What did Carolyn bring to the table?
Several years ago, she experienced a lot of health issues, which launched her on a journey to healing. She discovered that food truly could be medicine. It can be healing and powerful and can fuel you in a way that makes you feel great. Throughout the various doctor-mandated diets she went on, nut butter quickly become one of her favorite healthy and nutritious treats. It fueled her, tasted delicious and made her feel good.
But when a scoop of nut butter is your “guilty pleasure”, you want it to taste absolutely delicious! And that wasn’t the case for many nut butters she found on the market so she started making her own. After much experimenting, she discovered that a unique almond-cashew base provided the most creamy consistency. She played around with flavors, infusing them with cardamom, lavender and even smoked honey – combinations she wasn’t finding anywhere else on the market.
When I met Carolyn, she had no intention of starting a nut butter business. I went to her house one day to learn how to make it, not at all with the intention of business but mostly for my own selfish desire to learn how to make nut butter. (I am also a huge nut butter fan!)
During that time, we talked about my employment training program vision and why I hadn’t pursued it further. When the missing piece was a product, Carolyn was intrigued to hop on board. We started by making each small batch in a small food processor two jars an hour and hosted a tasting where we got great feedback from friends and family. Before we knew it we had orders coming in and Ground Up PDX was born.
What drew you to entrepreneurship over going a more traditional path?
There are a number of factors. After moving home from Uganda, I found myself not fulfilled or challenged in the work I was doing. By choosing the path of entrepreneurship, every day is new and different and each day there is a new problem to solve. I also was drawn to the piece that I would get to use all of my skillsets to build and create something.
I think there is a misconception that entrepreneurship equals flexibility in your schedule. It is true to an extent but when you are doing something you love you end up putting many un-clocked hours in to see it succeed!
Why did you decide to make a social impact with your for-profit company, and how did you decide which cause was the right fit for you?
I believe that business can be a powerful tool for social change and every business has the opportunity to do good and create a social impact. I could not have seen starting this business any other way. The business was birthed more from seeing the need and creating the social impact model before the product came into play.
Through local, hands on research, I saw that there is a gap in employment for impoverished women. They have the motivation to work but may lack the skills, experience or confidence to be hired by an employer. So that’s where the vision for a 6 to 9 month employment training program came into play. Through part-time work, these women will find the skills, confidence and understanding they need to transition into sustainable full-time employment.
What does a day in your working life look like? And are you full time in your business or is it a side-hustle for you?
No day looks the same! It involves everything from nut butter production to labeling product to get ready to hit the shelf to email communication to working at farmer’s markets and other events where we sample our product. Other days, I’m driving around dropping off samples and meeting with potential new wholesale accounts. Or meeting with potential partners and working with our interns as we pilot the employment training program. I’m full-time in the business but have a number of different side hustles too.
In the early days of your business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?
Our biggest challenges were maintaining cash flow and figuring out how to make the shift from our small food processors to a more efficient production system. As well, we struggled to figure out where to pour our energy. We had a lot of ideas for sales channels to pursue, promoting our brand, etc. but we had to figure out how to narrow down where our energy was going. There are only so many hours in a day!
How have you worked to overcome your challenges?
We have secured a couple sales channels that bring us more consistent cash flow. We received money to purchase a larger food processor and move into a commercial kitchen. (We now make 30 jars an hour!) I think we are still continuing to learn how to narrow down our focus of where to spend our energy. Something that has been super helpful is having yearly, quarterly and monthly goals, and then each week set specific tasks that will help you reach your monthly goals and to-do lists. This has helped us when we have bigger ideas we want to pursue to see where they best fit in the timeline.