Female Disruptors: Lizzi Ackerman is making breakfast even better.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizzi Ackerman, Co-Founder and CEO of Birch Benders.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! After graduating from Yale in 2010, I was planning on being a doctor, but ended up in pancakes and haven’t looked back! I moved to Boulder in 2011 to finish my pre-med classes at the University of Colorado when Matt LaCasse, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, came up with the original idea for Birch Benders.
Matt woke up one morning craving pancakes, but all he had in the fridge was eggs. An idea sparked, “What if pancakes were as easy to make as cracking an egg over a griddle?” What if pancakes could be both healthy and convenient? So Matt got to mixing and I got to testing!
I have always been data driven and I brought this data-focused approach to Birch Benders. When we were developing the recipes, I brought the idea of running double-blind tests to our recipe development.
We double-blind taste tested every single ingredient and ended up with the perfect just-add-water, better-for-you pancake & waffle mixes.
We saw a niche, had gut feeling, and jumped into the business headfirst. We bootstrapped it at the beginning, and turned the attic of our house into our office. Because we were young and had no prior experience in the industry, it took us a few years to get the company off the ground and find real product-market fit.
Why did you found your company?
Because I love pancakes. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love pancakes? I was one of my favorite foods as a child but one I stopped eating as an adult, so I wondered if we could reimagine pancakes to be healthy, guilt free, and also super easy to make.
When we were starting our company, we noticed that in natural retailers (think Whole Foods, Sprouts, etc), there were plenty of pancake mixes with clean ingredient decks, but none that were just-add-water. And in conventional retailers (think Kroger, Safeway, etc), every pancake mix was just-add-water, but full of unhealthy ingredients.
So we wanted the best of both worlds, and sought to create the first all natural and just-add-water pancake and waffle mix. Since then, we’ve continued to innovate and bring functionality to our favorite foods with products that cater to many diets, including organic, paleo, gluten free, and high protein.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We’re reimagining the foods you loved as a kid and making them healthy enough to enjoy as an adult. We’re bringing health and functional benefits to foods not traditionally seen as healthy.
Pancakes and waffles were once seen as an occasional or weekend indulgence, but at Birch Benders, we are disrupting that mindset by bringing making these foods convenient, functional, and guilt free so you can enjoy them all the time.
We created the first all-natural and just-add-water pancake and waffle mix on the market. We were also first-to-market with our Paleo Pancake & Waffle Mix as well as our Paleo Toaster Waffles.
At Birch benders we believe that great food holds the power to bring people together. Our products speed up the process so you can slow down, enjoy the moment and reconnect with your inner child.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
The right mentor can save you years, provide a greater understanding of the industry based off of their own anecdotal experiences, and serve as a trusted confidante.
One of my most important mentors has been Justin Gold of Justin’s, the natural and all organic nut butter brand. I met Justin in 2014 at Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event. As a fellow Boulder resident, I had been following Justin’s growth from the beginning, and respected how he had built his business.
Birch Benders had officially launched to consumers at that show, so I knew it was my moment. I gathered all of my courage and approached him at the Justin’s booth, requesting 30 minutes with him for coffee. Justin obliged and we met up in Boulder and before long, 30 minutes had turned into 2 hours.
From then, our mentor/mentee relationship blossomed and a friendship along with it.
How are you going to shake things up next?
We have a lot of exciting upcoming innovations in the pipeline that we’re working closely with our R&D team on. Right now, I can’t give much more detail other than that these innovations will be huge for the company and to be on the lookout in the coming months!
Can you share the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
Stay small when you’re starting out and still in the iteration phase. As tempting as it is as an entrepreneur, restrain yourself from trying to get into real distribution until you’re have real traction. Majority of companies will pivot from idea they launched with, and you want to make sure you have the right product-market fit and price-pack architecture before you really put yourself out there.
Be smart enough to read the data and intuitive enough to know when to ignore it. Innovative ideas cannot be backed by data because the data doesn’t exist, so you have to trust your gut. And your gut is a muscle — the harder you work it, the more you trust it, the stronger it will get.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Never Split The Difference. It really taught me the art of negotiation and how to close deals, and I use principles of that book every day.
Chris Voss, the author, was a former FBI Hostage Negotiator and teaches you everything he learned in high stakes negotiations that you can apply in business and life. It’s awesome and very much worth the read!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Alive: Richard Branson because he’s a not only a wildly successful entrepreneur but seems to be having the most fun all the time, and I really admire that and would love to pick his brain. Dead: David Bowie all the way!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow us @birchbenders on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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