Former venture capitalist Lisa Barnett co-founded Little Spoon, a direct-to-consumer fresh baby food startup, focused on widening access to fresh baby food. We talked to Barnett for her top tips for building a business.
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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Before creating Little Spoon, you were a venture capitalist. How did that help you create your business?
Funny enough, Little Spoon was founded because of one of those rare, serendipitous moments when multiple people all over the country were thinking about how to best solve a huge, systemic problem at the same time: How to keep your kid healthy without sacrificing quality or breaking your bank.
At the time of the idea’s inception, I was working in venture capitalism and spending a lot of time working with companies that were solving chronic health issues like diabetes and heart disease, illnesses people encounter in later years. I started to realize the critical need for high quality, nutritious and fresh food from the beginning of life. In fact, the baby food sold in the grocery store is often older than the baby eating it! It was crazy to me that the only convenient option for new parents, who more often than not are now both working full-time, was old, preservative-packed baby food.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Parenting is difficult during normal times and we know this generation of new parents is struggling to get by each day during the pandemic. It’s a constant balancing act that requires you to make insane trade-offs on a daily basis. The bottom line is we want to help parents keep their kids healthy without breaking the bank or sacrificing quality, and that doesn’t change during a pandemic. We donated over $100,000 of our baby food to families in need across the US through Feeding America. We also helped subsidize our baby food, vitamins and natural remedies for customers who were financially impacted by COVID-19.
In an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine you said an entrepreneur has to try 1,001 ways before something works. How do you stay motivated?
Unsurprisingly, motivation is key in being a successful entrepreneur. This especially true since you’re inevitably going to encounter a lot of failure and many “nos” throughout the journey. One piece of advice to stay motivated is to get really clear on your purpose as a founder. When you are clear about why you do what you do, the hard tradeoffs, problems and inevitable setbacks are easier to digest. It’s easy to get overwhelmed on a daily basis by all the decisions, challenges and tradeoffs you have to make as a founder.
Another thing I try to do every day is have fun. Sounds super simple, but nothing in life is worth doing if you can’t enjoy the process and appreciate the little wins amidst the chaos and sometimes discouraging moments. Lastly, make sure you take care of yourself! It’s hard to be motivated when you don’t take the time to go for that run, or hang with friends.
What’s the biggest money mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
I think startups generally fail not because of starvation, but rather indigestion: They focus on doing a little bit of everything instead of identifying the key needle movers and focusing on executing them to a T. In the end, they end up failing because they try to do too much at one time.
How do you approach cost versus convenience in your own life?
LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman talks about the concept of the “false dilemma,” the idea that often, when you’re given an either/or option, there’s actually a third logical option. This is one of my favorite lines of thinking — when given the choice of A or B, choose C. I believe there are very few binary options in life. That’s exactly why we created Little Spoon, to give parents choice C. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between cost and convenience when it comes to feeding their babies.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
On an individual level, it’s been to be patient and persistent. If you are starting your own company, you are making a risky bet. And that’s OK. Because the potential upside (financially, personally, for the world) of what you are building is very high — you just have to remember it’s a long game.
What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?
“The faster you add employees, the faster you can grow the business. So hire more people!” I was told this very early on in starting Little Spoon. And this is often the standard advice once a founder raises some money. And it can have merit. But bloating your team quickly and spending that much on overhead too soon can create organizational complexity that’s incredibly distracting. I also believe that to some extent, resource constraints (e.g., a smaller team) can encourage your employees to be creative and scrappy — and when that is harnessed under a shared mission and goal, the results for the business can be tremendous.
What’s the hardest part about starting a business?
One of the hardest parts about starting a business is the constant ambiguity under which you are operating. There are a million decisions you have to make everyday, and you are making these decisions with imperfect information. As a founder, you have to be extremely confident that even though you may not make the right decision every time, you are resourceful and resilient enough to figure it out. This can be hard to remember when you’re in the weeds and everything is on the line, though!
What’s the most rewarding part of starting a business?
100% without a doubt, it’s the loyal customers and incredible community that we’re so fortunate to have at Little Spoon. They are the lifeblood of our company. And there’s nothing more rewarding than hearing how an idea you had some years back, that you tirelessly brought into existence, actually helped change the life of someone who was struggling. It will never get old to receive an email from a parent who benefited from our products, to see one of our boxes at the doorstep of a neighbor, or to scroll through photos of happy, healthy babies gobbling up their meals. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see your passion being enjoyed and appreciated by families everywhere.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
Correction, July 17, 2020: The article originally said Little Spoon's co-founders are food scientists. They are not.