We’ve been dying to talk to Freshly Picked founder, Susan Petersen, since the day we started heymama. Her guts, determination and sheer hard work to build what’s turning into an empire put her on the top of our interview bucket list. Lucky for us, Susan’s success has only made her more willing to share her experience with other entrepreneurs. She’s worked hard her whole life, struggling to come up with a small amount of money to start her company, winning Shark Tank, building up a cult social media following, and becoming a household name sold in Nordstrom. This is one mama whose business advice you need to follow.
You started you company with $200 what has this experience taught you and what can you share about starting out on a budget?
Since we were on such a tight budget starting out, we only had the necessities. We didn’t have fancy furniture, or any extras. We couldn’t just say let’s get this or that. If you don’t have money to spend, you keep your blinders on! At this point, we’re still bootstrapping and putting the money back. Even more than the money, you have to put in the work. There are so many things that are free but require your input and work. Instagram is free. Everything you need is free. You just have to be willing to put in the sweat. The most important things are free: the relationships you build and the people that are going to help you along the way. The early bloggers and the early editors who took a chance on me really helped me, and those relationships are free.
Even more than the money, you have to put in the work…..The most important things are free: the relationships you build and the people that are going to help you along the way.
How do you thank those people?
For me, that person at that point in my life made such a big difference. Whenever I have a thought to be thankful, I call and tell them how they made such a big difference in my life. Someone reached out to me recently to tell me how they appreciated me, and it felt like it made such a big difference in my day and made me feel valuable. I try to do that a lot now: verbally thanking people as soon as they do something, that’s a big deal. I try to do it as soon as I think of it.
Did you have any role models or mentors that help teach you this drive?
My grandmothers were very strong women who were getting their shit done. They never taught me anything specifically, but I became empowered by watching them. Encouragement is contagious, so it’s especially important when you daughters are watching you and learning by example.
What are you most proud of that you’ve accomplished at Freshly Picked?
It’s so awesome (and scary) to have a team that depends on the business for their livelihood. It’s amazing to feel like I’m making a big difference for someone, and they are making a big difference in my life which is so cool and makes me really proud.
One of my favorite things is when we hear customer stories about how our products have made a difference in their lives. They would say how couldn’t find any other shoes that stayed on their kids or find any that they would wear.
Our PR really gets me and is able to capture that essence so props to them. We’ve had so much great press, but our Fortune article was one of my favorites. Taking over their homepage for a good portion of the day, it was so fun to just go there and see an article about my business on Fortune– it was big moment.
What is intuitive business?
It really is falling ass backwards and making it work. I fail to grasp how big and crazy what’s happening is until I am many miles away from it. I was scared on Shark Tank but not as scared as I should have been. Not until afterward, when I was laying in bed thinking of how it could have gone wrong, did I recognize what had happened. I don’t think about the possibility for things to go wrong; I just jump feet first into any situation. It was later that I realized the gravity of how good or bad it could have gone. Really being in the moment and doing stuff has gone along way for me. The more you do it, the easier it is to trust your gut. For me, earlier this year, there were a couple of things (minor) that were wrong with the business, and I couldn’t figure it out. There were things keeping me up at night like how this and that didn’t add up, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I pulled in someone so that can get to the root of my problems. If I hadn’t trusted my gut and pulled someone in, it would have been a year and a half. It’s like the same way it is with your kids; you have to follow that instinct. You know most of the answers if you just listen. If you feel that something is not right, you have to explore that.
What were some of the difficulties when you started selling in other stores? You are now in big retailers like Nordstrom’s, how is this going for you?
The time lines are really different! You have to work so far in advance. It’s a lot different. Wrapping my head around that, I remember going into a meeting and them were asking me to see next year’s products, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I forgot to bring the those….” We were only working months out! Everything had to change. It changes the way your finance are allocated. When you’re selling directly, you can just go straight to the site. For moms thinking about whether to make the leap to wholesale, don’t do it until you have a major retailer under your belt. It’s nice to have the support of Nordstrom. Now that we have that partner and the experience, we’re adding smaller shops.
How has social media changed your business?
At the end of the day, we are the brand that Instagram built, quite honestly. Instagram has been such a driving force for our business. Until almost a year ago, we did not have anything except for Instagram. It was just me for a long time. For me, as a mom and social media/blogging, it all finally made sense. I knew what these women wanted from my experiences. They want people to tell them how cute their kids are and to connect with them. If you’re awake and feeding your baby, you’re on Instagram; it really lends itself to that one finger scroll. Our target market is new moms. I remember when I started, people, who were growing quickly, had that “K” next to their number. I set a goal for myself that by the end of the year I would have 10k followers. I worked my butt off that year. On Dec. 28th, we had 10k. As a personal goal, it changed things for me because it made me realize I could achieve such goals. Then we made a goal to get on Shark Tank, so I wrote that down. For moms and businesswomen: write it down. Make it intentional and something you’re going to work on. Writing things out makes it real and helps you to visualize and set a goal. I’m so excited to see what Instagram will do. They have the capability to do so much more. I think Instagram is going to be more for the younger moms. Our aunts and grandmas are still hanging out on Facebook. Facebook is a different audience altogether, so we have to create two different sets of content: one for the Facebook and one for Instagram. Social media is like sex. As soon as you know your parents are doing it, you’re off to the next.
For moms and businesswomen: write it down. Make it intentional and something you’re going to work on. Writing things out makes it real and helps you to visualize and set a goal.
Can you share some tips on growing your Instagram account and utilizing that to grow you business?
Something that has really helped us on Instagram is recognizing the community and providing them with a voice. The most important thing you can do is to acknowledge and engage with your audience. There will always be someone there to comment and engage back with you. Community engagement is so important. Everyone is waiting to see what Instagram is going to do there. As with any social media, the thing to do is to embrace the changes and incorporate them as soon as you can. Adapt as quickly as they roll out. If you can be one of the first adopters of new technology, you’re ahead of the game.
What is your feeling on give-aways and how helpful are they? Do they work?
Yes and no. Something that we noticed is that giveaways with other brands don’t work. If you’re a company that’s starting out, giveaways are going to help your following but they need to be specific, selective, and spread them out so people don’t get sick of it. You can’t do too many give-aways with too many partners, or it gets annoying. Partner with complementary brands that have the same demographic of customer. Make sure you’re doing the brunt of the work if you’re the small guy. This will make it easy for bigger brands with larger following to want to help you out.
Why do you think Freshly Picked has been so successful?
Timing, not being afraid to go for things, putting myself out there for the brand and not being afraid of failing are reasons why it has been so successful. I have failed so many times. I had made really expensive, costly, and stupid mistakes, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there for the brand and be able to go with whatever happens. It’s so important to just say yes. It ends up being so much better if you don’t try to control it. A lot of times, you think you’re going to move the needle, but it just doesn’t work out. It’s those things that you just do and don’t think about that actually make an impact. You never know what will really get the buzz and move the needle; these things are not replicable.
A lot of times, you think you’re going to move the needle, but it just doesn’t work out. It’s those things that you just do and don’t think about that actually make an impact. You never know what will really get the buzz and move the needle; these things are not replicable.
How many people do you have working for you now and do you still interview each one?
We have fourteen people working for us right now, and I am still interviewing everyone. I’m like a data miner. I’m the final interview. I like to play this game called Promadon. Sit around and tell me your life in two minutes or less. It’s about your life after your senior prom until now; then, tell me each job you’ve had from high school until now. What would your boss would say about you? You can spot red flags. I’ll dig into stuff, and you really start to see tell tale facts. I don’t seek out moms specifically, but I do have moms that work here. We have two moms that have transitioned. One of them is working part time, and the other one, we are going to wait and see. For me, as a boss, it’s important to me to let them know that they should not feel the pressure of having to hurry back to work. You want to see how you feel. We have a very flexible work environment. I think moms just work harder. Their priorities shift in a way you can’t image. The most beautiful thing to see is when a woman becomes a mother. It’s a gift. I love to have them as a part of our team. Everyone works hard; their priority shift allows them to get things done faster and that alone makes them a great asset to our team.
How do you be a good boss and a good leader?
To be a good boss and a good leader is lonely. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that I can’t be friends with my employees. I respect and admire each and every one of them. I want them to have happy, long lives, but you have to have that there has to be a boundary in order to be a successful boss. I’ve also had the moment where you realize that you intimidate them. Before Freshly Picked, I never had that problem. Trying to ease that fear without crossing that line into a friendship is a tricky balance.
What is the best part of being an entrepreneur for you?
In my heart of hearts, this is what I was born to do. This is what I was meant to be doing. Yeah, there are frustrating times and there are hard times. The good times outweigh all the bad times. I love what I do so much, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. Even the challenging times have taught me so much. I regret nothing.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
My friend, Noelle, who sits on my board right now, helped me when we were getting our first huge orders. We just had so much more than we thought. We had about three months worth of work in front of us. I called her when I was crying and really sad, and she listened to me until I finished. Afterwards, she said, “Boo hoo, Susan, it’s so hard to be successful. You’re going to wake up and put your big girl panties on and get shit done.”
How hard is it to get a good board together, how important is that?
I have five board members. I picked them up one by one. Noelle is so integral into what I am doing; her life mimics mine, so bringing her on was such an easy decision. What I do is to try and find people that are where I want to go or have done what I want to do. I find the people I want and recruit them. The big things for my business are the same things that resides in any business, so I look for people who can advise in finance, development, and retail. We have really good board members.
You mention supporting women in building their dreams is a big mission of yours, and we feel the same way at heymama. What is the role of community in your life?
I have three sisters that I’m really close to. I have a couple of really good girlfriends that are super smart. I know three entrepreneurs that are at the same business growth stage that I’m at. We have a breakfast club and discuss the pain points that we’re each facing and try to help walk each other through them. From each breakfast club meeting, we’ve produced tons of good ideas. It’s such a nice thing to have all of these people to walk through it with you.
Photography by the Emmy Lowe Photo team.