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Q&A With Fun Gal Snacks

August 12, 2022

Fun Gal Snacks

When it comes to creating a new product, innovation is key. In our latest E-Comm Elevated podcast episode, we learn how Marilyn Yang found a gap in the snack market, turning an unlikely vegetable into a flavorful chip.

As the co-founder and CEO of Fun Gal Snacks, Marilyn has already seen a lot of success with Popadelics, her first-ever product launch released in April 2022. In today’s episode, Marilyn will share her personal approach to the CPG industry, handling feedback, getting your product to market, and so much more.

You can watch our full interview with Marilyn here. If you’d rather read than watch, you can read the transcription of our interview with Marilyn in Q&A format below:

Pete: Welcome Marilyn! To start off, can you tell our audience a little about Fun Gal Snacks?

Marilyn: Fun Gal Snacks is our parent company. Our hope for Fun Gal Snacks is for it to be a platform for all sorts of different types of innovative snacks, using what we call “underloved veggies.”

When you go to the grocery store, you see the same vegetables over and over again in the snack aisle. There’s kale, chickpeas, and definitely a lot of potatoes. We're looking to make snacks out of the vegetables that you don't tend to see at all.

The first product that we launched in April 2022 is called Popadelics. It's a crunchy mushroom chip snack made with shitake mushrooms.

Pete: Now, Popadelics is a very unique product. How did you come up with such a unique and fun product right off the bat?

Marilyn: It was actually pretty organic how it came about. My co-founder, Mike Casali, and I are actually a couple as well. In retrospect, we obviously didn't meet and immediately say, “Okay, let's go start a snack company.” But one of the things we bonded over when we first met was our mutual love of mushrooms. So looking back, it actually makes so much sense in a really funny way. We joke that Popadelics was our COVID baby. We're both actually from finance backgrounds. We both always wanted to start a company, but just never really had the right idea, and we were searching for that idea for a really long time.

During COVID, we were based in New York City. The only time we really went outside during that period was to go grocery shopping. So, to entertain ourselves, we started trying every single food in the snack aisle. We started trying some interesting stuff, like cauliflower snacks and chickpea snacks. And suddenly, we found ourselves wondering if there were any mushroom snacks out there.

What we found was that the mushroom snacks currently on the market are largely kind of boring. They’re unflavored, unbranded, and there’s just not a lot of exciting stuff going on. Meanwhile, Mike and I started seeing mushroom coffees and mushroom teas popping up. We also noticed a lot happening in the supplement space with adaptogens. It just felt like the right time in pop culture to be doing something with mushrooms. So the more we looked into it, the more excited we got. We started to realize that there wasn't anything out there like what we wanted to do, and so we just went for it.

Pete: You have a really strong background in marketing and finance, which I know played a big role in your ongoing success. How did you navigate the other areas involved in creating a CPG brand?

Marilyn: The first thing is that we acknowledged that we don’t know what we don’t know. We knew conceptually how to run a business. I come from private equity, so I've looked at companies and all sorts of different industries. But CPG is a whole different animal. And Mike and I don’t even really know how to cook. So we just knew there were areas that we needed help with in launching a snack company.

Another thing that I brought to the table from working in finance is that, in the finance world, you tend to outsource everything you can. We knew that we would need some sort of 3rd party help, whether it be in the form of a consulting firm or a freelancer formulating snacks. We pretty quickly knew that we needed help on the research and development (r&d) side. We didn't know where to start in terms of how to formulate a snack, come up with flavors, and make it commercially viable. So, we quickly started searching for different product development agencies.

The lucky break we had was with the firm that we ended up using. They're called Rodeo CPG. They're made up of former CPG entrepreneurs, and they help emerging CPG brands start their businesses. They do everything from r&d to helping with the supply chain. So they really are a one-stop shop, and we had an amazing time working with them. It was really kind of serendipitous how we connected with them. I do some angel investing personally on the side. This one company I had been looking to invest in owns a smoothie shake company. I asked her for advice in the early days in terms of how she went about founding her business, and she was the one who actually connected us to Rodeo CPG because someone from Rodeo was on her board of directors for her company. So I think we had a lot of lucky breaks, but I also think we weren’t afraid to look for outside resources. Basically, you don't have to try to do everything yourself.

Pete: Looking for someone to manage a big portion of your business can be a scary process. What are some of the things you kept in mind while you were searching for strategic partners?

Marilyn: I think a big thing is finding someone that really understands your vision. In the selection process, we spoke to a few other companies that did the same thing as Rodeo. However, these companies were more so focused on big-name clients, like Kellogg's for example. It was important for us to work with someone who's been through that entrepreneurial journey. We needed to work with someone who gets exactly where we're coming from and is also in the industry on the ground level. They know what we're trying to do with mushrooms, and they see the opportunity as well. And big kudos to them for being willing to work with us at the time, because all we really had at the time was a concept. So they were taking a leap of faith in terms of working with us.

I also think it's important for entrepreneurs to have a very clear idea of what they want. Mike and I knew we knew we wanted a crunchy mushroom snack that was flavored, which is pretty specific. We already had a picture in our head of what we wanted, and I think that made it easier to communicate to a 3rd party as well.

Pete: Over the last couple of years, something that every business has really had to learn is how to pivot effectively. However, pivoting isn’t always necessary. How can you tell when you need to implement some type of change in your business?

Marilyn: I think it's definitely something we're still trying to figure out ourselves as well. Once we released our snacks in April of this year, we started getting certain feedback. Some people didn't like that we had a certain ingredient in our ingredient list, and some people didn't like that we use the whole mushroom. It was a lot of feedback at once, and it's easy to get caught up in trying to satisfy everyone.

I think it was important for us to keep in mind that you can never please everyone. We understood that not everyone's going to gravitate towards a mushroom chip for various reasons. On the flip side, we have had a lot of people come to us and say, “I hate mushrooms, but your snacks are amazing.” Once we heard a specific type of feedback multiple times, I think we started taking it more seriously.

It also depends on who the feedback is from as well. Once we heard certain feedback from potential wholesale buyers or people who had been in the industry for a long time, that's when we really took it to heart. Obviously, you want to listen to all of your customers. But in terms of whether you should try to satisfy every single one, especially if some feedback conflicts with other feedback you’ve received, it's important to just take a step back and digest what actually makes sense.

Pete: What are some ways that you as a business have asked for feedback?

Marilyn: The first thing is we try to get everyone we meet to taste our snacks. We think of everyone as a guinea pig, so we're getting feedback from all sorts of different people. I thought this was also important because personal friends and family have tried it, but they may or may not be biased. A random service provider’s view on a snack could be very different than someone who's directly from the industry you're in. So a big thing we've been doing is informally offering everyone a set of samples.

Pete: Giving away your product with no strings attached is definitely unique. You also took a unique approach with your marketing strategy when launching Popadelics. Tell us more about the direction you decided to go.

Marilyn: Yes, it's pretty interesting how it came about. In the beginning, we knew that we would probably be more focused on DTC, though we ended up doing a good amount of wholesale as well. We're actually in 10 states already in terms of independent natural food stores. But in terms of the DTC side, I think, like many other brands, we weren't super familiar with just how effective digital marketing would be. We did want to try digital marketing, but we also found that the ROI isn’t what it used to be. And so, at the same time, we were kind of cautious. We didn't really want to spend a ton of money learning per se because, with a lot of these platforms, you need to throw money in and just see what happens. So we didn't want to waste all that money not necessarily knowing if it was going to be successful.

After the COVID restrictions were eased, we found that it often takes someone trying our snack to convert them to a customer. This is because of how new, innovative, and very different our snack is. A lot of people just don't know what to expect. So a big part of that, as a result, is that we just need people to try it. How we've gone about that is we've been doing street fairs in New York City. We’ll be at Summer Streets in NYC every Saturday this August, and we’ve done a number of other events as well.

Perhaps most exciting is that we're starting to do live events! We just announced last week that we're an official partner of the Electric Zoo Festival, which is a major EDM music festival in New York City. It's actually an event that Mike and I have personally attended several times, we're both big EDM fans. We even joked early on that, if we ever started a snack company, we would have to get it into Electric Zoo. It's a dream come true. But I think we're super excited about any sort of opportunity to sell in such a direct-to-consumer way. And this festival will be the first time we’ve sold them in-person at this scale.

Pete: Sponsoring Electric Zoo is a big deal for sure. A little birdie told me that you also have some tickets to give out.

Marilyn: Yes! Coinciding with us being at Electric Zoo as an official partner, we are also hosting a sweepstake on our website. We’re giving away 2 general admission tickets to Electric Zoo. This will gain you access to all three days at the festival. To enter, all you have to do is go to our website and sign up. Entries will be accepted until August 25th at 11:59 PM ET, and we will be picking the winner shortly thereafter and reaching out to them.

Pete: That's awesome. Marilyn, it's been a pleasure having you with us today. Any final words of advice for young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Marilyn: We talked about this some earlier, but don't be afraid to change course. We've changed course many times in small ways. We’ve always stayed true to wanting to create an innovative mushroom snack with Popadelics, but we were also able to pivot here and there.

I think what makes startups exciting is that, unlike a big corporation, you don't have to deal with all that bureaucracy if you change your mind. You can just decide that something isn’t working, and then try something else. You don't have to stay the course. I think it's important for anyone starting out to keep that in mind, that you don't have to be perfect your first time. It's okay to shift directions.

To learn more about Marilyn, check out her LinkedIn profile.

Do you or someone you know want to be featured on our podcast? Fill out our Google Form!

Electric Zoo Festival Giveaway

You and a friend could win two (2), three-day general admission tickets to Electric Zoo 3.0 in New York City, including access to the exclusive Popadelics pop-up at the festival.

Plus, five (5) secondary prize winners will receive a free Popadelics Crunchy Mushroom Chips 3-Pack, 4 Oz Variety Pack!

How To Enter:

Entries will be accepted until Aug. 25th at 11:59 PM ET, and the winner will be notified within the next 48 hours.

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