Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: I'm Erica Lui Williams, based in the Bay Area of California. I am a former Stanford swimmer and worked in the Tech industry for 10 years during which I moonlight my healthy superfood granola business that I started in 2013. It was just a healthy recipe that I made for my husband and friends. I couldn't find any clean, healthy granola brands in stores. I decided why not launching a business out of it. I baked it in my kitchen and sold it farmer markets. I got it into all the tech companies, Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook, etc. Today I am full time. I went full time in 2018 and haven't looked back since.
Q: How did you get it into all the tech companies.
A: It took a lot of networking. The first opportunity was with Google. It was serendipitous. When I first launched, I put it on Facebook. It caught the eye of a friend who worked at Google. She knew the head of the food and beverage team. They requested a sample and had me participate in a snack competition which I won. This became an anchor account. From there, I tapped into my tech network to get introduced to the right decision maker. At the end of the day, you can hassle a network as much as you want, you need to have a good product at the end of the day.
Q: What was your vision for Gr8nola?
A: To be honest, I didn't have a vision. I was making a healthy delicious product. I love it, my husband loves it, the farmer market people love it. Why don't I start small and see if there is a demand for it. It wasn't a typical entrepreneur approach with a master grand plan. Today the mission is helping people eat, feel, be their greatest.
Q: What has been the most rewarding?
A: The natural food industry is filled with amazing entrepreneurs that are trying to make the world a better place. It's a friendly and communal community. One of the best things about working in this industry is that I don't feel alone. I've been able to make real relationships that I would never have crossed paths with. We all share a mission of making the world a healthier place
Q: What has been the most challenging?
A: Being a solo-entreprenuer, getting those first big breaks is really hard. You don’t really know what you’re doing. You don’t have a ton of resources or the support of a team. It’s hard for myself to rise above the nitty-gritty and elevate myself to look at the big picture and be a visionary. You have to be as lean as possible.
Q: How do you pull yourself out of the weeds?
A:A good way to do this is to set structure or a framework. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day. If you can set reminders, even every year, to take some time and reflect on the past year. Setting check in points keeps me accountable. In the tech industry, we always did this. I do this now with my business – every October, I reflect back. It’s a good way to stay calibrated towards the direction you want to go.
Q: What has it been like being an Asian, Female, New Working Mom Founder?
A: Every day is this constant internal battle that I'm trying to prove to myself. I think it comes from my up-bringing where the men had the careers and the women had home roles. There was a moment in my life where I aspired to balance both.
Q: What advice do you have other working mom entrepreneurs?
A: Know yourself and how you like to draw your energy. I try to get decent sleep. Eating healthy and working out is a priority. It doesn’t matter how crazy the business got, I will always carve out time for that. If I’m not balanced in those areas, I will fail in my business because I will not be healthy and motivated. Try not to fall off your bandwagon that restores you. Make sure to carve out time to make you feel healthy and energized.
Q: How did you create the recipes for Gr8nola? What do you want people to take away when they try it?
A: At the time there were restrictions in my diet at the time. I refused to settle for other store bought brands that had refined sugars and inflammatory oils. The granola is extremely clean – there are no refined sugars, dairy, soy, inflammatory oils and it’s low in sugar. I’m a foodie at heart so I’m not going to eat something just because it checks these checkboxes. First and foremost, it has to satisfy my tastebuds. That is the first impression I want someone to have when they taste my product. It’s super delicious and oh by the way, look at the back of the packaging. These are really great ingredients. I have a line of superfood flavors like unique, on-trend flavors like Matcha Vibes, Turmeric and Black Coco Chia – the latter being one of our bestselling flavors that has activated charcoal which has no taste but has the digestive benefits. The granola itself is pitch black. Reminds you of an Oreo, but healthier.
Q: What have you learned from being a small business?
A: One of the biggest things in being a small business is being scrappy. In fact, the original name for Black Coco Chia was Charcoal Chia. I was able to change the name after learning what might appeal to the customer based on flavor name. I always go into anything with a scrappy mentality. I kind of go into these things prepared to failed. So if things don’t work out, you learn cheaply. So you end up with great ideas like the World’s First Black Granola.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in going from tech company clients to DTC/e-commerce?
A: E-Commerce can be very expensive like Facebook Ads. So you have to be smart about how you get the word out. Word of mouth is the best way. Not paying influencers. It’s about community building and getting those really loyal ambassadors that love your product. Build the relationship and make sure they know the face behind your brand. They become your champions to your network. That can really make the difference.
Q: What’s the meaning behind the name Gr8nola?
A: It’s a fun play on words. It’s pronounced Gr-eight-no-la. Being Chinese, eight is an auspicious number in my heritage. I thought it would be a fun way to tie in my background as a Chinese founder into a fun name. That’s the secret backstory of the brand.