Conversation with Samantha Barnes, Founder & CEO, Raddish Kids
Cooking Up Kids’ Education
October 31, 2018
1. What is your business?
Raddish is a monthly kids’ cooking club and curriculum designed to nurture kids’ confidence in the kitchen and beyond. Everything we do is focused on food and family; we believe that the kitchen is the best place to learn and connect.
Every month Raddish ships a themed cooking kit to our customers. Each kit includes 3 laminated recipes with step-by-step illustrated instructions so that kids of all ages and abilities can follow along. The instructions are beautifully designed and, in addition to the recipes, the kit includes an activity card, a culinary tool, an apron patch, and Table Talk conversation starters. August’s theme featured “Taste of India,” and in July our theme was “Tropical Luau.” Memberships start at $20/month.
We design the kits for kids aged 4 to 14 across all learning needs. Our illustrations allow pre-readers to follow along, and we also have kids who are 12 or 13 independently making dinner for their families. Even the adults in the family like Raddish because the recipes are delicious and family-friendly that quickly become part of the meal rotation. Our new Cook+Play placemats for kids 2-5 will be available later this fall.
One of the cool things about Raddish is that we don’t repeat our content. Our themes and kits are kind of like a magazine subscription, so every single kit is brand new. This is our fifth year creating content so we’ll have shipped 60 different kits by December 2018. Raddish is a subscription service, but we think of ourselves as an education company. We are educating kids, not only how to cook, but also educating them about geography, world culture, history, science, and math. All these things that you need in the real world we can teach through in the kitchen through food.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
For years, I was a middle school social studies teacher, which was when I started my first company. “Kitchen Kid” was a mobile cooking school for kids. I started it because I saw a need for kids to learn how to cook because the interest was there through TV cooking shows, but there wasn’t any curriculum that parents could turn to. Every day at lunchtime, my students would be talking about cooking shows they watched, but their parents were either working families or busy parents or just raised in a generation where they weren’t taught how to cook. I saw this as a gap and an opportunity.
When I first started out, my business was a mobile kids’ cooking school that offered birthday parties, after-school classes, and then we evolved into a summer camp. After a year, there was enough demand that I decided to leave my teaching job and work on cooking education full time. The business started to take off, but because we are Los Angeles-based, it was a logistical nightmare of traffic, staffing, supplies, and groceries. So, I pivoted the business into a subscription education business so that we could focus more on the education side rather than the logistical side.
We still offer the summer cooking camps (we now call them Camp Raddish), which we hold onto ten years later because we love being part of our community. The kids love it, and it really helps us get kids’ feedback on test recipes. It’s fun to see what they love, what they are good at, what’s hard for them, where there are challenges.
3. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
We launched on Kickstarter and then spent three months working on our first kit. That launched in January and then right away we realized the pressure of creating themed kits for the next month. We’re creating something new every single month and thinking ahead every day, every minute. That’s been the shift: from logistics planning to content planning. Now, of course, we are working on our themes 6-12 months in advance, so we have a lot of runway.
Also, going from a mobile hands-on experience that is logistics-driven to an e-commerce company was hard. They are two totally different kinds of businesses. Now we spend a lot of time developing educational content and creating marketing materials to tell people about our business.
I started down this road 12 years ago, and I was far more comfortable identifying myself as a kids cooking teacher. It took years before I called myself a business owner. Then, Raddish began to grow, and I’m just finally at the point where I can identify as CEO.
4. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
Yes, when my first child was born, I was in the hospital and realized just hours after delivery that I had to run payroll. When you run your own business, you’re never off, and there’s really no life circumstance that takes your mind off of work. As the business has grown, I’ve gotten better about setting boundaries between work and life. But at the end of the day, as the chief decision-maker, I have to make many of those decisions no matter what.
5. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business? How so?
They have been so supportive and helpful. We launched on Kickstarter so we pushed Raddish onto friends and family and really anyone who would listen. Kickstarter is nice because it helps cultivate a group of people rooting for you. It’s really gratifying when you launch, and people are immediately throwing you their support.
My husband was especially supportive. It was many years before I was taking any kind of salary, and even once I started to take a salary it was minimal. Even though it was my business, it was really our business because he backed everything that I did. That meant every type of emotional and financial support. If I had started this business without him, it would have been a lot harder.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
I am really proud to be at the helm of a mom-owned & family-run company. I am proud that we strive to be both results-oriented and a flexible workplace. We have several moms who work from home so they can raise their kids. They consider themselves stay-at-home working moms because they don’t have to go to the office but they are writing, illustrating, and designing Raddish materials and recipes. The way we set up the culture at Raddish allows them to be the mom they want to be, so I’m really proud of that.
I also feel proud of the little successes every day. One example is when I see photos that parents post of their proud kids holding up their culinary creations. We 100,000 fans on Facebook, and we have a really active discussion group of 11,000 members. Every day it’s filled with families sharing photos. You can really see the pride and joy and confidence on their children’s faces. And the kids are making dinner for Grandma or their neighbors, feeling appreciated and supported by their families. And everyone is loving the food! These photos are proof we’re meeting our goals.
7. What are some of your current challenges?
We’re still a small team, and over the last year, I’ve stepped away from a lot of the daily execution of what we’re doing. I want to be focusing on strategy, growth, partnerships, and all the things we can be doing to go to the next level. I need to ensure that our mission and values are playing out in everything we do. But what I’ve discovered is that there’s not a clear roadmap on how to do that. My personal challenge is figuring out how I can work on the long-term projects that require deep thinking and also be available for the small daily decisions that pop up.
When you’re pulled in a lot of directions, you don’t always have the mental bandwidth to think about all those things. Right now we’re focused on expanding the team so that we can execute all the ideas we have. Getting ahead of growth can be a challenge, and we want to make sure that we onboard people before it’s too late. Right now, we are resource-constrained because we can’t push productivity any higher.
Up until last May, Raddish shipped out of my garage. Every month our backyard turned into our warehouse, and we would pack and ship all the products. It was crazy and unsustainable. We were growing fast, and it was time to put our big girl pants on. I always think about my kids and how when they have a growth spurt and their pants don’t fit anymore. We were bursting at the seams, so that’s my analogy for last year. Now I feel like we’re coming-of-age and coming into our own.
8. Have there been positive or negative impacts on your family and work/life balance once your business was off the ground?
I have always struggled with working mom guilt. No matter what. There are days where I have more guilt than other days, but I’m also proud to be a role model for my daughter and my son. But my daughter, in particular, is eight and has seen the company evolve. When we were shipping out of our yard, my kids were putting on labels on packages. Now they see the business thriving and buzzing. I try to channel the working mom guilt by focusing on the wonderful lessons they are learning as a part of an entrepreneurial family.
My husband joined the business two years ago as Raddish’s Head of Marketing. His background is in digital marketing, and he’s really good at what he does. That has definitely changed our family’s life—in a good way. People always ask what it is like to work with a spouse, but since we each have a different focus, we’re pretty much doing our own thing during the day. What has been meaningfully better is that both of us can create our own hours. We can be at any event at school and take our kid to the doctor. Now my husband is able to contribute a lot more to the caretaking of our kids. For instance, he coaches our kids’ sports teams, and he’s just more involved in their lives than when he was commuting an hour in each direction to his previous job.
9. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
I would tell myself to set big goals and not be afraid if you don’t meet them. Historically, I have been so afraid to set goals because I would have to be accountable to them. But when I look back, I’m doing way more than I thought I would have done ten years ago, or five years ago. So, I should use that advice moving forward and set goals for 10 years from now. Just because you set a goal, doesn’t mean you have to reach it. Now I’m exceeding more goals and giving myself the confidence to go after bigger things. Also to worry less. And read more!
10. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
A majority of our marketing budget is spent on Facebook, but we are also active on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest too. I love the connection I have with our customers on our Instagram account, which is why I continue to manage that account myself.
This summer we did a few new things and hosted a Facebook Live cooking camp every week. Our members could tune in from anywhere in the world and see us interact with the kids. We’d do a short demo which is just a way for everyone to experience our cooking camp regardless of their location. We also ran a contest to invite families to spend a week in L.A. and come to cooking camp.
Date of conversation: July 25, 2018
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