Samantha Barnes of Raddish knows what it’s like to sacrifice for your business. The day after she gave birth to her daughter, her company’s payroll was due. So she brought her laptop to the hospital and processed her team’s payroll right there. While that in-hospital admin task wasn’t her first choice, Samantha has learned that running a business often means a series of compromises and sacrifices that can lead to great successes and the ability to do what you love and set your own schedule (most of the time). We were so inspired by her ongoing story that we chose her for today’s Biz Ladies Profile.
Samantha launched Kitchen Kid, a mobile culinary school for kids in Los Angeles in 2006, and recently decided to start an in-home subscription cooking kit called Raddish. Today she’s sharing honest, vulnerable and truly helpful advice that she’s learned during her journey from school teacher to culinary business owner. Thank you to Samantha for sharing this glimpse into her career path with us today. —Stephanie
Click through for the full interview after the jump!
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I loved my job as a middle school teacher but I was troubled by the food choices my students were making. I saw a huge disconnect – kids would sit in my classroom at lunchtime talking about the Food Network while eating junk food. My students were desperate for the culinary education they weren’t getting at home or in school. So in 2006, I began Kitchen Kid, the mobile culinary school I own and operate throughout Los Angeles.
Today, Kitchen Kid enrichment classes are taught in nearly 50 private and public schools, our in-home birthday parties keep us busy every weekend and we host delicious summer camps that received the 2013 Red Tricycle award for LA’s Totally Awesome Summer Camp. Also, this past year we launched Raddish, a monthly cooking kit that takes the guesswork out of teaching cooking to kids, and began shipping nationwide.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I’ve always been a doer and I like to make things happen and see if they work, rather than figuring them out completely on paper first. (My dirty secret: I’ve never written a business plan.) When we started Raddish, we had a pretty solid idea of what the product would look like and what the model would be. The first priority for us was building a prototype and assessing consumer response. With Kitchen Kid, I kind of just started teaching cooking classes then adding different offerings (like parties or camps) when someone requested them. At the time, I’m not sure I was conscious of the company I was building or its potential for growth.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I was on the phone with the founder of the tutoring company I worked for right out of college. Lisa was successful and inspirational and, above all, seemed to have life and business “figured out.” She told me to take out a piece of paper and write down what I wanted in three years. The lesson was relevant not because of what I wrote (I have no idea what my paper said) but because it taught me the importance of setting long term, high-achieving goals. Even though I am a big picture thinker, when you run a business it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day. So this exercise still comes in handy.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Raddish is an e-commerce, subscription based product – and aside from creating and producing the contents of the box, getting it up and running required a good amount of online know-how across many different platforms. I am not a developer, so there’s been a steep learning curve to ensure our website and back-end is functional, while optimizing our online marketing efforts. You can never underestimate how much time it takes to get this right!
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Delegate. It’s crucial to surround yourself with smart, talented people who share your company’s vision because they are integral to executing that vision. In the beginning, I thought I could do everything. But as we all know, you can’t. While I don’t regret growing Kitchen Kid organically, I do wish I had “let go” earlier on, by hiring more teachers and expanding more quickly. In fact, the day I hired my first employee was a huge turning point. In my mind, I went from being a “kids’ cooking teacher” to a “kids’ cooking school owner.” Eventually, I’ve figured out my strengths and focused on them, but only because I have a great team doing everything else.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I feel like I am filled with a host of weaknesses and I encounter them daily but I try not to think of things as massive failures. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but something that feels like a total disaster at the time becomes a learning tool down the road. I make mistakes, I fall way, way behind, I procrastinate, I burn cookies. And I am not nearly as good at understanding my business financials as I should be.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
It’s kind of cheesy but I had a conversation this week with my daughter that feels like a huge success for a mom trying to make sense of this crazy work-life balance. I do this Q+A a Day for Kids book with my 4-year-old. The question was “whom do you look up to.” It took some effort explaining what that meant but, when she finally understood, my daughter said, “you mommy, you’re so good working at Raddish.” At the end of the day, being a role model for my daughter as I start and grow a company I believe so passionately about, is a win.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I have a stack of business books on my bedside table – and a yearning to read more than the jacket cover.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Have a support system in place. I’ve always been fortunate to have the financial and emotional support of my family. In the last year, Raddish has been a very demanding third baby and I would not have been able to dedicate myself to it if my family didn’t equally embrace it.
2. In the beginning, you need to be prepared to do a little of everything. When I first began Kitchen Kid, I developed the website, handled marketing and PR, talked to clients, wrote curriculum, did the bookkeeping and taught all the classes. While I learned early on this isn’t sustainable, I also learned all the different elements it takes to run a successful business. I think it’s really important to have this diverse experience so you can manage the various elements down the road.
3. Know what you are sacrificing and (learn to) be okay with it. My daughter was born on a Sunday night and Monday morning my payroll was due. I brought my laptop to the hospital and processed payroll just hours after giving birth. Not because I was some kind of super-mom, but because I had to. My staff needed to get paid! When you own your own business, there is no maternity leave! People tell me all the time, “oh how great, you get to be home with your kids and make your own schedule.” While I do have more flexibility than I would have had if I had stayed a teacher or worked a 9-5 job, I can’t convey enough that owning a business isn’t a “hobby.” It’s a round-the-clock commitment that is integrally woven into all aspects of my life. You really need to be okay with making that sacrifice before you start your own business.