Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?
Hi, we’re Suzanne and Jessica and we’re the co-founders of Defy Foods. After both doing keto for the last 5 years and losing over 150 pounds combined, we both missed having something crunchy and convenient, and everyone we talked to doing keto echoed the same.
With so many great dips and charcuterie options, we were tired of celery and pork rinds. So we started making keto crackers at home, but with our busy schedules we really wished we could buy something like this off the shelf. That’s when we came up with the idea to launch a low-carb food line to make it easy and accessible for others to enjoy their favorite keto snacks too…and Defy Foods was born.
In July of 2020, amidst a pandemic, record levels of unemployment and so much racial unrest, we launched our Kickstarter campaign. While not the most ideal time to launch a brand and ask people to support your mission, we were met with so much enthusiasm and support. (Plus, after two years of hard work, we weren’t going to let anything stop us from realizing our dream!)
We had a goal of raising $25,000 and concluded our 30 day campaign at over $47,000, landing us in the top 1% of all food campaigns ever on Kickstarter! We were blown away with the support and ready to embark on the next leg of the journey of bringing our low-carb, keto crackers to the world!
What do sales look like right now?
We currently are in the midst of fulfilling over 800 orders from our Kickstarter, so we have not officially launched our e-commerce site for regular orders yet. We are taking pre-orders to deliver after we have fulfilled the Kickstarter.
While pre-orders can be tricky, as you are collecting money for goods that, in our case, won’t deliver for months later, we have sold over 1000 bags of crackers on pre-order in the couple months since completing the Kickstarter campaign.
How did you come up with the idea for keto crackers?
We’re best friends and busy moms to even busier seven year old girls. We are passionate about living a ketogenic lifestyle, but even more passionate about helping and empowering others. Back when we started keto there were very few convenient products on the market, let alone ones with high quality ingredients.
Luckily, through lots of recipe testing we were able to recreate some of our favorite foods to make this way of eating more sustainable.
In 2017, Suzanne launched her first keto guide and cookbook, Simply Keto. Even though we made a lot of amazing meals, we still missed having snacks that were crunchy and convenient.
That’s when we decided to create a low-carb, keto cracker. There was nothing on the market like it, and we knew if we were missing something like this, others would be too.
We started by doing a lot of competitive analysis and market research. We did hundreds, if not thousands, of batches of recipe testing in our kitchens. Jessica had a full-time career in marketing and creative at the time, and Suzanne was managing her business and book.
We would often stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning cooking at each other’s houses. When we finally got a product we were happy with, we began sending samples to people in the food industry that we knew and had built relationships with over the years. The response was super positive!
Take us through the process of developing, testing, and producing your first keto cracker.
Once we had developed a cracker in our kitchens we loved, we began to delve into manufacturing. Initially we had considered a commercial kitchen where we would produce the crackers ourselves, but we quickly realized it would take us weeks of nights and weekends to even get orders out, as our time was so limited. So we decided to look for a co-manufacturer, and this is where the real challenges began.
We did a lot of research online, and quickly realized the food industry is all about who you know and word of mouth. We stumbled on a website called PartnerSlate.com that has a directory of manufacturers by industry.
We made a list of over 60 co-manufacturers and started cold-calling and emailing. Back then, we had no sales or real sales forecast, and not much knowledge about manufacturing. We quickly learned this would be more difficult than we thought after many doors were slammed in our face.
In early 2019, Suzanne attended Expo West, and was introduced by a friend to a manufacturer who we would go on to work with over the last year and a half. They did not specialize in crackers, and didn’t actually have the right certifications to even work with our ingredients.
But they were interested in our story and product, and ended up getting what they needed for us to move forward. From that time until now, we have done many, many test runs, reformulations and pivots. We soon realized that a high fat, low carb, non-traditional dough was very hard to process on any type of traditional equipment. Finally after changing many ingredients, we got the crackers to run and had to dial in the baking process.
We still are working on the final tweaks and anxiously awaiting our first production run. Due to the global pandemic and wildfires happening during this process, we have faced many challenges and delays. While difficult to stomach and frustrating, we chose the name Defy Foods because we are all about defying the odds, defying the norms and pushing forward through life’s ups and downs!
Describe the process of launching Defy Foods.
In the year and a half that we were working on the formula and manufacturing, we were also working on the business and branding side of things. We began by coming up with our name. We knew we wanted something that was empowering and uplifting.
We sat together in Suzanne’s living room one night, with a big white board and started to brainstorm ideas. Each time we got something we sort of liked, we looked on the trademark database, and 9 times out 10 it was taken. Then we came up with the name Defy Foods, and instantly it clicked. Much to our surprise it was available, and we began working with a lawyer to file trademarks.
Once we had the name, we began working on the branding. We pulled paint chips for color pallets, took photos in the grocery aisles, pinned logos on Pinterest, pretty much started compiling anything that spoke to us. We knew we wanted our branding to be clean, bold, and stand out on a shelf.
Jessica’s background is in creative and marketing, so she started to contact people she knew who could help us develop our branding. Quotes came back anywhere from $50,000-$80,000! Given the fact that we were bootstrapping and self funding this entire business, that was definitely not in our budget.
So we decided to do a lot of the heavy lifting ourselves with the competitive analysis, market research and overall look and feel. After all, we are our target customers and have been consumers in this space for many years! We ended up hiring a designer who could help us execute and was a lot more affordable.
We knew all along that we wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign. We were attracted to that idea for a few reasons. One, we felt it was a great way to gauge the market. Two, because we had no experience creating a food product, we felt it gave us a runway to figure things out without burning bridges. Three, we had discovered many new products and innovative ideas ourselves on Kickstarter and liked the platform. Lastly, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on branding, R&D, legal fees, etc, the crowdfunding would help us bring this idea to fruition.
Once we had our brand guidelines, we spent months developing our Kickstarter campaign. We worked on what information we wanted on the page, the flow, infographics, etc. We even scripted and shot our own video! Then we put together a marketing plan for the campaign. We mailed over 100 samples to influencers, friends and people we knew in the food space to get others to start talking and trying the product.
We drafted emails, blog posts, social posts and lined up appearances and speaking engagements. The 30 days during our Kickstarter campaign was a very intense whirlwind of a month! Oftentimes we worked day and night to continue to drive momentum and lean into what was working and pivot away from what wasn’t.
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The biggest lesson we learned over the past two years is perseverance. We came to realize a good product and a great idea is only a small fraction of what leads to success. Truly, having grit and the ability to persevere when things feel overwhelming or downright impossible is what really sets apart an entrepreneur from someone with an idea.
Link to video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DizuQDSWydGUdFVKwK2K-xr12WAzy5RW/view?usp=sharing
What has worked to attract customers?
We are launching in early 2021, but our main goal thus far has been to share our story and brand on social media. We have done several Instagram lives, Facebook lives, posted to YouTube, made blog posts, and posted each step along the way to share with our customers. Since we launched with a Kickstarter, we also filmed a video to share more about who we are and why we made this product. During our Kickstarter and after we also utilize our email list via Mail Chimp for updates and promotions.
We have done some Facebook ads, but at this point have mostly worked with influencers for outreach. We have sent over 100 packages with samples of our crackers, which was helpful for both feedback and marketing. Our plan is to continue with Facebook ads in the upcoming weeks and we will continue to work with people on social media to help spread the word.
What does the future look like for Defy Foods?
We haven’t launched yet, but our kickstarter overfunded and finished in the top 1% of all food campaigns on Kickstarter! As far as plans to expand, we are going to sell directly to consumers for the first year on our own ecommerce site. During this time we hope to dial in our process with manufacturing and 3PL. Our next steps after selling DTC will be a soft launch to Amazon, followed by retail.
The short term goals are to put the finishing touches on our packaging, fulfill our Kickstarter orders, and fulfill all pre-orders. Our long term goals are to expand into retail and add more flavor varieties to our crackers, followed by new and exciting products. We have more ideas than we have time so we are very excited for the future!
What have you learned during the process of starting Defy Foods?
When starting a food company, it often feels like you’re trying to drink from a firehose. There are MANY things to learn, and sometimes it feels really overwhelming. We have learned that the most important thing to do is keep pushing forward. Don’t think that you have to know everything right away, and know that you will go through many ups and downs.
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It’s important to remember that everyone in the food space (or any business) faces issues. Being able to persevere and get back up after hard lessons and setbacks is crucial. After all, when launching a new product it’s not a matter of if you will have setbacks, but when. Failures and setbacks are learning opportunities, not proof that your concept or idea isn’t good/working – learn, shift and keep going!
One thing we wish we would’ve done sooner is work with a good consultant. We figured out many things in the early days on our own, which cost us time, speed and ultimately money. The connections and experience you get working with someone who knows what they are doing, pays for itself in spades!
What tools do you use for your business?
When we first started we were working on the formula in our home kitchens using a rolling pin, baking sheets and lots of parchment paper.
Once we moved into production, we quickly learned that the home formula would have to be modified for production and shelf-life. It’s important to dial in things as much as you can, yet stay open to the fact that your formula may change once you move to large scale production.
Tools that we used: When we were first starting and testing at home, we ordered many items from Amazon. Everything from scales to baking sheets to rolling pins and pizza cutters.
To find a manufacturer: Partnerslate
To meet people in the business: Natural Products Expo West
Bulk ingredients: Costco and Expo West ingredient contacts
What have been the most influential books or podcasts?
We first started kicking around the idea of launching a cracker after we were making all types of keto foods and recipes around the time when Suzanne was writing her first keto guide and cookbook, Simply Keto. ( https://amzn.to/3paj4fU )
Favorite two books for business:
- Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (https://amzn.to/3kW7eDv)
- Principles: Life and Work (https://amzn.to/38f4ZYk)
Two great and inspiring podcasts:
- Masters of Scale (https://mastersofscale.com)
- Goal Digger Podcast (https://podcast.jennakutcher.com)
Advice for other food entrepreneurs just starting out?
Take things one day, and one step at a time. Creating a food company is like climbing a mountain. There will be many obstacles along the way, but if you put one foot in front of the other and take on one task at a time you will figure it all out.
Be aware that setbacks are not signs that you shouldn’t be launching a company or that you aren’t good enough, just know that everything worth doing is hard work, and will include many ups and downs along the way. The main goal is to just keep learning, getting back up and moving forward.
Being a mom is your super power. We are always busy, juggling dozens of things at once and this is an amazing asset to starting a business. Like everything with starting a company, you really just have to dive in before you think you’re ready or have figured everything out. If you wait for when you have the time, you’ll wait forever. Yes, it will take sacrifices but when you want something bad enough you find a way. Coffee and late nights are your friend!
- Defyfoods.com where you can sign up for email and free shipping.
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