Pumpkin-spiced oats, coconut curry, Valencian paella. Getting hungry? With recipes that you would expect central to a sophisticated and well-traveled palate, Betsy Fore, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Tiny Organics, has a science-backed and research-driven mission to introduce young eaters to their first 100 flavors. She’ll share how tech and science are being used to make organic food more accessible across social and economic divides.
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The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther
Featured In This Episode
Named Forbes 30 under 30 and BBC’s 100 Most Inspiring Women, Betsy has over a decade of experience as an inventor, product founder and CEO. After growing up on a sugar roller coaster in the Midwest and since “re-engineering” her body about 15 years ago to be vegetarian, Betsy is now CEO and co-Founder of Tiny Organics. Tiny’s recipes are over 80% veggies only, and are seeking to expand the palates of a generation to prefer whole, real, rich and savory foods to last a lifetime from the very first bites. Betsy also serves on the Tufts School of Nutrition and Policy Innovation Council and was chosen by Michelle Obama’s Partnerships for a Healthier America for their baby food initiative to support veggie-forward early palate development across the nation. In addition to her efforts to propel food equity, she was also chosen by the Obama administration to serve as an entrepreneurial ambassador for the US Embassy to other countries.
Betsy enjoys building great brands and has invented over 100 products and counting. Having raised millions for her startups, she has also brought on over 40 vendor and retail partners for her companies, including telecoms. Prior to co-founding Tiny Organics, Betsy was the founder of pet wearables brand WonderWoof, which she built into an American household name. Prior to founding WonderWoof, Betsy built Mind Candy in London alongside founder Michael Acton Smith (Calm). In her time there, Moshi Monsters reached over 100M registered users online and became the top-selling toy brand in the UK.
Adriana Gascoigne (00:00):
I’m Adriana Gascoigne, founder of Girls In Tech, and this is The Girls In Tech Podcast, where we’re discussing the ways tech is always evolving and helping the world evolve too. Listen in, get inspired and learn how you can use your skills to create the change you want to see in the world. Here’s your host, Zuzy Martin-Aly.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (00:21):
There’s a company that will value you for you. There’s a tech job where your skillset and unique perspectives are appreciated. By inviting you to share the real you, the Girls In Tech Jobs Board helps you find that job so that you can take the next step in your career with confidence. Go to jobs.girlsintech.org today. That’s jobs.girlsintech.org.
Betsy Fore (00:45):
Wow, food really affects who I am, my personality and everything about it. Imagine if we could raise a generation that has that deep understanding of their own health, right? And their own gut health and their livelihood and emotions through what they’re putting in their body, and that’s really what we want to create here is that mindfulness.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (01:03):
With all the joys that come with becoming a new parent also comes plenty of stress and making sure you get it right. This is especially true when it comes to food. Homemade, store-bought, mom says this, baby blog says that — it all gets overwhelming and political fast. In today’s conversation, Betsy Fore, co-CEO and co-founder of Tiny Organics, shares how she’s using science and tech to introduce the youngest eaters to their first hundred flavors — and how on a national level innovation and technology are being used to address the very real issue of food disparities in society.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (01:39):
Betsy, thank you so much for joining us on The Girls In Tech Podcast today. Let’s talk about Tiny Organics. You’re currently the CEO and co-founder, and they’re on a mission to introduce the youngest of people to their first hundred flavors, and you’re almost entirely plant-based. I’d love an overview of what you’re trying to do and why the plant-based movement is so important.
Betsy Fore (02:04):
Absolutely, and thank you so much for having me, Zuzy. I’m so excited to be here and chat with you all today. For Tiny Organics, we believe deeply that we can shape the palates of a generation to grow up to be children that are free from chronic diseases and obesity later in life through vegetables. So it’s not necessarily a new concept that you want to feed your child as many vegetables as possible early on, but the way that we’ve approached it is completely different.
Betsy Fore (02:35):
So normally a child would come into, in the American culture, at least, purees, which they’re pretty sweet to start. And with Tiny Organics, we actually have 80% of our a hundred flavors are vegetable and savory, and we’re completely plant-based. So we’re totally vegan, no added sugar, no added salts. And there’s been so much science linked to a child experiencing vegetables from the very first bites to actually preferring them later in life and as they grow up. So we want to build a generation that truly loves vegetables and has a healthier gut health and to be honest, just life, because of it.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (03:14):
I just have to tell people about some of the flavors — pumpkin spice oats, coconut curry, Valencian paella. Yeah, I mean, this is something that is straight out of a well-traveled foodie palate that’s definitely an adult. So how do kids react to these flavors and textures?
Betsy Fore (03:35):
For us, it was so much around exploring other cultures through food, and that’s why you see kind of such diverse flavors in there. We’ve actually partnered with Tufts School of Nutrition and Policy from day one, where there is the science that proves that they can become more adventurous eaters in life if they’re exposed to these flavors early on. A lot of times we can definitely relate to this, right? Where we grow up or, or even now we have our kind of three or five rotations of recipes that we eat each week, and that doesn’t really change necessarily too much once we fall into these habits. Imagine a child getting to explore so many other flavors and recipes that you wouldn’t even be able to prepare yourself. But this is something that, yeah, it’s a whole family approach, and it is around, exactly to your point, these different flavors from around the world.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (04:29):
It’s such a stressful time when you have a child. You’re a first-time parent, and not only do you want to do the best for that child, but you don’t have time and you’re just trying to juggle, most of us, work and being a mom, so organic food and exposing them to adventurous flavors, as you call it, can sometimes put people on edge and can be controversial because mostly this is available to wealthier or middle-class families. What can you tell us about exposing everyone to these flavors? Not because it’s cool or trendy obviously, right? But because it’s better for brain development and better for later in life.
Betsy Fore (05:06):
Absolutely, yeah. This is so core to what we’re doing. My Co-CEO, Sofia, and I always talk about this. Our North Star is to reach as many babies as possible. So she’s an immigrant; I came from a little town of a few hundred people, actually it’s a village, where it was truly a food desert growing up. And so I’d seen firsthand kind of being on that sugar roller coaster that the American brands have put out there, and especially during that time. And so, when we thought about how can we make the biggest impact on as many babies’ lives as possible, we actually didn’t even know we were going to do food initially. And then when we did all the research, we realized, this is absolutely what can make the biggest impact in a child’s life long term, is that nutrition they’re getting early on.
Betsy Fore (05:51):
So our work that we do, and the reason we were recently endorsed by the former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America is because we genuinely believe and are doing the hard work now to ensure that we can have access. This isn’t rocket science, the food that we’re offering — it’s completely organic, whole ingredients — and so we are able to kind of really achieve this accessibility that we’ve dreamed of and that’s truly been our North Star when building the company.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (06:21):
What was it like, oh my gosh, being chosen by former First Lady Michelle Obama to serve on the administration’s Shaping Early Palates board? And how did this opportunity come about, and how did it change your life?
Betsy Fore (06:35):
Yeah, it’s absolutely life changing and it’s very recent. We hadn’t even launched at market yet, so her and her team had heard about Tiny Organics and the work that we were doing just with our founding families. So we partnered with Partnerships for a Healthier America back in November. We were able to go to DC and meet with them in January, prior to the pandemic, of course. But yes, it’s been a dream working with her and what’s so amazing about this is that it’s not kind of a one event and then that’s it, right? This is a three- to five-year plan that we’ve put together in partnership in order to achieve that accessibility that we talked about earlier in the call. So that’s really the bigger vision here, right? Is that we could bring this nutrition and this veggie-forward approach to the nation.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (07:18):
That’s wonderful. So nice to hear that the former first lady is still working on an extension of her Let’s Move campaign that focuses on childhood health, which is great. Tiny Organics is also, as you mentioned, a member of the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council at the Friedman School of Nutrition and Science at Tufts. What’s happening right now on that level from a tech and innovation standpoint?
Betsy Fore (07:43):
Yes, so for that council, I am co-chair of the Early Innovators Council that we have there, but from our perspective, it is working from the supply chain all the way up. So on the tech side there, we are doing a lot in terms of the algorithms around your child’s gut health. One of the things that we’re doing on the Tiny side is asking questions of our moms, that feel comfortable, of course, and we always ask, “Would you share anonymously this information with Tufts for our research?” But it’s literally, was your child born by C-section? Then they have a different gut health. Where they breastfed? They have a different gut health. And we’re able to then cater your child’s menu to that and to make sure that these organic offerings are available to everyone. And there’s a few different steps that need to happen prior to that, but that’s the biggest win here by far, right? If we can-
Zuzy Martin-Aly (08:35):
Betsy Fore (08:35):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (08:36):
Absolutely, because that’s access right there and information putting it right into the hands of moms who really wouldn’t have it otherwise. So good luck on that — that’s wonderful. I’ll be rooting for you there.
Betsy Fore (08:48):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (08:49):
I know you also use … You use texting, is that right, you use texting to communicate with your moms? What kind of tech are you using now, and what do you hope to use in the future from a technology standpoint?
Betsy Fore (09:02):
Absolutely, and it might be better to back up a little bit because I was a tech founder previous to this. So that was really my bread and butter and what I knew. I built a hardware company, and it was all around your pet’s health and wellbeing. So it was a Fitbit for dogs called WonderWoof; it was the first of its kind. So there wasn’t one on the market when I built it for my dog. So really the technology thing is a piece that we felt, my co-CEO and I, so strong in that we could like, “Okay, if we’re going to go in the child nutrition route, what does that look like from the tech perspective?”
Betsy Fore (09:31):
So we found that actually almost all of the moms that we text with early days preferred to text with us. There was only, I think, a few that wanted to go to email instead. And so it’s on the platform side on the back end, but we are also making a custom texting platform. But yeah, that, knowing your customer in the early days, I mean, there’s just nothing that can accelerate your business more is finding that true product market love. And so we were definitely able to do that quite successfully through text early days.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (10:00):
Okay, so let’s shift because you mentioned WonderWoof, but you have invented over 100 products — that’s right 100 products — which is amazing. You are a true inventor. That is so inspiring. What advice do you have for first-time inventors, because so many of us have great ideas, right? How do we avoid being intimidated, and how do we go from having a great idea to bringing it to market? And also while you’re thinking about that, I found it interesting to know that 62% of female business owners are between 40 and 59. So women decide to start companies later in their careers, so what advice do you have for women of all ages who have a great idea and want to bring it to market?
Betsy Fore (10:47):
Yep, this is something I really wrestled with early on. I didn’t know anything about the startup landscape when I … If we rewind a decade ago, what really gave me that extra oomph home was this deep, deeply rooted, “I have to fix this problem.” Right? And I think that’s where it starts, like if you see a problem and even if it doesn’t affect you personally, although that I believe really helps, if you see a problem and you just, can’t not act on it, right? For us, it was, how could I have built something that… I wasn’t in the hardware space before, and the only way it was possible is because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants literally. And I don’t say that as a cliche, it’s this is the only way that you can build something is by bringing the right folks around the table to build it with you, right?
Betsy Fore (11:36):
So you can’t be this kind of one-woman shop. At Tiny Organics, we actually have an all-female team. Something that I did early on with WonderWoof and have carried through to Tiny, is that over half my investors and half my board would be women. So we have to be the change we want to see, right? And I think that’s super important too, because when you’re choosing these early partners, be it that co-founder, or even your board of advisors, right? Because even before you get a fiduciary board from the venture capitalist side, you can start to build your kind of board of life around you, of people that you’re like, “Okay, they’re an expert in this space.” Who do I know that I could connect with to try to chat with them about whatever category it is, right? Is it marketing? Is it product?
Betsy Fore (12:23):
When I built Tiny as well, we had this incredible roster of advisors that we work with every week, even today, building the company. And so that’s something that I never knew when I started out, and I realized it as I began to build WonderWoof that it was like, “Okay, I had gotten the team around me and rallied around the vision to work for the equity, and, of course, once we can fundraise.” But one of the things that no one ever really told me is that if you can bring these advisors around the table, it just elevates everything because you’re building it together, and it’s such a bigger dream that you can then realize.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:00):
Yeah, no, and I love that because there is a very real statistic that solopreneurs and mompreneurs, they stay at a headcount of one, because we try and do everything, and it’s our idea, and we hold it close, and then you don’t scale. And that’s fine if that’s what you’d like to do, but for those that want to scale what you’re talking about here so clearly is your network, joining the entrepreneurship community where you’ll find people who have the strengths that you need, and you could have a team that will just propel you forward. I mean, that’s really great advice for people that want to get in.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:32):
So it sounds like you’re pretty fearless, too, so not being afraid to fail as we’ve heard many times, right? Go for it. Something inevitably will be wrong, it might change a hundred percent, but keep going, right? What skills do you feel are most important as an inventor or product designer, or even entrepreneur for people that want to go in that direction in any industry, but also in the food industry?
Betsy Fore (13:57):
The skillset that I would recommend the most, I learned it early on when I was a toy inventor, but to come up with a hundred ideas and whittle it down to one. So literally getting those people around the table that you’re like, “I’m going to bounce these ideas off of, we’re going to make it better. We’re going to refine it together.” So when you’re looking at a problem that you could solve, and even if you’ve brought the right folks around the table, brainstormed, you’ve refined it, just ask yourself, what impact am I making on that customer, but then at the world-at-large, right? Is that something that I want to be my legacy? It’s just so critical on those early days to really wonder and ask yourself genuinely, how can I impact more lives for the better?
Zuzy Martin-Aly (14:39):
Funding gets easier as you become more established and successful as an entrepreneur, so how did you fund your earliest inventions, which gave you that network to fund the future ones?
Betsy Fore (14:51):
Yes, so with my previous company, I did bootstrap that in London, and this was during a time when not only were there not many female entrepreneurs, but definitely in the hardware space. And there wasn’t a ton of capital actually to be had in London at that time in my category anyway, but then the fact that I was a sole founder, as well ± there was kind of so many things stacked against me, I guess. But then when I came over to the U.S., it was still such a struggle, right? And I do believe it is kind of the hardest part of any entrepreneur’s journey a lot of times, unless you can get to that point where you have the traction. Because early days when you’re at the seed or even pre-seed stage, you’re literally just selling the team and the dream.
Betsy Fore (15:36):
The only capital I was able to find after bootstrapping the company for two years was a grant from the city of St. Louis. It’s called Arch Grants, phenomenal organization. And that’s actually how I was introduced to my original angels, and through that angel network, it was folks like Maxine Clark, CEO and founder of Build-A-Bear, Jim McKelvey the co-founder of Square with Jack Dorsey. And so it was people that you would know, and if you heard them … And especially with Build-A-Bear, right? Because I was a toy inventor prior, so I was like, “This is the Holy grail” at that time in my life. But yes, early days fundraising was extremely difficult, and then it does get a little, just a little bit, easier every year as you go on.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (16:19):
Thank you, Betsy, that’s great. It’s great to hear what it’s really like, because after knowing someone that’s invented over a hundred things and is so successful, thankfully, it could feel like, “Oh, it’s easy for you.” But you’re saying, “Hey, don’t give up, keep going. And if you believe in something it’ll happen.” So thank you-
Betsy Fore (16:39):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (16:39):
Thank you for that. Any final thoughts or advice for people that are inspired by your story and want to follow suit?
Betsy Fore (16:47):
If you can dream it, you can build it. I genuinely believe that. And even if you don’t have the skillsets today to do so, you can figure out who does, right? And you can elevate those people as well around you. It’s like if you take the leap, you will be rewarded, right? Even though only how many percentage of companies actually become massive, it’s what you realize through going through these experiences is that by the time you get to those victories, you’re kind of too exhausted to celebrate. So it’s sort of like just celebrate the journey, own it and just make it yours. And when you come from that authentic place of, I am solving a real problem here, meeting a need and having an impact, you will find a way.
Adriana Gascoigne (17:36):
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. The Girls In Tech Podcast is a production of Tote + Pears. Were you inspired by what you heard today? Head over to girlsintech.org to find more resources for starting and advancing a career in tech, including our jobs board and personal and professional development programs designed to help you excel. And be sure to tune in every other Tuesday for new episodes. See you next time.
The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther