Women-Owned Small Business Entrepreneur Series // Sonya North of SnackRoots

Welcome to another interview of the “Women-Owned Small Business Entrepreneur” series on Busy Bee Kate.  Since this week small business week I am featuring a new women-owned business daily with those in May also being businesses that are related to food allergies since it’s allergy and asthma awareness month.

Today we are featuring Sonya North, the founder and developer of SnackRoots, a web tool that will help you find snacks tailored to a groups’ collective allergies.  The SnackRoots list is updated at least twice monthly to accommodate changes and recalls with snacks based the ingredients and disclosures on the product packaging.Sonya also did a guest blog post 9 Ways to be a Killer Sports Parent last month and shared her experiences as a sports Mom which are super helpful!

Thank you to Sonya for participating in this interview and for helping to make those lives easier with and without food allergies.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a mom of 3, with 2 children who have multiple life-threatening food allergies. I’ve been advocating for food allergy awareness and inclusion for over a decade as a parent, coach, PTO member, den mother and girl scout troop leader. I think people want to include kids with food allergies, but if you’re not affected you don’t know how. As an engineer and web tool developer for Procter & Gamble and Bank of America, I knew I could change that. That’s why I created SnackRoots.com
 
 
What does your business do?
It’s a web tool that generates custom shareable lists of snacks tailored to a groups’ collective allergies (ex. Mr. Walter’s 2nd Grade Safe Snack List, Soccer Lasers Safe Snack List, Troop 2019 Safe Snack List, etc.)
 
 
Who is your target audience or market?
Anyone who cares for groups of children where one or more has a food allergy or intolerance: school teachers, school nurse, coaches, daycare providers, preschool teachers, grandmothers, scout leaders, parents hosting birthday parties or playdates, etc.
 
What year did you start your business?
2017
 
What were you doing before starting your business?
I was a stay-at-home-mom, advocating for food allergy awareness and inclusion 24/7/365, while occasionally teaching DIY art/craft classes at a local art studio.
 
Where is your business located? Do you have a dedicated workspace?
I work from home.
 
What would you say your biggest success has been? What was the key action that led to this success?
Being able to help many children be safe and included–disrupting the status quo of “make kids with food allergies sit alone at another table and bring their own food”. My daughter had a reaction to the snack provided during an elementary school Valentine’s party, from that moment forward I vowed that I would advocate and create controls to prevent that from happening not only to my children, but every child at our school and district. My school nurse and I developed tactics/controls for our elementary school, and were asked to sit on a task force to revise the school district food allergy policy and guidelines. Throughout this process, I trained room moms, gave speeches and learned how badly the schools needed a tool like SnackRoots. I wanted to create something parents could use nationwide, not just in Columbus, Ohio.
 
What would you say your biggest failure has been?
I don’t like the word failure, it means lack of success. For me, if I can help one child other than my own be safely included then I consider that a success.
 
What did you learn from this failure and how have you changed things to prevent this from happening again?
I am a lover of all feedback–especially the negative kind. I use it to help create a better product for my users. The only way I can make SnackRoots grow is by listening to my users.
 
What has been your biggest challenge as a small business owner?
I think my biggest challenge is jumping back into tech and marketing after a 10 year break. There are so many new languages and social media tools–in many ways things are better than they were a decade ago, but the learning curve is steep.
 
Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up? If so, why?
I gave up on the idea when it first came to me in the fall of 2016, I thought it would be too risky and difficult to re-learn programming after taking a 10 year hiatus. I tried advocating for “no snacks” at sports, and in the classroom, but parents continued to crawl out of the woodwork sharing unsafe snacks; that’s when I dove in and committed to the idea in 2017 and I haven’t looked back.
 
What do you love MOST about being an entrepreneur?
The flexibility, and the fact that I was going to be creating safe lists ANYWAY for my kids’ teams, classrooms (and many others at our school), scout troops–knowing that I can help other parents/teachers beyond my immediate circle makes me very happy.
 
What do you love LEAST about being an entrepreneur?
There isn’t a thing that I dislike about being an entrepreneur, deep down I always knew I wanted to work for myself. I was always juggling part-time jobs through high school and even put myself through engineering college by working part-time. I’m an original thinker, and working for large corporations confirmed that I was destined to become an entrepreneur someday.
 
How have you funded your business? How long has it taken you to see a profit?
I self-funded my business and although the tool is free for users, I have almost reached profit-making status in a short 4 months. Once I start making a profit, I plan to donate a portion to End Allergies Together (E.A.T.), a non-profit that directly funds scientists researching a cure food allergies.
 
Did you always see yourself owning a business? If so, is this the business that you thought you would be owning? If not, what did you think you’d be doing?
I always knew I wanted to own my own company. I have a lot of hobbies including sewing, gardening, painting, crafting, and interior design so I thought my business would be more focused on consumer products–maybe I will venture into that someday, but while my kids are at home my focus is on them. When I left my corporate job back in 2006 I knew I wanted to invent/create things that would improve motherhood. I find inspiration at every stage of my children’s lives, and our food allergies have been a major pain point for us. I’m always looking for ways to minimize our risk while maximizing fun.
 
Where do you see your business in the next 3 to 5 years?
SnackRoots is the first tool of many I envision in the future. Right now my kids are elementary/middle school age and SnackRoots has helped us tremendously. I am already working on another tool that is geared for whole families and will be very helpful for teens with food allergies as well.
 
What advice would you give to other women that are interested in starting their own business?
Don’t wait, shed your fears and go for it! Try to do it with as little to no money as you can, that way if you don’t enjoy it you have nothing to lose. Starting a business is like trying on different hats, if you don’t invest much and don’t like how it feels working/running a particular business, you can easily move on to your next idea!
 
What is one program, tool or app that you can’t live without for your business? (If you have more than one, please feel free to share more!)
1 – I went to a 2 week Pop-Up Business Course in Colorado last September. It was free and put on by a company based in the UK (popupbusinessschool.co.uk). Without this course I probably would be still dreaming about starting my business. They have an online option available if you’re thinking of starting a business you love for little to no money.
(Pic of Me in Colorado attached)
2 – Google Analytics, it helps me see what marketing tactics are working and which aren’t, so I can focus my efforts more efficiently.
3 – Google Trends – helps me find keywords to incorporate in my blog posts to generate the most organic traffic.
4 – Social Media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have helped me reach people beyond my local circle. I’ve even had people from Australia and Latin America ask me if I could create sites for them!
 
What does your day to day in your business look like?
I split my day into different tactics: social media marketing, post writing, PR, and technology requirements gathering. That way I’m working on everything a bit each day and don’t get behind.
 
As a business owner it can often be hard to find time for ourselves. What are your favorite hobbies and what do you like to do when you are not working?
I love listening to podcasts while oil painting, practicing yoga, and when the weather improves I’ll spend a lot of time tending to my garden.
 
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you or your business?
You can make your safe snack list in 4 easy steps (it takes less than 1 minute): 1 – Name Your List, 2 – Select Allergens Your Group Is Avoiding, 3 – Enter Your Email Address, 4 – View & Share Your List
 
Any other comments?
If you make a list for your child’s class/team/troop/party and love it, please share a testimonial and link to SnackRoots.com on Facebook. My dream is 3-fold: To help as many families with food allergies as I can, Gather data to influence the snack/food industry to show that food allergies affect the entire classroom, not just 1 in 13 kids, and generate funding for a cure.
 
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Thank you so much to Sonya for taking the time to share her story and SnackRoots with us.  Remember to check out the Snackroots website to learn more and to give this free web tool a try for your next function that involves snacks. You can also connect with Snackroots on Twitter and Instagram.
 
Are you a small business owner?  Do you have a story to share?  Help others discover, learn, and support your business too!  Contact Katie at: kate (at) busybeekate.com for details or through our contact page.
 
Be sure to stop back next week for another interview and don’t forget to check out our past interviews here.
 
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