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For Leeann Rybakov, the summer of 2017 was one for the books.
She clearly remembers spending most of it in the Hamptons while pregnant with her second child. But this was no East End babymoon. Instead, she spent those days working her booth at a farmer’s market for BuckWHAT!, her newly launched snack business.
“I was trying to sell my bars, standing for hours under the summer heat while 7 months pregnant,” she recalls, “but it turned out to be a success.”
Rybakov would quickly learn that, while testing recipes and meal-planning came easily to her, business required a little more effort. In fact, it would involve some trial, error, a whole lot of listening to industry veterans, and investing in powerful technology solutions like QuickBooks. She decided to embark on the path of business ownership after years of working at a family-owned logistics company lead to career dissatisfaction.
She was passionate about was spending time in the kitchen, so her husband Mark encouraged her to enroll in the International Culinary Center in New York. The new mother would attend class in the evenings until she graduated in 2016. Instead of entering the world of restaurants, she got started on a packaged food business. The avid runner came up with the idea of buckwheat-based, grab-and-go desserts because she always craved nourishing, clean, sugar-free snacks after completing a 5K. But none of the bars on the market fit the bill.
As a second-generation Ukrainian immigrant, Rybakov recalled buckwheat playing a vital role in every dish. “I grew up eating buckwheat,” she said. “It was a big staple in my family pantry.” The wheat-free and gluten-free food plant also happens to be extremely energizing and nutritious. Her snack recipe relied on other simple ingredients like cinnamon, crushed dates, as well as cocoa or sunflower butter. In fact, her signature Noshes typically include 5-7 ingredients, none of which are sugar.
When her buckwheat bar and granola concept grew a following in the Hamptons farmer’s market, she quit her job in logistics the following year to grow BuckWHAT! full-time (with a newborn in tow). She and her husband invested their personal savings, signed up to an incubator kitchen in Brooklyn, then began reaching out to stores for distribution. Health food stores and chains quickly signed on, but the road to expansion wasn’t always a cakewalk. When it came to marketing and signing on new wholesalers, it seemed as if someone was taking a bite out of her business each step of the way. “I was shocked. I was growing and selling, but because of the expenses of the industry, it still seemed impossible to have a chance.”
Some aspects of business ownership were learned the hard way.
At first, small business accounting and bookkeeping were intimidating. With experience, Rybakov realized that in order to mitigate risk, it was important to studiously research the industry and understand competitive pricing. She quickly researched tools and turned to the online accounting platform QuickBooks to help manage inventory, profit and loss statements, and send payment reminders in a professional, automated way. With this intuitive technology, she was able to gather internal data on her company’s best-performing products and guide her business model accordingly. According to Rybakov, “Our Cocoa Noshes by far perform the best, across the board.” As a result of this insight from QuickBooks, she was able to respond to the market and invest more in this particular product, leading to higher sales.
Along with tech solutions, mentorship from industry insiders was critical to her success. The snack food maven says that having mentors at different stages was particularly valuable: ”experienced mentors, peer mentors, mentors at every level.” Equipped with prudent advice based on the experience of her peers, and invaluable data from QuickBooks, Rybakov was able to make the business of BuckWHAT! that much sweeter.