We need to do more to eliminate the barriers that limit women from getting access to entrepreneurial resources like funding, or that hold women back from having a seat at the table. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much work to be done, so I truly believe we need to keep pushing females forward. The more we can inspire confidence and motivation among women of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, the better the world will be for the next generations of women entrepreneurs and dreamers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristie Besu, Founder + CEO of Eat Me Guilt Free.
Cristie Besu is the Founder and CEO of Eat Me Guilt Free, a brand committed to creating functional, portable, better-for-you snacks, that provides a solution for health-conscious people unwilling to sacrifice their favorite foods. Besu founded Eat Me Guilt Free to help people end the choice between healthy and delicious.
A first generation Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, Florida, and a single mother of three, Cristie began Eat Me Guilt Free as a passion project when she worked as an emergency room nurse. Besu holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida International University (FIU) and her longtime curiosity in nutrition and fitness led her to obtain her certification in sports nutrition.
Besu started baking protein-packed, low-carb brownies in her own kitchen, which were a hit with her sports nutrition clients looking to curb their sugar cravings. In 2013, the business took off organically via word of mouth on Instagram; what started with friends and family wrapping Besu’s brownies in her kitchen catapulted to an online business with nearly $1 million in sales after year one.
Today Eat Me Guilt Free is available at some of the largest national grocers in the U.S. and internationally, and the brand became the #1 grab and go item at Vitamin Shoppe locations nationwide after having been on shelves for only 6 months.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mycareer path is really an evolution of my fascination with science and biology, which started pretty early when I was about 10 years old. I was almost obsessed with how the body works and would memorize all the bones and muscles. As I got older, I instinctively followed the science path, going on to study biology and chemistry, and eventually becoming an ER nurse.
While working at the hospital I began to immerse myself in the fitness competition world where I began to explore sports nutrition and how our bodies perform based on the foods we eat. As I began transforming my own body, I organically started gaining clients from friends and family who were looking to transform their lives through nutrition. It was so rewarding to coach people and see them reach this “Aha!” moment when they realized they were changing their lives.
As time went on, my sports nutrition coaching evolved to incorporate food delivery, which helped my clients tackle their diets. It wasn’t until I started hearing over and over again from clients that they wanted to satisfy their sweet tooth cravings that the idea of Eat Me Guilt Free began to formulate. My sports nutrition coaching was really the stepping stone that helped me realize the opportunity to expand the impact I was having on people’s lives, and so Eat Me Guilt Free was born.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?
When we launched in 2013, we developed the brand’s Instagram channel with very little influence or brand recognition. We were a totally new brand that was being introduced to the market, so prior to launching on Instagram we identified a strategy that would position us as a genuine, approachable, and overall, friendly brand. We wanted to grow a positive community that rallied around our mission to eat our favorite foods guilt-free. We built rapid success our first year by growing a genuine following through authenticity. We approached our Instagram presence with a “what you see is what you get” kind of strategy, and that really resonated with the demographic we were targeting. We weren’t solely asking followers to buy our brownies; instead we were showing this true glimpse into what life looked like building this new brand creating delicious, better-for-you brownies.
Authenticity goes a long way when it comes to social media, and our honest approach to Instagram quickly translated into a rapidly growing community.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Having created a brand that essentially launched via Instagram, it was incredible to see the power the platform has in growing a brand, and how quickly (and early on!) we were able to reach consumers internationally. Within our first year I made some DIY bags that are no longer available and put them on sale on our eCommerce website and across Instagram. The international response blew me away. At the time I didn’t fully know the logistics of even getting the products in the hands of international consumers. Today we receive large orders from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands to name a few. Early on, it was so interesting to see how quickly our reach expanded.
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 try to laugh at all of my mistakes along my entrepreneurial journey! One in particular is when we received our first big order from a distributor. Our manufacturer at the time sent us the whole order with flawed packaging, where some of the wrappers were not completely sealed. It was December and a week before the holidays and the order had to be shipped before Christmas. I called all of my family and friends and had them come over to help me check through thousands and thousands of brownie wrappers to weed out the packages that were compromised.
We spent hours going through the brownies and eventually got them out the door to be delivered on time. While my friends and family might not remember it as being so funny, it was a true testament to my support system.
Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?
Instagram has been the most effective platform to date for Eat Me Guilt Free. When we launched, Instagram was our leading source of revenue. As we worked through that first year as a company, our follower count and revenue would nearly double each month. We’d go from 3,000, to 10,000, to 20,000, followers, and it really organically proved the potential for the brand. And this was all before Instagram was bought by Facebook and began to create their algorithms. Our company was succeeding as a direct result of digital word of mouth, and it was really powerful to watch our community grow and expand from Instagram.
Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be authentic: Something that’s held true since the very beginning ofour Instagram success was having authenticity of the brand owner. I made sure I was a visible voice behind the brand and I truly used Instagram as a platform to bring my passion to life.
2. Humanize the brand: Whether I was showing myself in the kitchen baking brownies, or showing life outside of Eat Me Guilt Free, I made sure we weren’t using Instagram to solely ask consumers to buy our products. Instead we’d share a sneak peek into life behind-the-scenes of the brand, and that really resonated with our followers.
3. Have a personality: Consumers don’t want a robot controlling the brands they follow. We made a point to respond to every DM and comment in order to really craft a personality and cadence with our community.
4. Create a community: We rely heavily on our community and their feedback, and in return they’ve developed a sense of loyalty to the brand. We’re constantly asking for feedback from our customers and take every insight into perspective when we make decisions as a company — whether that’s tweaking a recipe, or launching a new brownie flavor.
5. Develop incentives: We think it’s important to acknowledge your loyal followers and to provide an incentive to keep your Instagram community engaged. We’ve developed VIP programs and giveaways to offer different, more personalized customer experiences.
6. Personalize your approach: Instagram serves as an avenue for customer service, so we make a collective effort to personalize messages, specifically signing DMs from myself, or another member of our team.
Because of the position that you are in, 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. 🙂
We need to do more to eliminate the barriers that limit women from getting access to entrepreneurial resources like funding, or that hold women back from having a seat at the table. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much work to be done, so I truly believe we need to keep pushing females forward. The more we can inspire confidence and motivation among women of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, the better the world will be for the next generations of women entrepreneurs and dreamers.
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
First I would say Sheryl Sandberg. Her book was so empowering and I was really impressed with her perspective on the relationship between women and the workforce. Being a single mother of three and an entrepreneur, when I read Sheryl’s book I felt she really reinforced that women weren’t making a mistake by focusing on their career while still being a parent, and that’s an important message women need to hear.
And because I just can’t pick one, I’ll also say Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only because he was a bodybuilder and I come from the fitness competition world, but because he was able to bring all of his visions to fruition. He went from a body builder, to an actor, to a politician, and I find that versatility to be so inspiring. I used to listen to his 6 Rules of Success when I would do cardio in the morning because it was so motivating.
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!