Rachel Geicke is the founder and CEO of Snow Monkey, ‘a dairy-free anytime desert’ that is vegan, paleo and made from only superfoods, fruits and seeds. Rachel, a member of the Hong Kong National Field Hockey team and the Boston University Rowing team, knew the power of food as functional fuel, but it was her diagnosis of Celiac disease at the age of 20 that sparked her exploration of alternative diets. In 2016 while still an undergrad & working from her college apartment, Snow Monkey was founded & was immediately recognized as rare innovation in a long time beloved dessert category, Geicke had reinvented ice cream. In the fall of 2017, Chobani named Snow Monkey’s superfood ice treat a “Next Frontier in Food” and a member of Chobani’s second “Food Incubator” program. Rachel has led the brand from a Boston college apartment startup to a Los Angeles based female-run & operated company whose products are stocked in over 2,500 stores, including Whole Foods, Wegmans, Kroger, Sprouts & other specialty grocers throughout the US. Geicke continues to disrupt the market through innovative marketing campaigns, flavor expansion & unprecedented year over year sales growth. In 2019 Rachel was named to Forbes “30 under 30” list.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Rachel! What is your “backstory”?
I’m originally from Hong Kong. I grew up playing sports my whole life, representing Hong Kong for field hockey, and went on to row for Boston University when I moved to the US. My athletic endeavors allowed me to experience first-hand on how to fuel my body for optimal performance and recovery. It taught me that food is fuel and is not only the building block for fitness but overall wellness and cognitive function. When it came to traditional ice cream, I always felt guilty and sluggish after eating it, and it didn’t resonate well with my body. I believe the food we love should love us back, so I started making my own ‘ice cream’ from only superfoods, fruits, and seeds. My dorm room recipes gained so much popularity that I called it ‘Snow Monkey,’ ditched my plans to join the corporate world, and set out on a mission to revolutionize the frozen aisle.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
We had just landed our most significant account to date and were producing thousands of pints to ship out to fill the order. We started running Matcha, the mix was flowing correctly, and we began to fill the pints. All of a sudden, green lids were flying everywhere. The packaging supplier had accidentally sent us lids that were one size too small. Every time the machine tried to press a lid onto the pint, it would fly off. Pretty soon, the factory floor was covered in Matcha lids, and production staff was frantically trying to manually put clean lids onto pints as they continued to roll down the conveyor belt. It was a disaster. We literally repainted the walls. I would have laughed in the moment had we not had tens of thousands of dollars worth of POs to fill. Back then, this hit us hard financially and ruined our reputation with our new accounts. We spent a lot of time seeking damages, making apologies, and frantically trying to produce Matcha again. This taught me that you could plan all you want, but sometimes things are just out of your control, and the best way to get through tough periods is with a rockstar team and a healthy work-life balance.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Snow Monkey’s highlight is our team. We always hire in alignment with our mission, vision, and values. Culture is vital, and having a winning team culture creates wins in all other aspects of the business. There have been many instances when highly qualified industry experts have approached us for a job, but we turned them down because it wasn’t the right cultural fit. Maintaining a strong internal team allows us to effectively divide and conquer, collaborate when needed, and, most importantly, to ensure that every decision we make is in line with our founding values.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father is a fellow entrepreneur who left Germany as a young man and carved his own path in Asia. He has always celebrated my entrepreneurial spirit and my tendency to march to the beat of my drum. My father has always encouraged me to dream bigger then help me turn my dreams into goals and finally into reality. Shortly before graduating from Boston University, I told my father that I was going to pursue Snow Monkey instead of working in real estate finance. He cautioned me about the competitive landscape and the insane amount of work I would have to pour into trying to make Snow Monkey work but was fully supportive. When I told him I was hell-bent on reinventing America’s favorite dessert for the masses and that “I feel like the risk of not trying is greater than the risk of failing,” he immediately understood.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Ahhhhhhh, I’m currently working on the most exciting brand partnerships, but I can’t share any details yet! I’m so excited that I literally dream about this project. Just follow us for the announcement coming soon.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Snow Monkey exists to bring goodness to the world! I believe that poor nutrition is the root cause of most sicknesses health care, and food-related illnesses are the root and cause of sickness in most people living with diseases today, I believe this is the reason why cancer and diabetes cases continue to skyrocket. Food is the root solution to healing. Snow Monkey exists to show people that nutritious and delicious can co-exist. Most people eat to indulge; my mission is to make Snow Monkey an accessible solution for everyone. One of Snow Monkey’s core values is accessibility, too many healthy options are unaffordable for the majority of the population. We are growing and meeting the demands of the people looking for singles sourced ingredients. If more companies like Snow Monkey come out and dominate the shelves, we control the landscape of consumer goods. Snow Monkey currently sells in the same dollar range as Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs so that people do not have to spend more to fuel their bodies properly. When we first started out, we sold for $6.99, but the minute our production volume increased and our production costs lowered, we passed those savings onto our customer and lowered our price to the $5 range. Instead of pocketing, once Snow Monkey grew we went from $6.99 to $5.99 to help the consumer as well as be able to reach the masses, super healthy product’s typical target is 1%.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I recently read the ESPN Body Issue and found Scout Bassett’s feature fascinating. Her story puts things into perspective. We are fighting fires in entrepreneurship. Scott has no odds in excelling in her respective sport, but she’s showing the world with the right mindset you can do anything.
Can you share 5 of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”? Please share an example for each story.
- I’m a young, female, immigrant founder who lacks industry expertise and runs my business with an unconventional approach. People either celebrate me or doubt me. That has been the most rewarding and challenging part of my journey as a “TwentySomething founder” thus far.
- I’m a 20-year-old female founder, whose a minority with no gender bias. The outside world seems to correlate incompetence is within gender, especially in the food industry dominated by men.
- Most people didn’t believe in me at the beginning, people didn’t understand the product and thought I was crazy because ice cream is an overpopulated category. Food scientists and manufacturers thought I was mad for trying to make a healthy ice cream that had no fat, sugar, or dairy. The first couple of buyers I had meetings with thought my dorm room startup was ‘cute,’ but they didn’t want to take a risk on a young product with no proof of concept. Most investors were intrigued by the idea but thought our team was too young and inexperienced. But somewhere amongst the overwhelming amount of doubt and rejection, there were a couple of people who believed my background brought a unique perspective and that my perseverance and vision would increase my chances of success. Every time someone allowed me to prove myself or prove Snow Monkey I took it and made them proud. The small wins started turning into bigger wins and now my minority background opens doors for me.
- To get your 1st store or investor is nearly impossible, everyone sees very high risk and statistically, that’s normal. In my case, I came in with no traditional food background, so trying to find someone to believe in you is difficult. Once I did get going, finding someone to take a dorm-room recipe to scale it to a large scale because we redefined what ice cream is, thought we were crazy.
- We aren’t just making a product for profit, our product stands for something greater. We want to change the way people eat. We’ve been blessed with cool partnerships and opportunities. We want to teach everyone, especially the younger generation, food is fuel, it’s a bigger conversation. We are an all-female team, we are all young and active. The most rewarding part is to choose and work with incredible people, we succeed and fail and learn from our challenges together. Bureaucracy doest get in the way, there’s no higher council to run anything by. The mission is to be a nationwide household brand. The goal is to be the next Ben and Jerry’s, the great thing is in the ice cream world there’s so much fun and celebration, other brands are putting us on their shoulders.
What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty-year-old who is looking to found a business?
It is imperative to be very clear with your missions, vision, and values. During the startup journey, it’s so easy to get burnt out, and lost in the weeds, and no map because there is no map to the promised land. You always have to remember why you started, that’s your north star for critical, pivotal decisions and the hard moments. Remember to surround yourself with and hire people based on a team of people who, on the core mission and values, embody the company’s values, which creates an authentic team culture and cultures, so it’s a genuine business. If it’s not something you love, then it is not going to work, it has to be the passion inside of you that shines.
And dream big, dream crazy, and enjoy the ride.
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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Serena Williams. She’s a world-class athlete, successful venture capitalist, and impactful philanthropist. Serena wins at everything she invests her time into. I would love to understand how she rules her mind and how she channels her willpower and vision to deliver greatness again and again.
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