In the past decade, as public opinion towards health and diet have shifted, what has changed in the way we feed our infants? In this episode of Mastering Innovation on Sirius XM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Shazi Visram, founder of the premium organics company Happy Family, discussed what steps she took to make her baby food product convenient and accessible for parents.
At the turn of the century, less than 4% of baby food on the market was organic. In a country with more and more people inclined to scrutinize the origin and quality of their food, Visram saw an opportunity to impact consumers’ diets from a very young age. She set out to create an organic, sustainable, and transparent product that would make parents comfortable with what they feed their children. Visram describes the trial and error process that eventually made Happy Family successful, as well as the tactics used to continue growing the company into the future.
An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.
Harbir Singh: You managed to come up with a solution that could get on the grocery store shelves so that people could buy them. Tell us more about how you got to scale.
Shazi Visram: When we first launched, because I wanted to be as close to homemade as possible, we launched frozen organic baby food. This was if you were to make your own homemade food, because the insight was, parents didn’t like the jars, they wanted to make homemade. Some would try to make homemade, but most wouldn’t consistently do so. We thought, okay, well, the next best thing to homemade is frozen. We launched this line and it was beautiful. It was in this ice cube tray, and the colors were so vibrant, it was the next best thing to making homemade.
I would be standing in a Whole Foods trying to do a demo, trying to catch a mom with a baby to show her, you know, “Try this,” and there was this big taboo. A lot of people didn’t even want to try baby food because they immediately would wrinkle their face and think, “Eew.” But it should be delicious! It was this funny process where I realized within a month of launching my company that we had to change our product line completely because it was never going to work. It was because I’m standing there hoping a mom comes by and then I have to beg her to try it, and then point her to the freezer to buy baby food. It was too many behavior changes. I was asking for too much.
Singh: Very interesting.
Visram: I immediately thought, “We have got to get out of the freezer.” Then we needed to create something innovative, because I have this high set of personal standards. You want to do everything right, especially for babies.
We started innovating. We had this great idea to add probiotics to infant cereal. I thought, “Okay. Well, if we’re going to go where all the moms are already shopping, how are we going to create enlightened alternatives to the things that they are already buying?” Because if you’re asking for such a behavior shift that they’re not going to do, what’s the point?
“I realized within a month of launching my company that we had to change our product line completely because it was never going to work.” – Shazi Visram
Singh: Did you interview people? Was it just a sort of walking through mentally? Because again, that’s a significant change, right? When we teach market innovation here, we talk about market research, we talk about test marketing, but it looks like you could make the adjustment internally.
Visram: We were quick to adapt. Part of it is that a lot of us are moms and we had a team of people; at the time, it was a very small team. We were reaching out, but we didn’t have marketing dollars for advertising in any way. The people who were in the store doing demos were just moms that we knew. We were always listening to each other. It’s something that I say today is what drives us at Happy: we innovate because we care, because we are her. Being able to recognize insights and then not overthink it in a big massive corporate way, but instead, to be able to say, “Okay. I have an insight, let’s all be on the same page about it and let’s immediately pivot and jump.”
That is the hardest thing to do. Sometimes there are so many innovations, or innovative ideas and thinking, but we don’t act because we overthink too many things. It helps when you are your end user.
Singh: Were there some other concepts you walked away from? Was there a hit rate in this as you went from one thing to another?
Visram: For sure. We started recognizing what works and what doesn’t work. It didn’t become a road map for how you launch a product. For me, my biggest fear is that we would fail to try something. What I learned as a leader, what I hope I left behind as a cultural legacy, is that we have to try to constantly be innovating and then mitigating risk by failing fast. We tried a number of things that were just total bones.
Singh: Failing fast is something a lot of people talk about. What I wonder about is, what are the barriers to failing fast? One of them must be just the disappointment of failure. If you fail fast you can cut your losses and find something successful. Was there something in your mental makeup, or in the group, where you knew that you would eventually hit the right thing and better to cut your losses quickly?
Visram: Yes. That comes from having an incredibly stubborn attitude and not letting go of the dream. I kept thinking, “I know parents want to feed their children better; we have to make it easier for them. We have to make a platform and a brand that makes it welcoming and inclusive, and democratizes organic food.” I don’t think anybody could disagree with that. We all agreed with that, we were all smart people, we were all creative, we had this shared vision. We had to keep trying until we figured it out.
“Sometimes there are so many innovations, or innovative ideas and thinking, but we don’t act because we overthink too many things.” – Shazi Visram
For us, when we landed this innovation, there was this pouch. The pouch allowed you to create a higher quality product that made it easier to feed babies. Babies can feed themselves, and you can kind of squeeze nice food right out of the pouch onto a spoon, or a baby can feed themselves and it kind of eliminates the spoon. That moment was one of those moments where you recognize that in today’s day and age, especially for our consumers, convenience matters. They’re looking for everything, but you can’t make it harder for them to do something better. It’s a lot harder; it’s a bigger ask.
We failed so many times, and we’ve had so many, I would say, nutty ideas, but always driven from a good-hearted place where I was trying to do something. I also wanted to develop a breast pump so that we could really help and encourage moms to breastfeed. In a way, it’s just making sure that we’re there for her at every part of the journey. It’s become a part of our brand. By then, we had different partners who didn’t necessarily agree with my approach. Now I’m a strategic advisor to a company called Willow that’s the first ever wearable cordless breast pump, and it is a dream come true.
About Our Guest
For as long as she can remember, Shazi Visram has wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself. As a daughter of immigrants who took life-changing risks in order to create a better world for their children, Shazi has always sought to create wealth and pay it forward—the question was: how? Her journey took her to Columbia Business School, where she had an “Aha! Moment” while listening with a compassionate ear to a friend’s anguish about the difficulty of finding the time to make her own baby food, and the lack of healthy options in the traditional baby food aisle. In that moment Happy Family was born. Shazi made it her mission to create a business that could positively impact the health of our children and give back to those who are in need.
Her accomplishments have earned her the respect and admiration of her peers and colleagues, including being named one of Crain’s New York Business 40 Under 40 in 2012, honored by Ernst & Young as Entrepreneur of the Year in the New York region in 2011 and nominated as one of Babble’s “moms who are changing the world” for 2011. Happy Family is recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine for two years running and was named as Fast Company’s 2012 “Rockstar of the New Economy.” In addition, Shazi works with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) as a mentor to young and aspiring entrepreneurs from low-income communities. She also serves on the board of Hydros, which manufactures portable filtered water bottles. Shazi lives in Connecticut with her husband, Joe, her son, Zane, and their perfect pup, Willy. While she considers Happy Family to be her first “baby,” true motherhood is what she loves the most in the world. In the little free time she has, she enjoys yoga and spending quality time with her family.
Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.