Joanna Parker – Co-founder of Yumble
Kara Goldin: Hi everybody, it’s Kara Goldin from Unstoppable and we ware here today with Joanna Parker. I’m so excited to introduce her to you and also her company, and Joanna is the co-founder of this very, very cool company called Yumble and the website is YumbleKids.com and I’ll tell you just a little bit about it. It’s a weekly subscription service that delivers healthy and yummy prepared kids meals straight to the home of busy parents. Joanna’s going to talk a little bit more of how they’re different than some of other delivery services that are out there but we connected actually through a mutual friend and I wish when I had young kids in particular that this service would have been out there and I just think that it’s so great. Not just for, not only for the kids but also for the parents who are actually really trying to do better. I think especially we’ve talked on a few of these podcasts over the last few weeks, especially during this time we’re recording this in early June, just coming kind of hopefully out of COVID but I think more than ever healthy and good for you food is critical, and drinks as well, like Hint.
Yumble was born out of Joanna’s own personal pain points and challenges along the way. She has three children, very exciting, and you work with your husband as well, right?
Joanna Parker: I do.
Kara Goldin: Yes.
Joanna Parker: We founded it together, yeah.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, so we have that in common as well. It was featured on Shark Tank. I think you’re the second Shark Tank contestant that we’ve had on so I’m very, very excited to hear all about that. Prior to this a product manager at Macy’s so another aspect of you that I love that you hadn’t been in the food space and you just decided, “I just got to go do this and really solve this problem.” Anyway, welcome, welcome, welcome. Thanks for coming on and talking to us. So take us back to the beginning. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur or what was your thinking around starting this?
Joanna Parker: Yeah, it never occurred to me to be an entrepreneur. My husband, David, is an entrepreneur so I guess over time it sort of wore off on me. Like you said before this I was a product manager at Macy’s, I was also an early childhood education teacher so I was in a very traditional diverse career. After I had my second daughter I took off a little time and while I was a stay at home mom the struggle of putting healthy food on the table every single day for my children just became so maddening that I guess after the umpteenth time of complaining to David he said, “Well why don’t you do something about it? If you have this problem, somebody else must also.” I really overnight went from being a stay at home mom to a full time, as you know, entrepreneur with a brand new startup. I joked that it was my fourth baby and it still is today. So definitely did not always think I was going to be an entrepreneur.
Kara Goldin: It’s funny because a lot of people, when we started Hint, kids were definitely where my head was. I had taken a couple of years off after leaving AOL and was being a full time mom and I think the thing that really shocked me the most was when I was supplementing, I had kids really close to one another and I was supplementing formula or trying to supplement formula and I was just shocked at the ingredients in some of the stuff. I had never … I thought I was pretty educated about what was in food and drinks in general and so I always go back to the formula even though I didn’t develop a milk or sort of formula type of drink, I think that for me was really where I started to recognize the quality of so much of the stuff that I just assumed had pretty packaging and everybody was using it, therefore it was just better. Were you kind of similar as you were trying to put these together?
Joanna Parker: Totally.
Kara Goldin: Together. Yeah?
Joanna Parker: Totally and I personally have always been a healthy person, tried to eat mostly natural and as little processed food as possible but what I find fascinating about after conversations with my customers is as knowledgeable as people think they are or how important feeding nutritious meals to their children is, they really don’t know very much and they are looking to somebody to guide them and I think of Whole Foods all the time where you walk in there and I know … I don’t physically walk in there right now but when you’re in there, everything feels healthy and you almost don’t feel the need to turn over a package and look at the label but if you really, really want to dive into the nutrients and the ingredients then it’s beyond the packaging and people need to be a little more educated about it, I think.
Kara Goldin: Yeah and even these buyers I think that it doesn’t matter whether it’s Whole Foods or conventional groceries. I just find that they’re human, right? You think that they’re looking at everything and making sure that everything is up to the ingredients that they want but sometimes they’re just moving so far. They don’t have a PhD in science and so it’s challenging. What was your first box? Also, how did you decide to do a box? What was the thinking around that?
Joanna Parker: Honestly there wasn’t a whole lot of thinking in the beginning. After David had suggested it to me I decided I didn’t want to tap my immediate network so I posted anonymously on a Facebook mommy group to people that I don’t know and I asked if anybody needed help with dinnertime for their children, that I was going to provide a weeks worth of dinners. I was immediately bombarded with, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Kara Goldin: Wow.
Joanna Parker: “We don’t know who you are, we don’t know what you’re cooking but we hate mealtime at our house with toddlers, with young kids. It’s just frustrating, it’s challenging.” So I quickly put together a menu, I sent it over to the first 20 people who wrote back to me and I cooked them up, I tied bows on everything to make it all look nice, loaded up my car and I hand delivered everything for the first couple of weeks just to kind of understand exactly what people wanted. It started mostly just assuming people needed a little bit of help and then realizing that they actually needed a lot more help.
Kara Goldin: What were those items? Do you remember?
Joanna Parker: Yeah, I do remember. One of our original items was something that I still to this day love as a Yumble product because I think that it really embodies what Yumble is. I call it a chicken pop. What it was was basically a white meat ground chicken meatball covered in whole wheat Panko crumbs and it was baked until it was kind of crispy and crunchy, the way kids like it. What was fun about it was it had a lollypop stick stuck into it. In my head it had these three balancing things that were important to me. One is it was made from ingredients that parents were really excited about and proud of, two it tasted good so kids wanted to eat it and three, there was a fun factor. We were looking to make, or well when I was struggling with my kids I kept trying to find ways of making the mundane mealtime a little more exciting and engaging for them. That was my number one skew, I guess, from day one.
Kara Goldin: Were you making this in your kitchen? Obviously for the tests there and then when you actually started doing the boxes were you literally doing them in your kitchen or had you guys gone outside of the home at that point?
Joanna Parker: I worked out of the house for a couple of months. What I used to do is I would cook everything in the evening, put it into my refrigerator and then I would wake up at about 3:00 AM to pack everything so that then I could turn my kitchen back over to breakfast for my children, get them [crosstalk 00:09:09].
Kara Goldin: These are the stories everyone needs to hear. The stories of like, do you really want to be an entrepreneur, right?
Joanna Parker: Oh, it was crazy hours as well-
Kara Goldin: And a new mom and an entrepreneur, too.
Joanna Parker: Yes, and I would tiptoe around my house as I was packing things up so that I didn’t want to wake my children any earlier than I needed.
Kara Goldin: That’s hysterical. That’s so funny.
Joanna Parker: Yeah and then once it got to be too much for in the house we took a short break to find a facility and a kitchen to cook out of and that’s where we turned into Yumble proper.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. The chicken, the ground chicken sticks, what are they called?
Joanna Parker: Chicken pops.
Kara Goldin: Chicken pops. What are some of the other things that people would get in these boxes? Those sound great.
Joanna Parker: Yeah, those were delicious. I did a couple of things that I knew my kids already loved. So recipes that I had tested on them prior. Another one was a healthy mac and cheese that had butternut squash pureed right into it and then what I would do is I would take them and bake them in mini muffin tins so they would come out as these mac and cheese cupcakes. Again, incorporating foods kids like, nutrition parents like and a fun factor.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Joanna Parker: That was a popular one. I know, my third favorite that was also an original was these quinoa pizza cups and it was basically all pizza ingredients but in place of the regular process flour it was quinoa and again, in muffin tins and they got these kind of crunchy outsides and pizza gooey inside. Still a family favorite here.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, that sounds really, really yummy. Did you ever think about starting this as a delivery service versus boxes? How were you thinking about this?
Joanna Parker: From the beginning I pretty much always believed that it should be a subscription because to me, this was the kind of thing that was a pain point for parents and if it was a pain point one week it’s going to be a pain point the next week and the week after and the week after and presumably for a solid 10 year while they have young children in the house. I felt that a subscription model really lent itself naturally to kind of solving and kind of crossing something off parent’s lists permanently.
Kara Goldin: Yep, no, definitely. In what year did you guys start?
Joanna Parker: We formed Yumble in 2017.
Kara Goldin: Okay, wow, so that’s amazing. We, as I mentioned earlier, it’s June of 2020 and so obviously as a small business and a fairly new business, how’s it going with coming out of COVID and what’s your perception on moving forward?
Joanna Parker: Yeah, I think it’s definitely an interesting time to be running a small business. Thankfully a lot of our operations and logistics were strong enough before COVID started. I guess the way I look at COVIDs impact on Yumble is the way I sort of look at the whole Yumble journey in general which is every startup has bumps in the road and every time you think you’re in the clear and set to sail, something happens and whether it’s operationally or something with a customer or anything, you have to address it head on and that’s kind of how we approached COVID. COVID hit and we were fortunate because food delivery was going to be in high demand but nobody had any idea how it was going to impact our operations and if UPS was going to continue delivering on time. With perishable food a day late is garbage. It’s not just inconvenience. That’s really kind of how we’ve been riding it. I’m grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to help during this time. I think providing meals to heroes out there for their children so they have one less thing to worry about, it’s all so integral to the mission of Yumble that we’ve kind of embraced the challenge like we have with everything else.
Kara Goldin: Right now you are shipping nationwide at this point?
Joanna Parker: Yes.
Kara Goldin: Yeah and so is that super challenging? Obviously it has to be frozen and all of that but shipping nationwide versus doing regional, what would you say to somebody who’s thinking about that for their business? Especially if it’s a frozen or perishable item?
Joanna Parker: Yeah so our product ships fresh with gel packs that keep it at a refrigerated temperature for the duration in transit. I would definitely recommend doing it similar to the way that we did it, which is start small, start in a close area, learn what you need to learn about delivering boxes to different neighborhoods, weather changes, the seasons. Just when you think you’re kind of comfortable with your deliveries, something’s going to come that way that you have to change. First we started just in New York, then we expanded to the tri-state area, then we expanded to the full East Coast and only in the beginning of 2020 did we expand to California and Texas. It was with a lot of exploring, trials, tests, all these kinds of things to make sure we were doing it both in a safe way and also in a economic way.
Kara Goldin: Have you ever thought about going the store route? Actually doing these boxes in a Whole Foods, for example? Or is that something-
Joanna Parker: For sure.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Joanna Parker: For sure. I think right now for us we want to kind of really focus and hone in on direct to consumer, get that perfect and comfortable exactly how we want it and then of course expand in a number of different ways.
Kara Goldin: I think that’s smart. Yeah, no, I think it’s super, super smart. What do you think is the most surprising thing about since you started this business? Is there one or two things that you just were really surprised about? Or maybe an incident that you were really surprised about?
Joanna Parker: I guess I’m surprised at how being an entrepreneur and starting a business is more than 100% of your time and your thoughts and everything. People often ask and I’m sure you’ve gotten asked this question a lot, how is it to work with your husband? I always answer, I honestly couldn’t imagine doing it without him because it’s just everything. It’s really like our fourth child so we talk about it at 10 AM, we talk about it at 10 PM, we talk about it on Monday and Saturday and Sunday and I think the only way to really be successful as an entrepreneur is if you have that passion and you’re kind of always thinking about it. I was definitely, because I was coming up from being a stay at home mom and not having an out of the house career at the time, I was definitely surprised by that kind of all encompassing experience.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, you can’t turn it off at 5:00.
Joanna Parker: No.
Kara Goldin: No, yeah, you might go have dinner or go outside and hangout with your kids but I agree. Especially depending on the time. If there’s a crazy thing going on in the company and it’s just … The thing that I found was most saving during this time is that I felt like I had a partner in the company that was also my partner at home. We sort of knew what we had going on. We had our family and we had our business. I don’t think it works for everybody but I think there are lucky people who have a partner that has a totally different skillset and maybe they’re living with that partner and maybe they have kids, too, so they understand when this … Somebody needs to be focusing on this versus this and so I think that’s just really critical along the way. Do you think, or I want to get to the Shark Tank stuff. Everybody wants to know what was it like to be on Shark Tank and how did that come about?
Joanna Parker: David and I had for a long time thought it would be a great opportunity both personally and for Yumble and another example of really grateful that I did it with David. I applaud people who go out there alone. It seems especially daunting but it was a great experience, very unusual, nothing I’ll ever do again but exciting, thrilling and was a great boost for the company.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. You didn’t have a deal, you didn’t end up doing anything with them?
Joanna Parker: Correct.
Kara Goldin: Yeah and were all the sharks similar to what we see on TV? Did one stand out to you as being like, “Wow. They’re really great or they’re really not so great?”
Joanna Parker: You know it’s all so surreal. You’re thinking about so many different things while you’re out there. I was very taken with Lori. She was very sweet and encouraging. She kept giving little thumbs up in the middle of the filming.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.
Joanna Parker: We were both, my husband and I were both very impressed with her character.
Kara Goldin: How long were you on there for? How long do you-
Joanna Parker: Yeah, you’re out, you’re talking to them for about an hour I guess.
Kara Goldin: Do you practice first with them or no?
Joanna Parker: No. No, David and I practiced a lot together but yeah.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s very, very cool. I love hearing these stories.
Joanna Parker: Yeah, it’s a phenomenal experience and like every other part of entrepreneurship it’s a rollercoaster.
Kara Goldin: What’s your biggest marketing vehicle today?
Joanna Parker: Social media.
Kara Goldin: Yeah and so what do you think you … Today you’re doing a direct to consumer brand. What do you think are the key components for you guys that you’ve seen really work?
Joanna Parker: I think what works really well for us is that our demographic is predominantly mothers. 90% of our customers who sign up are the moms in the home and as all moms know, moms love to talk. They love to talk about what they do with their children, what works for their children, what they feed their children. I think having that strong word of mouth as our demographic has really worked in our favor. I love talking to our customers who are really happy, loyal customers and they’re always thrilled to kind of spread the word for us and work as just sort of natural ambassadors. I think when there’s a brand and a product that people love there’s just a natural durality to it.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, I think just word of mouth. I mean still 15 years later for our brand, I mean, word of mouth is really something that is so key in driving people. Then also for our brand as we talked about earlier and product sampling is so key and I think the key thing is having a product that people like, too. I don’t think that that ever goes away. You can’t launch a great service and care about social media and all these things. You want these people to come back again and again so having a great product-
Joanna Parker: Exactly.
Kara Goldin: Is super, super key. What about funding? Did you guys go out? How did you ultimately finance this?
Joanna Parker: Yeah so at the time that I started Yumble, David was working for a small private equity. They were our first investor and then we raised a True Series A, led by Sonoma Brands out in California.
Kara Goldin: Oh, I love those guys, yeah.
Joanna Parker: Oh yeah. Then followed up by Danone Ventures and the three of them have pretty much been our main investors up until this point.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. Do you think it’s been tough to raise money along the way or do you think … What do you think has been the most challenging?
Joanna Parker: It’s always tough to raise. That’s really David’s forte. That’s what he does. He’s kind of the business side of the company more.
Kara Goldin: Yeah that’s-
Joanna Parker: Fortunately he’s great at it and he’s got a lot of people who believe in him and us. I would say that to anybody starting a company, fundraising is obviously always a challenge but if the founders really believe in it and show that they’re invested in it then it’s easier to raise.
Kara Goldin: Yeah and I think having somebody that knows what the private, whether it’s private equity or venture or just individual investors look for in a brand. What do you think are the key things that …
Joanna Parker: Yeah, I think that they’re really looking for a product that they think has product market fit, a strong team that’s committed and well rounded and I think that on top of that they really want to see that the founders are committed and believe in it and really passionate about it.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Very, very cool. What’s life like going forward? This summer you guys are cranking out lots of Yumble boxes and continuing to grow throughout the nation. I’m so excited for you guys because I think it’s such a needed product and super, super awesome.
Joanna Parker: Thank you.
Kara Goldin: What do you look forward to?
Joanna Parker: Yeah, I mean, I’m really excited to keep rolling out new menu items. One of the exciting parts of having this R&D process in house is that we can respond to our customers quickly, hear what kind of things they’re missing. The interesting thing with children is a lot of them want the same thing over and over again.
Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joanna Parker: There are certain staples on our menu that will just never go away and kids want those week after week. Then there are parents of children who are either more adventurous eaters or who are a little bit older and parents and to try new things without having to be the guinea pigs in the kitchen and slave over it. Kind of balancing the menu that way and we’re trying to expand the menu to have some more adventurous items on it, expand out more into some lunch items. Especially through COVID we’ve seen what a need lunch is for children whether they’re at home or at school. Those are some exciting things.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. [crosstalk 00:25:12]. Ask two more quick questions. First, what’s your favorite Hint flavor? That’s the number one.
Joanna Parker: I personally love clementine.
Kara Goldin: I do, too.
Joanna Parker: I’m a big citrus in my water so that’s my new favorite one.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it’s so good. It’s super, super-
Joanna Parker: But I do love all of them.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, so that’s amazing. The last one, what makes you unstoppable?
Joanna Parker: I really think it’s the strong passion and belief in the two missions that Yumble was started on and to this day kind of drive by. I started Yumble for two reasons and both are extremely dear to my heart. One is I think parents today and when I say, “Today,” I mean pre-COVID so now more than ever parents have more on their plate than they ever have before. The expectations of how to raise your children, what to provide for your children, to juggle really long hours of work is a burden and almost unrealistic for parents. The idea that Yumble could possibly take some of that off of parent’s plates and allow them, whether it’s five minutes to breathe or 10 minutes to be with their children or the opportunity to go to an exercise class or do something for themselves that they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to do is really, really important to me.
Then equally important is providing healthy, nutritious food to children all across America. I’ve always been a believer that the younger children develop both healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food, the longer that relationship will really last. We’re just trying to turn mealtime into something enjoyable and fun and energetic in a positive way as opposed to tear filled and drama.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, absolutely. I bet especially during this time when parents are challenged with trying to figure out camps are getting canceled and they’re going to be home, it’s just one less thing for people to have to think about.
Joanna Parker: Exactly.
Kara Goldin: Yumblekids.com, Joanna Parker, thank you so much. How do people find you on social?
Joanna Parker: Yes, my handles are JoannaSParker and that’s on Instagram and Facebook and you can find me also at YumbleKids.com.
Kara Goldin: Awesome. Well so great. Thank you again for coming on today and we’re very, very excited to have you and especially hearing you talk about being a fairly new entrepreneurial [venturer 00:28:01] in food and you’re still smiling and having a good time with it and growing a great brand and being a great parent and all of those things. Anyway, thank you so much for just sharing.
Joanna Parker: Thank you, Kara.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, thanks. Okay, great. Well have a great afternoon. Bye everyone.
Joanna Parker: You too, thank you.
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