There’s something electrifying about a woman who sees a problem and immediately thinks, “I can fix that.” So when Denise Woodard realized there were no yummy and also safe snacks for her dietarily-restricted three-year-old, Vivienne, she made her own. Read on to see how this entrepreneur is making waves in the snack industry, how her business skills are helping her be a great mom, and the one thing that keeps her motivated.
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was as a Territory Sales Manager for Altria, a tobacco company, in inner-city Charlotte, NC. My role at Altria provided a really strong sales foundation, valuable training, and allowed me to really get my hands dirty – I was literally driving around in a company-provided minivan merchandising products in convenience stores. But I could not see myself long-term selling a product I wouldn’t be proud to share with my family, so I left the company and went to FedEx, where I had a chance to work on supply chain optimization projects for various companies.
How did the idea for Partake Foods come about?
My 3-year-old daughter, Vivienne, has multiple food allergies (eggs, cashews, pistachios, corn, and bananas), and I couldn’t find any meal and snack options that met her dietary restrictions, my nutritional standards, and still managed to taste really good. There are so many social events that revolve around food – play dates, birthday parties, science projects at school. I wanted to make sure that she (& the 15 million other people in the US with food allergies) had options that were delicious, nutritious, and safe for as many people as possible.
What about your brand resonates with customers? Did you expect it to grow so quickly?
We’ve found that Partake resonates with multiple customer groups – people who have been gluten-free forever and are happy to have a new option that is tasty and nutritious, vegans, moms looking for school-safe snacks, and food allergy parents. I think what resonates with customers is that we are an inclusive brand that makes solutions that anyone can share with confidence.
You were working in sales at Coca-Cola before you began this new venture. What skills from that position are helping you as a solopreneur?
I used to joke that we needed a separate acronym dictionary at Coca-Cola for consumer packaged goods-related terms, but those sure have come in handy since starting Partake. Also, as a salesperson, I was used to cold-calling, letting “no” roll off my back, and being really persistent, which have been really helpful with Partake. I have personally been a part of every deal with stores we are currently in, and I attribute my comfort level with that to my background at Coca-Cola.
What challenges have you encountered as a new entrepreneur?
So many! Initially, the challenges were around the development of the product like where to manufacture and how to formulate the recipes so they weren’t just another me-too gluten-free cookie. Now the challenges are more around growing with lean resources. How can we be scrappy about what we spend? Where do we invest in marketing? And which retailers should we partner with and when?
Where do you find encouragement and inspiration to keep you motivated?
My daughter continuing to ask for the cookies each day definitely helps! We’ve also received lots of really nice notes from customers thanking us for making safe and healthy treats that they can feel about giving their children and sharing with others.
What does balancing family life and Partake look like for you?
For me, it’s all about prioritization and balance. On days we are gearing up for an event or a new retailer launch, I may see Vivienne less than I’d like, but there are other days where I schedule meetings to start a little late so that I can take her to school or sneak home to have lunch with her.
Getting to spend time with her does often mean really early mornings or late nights working on Partake, but she didn’t sign up for a crazy entrepreneur mama, and I want her to know that she and our family are my top priority.
We also have a non-negotiable “Friday Night Family Dinner” tradition that typically involves pizza out (& wine for me!) so that we can reconnect as a family to start the weekend.
What have you learned in your professional life that influences your mom life? And vice versa?
My professional life has always involved juggling lots of different tasks and prioritizing to meet deadlines – that organizational aspect has helped a ton with my mom life. Scheduling my daughter’s calendar of play dates, school activities, and social functions has definitely proved to be just as challenging as scheduling my work calendar! Being a mom has made me realize the importance of not always being so serious, and also of enjoying the simple things and small wins along the way.
What should we be expecting next from you and Partake?
I’m excited to share that we are working on a few new cookie flavors, an on-the-go package, and a new product line that we will hopefully be announcing in early 2019! We are also expanding distribution in the US. You’ll be able to find Partake in Whole Foods across the Southwest US in June and we’re working on continuing to expand our retail footprint.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 23-year-old-self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff… and wear sunscreen!
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
I’m most insecure about being present with Vivienne and knowing that I am spending enough time with her. As much as I try not to, there’s been times when something pops up that requires me to give my phone or computer my full attention during what should be mommy/daughter time. I try to minimize the distractions when I’m with her and be fully present, but it’s not always possible.
I’m most confident that I’m trying my absolute hardest to be the best mom I can be to her — we’re both learning along the way, but I feel good that she knows how deeply and unconditionally she is loved.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
Honestly, it’s the simple moments. When I’m able to sneak away from work for a few minutes in the afternoon to meet her at the park and seeing how excited she gets when I surprise her. Or Sunday afternoon cuddles on the couch.
Denise Woodard is The Everymom…
Favorite way to destress?
I live on the water across from Manhattan, and going for a walk along the waterfront always helps me clear my head. I’m also a big believer in Eastern medicine, so when I’m feeling particularly stressed, I’m quick to book an acupuncture session!
Most embarrassing mom moment?
I was interviewing for a new role (prior to Partake), and my daughter woke up from her nap early. I went to the furthest point in our small apartment (the shower in my bathroom) and took the call, but the person interviewing me still heard her meltdown. They totally understood but it was so embarrassing!
Early bird or night owl?
Start-up life lately is requiring both, but I’m naturally more of a night owl.
The music playing in your car right now?
When I’m driving alone, I’m a big fan of podcasts, but my daughter loves listening to Beyonce when she’s in the car with me.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Michelle Obama, and I’d order a big glass of wine.