Success Secrets of 30-Something Moguls
By Lea Goldman
Photo Credit: Perry Hagopian
Kelly Flatley, 31
Founder, Bear Naked Granola
AGE AT TIME COMPANY WAS FOUNDED: 23
INITIAL INVESTMENT: $7,500
FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES WHEN SHE SOLD THE COMPANY IN 2002: 2
"I'VE MADE IT BIG" SPLURGE: "After I sold the company, I went to Paris with my best friend. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on the Left Bank and toured the city on foot, indulging in French wine, cheeses, and crepes along the way."
The million-dollar granola girl from Darien, Connecticut, founded Bear Naked in 2002 with a friend and just $7,500 in seed capital. Five years later, they sold the company to Kellogg's for a reported $60 million.
"I'm a hippie I'm totally OK with that term and I love granola. In college, I made my own batches in my dorm room. After I graduated, I worked in marketing at Sports Illustrated Women until it folded in 2002. It was a cool job, but when I sat down to think about what I wanted to do next, I realized it wasn't working at a magazine."
SECRET #2 Ignore your naysayers there will be many.
"There were so many people who said I was crazy to start something like this. I was extremely young, and I had no business experience. My dad told me to go to Barnes & Noble, get a book on entrepreneurs, and read about the lifestyle changes I'd have to make. He was sure I'd lose my steam. But frankly, I didn't have anything to lose. I was single and living with my parents. It was a very indie operation."
SECRET #3 Ask a million "dumb" questions.
"The first store we sold to said they'd take a case to start, then asked me how many units were in a case. I just looked at the guy and said, 'Well, how many do you want in a case?' Ten minutes later, we were at the register, and he asked me for an invoice. I didn't even know what an invoice was. I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm green. But if you give me a few pointers, I'll run with them.' I wasn't afraid to ask questions."
SECRET #4 The pros don't know it all.
"We packaged Bear Naked in a clear zippered pouch, which was very different from the way cereal boxes are packaged. Early on, the founder of a big grocery chain pulled my partner aside and told him, 'There's a reason why all the cereal companies have been doing it their way all these years. Who wants to see your product?' Normally I'd have said, 'Oh, shit, the expert is telling us we're not doing something right.' But we had conviction and stuck with it. Now we have inspired a new standard for how snack foods are packaged."
SECRET #5 Hire people who know more than you do.
"One of the hardest parts about growing a business is finding people you trust with your baby, who will do the right thing in your absence. We recruited from bigger firms like Campbell's and Pepsi. People like that elevate your business in a way a founder can't."
SECRET #6 Brace yourself for sacrifices.
"For the first two years, there were no paychecks. I worked every single day, baking and doing marketing plans. On weekends we'd go to local triathlons and give out samples at the finish line. I'd be in the office at 10 p.m. on a Friday night thinking, All my friends are at a bar right now, and I'm doing accounting. But we had one shot to make it work, and we were willing to give it everything we had."