Caulipower founder and CEO, Gail Becker, wasn’t afraid to tap into the competitive food industry when she launched her successful company that took the frozen food section by storm. This episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street” covers the goal and vision behind Caulipower, the obstacles Gail Becker faced as a new female entrepreneur, and the support she found through NAWBO.
Gregg Stebben: I'm here with Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company, Caulipower. I'm going to say that again in case you think I said cauliflower. I didn't. I said Caulipower. The website is eatcaulipower.com. They're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram @Caulipower. Gail, welcome.
Gail Becker: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Gregg Stebben: I want to start this interview by saying that you and your company, you and your team, are 100% responsible for my dinner last night.
Gail Becker: That might be the best interview start I've ever heard.
Gregg Stebben: Well, you can hear the bag. I'm wrinkling it in the background here. I had the Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders, and they're pretty spicy for spicy-ish.
Gail Becker: You know what? Some people think they're spicy. Some people think they're not spicy, so we decided to beg the difference and call them spicy-ish.
Gregg Stebben: I'm going to really heap a lot of praise on you, your company, the product that I had for dinner last night, and what you've done. But I have to tell you one of the best advertisements I've seen in a long time was on your website. So, I knew I was going to be talking to you today. I was doing my research yesterday, and I said I'm going to go get some Caulipower product to try before we talk, because it would be rude of me not to.
Gail Becker: Thank you.
Gregg Stebben: And there was this ad on your website of a woman holding a bag of your chicken tenders. And it said, "I can't believe I ate the whole bag." Only ... I'm looking for the number here. 490 calories? I mean, I've memorized the ad. Only 490 calories. And I knew when I saw that that two things were going to happen before I went to bed last night.
I knew I was going to have some Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders. And I knew, knowing myself as I do, that I was going to do just as she did and I was going to get the entire bag.
Gail Becker: And you didn't have to feel too bad about it.
Gregg Stebben: No, I felt ... First of all, delicious. Easy to make. And the other thing that was interesting to me ... and I just want to say this because it was kind of a real lesson for me in this. I never eat frozen food. Just going to that aisle was an eye-opener for me of all the probably really unhealthy food, and there I was with your chicken tenders reading the back of the bag, and thinking of myself, "This, as promised, is a really healthy option." And it was delicious, too.
Gail Becker: Thank you. That's such a nice thing to hear. The frozen food section has changed a lot over the years for the better, definitely. There's some room to go, but the point is there's something for everybody.
Gregg Stebben: Yes, yes. Well, I discovered that. I think I found my go-to. I do not think we will ever have a freezer without at least one bag of your chicken tenders for an emergency dinner.
Gail Becker: Oh my gosh. Made my day.
Gregg Stebben: Yes.
Gail Becker: Today is all downhill from here.
Gregg Stebben: So, you're ... I hope not. I hope it only gets better and better during the course of this interview. So, the company is Caulipower. What is Caulipower? What is the company? What are your products? And how on earth did you come to make a company called Caulipower?
Gail Becker: The last question is probably the most tricky. I'll start with the easy part. Caulipower is a company that, quite simply, brings meal hacks to life. Better for you, easier, more convenient, and never sacrificing taste for nutrition or convenience. It's a frozen food company. I started it in ... I had left corporate America in May of 2016 and launched the company in February of 2017.
Gregg Stebben: So, you're a newbie at this.
Gail Becker: Super newbie. We punch above our weight.
Gregg Stebben: I want to take note of the fact that you're new in this business, and getting in the food business cannot be easy. I mean, there's a lot of hurdles you have to jump through far beyond making more common, unregulated consumer products.
Gail Becker: Yeah, no. There are definitely easier industries to go into. I will not lie. But I have to say, it's also an industry that is very welcoming of innovation, welcoming of entrepreneurs, and new blood. While in some ways it's one of the more challenging to break into, in other ways it's actually very welcoming of the innovation that is often brought by small businesses.
Gregg Stebben: Your original product, if I understand correctly, was cauliflower pizza crust under the name Caulipower. Correct? I eat a lot of cauliflower. I make cauliflower rice and things like that. I didn't know that cauliflower pizza crust was a thing. How did this become such a thing that you thought you should start a business revolving around it?
Gail Becker: I'm the mom of two boys with celiac disease, and they were diagnosed at such a young age that there was no gluten free food in the store. Every time they needed something, I would have to make it from scratch, or order it from some funky company that you never heard of online. What I began to notice over the years was how much junk the industry was putting in gluten free food. More fat, sugar, and calories, and less nutrients.
I sort of waited for the industry to do something about it. And when I saw that they never did, I decided to leave corporate America and do it myself. Now, I didn't invent cauliflower crust pizzas. I tried it one time. I've actually only made it at home one time. People find that hard to believe, but it was only one time. And-
Gregg Stebben: You mean the traditional from scratch way?
Gail Becker: Well, yeah.
Gregg Stebben: I'm assuming you've eaten your product many times.
Gail Becker: My product many, many, many times. But I'm saying when I first started, I made ... there were 569,000 recipes online. I just picked one. I couldn't even tell you which one I picked. I made it. It was okay. My sons asked if I would make it again. And I said, "There is no way I'm making that again, because it took 90 minutes to make the crust after I got home from a full day of work."
Gregg Stebben: Right? And you still have to make the pizza.
Gail Becker: And you still have to make the pizza. By the way, it's kind of insulting that people even think that I have time for that. I thought, "Well, I can't be the only one." Clearly there's all these people who are struggling to do this. I was disenchanted with corporate life. I was ready for a change. My father had just passed away, and I was really looking to do something more meaningful. I put all of those three things in a blender, and basically what I came out with was, "Hey, I know. I'm going to quit my job and start a company called Caulipower." And that is exactly what I did.
Gregg Stebben: Looking at your background and looking at it on LinkedIn ... I mean, you have a fascinating background that includes ... you were a reporter, you worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign, you made a transition from there to the Department of Health and Human Services. Then you ended up as the president of Strategic Partnerships and Global Integration for Edelman, which is a huge global ... I guess, would you call it a communications company?
Gail Becker: Yeah. It's the largest PR firm in the world.
Gregg Stebben: Okay, so the largest PR firm in the world. What's interesting is on one hand I would think, "Well, there's probably some things there that would make it easy for you to start a business." Or at least you would have some insights that others might not. But there would have been nothing there to make me think you would, again, start ... not just a food company, but a very, very specific type of food company making very specific products with this real promise. I think you called them food hacks.
But really, when I look at your product line, I think what you're really promising to do is to give me a better way to eat at home conveniently and in a very healthy way. How much of an impact, or how much of a benefit do you think you got from your previous experience? And what were the things that were the hardest for you to learn that nothing had ever prepared you for?
Gail Becker: I would say in terms of my background, the things that probably helped the most was actually my time in the corporate world. At my prior job, I ran a lot of the businesses for the company. But I also worked on a lot of clients. I had a lot of exposure to how to build a brand, how not to build a brand, and things to do from a marketing perspective that would help tell your story to consumers.
That was a huge benefit to me in starting my own brand. And it's funny when you come from the consulting world, because you sort of spend all those years giving advice to people. Sometimes they take it and sometimes they don't. One of the great things about starting your own company is you get to always take your advice.
Gregg Stebben: Or sometimes you take it and sometimes you don't.
Gail Becker: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you regret taking it. So, that was a huge help. I would say everything that was difficult had to do with the specific food industry. Being a manufacturer in that industry, making stuff ... making stuff is just hard, whatever it is. I mean, maybe food in particular. But being a manufacturer of anything is really, really tough. I had no idea.
And then learning the industry ... you know, I would go into the early sales meetings with different retailers and so forth. There were so many acronyms, and so many ways of doing things, and saying things in this tight knit community that ... I actually would leave a meeting and I had no idea what people were saying, because there were so many words that I had never heard before. So, really learning the industry, learning the jargon that went along with it, and battling it up against the big boys, as it were. When you look at the frozen pizza space, for instance.
Gregg Stebben: But you actually probably went into one of the most competitive frozen food fields, other than ice cream, that exists.
Gail Becker: Yes. I wish I had known that then. I didn't. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose. You are right. The frozen section overall is the most competitive space in the grocery store, because there's the least of it. Anyone that's in there, there is very limited space. If you come in, someone else has to go out. Today we are right up there next to the big boys, I like to say, but it certainly it wasn't like that in the beginning. It's been quite a journey, but a really remarkable one.
Gregg Stebben: I want to call out the fact that you started by making ... tell me if this is correct. Essentially, pizza crust made out of cauliflower. Hence the name Caulipower. And you were making that because you recognize that there were families like yours where flour was not a possibility. But you've expanded now.
Gail Becker: You know what? I would never say that ... I certainly didn't make it for only the gluten free community. That's why I went into it. But my thing was far more… I mean, we don't even market it as gluten free products. We market it as better tasting, better-for-you products that happens to be gluten free.
I did that because my insight as a mom of two boys growing up with celiac was that there was always ... there's an art. There was always everybody had to eat something different. My insight at the time was: wouldn't it be great if we could all just eat the same thing even if we had different reasons for eating it? Why do you have to eat something that's specifically gluten free? Why do you have to eat something that's specifically lower in calories, or lower in fat? I just thought: let's make products that really everybody can enjoy even if they have different reasons for enjoying it. Nobody has time today to make three different meals. There's something really nice about sharing from the same plate.
Gregg Stebben: Well, to an equally important if not more important business point, is when you look at it that way, the market is exponentially larger. Correct?
Gail Becker: Correct.
Gregg Stebben: Which we all love that.
Gail Becker: We also love that.
Gregg Stebben: One of the points I want to make is you went from pizza crust, to pizza, what you were saying. Now you're next to the big boys.
Gail Becker: We launched with four pizzas. Three tops, and one plain crust.
Gregg Stebben: Okay. And now there's-
Gail Becker: Now, we have more flavors of pizza, and we have tortillas. We have our brand new chicken tenders, which just launched a few weeks ago. We also have our sweet potatoes, which are a bread replacement made from sliced sweet potatoes.
Gregg Stebben: I will confess, I had some sweet potatoes last night, too. Because once I started down the Caulipower road, it was hard to stop me. I had a really great and healthy dinner last night.
Gail Becker: Oh, fantastic. Okay. Well, welcome to the family.
Gregg Stebben: Thank you. We've been talking about scale here, and one of the things that impressed me ... because you started the business in 2016, really launched the products in 2017. So, two years plus. I went to Walmart to get your products after printing out a coupon. My understanding, particularly of the food industry, is it's really hard to get into Walmart. And there you are after just two years.
Gail Becker: Yeah. It's interesting. Walmart actually brought us in pretty early. We launched in February of 2017. We were in some Walmart stores as early as October of that same year. They've been a great partner to us. One of my objectives for building Caulipower was I wanted to make better-for-you food accessible to as many people as I possibly could, and that's accessible in a number of ways. The way that the product looks, the way that it tastes, the way that our packaging is, the stores that it's sold in, the price that it's sold for, and the fact that we give a percentage of sales to help build Teaching Gardens and underserved schools across the country. Accessible nutrition is a key platform of who Caulipower is.
Gregg Stebben: You've just brought up a point about scale that I think is worthy of a little conversation here. You not only had to master the food business, but by getting into Walmart that quickly, you had to scale in some pretty dramatic ways, I would think, in terms of production and ... I don't know. Raising capital and hiring.
Gail Becker: Yes. You name it.
Gregg Stebben: I mean, Walmart does not take a chance on you. You have to prove that you're ready, I'm assuming.
Gail Becker: I think it was both. I mean, they were looking to expand their better-for-you options, so it was a really nice partnership early on. They did take a bit of a chance on me. Luckily, we've been able to prove ourselves and make the relationship work. But you are right. Scaling as fast as we did was just huge when I think back.
And we're still doing it. We're still scaling at a rapid rate. It's very much like building the plane while flying it, you know? We're trying to make it bigger, but we're also trying to run the day-to-day business. It was a huge hurdle for us. But I'm just thrilled and so proud of the team that we were able to manage and keep up.
Gregg Stebben: I'm talking with Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company Caulipower. It's eatcaulipower.com. If you think I said cauliflower, I didn't. It's Caulipower, spelled exactly the same way but a 'P' instead of an 'F.' Eatcaulipower.com on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at Caulipower.
So, this year as a sign of your success and your ability to have successfully scaled, you were awarded the Woman Business Owner of the Year award by NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners. Can you talk about how a professional network like NAWBO became a very important part of your success?
Gail Becker: One of the things that struck me early on about coming into the food industry is I sort of thought, like all the other industries that I had encountered, this is one where there'd be a lot of women at the top and involved in sort of every level. Because somehow I thought, "Oh, it was food. Clearly there's going to be a lot of women running the industry." And maybe not surprisingly, I didn't necessarily find that to be true. Obviously there are some, but not nearly enough.
I also struggled with seeing how difficult it was for female entrepreneurs to raise VC money. When I started to read some of the statistics, it blew me away. Only 2% of VC money goes to fund female-led companies. That's outrageous. Even though they perform better. So when I started to put that all together in my head, it really became important to me to support other female business owners and entrepreneurship.
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As I always say, if you want to see more female businesses, there is only one thing you can do. That is support more female businesses. Buy their products, tell your friends, share their social media. That's the only way that we're going to ever break the cycle.
As it relates to NAWBO, NAWBO was really a strong part of that. It's so interesting to me because I am new to NAWBO, but obviously now I'm forever a fan and a member. But when I went to the conference, I have to say I was just blown away by what I saw there. I have never been in a business setting like that where so many people were just cheering each other on. Doesn't matter who won the award for whatever category. People were dancing for each other and cheering each other. I had people fixing my jacket before I went on stage. I mean, when does that happen? It doesn't ever happen.
I was just blown away by the camaraderie and the generosity. I have since had several other female business owners reach out to me that maybe we could do work together through Caulipower in some vendor relationship, and what have you. It's just this wonderful network to be a part of. And to remind each other that we're all in this together and we're all trying to make this world a little bit better than we found it.
Gregg Stebben: I find it really interesting that a large part of your initial motivation for going to your first NAWBO meeting and other organizations like that was not to get something, but to give something. Because I think ... I mean, it's a bit of a stereotype, but I think we find in business that often women just have a very different view of the world of business that men do. I think you've really just illustrated that.
Gail Becker: Well, it's so interesting because there's been a lot written about this. This is not me saying it. But whenever you talk to female entrepreneur ... I've sat on a number of panels now and I've heard a lot of stories. They're always motivated by trying to improve people's lives, trying to make things better, trying to make things easier, trying to help people.
I can't tell you how much I hear that motivation over and over again. I think that's one of the reasons that actually accounts for the success of female business owners, which has a better rate of return from venture capitalists than actually men do. I think the reason is is because that mission is so clear, and so empowering that it just ... you can't help but succeed. It's really quite remarkable.
Gregg Stebben: Okay. So I have one last question for you, Gail. She's Gail Becker. She's the founder and CEO of the company Caulipower. It's eatcaulipower.com on Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram @Caulipower. The question is this: you've grown so fast, what's next?
Gail Becker: Sleep.
Gregg Stebben: It sounds like you've earned that, and I'm not surprised to hear you say that. But once you wake up ... and I'm sure you're looking ahead to a new year-
Gail Becker: I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. No, I would say that we have a lot of new products coming out that we're super excited about. Our chicken tenders, which are baked, not fried. And really a huge category buster in terms of what else is out there. Those are just launching now. We also have some new products coming out next year, which we're very excited about. And just continuing to grow our footprint, and help people, and most importantly, build a lot more Teaching Gardens.
Gregg Stebben: I want to mention the name of the product, the chicken. We've been calling them chicken tenders, but the name really deserves to be called out.
Gail Becker: I like it. Go for it.
Gregg Stebben: The name of the product is New Chick on the Block. And part of your advertising slogan is, "No Clucking Way!" I mean, you have just really ... I'm sure your background at Edelman didn't hurt. From the name of the company, Caulipower, to New Chick on the Block. No Clucking Way. You've really clearly identified a market. We know you have, because look at your growth, and your sales, and your success. But everything that I looked at in preparing to talk to you spoke to me exactly the way it should after identifying me as a potential customer. Really, I'm very impressed and I'm not surprised at all with the success that you've had. I want to thank you for joining us.
Gail Becker: Well, thank you. That's really lovely to say. The industry has to remember that food is never precious, that the only thing precious about food are the people that you share it with. We like to have fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We remind people that food is joy, and there's nothing wrong with having a bag that makes you smile.
Gregg Stebben: New Chick on the Block. I hope you don't mind me mentioning, I did not realize that the chicken tenders were just a few weeks new on the market.
Gail Becker: Yeah, I know. Oh my gosh, I love it.
Gregg Stebben: Great, great. If you go to the website, again, it's caulipower.com. Just like cauliflower, but it's Caulipower. A 'P' instead of an 'F.' And when you get there, you can do what I did. There's a $2 off coupon for the chicken tenders. Very cleverly, you've picked a great vendor for managing that. Because when I printed out the coupon, it also gave me the address of the four closest stores. No matter which direction I went, I had to drive past a place that I knew I could get the chicken tenders, and I'm so glad I did. I had a great dinner last night. And I've had a great conversation with you, Gail. Thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for enriching my when-I'm-home-alone-and-hungry dinners. Because I'm going to be eating a lot of your Spicy(ish) Chicken Tenders.
Gail Becker: Oh, well that's the best kind of endorsement I can hope for. Thank you so much. I had a great time.
Gregg Stebben: Thank you.