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Female Founders: Tammy Fry of Fry Family Food Company on The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be in touch with your gut feel and intuition. Women generally have an excellent intuition. Don’t be afraid to use it! Entrepreneurs don’t always have access to the funding required for research and data, so sometimes you need to just follow your instinct.

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

Lifelong vegetarian and certified plant nutritionist, Tammy Fry cofounded The Fry Family Food Company with her parents, Wally and Debbie Fry, in 1991. In 2019 Tammy was named as one of the “Top eight women who are changing the world for animals through food” by Female First UK and in 2021, Tammy authored her first cookbook, Made with Love & Plants. Today Tammy serves as a director at Fry’s, as well as the director of marketing and communications of the LIVEKINDLY Collective., Fry’s global holding company.

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?

I was born in South Africa, a country known for its animal protein consumption and spent my early years on a goat farm. I remember the goats being shipped off for slaughter and feeling desperate to help them. My mum, Debbie, and I used to name some of the goats, which drew the fine line between “pet” and “unit of currency.” I soon knew that I was a “born” vegetarian and would never eat animals. Growing up was certainly tough, and I faced so much criticism for my food choices. Luckily my mum was a vegetarian too, so we stuck to our convictions and worked hard on advocating for a plant-based diet to my dad, a typical meat-loving South African! I started karate at age 4 and by 12 was representing my country — again, I faced the typical criticism that a plant-based diet would not sufficiently fuel a high-level athlete. I received this advice from coaches, and dieticians. I soon realized that to help facilitate a mind shift, I would need to perform at a very high level. I went onto win the Junior World Championships, and that’s when I saw people starting to genuinely take an interest in my diet. This is when I really decided to make it my life’s mission to encourage and inspire others to embrace a plant-based diet helping them to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

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

As a family of founders, we spent many weekends together setting up at markets, attending events and sampling our products. People often laughed at us, whilst we set up our stalls, with almost no budget and a few boxes of vegan sausages. On many occasions, once the events were opened, we had the busiest stand, with queues of people lining up to try our “novel” products. Being one of the very early pioneers of plant-based meat meant that many people had never heard of vegan sausages or burgers, and the crowd would come from far and wide to test the products for themselves.

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?

Every entrepreneur will tell you that when they make a mistake, it often hits hard and so you do everything you can to avoid them. There are no such things as funny mistakes, they are learning curves to improve your product, or business.

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?

I am grateful to my family, who I have worked alongside from the very early days, until today. I think our strength and success comes from working together — sharing in the successes and failures and bearing the load together. As Aristotle said: “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” and we all brought our own passion, sense of purpose and skills to the table.

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?

In my opinion, there are several factors at play. One of the most critical deterrents are childcare arrangements which women have traditionally taken responsibility for. The average childminding years can stretch from a woman’s age of 25–40. This creates several concerns for women as entrepreneurship requires dedication, money and primary focus which can create a work-life balance problem for mothers. There is also the fear of failure and not being able to provide for your family. When women step out of business and into their child-care years, coming back can be a struggle — a lack of support in the workplace can often lead to a loss of confidence making it even harder for women to step into leadership roles. Societally, and in many cases politically, there has not been strong support to help women break out of this cycle. Thankfully this is changing and hopefully this will start to reflect in more women-led businesses.

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?

I think family structure can support working mothers with young children and developing that within family units or smaller communities. The Okinawan people have a tradition of developing small social support groups (a few families that support each other). Childminding services are extremely expensive, so governments could subsidize some of these costs, allowing mothers to remain active in business. Governments could also put more recognition and support behind other caregivers in the home — more paid paternity leave for example. The media could highlight women founders and role models, much in the same way that sport has done more of in the past decade. I also think support groups and mentors are invaluable in assisting women-founded startups.

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?

We often see risks in entrepreneurship, but feel that having a job is a safer, risk-free choice. However, what we don’t realize that a job is never risk-free either. Working in your own business, often means long, hard hours in the beginning, but at least those hours are determined by you, on your own terms. Women make excellent entrepreneurs. The risks we take are often more calculated and, when faced with problems, we tend to be creative when looking for the solutions. We make great leaders too for the same reasons. Our empathic innate nature and ability to communicate makes us perfect candidates for entrepreneurship and leadership. We are naturally multitaskers — and any entrepreneur knows that you have to be “a Jill of all trades”.

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

There is a belief that you need to have money to start a business or seek funding. This isn’t true. You can start with very little and grow your business organically. As you make money and reinvest, you can grow your own business with no outside investors or bank loans. Our company, The Fry Family Food Co., started in our home kitchen. There were no investors interested in the plant-based space 30 years ago. So, we had to believe in ourselves and our products. We grew slowly, but we never once geared the 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?

Founders need the following traits — self-confidence, self-discipline, work ethic, passion and sense of purpose, and you have to be willing to accept the small failures, learn from them and keep going. I think you need to be willing to take some risks, because as your business grows everything you experience and every decision you make will be new to you. Joining LIVEKINDLY Collective was one of those decisions for Fry’s. And it’s been an incredible journey ever since, we took our founders’ confidence, discipline, passion and added to the Collective’s sense of purpose to gain additional firepower to scale our business.

I don’t think everyone needs to want to be a founder. It can be a very lonely journey. The hours required to build a successful company often mean less of a social life and often requires changing personal plans to accommodate business engagements. When a crucial decision needs to be made, the decision (and success/failure thereof) lies squarely with you. You need to be resilient enough to own all the consequences that come with the bad decisions.

There are some good reasons to stay away from entrepreneurship:

Your partner has just started their own business — unless you are joining them, perhaps its best to have a regular job. Wait until their business is up and running (i.e. profitable) before starting out on your own venture.

If you have too much debt already, starting a new business may not be a good idea. The additional stress it may create might not be worth it. Focus on generating a steady income, and pay down your debts before embarking on your new venture.

If you know very little about the venture you want to start, but it’s your dream to do it! Rather learn the ins and outs before investing your time and money.

You aren’t naturally a resilient and driven person. These are personality traits you will need in your journey. Be honest with your self — if you know these aren’t who you are, its best to stay away from entrepreneurship.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Being a woman and owning it — women are less likely to broadcast our successes and we often feel that anything less than perfect just isn’t good enough. We need to shed that old belief system and just go for it.
  2. A supportive community of people around you. You need your family to back you, your friends to understand that you may not make it to every social occasion and support you regardless. Remove people from your life that don’t believe in you or that bring you down. You need a cheer squad, and your friends and family should be there for you to cheer you on.
  3. Become a master of time management. You need time for work, time for your family and some quiet you-time. You need life balance. When you are healthy and happy, you will be more productive and ultimately are more likely to succeed. Remember if you burnout, you cannot run your company, so lean on resources or outsource when you can.
  4. You need some accounting knowledge. To make decisions, you need to be able to read and understand your balance sheets and financial statements. Don’t leave your financials in someone else’s hands — feel free to get support, but you need to ensure that you are on top of this area of your business.
  5. Be in touch with your gut feel and intuition. Women generally have an excellent intuition. Don’t be afraid to use it! Entrepreneurs don’t always have access to the funding required for research and data, so sometimes you need to just follow your instinct.

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

The range of products we developed was for us a way of making the world a better place. Fry’s was founded from a real sense of purpose. We realized that in order to advocate for change, we would offer a solution that would support people through that transition away from animal-based meat to a plant-based diet. Plant-based meats was a way of helping make that change as easy as possible. As Buckminster Fuller said: “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model, you create a model that makes the old one obsolete.”

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.

I would love to see the end of reliance on animals for food. If animals (and their by-products) were no longer on the menu, the global impact on humanity and the environment would be enormous.

We would see a massive improvement in the fight against global warming, which in turn would bring back stable weather patterns and less natural disaster.

We would see the end of world hunger — whilst we continue to feed 70% of monoculture crop to animals in an inefficient system of food production, we will continue to see extreme hunger in many developing countries.

We would alleviate the pressure on precious water resource — over 20 times more fresh water is required to produce animal products compared to the same weight of plant products.

We would free up land to plant food for people. Less land clearing would be required and more natural biodiverse areas — the Amazon being a prime example of where massive areas are being cleared to grow crops which are primarily used as livestock feed.

People would start eating more plant-based foods — a key marker for longevity according to epidemiological studies.

Being a martial artist and having grown up in a country where women are often victims of abuse, I would also love to see the introduction of self-defense classes in schools worldwide. I think this would reduce the prevalence of bullying and violence. By empowering children with self-defense skills, we arm them with confidence and the ability to protect themselves. In this world we live in, I am not sure that there is a more important skill we all need to learn.

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.

I would love to meet Oprah. She is a shining example of humanity, kindness, and inspiration. Oprah uses her platform to raise awareness on so many social justice issues and her philanthropy is extraordinary.

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

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