Saturday, February 16, 2019

Interview; Keisha Jeremie-Smith: It’s as Sweet as Applesauce.

July 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Business, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Sometimes the path to entrepreneurship is found in the simple things we love in our life. While it is great to get an education and make moves in corporate America you don’t have to give up the idea of owning a business of your own. So many brothers and sisters have amazing skills they have acquired as they were passed down from generation to generation. It’s time we begin to look at the untapped skills we have in our homes and hands. This is exactly what Keisha Jeremie-Smith has done; while still working in corporate America she has embarked on the path of turning applesauce into a very grown up treat.

TBM: Instead of starting with the obvious which is your place in corporate America; why did you choose Applesauce?

KJS: Basically, two main reason, first I have been an adult applesauce lover now for 20 plus years. I fell in love with applesauce when I was in college and started making it for myself with the green apples I loved. I actually didn’t realize at the time that most applesauce was made with red apples. I just went with the ones I really like; I love the Granny Smith apples they are really tart. I started making it in college. So that’s the first I love applesauce and making it for over two decades.

Then secondarily I noticed that Go Go Squeeze came on the market with a slight amount of innovation which is they modernized the portability of it; they created a billion-dollar company in about 12 months. So that was a little bit of a light bulb moment for me around a category that people don’t think a lot about as a place where there are opportunities for growth and disruption. Applesauce might be one of the smoothest categories people think about, and I was like ha that’s interesting. They didn’t do anything to the flavor or the texture they just put it in pouches.

That was great for moms with kids. I was actually home for Christmas in the Bahamas and came back with a jar of tamarind sauce. I’m not sure if you are familiar with it but its our version of applesauce in terms in the fact you use it in sweet dishes and savory dishes and its one of those things you cook at home bubbling on the pot. I’ve grown up with pots of tamarind sauce being like the most exciting thing you make during tamarind season. I came back with my jar of tamarind sauce and I was making my applesauce over the holiday and was inspired to blend the two. I had some little kids visiting for Christmas and family members; I was thinking the kids would like it I know I like it.

Well, the adults basically cleaned the pot. I made it and had to keep making it because the adults were wolfing down this applesauce. The way I make applesauce was a little different as well because I leave actual piece, wedges of apple, in there. It feels more like apple pie in a jar; it’s really good, I saw the expression of the adults and a couple of them around the table all said something like: a lot of people don’t know this but I really love applesauce they were kind of whispering it like confessing it which made me think about the fact that one I wasn’t the only one that loves applesauce, and two when I didn’t have time to make it myself I would be buying it in the pouches but never bring it into the office. You are not going to be a grown woman with a pouch in your office. So, it made me start thinking about the category is marketed exclusively to 8yr olds or 80yr olds.

Either you are taking applesauce because you are getting older and need to take it with your pills, or you are a kid. But, everyone in between has to make due with those bland flavor options or the kiddie pouches. So, I thought that was actually where the market was with yogurt a couple of years ago. Before Chobani before Fage it was it was bland and basic and they came in, Fage came in, with Greek yogurt and the adult flavors and his cultural root and what he’d seen growing up ad yogurt ends up going from an 8 billion dollar category to a 125 billion dollar category. That’s a long way of saying the two reasons are one because I realize I’m not the only adult who loves applesauce, and two I see a billion-dollar opportunity. Given my love of applesauce and given my experience in the corporate space with understanding markets and marketing products and understanding how to monetize I feel this is the idea that if I ever saw it one shelves and someone else did it I’d really be made. So that’s why applesauce.

TBM: Is your market primarily to adults?

KJS: Yes. The kids absolutely love it, but where I see this being distinctive is with everything from our packaging to our flavors is created with adults in mind. So, with our packaging there will never be Sanaia pouches with our packaging if you think about the Chobani cup we have that product which will be available this summer through grocery stores. Then we have glass jars that are jars packaging that adults would be proud to have in public. The flavors guava, tamarind, hibiscus, lavender, pear and ginger they are flavors that are clearly ones that are slightly more complex, exotic and they are obviously island inspired because I grew up in the Bahamas, but they are ones that adults will recognize as this is marketed to me and it honors the complexity of my palate.

TBM: How do you juggle working in corporate America actively while trying to build entrepreneurship.

KJS: Meaning how can I get it all done. For one out of necessity I can’t afford to quit my day job. So, I think they say necessity is the mother of invention. I have to figure out ways to figure it out every day. But number two as soon as I decided I was going to make a run at this being this a real business and not a hobby I started to build a team. Only one person works for Sanaia 100% of the time and that’s a really key person. He is the COO, and he’s been a former CEO of his own company. He actually founded and ran a humus company from his own recipe in Texas, and eventually sold that business so he has incredible relevant experience to what we need to do to grow Sanaia.

I built a team and I started thinking about what part was going to be my best and honest purpose and that’s the vision, figuring out the financing, figuring out exactly who our market is, exactly what the product needs to look like, and what is our brand then. I knew from talking to a number of key people if you want to launch a successful business you have to someone looking at the finances day one, you need someone focused on operations, and marketing in a customer package good industry marketing is so key. I had the idea in January of 2017. Latoya and I, my CFO and best friend, we worked together both if us have day jobs but we’d be working 6a until 2am whatever it is to get us to launch in July. By November/ December six months after launching I hired a COO and CMO and they work.

More and more it’s a common story I work with a bunch of entrepreneurs. I’m a part of an incubator in Harlem specifically for food startups, The Hot Bread Kitchen, and there are very few people who are in the incubator that don’t have a day job. I feel like that is becoming more common. I don’t know if that’s a New York thing as the cost of rent is so high, but it’s hard to live without a sustained income. Also, a lot of entrepreneurs are older; I’m in my 40’s. when there was that wave of start ups and everyone was in their 20’s and where the people who couldn’t find a job right out of college and decided to start their businesses you van do that in your 20’s. It’s harder in your 40’s; I don’t have any kids but I’m the bread winner in my marriage by the time you are in your 40’s you are embedded with responsibilities already. People in this time in their life are like I’ve done a lot in a corporate space, but they don’t want to forfeit their ideas and dreams to wait until retirement. That might be too late.

TBM: In America in its current climate what advice would you give our people on launching their own businesses, and the difference entrepreneurship verses going corporate?

KJS: Entrepreneurial and corporate environment it is really important to be clear and confidently own the parts of your life journey that make you unique. When I think of the concept and idea of Sanaia in its early days when we didn’t know if it would be successful bit every single part of my upbringing in the Bahamas, being up in fruit trees for summers on end, making little fruit dishes at the bottom of the fruit trees, cutting up fruit…all of that has informed my ability to come up with this idea. Whether its growing up in the Bahamas or the time I spent at Morgan Stanley helping business leaders build their teams, and I’m now here in another environment where I’m able to understand how digital media works. I think a lot of times we don’t see how all the places we’ve been and experiences we’ve had could be our source of competitive advantage.

A lot of times we think because our story is very different, just speaking for myself, your background and how you were raised is different from other people you feel like the odd ball or other. There is a lot of rich innovative ingenuity creativity that van be mined from those experience. Frankly every product that does well on the market is a reflection of somebody having an idea then putting their own personal perspective on that idea and bringing it into the world. In us as African Americans we have a lot of rich cultural life experience we often don’t tap into, and actually I think those are the products the world is waiting for. That’s what’s new, different and unique. I encourage us to not look for ways to necessarily blend in, fit in try to come up with an idea that’s like someone else’s idea.

Mine your rich heritage and life experiences to see what jewels and treasures are in there, I think that does wonders from both an entrepreneurial perspective in terms of a potential product or idea. Maybe you are able to see a problem that other people can’t see because that hasn’t been their lived experience. On the corporate side we have perspectives that need to be voiced in the rooms we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most impact I’ve had in particular rooms is when I’ve spoken up saying here is how I see this as a woman, woman of color, or somebody from the Caribbean, or someone whose professional path came from different industries as someone in the room with me. Those interventions are important ones and if you’re going to be in the room but aren’t going to offer your voice and perspective I think it’s a missed opportunity for being in the room.

On both tracks its really important to feel confident, to know how much value your difference brings to the room or the ideation process for a business and see that as an advantage. Then to the extent that you are a quantitative person there was a study that showed black women received less than 1% of venture capital money that does into new businesses, but black women provide the highest rate of return on investments when they do receive that money. So, no other group provides as consistent great returns on that capital as black women. Numbers don’t lie there is so much there that we should be confident in. we aren’t getting anywhere near as much investment capital as we should be but when we do get it we are knocking it out of the park.

Talking to Kiesha Jeremie-Smith gave us a wealth of knowledge on what we offer to a corporate space, but also what we can invest in owns own dreams and ideas. Take the time to ask yourself what unique idea you can turn into a legacy for you and your family. We need to invest more in our dreams and ideas while supporting others. Please look out for Sanaia Applesauce in your stores and support a black owned business in trying this unique spin on what some see as just a kid’s snack. Applesauce just received a grown -up make over with Sanaia.

Check out Sanaia Applesauce on the sites below.




Staff Writer; Christian Starr

May connect with this sister over at Facebook and also Twitter

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