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Most business owners can pinpoint at least one year, early in their journey, when things began to accelerate. A sort of magical “leap year” of big accomplishments when it seems like the grunt work is finally paying off. You could argue that Denise Woodard, founder of Partake Foods, is in the midst of all this magic. Woodard created her vegan and gluten-free snack company back in 2016 after learning that her daughter had several food allergies. Woodard couldn’t find solutions in the market, so she marched into her kitchen to create one herself. Just a few short years later, parents of kids with strict dietary restrictions have described her snacks as “life changing,” according to Amazon reviews.
A former director of national sales at Coca-Cola, she quit her job in 2016 to grow Partake. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, she went from grocery store to grocery store to pitch her product, demo her cookies, and vie for shelf space.
Fast-forward to 2019. In early spring, she managed to get into the holy grail of health food distributors: Whole Foods. To date, Partake’s crunchy cookies are available in more than 65 stores in New York and New Jersey, as well as Amazon. By summer 2019, Woodard secured a $1 million seed round from Marcy Venture Partners, the venture firm ran by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. The funding enabled Woodard to make her first full-time hire and explore new ways to expand beyond stores in the Tri-state area.
While her daughter inspired her mission to make safe yet delicious snacks, even the former sales executive says she had to acquire specific skills and seek outside solutions to keep Partake Foods on the road to expansion.
How did you come up with the idea of Partake Foods?
When my daughter, Vivienne, turned one, I learned that she has multiple food allergies to common foods like eggs, tree nuts, and bananas. Partake was born out of my frustration. I couldn’t find anything that met her dietary restrictions, my nutritional standards, and tasted good. I dreamed of a brand with products that tasted great, were good for you, and could be shared safely with nearly anyone. When I couldn’t find that, I left my career at Coca-Cola to start Partake.
What did you excel at when it came to starting and running your food business?
Prior to starting Partake, I spent nearly a decade at Coca-Cola, most recently as the Director of National Sales for their Venturing & Emerging Brands group. I feel very comfortable on the sales and marketing end of business, so things like doing in-store demos, reaching out to grocers, packaging and growing a Partake community came more easily to me.
What did you struggle with most?
At first it was tough to find an allergy-friendly facility to produce our cookies and ingredient suppliers we could trust. But managing with operations and finance, both of which are critically important to a small business, those were definitely my weak spots. I navigated this challenge by talking to lots and lots of folks and hired out consultants when needed. One concrete action I took was implementing the accounting software QuickBooks to help me visualize my finances, manage expenses, and get a better sense of my profitability.
They say the tech you choose can make or break your business. At what phase did you incorporate QuickBooks into your processes?
We used QuickBooks from day one. Emerging food and beverage can be a costly business, and QuickBooks allowed me to easily see everything coming in and going out, from a finance perspective.
Was it difficult to learn QuickBooks? Which feature helped most when it came to running your business?
It’s so easy. I literally still count on my fingers sometimes, so if I could figure it out, anyone can! I find the report features to be really helpful. Likewise having a dashboard to monitor the Balance Sheet and track the P&L, all of which can be done via mobile while I’m on the go, which I always am. These tools allow me to look forward as we aim for national expansion, explore new safe ingredients, and design a new look for our boxes.
What is one piece of advice you’d share with other mothers aiming to start a business?
Talk to other moms who are also taking on this crazy world of entrepreneurship. It has warmed my heart to see how open other women have been with time, resources, and networking opportunities. As Partake grows, and I grow as an entrepreneur, it’s my hope to pay that same kindness forward.