“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Erica Groussman & Stephanie Pyatt of TRUWOMEN
An interview with Phil La Duke
If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, it would be a push to increase education unpacking ingredient labels. The deeper I’ve dived into the health and wellness industry, the more I’ve realized that the general population doesn’t know how to properly evaluate packaged foods. I believe that knowledge is power, and people need to be equipped to understand how to look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list in order to make better eating choices.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Erica & Stephanie are both moms on the go! When they couldn’t shake the feeling that the snacks they were eating were either healthy or tasty — never both, Erica and Stephanie set out to create a bar that put taste first while also featuring real ingredients. They also have taken a stance to “pay it forward” to other female entrepreneurs by focusing on hiring women with equal pay, working with vendors that are female- founded, female owned or where women have equal representation in those companies. Questions are answered by both Erica Groussman (EG) and Stephanie Pyatt (PT) below.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in Colorado where it’s “the norm” to be outside enjoying what Colorado has to offer. I’m the youngest of three kids and both parents are transplants, so we spent a lot of time exploring Colorado. Camping happened all the time! Sports were my whole life and kept me really busy. I was a really social kid and that carried through high school. I was also the first in my family to go away (well, 2 hours away) to college and studied Criminology at UNC. Adulthood started pretty quick after that. SP
I grew up in upstate New York. As a child, I played a lot of sports, was very involved in extracurricular activities and frequently traveled. The exposure to a great diversity of places and cultures solidified my desire to take part in big city life once moving away from home. I was also extremely entrepreneurial growing up. I remember making a little business selling friendship bracelets, as well as making a whopping $6/weekend from my neighborhood paper route. EG
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Before founding TRUWOMEN, I would often eat a chalky protein bar only to have my stomach in knots from the conglomeration of low-quality ingredients like whey and sugar alcohols. Inspired by how under-served women are in the protein space, I wanted to create a snack that She feels proud to eat and share. I wouldn’t say I had a definitive “ah ha” moment, rather the vision for healthier, better-tasting snacking options kept me up at night and talking my husband’s ear off. From there, I just started learning more about the market and began taking steps to bring my vision to life. SP
Prior to starting TRUWOMEN, I have always been deeply involved in the health and wellness community. I’m a maven when it comes to spotting health trends, workout concepts and consumable goods. However, with more knowledge comes more responsibility, and I began having great difficulty ignoring the gaps I spotted specifically in the food market. In a time where the protein isle is crowded with products full of lengthy and questionable ingredients, one of my big goals for TRUWOMEN was to make it easier for shoppers to feel proud choosing our products and sharing them with others. Throughout all our R&D we committed ourselves to remaining 100% vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO and free of sugar alcohols. Although it would’ve been much easier to use ingredients that are not Plant Based, I am so pleased that we stayed disciplined in perfecting our indulgences to take on the flavor profiles of the most iconic desserts, using only clean ingredients. EG
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I think the main thing that stops people from taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business isn’t a lack of money, support or even knowledge. It’s themselves. We are so quick to discount ourselves and think that we aren’t qualified for greatness. I had to overcome this by combating negative thoughts with truth. I knew deep in my core that we were onto something magical and the only thing standing in the way was myself. SP
My greatest piece of advice for someone who has a good idea but fears translating it into an actual business, is to just start. I know that sounds so simple, but there were many times during the process of creating TRUWOMEN where I had to keep the momentum going, even if I knew there were improvements to be made. This mindset to keep moving is to thank for so many amazing opportunities and partnerships that we’ve garnered in such a short amount of time. EG
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My advice would be to get real with yourself. Ask yourself questions like, what about your hobby make you absolutely love it? Is it the fact it’s what helps you unwind from the pressures and stresses of your job? Or is it that you’re wildly gifted at it and feel the most purpose from? Once you understand why it is you love that pastime so much, then ask yourself, would I still love it just as much if I were doing it for a living? Of course, all these questions are theoretical, so if you’re still seeking clarity, rest in the fact that you will never know unless you go for it. SP
It’s the 21st century! We’ve finally reached a time where hobbies and careers are no longer at odds with each other. Find what you love, spend time doing market research to pinpoint consumer needs, and begin building your path to making money doing what you’re most passionate about. EG
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Since we are such a young company, I really haven’t run into feeling burnt out. I feel so grateful to get to wake up every day and play my part in building something that is so much bigger than myself. SP
I keep work fresh by making sure I never get siloed in my own lane. I am most inspired when I surround myself with the energy of brilliant individuals, partnered with immersing myself in culture. These two elements keep my on my toes and ready to create fresh ideas. EG
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love the fact that I can set my own schedule. As a wife, mother of two and entrepreneur, my days are demanding and I’m all over the place. However, running my own business has allowed me to have clear insight into the needs of the business and therefore position my day to accomplish these line items. SP
I really enjoy running my own business because I get to play an instrumental part in seeing my ideas come to life. The downside of this that I put pressure on myself to have all ideas to be monumental. With time and experience, I’ve learned to have more compassion for myself and reframe success not as a great idea, but as taking part in the processes of learning and growing. EG
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The brand building piece that really threw me for a loop was learning how much of a necessity it is to have a digital presence as an entrepreneur. I have no social media footprint of my own so learning to showcase who I am as an individual and a co-founder through TRUWOMEN’s account alone is a full time job! SP
It’s sound so silly saying now, but I really thought I was just going to be a boss. Show up, attend meetings and make executive decisions. However, my actual job is not nearly that sexy. In a startup, I’ve learned you’ve got to get really scrappy. For a while, I had inventory at my home and was personally delivering upwards of 40 wholesale accounts in the Miami area. EG
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
To me, TRUWOMEN has always felt like a “real job”. A lot of what I do for the organization deals with administrative and operational support, so even when marketing or sales might be turned on their head, I’ve always had the most conventional role. I love the productiveness and consistency of this role and find that it caters my work style very well. SP
I knew exactly what I signed up for when we started TRUWOMEN. Lots of testing, iterating, adjusting and adapting. I can’t say that every single part of the experience has been easy, but I’ve surrounded myself with a team who always encouraging me when I have moments of disappointment. EG
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?
Our company name was first TRUBRANDZ…enough said. SP
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I think I speak for both Stephanie and me, when I say that our husbands have played critical roles in our professional development. As businessmen, who have both worked hard for their success, they gave us the confidence to build TRUWOMEN despite not knowing all the pieces to standing up the brand. Throughout our journey, they have continually supported each step giving us resources, insight and belief in our capabilities. EG
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Although TRUWOMEN is a new venture, I’ve already seen its reach go far beyond just our products. It’s given me a platform to connect with other women and to use our influence to elevate their businesses. EG
It’s been my goal since first talk of what the mission behind TRUWOMEN would be that we use our influence to do good. And with each step, we’ve kept that goal close to heart. We are constantly using our social platforms to connect with people across the world and introduce them to our healthier alternatives that they can get shipped to them with ease. SP
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Work Life Balance is Possible! For so long I believed that I couldn’t have both a thriving personal and professional life. When it came time to have kids, I began to sense polarity between work and family, ultimately leading me to fully dedicate myself to raising kids. Once the seed to found TRUWOMEN was planted, I began to see clearly opportunity and the reward in putting my mind to both. It was at this time that I committed myself to ridding the notion that I had to choose between a career, or a family and the combination of striving for excellence in both categories became my secret superpower. SP
- Trust Your Gut. During the ground stages of TRUWOMEN, a mistake I made was taking everyone’s opinion to heart. Although I am a huge advocate of feedback, I remember multiple times where push-back was given, and I immediately started to re-engineer our strategy. This reactionary response took me away from putting my energy towards the momentum that we created and was often extremely inefficient. Over time I’ve learned how to process critique and for times where it seems fitting, I will explore alternative approaches further without making any immediate decisions. SP
- Enjoy the Process. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day duties, deliverables that need to get completed and decisions that need to be made. However, take time to reflect, admire how fare you’ve come and congratulate yourself for successes, no matter how big or small. SP
- Make Time for the Little Things. It sounds silly to say, but if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to put my needs last. I quickly learned that in order to be the most functional and happy self, I needed to remember to do the little things that make me feel best. Things like, take my vitamins, drink lots of water, get a good sweat in, read a book with my kids before bed and call my best friend. SP
- Welcome Change. Man, if only I could share the number of ways we’ve evolved and changed over the course of our short time in business. Initially, making big decisions that impacted the trajectory of the brand shook me. I wanted to resist the change and keep on the path. However, with experience, I’ve learned that change is what keeps us in the uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable is the breeding place for growth. SP
- Don’t Wait to Begin. It’s so easy to fall into the trap that you must have all your ducks in a row before starting, and that is just not true. I soon learned that I just need to begin and focus on putting one foot in front of another. I now see that no matter the grand plan I craft, because of culture, logistics, and so many other moving elements, it’s creates less tension to just start and let ideas naturally evolve. EG
- Stop Saying Sorry! Now don’t get me wrong, there is a proper time and place to apologize, but like most women, I had become accustomed to profusely apologizing for things that do not necessitate apologies. For instance, I’d frequently ask a coworker for a project update and then follow-up with an “I’m sorry for asking again”. It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to me, that I noticed my habit within the workplace to use “I’m sorry” as a blanket to ensure that no one was offended by my strong and confident work persona. It was during this interaction that I realized over-apologizing took away from the sincerity of a true apology and misrepresented my performance as a leader within the company. EG
- Attitude is Everything. I never realized how much the attitude of one person can impact the culture of the company. I love living my life with the glass half full, and I’ve noticed that when I vocalized this perspective other people begin to change their language. Instead of saying things, like “We can’t do this because…” I noticed people begin to say, “Let me see what we can do instead”. On the flip side, if I come to the team with any negativity, I’ll notice them quickly call me out and encourage me back to positivity. EG
- Take Time for Yourself. There was a season of time during the beginning of TRUWOMEN where I put myself on the back-burner. I quickly learned that in order to be the best version of myself, I had to feel like it. For me that means, taking time, even if only five minutes, to meditate and getting in physical activity. EG
- Let It Go. So much of creating a brand-new company is trying and failing. Because I am the ultimate go-getter, I have a hard time when things don’t quite turn out how I anticipated. At first, I would get really hung up on the mistakes and allow them to deter my motivation. Over time, I learned how to just simply let it go and keep moving forward. EG
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, it would be a push to increase education unpacking ingredient labels. The deeper I’ve dived into the health and wellness industry, the more I’ve realized that the general population doesn’t know how to properly evaluate packaged foods. I believe that knowledge is power, and people need to be equipped to understand how to look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list in order to make better eating choices. EG
If I could start a movement to bring about the most amount of wellness, it would be to encourage an influx of more plant-based options across the nation. I live in Denver, which is considered a major city, and yet we still are under-served in the amount of healthy options. I can quickly list off five spots to get artisanal pizza, but only one or two that offer a healthy salad or vegan burger. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good pizza and I am by no means exclusively plant-based but I think having access to healthier choices is where we need to start when approaching achieving wellness for the masses. SP
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s simple but the phrase, “Pick your battles, not everything is worth fighting for” has always stuck with me. In business not every missed opportunity is an opportunity missed. Sometimes staying on track and keeping focused is the best route. SP
The common quote, “don’t sweat the small stuff” seems to be more relevant than ever. As a mother, wife and entrepreneur, there is bound for something, and often multiple things, to not go as planned. It’s crazy how much better life gets when you can just let the small stuff go, and focus on all the things that are going for you.
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 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.
The whole US Womens Soccer Team! They inspired more people then they will ever realize. SP
I really admire Jessica Alba, founder of the Honest Company. I think it’s so respectable that she has used her personal empire and passions to create a business that focuses on giving mother’s ethical and safe products to make better choices for their families. EG
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com