Michelle Carfagno, The Greater Knead.

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Challenge Member

Company Website: www.TheGreaterKnead.com

Michelle Carfagno is the founder and CEO of The Greater Knead.  They provide delicious baked goods that are free of the top nine food allergens.  The Greater Knead specializes in pretzels and bagels.

What was the inspiration for starting your business? 

I started, because my sister and my grandfather were diagnosed with celiac disease and I knew that they had missed their favorite foods growing up on the east coast. Bagels were a huge staple of our diet. I really wanted to recreate their favorite food and i’d always had a passion for baking so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to start a business.  After talking to other families, I realized they were also struggling to find food that actually had a great, amazing taste and texture but was free from allergens.

Since participating in the accelerator program, what have you seen affected or how has it impacted your business and growth?

Yes, so it was the perfect timing, because I was working on doing my first raise.  We were able to close successfully on that raise after I finished the class which was amazing, so that prepared me for the pitch. It also helped me with the overall strategy of my three year plan. It helped me plan on how I was going to get there, the building blocks that sometimes you skip over because you get busy in the day-to-day.

And then one big thing that we took away was how to create recurring revenue for our business.  Since we’re a food company and sell online, we looked at offering subscriptions. Now we offer that on our website, so that’s something new that we are seeing helping us grow and we’re also being able to position ourselves better to know exactly what the right strategy is for growing across the country. That really helped me put all of that into perspective.

Fantastic!  Since participating in the program, are there new highlights or growth that you’d like to share?

Yeah, we were able to land more retail stores. We’re mostly along the east coast. That’s kind of where we started so places like Weymans, ShopRight, Weis, and Whole Foods on the East Coast. We were able to land another retail account which is launching in May, which is Meyer so that’s going to bring us out into the Midwest and that’ll open a lot more opportunities to continue to grow across the country, so that was big. In January, we closed on our first round of funding which was a huge deal.  That’s been amazing.  It gave us more of the fuel that we need to grow and expand.

Congratulations, that is fantastic.  Do you have any fond memories of the program or is there a memory of the program that stood out to you that still carry today? 

Yeah, I mean obviously the content was amazing, and it was super helpful, but I think that one of the biggest things was that the other people in the course with me stayed in touch.  I even went down to Dallas to visit two of them that live there and they’re planning a visit to come up to Philadelphia. I think that those connections were very valuable. We’re also working together. One does marketing so she’s helping me with my marketing.  I feel like we all sort of went through the same thing where we all helped each other and it was amazing to work with people and other businesses as well.  I’ve been a part of accelerators within just the food industry and I wasn’t sure how it would be working with people that aren’t in my exact industry, but it was actually an amazing experience to learn what they do. Those connections and relationships will continue a lifetime. Those relationships were probably the biggest takeaway and the fondest memories.

Prior to going into the accelerator program, what was it about Founders First or the programs we offered that attracted you to trying out the program?

I was really looking for something that would force me to spend the time putting together a pitch.  I knew I needed this going into raising funds for the first time. I knew that I needed to take a step back from my business, but I was so busy on just surviving that I lost track of taking the time that was needed to actually think about growth and scaling.  That’s why I say it came at a perfect time because I was really looking for something just like that.  I got an email from the city of Philadelphia about the opportunity and I applied.  That’s really what attracted me to it; this is going to be an opportunity to really force me to take a step back and evaluate where i’m going and how i’m going to get there.

Is there any advice that you’d want to give to the next up and coming entrepreneur out there that is looking to possibly branch out and grow?

Yeah, I really think that it is important, as much as you’re going to get busy with the day-to-day details, to set time for yourself to take that step back. Whether that’s doing a program like Founders First or just setting reminders on your calendar or spending a weekend just sort of thinking and working on your plan. It’s so important to not just make that business plan and then forget about it, put it on a shelf. Revisiting your business plan is vital. I would suggest coming up with some sort of practice to do that on a regular basis, maybe it’s quarterly or when you’re first starting, maybe it’s just once a year since you’re just so busy. Taking that time is super important because it’s very easy to just get stuck and only focus on your day to day. You’re the only one in the company that’s driving that vision so it’s important for you to wear that hat, even though you may be wearing every other hat as well. I think that’s one of the most important pieces of advice that I could give to somebody just starting out.

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