October 10, 2017

A Follow Up: Brewing The American Dream Competition (PODCAST)

About a year ago we aired a podcast about the Samuel Adams Brewing The American Dreams competition and I’m excited today to follow up with last year’s winners, Katy Flannery and Gwen Burlingame who are the co-founders Minus The Moo; a gourmet lactose-free ice cream. One of the things I think makes their story so unique and inspiring is that they won this national competition despite having been in business for only about a year and a half. Proof that you don’t need to be a million dollar revenue business and sold nationwide to win business plan competitions!

Jennifer: It was about a year ago when I aired a podcast in which I talked to Jennifer Glanville, who’s the Director of Brewery Programs for Samuel Adams, about the American Dream Wildcard pitch room. We’re following up on that initial podcast today by talking with the winners of the 2016 competition. So, Katy and Gwen, they … I’m so excited to have them on today to have them tell us a little bit about their company, but also about their experiences going through the competition. So thank you guys for joining us.

Gwen: Thank you so much for having us on.

Jennifer: Absolutely. You know, I just want to start with, can you tell us a little bit about your company? The name is Minus the Moo. So tell us about it, and how it got started.

Katy: Hi, this is Katy. So we started Minus the Moo because I love ice cream, and growing up, ice cream was a huge part of my life. But unfortunately, over time I started realizing that I was lactose intolerant, so it left this huge void in my life that I wanted a traditional premium ice cream that my friends and family would be willing to enjoy with me, but that was just lactose-free. So I went to my kitchen to start creating a lactose-free ice cream that still made with cream and milk and all the same ingredients as a traditional premium ice cream, but we just add the lactase enzyme to break down the lactose. That way, those who are lactose intolerant and those who aren’t can share the same kind of ice cream together.

Jennifer: So how did you, can you tell us a little bit about your background, because how did you realize that, hey I can create a premium ice cream product, with using things like the cream, but I can take the lactose out of it?

Katy: Gwen and I actually, so we went to Villanova University, and that’s where we met and became friends, and I was a nursing major. So while I was sitting through my organic chemistry classes and biochem, learning more and more about lactose intolerance, the lactase enzyme, and all the involvement around that, I was daydreaming about how one day I can have a premium ice cream that was lactose free. So my background in health sciences, and working in the field it gave me the tool kit to be able to identify what was wrong and what I needed to do to fix it, and then subsequently I went to the Penn State ice cream short course back in 2015, and learned more about ice cream. So I already started working on my recipes at home, but going to that program helped give me more tools to be able to figure out how to perfect our recipes to make our premium ice cream taste just like any other ice cream, but just without the lactose.

Jennifer: So when you were originally developing those recipes, were you doing it with the mind set that you wanted to start this up as a business? Or were you doing it with the mind set that I just want something that I can have for myself at home?

Katy: So I wanted something I can have at home, but when this is all coming about and when I was in college I would tell my friend how one day I dreamed of making the best lactose-free ice cream that there ever was. And that they would love it too. So I think deep down in my heart I wanted to be able to start a company because it’s not just about starting the company, but it’s also … I used to walk through grocery aisle looking for a solution that I could just pick up off the shelf, take home, and immediately be able to enjoy with my friends. And not have to go through the process of making ice cream at home by myself. And I wanted other people who were feeling the same way to be able to have that same experience. So starting the company, it’s about this journey and it started from my personal experience, and Gwen watching that journey, and that desire to have real ice cream again. But I really just wanted to be able to have other households feel that they could enjoy ice cream together again too.

Jennifer: And on a personal note, so I have a toddler that has food allergies, and one of the things I was telling my husband the other day is I was like, “Man, right now we can’t have summer ice cream nights” like I did as a kid because of the food allergies. So to hear about a company called Minus the Moo, it’s just so exciting that … You’re going into it not with just like, hey this is a great product, but more about that experience of what does that product do for the family unit or when you’re together with your friends. It’s about that kind of gathering and all being together and enjoying it at the same time. Not, hey let me just go grab my homemade stuff while you eat your thing from the store, and somebody else gets something from somewhere else.

Katy: Exactly, because ice cream is something that’s intended to be shared. It’s something that you could live without, although I couldn’t live without it. But we think that there’s very few things in this world that everybody seems to enjoy together, everybody loves, and it’s something that just unanimously excites people. So we want family units or friends or something to be able to have that enjoyment together, and so that people feel that they’re living their best life.

So it’s more than just a company, it’s about the whole mission of bringing back the joy to real ice cream for lactose intolerant consumers and everyone around them.

Jennifer: Yeah, that is what many summer memories are made of.

Katy: Yes, yes.

Gwen: Absolutely.

Jennifer: So, now tell us a little bit about … Obviously as I mentioned in the brief introduction, you guys are the winners of the 2016 American Dream wildcard pitch room. So tell us when you entered the competition, how many years had your company been up and running? How much staff did you have? Where were you on your business journey?

Gwen: Yeah, so we had been around at that point for about a year and a half. So we had started the company out of commonwealth kitchen in Dorchester, right outside Boston, or part of Boston. And so we were actually hand making the ice cream. We started at the [inaudible 00:05:55] market, which is in the south end, it’s a farmers market. And so that’s how we really got started. Hand making it, selling it at the farmers market, and really getting to get face to face time with our customers. So we had started [inaudible 00:06:09] and it was still just Katy and I, and so we actually found out about the competition through commonwealth kitchen. Given that Sam Adams is based in Boston, they had kind of put out some information about it, and we were really encouraged by the staff at commonwealth kitchen to apply. So that’s really what kind of got us on the path.

Katy: But at the point that we had applied, we were in some grocery stores in Boston. We have put together the nuts and bolts for scalability at the time that we had applied. But it was a very short portion of having that active business model to be able to pitch.

Jennifer: Yeah but I love to hear that, because often times and even after we aired the podcast last year with Jennifer Glanville, I had some folks come to me just saying, I just don’t think my company’s big enough, or old enough. And I think there’s often times this misconception that in order to enter a business plan competition or any type of competition like this, that your company has to meet certain metrics, or be at a certain revenue point, or be at least five years old. So it’s nice to hear that that isn’t always the case.

Gwen: Yeah and we would say that, I think the thing that we had going for us is that even though we had just gone into some grocery stores, we were in the midst of building the blocks to make it a scalable business. So I think that’s really important, is just even if you’re not there yet, having the foresight and having the plan in place and working towards some specific milestones. I think that’s what really set us apart a little bit as we were kind of told from the judges. So that’s kind of a great thing to have. And at the end of the day it’s really about being super passionate about what you’re doing. and having a clear plan for how you want to look ahead and get to the end goal.

Jennifer: And the truth of the matter is that even if you don’t ultimately end up entering a competition or winning a competition, having that foresight is really important to you as a business entrepreneur anyway in helping you move your business forward.

Katy: Oh yeah, we’ve entered a lot of business competitions just because what do we have to lose? Usually there’s no entry fee or if they are it’s very minimal and what better way to get feedback on what you’re thinking, where you’re going, where you’ve been. And just putting it in front of a professional group of people who have done it before and likely seen lots of pitches. We think that it’s been a really good check point to make us better and stronger. So we even continue now to throw our hat in the ring as much as we possibly can.

Jennifer: That’s a great attitude though, I love it. It is a good way to get feedback if nothing else. And it forces you to always be thinking ahead, which is great.

Gwen: Absolutely. It’s been super helpful to us. At each different kind of point where we’ve been in a competition or had access to different mentors, just keeps pushing you to get into more detail of where you want to go and really just helps you along the way.

Katy: And what better competition than the Sam Adams Brewing the American dream. They are the pinnacle of success, especially for us here at home in Boston. Jim Cook and team, when you’re pitching the story, you’re pitching it to someone who’s done it before. And has done it so well, and with such integrity that it’s an amazing competition. So I would encourage anybody to apply, no matter where they think they are because the exposure to this group of people is invaluable.

Jennifer: So tell us a little bit about this process of applying. How did you go about doing it? Did you apply online, did you create a video? How did you do that? And then how did you think that you made your company stand out and get noticed?

Katy: So we were sent the application in the notification box in commonwealth kitchen. And then we applied online. And through that application process they then … We did it down to pick, I think it was five companies.

Gwen: Yeah.

Katy: And each city, I think each city might have had different amounts of companies that they had pitching in this preliminary round. So after the application round, then you went to the preliminary pitching round, where we went to the brewery here in Boston and pitched against some other awesome companies. And then at the end of that, they evaluated which company they were going to put on to the final round. Which, even for the companies that didn’t get on to the final round, they had a mentorship portion at the brewery where other companies, even if you weren’t part of the program could come in and meet with different members of Sam Adams. And they were in different segments, so either way you knew you were going to get a lot out of that night.

Jennifer: Oh definitely.

Katy: And then when we found out that we moved on to the final round, which was awesome. And the final pitch was in December, so October was the preliminary round and then the final round was in December, where we pitched against other companies from other cities. And it was a wonderful experience.

Gwen: We even learned a lot from the other companies that were coming from other areas of the country. They were in all different types of products, some were beverages, there were other food products. And it was just great to hear experiences from other entrepreneurs, different markets. It really helped us along the way as well. We took a lot of even bare feedback as well as the judges feedback. So it’s a really good experience. And Katy had mentioned that mentorship program in the preliminary round. And that’s actually Sam Adam’s speed coaching events, and so if you go online to the brewing the American dream they have a calendar of events that are not only the competition but also these speed coaching events. And we would encourage anyone to go to those as well because you get access to experts in different categories of the business. So that’s been really helpful as well.

Jennifer: Oh absolutely, that type of just being able to ask experts those questions, especially some of the more logistical stuff, like when it comes to operations, depending on what your business in like. Being able to talk to somebody about that is huge.

Katy: Oh yeah and they bring a member of pretty much every team or segment that they have for the business because they want to be able to answer any question that you may have. They have people in finance, accounting, logistics, sales, marketing, PR, advertising, anything you could ever think of like customer relations. They have a representative there to answer all of your questions, and you get 20 minutes of their time, which it’s really, really impressive that they’re willing to take time out of their day to do that. And they’re excited about it. The energy in the room is always very high, you can tell it’s not something that they were forced to do. They want to do it and they want to help, which is great.

Jennifer: Oh yeah, that sounds fantastic. So what did you do, let’s say between the preliminary and the finals. What did you do to either tweak or prepare for your pitch? What types of information did you anticipate that the judges would want to know about?

Katy: So when we were prepping for the final pitch, it was really just about practicing, practicing, practicing. And so we took the opportunity to practice in front of friends and family, other mentors that we had come across along the way. Just to make sure that we were thinking of all the possible questions. And also that we had our pitch down to the concise two minutes that we were given.

Jennifer: Okay.

Gwen: So that’s really, just continuing to hone and craft the right message is what we did in those couple months.

Katy: And by doing other pitch competitions, we knew generally there are consistent questions that you can start expecting. For a new company who maybe hasn’t done a pitch competition before, you could probably google them, there’s great resources out there. Ask some mentors or advisors. So we actually also decide who’s going to field what category of questions. And that’s really helpful so that way you’re not, especially if you’re pitching with two people, you’re not fumbling over each other. We know that generally if it’s in a certain realm I take them, Gwen takes another segment. So that’s really helpful, and we practice so much, we can’t underscore that enough.

Gwen: And it’s helpful to practice in front of … Generally of course we practiced in front of friends and family, but also to bring in someone who doesn’t really know anything about your business. That’s also really helpful because they’re going to have the questions that judges who don’t know you are going to have. And you can make sure that even though you think you’re being really clear, are you truly being clear to somebody who doesn’t know anything about you.

Jennifer: That is a great point. Yeah we often, thank you, you know we often, because it’s in our head, it makes sense to us, and yeah sometimes it does take … Especially the food industries kind of a crazy world, so talking to somebody who doesn’t know it as well as you do, or even your categories, somebody who doesn’t know ice cream as well as you do, and that category within the industry to be able to answer their questions and make sure it’s clearly conveyed to them is often times different than when you’re talking to somebody who does know the category we well as you do.

Gwen: Absolutely.

Jennifer: So I want to talk a little bit about your experiences since winning the competition. First of all, so when you guys won, were your minds just kind of blown?

Gwen: Yes.

Katy: Yes.

Gwen: They were videotaping the whole thing, and you can kind of see us in the audience. And we just looked shocked.

Katy: Yeah there’s a definitive pause of them saying our names, us understand and comprehending that it was. And then we kind of looked at each other and we’re like, oh what do we do now?

Jennifer: That’s a great moment.

Katy: It was really exciting. And I think another thing that we really loved about that moment was even in the just however many hours we had been at the brewery doing this, there had already been this great sense of comradery amongst the other companies. And so between us and the other company, [inaudible 00:16:48] barbecue sauce, won the runner up, everyone was so excited. It didn’t matter if they won, everyone was so excited for us. There were hugs and it was just really nice.

Gwen: And [inaudible 00:16:59] barbecue, they were all on the west coast, and he just actually inboxed us. He’s coming up to Boston. So even though it’s been months since the competition, we still stay in touch.

Jennifer: That’s great.

Katy: It was great.

Jennifer: So for those listening who don’t know, and I’ll include a link to this other podcast that I keep mentioning, I’ll include a link in the transcript for this podcast if you want to go back and listen to that one. But the winner of the competition gets a $10,000 grant plus a year of mentoring. So I’d love to know a little bit from you about how you utilize both of those resources in your business, specifically the mentorship piece because that’s really huge for a newer, smaller food business.

Gwen: Yeah it’s been wonderful. Obviously the $10,000 grant was really, really helpful at this stage that we were at. We were able to take that and do a lot more in terms of marketing events to gain brand awareness in New England. We were actually able to hire marketing interns for the summer. So we’ve gotten a lot of really wonderful use out of that. But we would say that the mentorship is by far and away the most exciting piece. And the part that we have gotten the most out of so far, and we’re only half way through that year, which is really, really great.

We’ve met with different departments at Sam Adams. We’ve met with the finance team, operations, social media and digital marketing, PR, trade marketing, packaging, the list goes on and on. And we got to have a two hour session with Jim Cook recently, which was so wonderful. We were both star struck. It was just so great to get really personalized feedback. He had given us so much wonderful feedback in the competition, but getting to sit down with him again and really hash out some of our more recent challenges was great.

Katy: And actually the day that we met with Jim, we had found out that we got into a local grocery chain here. And so he wanted to cheers and have a beer with us. And that is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. Even going into the competition, I’m a huge beer fan, so I never anticipated that he would be at the pitch competition, or the preliminary. I don’t know why, but in my mind I was like, oh they’re so big, he won’t be here. And then Gwen had mentioned to me, she’s like, “Oh Jim’s here.” And I just walked out, I need a minute. Because I was just simultaneously so excited, I needed to have my head on right. So having him believe in our business, and be willing to take two hours out of his day, and I’m sure anytime we ask for a meeting with him, it’s never no, and it’s okay, let’s line up the schedule. So it’s been wonderful.

Gwen: Yeah, and the other departments that we’ve met with too, they’re busy, they have their own jobs, and just being able to fit us in. And they get excited about meeting with us, which is just so nice. We met with the finance team quite a few times actually when we were just trying to figure some things out with our accounting, and they gave us so much of their time and attention, and I don’t know, that just really meant a lot to us. And it’s been great for us too because my background is in marketing, Katy obviously was a nurse, and so there’s going to be things in our business that we haven’t experienced before. And so having someone in that specific expertise to reach out to and really to talk through the specifics with, has been really, really great.

Jennifer: Well let me ask you also to kind of tandem to that, so your background’s in marketing, but for example when you talked about being able to meet with the social media team, in my head I was like oh my goodness, that would be so great, because I feel like that world is constantly changing. And just to be able to talk to people who are like, this is how we really work on stuff. Even given your background in marketing, have you found meeting with those teams that you may have had a background in, also to be really helpful for you?

Gwen: Yeah 100%. Especially I would say, my background is mostly in product marketing launching new products, and so at the company that I used to work in a very large company, where every specific kind of expertise was siloed into a different team. So although I worked with the social media team, I worked with the public relations team, the specifics, and actually the executional piece of it was not something I was so familiar with that I felt comfortable just forging ahead. And so really the more tactical pieces, they’ve been able to help us with, the PR team helped us with how to write a press release. I had done it maybe once before, but always with the guidance of someone was expert at my last company. So I think just getting that affirmation that you’re on the right track with something that you don’t feel like you’re an expert in is so, so helpful. And just like you said, keeping up to date on what’s changing in each different industry or category is wonderful as well.

Jennifer: So then do you guys have any words of advice for folks who are listening now, who might want to enter, who are thinking of entering this year’s competition. What would you tell them?

Gwen: Do it.

Katy: Absolutely.

Katy: No matter where you think that you are in the lifespan of your company, we would recommend doing it. The mentorship and the access to all of the resources and expertise that you have is invaluable. And you have nothing to lose. So we would definitely, absolutely say just do it, put together the best plan that you have, improve your scalability in your plan and your goal. Prove your passion and just go for it.

Gwen: Yeah the team at Sam Adams, even from just being in the preliminary the first part of the competition, we already felt that they had welcomed us into the Sam Adam’s family. And I think regardless of whether we had won or lost, there would’ve been people there to support us in some capacity so I think it’s definitely worthwhile.

Katy: Yeah what she didn’t say was the people who coordinate all of these meetings that we have, we usually go through one of two people who help. We’ll email this woman and say, hey we’re having issues with our brand messaging, and she’ll specifically find these people, match our calendar schedules, we’ll arrive on that day, she’ll make sure that we’re all set, get us to the meeting, all those lists of things. They never stop caring for you and nurturing you and doing your job to make sure that you get what you need. So we can’t speak more highly of this company and the people that they have working there.

Gwen: Yeah, we would be excited for any company who got to go and do this in the next round.

Jennifer: Well really it’s such a great resource, especially for food businesses because there are starting to become more opportunities for food businesses with regards to business playing competitions or finding funding, and even mentorship. But even that, we pale in comparison to the tech industry. And I say that being out here in Seattle. It’s so great to hear that Sam Adams, the company’s doing this from such an authentic place, and truly with this desire to help bring the next generation of food businesses to the forefront.

Katy: Absolutely and we obviously believe and we love food, everything about it. So even for anybody who listens and has questions about it, we would be more than happy to answer any questions that we could. If you just head to our website minusthemoo.com, if you click on the contact us page, you’re going to reach Gwen or I. So we would be more than happy to field any questions, and try and help fuel growth for other companies in food who are just trying to make a difference. So we’re happy to help in any way that we can too.

Jennifer: Oh that’s really generous, thank you. I’m going to ask you one last question and we’ll bring it back around to minus the moo. What are you guys excited about the most as you look from three to five years out from now, because obviously you do a lot of thinking about the growth of your company. What are you really excited for?

Gwen: We’re really excited to just kind of get in the hands of more customers that are looking for a solution to their lactose intolerance. Katie’s a perfect example, but if we can help in some way to allow other people to truly enjoy ice cream and other foods, maybe potentially in the future, that’s really what we’re looking for. So right now we’re just trying to grow our business into new regions. We actually just launched E-commerce on our website, so now people can have minus the moo delivered right to their door. So we’re just really excited to be able to help more people around the country to truly enjoy ice cream.

Jennifer: Oh wow, that is very exciting. Like on a personal level, I’m like, oh that’s very exciting. That’s also a logistical challenge. Congratulations, to be able to ship a frozen product across the country, that takes some work, so congratulations on figuring that out.

Katy: Thank you.

Gwen: Thank you, we’re really excited.

Jennifer: Well I want to thank both of you for joining us today and sharing a little bit about your experiences being part of this competition, and also telling us about Minus the Moo and about what your business is doing now and where you’re hoping it’s working towards bringing it in the next few years. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Gwen & Katy: Thank you for having us.

For more information about Samuel Adams’ Brewing The American Dream Competition and small business resources, click here.

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