This Examiner met Poorvi Patodia at the Stonyfield Entrepreneurship Institute in March 2011. She said she was launching a roasted chickpea line. I said I was launching an “action tank” for food entrepreneurs. We were each a Fourth of July display of enthusiasm, but with nothing to show for ourselves... yet.
More than three years later, I caught up with Poorvi to hear about her journey and what Biena Foods has become. [This is the first in a Spotlight: Food Entrepreneur series for Examiner.]
- What was the seed for what is now Biena?
Really it started with wanting to make something for myself. As a vegetarian, getting protein and fiber is always important and as an Indian, I grew up eating fried chickpeas as a snack. I started to wonder: could I make a healthier version of this?
- What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
I’m going to give you two. The first was mental: getting to the moment where I fully committed, where I said, “I’m all in” and told everyone I knew that I was going to do this—and left my job to do this. For every entrepreneur that’s a big deal.
The second was manufacturing: this snack is very unique, so I couldn’t look in a directory of, say, potato chip makers and just go down the list. There was no recipe, so I had to figure that out too. Making Biena in my kitchen is one thing. Figuring out how to make thousands of pounds to be commercial is another.
- How do you define success?
Delivering on our mission to make it easier for people to eat healthy, which at the end of the day, means it has to taste really, really good. You do your demos and promotions, but at some point, you have to step back and let the product perform. It’s scary but when you see people come back, that’s incredible.
- How do you manage failure?
I’m an analytical person so for me it’s through understanding the Why-- asking Why? five times to get at what’s driving the failure so you can see what to do differently next time.
- How do you cope with pressure? (Any secret recipes for taking care of yourself?)
Just taking it one day at a time—or, one minute at a time, literally. I’ve noticed, it’s amazing how my tolerance for what bothers me has gone way up. So many things happen along the way in entrepreneurship, it can be discouraging. But being persistent, working through things—using everything I can to get around obstacles—and taking it one day at a time [gets me through].
- What are you going to do next?
Grow our distribution in ways that match our consumer. We’ve had interest from a range of retailers but with any brand, going into it, you have to know that you’re going to do really well in certain formats and not so well in others. The key is becoming really smart about your consumers and what drives them-- and delving into those insights to figure out what’s underneath. There’s no shortage of opportunities, but we have to be strategic. Those we go after, I want to see through.
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the past year?
Go for it.
- Give us your advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs… in 6 words or less.
Do not be afraid to fail.
- You win the Oscar equivalent for your industry (James Beard, sofi, etc). When you take the stage, who will you thank and for what?
My team. When you’re running a start-up or are part of one – and I mean a true startup, not a 1,000-person startup – your team works closely and you rely on each other heavily. So it would be a joint win. And I would also thank my personal support-- my family and close friends.
- What about Biena most feeds your soul?
The idea of creating something that didn’t exist before.
Look for Biena Chickpeas in markets around the country including Whole Foods, Roche Bros, Mrs. Greens, New Seasons, and Barnes & Noble College Bookstores.