“Founder Friday” is a weekly series that profiles founders and entrepreneurs connected to The Ohio State University. Today, we are featuring Anique Russell and her company, Too Good Eats. Russell is a first-year MBA student at the university’s Fisher College of Business.
Tell us about your business or organization.
My husband (Ali Russell) and I founded Too Good Eats during our senior year of college. Our mission has been to help every family snack better and educate their community about living a healthy lifestyle. What better way to eat fruits and veggies than as a frozen treat on a stick?!
Why did you decide to take a leap and become a founder? How did you reach that decision?
Before taking the leap of faith to become a founder, I had my life pretty much planned out. I would teach for just four years and then go to graduate school to become a principal; the plan seemed perfect and comfortable for a new mom fresh out of college, but there was a bigger passion brewing inside of me and that passion began by the desire to feed my family healthier foods to fight against the chronic health issues that ran in my family. That hobby and passion birthed Too Good Eats, a gourmet fruit and veggie gourmet ice pop company, and the journey to entrepreneurship, leadership and risk. After successfully launching Too Good Eats in 2016, I decided to quit my teaching job this year to earn my MBA and pursue entrepreneurship full time. I spent more time planning and dreaming about my company, so it was time to take a leap of faith and pursue my passion head-on.
How have you had to develop your leadership skills as a founder? What leadership lessons have you learned through leading your organization?
Founder and leader are synonymous when leading an organization of any size. As the founder of a small business, I had to develop critical leadership skills I thought I already had prior to becoming a founder. I consider myself to be a leader; I led teams as student body president in undergrad and I take pride in inspiring and motivating others. Being a founder and leader requires a different style of leadership, especially when teaching, hiring, recruiting and collaborating with others within the scope of your growing company. A leadership lesson that I learned was to simply say no to the things that didn’t make sense or align with the vision for my company.
Starting a new business is exciting and you want to say yes to everything, but I quickly learned that smart business leaders don’t over-commit. As a social enterprise — which is a for profit company dedicated to creating positive change while in business — I had to go back to the drawing board multiple times to paint the picture of what effective impact meant for Too Good Eats and our community. Originally, we decided to give pops away monthly to local non-profits who serviced families living in food deserts or struggling with food insecurity to provide healthier snack options. The idea was great, but I did not feel we were making a big enough impact.
I went back to the drawing board and thought about my personal experiences and how watching my parents as entrepreneurs sparked that same desire in me. Counting money and inventory while assisting my parents taught me about goal setting and real-world skills. I wanted to give that same feeling to the youth in my community. I reached out to a number of Columbus City schools and launched the first round of Too Good Works – Future Entrepreneurs this summer. The small group spent the summer selling ice pops at farmers markets and festivals while earning weekly pay and learning money management skills, goal setting, and what it’s like to operate a business. Next year, we plan to double the number of students.
Describe a success that has been made possible through your leadership skills.
Leadership, consistency and discipline go hand in hand. My leadership skills have opened doors to speaking events and workshops to share my entrepreneurial journey, which helps to extend wisdom to others. Most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to inspire the youth through entrepreneurship and I hope to create a year-round program for youth and entrepreneurship because they have so much talent.
Based on your experiences as a founder, what is the most important leadership trait that founders must possess? How did you foster that trait in yourself?
Exhibit confidence everywhere you go. Being sure of yourself and your vision is the number one priority; if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, why will anyone else? If you’re not confident, how can you lead your team members and make them buy into your mission? Confidence is everything to me and it’s something I learned to have at a young age when classmates would make fun of me for not having the latest fashion. Confidence as a founder allows me to enter a room and communicate with anyone.
What other advice would you give a current or future founder about leading others?
Remain persistent and don’t look for instant gratification. It took us six months and seven days to get our first yes from a grocery store to carry our product. Business is not easy and pretty pictures are painted on social media, which makes you think it’s all glamorous and easy — but it’s not. Founders have a lot of grit and are told no often, but the key is to have confidence and believe in what you’re doing. Take your time and figure out who your customer is and how you want to make an impact. Becoming a founder has been an amazing journey thus far.