Tom Bannister Of Tom’s Perfect 10: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
Showing weakness and mistakes as well as strengths and successes has been personally rewarding as well as helping the business grow and standout.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Bannister.
Tom Bannister is an advertising executive, lifelong granola connoisseur and founder of Tom’s Perfect 10, the Instagram-famous, New York-based granola brand. Born and raised in Manchester, England, Tom is a graduate of Oxford University and a seasoned advertising director for clients like Disney and Samsung. Founded in October 2020, Tom tested different flavors and granola combinations in his New York City apartment with his wife Eva Chen, Instagram fashion influencer, and their three kids, as a way to bond during the pandemic. Organically building the brand on Instagram, Tom always polls over 2MM followers across his and Eva’s accounts for their feedback on flavor ideas, taste, texture, and more for each of the monthly flavors, which resulted in a waitlist of over 17,000 people.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I like to think granola-making found me! I have always loved eating granola so I started reviewing different granolas on Instagram and the videos took off! I am 40 and I have actually spent the majority of my career in content working as a producer and then a Creative Director. I saw storytelling potential in the versatility and humorous nature of granola. So I graduated from reviewing granola to making it — filming the journey along the way. I would have never started selling granola had it not been for the COVID pandemic however. When COVID struck I found myself locked in my tiny NYC apartment with my two children and wife. Food was an essential industry and one of the few still open. So I threw a waitlist on Instagram and was shocked when it hit 17’000 names. That truly started the journey. I sourced a commercial kitchen and got making and selling granola with a lot of help from my wife, Eva Chen.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Food is a totally new industry to me so the learning curve was very steep. When I first started I had to quickly learn all the basics of the food industry like operating commercial equipment and bulk ordering ingredients. I made a lot of mistakes and may have broken a few expensive mixing machines along the way. One example that stands out is I didn’t know that you could bulk buy lemon zests on Baldor. So I once zested 300 lemons myself by hand. Making granola is actually quite hard physical work and the repetitive nature of that along with shipping hundred and thousands of boxes (before I got a fulfillment partner) was a shock to the system.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Granola isn’t my first startup business. I love the sense of adventure and exhilaration of the scrappy early days of a new venture when everything feels unique and exciting. My wife was also a big inspiration, guiding light and balancing force when things got tough and the stress levels rose. However to come back to COVID, I just would not have had the time to do this had it not been for the global shutdown. Granola really gave something for me and my family to do when the world felt like it was ending.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Thing are going well! We are selling a lot of granola each month and to date have served over 25’000 individual customers. We now have two always-available (or perfect 10’s as we like to call them) granola flavors called Ginger Zing and Classic. We will be launching a third by the end of the year. Now the journey begins for getting this product into retail. I am proud of the unique flavors we have created but I am also proud of the fun, irreverent brand we have built. It’s very fulfilling to create a product and have people order and enjoy your product each month.
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?
Well I have already told the lemon zesting story! We give out scorecards with the granola so customers can rate the product in real time. This has proven to be invaluable to the R&D side of recipe development. Essentially we conduct R&D on our products as we sell them and then bring our customers along for the ride as a part of food as experience. When we first started making granola at scale I struggled to make it crunchy. I got a lot of negative reviews concerning texture and quickly learned the importance of crunchiness. So I went deep and became obsessed with making my granola crunchy and ensuring the key fixes were implemented from ingredients to process. Some might say I am now too obsessed with crunchiness but whenever I have a less crunchy flavor I am inundated with DMs.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have tried hard to differentiate on both brand story and flavors. As an entrepreneur I have taken customers much further inside both food production and business development behind Tom’s Perfect 10. I have been 100% transparent about both good and bad, sharing many a negative review, disappointment and learning along the way. I think people appreciate this honesty and truly feel like they are along for the journey that Tom’s Perfect 10 has been. Showing weakness and mistakes as well as strengths and successes has been personally rewarding as well as helping the business grow and standout. I also think it is where social media has also gone — moving away from presenting an overly curated or managed image to people.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s easy to burnt out in the food space as there is just so much to do and it’s a never-ending battle. I think it’s really important to carve out 1–2 hours per day of pure ‘me-time.’ Reading, exercising, taking long baths — it’s really important to build time for selfcare into your daily routine or you will burn out. Play the long game!
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?
I could not have done this without my wife — Eva Chen. This whole journey started on her Instagram channel and she has been with me every step of the way from making granola in the kitchen in the early days to packing boxes to every facet of the business. She is my guiding light, my muse and my inspiration. Tom’s Perfect 10 is as much her creativity as it is mine.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have gotten a lot of messages over the past few years from customers telling me how their granola subscription helped them get through the life disruptions of COVID and helped them to feel normal during deeply troublesome times. A lot of people jointly ate and reviewed the granola with loved-ones on Zoom. I am definitely proud of that!
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
The journey can get stressful and it’s important to step away and see the big picture every now and again. If the ride and the stress are effecting your relationship with your wife and children and/or your health, it’s important to step away and recalibrate things. Prioritize these things first — that’s possibly what becoming a parent teaches you. It’s hard to be in startup mode while also being a parent to young children. But it really does teach you how to prioritize your time, your energy and your emotions better.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK: You can buy pre-diced dried fruit rather than having to dice it yourself.
- DOUBLE AND TRIPLE CHECK AT THE START OF A PARTNERSHIP: Go through every invoice and every shipment that your fulfillment partner makes — as you will catch a lot of overcharges.
- TRUST YOUR GUT: Smoky Chocolate — my most misunderstood flavor to date. Most customers don’t want a smoky BBQ flavor granola, even if it is also chocolate. I still love it though!
- BE CREATIVE: Email marketing is a powerful and free tool. Figure out how to use it to drive sales.
- EXPERIMENT: Too much dried fruit in granola can reduce the crunch — beware of being too generous with your raisins and cherries.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d love for people to move away from what seems to be a culture that promotes burn-out and 24/7/365 “hustle and grind”. It’s not sustainable and to run a company successfully, you need white space in your brain. I love swimming. It’s like yoga meets running in the way it combines cardio with breathing and a complete bodily workout. Swimming has been an invaluable component in my life — keeping my balanced and healthy. A healthy way to process stress and anxiety. But it took me until my late 20s to find it and I often wish I had started much earlier.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!