Don’t Compare Your Brand to Others” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Gotch, founder and formulation specialist of Gnarly Pepper, a custom spice blend company that understands mindful eating in creating healthier alternatives for traditional dips and condiments by pairing her blends with plain Greek yogurt. Sara is a full time solo-preneur in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) world and has extended her growing knowledge in the field through various podcasts and being a guest lecturer.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

The moment I decided to become an entrepreneur was watching a sunset 3 years ago in Thailand. With my vast list of ideas staring me in the face, I choose to go with the ‘healthier alternative’ route to not only help myself, but many others. I decided that I would dedicate the next few months creating a formulation that would turn plain Greek yogurt into a healthier alternative to mayonnaise = Like Mayo.

Throughout my 20s, I enjoyed a fun night out, hitting the gym three times a week and eating! I was never overweight, but boy oh boy did I feel guilty after snacking before supper or overindulging at a tailgate. All items that could have been avoided if 1) I had willpower or 2) Had a healthier alternative. The ladder of the two made the most sense, because will power lacks when you’re having fun and enjoying flavor. That is when it hit me, there was no true way to enjoy savory dips and condiments. Understanding the true ingredients within a proper chicken salad (loads of mayonnaise), the base of most dips (sour cream and cream cheese), something had to be done to free some guilt, I knew I wasn’t the only one, so I set out on creating blends that mimic flavors people already love but as the healthier, savory alternative.

My love for plain Greek yogurt happened when I developed an addiction to tabasco sauce. I wouldn’t lay off the tabasco sauce in my salsa, I would add in the plain Greek yogurt to help tame the heat! I’ve tried a few recipes that sub out mayo with plain Greek yogurt, it was far too plain! This is what struck me as a huge opportunity in dabbling with plain Greek yogurt as a base for Like Mayo. I challenged myself to create a formulation that when mixed with plain greek yogurt, would become the alternative to mayonnaise. Key word there being alternative. The Like Mayo blend is the ‘oomph’ that you so desire when subbing out that mayo for plain Greek yogurt. When you make a salad as you traditionally would, adding in your relish, grapes, walnuts, salt and pepper what have you, you wouldn’t know the difference — and the best part is, it saves you over 1200 calories PER CUP! After creating a formulation I and my samplers where happy with, Gnarly Pepper added the Onion Dip and Veggie Dip to the retail line. Again, all paired with the plain Greek yogurt creating that healthier, savory alternative!

Today, many people are thrilled to have the healthier alternative available and they are also in awe of how good it tastes. Educating mindful eating to others through the healthier alternative aspect is what inspires Gnarly Pepper to keep moving forward through different blends and cultures.

Feeling fearless as ever, I took some money from my savings, ordered my blends and dove head first into the CPG world! Today, Gnarly Pepper is found in 23 Hy-Vee locations in the midwest along with 19 other store locations across the US. Our passion to help others — is what moves us; our dedication to our brand is what behooves us.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Gnarly Pepper stands out by endorsing and creating healthier, savory alternavites. We understand the shift in culture that has led millions of people with limited options. No longer are people scanning prices for the best deal, they’re reading labels and making sure they are consuming the ‘better for you’ ingredients. On the daily, Gnarly Pepper strives to inspire others through mindful eating in understanding that one doesn’t have to lose out on flavor for the healthier alternative.

While attending vendor events or teaming up for demo’s at a local grocery stores, Gnarly Pepper often views the same reaction, ‘WHOA, this is plain greek yogurt?’ The answer; ‘YES, yes it is.’ Their minds are blown!

Not only is Gnarly Pepper the healthier alternative when pairing with plain Greek yogurt, we crush our competitors in calorie comparisons.

Gnarly Pepper understands that we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we just want to reinvent the way people perceive food. Many go after the ‘norm’, but in only assuming the NEW tastes horrible. That is not the case, one does not have to lose out on flavors they love by choosing the healthier alternative. Gnarly Pepper is excited to continue this teaching of mindful eating.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Gnarly Pepper is always on the go looking for ways to gain exposure and learn from the best. In the past, I have attended multiple events to shake hands with the ‘who’s who’ of the CPG/ Food & Beverage world. I attended the Foodbytes event of San Francisco in the Spring of 2018. Moreover, I have attended two Chobani Incubator Happy Hours in San Francisco and Chicago, leading me into my second application for the Fall 2018 cohort of the Chobani Incubator. Most recently, I have been selected to pitch at Plug and Play at their Selection Day event in Sunnyvale, CA this July 2018, in hopes of entering their program. I have also applied to Foodbytes London and Foodbytes New York. Through many of these applications and events with a Shark Tank casting call thrown in the mix, it proves I’m dedicated in teaming up in the mindful eating world and my passion in educating the rest of the world.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

There are two books that have opened my mind to greater possibilities through a thought process- larger than myself. They are; Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker.

I didn’t exactly play ‘house’ growing up, I played ‘business’. I would pretend to make phone calls selling office materials, writing down catalog numbers and playing bookkeeper. Though I didn’t have a knack for accounting, I did have a creative mind alongside the desire to run a business. Through college, I worked at a Country Club and I soon developed a love and appreciation for success and wealth. I never saw money as greed, I always placed it in a convenience category. Example: when something breaks, you have money, boom, fixed. Grandma is ill in Arizona, boom, you fly down to be by her side. Working in the graphic design field, carrying on various bartending jobs, I soon realized, if I want the success that I desire, I need a change. I read the book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T.Harv Eker, and I instantly transformed my thinking into a constant flow of success. While reading Think and Grow Rich, I had online orders coming in way more than I ever had, and a few request calls from stores wanting my product! The mind is a powerful thing, if you visualize your success, it can become a reality. In measuring out what I believed to be successful for myself, did not include me working for someone’s dream. I desire my own.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a 20-Something Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 - If you’re waiting, you’re losing.

Being an entrepreneur, one may tend to rely on others for help and advice. In my experience, I was waiting for the reply from stores and distribution centers. I was told by others to try and get into ‘x’ or you should talk to so and so down at ‘x’, they’d love your product! While these leads were great, I would wait and wait and wait for the reply in knowing I had a limited amount of inventory I wanted to dedicate to them. STOP! DO NOT WAIT FOR OTHERS! Plug plug plug, sell sell sell. You can always order more, and the ones that say yes sooner, will be your light on a better tomorrow, with a more trusted relationship.

2 - Make lists.

When you’re a solopreneur, you wear many hats! Looking back, I woke up so many mornings with 1,000 things on my mind, staring at the computer, making two breakfasts, because I didn’t know where to start. If you prioritize your URGENT, IMPORTANT, SEMI-IMPORTANT, NOT IMPORTANT list — you can start to check items completed much faster and keep your momentum going with the excitement of knowing where to start the following day.

3 - Say YES to every opportunity.

NETWORKING is HUGE! You may find yourself learning about events, people and more — with a follow of up, would you be interested? SAY YES! I wouldn’t say I’m a social butterfly, and everyone at least a few times a year is ‘that person’ at an event that has to bud in at some point because standing alone for too long is more awkward than budding in. Networking for me, has led to free events through Chambers, I’ve learned about pitch events to submit to and even got leads to grocery chains. All through the simple choice of saying, Hi, I’m Sara. Note: It is highly beneficial to research who may be attending the networking event and make a specific note to visit with those in your industry.

4 - Don’t compare your brand to others.

You are special for being you. Looking at your business category via social media, you may become easily distracted in comparing yourself to others. STOP! If you find images, or words that intrigue you, discover in the back of your mind why you’re attracted to them. Ask yourself why you are interested, do a little research and gage if a direction like that even fits your brand! You can waste multiple hours trying to be something you’re not. Just BE YOU!

5 - Throw accomplishment parties for yourself.

Being a solopreneur can be very hard and lonely. You may find that reaching out to other entrepreneurs is hard, because they are working just as much as you! You may find that friends and family around you are supportive, but they may not ‘understand’ what you’re going through. In light of this, I say throw yourself various accomplishment parties! I found that my family and friends though, supportive, don’t quite understand the day to day things I do. When a deal lands, your product arrives or something as small as a standard corrugated box fitting your 6 count of product perfectly, it’s all relative! Small, yet joyful occasions within yourself and your business should be shined upon. It’s a long road if you don’t take a second to appreciate the highs, because we all know the lows come right along side.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

The Gnarly ladies I’d hope to sit down with are Rachael Ray and Lori Greiner!

I have submitted multiple articles to the Rachael Ray show in hopes to bring light to her audience. Gnarly Pepper could change so many lives showcasing that it is truly the healthier alternative. Not only that, Rachael HATES MAYONNAISE!! I believe she would love Gnarly Peppers’ Like Mayo blend so much, it could become a staple on her show.

Moving into the tenth season of Shark Tank, I find Lori Greiner a strong, well-minded business woman. Through my journey, I love giving back what I’ve learned through my highs and lows. I admire Lori, and she helps keep my head up on the goals I want to accomplish someday in giving back to those that ‘risk it all’ to help others and seek an opportunity in business.

— Published on June 27, 2018