No Evil Foods…a plant-based classic! Usually, on The Plantbased Business Hour, Elysabeth Alfano talks about the great strides made by plant-based companies and the huge amounts of monies raised. Today, however, she pulls back the curtain to discuss the difficulty and daily struggles of being an entrepreneur.
Ultimately, entrepreneurs are just everyday people trying to accomplish big dreams, sometimes unrealistically big dreams. If successful, they create great products, lots of jobs, and consumer and investor value. But it isn’t always a straight line to the top. It is often one step up and two steps back, to then hopefully jump three steps up.
Mike Woliansky and Sadrah Schadel of No Evil Foods join Elysabeth on The Plantbased Busines Hour for a special one-off episode. Known for their delicious plant-based products and iconic packaging, offering products like Colonel Cluck, Mike and Sadrah have grown No Evil Foods against crazy odds -oh, and Covid – and persevered. They even have new products coming out.
However, growing quickly is a tricky thing and maintaining company culture is also a delicate balance. Pivoting is the name of game, and after a difficult year of some unfavorable press and a public debate about whether or not to unionize, Mike and Sadrah reveal their newest game plan to keep moving forward.
This episode is for every entrepreneur who has ever struggled, wondered if they could still keep going and have had to dig deep to find the courage to take the next steps. Mike and Sadrah drop breaking news and open up with never seen before candor and raw emotion about their difficult journey over the last 18 months and why they decided to transition to a co-manufacturer, leaving their own plant behind. They are joined by Abby Lyall and Tom Mastobuoni of Big Idea Ventures. It is a special edition of The Plantbased Business Hour.
Specifically, they discuss
- The lessons learned in the last year around company culture and the media,
- The qualities of a good leader and the temptations to give up,
- The full-spectrum job of a founder,
- The decision to move to a co-manufacturing plant,
- Their bridge loan with Big Idea Ventures and future funding,
- New products launches.
A clip and transcript from their long-form conversation is below. The podcast is here.
Elysabeth: You are letting us know your story about why you are going from a manufacturing plant to a co-manufacturing plant. Why are you making this move and how have you survived through Covid to come to this decision?
Mike Woliansky: You know, it’s been quite a journey for No Evil Foods. You know we are a company that started in our home kitchen. Sadrah developed these recipes there. We had made our own products from that moment on. We were in a shared used kitchen space, we grew in that space and we eventually had our own manufacturing space, but I think that is challenging in itself to have your own manufacturing plant and to also grow a brand in an increasingly competitive category and almost be operating two businesses. You’re operating a brand with a sales and marketing and you’re operating a manufacturing plant with all sorts of moving pieces from people to equipment. Add Covid on top of that and increasing expenses and increasing complications from internal to external supply chain logistics, costs, all of those things, and it created a challenging environment for a small brand trying to compete in this space with a very bootstrapped kind of capital structure.
So that started putting us in a challenging position, even in 2020. But for us, it always was a fight to create this community around No Evil Foods, and that was external with consumers and people buying the product, but it was also very important that it was an internal thing too with our team. So we spent tons and tons of time and energy and money focused on building that internal community of No Evil Foods and that meant raising wages during the pandemic. You know, all the safety protocols around Covid-19 that kept Covid-19 from spreading, we had no cases of Covid-19 spreading in our facility throughout the pandemic until we made this change.
We focused a lot on doing those things despite what a lot of folks might think- I guess what I’m trying to say is you might have had to make different decisions as a small company to pull back and we pushed. Our company essentially went through a situation where we were raising capital. We had a significant strategic investment that was supposed to come to the business and that didn’t happen. We had literally days to figure out what to do about that for the business to survive and so all of those things kind of stack up to a moment in time where we had to make a terribly painful decision to shift the business because otherwise there wasn’t going to be a No Evil Foods. We weren’t going to be able to go out and save animals and help people be healthier or help save the planet.
Elysabeth: What was the thing that made you say, “This has to be the decision we make for the health of the company”?
Sadrah Schadel: Well, I mean, I think the final straw was definitely the drop in financing. We were already having a very shortened financial runway and as we were continuing through this fundraising round and we had anticipated these funds coming in, that runway got shorter and shorter. And so when it dropped out we literally had barely enough money in the bank to cover the next payroll to be totally transparent, and we had no other option on the table. If we didn’t decide to do it right then, as Mike had mentioned, there wouldn’t be No Evil Foods in existence. And I think something you just said, Elysabeth, is what carried us through which is the vision. If a company and if our company didn’t have or doesn’t have the vision that we have we would not have survived this. We would have given up and closed our doors and just said, “You know what? We tried and that’s it.” But because we had this vision, because we have this passion, because we have a belief that we are really creating something that’s valuable, something that’s needed, and something that’s necessary, we continued to push and we continued to strive and we learned.
I really think that all of these challenges that we’ve encountered since 2020 and since Covid hit are our biggest opportunities for learning. We only talk about the wins right? We don’t want to go on LinkedIn and talk about when we lose an account. We don’t want to go on LinkedIn and talk about when financing falls through. That’s not fun for anybody. We want everyone to celebrate. We’re always chasing the high as entrepreneurs, but there’s a lot of lows and they’re very high and very low and there’s times when you’ve got to just dig yourself out of the gutter and that’s just the truth. That’s just the short of it and we’re in that time. We’re in the gutter and we’re climbing out of it and with partners like Tom and Abby at the table we have the opportunity to do that.
We’ve got jerky coming. We’ve been refining it and it’s the best it’s ever been. We’re utilizing upcycled ingredients, we’re utilizing fermentation to really impact the texture as well prolonged shelf life without the additional preservatives needed in a lot of products. So jerky is really exciting. It’s plant-based certified but it’s also going to be the first certified plastic negative jerky on the market, not just in plant-based but everywhere. We also have some new refrigerated and frozen products coming out. Beef strips is one of the things we’re super excited about. It’s called Best Life Beef. You’re hearing about it here first Elysabeth Alfano, you’re breaking news left and right, and we’re super stoked about the beef because I think there’s a lot of room to diversify the format that consumers are looking for in plant-based foods. We have enough meatballs, we have enough burgers, we have enough crumbles. What else does the beef category need? So, these beef strips really fill a lot of white space in the beef category.