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How this female entrepreneur turned a sweet idea into $40m business.

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Tara Bosch, Founder of SmartSweets

Tara Bosch was once a sugar addict. She described to BBC herself as someone who used to buy “penny candy” at the 7-11 every day. As she got older, her attitude shifted and she realized that too much sugar ― the stuff in treats like soda, candy, and cookies ― was wreaking havoc on her body image, self-esteem, and general feelings of well-being.

Tara, Founder of SmartSweets
Source: BBC News

How it started?

Tara decided to cut sugar out of her life four years ago. Soon after, she felt better and healthier. In search of a real-life sugar alternative, she decided to experiment in her kitchen and eventually developed the recipe for SmartSweets.

In summer 2015, she tested some recipes. She was so pleased with her results that she thought there might be a good business opportunity awaiting for her.

That autumn Tara made a decision. She dropped out of the third year of an arts degree at the University of British Columbia so she could get started on her entrepreneurial journey. Being just 21, she had limited credit history and couldn’t put down a bigger chunk of money for an initial investment. But armed with samples and a strong desire to be an entrepreneur, she managed to secure 105,000 Canadian dollars from angel investors.

In 2019, her company SmartSweets exceeded 50m Canadian dollars. And a range of SmartSweets products became the market leader of the fast-growing low-sugar sweets sector in both Canada and the US. That year she also decided to help people cut out more than one billion grams of sugar.

They have successfully kicked over 2.4 billion grams of sugar since July 2016

Source: SmartSweets

But was it as easy as it seems?

No it was not easy for her, she had to write a thorough and detailed business plan with a two-year growth forecast. Not just this, she also had to take out life insurance. “One of the terms of the parties involved was life insurance, and they had to be the beneficiary,” she told BBC.

Tara had obtained the funding she needed to start her baking business. Soon after, she looked at her potential supply chain and decided to use plant-based fibres and stevia to create her sweet products. She settled on using this natural sweetener in place of sugar, and it soon became a trial and error process that ultimately gave her the results she was looking for.

Then to sign up for her first customers she sent out emails, did some phone calls, showed up in person, and used the LinkedIn platform to network. She finally got her first retailer, Vancouver-based Choices Market. But she remembers how incredibly nervous she was before the first meeting.

She also told BBC “I had called and emailed with persistence, until they finally said stop by. And when I arrived out front, I was so nervous that I drove away. Then I drove back, had the meeting, and they became the first retailer to take a chance on Smart Sweets.”

And with her persistence, she was able to sign up a few other small Canadian chains shortly afterwards. She continually emailed her potential clients until they would say yes to her and in this way she leveraged success. 

She didn’t secure her first American customer until 2018, but in just one year 80% of the SmartSweets sales came from the US. And because of that, she decided to manufacture her products in the US only through contract suppliers. 

Source: SmartSweets

Getting recognition for her efforts

Tara has been applauded by many entrepreneurs and among them is Scott Semel, a food entrepreneur and strategist based in the US, who appreciated Tara for her passion. 

Scott Semel who sold his best-selling confectionery brand Bark Thins to US giant Hershey has mentioned that “An annual revenue of CA$50m is very successful, just getting to $5m isn’t easy, and confectionery is dominated by a few big players. I think what’s even more impressive about doing CA$50m in 2019 is the time frame in which she has achieved it.”

He also said,

“Tara has a great feel for the market… she thinks far ahead.”

The business that just started with her and her sweet idea, now has 47 employees. Tara is now planning to grow and expand her business and thus she’s thinking of exporting her products outside of North America. 

She believes that her success is because of her hard work, determination, and persistence. 

She said “For me growing up, I wasn’t that smart or athletic, I didn’t really have any talents in particular, but I always had an innate sense of urgency, resourcefulness, and the ability to make something happen if I decided I wanted to make it happen. And Smart Sweets was the first time I realised the power of those three things combined.”

Khyati is the author and co-founder of The Hustle Story. As a recent graduate from Warwick Business School, she realized she doesn't want to be a member of the 9-5 job club. And soon started The Hustle Story blog based on her multidisciplinary knowledge. Her mission is to help all the young and aspiring entrepreneurs out there.

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Case Study

How Rappi’s Co-founder Andres Bilbao nailed every failure

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Andres Bilbao

Failure has been viewed as a negative word by many, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to building a business, failure is actually an important step towards success. Let’s look at how Andres Bilbao, Co-Founder of Rappi – a Latin American SuperApp that has been defined as the fastest-growing company in the region, has embraced his failure and worked around it to build success.

failure resume

Mistakes, Rejections, and Failures Are Part of Life

As we grow up, we face challenges and failures even at our early age. Like a normal person, Andres Bilbao also had his fair share of challenges and failures. Growing up, Andres trained swimming competitively, and for many years, he continued doing so. But his perseverance of reaching 90 KMs of swimming lengths per week did not even land him in the Olympics.

Academically, despite trying his best, Andres never got any distinction during his college time. His seemingly “unfortunate” lifestyle continued outside school. Even though he landed a job after college, his then employers weren’t even interested to consider him for any leadership training being offered by Schlumberger, Siemens, Cemex, etc. During those times, Andres was very focused on building his corporate career that it didn’t occur to him to even start his own business.

The Importance of Failure in Personal Growth

And so, as technology-driven businesses, back in the early 2000s, were considered the highest growing industry, Andres stuck with his corporate job that he “mastered” during his time in the university. Then, despite all his all-nighters and hard work for two years, inevitably, Andres was let go from his corporate job. Looking back, Andres now realized that during that time, he was bullied by his employer into signing his resignation letter which inadvertently forfeited the compensation he would have a right to by law.

Moving on with his life, Andres has then tried applying for several positions in companies like Cargill, Kimberly Clak, family businesses and others, but all his efforts back then was futile. He tried applying for an analyst position at Mckinsey – where he got to the last round of interviews, but was let down in the end.

Trying to support himself, while trying to also build his career, Andres broke his promise to himself of not working at a manufacturing site. When jobs in his chosen field were scarce, Andres decided to take a job in beer manufacturing with SAB Miller because as it was the only opportunity available to him at that time.

Failure Is the Way to Success

Not giving up on his corporate dream, Andres then decided to continue his studies and take up higher education. But even in this arena, his fair share of failures caught up with him.

He had to retake the GMAT exam because his first score was too low to be considered. On top of that, his business school applications were rejected or were not selected. And when bad luck struck further, his application for Berkeley Haas was not even considered due to some technicalities with his TOEFL exam.

Fortunately, he was accepted for the MBA program at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. But even though he had an MBA to back him up, luck was seemingly not on his side. A partner at the Boston Consulting Group rejected his internship application because he was “too Latin” for them. Consulting companies like Deloitte, Monitor, and Parthenon did not even bother to consider his application because he was a foreign student.

And as rejections keep on piling and piling, Andres feared that he might not be able to pay for the >120K USD debt he took out for his studies. To make matters worse that they were, he even failed one subject during his MBA.

Finally, luck shined upon Andres when he landed an internship with Google. But there was a catch – instead of a US-based position after his internship, he was offered to work in Mexico where he would never have the same level of challenges, mentorship and overall experience he would have had he’s been retained in Mountain View. Things turned bright for Andres when he was offered a full time job in Microsoft, however, eventually he was rejected afterwards.

After these series of unfortunate rejections and failures, Andres returned to Colombia and helped Grability – a decision that opened a great window of opportunity for him when others closed theirs on him. While working with Grability, Andres sold a stake for the company that doubled his equity, which has become Rappi’s birthway.

People Who Fail Are Better Leaders Than People Who Don’t

Rappi
Source: Rappi

During the early days of Rappi, Andres was unable to build a reliable operation and had to bring other people to beef up an operation that was more complex than his ability to manage it. At Rappi, Andres was not able to set it up in Mexico, the way he initially intended to do it. Aside from that, Caro who was then UberEats GM gave them an “ass-whipping” for a long time in order for Rappi to be sustainable and fully functional.

Andres was not a perfect leader – admittedly, he had his bad days as well. There where days where he ended up shouting at a group of couriers and even landed on papers – putting his and Rappi’s reputation at risk. But Andres knew better. Being at the receiving end of failures and rejection for years, he knew that he had to do better in order to succeed.

In building Rappi, Andres learned how to make crucial decisions that will leave a detrimental mark in his startup. It took Andres more than two years to get involved in the Super Markets Business, and strengthen Rappi in such a way that it can easily fend-off competitors. However, building Rappi’s road to success is not a walk in the park. While focusing on building Rappi, Andress admittedly committed the stupidity of not leveraging one of his top skills – recruiting. Failing to recruit able people to aid Rappi led Andres in missing the opportunity to improve all aspects of the organization for the better.

Since then, and after years of failing and learning, Andres has learned to develop his leadership capabilities and has recognized the need to create a more positive and optimistic culture within his teams and at Rappi as a whole.

To this day, despite the success he gained in building Rappi, Andres still has his fair share of failures and mistakes along the way – he even tried to pursue ten (10)  businesses that he conceptualized and started but ended up killing them in the process or rendered them futile or stagnant. But with years of experience in failing and rejections, Andres has learned one important virtue in life for us to succeed – we need to keep on trying.

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Case Study

How this female founder built the largest Crypto community and what failures she faced?

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Crypto

Erica Stanford is an entrepreneur with a passion for Cryptocurrency. She founded Crypto Curry Club in 2018 after she recognized a need for a Crypto Community. She is also an author, speaker, blockchain industry reviewer, and a lover of curry. But how did she built the biggest Crypto community in the UK and what were the failures she faced during her entire journey? Let’s see that.

Crypto

How did it all started?

Erica was 19 years old when she went to Guatemala for the summers of 2007, and there she got mugged 4 times. She lost all her credit cards and the only way to get money was to go to Western Union which was far away from where she stayed. She had to walk all the way to Western Union because she had no means to pay for the transport. But she was lucky to find a nice accommodation, whose owner let her stay there on the promise that she would pay them later when she gets money from the Western Union. 

It was not the safest place to walk alone but she had no other option. Somehow, she reached Western Union and called her dad to send some money to her. But getting money was not easy at all. It took 3 days to come. She finally got the cash but was it really safe to have cash in a place where you can again get mugged? She questioned herself. 

Not only this, but Western Union also charged a 14% fee for the transaction, which made her think about the people who have to live their entire lives in that place. 

Now once again, in 2008, Erica decided to take a year abroad in Buenos Aires. It was during the time of the financial crisis. The currency devalued completely and because of this, the economy almost collapsed. People who lived in Buenos Aires became reluctant to keep money in banks and the locals were paid only in the local currency “Peso”. The currency was then converted into Euros and Dollars, which was then kept in safes and not in banks. 

These two major experiences in Erica’s life made her wonder if there was a better way for payments. She went on learning about financial services companies like Western Union and how much they charge people for foreign exchanges. She finally heard about Crypto in 2017 and went into a full geek mode to learn more about it. She said “The most fascinating thing was that you can send it instantly.” And if she had Crypto back in 2007, she wouldn’t have suffered and nor do people living in that area. 

The small steps to building a big community

After learning almost everything about Crypto, she found out that there was no community with whom she could share her knowledge and experience. It wasn’t easy for her to meet people. But one day she went to a Christmas dinner event over which she realised that this is something people would be really interested in doing. And hence the Crypto Curry Club idea came to her. She thought to herself that it was a good idea to bring people together. 

Erica then went ahead and booked an Indian restaurant in Mayfair, London and invited a few interested people through LinkedIn for the Crypt Curry Event. In the first event, 25 people came in and stayed for like 8 hours. The people said it was the best event they’ve ever been to and this is when she realised that the idea could actually work because it was a room full of people talking about a common subject they all are passionate about. The events were fun and everyone loved curry. The events started selling at a much faster rate and soon the Crypto Curry Club became the biggest community in the UK. 

Growing the Crypto Curry Club community globally

But then the covid hit the world. Initially, Erica thought her business won’t be affected. When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, she thought everything would be back to normal by July. She decided to work on the other side of the business, for example, newsletter, social media, digital brand presence etc. But soon after that, she decided to do webinars and quizzes to engage people in online networking events and to keep the community together. 

She thought that it would be a temporary thing and people would love to come back to events once everything goes back to normal. But when things didn’t go as planned, she finally decided that doing more webinars would be beneficial for her. Since then, the community has grown a lot and it now also includes 40% international audience. She then started to take more advantage of the whole pandemic situation. 

She said “Earlier, it was harder to reach out to people and meet them but now digital platforms have made it much easier to communicate with people from all around the world.” Erica also mentioned that she might not have been able to meet as many people in real life but because of these digital platforms it’s much easier now. The Crypto Curry Club has also launched its magazine and publications and a few more things are in line to come out soon.  

The Failures That Got Her There

Erica, like many of us, has faced many failures and struggles in her life. We wanted to summarise her failure journey in a resume so it would inspire many other people, especially women out there who are wondering if they’ll ever make it. 

Erica has an inspiring story and her failure resume will make you understand that no matter what titles we are given or how much we accomplish in life, we all face struggles and have those days of self-doubt. These moments make us who we are today. 

Check out Erica Stanford’s Failure Resume to get inspired: 

failure resume

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Case Study

These two Female Founders have developed a Unique Internship Program for women in tech

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Allobee

Are you a woman with a passion and love for computer science? Then you have come to the right place. Recently, two tech-passionate women Founders partnered with each other to create a technical intern program this summer. The internship would benefit small businesses and startups in the US as well as women who are tech specialists. 

Allobee
Source: Cision PR Newswire

More about the female Founders and their organisations:

Rewriting The Code is a non-profit organisation established by Sue Harnett for empowering and supporting women or female students who are building their career in computer technology. Allobee, on the other hand, is a platform founded by Brooke Markevicius, which aims to connect business owners to a less experienced workforce. The workforce mainly comprises professional women who are seeking to do non-traditional work. 

How it started?

The partnership between the two initiated mainly because of the common ground and goals i.e. supporting women. Harnett decided to reach out to Allobee’s Founder after she spotted a feature on Allobee. She then discovered Markevicius in The Triangle Business Journal, which covers local business news in the Raleigh/Durham, NC area. 

After a formal mail exchange, they decided to meet virtually on Zoom. And during their virtual chat, the connection between the two seemed serendipitous because of the common beliefs and vision. They found out how much they both loved tech and how both their organisations vision was streamlined to support women in their careers. Not only this, they also found that they only live less than a mile away from each other. 

The initial virtual meet and talk led to the development of a program to help RTC’s pool of outstanding vetted women tech students get internship roles with employers through Allobee. Both the Founders had no problem in finding quality candidates. But after receiving a huge number of applications in just three hours, the real problem was to find businesses that would like to hire those interns. The courses of those applicants were coming to an end and the deadline to get an internship was quickly approaching. 

How will it help women in tech?

Markevicius and Harnett were determined to enhance the experience of startups and entrepreneurs who are in need of technical talent and thus decided to make a smooth internship experience which would be more accessible for employers and interns alike.  They are keen to support women because women still make up only a small percentage in the technical workforce, and this small proportion has been steady since the last 15 years. Moreover, only 6% of Asian women, 3% of African American women, and 2% of Hispanic women are in the computer related jobs. 

“This Summer Cohort is an exciting opportunity for the future female tech grads in our program,” stated Harnett. “An important goal of RTC’s is to open the doors of possibility to our students and introduce them to overlooked positions in computer science and tech, which they may want to pursue post graduation. I hope employers take an interest in helping to launch the careers of these women, by allowing our students to hone their skills and gather real world experience in the field while completing their studies.”

“I’ve seen the gap, not just in the traditional workforce, but also in the freelance space. There are very few women with technical skills beyond simple website development. I want to change that,” said Markevicius. “The best skill I learned was how to code, that’s why I have a huge passion for getting women into technical roles.”

“Our program is unique in that our interns will receive ongoing support while working on their projects, and the employers will have access to support from start to finish as well,” added Markevicius. “We’ve ensured that the price point is attainable for small businesses and startups with options available for part time work.”

How will the platform work?

Allobee’s platform will help the interns and clients to match with each other. It will also manage the administrative side of the hiring process and will assist in laying out a project if required. The internship program will be 100% virtual with both interns and employers located around the US. Rewriting the Code’s team will provide mentors who will visit throughout the summer and will help in setting up the community events and discussions with the needs and requirements of interns in mind.

More than 80% of women who applied for the internships expressed a desire to work on a project that would make a social impact or something that would benefit others. But the platform allows any company to match with any intern. The company’s who are willing to hire a summer intern can fill out Allobee’s Client Application for getting started. The work on a single project has been planned to place from mid-May through mid-August 2021.

Allobee will also offer non-technical internships to women who are within their network and are looking to upskill themselves or were laid off due to the pandemic. The women who are seeking internships can apply here. Non-tech internships will range from handling social media accounts like Facebook and SEO-related work to content writing. 

Back in January, Allobee also announced that they have successfully raised $500K and in Q2 they will be finalizing their collaborations and partnerships to give their clients and experts a smooth experience. They’ll also be announcing their advisory group in the same quarter. 

More about Allobee:

Allobee is a platform that was designed for entrepreneurs and small business owners who are overwhelmed  by the amount of work. Whether they are in need of business support services like tech assistance, bookkeeping, podcast editing, upleveling visibility, website development, social media, or graphic design, Allobee is a one-stop business solution to give them their time back especially when they need it most. The algorithm that Allobee use connects nationwide business owners to an underutilized workforce of experienced, vetted, professional women who have left the traditional 9 to 5. This provides a streamlined workflow and makes it easier to hire, pay, and manage projects. You can learn more about Allobee here.

More about Rewriting the Code:

Rewriting the Code is a nonprofit organization which was developed for building an international community of exceptional college and women who are just starting out in their careers with a passion for technology. RTC’s vision is to empower women so that they can become the next generation of engineers and tech leaders. RTC helps them in career exploration, facilitating community, mentorship, personal and professional development, and hands-on experience by partnering with tech companies across a different industries.

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