Dionne Baker: Founder & CEO of DeeBee’s Organics

Episode 393

Have you ever wondered what you might do after a career as a PhD medical researcher in maternal-fetal toxicology? How about start an organic food company?! Dionne Baker was concerned about the impacts of harmful chemicals in food. As a parent of two young kids, she was frustrated with the lack of choices for her family in the organic snack options space. So she started DeeBee’s Organics to fill the gap, focusing not only on creating great products but also a company with a deep focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, DeeBee’s is well on its way to success. I can’t wait for you to hear all about her journey, some great lessons and takeaways. This episode is filled with so much inspiration you won’t want to miss it! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. I’m so excited to have my next guest here we have Dionne Baker, who is the founder and CEO of DeeBee’s Organics. And if you’re not familiar with dBs, organics then you are living in a hole are not visiting stores lately, because they are everywhere. And we had actually met through the EY winning Women program a little while ago. And she is just an awesome, awesome entrepreneur. And I’ve been wanting to get her on for a while. And now we’re making it happen. So I’m very excited to have you all meet Dionne but also hear more about her business. And I have to I have to ask everybody this question. Have you ever wondered what you might do after a career as a PhD medical researcher and maternal fetal toxicology? Well, you are going to hear so Dionne Baker was just that, and she was concerned about the impacts of harmful chemicals and food. And as a parent of a couple of young kids, she was frustrated with the lack of choices for her family in the organic snack options space. So she decided to start DeeBee’s Organics to fill the gap focusing not only on creating great products, but also a company with a deep focus on environmental, social and governance, also known as ESG issues. So DeeBee’s is well on its way to success. I’ll let Dionne tell you a little bit more about it. But I’m really, really excited that she’s here with us today. So welcome.

Dionne Baker 2:20
Thank you. Thanks for having me on the show, Kara. I’m really excited.

Kara Goldin 2:23
Very, very excited. So before you started DBS organics, can you share a little bit more about your career and what you were doing?

Dionne Baker 2:32
Sure. Well, I think like many moms who end up starting a food company, we have a background of kind of never expecting to go into the world of business, I was on my way to becoming a professor doing a PhD studying the effects of chemicals on fetal development during pregnancy, which then impacts later health as you grow into an adult and through childhood, and was loving what I was doing. And then ended up having an idea from something my kids came up with, and deciding very naively, at that point. I’m gonna launch company. And I’ve grown and I’ve figured out a lot of stuff since then.

Kara Goldin 3:09
So how would you describe DBS organics to people who are not familiar with it?

Dionne Baker 3:16
Well, we were the very first company to come out with the full 100% organic, everything organic fruit freezer pop. So I part of what I wanted to do was to take my knowledge about ingredients where they’re sourced how they’re sourced, and come up with with foods that I could feed my own children. And one of our kids didn’t eat any artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sugars, additives, he ate really from the earth. And I wanted to show him and his sister that we can create something that is from the earth. And then also, like you said, that has an ESG. And at that time, 10 years ago, ESG wasn’t a thing. It was a kind of a thing for me, but I didn’t know it was called ESG. And I didn’t even know what a B Corp was at that time. And we quickly became one in 2014. When we learned about it,

Kara Goldin 4:11
I love it. So part of your ethos is putting a huge emphasis on the ESG. Obviously, you have to have a great product. But like you said you didn’t know anything about this. I mean, where did you begin? When you were thinking, Okay, I want to go start this company, I want to, you know, potentially get this product on the shelf, but you had no experience doing this. So what I mean, where did you begin?

Dionne Baker 4:38
I had no experience doing this. And part of I think who I am is I’m a learner, I love to learn. And I think that’s and I use my skills as a as a researcher to figure out how do I do this? How do I get something from A to B? What what are the steps that you need to do and when you I was running a very big study at the Hospital for Sick Children. In Toronto, Canada at the time, and when I was came up with this idea, and I had to put a lot of things in place in order to run this big study, and I had to fund it, I had to develop the, you know, the protocols, I had to come up. So I kind of use those skills because that’s what I knew, to start DD. So it might not be the typical way you would start a food company. But it was the way I knew. And at that time, we used to make frozen products now they’re not frozen at all until the customer takes them home. So very, very different. But really, that’s how I got myself started.

Kara Goldin 5:35
So did you like write a business plan for this? I mean, what were what was kind of the early steps of this,

Dionne Baker 5:43
I definitely wrote a business plan. But as you know, and anyone knows, you end up you know, especially in the beginning, you just kind of make shift and you make things happen and you research and you figure out who to speak to and I surrounded myself with amazing advisors, very early on, I still surround myself with advisors, although those advisors change that just as your company grows and your needs change. But I think that that was a really, I’m really proud of doing that. I think that was a smart way to do it was asked people advice. And now I’m, you know, I’ve got my own group of people who call me and actually ask advice from me when they’re starting out. So I think that’s a really wise thing to do when you’re starting a business.

Kara Goldin 6:27
So in terms of like those early people, one or two, who did you have that really kind of was the most helpful, or, or maybe not the most, I won’t put you on the spot there. But super helpful

Dionne Baker 6:39
for well, Derek tan, he was the CFO at Vega. And they grew. Yeah, he do, you know, Derrick, yeah, he is wonderful. i He’s still on our board of advisors, I put together an amazing board of advisors. And I just, I felt like I was like getting a bowl of like treats every time I would talk to him, because he had so much knowledge. And we would have these discussions. And I always say the best advisor is somebody you want to go for a walk with Tony, I could go for a walk with Him any day. Because he was so he just has that wisdom that he shares. So he’s to this day, he’s very involved in the business.

Kara Goldin 7:20
That’s awesome. So was he helping you figure out like not only how to potentially create the product, but also how to get it on the shelf, because again, you did not, you’re very smart person. You knew how to research companies. But this was not this was a totally different industry.

Dionne Baker 7:39
Totally different. At the time I was starting out he joined a number of years ago, very early on, but it’s been 10 years since I started. I figured the getting it on the shelf thing. Myself and early days. Matt Hall, he came from Nestle. He was also a wonderful advisor. But you know, I worked hard I learned about Expo West and I and I learned about getting listed with you and FBI and getting 30 stores in an area in order to get a listing and I drove through a tornado to make my meeting literally with them in in New Hampshire, Chesterfield, New Hampshire, the first listing and you know, so I did a lot and I think that it takes you would know this perseverance and push and definitely a little cult like Michigan craziness. Poco, local, whatever you want to call it, we you have to have that, right. Because you go and you do crazy things that a lot of people would be like, I’m gonna go home, you.

Kara Goldin 8:38
Definitely well. And you’re also, as you said, are doing something that no one had done. So I’m sure there were plenty of people who were doubting you or said, Oh, that can’t be done. What was kind of the thing that you’ve heard early on? That couldn’t be done? Was it packaging without preservatives or chemicals? Which is sort of the mission of your company?

Dionne Baker 9:00
Yeah, I mean, all of that. I the very beginning, I think, especially as a female founder, I was told, you know, from the bankers at the very, very beginning, like, what are you doing? You know, your husband has a great job, don’t worry about this, just go home, cook, make some cookies. I mean, I from the very start, you know, and then yeah, it was, you know, the thing is, can be done. I mean, first first products we came out with, we’re, we’re popsicles, we no longer make those at all. We only we have two skews, and we’re just launching two more this year. But I was told you can’t do this. And you can’t I mean, all the time. And so you know, we hired a food scientist early on who helped and really kind of asking the right questions, because I’m one of those people that if someone says it can’t be done, I’m like, really? You don’t think so? You just said the wrong thing. Right? Because the show you it can be done. The challenge, right?

Kara Goldin 9:53
I love it. So we talked a little bit about ESG. And I think over the last 10 years, it’s Now that the definition of ESG has expanded and continues to expand, so, are there. Do you think that’s helped you to actually, not just for marketing to the consumer, but also getting more and more shelf space? I mean, do the buyers really appreciate that? And, I mean, you know, also things like, B corpse and I mean, even organic or like, there’s, there’s lots of different terms like that, but things that are that that, I’d love to hear your perspective on that?

Dionne Baker 10:40
Yeah, I think, you know, it’s interesting, because it was never done for marketing purposes. So when I started the company, I use the barometer of my children. And would I be proud to tell my kids this is how I’m building DTS, this is how I’m doing business. And we had, you know, a, we built out an employee stock option program, we broke built out a program called Dream launcher, we are organic, not only for what we’re feeding our kids, but because of the farmers and what, you know, their lives are being cut short with the chemical sprays that are used in farming. And their every single thing we did was about, how do I show how do I be a model to my own kids. And that was really the barometer. And so it’s funny because it organically helped us with listings. And it helped us with the consumer and helped us with parents saying, Oh, my God, finally, someone’s doing this, you know, I’ve always wanted something without additives and malic acid and this and that, that’s boosts our flavors. And so I think it was, it was a very organic way. And something that definitely helped us along the way. And even being a certified woman owned company, like so many different things that we’re able to put in place that I still talk to my kids about now. They’re 19 and 21. So they’ve been around the business, and they’ve learned very organically and their kids that I have never ever once had to say, hey, gotta go do your homework

Kara Goldin 12:01
ever. Yeah. Is there? Because you are? Yeah. Yeah, no doubt. No, I’m gonna

Dionne Baker 12:06
work my butt off. In fact, sometimes I’m like, Don’t Don’t work too hard. Yeah, no.

Kara Goldin 12:11
Well, that’s, that’s amazing. So how long did it take you from the first, like, you’re thinking about launching this business, you bring in advisors to kind of help you sort of think about it from the moment that you decided I’m going to go launch this until you actually got it on the shelf. How long did it take? That was

Dionne Baker 12:31
about a year. So the idea came in the kitchen, when my two kids one was making tea one was making popsicles and they were arguing over who was going to do what with me. And once at balmy, let’s make tea, sickles. And I kind of had that light bulb moment. And we still live in the same house. And I think about that moment, often, because I was so naive that so green. And it was a year after that, that we got our first product on the shelf. And I started to learn the ropes.

Kara Goldin 13:00
So So, so interesting. So when you think back on those early days, maybe there’s days even since then, that you’ve had these moments where a time when you felt like, oh boy, this is a big one. This was a math, it’s over. Maybe it’s not over, but especially in those early days, I think every great entrepreneur in every industry has had those mess ups along the way. Was there a big one that you recovered from but you thought, oh, wow, this is really a lot.

Dionne Baker 13:33
Oh, my God, I think it happens once every few months now. But it I mean, I think anyone who says that those challenges don’t come up regularly, you know, are fooling themselves, because there are always challenges, and I have this philosophy, it’s not the challenge you face. It’s how you face the challenge. You know, we had times early days, where you know, trucks would fall over and all the ingredients that we needed fell on the road and they were finished and you know, how do we get more how do we pay for more there were days where, you know, we went into sprouts with our popsicles and they didn’t sell and we were told come pick them up, just get them out of our store and I had to you know, buy the Mac and that was a huge challenge and to this day even getting our freezes in there now you know, it’s has a longer term repercussions but I think we learned so much. And I’m so happy because we learned it a lot of those with popsicles, which we don’t make at all and who are kind of learn that hard way and I learned going into the frozen field, which I wouldn’t go into frozen again. For us everything we make is shelf stable, but it was a lot of learning there a lot of learning around how do you find out to company you know, how do you how do you do things properly, how you know, everything, you name it, but I for us, we try to kind of learn with every single mistake, you know,

Kara Goldin 14:57
along the way. So you How long were you guys Same popsicles, then before you decided to discontinue it.

Dionne Baker 15:05
Yeah, it was about just five and a half years. Five years. Wow. Yeah. So,

Kara Goldin 15:11
uh, while you were in it, it was while? Yeah. And what was the moment that you just decided this just isn’t working?

Dionne Baker 15:19
Oh, ah, I think when we launched our super fruit freezies. And we really disrupted we created a new category, which we drive to this day, which is the freeze at home, natural organic products, that, you know, we launched, we launched, we started with enough products that we thought would last a year, and we sold out in months. We launched them initially in Canada, and and then into the United States. And I think that’s when we I went, Oh, okay, you know, where are our popsicles would move, three, four units per week per store per SKU, are freezies can move, you know, 40 to 200 units per week, per store per SKU. So, you know, when you have something that’s moving 70 units on average? Yeah, you’re like, Okay, this is what it means to have a high velocity item. And we quickly learned from that, and started to get out of the frozen novelties.

Kara Goldin 16:20
So interesting. So funding a company is often super tough for first time entrepreneurs, not to mention women for sure. Can you share more about how you’ve tackled the funding? And you and I were briefly talking about that, but like, how do people fund these ideas? When you’re first getting started?

Dionne Baker 16:44
Yeah, I mean, my husband and I, you know, did a lot of funding and initially, you know, putting your house on big mortgage on the house, and really kind of investing ourselves, I think our belief was, let’s put in the money, understand this, and then open it up to friends and family. And, you know, one of our investors who is a retired lawyer in the m&a space is so, so smart. And he is one of again, another amazing advisor for me, which helped kind of put together friends and family who are so excited. And you know, when we do ATMs or investor updates, I get lots of you know, hearts, and smiley faces and support. And that’s what got us to where we are today. And then just a little under 20% of our company, are owned by the team members. So we started an employee stock option program. So I really love the feeling because it’s very lonely when you are, you know, is starting out and you’re the CEO, which sounds glamorous, right? But it’s, it can be very lonely, especially as a female founder. And I feel like now I have a group of partners and all our executive team have invested in the company. And I really see them all as, as my partners,

Kara Goldin 18:02
where do you feel like you’re spending the most amount of your time you and I are, are both part of this group EY winning women. And one of the things that I remember, learning and really, frankly, them pushing on us was spending time outside of the of the company as much as possible. And especially in those early days. That’s tough, right? It’s like you’re trying to build your team, you’re trying to make sure you’re going to plants, etc. Do you feel like you spend a lot of time outside of the company now.

Dionne Baker 18:35
It’s interesting, because I had to go through a period where it was tough on the marriage tough on family where I actually decided I have to exit from my social life, unfortunately, other than kids husband and work. So whenever I have free time, and now I’m traveling a lot, I was supposed to be away for four or five days, I’m on the I don’t know, day 16 Right now, and about to go away for another month on I won’t be home in like almost two months. So it’s um, it’s it’s tough. And then we’re in a heavy growth phase right now. We’re not at the beginning, right? Big, big phase. But early days, it was tough. I mean, I used to just and I had this philosophy, and I don’t know if if others do this as well, where if my kids called, I would answer the call no matter what unless I was on like a call. And I would have cell calling right back. But they’re the only ones. And you know, sometimes they’ll say to me, Oh, you didn’t tell me this happened at DVS. And I’m like, Yeah, because I’m this is about you. Yeah. And you know, I’m not. You don’t need to know all that stuff. If you want to know, I’ll tell you, but I’m really focused on you because I love you and I want to be a mom. And I tried to go on the field trips, and I tried to do you know, all the things that I wanted to do because I used to, you know, take off in an airplane look down at their school and start to cry. Yeah, you know, it’s hard. It is hard. Yeah, definitely.

Kara Goldin 19:58
So how hard is it to Do you are you still live in Canada? Correct? So how hard is it to actually run a company? That I mean, the majority of your business is in the US, right? And yet you’re in Canada? Do you feel like it’s it’s tough for Not really? I mean, it’s so it’s kind of it has its moments for sure.

Dionne Baker 20:23
It is, you know, and I think because we’re this year, we’re growing so much. And we’re just, we’ve gotten so big, that I am now spending, I think, you know, this is I think, my eighth City and I’m about to visit another three cities over a two month period. I just feel like I’m on a plane in enough hotel room all the time. And I said to my husband, I’m like, I’m just going with it. Like, this is fun. Look at where DBS is taking me. Wow, this is cool. I was in Cape May and you know, near New Jersey, and, you know, and I try and say, Okay, I’m in the moment, let’s just find the beauty in the moment. Because it is tough when you wake up and you’re kind of like, where am I? You know, which city on my end? Which whose bed is this? Like?

Kara Goldin 21:06
I know, I would pick I would take pictures of the of the hotel room, you know, because I couldn’t remember what number I was in after a while. It’s like, I’d want to stay at a different chain because I was nervous that I wouldn’t remember the number unless it was sad. The hallways looked a little bit different. So I totally got it.

Dionne Baker 21:27
Totally I take the little key thing that has the number of the room you’re in so that I can add it so I same thing like I’m like which which upper?

Kara Goldin 21:36
No, are definitely and is so do you feel like you’re spending a majority or it was like Where are you spending the most amount of your time? So you’re traveling a lot. But are you spending with buyers? Or where do you feel like the majority of your time is spent?

Dionne Baker 21:51
You know, I have an amazing team. I used to do all the sales I used to do so many of the jobs like so many of us do in early days. And I’m so lucky. You know Brian Braden came from Clif Bar, and he’s he’s our chief growth officer and he’s really in charge of growth and Andy are so keen, he was a buyer at a big store in Canada. And when he was selling a crazy large amount of product we phoned him and like what are you doing Are you like wholesaling this, it was like a hundreds of bags per week for store. And he ended up moving to California and he’s our sales manager. And you know, Priscilla is in Texas, and they are doing sales. I’m really out talking about the brand doing financing, making sure capital ACH or capitalizations in in place with our CFO, Ashley. And going I went and met a whole bunch of GMs at Costco and stopped in the stores and said hi and bought the product and you know, going to our factories and going and making sure our team is really happy. And there’s just and then doing a lot of talking, talking at female entrepreneurship events. And I which I love to do, like I like you, I love sharing my knowledge. And you know, there’s so many landmines that come in the weight, as you’re, as you traverse your path, you know, and it feels good to share.

Kara Goldin 23:12
What do you think has been the most surprising aspect of, of growing the company? You and I were talking for a minute, you guys are just killing it right now. And growth. I mean, growth sounds great. But it’s also challenging at times, I mean, trying to figure out not only the financial side of us growth, and you’ve got to pay for things ahead of selling them and all of that. But also, I would imagine finding line time and things like that is is, you know, you’ve got to kind of jockey and negotiate for that sort of stuff. But what what do you find is sort of the most challenging today.

Dionne Baker 23:51
What’s really interesting, so I was talking to someone who’s quite, he’s very well versed in, in the area of CPG. And, and he and he said to me, you know, what keeps you up at night? And I said, Well, it depends on which day you asked me. Because it might be this or it might be that or maybe this because we’re always working on like I have I think of the like a wheel of a bike and you’re driving your bike and it goes smoothly and when spoke bends, then the wheel comes to like a crouching kind of bulking doesn’t move. And you know, if you straighten out each of these spokes with your team, it moves smoothly. And I think, you know, making sure that we meet the demand. There’s not a lot of man, we’ve got a lot of growth, and we have a great team and we’re meeting that demand but it there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that the packaging is right. You know when they print your your tubes for the freezies or is the size right? If it’s off by half a millimeter, you got to reprint everything and you know, so like every single step of the way, there’s a piece of equipment missing, Hey, where’s that tracking number? Let’s make sure it’s on its way are we sure it’s the right thing and so it’s you know, it’s looking and having a handle on All those things, while you’re still dealing with other issues like, you know, making sure all the capitalization is there. And so I think being aware on a high level of what’s going on, then bring the team members around you and the leaders to lead it. These the only way you can manage kind of the intensity of what of this type of growth.

Kara Goldin 25:21
So you’re doing a ton of speaking and getting your story out what else has worked for you in terms of getting the word out about the DBS organics brand.

Dionne Baker 25:32
You know, it’s really amazing. It’s been really organic for us, which I feel very lucky Marquis, people literally bumped into us in Costco and Walmart and Kroger and wherever they may be bushes, you name him stores all over, that are amazing partners, and they literally bumped into us, when they’re shopping, and they tend to go, Oh, my God, this is all organic, it’s all fruit. And they turn it over and they go, Oh, my gosh, this is woman owned. And this is this. And, you know, we hear it a lot on on online. And so I think we’re lucky because it grew very organically. So we’re just people have always said, Wow, you spend very little on marketing. And, you know, we’re fortunate because I think the brand speaks for itself, which we’re very lucky about. And now we’ve got really, we’re putting together a powerhouse team on the brand and marketing side that are helping cuz because now we’re launching more products, and making sure that you know, that story gets out there. And we just launched our colorful world, which is really kind of my dream and my vision that finally came to life.

Kara Goldin 26:41
So what is that? Actually, I’d love to hear what that is.

Dionne Baker 26:45
Yeah, so you know, a colorful world for me means so many things, it means that we use the most beautiful organic fruits that we’d never add coloring, artificial coloring anything like that to our to our products, but it’s about the deliciousness of of organic fruit, but and products that we’re making, but it’s also about the colorful world of DVS. So it doesn’t matter who you are, we want you to be an individual and to represent yourself authentically at DVS. So we have an many, many varied people in our company, and we want them to feel like this is a safe place for them to be whether it’s you know, people of color, LGBTQ community, women, minorities, religion, it doesn’t matter what we are all in this together. And I used to teach anatomy and physiology. And at university, when you peel off a tiny little layer of our skin, we are all the same. And I think DBS is a place where that authenticity shines through. And I always say to people call anyone on our team, and ask them how they feel about that. And our mission of living authentically, you know, enabling people to enjoy our products that are very authentic. And, and also, you know, putting it out there that we are supporters of communities, whoever they may be so awesome. Yeah, it’s it’s a beautiful thing. And then I think our dream launcher fits in there, too.

Kara Goldin 28:14
That’s very, very cool. So best advice that you’ve ever received. And I guess in the business world, I feel like maybe there’s other advice for parenting or as a human, as a female, whatever. But from a business perspective, what is the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Dionne Baker 28:35
I think and I think I live it now. And I think I heard it all early days was be humble enough to know what you don’t know about her. And I don’t think I ever could have said it better. I don’t know if that was exactly how it was said to me. But I live that every single day. And it keeps my feet very grounded. And I think keeps authenticity is just to be humble. And enjoy the journey.

Kara Goldin 29:02
I’d love it. Well, thank you so much, Dion for coming on. And best of luck with everything you guys are killing it. And we’ll have all the information in the show notes to let people know where to get DBS organics, but it’s available in stores, online, Amazon, etc. And it is the perfect item to throw in lunch boxes. But even if you don’t have kids that have lunch boxes, just to grab something quick as you’re running out the door. We found as I was mentioning to dB in our house, that even my youngest is a senior in high school and he he’ll grab them just as a snack and then they’re just really really awesome. So you’ve done a super nice job. So thank you everyone and have a great rest of the week. And thank you for having me on. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show if you would please give Visser review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit. And of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen. Or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening