Let’s start from the top. Tell us about Baked by Nature.
Kara Freedman: Baked by Nature is a natural, vegan oat-bite company. Our oat-bites have less than six ingredients per oat-bite. All of them are natural, no added sugars, no preservatives, obviously no dairy because they’re vegan. The goal is to provide a healthy snack, or breakfast item, or post- or pre-work-out options that you don’t have to worry about having GMO oats or cane sugar or preservatives. They’re best consumed within the month. There’s nothing in them that goes bad quickly. For freshness and taste, shelf-life can be extended a little bit longer if you put them in a refrigerator or a vacuum-sealed tupperware container.
We know your grandfather was a source of inspiration. Talk a little bit about how he inspired Baked by Nature and your entrepreneurial spirit.
My grandfather passed away in August of 2019 at 99. He was an absolutely incredible person. He escaped the Holocaust, moved to the US and was drafted by the United States to fight in World War 2.
Two weeks after D-Day, he landed in the beaches of Normandy, where he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
With his experiences with war and having to flee his home country, one of the things that really shaped him was his ability to make something out of nothing. When he came to America, he didn’t speak any English. He persevered. He had some experience working at other factories and he started an extremely successful lamp company that he ran well into his 80s. In the end, he created something really special that would live in people’s homes forever.
You started Baked by Nature last April. What’s it like starting a business during a global pandemic?
The stay-at-home orders, and having all this free time saved from not commuting or not going to restaurants anymore, and doing everything at home—all of that really opened up the opportunity for me. I had a lot of free time to think, which was good, because I’ve pivoted a few times. I had a plan a and plan b, and then combined, and then I pivoted again.
Weren’t you put off by the uncertainty?
The best lesson I learned about being an entrepreneur is to be flexible and to really roll with the punches. Starting Baked by Nature is something I am really passionate about. Life is short. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Or, in our case, what 8 months will bring. Don’t wait for the perfect time, because there never is a perfect time.
One of the good things about starting a business during this time is that I was able to launch by giving back. I committed to donating 1000 of my oat-bites to the frontline and healthcare workers at New York Hospitals. We also had “purchase a bag as donation” – option. I donated to hospitals to Westchester, White Plains Hospital, and NYU here in the city.
We heard about the story of Baked by Nature providing oat-bites to frontliners. Can you talk about the importance of reaching out in your local community during these tough times?
I know I mentioned that running a business during this time made me think that life is short. But it also made me value the real heroes out there. Being in New York City, we’ve been deeply affected by the virus. We’re very fortunate to have low numbers right now.
People here take COVID very, very seriously. I knew that I couldn’t contribute to making things better by working in a hospital.
I don’t have a medical background—I couldn’t be on the frontline, delivering packages or working in a grocery store. So, I felt like fueling the healthcare and frontline heroes with food was the best option. I think New York really came together as a community during this really difficult and challenging time. And I knew that I wanted to contribute in a way that I could, and I felt that this was the best way.
It sounds like a massive gesture – how did you manage it?
I’m a one-woman show. I definitely get support from my family when I need it. My boyfriend and my father were very involved in organizing the healthcare donations. Actually, my entire family have been incredibly supportive. My mom invites people to the farmer’s market every week, and my brother has shared my website to the people at his office. On Sundays, my boyfriend gets up with me at 5 am and we get to the farmer’s market.
I know that’s almost a corny answer – but the belief that my family has in me is almost a second motivator. I need to make this grow and work. The support they provide is amazing. Other than that, it’s just having the passion for it, or it would not be something I’d be able to do.
Barring the impact of the pandemic, what do you think are the biggest barriers to starting a business in New York City?
That’s a great question. Obviously, being in New York – and I feel this way about being a business or just working in the city – there’s a lot of competition. But the competition is with some of the brightest and the smartest and most talented in the world. So, that pushes me to be better. There’s always going to be another company that’s similar or close to doing what you’re doing, or another professional who is just as qualified. Being in New York, you’re challenged to be the very best that you could possibly be.
In addition, there’s an unbelievable amount of resources for growth here. From wanting to grow to connecting with people, to having access to commercial or design kitchens—whatever it is, the best of the best are really here. So, in between the competition, there’s a lot of positive. I think being in New York is an asset in itself.
What kind of networking resources are available and how have they helped you manage the challenges of starting out in a pandemic?
I had a professional contact refer me to SCORE. Her husband was a former mentor. It was word of mouth that I found, and I’m so grateful that I came across this resource.
SCORE is a free program and they have it all over the country. I know New York City has the second largest chapter in the country. SCORE is filled with business leaders who volunteer their time as mentors. My mentors are some of the most inspiring women who make me think differently. They’ve created a food processing forum, which isn’t traditionally part of SCORE. Four different mentors and all their mentees hold monthly meetings where we connect with each other and we share resources, whether it be packaging or a commercial kitchen. We even connect offline.
I recently had a call from one of the food processing forum members. She has a chocolate company. She’s from New York but has been in Morocco since the start of the pandemic. The fact that I’m able to connect with someone who is literally on the other side of the world because of this New York based group is, I think, incredible.
I think we’re actually more connected because of the pandemic. Normally, these meetings happen in person. You get less attendance because people have to run out of work early and they have to travel to the location. But because of the pandemic, and because everything is virtual, it’s so easy to pop on Zoom and connect with other members through the forum.
What invaluable advice did you receive from your SCORE mentors that proved particularly helpful for you this year?
One of the “plan a or plan b, what do I do?” kind of dilemmas that I had was do I sell at a farmer’s market? One of my mentors asked me, “What do you have to lose?”
We sat down and really thought about the benefits of being in a farmer’s market, such as having proof of concept, talking to customers and getting that feedback that you really can’t get elsewhere now. You can’t really have taste testing in a supermarket. You can’t have a work group or research group. Sitting down with her and looking at the business reasons behind selling at farmer’s markets really helped put things in perspective. They’ve given me tremendous advice in many arenas, but that was the best one.
I currently sell at a farmer’s market in Rye, and I will be selling in a farmer’s market in New York City come January. Meanwhile, I have the products available on my website online at www.BakedbyNatureFood.com.
As entrepreneurs, you learn along the way. So, I’m really lucky to have people who can help me make less mistakes, learn more quickly, and rely on the experience of professionals and experts in the industry, who know a lot more than me.
Has selling at the farmer’s markets paid off?
Having the face time with customers at the farmer’s markets in Rye is tremendous. Building a relationship with certain customers – asking them, “I’m coming up with my Winter flavors, here are five samples, which one do you like the best?” – having that direct access has provided me really valuable insight.
For example, when I started selling, I often said that the product is natural, wholesome and vegan. And it turns out, nobody cared about the word wholesome. People didn’t ask about it, they didn’t know what it meant. Instead, they asked me four things. They liked that it was vegan and natural. Then, they asked me, “Are there any added sugars and preservatives? How many calories are they?” Those were the selling features that I wasn’t highlighting. So, now, when I describe my product, I say that Baked by Nature is natural and vegan. It has no preservatives.
That face-to-face is invaluable. I can assume what people want, I can ask a few friends and that’s great. But until I can talk to every single customer for a few months, I won’t really have a great sample size. And now that I do, I can come up with new product lines based on what people are interested in.
What about social media? Do you consider it an equally helpful point of contact for you?
Of course, I think social media is equally invaluable. One of the things on my priority list is to get my Facebook shop up and running so that people can make purchases on Facebook. People have been spending so much on their phones, especially during COVID. Taking advantage of the immediate connectivity and giving customers the ability to make purchases is really important. Social media also gives me the ability to see who is watching my story. Even a customer who purchases at a farmer’s market can use social media as a direct lifeline to me to ask questions and give feedback.
I’ve even changed the types of posts that I make. Oftentimes, the quotes or the wording that I’ll have on certain posts are answers to questions that I’ve gotten from some customers. If one person has asked, maybe other people are wondering as well. I think social media allows you not just to directly interact with people, but also provide answers to questions that people may not ask yet but they might have.
Apart from social media, do you consider search engine optimization (SEO) part of your digital e-commerce strategy?
You know, one of the best things about being a one-woman show is that you gain a real appreciation for what each job entails. And as I grow and eventually bring in people responsible for marketing, for operations, my understanding is first-hand because I’ve done it. What I’ve learned about digital e-commerce is that SEO is incredibly important, even more so today. Having my product not only be relevant from a consumer perspective and retail perspective, but also searchable in that people looking for my type of product can actually find me—it’s really important. It’s definitely a priority, and something I work on a lot.
Do you have a specific SEO approach?
Right now, it’s really a push to get higher-ranking sites than mine to link back to my site. I know that will build up my SEO score organically. The more I can put my website out there is a priority. I have toyed around with the idea of working, maybe doing some paid search, whether it be meta or display ads. That’s still level C in my plan. I’m not quite there yet. But right now my go-to is the linkbacks and driving traffic from other sites. I have the articles that I’ve been featured in on my website, so I wanna return the favor to the outlets that are covering me, while making sure that the outlets are covering me are driving traffic to my site.
Looking beyond your one-woman operation, what’s the first part of your business that you would delegate?
I would hire somebody to get my packaging to the next level. I’m at that stage where I either need to hire a designer and work with a printing company to create something that is more retail ready. Or continue on this farmer’s market path for another six months, and then go to this more retail ready option. But I would hire a designer and somebody who knows packaging well. Specifically, a consumer product goods expert; from designing to finding a printer and get it done.
If you had a magic wand and you could magic one aspect of your business to improve it, what would it be?
Can I multiply myself? (laughs). Okay, I think the interest on the retail side. If I could wave a wand and magically attend ten sales calls and secure ten accounts, that would be my magic wand power wish.
Final Question – you mentioned that you were releasing a whole new set of flavors this winter. Can we know whcih flavors they are?
Yes! We’re actually releasing them tomorrow!
So, in addition to our usual flavors, which are hazelnut coffee, chocolate chip, and coconut honey, we’re going to add three more flavors starting November 9.
This winter, we’re launching cranberry pecan, chocolate, and ginger bread. We’ll be selling them at the farmer’s market in Rye, New York. And people can get them in bags of 3’s and 6’s from www.BakedbyNatureFood.com
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