Amanda Rolat of Bramble: “Andy’s second bit of advice is to stop comparing Bramble to other companies”

Andy’s second bit of advice is to stop comparing Bramble to other companies. I have a habit of looking at where other companies are — how many stores they’re in, how many followers they have on Instagram, how much money they’ve raised. Andy hears me do this and immediately tells me to stop and just focus on […]

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Andy’s second bit of advice is to stop comparing Bramble to other companies. I have a habit of looking at where other companies are — how many stores they’re in, how many followers they have on Instagram, how much money they’ve raised. Andy hears me do this and immediately tells me to stop and just focus on getting people to love Bramble. If people love your product, the rest will follow. Not the other way around!

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Rolat.

Amanda Rolat is the Founder and CEO of Bramble, the first and only pet food company that serves dogs a fresh, whole food plant-based diet developed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. When her search for high quality, sustainable, and ethical options for her two rescue dogs left her dissatisfied, she was compelled to hire a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to develop something she could trust. This early creation in her kitchen ultimately fueled the development of her own direct-to-consumer brand. In 2020, Bramble was 1 of the 8 companies, out of more than 450 applications, accepted into the esteemed Food-X accelerator. Before starting Bramble, Amanda practiced law in New York City for a decade.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My current career path as a founder grew organically out of my interests and personal pursuits. Ever since I was a child, I have always deeply empathized with and loved animals. But I always viewed animal rescue and welfare as a hobby as I pursued other things professionally.

I knew I wanted a career that I deemed impactful, which ultimately led me to work in wrongful convictions as an attorney. Throughout my time as an attorney, I was becoming more involved with animal rescue work and was moved by the injustices I saw playing out in my career to my clients, as well as in my personal work with animals.

In addition to animal welfare, I grew to be very passionate about health and wellness — specifically, the connection between diet and degenerative diseases. The more I learned, the more I understood that the food we eat is making us sick; and, the food we eat can also operate as medicine. This led me to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle, which was so much less restrictive and more enjoyable than I ever imagined. I think people look at “healthy” eaters as deprived, but I find that people who are mindful about what they eat have a real passion for food and cooking. These hobbies and interests collided when my dog, Harry, got cancer, and I started to apply all of the knowledge and concerns about my own diet to my dogs. I could never have imagined turning what I was cooking for my dogs into a business, but I just started putting the pieces together and figuring it out.

My parents were both immigrants; my father is from Poland, and my mother is from England. They placed a lot of emphasis on education and provided me with a lot of opportunities. However, as immigrants, they were not opening doors for me and making introductions because they didn’t have that. So I learned from an early age how to go after what I wanted on my own and make it happen. That served me very well during my first job after college as an assistant in the movie business: whatever your boss wants or needs, you figure it out and deliver. I applied this same grit to my work as an attorney, and now to Bramble.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We’re giving pet parents the first opportunity to feed their fur children in the healthiest way, through a whole-food, plant-based diet. We’ve worked with expert animal nutritionists and board-certified veterinary nutritionists to ensure our recipes are packed with protein and yummy superfoods that dogs go crazy for. We’re making it convenient and delicious for dogs to eat in a way that’s healthier and also better for the environment and other animals.

The bulk of the commercial pet food industry consists of dry, highly processed kibble. Like all processed food, it’s loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Even “premium” kibble can contain unbelievably low-quality meat, which can contain what is known as the “4 D’s:” dead, dying, diseased, and disabled animals.

In much the same way we have become savvier and more thoughtful in our own diets, we need to do this with respect to our pets’ diets by reading ingredient labels and questioning slick marketing. Words like “holistic” and “human-grade” don’t carry any meaning, and they often mask inferior ingredients.

We’re taking what we know from our own diets — that we thrive on non-processed food, full of high-quality ingredients from plant rich sources — and applying that to our pets.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know how funny it is, but when I first decided to make homemade plant-based dog food, I looked online for recipes. My dogs loved being fed real food, but one of my dogs lost a lot of weight fast, likely due to the higher fiber content. I quickly realized that I needed to hire a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to do this properly. It made me understand the importance of a carefully and expertly formulated diet for pets that balances all of the specific nutrients needed to live healthily. It’s very well-intended to prepare homemade meals for your dogs, but I learned firsthand why veterinary nutritionists caution against it and favor commercial pet food.

One of my favorite moments, which actually happens quite often, is how many Bramble customers have told me that they also tasted the food! It’s not a mistake, but I love how people are curious about what their dogs are eating!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I have had some incredible mentors, and I realize that the best professional mentors are also the greatest personal ones. My former boss, Claudia, who hired me to work for her in wrongful convictions, has had one of the most significant impacts on my life. I learned so much from watching her in all aspects of her life, not just as my boss and colleague, but also as a mother, wife, friend, professional, and writer. She is so thoughtful and consistent in her morals and beliefs in all these areas. Claudia had confidence in herself and her judgment, so she was able to mentor people and allow them to be themselves without making it about her or a reflection of her. When I think about what kind of environment I’d like to create for my employees and what type of boss and person I try to be, I think of Claudia.

Because I believe mentors are so important, one of the very first things I did when I hatched the idea for Bramble was seek out great mentors. In fact, I cold-emailed Andy Levitt, the founder and CEO of Purple Carrot, to tell him what I was attempting to do, and asked for his advice. I couldn’t believe that he emailed me back, and ever since then, he has been so generous with his time and has become one of my biggest champions. I approached Ethan Brown, the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, and similarly told him my plans for Bramble. The fact that both Andy and Ethan have helped me and mentored me speaks volumes about what incredible people they both are and how committed they are to the mission of changing our food system for the greater good of health, the environment, and animal welfare.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Testing norms, being thought-provoking, and shedding truth and light onto something is positive. But it has to be grounded in honesty and genuine concern for well-being.

I think Bramble is a great example. Animal agriculture is a pretty devastating industry. It operates largely in secrecy, punishing whistleblowers via Ag-Gag laws. It involves systemic abuse of both people and animals and wreaks havoc on both local communities and the environment at large. And the end product, factory-farmed meat, is making people — and pets — unhealthy. The pet food industry is responsible for up to 35% of the meat that is consumed in this country; yet, the pet food industry is often left out of the conversation that we have to reduce our overconsumption of animal products for the sake of health, the planet, and animal welfare.

We are looking to change that by offering a super healthy, savory alternative that dogs love. We seek to educate consumers on the dangers associated with commercial pet food, and some of the falsehoods underlying clever marketing. And our mission is grounded in truth and compassion.

Being disruptive just for the sake of grabbing attention or making money, in my mind, is not productive. Especially because it can be difficult to tease out intentions early on, these kinds of disruptors can gain a lot of traction and following, and ultimately not for the overall good.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Andy Levitt has given me two of the best pieces of advice I’ve received thus far. First, he tells me to focus on getting 20 people to love your product. When raising money, you’ll be asked about additional product lines, scaling into multiple channels, search engine optimization, among many other things. It’s important to think these things through early on, but they can also distract from the most important thing: make your product outstanding and get consumers to love your product; then get those consumers to tell their friends and so on.

Andy’s second bit of advice is to stop comparing Bramble to other companies. I have a habit of looking at where other companies are — how many stores they’re in, how many followers they have on Instagram, how much money they’ve raised. Andy hears me do this and immediately tells me to stop and just focus on getting people to love Bramble. If people love your product, the rest will follow. Not the other way around!

Last, hire people better than you and different from you. Every kind of diversity — in race, gender, personality, thinking — drives a company’s success.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

It’s just beginning! We are launching our first two fresh dog food recipes, followed by our treats and supplements. I can’t wait for more dogs to try Bramble and show their parents how much they love it!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think that the bar is still set higher for women to have to prove themselves and their product. We have to show a bit more to get people to believe in us. It shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

On the other hand, I see a real camaraderie among female founders that I find so inspiring, and I think it outweighs the challenges I’ve experienced as a woman thus far.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

There’s a Masters of Scale episode, the Ten Commandments of Startup Success, that is so full of incredible advice and stories from founders such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky. I have listened to it so many times. Brian Chesky tells a great story about the early days of Airbnb when he would personally show up to rented apartments to get to know his customers. I think startups can sometimes want to make themselves look bigger than they are in the early days. But in the early days, you can access your customer and get to know what they want in a way that you won’t be able to scale. His story about showing up to talk to his customers, asking about their Airbnb experiences, made me realize how founders should use the early days to build a better product and company going forward.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I am just a small part of is animal liberation. People are so disconnected from the way we treat and view animals, and the consequences are so far-reaching.

I don’t know any other issue that touches on all of the following:

Health — disease prevention and treatment, which implicates healthcare costs and over-reliance on antibiotics and pharmaceuticals;

Environment — everything from deforestation to climate change; and

Animal welfare — the horrific pain and suffering inflicted upon sentient farm animals.

People are becoming more and more concerned about these issues individually, yet still, resist acknowledging that the solution runs across their plates. Eating less meat could yield strikingly positive effects on all these fronts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Right where you are in this moment is where you are supposed to be. I’m not one to get complacent, and I often question decisions and choices I have made, but I always come back to this. It reminds me that, despite the imperfections or hard times, where you are is the product of choices and thoughts and mistakes and achievements, and you really are always right where you are meant to be.

How can our readers follow you online?

On twitter and instagram: @amandarolat and @bramblepets

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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