Stacy Madison – Founder & Former CEO of Stacy’s Pita Chips and now Founder & CEO of BeBOLD Energy Bars

Episode 149

Today we’re chatting with the brave and amazing Stacy Madison, Founder & Creator of Stacy’s Pita Chips (which was bought by PepsiCo). In this episode, we talk about her journey in building this incredible brand, challenges along the way and finally selling it. and her next venture she has launched called BeBOLD Energy Bars. Such a great interview from someone who followed her gut to build a brand that people love! And here about the next venture she has launched called BeBOLD Energy Bars. Don’t miss this exciting conversation on #TheKaraGoldinShow

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Kara Goldin 0:00
Hi everyone, its Kara golden from the Kara golden show and I am so excited for my next guest. I have been following her for years and admired what she has built and what she has done. We have Stacey Madison here and she is for me. I knew her as the founder and the creator of Stacy’s pita chips, which I’m sure you have along the way eaten and so, so wonderful. And she is now the founder of Be bold energy bar, which we were chatting a little bit right before we all got on here. And I didn’t even tell her that we got the shipment and they are so yummy. And we’re going to talk more about that. And she’s just had this amazing entrepreneurial journey and successfully sold Stacy’s to Pepsi under the Fredo Fredo brand, a few years back, and she also has a new cookbook coming out. I understand too. And, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. So but Stacey, such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for coming on.

Stacy Madison 1:11
Thank you. Let’s not talk about the cookbook. Not done either.

Kara Goldin 1:15
We will not talk about that. Okay. But let’s talk about Stacey and how I just want to know, as I said, I’m such a huge admirer of you and all that you’ve accomplished. So talk to me about sort of where did this all start? Where did Stacey grow up? Where did all this begin?

Stacy Madison 1:34
Yeah. So the good Trivial Pursuit question with where I was born of all places. I was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but my family. Yeah, I was in New York and upstate New York until I was a teenager and then moved to Massachusetts, where I went to high school and then to UMass for college. Then I went back out to California, and went for my Masters out there, and then kind of bounced around a bit before I ended up back here in Massachusetts.

Kara Goldin 2:01
That’s awesome. And did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Stacy Madison 2:05
I did not. No, no, I first of all, I mean, I went for I went to school for clinical social work. My dad was a psychologist, and I thought I would be a psychologist. And he, he encouraged me to be this is just so sexist. He loved me so much. He wanted me to be successful. But it really was, he’s a product of the 50s or was before he passed away. But, you know, he thought that a social worker was more of a job for a woman than to become a doctor of psychology. So he said that way, you can have a nice career on the side and have kids and stuff. So that’s hysterical. So that’s the path I was following. Because I don’t know, it was easy.

Kara Goldin 2:47
And how so? Did you start out doing that?

Stacy Madison 2:49
Yeah, obviously, I changed. I did start off doing that. And I was working in one of my dad’s offices. And yeah, eventually, I ended up leaving. It was, you know, I was in clinical private practice. And I found it very isolating, you know, I would kind of I was working when other people weren’t working, and vice versa. And I’d go to my office by myself, I don’t lock the door. I locked the door at the end of the night. And, you know, I really had no other contact. And then when I did have a job that I loved in this group home, yeah, it paid like $23,000. So. So eventually, I just, you know, kind of gave up the whole profession. I had always been in the restaurant business, either cocktailing are waitressing. And, you know, that’s it. I have to say, you know, you can always go back to that no matter where you are in the country in the world. You can really, it’s something a skill that you can always use, and that’s what I used in college. And that’s what I ended up going back to, you know, before I figured out what it was I wanted to do. I love that. Well, you’ll

Kara Goldin 3:59
you’ll love to hear actually in my book, I talk about that. But I I ended up moving to New York after my waitressing job in Scottsdale, Arizona where I grew up and had met a customer there who you know basically got me thinking about like, what do you have to lose and you should just go out and and just go try and interview at a bunch of places and and that’s exactly what I did. And so it was at the teepee Mexican restaurant that is still one of my favorite restaurants. And I laugh about it because I I have always believed that I could always go back if things that hint didn’t work out or some of my other ventures along the way I was you. Yeah, I could still waitress and you know, my kids laugh because I can hold a lot of hot plates on my arm. And you know, and sometimes just for my stupid human tricks, I’ll even show that and they’re, I think everybody should should you know, work in there. restaurant industry doing whether it’s bartending or waitressing along the way, you learn a ton, you learn

Stacy Madison 5:05
a ton, and you love this. It’s so good for people skills, and it really opens up so many doors all over the world. And at one point, after college, I was going to Europe with a friend of mine, and she ended up bailing. And so I moved to London and got a job at the Texas Lone Star cafe where they liked to hire Americans because, you know, to give the Europeans a feel, and my friend ended up bailing. So I went by myself, and I said, Look, I mean, I got an apartment, I, you know, I’m either going to get an apartment, and a job. And I had a one way ticket. So I had enough money to last me, you know, a couple weeks. So I was either going to go and get the job in the in the apartment, or I had enough money for a ticket to go home. So it was either going to be a vacation or move. And I didn’t quite know. So you know, I ended up staying there and then traveling around for a bit after school. So

Kara Goldin 6:01
I love it. Let’s get into the the PETA side of your of your life. So did you how did that all begin?

Stacy Madison 6:09
I ended up moving to at some point, after coming back to it, you know, going through the whole social work thing. And then I ended up moving to Hawaii. I moved to Hawaii because I was started dating Marc who was getting his doctorate, and he got a internship in Hawaii at the VA hospital. So I moved out there to be with him again, got another waitressing job, and ended up working for this company. I worked my way up from a waitress to assistant manager and then they were opening up a new restaurant, serve theme restaurant. And they asked me to be one of the opening managers. I said, Yeah, sure, there were five of us. Long story short, I ended up losing that job. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for my bonus, they called me into the office, and they said sorry, we’re gonna need to let you go. I lost this job. But out of that I gained very valuable experience. I learned how not to treat people, when when you run a business, I learned that I was really I should have, they should have been upfront with me. And I would have just said fine, I’ll say a year and help. And that’s it, because I want to go back home. But um, you know, they weren’t and, you know, they said they always you know, my somebody told me why they always over hire for restaurants when they open so that they have the extra work and then they let people go. And that was completely new. And that’s the way things were done back then. But um, so in that I learned how to open a business for myself and I said if I’m going to work this hard for somebody else, then I can do this for myself. And that is where I started with the the cart and didn’t have the money for a restaurant. So bought this food cart, converted it and and served healthy roll up sandwiches and the pita bread. Cut the pita bread at the end of the day and baked it into different flavor chips handed away for free to people standing in line and people loved them. And it was really hard to get the finances and everything to open up place. So I ended up going in the direction of the pita chips. That was the quickest I’ve ever told that I’m sorry if I talk too fast now

Kara Goldin 8:25
I love it. And so how long were you doing this cart before you turned it into? Actually what we see in stores two years, two years, and people were just asking you for it?

Stacy Madison 8:37
Well, you know what it was, um, you know, at some point, you know, the goal was not to set out and be on a food cart. You know, the food cart was really a stepping stone to either get an indoor location or something else. So at one point, we were, you know, the carpets doing really well and I was looking for indoor indoor locations. They said you can stand in line between you know, behind Oban pan and Dunkin Donuts and everybody else who wants a tiny little spot in the financial district of downtown Boston. And so, so, you know, it didn’t look I tried to work out a deal to do Stacy’s at Macy’s. I mean, everything I tried every avenue, but eventually just decided, you know what, in all of this time, we started sort of doing the design and the packaging and everything needed to launch the pita chip company. And for your you know, we could get bigger, faster without that same capital investment, which isn’t necessarily sure we learned but it was it was a good start. And that’s how kind of how the pita chip company was born.

Kara Goldin 9:43
Like how did you think about it then how did you decide you went and had to get a co Packer right for your chips and

Stacy Madison 9:50
no, we built our own manufacturing plant.

Kara Goldin 9:52
Wow. I mean, that’s amazing. And how did you know how to do that?

Stacy Madison 9:57
We tried to get a co Packer and Yeah, there was no such thing. There’s no no nobody made pita chips. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 10:04
yeah, that is so wild.

Stacy Madison 10:06
Basically, we’re self taught, we learned it, you know, we went and we toured other facilities, we met with different machine people, and equipment manufacturers, and we said, This is what we want to do. And we tried different things, we had a lot of failures. Before we got, you know, we’re two psychologists and a social worker trying to build this business and trying to figure out, you know, nobody hasn’t background in manufacturing, or, you know, in food, new product development or anything like that. So, you know, it was a huge learning curve, and you were willing

Kara Goldin 10:41
to pick up the phone and email people and just try and figure it out. And you know, what, we’re

Stacy Madison 10:47
determined like that determination. Yeah. You know, and that drive, being having, you know, two doctorates and a Master’s right. As far as you know, did anybody doubt what you were doing? It’s a complete and total career change for all of us. And everybody doubted us. I mean, there wasn’t, I mean, it was hard, you know, even family was like, Yeah, they’re trying to be supportive. And, you know, you’re standing on a food cart. And it’s kind of like, nobody was really doing cartwheels. And so for us, you know, failure wasn’t an option. And if this whole thing goes south, then you know, we were all going to join the idiot parade, and be the leaders. right out front. It was that’s just where we were. So we just kept researching and networking. And, you know, until we figured out how to do each and every thing, whether it was packaging or sourcing or, you know, pricing, you know, so you ended up building Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Kara Goldin 11:54
I love it. You know, it’s it’s funny, Gary Vaynerchuk always talks about like having you got to the successful founders have to have the vision, but also have to be willing to get in the dirt. And I think that, you know, I totally relate to that right, even to this day. I mean, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and go figure it out. And you talked about being, you know, not allowing things to really don’t you in the process that you just have to go figure it out. And I think that that’s clearly what you’re describing. So we used

Stacy Madison 12:29
to say you have to be willing to jump the dumpster. Because you can really save money. If you get on top of the garbage, and you jump on it really hard. And you pack it down. You can fit twice as much in there. Yeah. So we’re like, you got to be willing to jump the dumpster?

Kara Goldin 12:44
Yeah, no, I love that. That’s hysterical. So what was your first store?

Stacy Madison 12:48
Um, first of all, we started with a whole bunch of gourmet food stores. But our first natural food store was bread and circus, which is now Whole Foods. And yet part of the growth of the whole natural food industry when we first started out, I mean, we just made the product naturally, and didn’t know there was a whole natural food channel. But we found that out.

Kara Goldin 13:13
That’s interesting. And so did you raise money along the way to

Stacy Madison 13:17
a, it’s using your credit cards and borrowing from friends and family counts, then? Sure. But no, we never took on any private funds. We were just 100% on the whole thing.

Kara Goldin 13:31
And how did you decide to sell then, like, how did that come about?

Stacy Madison 13:35
We never intended to sell and, you know, when you when you kind of when you speak at business schools and all of this with no business backgrounds, you know, that the exit strategy comes up all the time. And we definitely did not have an exit strategy. We just wanted to build a company doing what we love to do each and every day. And that was it. But as far as selling, you know, when we were approached by one global company, and you know, they took an interest in us and then within a couple of months, another one, that’s when we decided we should get a team together and maybe consider it I had also I had two year olds. You know, what it is the whole building a business and being a mom and you know, that’s that’s a whole podcast in itself, right?

Kara Goldin 14:26
Yeah, no, absolutely. And then they ended you stay with once they acquired the company, did you stay with Pepsi flesh burrito,

Stacy Madison 14:35
I tried, and I wasn’t sure if I did more harm than good. And so I ended up I was gonna stay for five years. And we ended up just ending my contract and I stayed just for one year, but the reality is that I still do stuff for Stacy’s the Stacy’s rise program and because it’s part of me, and you know, People think that, that you’re not part of the brand. But you know, you’re always part of the brand, it will always be a part of you. So whenever they do anything, you know, all I want is the best. And I want to see the brand grow and grow and grow, even whether it’s mine or not mine.

Kara Goldin 15:18
I love it. That’s so great. And so talk to me about the Stacy’s rise program to you mentioned that,

Stacy Madison 15:24
yeah, so so Stacy’s is doing a program now. And they’re supporting female entrepreneurs. They give away, I think almost a quarter million dollars a year and to help women start up and grow businesses, they have a bag and on a you know, Stacy’s pita chip bag and on the bag, you can kind of scan the QR code and link to all these other female companies. And they provide mentorship and support. And so I mean, everything I wish I had, when I first started, I love it. That’s why I whatever I can do, it’s, it’s it’s a great program.

Kara Goldin 16:03
That’s so great. And I talked earlier about your newest venture Be bold, how did that come about?

Stacy Madison 16:10
So first, after selling the company and doing some traveling, and you’re trying some private equity stuff, and all that, you know, so it just didn’t fit, but I opened a juice bar, so I could eat healthy and have stuff in my neighborhood, my kids could see me work. And one of the things that I sold at the juice bar was Be bold bars. They weren’t called that at the time. But yeah, we made these energy bars. And so, um, it was an item that I sold that grew organically, right? Just like the pita chips, it was not something that was created with an intention to sell, you know, just, it just was something that organically was a great product. And we were sampling it and we were selling lots of them. And we said, you know, we were selling them at the refrigerated section. And yeah, it’s like if we could sell this many bars out of our little juice bar in Needham, Massachusetts, then, you know, just do the calculator game, multiply it out and say, Well, if we can do it, then they can do it. And they can do it. And you know, and so that kind of put us in a position where we should, we felt like we should put together a team and figure out how to make them on a larger scale. And that’s what we did. Just like can’t like need, like, sometimes when you launch a business you don’t, it’s not like you’re Oh, I have an idea. Well, let’s just do this. It was organic. Yeah, you saw a need, even like, we were just gonna plug this hole.

Kara Goldin 17:36
Well, it’s funny, I was describing this on a, on an interview the other day that I think being an entrepreneur, and really being a successful entrepreneur is about liking puzzles. And the differences is that there’s no end to the puzzle. And oftentimes, people don’t actually give you the picture. And they take puzzle pieces away and you don’t even know they’re gone. And then suddenly write then they throw a bunch on the table. And then you’re like, wait, I didn’t know I had more pieces, and then all of a sudden, it just keeps going. So if you ever want an end,

Stacy Madison 18:10
yeah, don’t be an entrepreneur. Don’t

Kara Goldin 18:12
Don’t be an entrepreneur, because it’s it will frustrate the heck out of you. And it’s and you know, you even talked about when you sell your company, I mean this right?

Stacy Madison 18:22
Yeah. It’s like all these business students are like, well, we have Well, what was your exit strategy and like, exit strategy? Like, what is that?

Kara Goldin 18:30
Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s, it’s interesting, my book that you and I were talking about earlier, I spoke at a business school a couple of months ago, and they’re actually reformatting their entrepreneurship class based on my book, because it they decided that after talking to other entrepreneurs, and then speaking to me and reading the book, they said, this is not exactly, you know, the story of entrepreneurism, really it is about having a purpose, having having an idea to solve a problem, and then rolling up your sleeves, and just going and doing and having failures, having challenges and then paying close attention, being curious, and then, you know, continuing on from that, and so anyway, I think there’s definitely a lot of the main reason why I even do this podcast too. And I’ve really focused on founders and CEOs because it’s a I think that there’s these stories that need to be told it’s not as black and white as a you know, you’re a unicorn or your failure. There’s stuff that happens in between, you know, that I that I love telling those stories and,

Stacy Madison 19:45
and you know, it’s funny because because even when I was looking at companies for in the in the private equity world for investments and things, it’s kind of like you learn that there are great products. But it takes more than that. Right. And then there are great people like that, you know. So it’s great people great products, but you know, you can have the greatest product in the world. But if you don’t have great people behind it, then it may not go anywhere, and you can have some great people. But if they don’t have a good product, then, you know, that can also fail. It’s just there’s so many little pieces, like he said to the puzzle that can just cause it to fall apart. And that’s where the risk comes from.

Kara Goldin 20:28
Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s a matter to I mean, it just has me thinking about even when you were looking at finding, you know, a co Packer, you didn’t stop when you heard, oh, you know, nobody does pita chips like this, you instead built it. Right, you, you know, you just figured it out, you didn’t know if it was gonna work, there were probably problems along the way, you know that that happened, but you just you learned and now you go, I go back and look at some of those moments and just start laughing. And you’re, you’re really going to enjoy my book and some of the stories because you’re probably going to be like, Oh my god, you know, this is this is crazy. You know, I’ll

Stacy Madison 21:07
remember I remember we really, we wanted to get a consultant in and we weren’t real to real believers in it. But we we scraped up 20 $500, and flew up a consultant of all places from Frito, lay, right? A retired Frito, lay exec, who came in saw what we were doing, and said, these are delicious. And if you want to be a mom and pop shop, you’re gonna be just fine. But if you ever want to mass produce, forget it. You’ll never be able to mass produce it and have it taste this good. And then we were like, We were just seriously, and then we’re like, but why can’t if we can do it. For you know this much? Well, why can’t we just do exactly what we’re doing this many times? And if we had to set up like 25, tiny little ovens and get lots and lots of people, then why can’t we just do that? And eventually, that’s not we ended up growing it we did end up engineering and figuring it out. But it you know, you have to just not we could have just stopped there.

Kara Goldin 22:13
Yeah, yeah. But you were willing to just go and figure it out and be scrappy about it. And I love it. I absolutely love it. So what do you think was? What would you say is your biggest takeaway in building a business? Either one of these businesses, I mean, they’re, they’re different, right? In some ways, and I’m sure you brought in a lot of learnings from your first business and things you’ll do. And people and people right along the way, I think, for me that the biggest learning was that I felt like I was constantly saying along the way, if I only had, you know, the right experience, like I was looking at myself saying, I just don’t know how to do that. But then I would go and try and do these things along the way. And, you know, I thought that somebody with big soda experience would come in and be able to just snap their fingers and get the stuff done. And what I realized was that, that was not actually what was going to scale the business that that was going to be an actually go out and, you know, do what I needed to get done. Because innovation is not really what happens in these large companies and somebody with 20 years experience in these companies doesn’t necessarily know how how to do what I needed to get done.

Stacy Madison 23:29
Exactly that that startup phase is completely and totally different than the end game.

Kara Goldin 23:36
And so would you think that was one of your lessons as well,

Stacy Madison 23:39
that was definitely one of the lessons but to take that same thing and relate it to each and every woman or man or anybody that’s starting a business to relate it to yourself personally, you have to go back and and learn. Like I don’t I can’t say I honestly could like believed in myself there at times I still don’t believe in myself. And you have to really acknowledge that you are the one that especially when you’re starting that knows all this stuff, nobody knows your product better than you do. And you have to really believe in what you’re doing so that you can move forward. So and I learned a lot about myself like now as I you know, and you know after even turning 50 I was like I started to realize like wow, you know what, kind of a veteran in need right now like I must I must really know my shit.

Kara Goldin 24:40
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think you do learn a lot about yourself and you know, and as I always say entrepreneurs have it at certain points along the way may seem like it’s this you know, very high profile, sexy business to be in but it’s there’s ways your ways to make money, you know, especially in the early days. Have it. And it’s, it’s, it’s a lot of work and you have to be ready to go out and, you know, sweat it out and fight it out. In some cases, especially getting it into stores and fighting the, I’m sure you had moments along the way and where you’re fighting big categories. I mean, obviously, the bar category as well as the chip category are pretty competitive, just like the beverage set. So I can, I can only imagine, but do what you love and do what you believe in and, you know, definitely have a story behind it, too. I think that that is probably more critical would you than ever?

Stacy Madison 25:38
Well, that’s what makes it that’s what makes it yours. And that’s what makes the difference between what we do and what the large companies do when they just launched another product. Yeah, you’ll never be able to get that same brand loyalty, as when you have when you’re that attached to the product.

Kara Goldin 26:00
I love it. No, that’s I totally totally agree.

Stacy Madison 26:04
Yes. And you know, people live evolve story, we got some great new products coming out some new packaging. You know, we’ve got almond butter bars, peanut butter bars, and now we’re coming out with cashew and macadamia nut. And so they’re really they are just we lead with taste, and they’re delicious. And all we do is mix press and package. And that’s I love there’s not a whole lot to it.

Kara Goldin 26:31
There are so yummy, so definitely, definitely try them and continue to support Stacy’s pita chips because they’re so darn good. And really, really excited to have you on today, Stacy. So thank you everybody for listening and give Stacy five stars and come back and see us every Monday and Wednesday to see and hear amazing stories from founders and CEOs tell the real stories about building their businesses and about just all of the ways that they can share with you to give inspiration to for you to go out and and do it as well. So thanks.

Stacy Madison 27:13
I can’t wait to read your book.

Unknown Speaker 27:14

Kara Goldin 27:15
Thank you so much.

Unknown Speaker 27:17
All right, take care.

Kara Goldin 27:19
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 calm 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 golden 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 golden thanks for listening