Creativity — come up with something unique
Market Viability — make something people want
Perseverance — never give up
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phäedra Randolph. Phäedra was inspired to create Spero because eating dairy-free transformed her health and changed her life. Phäedra’s dream is to give everyone access to affordable and clean dairy alternatives that actually taste good. So, she leveraged her background in engineering, science, and art to develop Spero’s patented food technology and brand.
Spero makes the world’s first dairy alternatives that will be cheaper and cleaner than traditional dairy.
Before Spero, Phäedra worked in engineering at Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and startups. At Facebook, she developed automation to combat hate speech and fraud, improving the lives of millions of people. She has founded not-for-profit organizations at Facebook, Cornell, and Harvard. Phäedra was a nationally-ranked athlete and an award-winning artist. She graduated from Cornell University in Engineering & Pre-Medicine (Honors).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iwas kind of an intense kid, pretty committed to sports and school. I grew up playing ice hockey with all boys, since age 9. There was no girls team but I wanted to play, so my dad helped me pave a path. I loved math and science, drawing, and writing. There was this other side of my experience, though, that was pretty hidden. I had a multitude of health issues that plagued me for most of my adolescence. It wasn’t until I asked myself the question, I wonder if what I eat has an impact on the way I feel, that I began to explore how I could help myself. When I tried giving up dairy, it was like my world transformed into some semblance of normalcy — I felt like myself for the first time.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I went dairy-free because it had a profound impact on my health. I remember this one experience so vividly: I went to the grocery store, filled my cart with replacements for each of my dairy products I used to consume, I get to the checkout line, and I’m just shocked; my bill was 3x the usual cost, and I ended up with less nutrition. I remember thinking, this is insane, no one can afford to live dairy-free with any sort of convenience. I checked all the nutrition labels and found everything was employing some super expensive ingredient like nuts. I had this aha moment that if I could just use less expensive ingredients, without other junk, then everyone could have access to eating this way.
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 necessarily have a funny mistake, but when we were first making Spero, we were literally in a shoebox. We had a somehow certified production space of like 200 sq ft with a hallway for an office and a wall to line our refrigerators. It was insane.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
They don’t listen to their customers — they don’t know how to listen or for what to listen. We listen to everything: what’s said and what isn’t.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Test it out on everyone you know. See what they think and why. Don’t take feedback personally. It’s just data!
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Pursue what is deeply and intrinsically meaningful to you — find purpose. Only then is the energy to fuel your pursuit endless.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
You know your product best. Learn everything you can. Only when you have exhausted your personal resources and knowledge should you consult outside help for the development.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
It depends on how boiler-plate is your process. If you’re scaling a nutrition bar or ice cream, you may not need VC capital. It also depends on your growth ambitions. At Spero, we’re scaling novel technology and innovation, and that requires VC backing.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
Knock on all the doors you want, until someone says, “Yes, ha!”
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Here’s what I think you need to create a successful food line:
- Creativity — come up with something unique
- Market Viability — make something people want
- Perseverance — never give up
- Rapid Iteration — be ready to pivot
- Strategy — make intelligent decisions about the direction of the business
These are each foundational to Spero as we continue to innovate products that will be cheaper than animal dairy. At Spero, we’re building the first mainstream alternatives made from plants, using novel and clean technology. We don’t compromise on health, taste or the environment, either. This is the first dairy alternative that will no longer be specialty, but is mainstream — available to every single American at a reasonable price.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Figure out what’s missing! What would make peoples’ lives better? What do they wish they had?
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Absolutely. We work to improve the environment and decrease the use of animal agriculture, every day. We partner with sustainable ingredient suppliers who are helping us to shift this paradigm.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.
Eat more plants. Eat fewer animal products.
Eat cheaper plants, but don’t eat cheap animal products.
We are very blessed that 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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Payal Kadakia. I resonate with her journey — loving science and math, thinking in numbers, but having this creative, entrepreneurial side that needs to be cultivated.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.