we showed up there and we had just nailed it like no one else was doing unsweetened flavored water, still water. There were carbonated versions of the product, but this was 14 years ago. It was crazy because we, we literally had so many people that security came to the booth and said there can’t be any more people in this area.
Kara Goldin: They were looking at us like, “How are you guys going to do this? I mean you’ve never worked in the food and beverage industry?” You talked about UNFI; I didn’t even know what UNFI was. UNFI was coming by my booth and I’m U-N-F-I, writing it down on a piece of paper. I was like, “Okay, I’ll get back to you.” Who are you?
Nikki Azzara: I remember that first order I got. They were like, “Okay, just make sure you have the like the BOL.” I’m like, “What is a BOL?” I had to like look up bill of like what? How do you make one of these? So I’m asking like, “Have you ever made one of these?” It’s funny. I mean I truly believe like fake it until you make it, and that’s kind of been a internal motto for me just because I think that there’s so much you can learn and do but you just have to do it. And if you figure it out on the fly, it almost makes it more exciting.
Kara Goldin: You talk about your like the highs and the things [crosstalk 00:20:14] this whole industry I think is a big club. You talked about like you don’t feel like you’ve ever been lonely. Like when I started this almost 15 … striking almost 14 years ago, like I actually really searched for those mentors in the industry and it was really hard. I mean people were like … maybe the snacks industry is maybe a little more open than the beverage industry. I remember there were days that, I mean, I would just be really bold and be open to calling the big service companies [crosstalk 00:20:56] want to talk to me. It was like very different than what I had experienced in tact.
Kara Goldin: Everybody was super open to like talking, they wouldn’t give you the playbook, but they were telling me like head in that direction. If you were smart enough and resourceful enough, then you would go figure it out. But anyway, I thought that that was so interesting. What kept you going when you were like, you know, reaching lows along the way? How did you overcome those obstacles?
Nikki Azzara: Definitely. I mean, one of the things that I learned early on, and pardon me, things I even learned this, you know, at 16 when I was doing internships, that I wasn’t passionate about, the fact that I had started. It’s all relative, right? Like at the time it wasn’t, it didn’t even feel like a business. But the fact that I was able to start a business based on something that I was so passionate about, waking up every day. I mean there were, there are still highs and lows all the time, but I think the overarching themes that like I’m so passionate about my product and the people that I interact with and really what I am able to do every day, that that really keeps me going. That drives me.
Nikki Azzara: The spontaneity, the challenging me to think on my feet, the travel, the people that I’m able to meet and interact with. I just think that really trumps everything else. Like the lows are brief and painful. But if you can see the larger vision and know that, there’s thousands of people that are buying this and there’s thousands more that want it, like that to me is what is the most important thing every day.
Kara Goldin: Are you an athlete?
Nikki Azzara: I am.
Kara Goldin: What was your sport?
Nikki Azzara: Basketball was my main sport. Played that competitively from like third grade through 12th grade. But I played three varsity sports in high school and it’s always been very near and dear to my heart, and I’m still a big runner and workout pretty much every day.
Kara Goldin: I always talk about, especially females, female entrepreneurs that if they were in athletics, at least through high school, you can just spot it. They’re so used to like getting pushed down, falling down and just getting back up again. Anyway, I’ve seen this, I’ve been really involved with EY, I’ve seen that with like so many, no matter what the industry is. And you can just spot it-
Nikki Azzara: Oh for sure.
Kara Goldin: [crosstalk 00:23:37] along the way. Just, I feel like the people who ask you like, “How did you do it? How did you get back up?” And you know, sport was gymnastics. So I was just like, “I don’t know, like you just did.” You always have people who were better than you on the team at something. Like, and you always want them around you because they were better. But anyway, I just spotted-
Nikki Azzara: That’s one of those things too where people have asked me like, “Oh, have you always been entrepreneurial minded?” And I don’t know. I think that’s really a hard question to answer. I’m only 26, so I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” There’s so much more to do still. But if you kind of look back and trace through my upbringing, I mean-
Kara Goldin: No, it’s the athletics.
Nikki Azzara: The athletics. Yes.
Kara Goldin: It really is. It trained you to be an entrepreneur and seek this stuff out, and get back up. I think like the get back up piece, is something that years of being pushed down and having to set goals for yourself and just having to go to sleep at night and then get up this morning and keep going.
Nikki Azzara: I ran cross country, which is a whole different … that’s like a mental game. Then I think another really interesting thing in my upbringing, my dad was a stay at home dad and my mom was the working breadwinner. So I think that also was just an incredible experience, to see a female role model that was working so hard every day. And then also having my dad so involved in sports obviously, but also just in our day to day life. So super incredible experience. Very special.
Kara Goldin: So the food blog, that started in college and you’ve continued to expand on that, read it. What do you think is like … I mean I get asked this a lot actually as we … I mean we have like 40% of our overall business is directed to consumer and we have a huge initiative around content. I’m constantly getting asked like, “Where do you think the food, or where do you think the blog and the content kind of fits into an overall website?” I’ve been asked by entrepreneurs who are just starting, I’ve been asked by billion dollar brands who are trying to figure out like as they go into the online world, I mean, where do you feel like this fits into your overall sales strategy?
Nikki Azzara: I unfortunately just, I don’t do the blog anymore because as I’m sure you-
Kara Goldin: But the recipes-
Nikki Azzara: Right, but the recipes, so one thing that I do continue to do is create recipes that use our cookie dough as an ingredient. And I think that this is so important for consumers to understand. It kind of gives it a little bit more context like, “Yes, you can eat the cookie dough as is, it’s intended to be a single serve snack. So you could eat it as a almond butter substitute, or a bar substitute. But you can also use that as an ingredient. So whether it’s in like baked goods or you’re using it like as a frosting or you’re putting into your smoothies or shakes, there’s just a lot that you can educate the consumer about. And that’s how I’m using our …
Nikki Azzara: A lot of the website has recipes. I’m using my social media to do that. We have a Friday newsletter. So I think that’s where the content, like yes, it’s a brand, but I’m also trying to be, a person, a personality to customers because I think it helps give context as to like how to use the product, when to use it. I just think it’s a huge piece of the sales strategy. You have to give people something to want, to either try or eat or buy.
Kara Goldin: I think it also allows you to get information out on social media, not necessarily salesy, but it helps to build your brand, as for what you’re doing overall. I think that’s something that, a lot of these large brands don’t really understand, but I think it’s something that you guys are doing super well.
Kara Goldin: So what do you wish, like what’s your big wish? If you could have one wish for PS Snacks, for 2019, what would it be?
Nikki Azzara: Oh man. The past eight months have been a very interesting time. Just as I feel like as the founder and CEO where I’ve actually been working quite a bit on infrastructural improvements, so that we can grow. So it’s been a little bit of like slowing downs in order to speed up.
Kara Goldin: The company’s based still in DC, right?
Nikki Azzara: No, so we’re Denver. I mean because it’s just me …
Kara Goldin: And you want to get to Denver-
Nikki Azzara: I for business and personal reasons, just felt like that was the better fit long term. I was living in New York City before, which was an amazing experience. I feel like I could check that off the list, but for long term growth strategy and needing to build out a team and really looking at what this business could look like in the next five to 10 years, I couldn’t stay in New York. So that was really the catalyst for me wanting to move to Denver.
Kara Goldin: Did you have an investor in Denver?
Nikki Azzara: Not in Denver actually, but part of the reason for the timing of the move was he kind of challenged me like, “Okay, are you bound to New York?” I’m like, “Definitely not. I can move tomorrow if you’d like me to.” I just think for long term, I mean cost of living, quality of life, there’s just so many things that you can find better options outside of New York. So that was really the catalyst for that. But my wish for 2019, I have a lot of things that I’ve been working on behind the scenes, that I haven’t been able to really debut to the world yet, because it’s been so under the wraps.
Nikki Azzara: I’ve been working with third party agencies and investors and mentors and just all different types of people, the past eight months, to really get this vision ready to roll. In 2019 now, we’re able to debut that in the next few months. So I’m just really wishing for a successful launch and growth from there, as well as my goal is to start building out a team. I think that is going to be huge, not only for the business but just for me as the founder, because I’m very excited to have people that I can fall back on to.
Kara Goldin: What are you looking for? What kind of people?
Nikki Azzara: Ops. That’s definitely my weakness. I love being the storyteller, the founder, the visionary, the one working on product development, the one behind the social media, the one that’s educating consumers about how to use the products, but operations and supply chain and logistics. I just need to hand that off to someone. So hoping to find someone that has experience in refrigerated supply chain, and really can help me not only scale as I’m hoping we will, not just in 2019 and beyond, but one that can actually have an impact long term.
Kara Goldin: I’m smiling a little bit because I always catch people when they say that, “Someone who’s better than me. That’s not my forte.” Maybe this is even sort of while I was an athlete, I learned early on like my two focuses in gymnastics where bars are vault. I remember when I was young, it was so hard for me to watch people who could just go out on the floor and do stuff and I could do a little bit, but they were so much better than I was, and beam; the same thing, like I was fine, but I was like not ever going to rock it like I would on vault and bars and my upper body strength … you can’t tell now because I have four and everything in there.
Kara Goldin: But basically, that was my deal. I learned early on, like I was almost recruiting like in when I was younger, like I would always understand. I would gain a good understanding of what they could do for our team, but also, have an appreciation for what they could do. And so I always say to founders who are starting, and also I speak on college campuses a lot too. I’m like, “You want to find people like at every single step along the way who … you always as a founder, want to understand. You want to understand the finance. You want to understand the operations. You want to still … I was speaking at Harvard Business School last week and was saying to them like … I can actually talk PH with like the best of them right now and water.
Kara Goldin: But I’ll hire somebody in who can actually do it even like in their sleep better than me. But I’m educated on it, so I can actually get through it enough. But that’s the main thing. Hire people who … there’s so many people along the way who will tell you that they’re just going to wave their magic wand and they’re going to solve all your problems. The reality is that most of those people won’t. They’ll take your money, they’ll take your equity, and it won’t happen.
Nikki Azzara: That’s I think part of the reason we’re … PS Snacks, officially under that brand name, launched a little over two years ago. I still think part of the reason I haven’t hired anyone is there’s so much that I could do on my own to get it where I wanted it to be, to then attract the right people. Because I haven’t, I mean, as you mentioned earlier, it’s tough to find the right people that are not only qualified, but just culturally of the right match.
Kara Goldin: Totally. [crosstalk 00:34:16] these people who have had experience, what I found is like, you know, we would interview people who had come from the large soda companies and we have a product actually when we launched our product, we were the first beverage outside of juice, that wasn’t using preservatives in our product. And so we would interview all these people who had produced products for the large set of companies and they would come in and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I can do this.” And we’re like, “But have you ever done an unpreserved product?” And they’re like, “No, no, no. But I mean I got it. I got it all figured out.” We learned they didn’t have it all figured out because no one had done what we were doing.
Kara Goldin: Unfortunately they had almost been brainwashed to think that whatever they had learned was like Gospel, and so they would come in to our company and be like, “Well, you guys are crazy founders. You don’t really understand this. This can’t be done.” Like the times that I heard ‘can’t’, ‘can’t’, ‘can’t’, were like so debilitating for me, which I was just like, “Get this person out of here.” It’s like it’s ruining my juju. You’ve got to ask them to leave the room.
Kara Goldin: What I figured out is that it may take me longer in order to figure this stuff out and I can go and ask a million people, but actually having somebody in, who is going to wave their magic wand and solve my problem is like probably not. And so I always like tell people like kind of figure the problem out first and then hire somebody in.
Nikki Azzara: I mean the past again, eight months has been me putting my head down with third party end of it. Like if third party groups I should say where I know the problem, let’s get the solution in place, so that I can then build a strategy and then hand it off to someone in ops as an example. Like I don’t want this person coming in and telling me, “Well, you shouldn’t have the freeze and thaw distribution method for your cookie dough, because it’s difficult.” I’m like, “Yeah, of course it’s difficult, but we’re also like, that’s how I’ve been able to open all these doors and that’s what’s helped me thrive in this region of whole foods.” Yeah, it’s not easy, but that’s how we’re going to move forward. So this is like a nonstarter for me. Like I just need to get all these things in place and then start finding the right people.
Kara Goldin: Find people who think that … they may not have the vision that you’ve got, but they’re not afraid to actually say that they don’t know that something might be possible. It’s such a key thing and it’s so hard to find these people. Especially when you’re young or you’ve never done, I mean in my case, like I had never done a food and beverage [crosstalk 00:37:20] before and so there were like a million people who said, “She’s going to be roadkill in like four seconds,” and, I’m still here.
Nikki Azzara: And then some, right?
Kara Goldin: Yeah, and I think like that is so key.
Nikki Azzara: Definitely. It’s great advice.
Kara Goldin: Also not getting the company taken away from you too. I think that that’s the other thing too that we found along the way. We talked to many investors who didn’t necessarily … they had never been operators before. They didn’t really understand what I’m articulating right now. And so they’d be like, “Oh, they’ve been like they’ve taken a company from you know, 10 to 40 million, they’re going to be awesome for you.” You just have to be really careful.
Nikki Azzara: There are some times where I’m like, “Oh I really wish I had like a co founder,” or someone that can take this half of the burden off my shoulders. But at the end of the day, I mean I really wouldn’t have it any other way cause I feel like being a sole founder, I mean I know, to your point, I can talk food science the point where someone was like, “Do you have a food science background?” I’m like, “No, I’ve just been involved in single conversation,” where you learn every single facet of the business. I think that does make me not only equipped but also very particular when it comes to hiring. Just knowing that like, “Okay, the perfect person might not show up, but there are certain things that I want within this team that, it’s either complimenting my strengths or filling some sort of void, but it is definitely hard to find.
Kara Goldin: You’ll find them.
Nikki Azzara: Yeah. Try to run all the parallel paths. So that’s the fun part of being the entrepreneur.
Kara Goldin: You totally will.
Nikki Azzara: Thank you.
Kara Goldin: This is so much fun. I’m so excited for you.
Nikki Azzara: Thank you.
Kara Goldin: Where do people find PS Snacks today?
Nikki Azzara: Because I started in DC, most of our distribution is still on the East Coast, but again, part of this move to Denver and what I’ve been working on in the past year, let’s call it, a lot of growth in the near future. So I recommend people follow us on Instagram. We have a store locator and we’ll be updating that as we continue to grow.
Kara Goldin: Are you doing online yet?
Nikki Azzara: I do online, but because it’s refrigerated, I’m like … I apologize in advance. It is just expensive for us. So I do absorb some of the costs, but working on getting the shipping costs down, so the goal will be more stores, making it more accessible and affordable for people. But yes, if you’re desperate for chickpea based cookie dough, we do sell it online.
Kara Goldin: 2019, I think that that is a major initiative. [crosstalk 00:40:00].
Nikki Azzara: They’re not. You know what, I’ve kind of put that on the back burner until we have this ‘relaunch’.
Kara Goldin: Do you know Chloe-
Nikki Azzara: Yes. Loved that team too.
Kara Goldin: I was speaking at the Chobani Incubator, anyway, they were part of the Chobani Incubator and I noticed that they were on Amazon. What is it not Prime-
Nikki Azzara: The fresh or the go?
Kara Goldin: Yeah. Fresh. And at least in New York City.
Nikki Azzara: Yeah, we sell on jet.com actually, that was a cool account early on where it just opened some doors mostly to get up in the Northeast scenarios where we hadn’t distributed yet. Wholefoods is my key account thus far. And really working on expanding in those key metropolitan cities too. [crosstalk 00:40:56] Yes. I’ve been able to secure some accounts on college campuses, mainly Wake Forest, my own alma mater. But it, that also has just been, it’s like these little victories that show the potential to replicate.
Kara Goldin: I think it’s a big thing [crosstalk 00:41:14] distribution and food service, have a lot of the tech firms and then got into college campuses and then people start to notice.
Nikki Azzara: Right. I was saying that I always get a Hint Water at the airport. It’s my go to, it’s huge.
Kara Goldin: Airports are our [crosstalk 00:41:32]. It makes my life a lot easier [crosstalk 00:41:33] TSA. actually grab some bottles. So anyway, this is so much fun. Thank you so much for coming by.
Nikki Azzara: Thank you for having me. It’s so nice to be here.
Kara Goldin: Good luck with the show.