Viewing entries in
Entrepreneurship

Comment

Spokin’s Susie Hultquist: A Fearless Food Allergy Mama!

Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

Susie and her food-allergic daughter, Natalie.

If you’ve followed Allergy Amulet for a while, you know our team was founded by a female and that we love to support female entrepreneurs!

Unsurprisingly, we’re big fans of Susie Hultquist and the team she’s assembled at Spokin. This Chi-town team has built an app to help make managing food allergies easier! We recently sat down with Susie and asked her a few questions.

1. We understand you left your financial career on Wall Street to start Spokin. When did the “light bulb” moment happen?

It happened when my co-worker was selling girl scout cookies. I wanted to buy some, but in order to do that, I had to get ahold of a package to check the label and ensure they were safe for my family. I then went to their website to make sure the cookies were also available in our area. It took me 15 minutes to track down all the information I needed! That’s when I realized I was probably not the only person managing food allergies searching for this same information, and that there was a clear need to streamline and consolidate food safety information for the food allergy community.

At the time I was managing my company’s consumer internet portfolio and saw how different businesses were managing pain points. No one was solving this one, and I felt I was uniquely positioned to do so.

2. How long did it take to launch the app? 

It was two years in the making. I started by meeting with a lot of people who have food allergies. From there, we developed a content strategy and hired a graphic designer to work on app designs. We just celebrated the app’s first birthday!

3. What is your “why”?

My daughter Natalie. She’s allergic to peanuts and several tree nuts. I am determined to make her life easier and to help her live the fullest life possible. That’s what gets me up every day. 

A food allergy diagnosis often comes with a lot of no’s when it comes to food, and I want to be able to say yes as often as I can!

4. Spokin has a lot of new features and capabilities on the app. What are you most excited about?

Far and away is the map functionality! If you’re in the app and search within the “eateries” category you can choose any city in the US and see in seconds all the restaurants, bakeries, and ice cream shops others in the Spokin community have recommended. We now have 2.7 million reviews on the app and reviews span across 18 countries! 

To find in seconds all these yes’s after so many no’s is amazing. And it’s built by the food allergy community! This community is so generous. 

5. What does Spokin mean?

It’s a play on the word spoken. I had so many amazing interactions with people in the food allergy community that gave me advice verbally (where to eat in London, what chocolate chips to bake with, what to take with us on an airplane, etc.) but once spoken, that advice then vanished into thin air. All of this knowledge needed to be captured and shared with everyone. The idea was that if we built this platform, we could harness and share all of this great food wisdom with the food allergy community at large. 

6. When do you plan to release the Android version of the app?

We have started an Android waiting list and it’s on our product roadmap. We’re currently assessing demand, so please add your email to the Android list on our website, if interested! 

7. When you’re not focused on helping the food allergy community, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my girls and my husband! We love to cook together, run together, and travel when we can. My girls all have very different interests so it’s fun to watch them pursue their passions. 

8. Since Spokin is based in Chicago, we have to know: do you cheer for the White Sox or the Cubs?

I love the Cubs, but I applaud the White Sox for offering peanut-free ballgames!

9. What’s your long-term vision for Spokin?

If everyone in the US with food allergies shared five recommendations we could build a database of 75 million data points that everyone can access! We’ve estimated that if it takes you 15 minutes a day to manage food allergies, then you can save a year of your life by having all of this information accessible to you. 

If you haven’t downloaded the Spokin app we recommend you check it out ASAP! Both Susie (Susie in the Spokin app) and Allergy Amulet’s founder, Abi Barnes, (allergy_amulet_abi in the Spokin app) have provided lots of recommendations!

-      Meg and the Allergy Amulet Team

Comment

Comment

The Secret is Out: Transparency is In

rawpixel-com-267062-unsplash.jpg

Last fall, Kellogg’s acquired a protein bar startup called RXBAR for $600M dollars. The significance of that deal is twofold. First is the story behind the company: two childhood friends built the business out of their kitchen with $5,000 each and no outside funding. Second, their brand was built on transparency and candor: each bar neatly lists a handful of ingredients on the front packaging followed by their signature motto: “No B.S.”

The market took notice.

In an era where food labels list hard-to-pronounce ingredients like “tartrazine” and “disodium inosinate” and include vague statements like “may contain” (which we wrote a separate blog post about), consumers are unsurprisingly gravitating towards products like RXBAR.

But the trend isn’t limited to food. Increasingly, shoppers are looking to company values—including a company’s commitment to transparency—when making purchase decisions. More consumers are looking beyond price tag and factoring in product origin, reputation, and quality and ethical standards. The rise of fair trade, organic, and Certified B Corporations (“B Corps”) is a testament to shifting consumer preferences. Consumers are also looking at where companies donate politically: with a new app from startup Goods Unite Us, consumers can run political background checks on products to see what political party their purchase indirectly supports.

Corporate candor is a hot commodity right now. That much is clear.

A Label Insight study looking at consumer behavior around food and personal care products found that nearly 40% of consumers would switch from their preferred brand to one that offered more product transparency. A quarter of respondents indicated that transparency was the leading reason they remained loyal to brands.

We live in a digital age where consumers have access to unprecedented levels of information. In turn, they are using that information to scrutinize company decision-making and hold companies accountable for those decisions. The businesses that are quickest to adapt will likely outperform and outlive their peers.

Investors see the appeal.

Investors routinely evaluate the risk of any potential deal or transaction. Transparency helps mitigate these risks by identifying blind spots, which can in turn reduce reputational, compliance, and financial risk. Transparency also fosters trust: the foundation of any business relationship.

The metrics of business success do not always account for intangibles like transparency and trust—but they should. Facebook is learning that the hard way this month, as user numbers drop and #DeleteFacebook becomes a trending hashtag.

Trust is hard to earn, difficult to quantify, and easily lost. For these reasons, trust is arguably the most valuable commodity a company holds. The precursor to trust is transparency.

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

Comment

Comment

Invest In Women

Female leadership at Allergy Amulet from left to right: Susannah Gustafson (VP of Operations), Abi Barnes (CEO), and Meg Nohe (CMO).

Female leadership at Allergy Amulet from left to right: Susannah Gustafson (VP of Operations), Abi Barnes (CEO), and Meg Nohe (CMO).

While the Chinese zodiac sign for 2018 is the dog, a more appropriate symbol for this year is the woman.

Across the US, women are running for office in record numbers. France announced that it will begin imposing fines on companies that fail to eliminate unjustified gender pay gaps within the next three years. And in the US, movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have forced our nation to address gender inequality, misogyny, and harassment.

One area where the gender disparity is particularly stark is the startup and venture capital space. In 2017, only 2% of all venture capital was invested in women-led startups, even though women own nearly 40% of the nation's businesses. That same year, the average financing round for women-led companies was less than half that of their male counterparts.

Why the glaring gender gap? While there’s no clear answer, many blame “mirrorocracy”: the idea that the VC community, lacking in diversity, tends to invest in individuals that look like them. Indeed, only ~8% of partners at the top 100 VC firms are women. A recent Harvard study further revealed bias in the line of questioning venture capitalists pose to female and male entrepreneurs. The study found that women were generally asked about the potential for losses, or what the study called “prevention” questions, whereas men were asked about the potential for gains, or “promotion” questions. For every additional prevention question posed to an entrepreneur, the startup raised an average $3.8M less.

Looking back at our own company’s fundraising trajectory, these figures are unsurprising. It took Allergy Amulet nearly three years to secure its first investment: a convertible note in 2016. And the vast majority of our current investors are men.

There’s a strong business case for investing in women. According to Credit Suisse, companies with female CEOs generate a 19% higher return on equity and a 10% higher dividend payout. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that companies with women in at least 33% of senior management roles accounted for higher annualized stock returns. The study also found that Fortune 500 companies with the greatest proportion of female board members significantly outperformed those with the lowest proportion.

We need to invest more in women, and we need more women investors.

Several VC firms are proactively seeking to address the problem. In a two-part series, Forbes identified several investors and VC funds committed to bridging the gender gap either by ensuring female representation among their partners, portfolio companies, or both.

As with any ecosystem, diversity breeds strength. The startup and venture capital worlds are no exception.  

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

Comment

Comment

B the Change: The Future of Business

 

Occasionally, our blog content may depart from its typical focus on food allergies to discuss topics related to business and entrepreneurship. We are a start-up, after all. In this post, we examine the role of corporate social responsibility in today’s world. This piece also coincides with a guide I wrote for entrepreneurs on the same topic, which Yale and Patagonia jointly published today.

In a recent column in The Week, William Falk discusses the loss of civility in America. He starts with a story of his pregnant co-worker standing in a crowded NYC subway car, waiting for someone to offer her a seat (spoiler alert: no one did), and segues into what he sees as a “me-first” mentality overtaking common decency in America. I was reminded of a recent experience at an airport, where I witnessed two disabled men and a member of the military waiting until the platinum, gold, and first-class passengers boarded before they were invited on the plane. Capitalism at its finest.

Falk attributes this culture shift partly to our “brutally Darwinian” workplace culture, in which overtime is encouraged and vacation is a luxury few can afford. Falk submits that this workhorse mentality fuels an economic struggle of survival that leads to competition and hostility, both inside and outside the workplace. I think few would dispute the considerable amount of economically motivated resentment in our country right now.

So how did we get here? Why the Darwinian corporate culture? I think the problem started, in part, with one man; and the solution, I believe, lies partly in the guide I mentioned at the start of this piece.

Let me explain.

In 1970, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, a champion of free market economics, famously stated: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business[:] to increase its profits.” In other words, companies must value profits above all else and are not bound by a commitment to the communities and people they employ and serve. This ideology came to be known as the doctrine of shareholder primacy. But the problem with this theory is that profits often come at the expense of worker well-being, community health, and the environment.

Now, say your businesses decided to consider employee well-being on par with shareholder profits in corporate decision-making. What then?  

In 2006, the nonprofit organization B Lab launched a certification process aimed at supporting just those kinds of stakeholder-driven business decisions. The objective was to separate the truly “good” companies from those that merely had good marketing departments by implementing a standard vetting process. B certification created a system that measures social and environmental impact, and ensures reporting compliance through more stringent measures of accountability and corporate transparency. In 2010, states began implementing statutes under which companies could incorporate as Benefit Corporations: an alternative to a C-Corp or LLC that builds the same values of Certified B Corporations into the company’s charter and articles of incorporation. The same principles inform both certification and incorporation: to place stakeholder interests (shareholders, employees, community, and environment) on equal footing in corporate decision-making. The guide I mentioned offers a detailed roadmap for businesses interested in securing either B certification or incorporation status.  

If all of this B stuff is new to you, you’re not alone—though you’ve probably heard of Patagonia, Etsy, or Warby Parker, all of which are either a Certified B Corporation or a Benefit Corporation. To date, there are nearly 4,000 Benefit Corporations and 2,000 Certified B Corporations in existence, and these entities are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a recent report, “social impact has evolved from a pure PR play to an important part of corporate strategy to protect and create value.” JP Morgan estimates that the market for socially responsible investing stands somewhere between $400 billion and $1 trillion.

We live in an increasingly interconnected world, one in which we are (ironically) becoming more and more disconnected from the communities and people around us. We often don’t know the people who sew our clothes, the farmers who grow our produce, and the manufacturers who assemble our electronics. Globalization and interconnectedness have increased trade and communication between countries, but they have also fueled income inequality and transferred millions of jobs overseas. 

Our nation’s businesses and economy are only as healthy and as strong as the communities, environment, and employees they serve and on which they depend. Milton Friedman was wrong. The rise and popularity of Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations is largely a response to that realization. Now, more than ever, businesses must build social values into their bottom line. It’s not just good for society—it’s good for business.

-Abi, CEO & Co-Founder

 

Allergy Amulet is neither a Certified B Corporation nor a Benefit Corporation. Our company is currently pre-revenue and does not yet have a product on the market. Because of this, it is too early for certification and too costly to reincorporate. The company plans to pursue both designations at the appropriate time.

Comment