Name: Erica Liu Williams
Located: Danville, CA
Launched: June 2013
When Erica Liu Williams finished graduate school with a degree from Stanford in Communications, she used her expertise and knowledge to launch a full-time career in Silicon Valley. Although many of her peers opted right away for entrepreneurship, Erica enjoyed being a versatile, “high impact” contributor at a variety of tech companies. A few years later, when Erica decided to sell the “clean,” healthful granola she regularly baked for her family and friends, she wasn’t planning to turn her side-hustle into a full-fledged business. However, if fate laughs in the face of well-laid plans, Erica provided a hilarious punchline. Just a few months after selling her first batch of gr8nola at a local farmer’s market, Erica was selected to be a food vendor supplying gr8nola to Google’s campuses and micro-kitchens. Even with that enormous win, Erica stuck with her 9-5 schedule and ran her business on the side. Four years later, after more and more companies in the Valley started craving her crunchy product, Erica decided to go all-in. The upshot? Business is, well, gr8!
Erica, you’re an “accidental” entrepreneur. How did you wind up working for yourself?
I’d never dreamed about running my own business, but I’ve always loved the feeling of building something and making an impact. For some time, I’d been writing down ideas for problems I might solve within the technology space. Nothing really stood out. Then, while I was spending the holidays with my husband and his family, I thought, wait! I have this amazing granola that’s meeting my dietary and lifestyle needs. I can’t find anything like it. What if this is my idea? It was food, not tech -- but why not?
Once I had the epiphany, I gave myself three months to “launch” the business and sell it at my local farmer’s market. But even though I went from 0-100, gr8nola was never about me launching out of my career. It was just a cute little side project.
Three months later, a friend connected me with the Google snack team which chooses the foods that are available on campus to all the employees. When I found out I was selected as a vendor, I had to go from making 20-pound batches of gr8nola each week for the market to making 1500 pounds a month for Google. It was crazy.
Google was the first of many tech companies to buy gr8nola for their employees. How did you wind up in the niche of B2B and digital sales?
It wasn’t intentional! Honestly, I never thought about supplying tech companies as a way to go to market, but, in hindsight, it was really smart. Grocery stores are cutthroat. After Google, I reached out to more tech companies and sent them gr8nola samples. My product is healthy and local, which is what companies want nowadays -- but gr8nola always wins with taste!
Now, my primary customer base is the thousands of employees working at the biggest tech companies in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest -- Twitter, Dropbox, Netflix, Microsoft and others. I also have a growing base of customers online who are discovering my brand either through word-of-mouth or from my strong social presence on Instagram. I’m delighted to say it’s a favorite snack of a lot of popular food bloggers and lifestyle influencers on the ‘gram.
Was it overwhelming having to unexpectedly ramp up your production?
It was. I figured out how to make it happen because I had no choice. It was an important lesson for me as an entrepreneur. When an opportunity presents itself, you’ll always find a way to make it work! For me, I suddenly had to find a “co-packer” who was local, willing to take me on and didn’t require a huge minimum order. I think it was as 6th-degree connection who helped me find the right person to produce and package gr8nola for me while ensuring the same taste and quality of the product I’d made for years in my own kitchen.
Tell us about the breakfast and snack food that people can’t get enough of!
Gr8nola is made with “clean” ingredients and superfoods like flaxseed, turmeric, cacao and matcha green tea powder. All gr8nola products are non-GMO and are free of dairy, soy and refined sugar. I use organic virgin coconut oil because it’s an amazing superfood and a unique healthy fat that converts into an immediate energy source for the body. Gr8nola also has less sugar (5g sugar per 1/3c serving) than most granolas in the market, as it’s lightly sweetened with either honey and stevia or low-glycemic coconut sugar and monk fruit. It’s healthful, and it’s delicious!
Erica, what do you hope to gain from attending this year’s QuickBooks Connect?
When I first sold gr8nola in farmer’s markets, I got a lot of immediate comments from customers about everything from the taste to the packaging. I miss getting that raw, in-the-moment feedback. I’m really looking forward to getting gr8nola in the hands and mouths of people at QB Connect. And I’m excited to share my story and everything I’ve learned from starting this business.
QB Community members, how long did it take you to turn your idea into an official business? What steps did you take to make it happen?
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