From Detox Ritual to Healthy Granola Business: Meet gr8nola

Have you ever wanted to start a business, but didn’t know where to start? Perhaps you’ve had a great idea, and were unsure of how to turn it into reality. Or maybe you’ve thought: If only I had the time, resources, energy, etc.…THEN I would do it.’

Meet Erica Liu Williams, a former Stanford University swimmer who turned what was a post-Super Bowl detox ritual into a sustainable business. Through a combination of passion, grit and hustle, she launched and took to market, gr8nola – a whole foods based, refined sugar-free granola product. You can find gr8nola in the micro-kitchens of Silicon Valley mega-giants Google, DROPBOX, SQUARE and Uber, and now online on Amazon.

Here, Williams gives us a glimpse of her world. And we learned it’s a pretty busy one.

You’re currently juggling a full-time job and running a business. What is a typical day like for you? How do you manage your schedule?

I usually wake up (by alarm—I’m not a natural early riser as I LOVE my sleep), and first thing I do is grab my phone, scan my emails for anything important or urgent. Next, I open my Instagram account to check out recent engagement on my last post. I get ready to go to “work” (my current day job, which isn’t gr8nola—yet) in 15 minutes or less, make myself a HUGE green tea for the commute, and hit the road. During my 1+ hour drive from the East Bay to San Francisco, I often schedule phone calls to maximize my time. If I’m not taking calls, I may listen to a podcast or two.

I work all day in the city in BizOps for a tech startup. During work, I manage any time-sensitive gr8nola emails and perhaps squeeze in an urgent phone call or two related to the business. I always try to get in a midday workout to stay balanced — so I may hit the gym or catch a CrossFit class. I drive home and then work on the business until bedtime. Eat, sleep, repeat. I sleep in HARD on the weekends (till 10am, lol), and I spend most of my time working on gr8nola.

 How do you stay fueled throughout the day – do you plan your meals or do any meal prep on the weekends? 

Generally, I try to eat clean “most of the time” (80/20 rule). I don’t track macros, meal prep or do anything fancy. I just try to be mindful of eating whole, healthy, minimally processed foods: plenty of protein, lots of veggies, no refined sugars, healthy fats from coconut oil, nuts, avocados, etc. and clean carbs like gr8nola, oats, rice, beans and sweet potatoes (nothing with flour, essentially). I do splurge, but I try to save those for good meals or indulgences that are truly worth it, like when we eat out or during get-togethers. I drink tons of green tea, take vitamins regularly, and try to be mindful of getting protein at every meal.

 What is the biggest challenge or obstacle for you right now? 

Balancing a full-time job and my business. Currently, I am starting to become really strapped with time. I’m getting to the point where my most creative, inspired “time” to work and get things done are occupied by “day job” work time, and often by the time I get to my business (the real strategy or critical priorities), I’m all burnt out for the day. But the fact that I am feeling this way is great — it means I am getting closer and closer to the day that I finally take the leap to do gr8nola full-time!

 What are your goals for gr8nola? Where would you like to see the company one year from now? 

The long-term goal is to create a leading brand of delicious and clean snacks that the modern consumer craves, enjoys and feels great about—eating every single day. This of course implies that eventually, I would like to extend beyond granola. However, one year from now, I would love to have at least 3 gr8nola flavors (right now I have one, The Original) that my customers love, a strong online community of brand advocates and fans, and to totally dominate the food service space (specifically tech companies). Currently, gr8nola is supplied at Google, Dropbox, Uber, Slack, Square, and many of the hottest tech companies, but there are still a ton more! I want to be “fueling gr8ness” within all of these Bay Area companies by this time next year. If your company provides free snacks, I would love to hear from you! 😉

What’s your favorite way to eat gr8nola? 

With almond milk, like cereal! Usually as a healthy snack or at night for a healthy, sweet treat :). And of course, plain—straight out of the bag.

What inspires you and keeps you motivated? 

Seeing other entrepreneurs around me doing what they love and creating value for their customers while creating value for themselves. Also, the community I’m creating on- and offline and all the relationships I’ve built along the way—whether it’s with other small business owners or my fans. I am ecstatic every time I hear from a customer how much they love gr8nola — and this motivates me to keep going so I can hopefully create more delicious and clean snacks for the market!

 If somebody wants to start a new company based on a product they love, where do you recommend they start?

I kind of outline my initial steps when I started gr8nola in this blog, but I highly recommend figuring out the minimum requirements for starting (do you need to define your product? your market? how you will initially sell it?). Once you have this “launch point” defined, set a goal (it may be totally arbitrary to start, and that’s ok) and work backwards.

My goal was to validate as quickly as possible if gr8nola would “sell” (not just one-time, but repeatedly) and if people would like it as much as my family, friends and I did. My “launch point” was to get into the farmers’ market — so I gave myself three months to figure out how to start selling at one, and I just executed towards this launch every single day, checklist style. It started with a list of everything I needed to “figure out”, such as: Which market was I going to do? What paperwork/certifications will I need? How will my booth be set up? What will my company/brand be called? How will I package my product? How will I price my product? Who will do / how much will it cost to do my design/logo? Etc. etc. You won’t have any answers to this list until you START… so after you create this list of questions, immediately start researching, making phone calls, asking friends, etc. Don’t waste time!

How has your new business endeavor made you a happier person? 

I am so passionate about my business that it’s become such a big part of who I am. My mission is to make everyone “hungry for gr8ness” in everything that they do — whether that’s their career, business, as a parent, spouse, community member, etc. I am literally living this mantra everyday through gr8nola, and the fact that I can create a platform/product that promotes this way of living makes me feel incredibly fulfilled. Despite the pitfalls and walls I often hit, I feel like this business is driving me to live each day with a purpose, which in turn makes me very happy :).

AUTHOR: Myra Chen


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