Its hard to find creative inspiration in a vacuum. To work your art every day, and hope that someone will find it, see it, appreciate it, sometimes feels like a really big task. Thats why we wanted to share some insight from someone who really inspires us—Erika Kerekes.
About a year ago when we were just starting to conceptualize the software that would later become BeesWax, we were lucky enough to run into Erika Kerekes online, and we found her personal story to be just amazing—something we really wanted to share with every artist and maker we know who is aspiring to turn a passion into a business.
We asked Erika a few questions about where she found her own inspiration and success:
Question: Could you tell me a little about which gift came first for you? E.g. Were you always super gregarious and good at networking, and later decided to channel that talent into specialty foods? Or were you a foodie first, and figured out how to build a vibrant network around that skill?
Answer: Actually, I have not always been gregarious and good at networking. I used to have a”phone phobia” (i.e. I was terrified to call people I didnt know) and even today I am not the best when it comes to working a room at a networking event. But I do like to connect with people and hear their stories - comes from my background as a journalist, I think. So over the years I had met a few people who had started packaged food businesses here in southern California, and Id asked them a lot of questions about the process and learned quite a bit by osmosis. At the same time, I started writing my food blog in 2008, and I co-founded Food Bloggers Los Angeles in 2009, and so I was meeting tons of people in and around all parts of the food business and hearing THEIR stories and learning from THEM. It wasnt until I started Not Ketchup that I realized that everything was coming together, all the skills Id developed as a blogger, my professional background in journalism and then marketing and social media, the contacts Id made in the food world, and finally my last corporate job as a product manager where I brought several products to market in a very short time (not food products, but the process has a lot of parallels no matter what kind of product it is).
Question: What kind of experience with digital marketing and strategic partnerships did you have before Not Ketchup?
Answer: I was one of the very early crossovers in my career from print journalism to the dot-com world. I actually had my first full-time job producing online content (for a cable TV network) before most people knew what the Internet was. So Ive been around the world of online marketing and what came to be called social media since the mid 1990s. I still consult in online marketing and online content for clients in a variety of industries, mostly tech. As for strategic partnerships, when you work in a Fortune 1000 company (I worked for two between 2009 and 2012), you learn a lot about all kinds of partnerships, from vendor relationships to media relationships to inside and outside sales. My work life definitely helped me understand what it was going to take to make Not Ketchup successful.
Question: Did anyone mentor or help you in the process? If so, what did you learn?
Answer: Ive had more mentors than I can count. I have not been shy about reaching out for help - I am a big believer for asking for what you need. For example, a friend connected me with his uncle, who owns a natural foods company in central California. He sat down with me for three hours when I was just starting and helped me understand the financial model of selling a product in mainstream grocery: margins, distribution, costing, etc. He saved me months of mistakes, maybe years. I also got a lot of help from the owners of the manufacturing facility that makes my products (called a co-packer), from my food chemist, and from friends in PR, food styling, photography. I ask a lot of questions and Ive never had someone decline to answer. I also belong to an amazing private group on Facebook with a half-dozen other women food entrepreneurs - we are all at similar stages with our businesses, and we share tips on EVERYTHING, from production to marketing to pricing to contacts. Each of us has different strengths and were all taking slightly different approaches to our businesses. I chat with those ladies online every single day.
Question: Do you have any advice for artists and makers just starting out with their craft?
Answer: Number one piece of advice is know your numbers before you even start. You need to know how much you will be able to sell your product for, how much youre going to need to give to retailers and distributors and brokers, and then whats left has to cover your cost of goods, spoilage, terms, marketing, advertising, R&D, all your overhead. You dont want to figure out six months in that your products are so expensive to make that you cant afford to sell them. Second is to figure out where and how youre going to sell them, because that will influence your cost structure. Third is to test the entire package - product, label, name, elevator pitch, price - on as many STRANGERS as possible before you launch, and really listen to their feedback. And fourth: Start saving, because this is a long, expensive ride with very low margins. Totally worth it and lots of fun though!
Any plans to quit your day job?
I havent completely quit my day job - still doing lots of marketing consulting, mostly for tech companies. But I think a lot of people do that for a while during their ramp-up period. At least I still need to - Ive got a kid going to college in two years!
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