Naomi Poe & Better Batter Part 4: Thoughts on Business from a “Person in Business”

You seem like a pretty confident person, and you are clearly successful. Were you always this confident, or is this something that developed as you matured?

Growing up, I did not know myself. I really did not like myself. All the kids in school told me I was homely and ugly. They told me I was a nerd because I was smart and I liked to learn. I thought I was a total reject in school. As a young teenager, I chose to receive the lies that the culture told—that I wasn’t the right height, weight, shape, pretty enough, you know, cool enough. And it took me until adulthood to really reject what the media and the mean kids at school said, even though my parents and my faith community did a fantastic job of teaching me that the truth was different and that I was called for a purpose to do something with my life. When I had my children, I realized this cultural clutter is not the life I want for them. That’s when I started to truly accept who I was as a good thing instead of putting it down because it didn’t fit everyone else’s idea of conventional or cool.

How does your experience with self worth affect the way you interact with others through your business?

It’s become a big part. When you have parents of kids with autism, they feel like failures half the time because they’re doing all these therapies that aren’t working. Their kids aren’t functioning relationally; sometimes they aren’t functioning physically. You get a lot of people saying, ‘I’m a loser.’ I’ve been there, felt that. And I’ve been able to say let’s recast this. Let’s talk about the successes we’ve had. Let’s talk about the destiny your child has. What are they good at? Everyone says [with autistic children’s interests], ‘it’s a tic,’ or ‘it’s an obsession of theirs.’ That tic is where they’re going to change the world. And we should let their genius bloom.

What advice would you give to people who have battled with lack of confidence and feelings of low self worth?

I mentor teenage girls now, every week. I have a small group of girls. I start them in seventh grade and we go to twelfth grade. Then I start over again with the seventh graders. And when they’re in college, they know that I’m there. The rest of their lives, I’m always there for them.

It’s almost a joke because they all know that I always start off the year by saying look, you know that girl in school who everyone picks on? Even the kids who get picked on pick on that girl. She is the base of the totem pole. Well I was that girl. I was never rich enough, cool enough, pretty enough. Look at me and where I am now. Look at the good life I have and the joy and focus that I have. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘that’ girl. You could be this girl.

My advice is to reject the lies, receive the truth, and spend your life discovering what it is you were meant to do. Find your joy and potential. Change the world; don’t let the world change you.

Do you feel this generation of girls faces similar struggles as those faced by generations in the past with regard to self image and self worth?

I was hearing the same lies being repeated and seeing the same limitations with this generation. It’s time to start breaking free of all that. If you’re not thin, or sexy, or athletic, you’re somehow a nobody. In some arenas, women are still treated as second-class citizens. The day will come where that will change, but we have got to be agents of change. We can’t just sit around and wait for it. We need to change the conversation from gender politics to abilities.

In our generation, we have people willing to put women forward. But one thing that frustrates me is that some of the biggest obstacles to women succeeding are other women. We put these limitations on ourselves. I can’t tell you the number of times I see women putting down other women for their choice of career, appearance, outlook on politics, or some other item.

One glaring example is staying at home with your kids. Our grandmothers fought to be allowed to work outside the home. Today women have to fight for the right to stay home and be with their kids without being minimized or vilified. Somehow the freedom to choose this ‘traditional life’ has become devalued. I don’t get that. We fought to choose, and then we take away that choice? I think it’s just as reprehensible for a woman to put down another woman for being home as it is for a woman to put down another woman for working. When we crush other women’s dreams, we’re misogynists.

What reactions have you gotten with regard to being a woman in business?

People told me all along, ‘You’re insane. You need to not be throwing everything you’ve got at it.’ And I’ve had people say, ‘You’re never going to make it in the food industry. The food industry is male controlled, male oriented, male dominated. You’re a woman. And you’re never going to make it. They’ll just laugh at you.’

My first expo in Boston, I had a guy pat me on my head, physically, and say, ‘Oh you are so sweet and so pretty.’ At the time I thought, what do I say that’s not confrontational? I deserve to be taken seriously. I deserve to be taken seriously not because I’m a woman but because I have a product to sell. I have something to offer.

I had gotten this question in my email about women in business. It tends to frustrate me. Why is me being a woman even a conversation point? I am a person in business whose gender happens to be female. What I do or don’t do in business has really nothing to do with my gender. It is not exceptional that I’m in business. The day that we actually make progress is when one’s gender stops being a talking point. We have to be willing to force the conversation away from gender and toward ability.

What general advice would you give about starting a business?

There’s only one way to really make it. You throw everything you’ve got into it, and you go for it (but wisely). Yes, 90 percent of companies fail in their first year. And that 10 percent of people who survive just make it. The thing is, you’re guaranteeing yourself never to be in the 10-percent group if you don’t try. Ninety percent of those companies that make it the first year will fail in their first five years. They fail because they don’t make wise decisions. They cannibalize the company, try to get too big too fast, or make other rash decisions. If you want to be one of the one-percent group—the ones who have a viable business—you also need to balance your risk taking with wisdom. Learn what you can, spend wisely, and plan carefully.

What has Better Batter faced in terms of market competition?

There was no industry [for gluten-free flour mixes] back when we first started. That’s why a lot of us are friends or on friendly terms. I mean, we openly compete. We have totally competitive products—flour and flour. But we’re both living this lifestyle by necessity, doing the same thing, and trying to change the world. For example, Jules Gluten Free and I are direct competitors. I mean, girl owns the Southeast. And she has a different blend than I do. So a lot of times our customers might be allergic to something—like they can’t have potatoes or something—and we send them to her. We get a lot of that back and forth. So we compete and support each other at the same time.

Up until now, this is the way market competition has worked—literally a friendly competition, usually (as with the example above) regional and local, and all in good fun. Frankly, when your competitors are people of integrity and you can truly recommend them, it’s a good world.

It sounds as if businesses in the gluten-free flour world are working together on some level. Do you see this supportive model persisting?

In the early years, anyone could get in and be successful, even with a garbage product. It’s five years later, and the industry has matured. Big money is jumping into the ring—big money who doesn’t care about the passion stuff and really doesn’t buy into the working together while competing thing, either. They are just wondering how they missed a 4.2 billion dollar industry and how they can grab the biggest piece of it. So the rules will change over the next five years. You’re not going to see as much positivity. Those of us who are established because we were the first in can carry on, but a lot of companies coming in may not have the same dynamic support or may not be supportive, themselves.

Little by little, you will see companies that have been working this way being bought off. It’s just the way it’s going to be. It’s the nature of things. If a company can’t grow large enough to compete independently, but it’s large enough to be taken seriously, it will be bought. Only the biggest of the original ‘dreamers’ will stick it out. I hope that’s us.

What changes have you seen in the food industry since starting Better Batter, and how have those changes affected your journey with this company?

The internet changed the food industry. In 2006, I had a broker say to me, ‘I’ve been a broker for 40 years. You’re never going to get with a distributor, and if you do, they’re going to charge you $100,000 per product to get in. So you’re never going to make it in this business. The only way you’ll get in is if your product is so good and there’s so much demand for it that it draws people in.’ He said, ‘Look, it’s just never going to happen. So I said O.K., I’ll go to this new thing, internet sales. I’ll sell it to people in their homes and when there are enough people who want it, the stores will come to us. He laughed at me, but he was wrong.

Nowadays, the distributors also understand there’s a big difference in consumer mindset because of the internet. Stores, distributors, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the new model work. Do we use stores as advertising because people buy the product on the internet after trying it in the store? Do we, as a distributor, sell online directly to people with Amazon as well as to stores? These are questions that they are trying to answer. Everything has changed, is changing, and will change for at least a few more years.

A lot of factors came together to contribute to Better Batter’s success. What’s your take on why your company grew so quickly?

Someone wrote an article asking what it is with women in the gluten-free industry. Why is it totally women dominated? It was funny because I wrote them back and I said, I’ll tell you. The need was there when the internet [commerce] was just coming into maturity, and the market was there. The need met the market in a venue that could finally work. Nobody told any of us that the rules couldn’t work, or if they did we just laughed at them. We said, ‘I don’t care that you told me that I’m a woman and I can’t do it. Those aren’t my rules. I don’t play in your system. I’m over here in my new system.’

We happened to be there at the right time in the right place, so we were successful. If someone tried to start a gluten-free flour company right now, they would have to compete against, regionally, six power players and probably, nationally, two power players. They couldn’t compete. Back in the early days, anyone could compete.

I think it was serendipity. It’s the best word I can find for it. I understand that I hit the right market at the right time. I got the right employees at the right time. We put in a lot of hard work, and we didn’t make foolish choices too often. That’s why we’re doing O.K.

Next: Naomi Poe & Better Batter Part 5: Taking Over the World One Gluten-Free Product at a Time

 

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<<Naomi Poe & Better Batter Part 2: Personal Struggles Lead to Business Big Bang

<<Naomi Poe & Better Batter Part 3: GMOs, Fad Diets, and Making a Positive Difference

 

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