…it’s really important to recognize that everyone on your team has a different personality, different coping skills, different communication preferences. One thing we do at Seemore that has been really helpful is having a “how to work with me” meeting during onboarding of a new employee. The employee fills out a survey with a bunch of questions about their working style, how they like to receive feedback, etc and we all talk about it as a group. We (the founders) also share our own, and we save copies of them in the drive. Everyone handles criticism differently and has a different workflow, and while you can’t tailor everything perfectly for each employee, it’s nice to have a record of what people prefer, and to talk openly and honestly about it before diving in to working with each other.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cara Nicoletti, Erin Patinkin and Ariel Hauptman.
Cara, Erin and Ariel are the cofounders of Seemore Meats & Veggies, which recently launched nationally with a line of innovative sausages that combine fresh vegetables with responsibly raised meat. A mission-driven company, Seemore Meats & Veggies sources all-natural ingredients, uses recyclable or compostable packaging, and partners with suppliers who are committed to providing good jobs and living wages. Seemore Meats & Veggies aims to help reduce the environmental impact of meat consumption, while providing a fun, convenient and easy-to-make food product
Cara Nicoletti is a 4th generation butcher, television host, and author, who grew up working at her family’s Boston butcher shop, Salett’s which opened in 1941. After college, she took up the family trade and worked at top restaurants and butcher shops such as Pies & Thighs, Colonie, The Meat Hook, and Foster Sundry. After a decade in the field, Cara grew dismayed at the environmental impacts of meat-eating and began to experiment with her unique vegetable-forward sausages, which quickly gained traction (see below for photos), sparking the idea for Seemore. Cara is also the author of literary cookbook, Voracious, and host of VICE Munchies’ The Hangover Show and Open Fire. In 2016, Cara won the first-ever butchery challenge on The Food Network’s Chopped. She has received numerous accolades, including being named to Vogue’s “Hot 100” in 2018 and one of Glamour magazine’s “2019 Women of the Year”.
Erin Patinkin cut her teeth in the food industry as the founder of the social impact bakery chain Ovenly, which she also led as its CEO for nearly a decade. There, she built a nationally renowned and beloved brand, honed her strong business perspective, and developed cutting-edge employment strategies to fulfill her passion for conscious capitalism. She is the co-host and creator of Vox Media Network’s Start to Sale podcast and author of the cookbook, Ovenly: Sweet & Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery as well as a contributing author to Vice, Cherry Bombe and more.
Ariel Hauptman spent nearly a decade working with the leading social enterprise, Greyston Bakery, where she led the company’s marketing, branding, and sales efforts, and helped to create products which she single-handedly launched nationally. Ariel also implemented the bakery’s environmental and social entrepreneurship programs, including the Whole Planet Brownie, which benefits Whole Foods Market’s Whole Planet Foundation. After ten years at Greyston Bakery, Ariel went on to consult operationally for companies like Bien Cuit and God’s Love We Deliver.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
ERIN: I started my entrepreneurial journey by co-founding the New York City bakery chain, Ovenly, where I was the CEO for almost a decade and where I am now Chairman of the Board. When I began the company with Agatha Kulaga in 2010, I knew pretty much zilch about business and, for the first two years, focused on everything necessary simply to get the currant rosemary scones and peanut butter cookies out the door — baking, delivery driving, bookkeeping, cash flow — and got a quick lesson in the trials of small business. But, I never wanted to simply own a small company, I wanted to scale a big company, so made it my work to understand what, exactly, that meant because I didn’t really even know. For the rest of my time at Ovenly, I continually honed my work into that of a CEO — fundraising, culture-building, advising, visioning, and “no-saying.” I also shared everything I learned with other entrepreneurs because it became clear that few of my ilk were really candid or transparent about the journey. Plus, business in America is geared toward winning, and if you don’t win you don’t talk about it, so there’s that. Even business books that are about failure seem to sneakily be about winning (and, let’s face it, if you have a business book it means your probably a million- or billionaire) and I found most other business resources were lacking. In that sharing of the little I knew, it became clear to me that a lot of other folks felt exactly like I did and actually appreciated what I had to say, so I started writing more, launched a podcast on Vox (with Natasha Case of Coolhaus) called Start to Sale, and began mentoring a whole ton of folks. By 2018, I was really thinking critically about what it meant to scale and ultimately decided that, even though I loved Ovenly dearly, I wanted my future career to be about helping overlooked entrepreneurs with scalable ideas and authentic stories launch their businesses. By happenstance, right when I was thinking about that, I started advising Cara. Two years later, here I am! The co-founder and CEO of a sausage company.
CARA: Butchery is my family trade, so I’ve been in the industry, or surrounded by it, my entire life. When I moved to New York 16 years ago to go to college I started working in restaurants to pay my way through school and immediately gravitated towards pastry because it felt like the furthest thing from meat. I was working as a baker at a restaurant about 11 years ago and one of the owners also had a grandfather who was a butcher, so we used to talk about it a lot. When baking work slowed down after the holidays she asked if I wanted to do some light butchery work — breaking down pork shoulders and chickens. It sparked an interest in me and I went out looking for apprenticeship opportunities at butcher shops. One of them let me in and I worked for free there on days off and before and after my shifts until eventually I got hired on full-time there. I continued to work as a butcher in other people’s shops and focus on veggie-forward sausage-making for the next decade, until I met Erin and she helped me scale the idea up into Seemore!
ARIEL: I always wanted to be a fashion designer. My grandmother was an incredible seamstress and her gowns inspired me to want to sew and design. I signed myself up for fashion classes during my high school summer breaks but once I hit college my reality sank in that I did not have the gift of drawing or sewing; however, I had a knack for business. I needed to find a path that helped me merge my passion for design and my talent for business, which I thankfully found in a masters program at NYU. While at NYU, I took a chance on my career and found a part time opportunity working as a marketing assistant for the beloved social enterprise, Greyston Bakery. Working at Greyston for 10 years, shaped me and my values and opened my eyes to the importance of social impact and how influential business can be to not only inspire but actually implement positive social change in a community. My desire to create products was invigorated by the ideas of transparency and championing individuals who showed up every day to work hard to create something they were proud of when so many people would not even give them an opportunity for employment. There is such a sense of pride when you create a product that continuously pays it forward in our society, so when Cara and Erin shared the vision for Seemore, I didn’t hesitate. These women were filled with so much conviction and passion to do the right thing while creating an insanely delicious product, I wanted to incorporate my value into the sausage party!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
ALL: The American meat industry has been a one trick pony for a very long time — how it runs, who contributes to it, and what kind of product is made all stayed pretty unchanged since the dawn of the mass market industry. What does that look like? Men as founders/mascots, brown and green packaging, kielbasa and sweet Italian sausage, men running the business, people getting taken advantage of (why The Jungle remains relevant today). So, when we — a group of young women — started iterating Cara’s already market-tested less meat, not meatless sausages, we saw our opportunity to make a better product that was better for you and for all the folks along the supply chain and have more fun while we did it.
That became particularly evident when we began vetting manufacturing partners; almost every situation was the same — we’d charm our way into a meeting, be met there by the (typically very large) male bosses, and here a lot of “sighs” and “we don’t get its” over paper plates full of sliced ham that we had to eat with our fingers.
We interviewed (or at least tried to get in touch with) close to 100 copackers before finding one who was willing to take a chance on us — not surprisingly, a small family company whose founders shared our values. Soon after that we found one other whose decision-makers were enormous doubters until they tasted the product and did a little googling on us founders and realizing we really know our stuff (you should see how Cara can win a room when she discusses meat binding and pH to a room of butcher industry dudes).
Now that we’re manufacturing, what’s been interesting is how quickly we’re now getting into the room and how quickly, once we do, we can change nay-sayers into our biggest cheerleaders — from copackers to buyers. We’ve converted a lot of very gruff old meat men into believers who share our vision that this product can be made, that consumers will like it, that the it actually tastes good, and that we can do it better together. In fact, we made a 72-year-old trucker named Bud, who had never eaten a beet in his whole life, fall in love with our La Dolce Beet-a sausage. Now he buys them regularly. If anything, that is a huge win!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
ALL: Since we use lots of fresh produce in our product, which is complex when dealing with meat binding, we never quite knew how the vegetable might “show up” after our sausages come out of the cook house. During one of our first runs, we looked at each other with panic at a plate of beet sausages covered in bright pink polka dots; basically, the color of pepto bismal but afflicted with chickenpox. There was no way that was what our final product could look like.
Cara had been making beet sausages for years and they were always bright pink and beautiful and that’s what we were lookign for — something you’d want to eat, not rub with a bottle of calamine lotion. We racked our brains thinking about different ways we could bring back the pink and what might have caused this error, but couldn’t figure it out. We were tired and hungry by that point, so we threw our hands up and decided to tackle this problem in the morning. Shockingly, when we arrived at our partner’s facility the next day and took the sausages out of the cooler, we were amazed to find bright pink, gorgeous links. Turns out processing these bad boys in bulk just had a different and short-term effect on the coloration.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
ALL: Sometimes it’s better to remain calm and take time before making rash decisions — we were about to reformulate everything when we gave up that day, and we’re glad we didn’t. In food, especially when you go from small to scale, you have to go with the flow and test the process and take the time to see how it works. Since we’re creating a whole new category of blended, vegetable-forward sausages, you can’t rush it.
ALL: Clearly, pink sausages. Well, that and a whole bunch of other cool stuff. In no particular order
- We’re creating a new, innovative blended product that is delicious, healthful, and fun. We celebrate fresh veggies and sourced quality ingredients with integrity to create the best tasting sausage on the market. Our sausages highlight vegetables and don’t hide them (because of a process we’ve actually invented) but also aren’t too froofroo. Everything we make is right at the boarder of classy and trashy (think Loaded Baked Potato Sausages), so they appeal to everyone. Basically, we’re culturally relevant while better for you.
- We’re doing it better than the competition. We are not only passionate about great ingredients, we respect the whole supply chain. That means we use humanely raised certified meats and recognize the people that have a hand in creating Seemore sausages. So, with that in mind, we only work with vendors and manufacturers who pay their staff living wages and basic benefits.
- We take sustainability seriously and are honest about our journey. Frankly, a lot of folks talk a big game about sustainability, but if you pull back the curtain there’s not a lot there there. Besides our humanely raised meat, we offset all of our carbon from production and shipping and, as we get bigger and have more money, we will become fully carbon neutral. Our paper is Forest Steward Council certified, our ink is vegetable based, and our e-comm packaging is compostable or made from recycled materials. We’re also constantly looking at supply chain and devising ways to shorten long-haul trucking and tighten it up so that we have less freight involved in our process.
- We’re women-owned and -led. We’re one of the very few women owned and led meat companies in the country (…and maybe the only nationally distributed in grocery? We can’t find another). Hence, pink sausages and lots of leaning into sausage jokes.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
ALL: Cara is a meat genius and she has a crazy notebook filled with a whole lot of incredible ideas and amazing doodles. We have dozens of ideas for sausages, novelties, and snacks. We can’t spill all the tea right now, but we have a couple of new flavors that will be hitting the shelves and/or eatseemore.com/shop later this year.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
CARA: I had very few female role models in the restaurant and meat industries, but a lot of the people I worked with, men and women alike, modeled their leadership style on the chefs who had been abusive to them when they were coming up in the industry. I understand why it happens, if that’s how you see someone succeeding, you think it’s the only model. A big lesson for me, and something that I hold as very important, is that I don’t have to imitate anyone before me who treated me badly, regardless of how far they got in their career because of it. I am figuring out what it means to be my own kind of leader. There are so many ways to earn respect, and you don’t have to be the loudest or the scariest in the room to do it.
ERIN: Cut out the noise! I mentor so many talented women, and many of them doubt their skills and strengths, no matter how amazing they are. The more you can focus on your vision and your goals and work toward them while smashing the self-questioning and negative self-talk, the more you will move forward. From experience, I know imposter syndrome is real, but you gotta, at some point, believe you can do what you’re setting out to do. That’s the only way to move ahead in business.
ARIEL: Leading a team is a great responsibility. First and foremost, I always remind myself that we are all human beings cut from the same cloth — we all have good days and bad days. I do my best to demonstrate compassion and take the time to listen to a team member instead of formulating my response in my head. It’s amazing what I have been able to see and hear when I am present. I do try to limit myself from solving every problem and instead lean on the team to work the solutions no matter how far out they may seem at the time. I have noticed that this fosters initiative and results in far fewer issues down the road.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
CARA:I think it’s really important to recognize that everyone on your team has a different personality, different coping skills, different communication preferences. One thing we do at Seemore that has been really helpful is having a “how to work with me” meeting during onboarding of a new employee. The employee fills out a survey with a bunch of questions about their working style, how they like to receive feedback, etc and we all talk about it as a group. We (the founders) also share our own, and we save copies of them in the drive. Everyone handles criticism differently and has a different workflow, and while you can’t tailor everything perfectly for each employee, it’s nice to have a record of what people prefer, and to talk openly and honestly about it before diving in to working with each other.
ERIN: I recommend starting by defining what good leadership means to you. Then, take the time to learn the skills that constitute that definition. If you’re like me, you don’t believe being an asshole is how to best develop a team, so that work should include developing traits like empathy, flexibility, listening, and kindness. Personally, I don’t really believe in “natural leaders;” yes, a person may have a propensity to be loud, or direct, or demanding, but true leaders also take a time learning how to be their best selves. Once you’ve decided on that definition, use it to help clarify your own shortcomings and hire folks who can fill in what you don’t naturally have. Oh, also, don’t take shit; slow to hire and quick to fire is a mantra of mine and necessary in any entrepreneurial environment.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
CARA: Every day I have to pinch myself that I was able to convince anyone to jump on board the sausage train. I think about our now-employees searching job boards and being like “oo a start up sausage company? YES, I would like to give my comfortable life up to come do that.” It’s astounding. I would obviously not be near where I am today without Erin and Ariel taking that chance, too, and always pushing me to not be afraid to think bigger than anyone ever told me I was allowed to. I am also forever indebted to our first copacker, who said “sure, we’ll try that!” after close to 100 others said no. They saw something in us worth taking a chance on, and (so very patiently) helped me work through the many roadblocks of scaling up — if it weren’t for them, we might not be here.
ERIN: So freaking many. But, one that stands out is Will Rosenzweig. He’s a serial founder and professor of social entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley. I took a pitching and scaling class with him years back and, over time, he has become my friend-tor (my friend + mentor). When I was going through a particularly hard time at Ovenly, I kept calling him weekly to complain. After about the fourth call, he said, “Erin, can I be honest with you? You’re a CEO and you need to start acting like one. If the situation you’re in isn’t working for you, change it!” He’s not afraid to be both my cheerleader and super honest when I am coming up short.
ARIEL: I have to shout out my mentor Lauri Alpern. I met Lauri while I was working for Greyston Bakery and she is the type of person who will always serve it to me straight and knows the right questions to ask to help me achieve my “aha moment.” Lauri has a PhD in business psychology, so not only is she insanely business savvy but always brings me the realness in a way that serves the intricacies of the mind. Lauri was integral in helping me come to my decision to take the leap after 10 years of a rewarding career in order to go out on my own and become an entrepreneur. She helped me plan my transition, spending hours with me every week mapping out game plans, weighing out risks and rewards of all the possibilities I would throw her way. I know with Lauri, no matter how many times I may end up falling down (and it happened a couple of times prior to Seemore), this woman would hand me a tissue (don’t underestimate or waste a good cry) and we would get right back to the drawing board. I am so grateful to have such an inspiring role model who is along for the ride!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
ALL: Well, we’re only a little over a month to market, but our vision from day one has always been to pioneer a better business blueprint to empower a happier, healthier, and more sustainable world. So, as we’ve launched, we’ve kept that “north star” in mind as we’ve begun to scale, and the importance of it has become more clear as we’ve made sales. Suddenly, there are a whole slew of people responsible for making our goods and getting them onto shelves, and we feel grateful towards those folks and that we need to be responsible for their well being as well. And not just for the people mixing and linking the sausages, but also the farmers raising our animals, the people growing and dicing our vegetables, the workers who make our packaging and print our bands, the truck drivers who deliver our products — the list goes on and on! We’ve started to implement a system of scorecards for all of our suppliers to ensure the workers involved in our supply chain at every level are being treated with respect. We won’t work with a company if they don’t meet these requirements, and if they want to work with us, they are required to change their practices and meet these standards. We’re hoping by doing this, we’re turning the dial on some of the industries where workers are most overlooked.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- USDA approval will always take longer than you could ever anticipate. START EARLY.
There’s no getting around it, it’s a slow process to get labels approved (especially when you have created a new product category and the USDA isn’t quite sure what to make of you). Even with an expeditor, if you’re starting a meat company know that the process will be painfully slow, and your labels will most likely end up looking entirely different than they did when you first designed them, so don’t get too attached to the originals.
2. Just because someone says “no” once doesn’t mean they’ll say no every time.
Persistence is everything, particularly when you are working with a set of people working in a dinosaur industry who tend to always start with “no” or “it can’t be done” when it comes to innovation or switching things up. When we first started out trying to convince people to make this product, we found ourselves getting discouraged with every “no,” or made us feel like our concept was totally outlandish. But, we had to learn to take up this challenge because we believed so deeply in the product and knew we had a great idea. So we approach denials now like, “you said no to me this time, but just give us a couple more tries and you’ll be our best friend! “
3. Look at the ingredients in Every. Single. Thing. Before you think about adding it to your sausage.
Oh, you thought pepperoncinis were just peppers and vinegar? Wrong! Before you get attached to an ingredient/formula, make sure you can find clean versions of every single thing you need easily, and affordably, or you will complicate your life exponentially. We will never look at a pepperoncini the same way.
4. Don’t be too afraid of dilution, but be smart about who you take money from.
Erin had to really drive this home with Cara at the beginning of the fundraising process. She taught the team that there was no way to make this company happen without investment and that with the right partners, we could accomplish a lot. She even created a chart to show us that a smaller percentage of a company that actually has a market value is worth more than 100% ownership of something with now market value. But, if you’re fundraising, be smart about which controls you keep who is giving you that cash (are they smart money?), and, if you can, try not to be too emotionally attached to your equity stake.
5. Speaking of investment, when you think you need money, you need money. When you don’t think you need money, you need money.
We always knew that the first investment would be one in a series, but, unfortunately, just when we were raising our second round Covid19 hit and this saying is really hitting home right now. Also, piece of advice: try not to raise money in a pandemic.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
ALL: Less Meat, Not Meatless! A 2019 study in Nature showed that if people reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry only by 25% and substituted that 25% with vegetables and plant-based proteins, we’d reduce yearly greenhouse gas emissions by about 82 million metric tons. We realize that cutting meat out entirely is realistic (at least for now), especially for those who depend on cheap, subsidized animal proteins to feed themselves and their families. With that in mind, we work to help reduce meat consumption through convenient and affordable products like sausages. Plus, we’re making it super easy to prepare a healthy, balanced meal for individuals and families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
CARA: Something I say to myself a lot is “feelings aren’t facts.” This company is so deeply important to me and I’m very emotionally attached to it, which can be both the best and deadliest thing for a new company. I have to take time every day to check my emotions and ask myself “is this feeling/emotion based in fact, or just feeling?” That being said, your feelings are always valid if you feel them! Just don’t get blinded by them, always make your decision on what is best for the company as a whole.
ERIN: “A journey of 1000 miles begin with a single step.” Scaling, pivoting quickly, taking the blows as they come are part of the entrepreneurial journey, but I think the scariest part is executing on a plan. Keeping in mind that that first step is only the start of the adventure is helpful.
ARIEL: “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” A little bit of Oprah and a lot of truth. I learned the hard way that if I don’t ask for what I need or speak up, the other person wasn’t going to do it for me. This lesson showed up for me in job promotions, asking for the salary I knew I deserved or even settling for a lackluster meal in a restaurant. I do my best to lead by example, instilling courage and empowering my team to ask for what they want, whether it is from me or a vendor/supplier. You are your own best advocate!
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?
CARA: If they can be not-living, I would say E.B. White. You would think, after reading Charlotte’s Web, that White was a vegetarian, but actually he raised his own pigs for meat. My whole life I’ve been at odds with myself over my love of animals and the love of my craft. It seems like E.B. was too, I’d love to talk to him about that, and see if he likes our sausages.
ERIN: Frida Kahlo. She once said, “It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light.” Even though she had so much pain and suffering but she strove to be the life of the party and to celebrate life. Her work, her commitment to her culture, her iconoclast views, and her life story inspire me deeply.
ARIEL: Cara and Erin. I love my partners and they inspire me all the time. We are always on the go…traveling, connecting, meeting, that we rarely pause to enjoy a meal together and just have some fun. It’s been full throttle since launching this company but hopefully one day soon I can get us all together — breakfast on me ladies!