It may be time to revisit the assumptions inherent in the term “mompreneur.” Growing a business from $115,000 dollars in annual sales to $35 million in five years is impressive for any mom, dad, grandpa, aunt, or third cousin.
Shazi Visram, Happy Family CEO and chief mom, founded Happy Family in 2006 based on the idea that parents should have the choice to feed their families with a healthy, organic alternative to the preservative-laden jarred food that was then on the supermarket shelves. She has grown the business to include a wide variety of food products for babies and toddlers.
Visram believes that her business has been so successful due in part to the emotional appeal of a mom-owned business, which has helped turn customers into evangelists. In turn, Happy Family hires some of those evangelists to be HappyMamas, a group of 50 mothers around the country who act as a troop of community builders and local marketers. These HappyMamas organize and promote events such as cooking classes on healthy toddler meals, eco-friendly arts and crafts demonstrations and baby food tastings.
While these grassroots marketing efforts have proven effective with Visram’s customers, her business hit a real tipping point in 2010 when she, her husband Joe Kulak (whose official title is Happy Papa and who focuses on sales for the company), and son Zane Visram Kulak, were featured in an American Express OPEN commercial that received a significant amount of national air time, including a spot during the Super Bowl pre-show.
In addition to media attention, the New York–based company has attracted high-profile board of advisory members such as famed restaurateur Tom Colicchio and pediatric medicine icon Dr. Bob Sears, as well as a board of directors that includes Spanx’s Sara Blakely and Honest Tea’s Seth Goldman.
In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Visram is committed to socially responsible business practices. Not only are Happy Family products made from organic ingredients and “superfoods” like salba, quinoa, yumberries, and mangosteen, but the company donates a portion of all products sold to organizations fighting hunger across the globe, including Project Peanut Butter and the FEED Foundation.
NY Report’s executive editor Daria Meoli recently sat down with Visram in her home to discuss the challenges of getting off the ground, becoming a better business leader, and smoking the competition.
Daria Meoli: What gave you the idea for Happy Family?
Shazi Visram: I had previously started a marketing business and I helped a lot of other brands with their businesses. But I never felt super passionate about what they were doing. I was looking for something that I could really get into. I decided to go to business school to develop tools, so that when I did have that big idea, I would be able to make it in a bigger way. While in school, I had a conversation with a friend who had twins. She was really distraught about not having better options for feeding them. This was at a time when the only thing available on the store shelves were jars of hyper-processed baby food made with a process that was created in the 1930s to be a cheap and convenient food alternative. It wasn’t about nutrition or doing what’s right for a baby’s growing body.
While this was before I became a mother, I was aware of the children’s health crisis in our country. The rise of diabetes, obesity rates, ADD, and children’s food allergies is really sad and staggering. Having this conversation with my friend was a light-bulb moment, because I realized that she was craving something better, as a mom, to feed her child. She felt a lot of guilt because she wanted to make homemade baby food from organic ingredients, but that was just absolutely impossible for a working mom of twins. The only option for her was to buy this disgusting jar of baby food that sits on the shelf for three years.
When I started looking into this as a business, I found that A) she wasn’t the only mom who wanted something better, and B) doctors say that the first two years of life are critical in developing a taste profile that lasts for your whole lifetime. I couldn’t get over how people can spend $1,000 dollars on a stroller or $100 on a pair of little booties that your kid grows out of in three weeks, and yet there wasn’t a true premium option for food. Your kid will never know whether he’s being pushed around in a $1,000 dollar stroller or a $20 stroller. It’s not going to change his life, but the food that you give him absolutely does. I got excited about creating products that really make children’s lives better and give them a better chance of growing up to be healthy, happy, thriving adults.
The idea also was to create a warm and inviting brand. I wanted something that wasn’t goo-goo ga-ga, but was friendly, beautiful, and warm that would appeal to today’s modern mom, but at the same time fill that void in terms of nutrition. I also always had this dream of having a socially responsible, meaningful business.
DM: Why was that important to you?
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org