Shazi Visram: Founder of Happy Family

What's Your Native AdVice:

How did you get into the food industry?

I didn’t start out with the idea that I wanted to be in the food industry at all. The impetus to start my business came from another long-time goal of mine, to do something creative and have a positive impact on society. When I was studying for my MBA at Columbia, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could use business to make a difference.  I toyed with a few ideas but was eventually totally convinced that improving our children's health was the best way to impact our future. After all, our children are our legacy and giving them the healthiest start possible will have innumerable benefits for the future of our society.

Tell us about Happy Family Brands. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

It was somewhat of a happy accident.  Actually, it was one of my friends at Columbia that provided me with my ‘ah-ha’ moment. She was lamenting the lack of healthy and convenient options for feeding her twins.  She was a busy mom who wanted to give her babies the best nutrition she could and felt guilty when she fell short. I realized many moms must be feeling this way, spending money on, and using products that they were not happy with because they just couldn’t make the work-life balance thing work otherwise – ideally, they would love to make their children homemade food! I saw an opportunity to change how our children were being fed by providing convenient, organic, and nutritious foods to moms like my friend.

Our vision for the future is to provide holistic nutritional support for mom and her family starting with the First 1,000 Days of life, the most important timeframe in a child’s development – from conception to two years.  We have just launched our Happy Mama Prenatal line, a set of products with the essential nutrients to help support mom in a healthy pregnancy and provide benefits to her baby before they are even born.  In addition to our Happy Baby and Happy Tot products, we have a Happy Squeeze line of fruit and vegetable blends for older kids that are perfect for lunchboxes and after-school snacks.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Happy Family Brand's success?

We launched on a shoestring with funding from friends and family.  We had no money for advertising.  The moms we knew relied on suggestions from their friends with children more than anyone else, so we decided to go totally grassroots and built a network of brand ambassadors called Happy Mamas.  They are amazing women – corporate executives, professionals and teachers – who are taking a few years off from working full-time to raise their little ones.  They feed their children Happy Family products and are passionate about eating organic and creating a safe and healthy environment for their families.

Our marketing efforts are focused on providing mom with information, tips and support for the right age and stage of her little one so she can make the best choices for her family. We partner with experts and nutritionists to ensure that we are providing our moms with the best and most up-to-date material so that she can feel confident in her parenting choices.

We know that Gen X and Millennial moms communicate and share via social media channels.  We are continually testing and growing our presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.  We develop custom teleclasses, webinars and podcasts for the major moms groups featuring Happy Family’s guest experts.  Next year we will be streaming live on Periscope and producing Google hangout videos.  Online partnerships with BabyCenter and What to Expect reach about 90% of our target audience:  moms and moms-to-be 24-40 years old.

But what really put us on the map nationally was American Express.  Happy was one of 5 companies they chose to feature in TV commercials for their small business credit card.  Amex put an estimated $50 million behind their TV buy and our 30 second spot telling the story of our brand was so loveable and we were everywhere.  One even ran before the SuperBowl!

Thanks to all our partners and the moms who buy our products, Happy Family is now the fastest growing organic baby food brand in the U.S.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

We are starting to see the impact of Millennials as parents. They have different demands from previous generations and are continually questioning the brands they engage with. They are not passive consumers.  They look for authenticity, simplicity and transparency. Furthermore, the importance of the products ability to provide optimal health and well-being has sky rocketed.  We were ahead of the curve in realizing these desires and that has put us in a good position, but Millennials are always questioning and demanding continuous improvement. We try to capitalize on this by engaging with our consumers through social media and our website, providing educational tools alongside our products, and continually innovating, keeping the startup spirit alive even though we are now a much bigger company.

Life Motto?

Your life is so special, unique and full of potential. So choose how you spend your time wisely....try to make it meaningful so you look back and can honestly be proud of the person you are.

Your greatest success as Founder of Happy Family Brands? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

One of my proudest moments as Founder of Happy Family was being invited to the White House by President Obama, who recognized us for our leadership in providing affordable organic foods for children. This was a validation of our mission, but also an inspiration to continue to improve and develop our business. For example, we focus on what we call ‘enlightened nutrition’ which means optimizing our recipes with smart, age-specific ingredients that help support babies' development.

The most difficult timeframe for us was from 2006 to 2010 when we just didn’t seem to be gaining traction in the market and money was very tight, but I didn’t give up. I knew we could succeed, but our strategy of packaging baby food in the freezer aisle wasn’t working. We searched for an alternative option and eventually found the pouch that we use now. This was a first for baby food in the U.S. and a huge risk; would mom like it? Luckily, it turned out to be a huge success and almost all baby food brands have adapted this packaging design.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Dream big, find your purpose and be motivated by it. Don't be afraid to pivot your strategy, but always stay true to your mission. Another thing I’ve learned, and I think is important for an entrepreneur to accept, is it's okay to fail. In fact it's important to take calculated risks, innovating and failing fast to minimize the impact to the business. Real failure is not trying.

Describe the ideal experience using Happy Family Brands.

Early life nutrition focuses primarily on the First 1,000 Days of life, which starts the moment of conception, but to truly impact the health of the baby you should start earlier than the first 1,000 days. A perfect experience with our brand would start with a young women using our healthy snack alternative Shine Organics. This line features special blends of superfood ingredients developed for adults based on our enlightened nutrition philosophy.  When she was ready to get pregnant, she would think about how to remove some possible toxins from her life and environment, and would be mindful of how important her choices are. I'd love it if she would use our Happy Mama Prenatal line of gummies, bars and fruit + veggie blends that provide DHA, Choline and other essential nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy and developing baby.  She would try to enjoy the special time of pregnancy and get ready to nurture a new life. Ideally her work environment is really supportive too once she has the baby and adjusts to being a new mom. We love breastfeeding if that can be part of her plan, if not we will support her to find the best alternatives for baby.

And once baby was ready to begin eating solid food at around 6 months, we offer her a choice starting with our organic probiotic cereals, Happy Baby and Happy Tot pouches and snacks, recipes to make homemade too all continuing right through childhood and culminating with Happy Squeeze for older kids. We aim to give her the information she needs to make smart choices for herself and her family. The ideal outcome is a healthy and happy family.

How do you motivate your employees?

At Happy Family we provide flexibility for our employees and understand that life happens. For example, recently we reviewed our Maternity Leave Policy and committed to create individual plans for new parents. I wanted to make sure our employees could have the chance to be with their newborn. I only managed 10 days off after my son was born and now look back and wish I had been able to enjoy that time more. By supporting their needs at a life-changing moment, our employees come back to work happy and productive, and with a new set of skills that parenthood brings. All of this benefits the business.

What's next for Happy Family Brands?

We are continually developing new ways to live up to our mission: to give every child the best start in life and to help every family live a healthy and happy life – this is, and always will be, our bottom line.  In 2016 we’ll be celebrating our 10th Anniversary.  We’ll be launching exciting new product lines for babies, toddlers and beyond.  And releasing our second book.

Giving back is part of our DNA.  This year we broke ground on the Happy Family Children’s Village for orphans in Tanzania, in partnership with The Small Things.  By the end of 2016, 100 children will be living in family-style homes, staffed by around-the-clock ‘Mamas’, receiving high-quality education and healthcare.  Also in 2016, the Happy Family Foundation will launch a Community Grant Program in the U.S., funding non-profit organization projects that have a positive impact on children’s lives. The future is bright for us and we are all thrilled to be able to continue doing what we love with the same heart and passion from so many years ago.