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Female Founders: Eileen Gannon of Sunday Night Foods On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Knowledge that your product or service is sellable. Will someone else see the value that you see? What will someone pay for your product or service? Everyone has a good idea, but few of them are packaged or presented in a way that they become valuable to others.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eileen Gannon.

Sunday Night® Foods was founded by Eileen Gannon, a former corporate executive and award-winning baker who turned her passion into a profession when she launched the company’s first products in 2021. The specialty food company offers luxurious, shelf-stable, premium chocolate ganache crafted in small batches with only the finest pure ingredients. In its first year, Sunday Night won a prestigious sofi™ Award for New Product for Dessert Toppings from the Specialty Food Association. The company donates 1 percent of sales to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is located in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After 35 years of working in corporate America, I founded my own company, Sunday Night Foods, and launched my first product line in November 2021.

My new venture was not a pandemic pivot. On the contrary. I loved my corporate jobs. After stints at nonprofits in my twenties, and then 15 years at Morgan Stanley, I spent eight wonderful years at Workiva, a public software company, retiring as a Senior Vice President in 2020 when I was 55 years old. Why did I divulge my age? Because it’s an important part of my story. When I was in high school, I set a goal to retire at 55. I started working for pay on my family’s farm when I was five, so I figured that 50 years in the workforce would be enough. But by the time I got to 55, my goal had changed. It wasn’t to retire from working; it was to retire from working for someone else. I was finally brave enough (and experienced enough) to launch a passion project in specialty food that had been at the back of my mind for decades.

I have always loved baking. I love reading about it, thinking about it, and creating it with the freshest ingredients I can find. (I annoy my family every summer when I haul 60 pounds of Balaton cherries home to Iowa from northern Michigan.) Because of my passion (obsession), I’ve won over 600 state and national baking awards.

I bake when I’m stressed, mad, happy, or sad. Pretty much all of the time. And often that time is Sunday night, when my family and I slow down and take time to simply be with each other. But it’s not just about the food — it’s about the ritual of connecting around a table or a couch or a campfire that grounds us, whether it’s in person or on a video call thousands of miles apart.

Baking is the process of thinking about what people need, and then taking time to create something by hand. It’s about love and consideration and generosity. I created the Sunday Night brand so people can easily enjoy that same feeling of comfort, care, and kindness any time they wish. Even if it’s simply being kind to yourself.

After three years of perfecting the recipes, I released our first three Sunday Night Premium Dessert Sauces in November 2021. Within 7 months, I won the most prestigious award in specialty food: the sofi™ Award.

Sunday Night Foods donates 1 percent of sales to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) in honor and hope that through baking we can help people stay present, find purpose, and create joy within them and around them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Within 7 months of launching my first product, it won the “Oscars” of specialty food, known as the prestigious sofi™ Award, from the Specialty Food Association.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake that I made early on was thinking that it would be relatively easy to successfully create my gourmet, chocolate ganache in a large kettle to scale production at a co-manufacturer. I thought the formula would simply be multiplied and that would be that. Was I wrong! It took the skills of a classically trained French chef, a brilliant food scientist and me, working for days to perfect the sauce. But I’m extremely proud of what we have created.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother, Helen Gannon, has had the biggest influence on my success. I am the youngest of 14 children, so there were many critics who were older and stronger than me. But Mom always believed in me and supported me unconditionally. Her love and spirit were also the reasons why I love to bake. In the kitchen, I could be near my Mother — a treat when so many other people were in the way. She was an extraordinary recipe developer, curator, and baker. After all my years of craft baking, many of my best recipes are still hers. She passed away in 2011, but there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think of her.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

It takes experience and money to start a company. As a whole, it takes longer for women to gain the necessary business experience because they are not promoted into leadership positions as quickly as men. The same applies if they want to self-fund their company. The longer it takes to earn the experience and money to launch their own company, the less likely they are to strike out on their own.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Programs that are designed to support female founders need to spend more time in the field with the entrepreneurs. They need more boots-on-the-ground coaching and mentoring, and they need longer-term support. The first six months are exciting, the next six months are learning, and the next year is figuring out how to make the business profitable. The second year is when they need essential coaching on pricing, product fit, marketing, strategy, operations, and sales.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women should become founders if they want to control their work life, actualize their skills, monetize their ideas, and own their destiny.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Some people dream about starting their own company and fantasize about how perfect it will be to be in charge. But just like every job, it’s still hard work. The fantasy quickly fades when they realize how difficult it can be to launch and run a new company.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

You have to be extremely self-motivated to be a founder. You cannot depend on affirmation from others. Everything, every process, has to be built from scratch, and it takes grit and temerity to do that. You have to be brave and patient and willing to accept disappointments while staying focused on your goals and objectives.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I previously worked for a software start-up company (which scaled quickly and went public in 4 years) so I knew the resources, personnel, tactics, and strategies required to start and scale a company. I was prepared and experienced before I started my own company, so there were no real surprises for me. However, here is my best advice for others who want to be founders:

Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

Knowledge that your product or service is sellable. Will someone else see the value that you see? What will someone pay for your product or service? Everyone has a good idea, but few of them are packaged or presented in a way that they become valuable to others.

Unwavering belief in yourself. You have to be extremely self-motivated to be a founder. You cannot depend on affirmation from others. When disappointments arise, you have to learn from them and quickly find a new and better path forward

Ability to fit people with jobs. When you start with a small team, it is essential that you hire people for their best-fitting jobs. After a few weeks on the job, assess their skills and make adjustments if necessary. Who is best behind a computer and who is best in front of customers? Who is an introvert or an extrovert? You usually won’t know the full truth until you spend time working with them. If you have made a mistake in staffing, fix it as quickly as possible.

Have a vision and share it often. Tell your team and your customers what your purpose is and what you are trying to accomplish. Strategies and tactics can and must change overtime, but your vision must remain steadfast and crystal clear. Your vision will help your employees work toward the same goals and objectives, thereby increasing synergy and efficiency.

Stay true to your values. Establish your set of values and commit to them. Don’t hire people or enter into partnerships or contracts with others who don’t share your values. They will linger as frustrations and take away positive energy. One of the many benefits of being a founder is that you have the ability to select everyone you want to work with.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Sunday Night Foods donates 1 percent of sales to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) in honor and hope that through baking we can help people stay present, find purpose, and create joy within them and around them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My brother and my brother-in-law committed suicide. We must work together to reduce the stigma around mental illness and raise awareness of how people can help each other.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

José Andrés of World Central Kitchen for his global humanitarian work and his bravery in feeding people facing extreme devastation. He is my hero.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.