Meet Cindy Frei, Founder of Caleb’s Cooking Company and recent winner at the WeWork Creator Awards. We spoke to her about building her business, the value of passion projects and becoming a master juggler.
How did Caleb’s Cooking Company come about?
My son Caleb was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease about 4 years ago. He was put on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to manage his disease. This takes all food out of his diet that would increase inflammation: gluten, grains, sugar and all preservatives. Basically everything a kid eats!
We were struggling to find food that Caleb could eat and Caleb was starting to feel depressed and like he didn’t fit in with his buddies. For kids there’s that social and psychological component to the illness too. They’re inundated with all this junk food all the time. I thought other families must be struggling too.
Then I started doing some research and found that we were not alone. It’s reported that 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune illnesses. I learned all this and it become a personal passion of mine not just to help my son but all the kids out there that were going through something similar. That really was the inspiration behind the company – to create healthy food for children.
Tell me more about the social aspect of the business.
Aside from the making and selling of the food, we started Caleb’s Club that Caleb himself manages. It’s a place on our website where kids with chronic illnesses can come on and hang out and share funny videos and stories. For example, we’ve got a 9 year old boy from England in Caleb’s Club who also has Crohn’s disease and is on the same diet. It’s great for him to have that connection – he sees that he’s just like Caleb and he doesn’t feel alone. That sense of connection is really important. It’s good for children to hear from other children and not just their parents.
How does the company work in terms of production?
We partner with a food incubator in D.C. called Union Kitchen. They’re about 100 businesses and have 2 very large kitchens. They take in businesses and not only offer them the space for food production and packaging, but also help with wholesale and distribution. They have relationships with Whole Foods, Costco, Trader Joe’s, all the big retailers! They also provide marketing, branding and packaging – all the guidance and support that a company needs when starting out.
They have an accelerator programme where they pick a couple of companies that they believe are really viable and Caleb’s Cooking Company was chosen. As part of that deal they take an equity position in the company and they partner with us. They will be basically helping us to get into Whole Foods and these other stores. I’m hiring a chef here in D.C. to start food production and we’ll also be selling online from our website.
What was your background before Caleb’s Cooking Company?
In the 1990s I raised almost 10 million dollars and started a software company called How2TV where I served as Senior Vice President of Business Development and closed deals with General Electric, Toyota and Samsung. I then started another company called Vizolution which is a marketing firm and worked with companies like the Jane Goodall Institute. I helped them create digital marketing strategies by utilising content like videos and blogs to help them drive revenue and website traffic.
So I’ve been in marketing for quite some time now. I feel it’s really important when you’re trying to build a brand, to first build relationships with people through content.
How would you describe the content you’re producing?
It’s helpful and informative content for other parents out there who are struggling with the disease and diet. I’m just trying to be real with what I put out there. I am the customer, I’m a parent of a child with an autoimmune illness who is on a special diet. I understand what the struggles are, I share them.
The fact is that I’ve dedicated my life to this right now. I’m doing this full time so I spend every waking hour – if not in food production – in researching the next article that I’m writing or speaking to our contributors. We now have 4 parents who guest blog on the site and 3 other children that are blogging. It’s great to provide another perspective.
What’s been your proudest moment in your career so far?
Caleb’s Cooking Company is without a doubt my shining star. I’m extremely passionate about it as it’s so near and dear to my heart. Obviously I need to make money but this is about helping children for me. First and foremost it’s about helping people and giving back.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Juggling it all is definitely a challenge! I’m working 100 hours a week right now. I’m a single mom with 2 children who both have autoimmune illnesses and I’m completely broke as I’ve been working full time on the company. I’m getting ready to sell my house so that I can finance the business.
Everything is a gamble but I’m just going for it.
What’s next for Caleb’s Cooking Company?
I just pitched to raise $100k and secured funding from 2 investors so that is a big momentous occasion for us. We’re closing our seed funding round so that allows us to actually get into the kitchen and start to make and sell our food. Now I get to move out of fundraising mode and order all of my packaging, ingredients and get into production. That’s the next move now.
What type of support do you have at the moment in terms of employees?
I don’t have any. I’ve hired consultants to help me along the way, financial consultants, lawyers, etc. but I don’t have any full time employees. My next hire will be a chef.
What are the most important traits for you when you do start to build your team?
They have to believe in this cause as passionately as I do and be loyal, kind and giving.
Any advice for someone considering taking the leap and starting their own business?
Follow your heart and be courageous! Everyone is going to tell you that you can’t do it. There’s going to be a million impediments in your way and you’re going to make a million mistakes. The key to success is moving on and learning from your mistakes. I’ve already made a number of them but you learn from each one and you keep rolling on.
You need to be persistent and bold, determined and follow your passion.