Bring on good talent to fill roles early on. Early on, I wore many hats and played multiple roles. Luckily, several of our advisors mentioned that I needed to learn how to let go of some of the control and bring on help to manage all the different, growing responsibilities. I thought they were going to say that I should step down and find someone who had experience to run the place, but instead, they trusted me and my instincts on how to run the company and suggested that I bring on experts in their individual fields.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Serenity Carr.
As the co-founder and CEO of Serenity Kids, Serenity Carr’s commitment to starting and growing the brand was motivated by her and her husband’s desire to create nutrient-dense, low sugar, and high fat baby food for their daughter, Della. Serenity Kids launched in Austin, TX on August 5, 2018 — the same day their baby girl, Della, was born. This rapidly growing natural baby food company is dedicated to making the world healthier, one baby at a time.
Serenity’s mom became a vegetarian when she became pregnant with Serenity because she thought that was the healthiest diet she could be on. Unfortunately, the lack of nutrients from the vegetarian diet coupled with too much sugar, wheat, and dairy led to health issues for Serenity starting with an ear infection at two weeks old. Throughout childhood, she ate a lot of sugary, processed foods and suffered through repeated infections and subsequent antibiotics that gave her terrible heartburn. Carr attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Logistics, Materials, and Supply Chain Management. After school, she started working at John Deere and gained experience through the ranks for nine years. She then went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Ohio State University. Carr went on to work as a Procurement Advisor at Dell for three years. While attending graduate school, she got another ear infection and the antibiotics harmed her stomach even further. Her doctor’s only solution was to prescribe her a pill she would have to take for the rest of her life. This ultimatum didn’t sit well with Carr — her dad suggested she read the book on the Paleo Diet he had given her for Christmas. Carr leaned heavily into Paleo and found that she was able to heal her medical issues through changing the food she ate. This realization inspired her to become a health coach and start a Paleo lifestyle company called Joy of Paleo to help other people heal themselves through this diet. During her two years leading Joy of Paleo, Carr went to speak to a local personal growth start-up business where she met her future husband and business partner, Joe Carr.
As they began planning their family, they looked for baby foods that matched their dietary standards, and were outraged by how much sugar and how little nutrition was available. So they made their own! Created to mimic the macronutrients of breast milk, Serenity Kids’ baby food is made from pasture raised meats sourced from small American family farms and high-quality organic vegetables and oils. Serenity Kids’ purees are balanced, blended, savory meals that contain the most nutrition per bite for your little one. Having healed her digestive issues through a lifestyle diet change, Serenity is transforming the baby food industry by developing innovative nutrient-dense products because every bite counts.
Carr and her husband are passionate about expanding their one-of-a-kind baby food brand. At Serenity Kids, Carr leads product innovation, operations, and financial management. During her free time Carr enjoys playing outside with her family, testing out new baby food innovations and flavors, weight-lifting, creating Paleo-compliant recipes, and enjoying fine dining.
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?
Like many stories out there, it really begins with my mom! While pregnant with me, and with the best intentions, my mom took on a vegetarian diet, thinking it was the healthiest diet she could be on. Unfortunately, a vegetarian diet can lack many essential nutrients for fetal development, plus her diet contained sugar, wheat, and dairy. As a result, I had immediate health issues starting with an ear infection at only two weeks old. As a kid, I ate a lot of sugary processed foods (doughnuts and cool ranch doritos were two of my favorites), which caused chronic infections and repeated doses of antibiotics that led to daily heartburn.
I didn’t intend to go into the baby food business. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Supply Chain Management and spent the first 9 years of my professional career working at John Deere. I then got my Master’s in Higher Education at Ohio State. During grad school, I suffered another ear infection, started another round of antibiotics, and that was the last time. Those antibiotics destroyed my stomach to the point where my doctor’s only solution was to prescribe a pill that I would take for the rest of my life. I hated the idea of having to be on medication forever! Luckily, in venting out my frustrations, my dad recommended that I read a book on the Paleo diet. I tried it out and found that I was actually able to heal many of the medical issues by changing the foods I ate.
Along with this new healthy eating lifestyle change, I decided to leave the tech industry and become a health coach to help others heal themselves through food… which is how I met my now-husband, Joe Carr.
When we started family planning, we began searching for baby foods that aligned with our personal dietary standards — high in nutrients and low in the junk and fillers. What we found was astonishing and frankly made me angry! There was so much sugar and little nutrition in baby food products available in the market. Why wasn’t there something healthier and better for babies? With my history of illnesses stemming from eating unhealthy foods as a child, I was determined to create a better option for babies so that they didn’t have to go through the same experience I did. So Joe and I started our mission to create a different kind of baby food. On August 5, 2018, Joe and I launched Serenity Kids which coincidentally was also the same day our baby girl, Della, was born!
Joe and I are dedicated to making the world healthier, one baby at a time, and my mission is to truly transform the baby food industry by developing innovative, nutrient-dense products. I am so proud of what we have accomplished so far at Serenity Kids, and I’m excited about our future options for babies and toddlers.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I believe a few things make Serenity Kids stand out:
1) The idea for our company is born from a real life struggle, fueling our passion to make the world better.
2) Our brand proposition is focused on providing nutrient-dense foods for babies and toddlers featuring clean proteins and healthy fats. This was missing in the marketplace.
3) We’ve created healthy products for babies that actually taste GOOD and parents trust feeding to their little ones.
Many well-known baby food brands are selling products based on outdated nutrition data, as evidenced by the baby food aisle being filled with unbalanced products containing primarily carbohydrates that are high in sugar with little to no fat or protein. Our research has shown that meat is an ideal first food for babies, and they need at least 30g of fat per day for their developing bodies. Serenity Kids products are focused on pureed meats, organic vegetables, and healthy fats for babies. It’s exciting because we launched our product two years ago and the USDA recently released their first-ever nutrition guidelines for kids under two years old, and their recommendations are the same as ours. Babies and toddlers should be eating a balanced, low-sugar diet of meat-based proteins, fat, and veggies.
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?
Honestly, when Joe and I first started the company, we were so excited! It was a new venture for us! Joe is an innovator with lots of ideas and had no experience in manufacturing. I come from an operations background and am more cautious by nature. You could say that the two of us create a perfect balance; however, in this case, it caused a few snafus.
Joe was certain our manufacturing tests would work out, so we decided to take pre-orders of our products without a final confirmed product. We ran into a few unexpected manufacturing issues with the equipment, because it was normally used for fruit purees, which behave differently on the production line. The products weren’t actually ready for over a year after we started taking pre-orders. By the time we finally had the products ready, many of the babies on our pre-order list had already aged out! Managing those pre-orders was so stressful! We were dealing with refunds, incorrect email addresses, and customer service inquiries like never before.
We learned to not make promises we can’t keep. It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver.
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?
Some of my greatest mentors are Rachael Jayne Groover, my former business coach, and Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest, the founders of EPIC.
Rachael taught me that business can be a spiritual practice. She taught me to trust my instincts and muster the courage in order to achieve my life’s mission and dream. Starting Serenity Kids was hard. We ran into a lot of obstacles like trial runs failing and our co-packer not being able to meet our needs. But Rachael’s guidance kept reminding me to not let those failures or obstacles keep me down. I had to keep finding the courage to solve the next problem- and the next- in order to fulfill my mission to provide healthier baby food for babies.
Taylor & Katie played a significant role in the formation of Serenity Kids. Without their validation that this product was one that the world needed, we might still be a teeny online company. They encouraged us to go big. They also taught us how to build a company culture that would be unique to our business- from the space we work in, to the people we hire, to the company outings we have, and more. The co-founding duo of EPIC built their company culture and products around their personal values of authenticity and honoring the planet. They taught us about regenerative agriculture, the importance of well-sourced meats, and how we can help improve earth’s ecosystem. Serenity Kids would only be a fraction of where we are today without their initial guidance.
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?
In my opinion, it ultimately comes down to intent. If you have a positive, mission-oriented reason for disrupting the industry, that’s not all about just making money, I would say that’s a good disruption. Within the natural consumer packaged goods space, there are many successful mission-based brands where customers are willing to purchase a premium product because they truly believe in the mission and the company that’s behind it.
For us, we are disruptive in our nutrition and our sourcing. One of our hardships is not having the organic certification on our all baby foods, even though most other baby food brands on the market are all certified organic. We source from small American family farmers that raise their animals exclusively on pasture in sustainable and regenerative ways, which means they rotate the grazing land to avoid overgrazing any one area. This practice makes organic certification extremely costly because every inch of pasture on their large farms and ranches would have to be certified. For these reasons, we chose to forgo the organic certification in order to support small American family farmers and use regeneratively raised meat, which is ultimately better for babies and better for the planet. But it makes my heart feel good to know that our products are way better than just organic!
Can you share 3 of the best pieces of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
The best pieces of advice that I have received:
- Bring on good talent to fill roles early on.
Early on, I wore many hats and played multiple roles. Luckily, several of our advisors mentioned that I needed to learn how to let go of some of the control and bring on help to manage all the different, growing responsibilities. I thought they were going to say that I should step down and find someone who had experience to run the place, but instead, they trusted me and my instincts on how to run the company and suggested that I bring on experts in their individual fields.
- Take care of yourself first.
Serenity Kids launched the same day Della was born. Imagine that. Becoming a new mom while also balancing a company and product launch! It got to the point where I couldn’t fathom running a company because I was missing some morning meetings due to sleepless nights. However, once I started setting boundaries, giving myself grace, and knowing my limits, I was able to get creative about my work schedule and keep our rocketship going.
- Create a company culture that you want to work in and contributes to individual success.
I’ve never run a company before. I’ve also never had employees directly report to me. Building a culture and team were totally foreign concepts. However, I have learned that founders should make their company culture one they personally want to work in. It’s why we have on-site childcare for employees, and why Serenity Kids is shut down between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s why we don’t have dress codes or work in a big industrial office with an elevator and sliding doors. It’s why we have a maternity and paternity leave that I feel good about offering. We want our team to feel like when they’re coming to work, they are coming to an environment where they can feel comfortable to be themselves.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have lots of fun, new innovative products in our pipeline! We’re launching new formats that will expand our target age range. And while we’re doing that, we are going to keep marching forward to challenge the biggest food companies in the world and show them that companies actually can make super nutritious, tasty products while treating our employees well and helping the environment. We want to change government policy so that all women, infants, and children have access to nutrient dense options.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This is an easy answer for me: my desire to become a mother. When Della was a newborn, I was so out of the loop trying to manage everything- from nursing Della, to making sure she was sleeping, to getting enough skin-to-skin contact, to trying to remember if I actually responded to that email or is it just a draft…? Luckily, I own the business and came back part-time within a few months, but I made the decision to not come back full-time until Della was sleeping through the night at about 1 year. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had this opportunity, when most women in the US don’t. Most European countries are far more generous with maternity and paternity leave. In the US, most women have to choose between going back to work full-time within 4 months or putting their careers on pause. Milk supply often drops after going back to work due to stress and pumping being less productive than nursing, which forces them to start using infant formula. It would be AMAZING if more companies were able to implement part-time roles for new moms to get through that critical first year of nursing. Women should be able to break the glass ceiling without having to sacrifice their baby’s nutrition.
Another one is our society’s tendency to prioritize men’s voices over women, and it definitely happens in the workplace. I recently read an inspiring article called 10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn, which opened my eyes to today’s workplace sexism. For example, a woman might say something during a meeting and no one seems to really hear her, but a male counterpart repeats what she said and meeting attendees all nod their heads in agreement. Even though I’m CEO, I’ve noticed this happening to me inside my organization. So I started practicing the lines: “I just said that.” “Stop interrupting me.” and “No explanation needed.” I’ve also called attention to that pattern within our leadership team, because I want to interrupt this societal norm.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I highly recommend Brene Brown’s new podcast, Dare to Lead! In one of the episodes, she mentioned that in Texas people don’t want to have hard conversations. Our business is based in Austin, TX, and I totally resonate with her assertion that Texans have a “nice problem”! Hard conversations are critical for teams to perform at their fullest, so I must learn how to find the courage to speak up when things are wrong and to say no.
Some of the hardest internal conversations we have as a team are about which new products to launch. It’s especially difficult for me, because my husband is the head of sales and marketing. I lead operations and finance, so we have different goals. For example, he wants to be the first to market, while I want better margins. Over the years, we’ve gotten better at talking about new innovation, but we still struggle. I believe that the process of working through the struggle and weighing all factors actually helps us launch the best products at the right time. Finding the courage to be vulnerable, truly listen to the other’s point of view, and most importantly take the time for the difficult conversation is what keeps our brand alive for consumers and is the heart of our rapid growth.
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. 🙂
For me, it would be to bring down Big Food and provide more transparency, simpler ingredients, and better nutrition for everyone. It’s been mentioned a few times in this interview, but Big Food has done so much harm to the bodies of Americans nationwide. From lobbying for hyperpalatable food that tricks your brain into wanting more, to allowing harmful but cheap ingredients into the food supply, to the lack of oversight when it comes to genetically modified ingredients. As the brands who feed the nation, we should want the best foods sourced from the best ingredients. This should be a non-starter. We, as brands, need to feed our fellow citizens better and in our case, babies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote comes from Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks’ book Consious Loving: “fear is frozen fun”. It reminds me that when I’m feeling fear, the best next step is to head straight towards the fear so I can find the fun on the other side. I had a ton of fear starting my company and putting so much money and time and vulnerability and energy into it… On the other side, it’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I know that thousands of babies are eating better every single day!
The day that we launched our website felt like I was stripped down naked and running through the street. It was full of my personal stories with some photos of my bare, pregnant belly. I was truly sharing a piece of my private life with the world to see… and to judge. But now, look at where I am — on the fun side — where other moms get to feel seen and heard and be vulnerable with themselves in our community. Fear can feel like a barrier that’s impossible to move through. But for me, the fun on the other side is worth the effort it takes to conquer that fear.
How can our readers follow you online?
To learn more about Serenity Kids, check out our website at www.myserenitykids.com or follow us on Instagram or Facebook at @myserenitykids.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!