This post was contributed by Lauren Benbassat, co-founder and CEO of Mēle Shake, a complete nutrition shake for women on the go.
About 4 years ago, I landed my first adult job as a marketing coordinator in NYC. Coming from Florida, living in the big city working in a corporate office was exactly what success looked like. I was learning a ton and loved the energy of the fast-paced environment. I worked my way up to Director level and felt that I was in the exact place I was supposed to be. That’s when it all fell apart.
For the past few years in corporate life, I had developed routines to work around my crazy busy schedule. It started with small things like skipping breakfast and leaning on coffee for energy, which led to unhealthy snacking leading up to lunch. It was fairly normal to realize it was 4 pm and I hadn’t eaten a real meal all day.
As a long time dancer and fitness enthusiast, I knew that my lifestyle wasn’t healthy, but there didn’t seem to be other options. I tried to fit in the occasional “healthy salad,” and I still looked like my regular self from the outside. But I had no energy, and often just craved a glass of wine or some comfort food. I felt completely worn down.
I decided to visit the doctor and my results were shocking: my cholesterol and triglycerides were through the roof. He told me if I didn’t fix my diet, I’d need to be put on medication! All of this from skipping meals and having a few snacks. This was a pretty harsh wakeup call, to say the least.
My husband was also experiencing these same issues while working in the high-stress environment of corporate law, with extremely tumultuous and unpredictable hours, so we decided to find a solution for the both of us.
We searched for any and every meal replacement option out there. It had to be natural, have a balanced ratio of ingredients [i.e carb/proteins/fats] to sustain energy, and most importantly – taste delicious. We soon found out how ambitious of a request this was. After eating yet another bar that tasted like cardboard, we knew we could make something better.
We stayed up late, got up early, and worked weekends to source ingredients, research nutrition facts, develop recipes, and taste test. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having creating this new nutrition shake just for us. We finally landed on a perfect mix and began integrating it into our daily lives. After just one week of taking my shake to work, I had countless women in my office ask me what I was drinking, and after trying – where they could get some.
At this point, we thought we were either onto something really special or completely out of our minds. We did a few rounds of testing on friends and family, sending test batches out with a survey for feedback. Their positivity and support is what truly sparked our enthusiasm to make Mēle into a brand.
I quickly began to create packaging, designed the website and marketing materials, and formed an LLC. Next was the hard part that I was truly unprepared for. Armed with my will and determination, I built relationships with co-packers and lined up the appropriate insurance and documents to launch.
After realizing how passionate I had become about our side hustle and my new-found balance with healthy eating and wellness, I wanted to focus on it completely. We were selling to friends and family, and once the website launched, sales started rolling in. I couldn’t believe it!
It was at this point that I realized my heart was no longer with the corporate job I once worked so hard to obtain. I loved sharing Mēle Shake with other busy professionals like myself, as well as friends in the fitness community. I wanted to keep educating on proper eating habits and the negative effects that can come from our busy-day diets. It was then that I had decided to quit my job.
It’s been a year since starting Mēle, and like any startup, there have been ups and downs. I would recommend to anyone that is creating a new brand or pursuing a passion to just start. Whether you are thinking of starting a side project or launching a new business, here are my five non-negotiables to ensure success:
1. Partner with people who believe in you.
A major challenge with being a self-funded startup is finding partners – in my case, manufacturers, and businesses to work with. “Little fish in a big pond” is the perfect way to describe it.
My way around it – Tell your story, build a relationship, and get your potential partners to believe in what you are creating. If they believe in your determination and vision behind the brand, they will often help you along the way. Oftentimes the person you’re speaking with has gone through something similar and will feel sympathetic to your story.
2. Pick up the phone.
Sending an email is time-efficient but nothing beats the effectiveness of a phone call. It’s definitely the best way to build a personal connection, but it can lead to getting answers quickly and finding out new tips or connections that might help your business grow.
Starting out, I had no idea how to create a business, manufacture a brand, work with co-packers or the FDA. I managed to find one contact, who I called and asked questions which led to another contact who I called and asked even more questions.
3. Ask the stupid questions.
It can be intimidating to call a business when you have no idea where to start. But, you will be surprised to see how people are willing to help. I’ve also found throughout this process that the people who are worth working with, will always offer to help. They are the experts, so ask them questions and get clarification on anything you’re not sure of. Admit that you’re just starting out and would love any guidance and explanation they are able to share. A few examples of things to say or questions to ask are:
- “I’ve never done this before.”
- “I’m a complete novice at this, can you explain?“
- “Can you walk me through your process?”
- “What do other customers do for X?”
- “What do you mean by Z, can you elaborate?”
- “Are there any resources you know of that can help me to become better versed on this topic?”
People love sharing what they know about their field. Especially if you are thinking of becoming a customer of theirs, they will want to see you succeed. Make sure to say thank you and acknowledge that they went above and beyond to explain and help you out.
4. Give back.
Just as you’ve asked others for help along the way, remember to pay it forward. As you learn and grow, there will be others trying to do the same, and there is room for us all to succeed. Be generous with your knowledge and product. Go to events, share your brand or service, be passionate about what you’re doing and people will be drawn to both you and your cause. Offer to collaborate with other companies and entrepreneurs. We’ve had some of our best successes from offering to share our product or our time and expertise. Every connection, meeting or event has snowballed into more opportunities and growth. While one gesture may seem small, it all compounds to build your business.
5. Admit your weaknesses
My strong suit is marketing, business development, and branding but I really struggle with finance and legal – And that’s ok. One person cannot do it all, and if you spend most of your days forcing tasks, not only will it create resentment toward your business, but also create larger problems in the long-run. There are so many services, freelancers and options out there (such as upwork.com) looking to provide their expertise to help you succeed.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever consider quitting my job, leaving a steady salary behind to build a business out of thin air, I would have laughed. I never thought I would have the ability to do it, but I realize now that everyone starts in the same place. The hardest part is taking the first step and convincing yourself that you are capable. We are all so much more capable than we think.