Balanced Hustler: Meet Agatha Achindu, Founder of Yummy Spoonfuls
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
Agatha Achindu, an IT executive turned integrative nutrition coach and yoga teacher, is the founder of Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby & Tots Food—and a personal inspiration of mine. A farm girl at heart, she was raised on her parents’ organic farm in Cameroon, West Africa. Her passion for sharing this deep knowledge of healthy food inspired her to leave a corporate IT career to change the way Americans feed their babies. As a change agent and innovator, Agatha shook the grocery industry with a new approach to convenience food, all while risking her personal financial safety (the full story below) to make it happen.
Now, she engages audiences worldwide as a panelist, keynote speaker, media personality and writer. She regularly contributes to the Washington Post, and lectures graduate-level business classes at leading universities. Agatha encourages people to create a better world by living their dreams, and realizing their full potential. I especially love her approach to entrepreneurship and self-love, which she goes into awesome detail about in our latest #BalancedHustler interview.
Fast Facts: Agatha Achindu
When did you launch Yummy Spoonfuls?
In one sentence, tell us why you started Yummy Spoonfuls.
For years, I offered free workshops on my free time to teach parents how to make nutritious food for their children because there was nothing on the market. In 2006, I founded Yummy Spoonfuls, making food just like you would at home with no preservatives, additives or fillers, and immediately frozen like we all do in our home kitchens. It was to meet the needs of busy parents around the country who wanted the best for their children, but don’t have the time to make it. No child should eat food that has been sitting on the shelves for two years.
How much did you invest to get the business started and how did you get the capital to start?
When I say I risked it all to launch Yummy Spoonfuls, it isn’t being overly dramatic—it’s the simple truth. Our 401K, all our personal savings, the kiddos’ 529 [college savings] were all poured into the brand, a total of more than half a million dollars.
How long did it take for the business to get profitable?
Profitability is overrated, seriously, especially for a startup. I believe this is something that is not spoken about enough that gives small business owners so much angst. I was able to break even around the fifth year in business, I believe, when the business was able sustain itself. There was very little extra left, but boy the feeling when I was able to pay each and every bill from what the business made was a magical time. Fifteen years later, we are in Walmart and the picture is much different.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
I am growing the business to change the way we feed our children—it’s a tall order, I know. So much of their health depends on what they eat. At the moment, the mission of making food like parents would at home is our number one priority.
How many hours a week do you work when you started vs. now?
I still work crazy hours, which I know many small business owners can easily relate too. I am, however, so grateful that today, despite the long hours, I don’t wear as many hats like I did in the past. We have a wonderful team, so I work long hours in the areas I am most passionate about.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
Our goal is to make Yummy Spoonfuls a one-stop healthy feeding destination for parents by adding more meal options across breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. And we want to be more accessible via new retail partners.
How Agatha Balances the Hustle
Talk to us about the difficulties and differences you experienced when you made a move from West Africa to the U.S. in terms of food availability and convenience.
When I first arrived in the United States in 1990, I was so excited to get here. Everything about America was grandiose to me; just as fabulous as is shown in the magazines—until I stepped into the grocery store. I remembered walking in and there was a small section for produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) and the rest of the aisles were filled with cans and boxes of pre-packed foods that had none of the natural vibrancy of food as I knew it. I had never in my life seen anything like that. Coming from a culture were food is harvested and immediately eaten, it was a huge culture shock for me.
My expectation was that food in America would be so much better than in Cameroon and Nigeria because ‘it was America!’ The reasons why anyone would eat food that has been cooked and placed on a shelf for years didn’t make sense then, and still doesn’t make sense to me today. I used to go to a different city to buy grass-fed beef. Today, you can easily find better options at any grocers; back then we had to go to the butcher.
True story: The first time my parents visited, I went to the farmers’ market with my Mami, and while I was looking at the beef labels, she looked at me wondering what was going on. “Why don’t you just grab a package of beef? She asked. I told her I was looking for grass-fed beef. Oh, the look on her face! “What do you mean by that, Agada? All cows eat grass.” “Not in America, Mami,” was my reply.
I am so grateful today that fresh organic produce is now more easily accessible, and farmers’ market are sprouting up all over the place, thanks to all the amazing farmers who still continue to do the backbreaking work to grow food free of harmful toxins. I have been all the way to Capitol Hill to advocate for them.
You started Yummy Spoonfuls with your own capital. When did you start to borrow money or look for investment and why did you go that route at that point?
When founded Yummy Spoonfuls in 2006, we funded our start-up with our savings, including our 401K, then the kids’ 529 [college savings] and, in hindsight, I wished I had taken a loan at the very beginning when I had money and good credit rather than risked everything we had including our home (that is another interview—what not to do, hahaha).
By 2010 we were in Whole Foods (Southern region), Dean and DeLuca, Amazon and a host of independent natural supermarkets. We couldn’t make food fast enough to support demand. Parents were desperate for my made-from-scratch delicious, wholesome food made like they would at home, with nothing artificial added to it. We had outgrown our capacity, and we needed funds to scale up.
Despite the fact that we had a top-selling product, that had been sustaining itself for years, getting a bank loan as a brown skin girl in the organic food space was trickier. “People don’t care for organic—if they did, the big food companies would have already jumped on it” was what I heard from major lenders. People don’t have a clue how difficult it is to raise money as a brown person, especially a girl child in America. Finding money from a source that also believes in my mission of changing how children are fed was important. Grateful it all turned out well.
You’re a mom and the founder of a very successful business. What gives? What do you let fall by the wayside when something has to go?
I get asked this question all the time—‘how do you do it all?’ And my answer is simple. I don’t. God has been purposeful in my life, blessing me with a partner who is a hands-on, 50 percent, full-time parent. I love being a mother, wife and business owner, I honestly have zero mama guilt. I believe with all my heart that we all have a right to live our destiny; my children, husband and I, no one more than the other, we work hard to make sure each and every one lives up to their God-given potential.
When our youngest was 10, I had completely forgotten about spring break. Sunday night at dinner, he asked if I was traveling to LA for work tomorrow (Monday) “Yes!!,” I said, and was surprised he asked, since this is never an issue. And, boom, he reminded us that he was officially on spring break. That was crazy. My flight was at 9 a.m. Georges and I got on the phone, trying to find a last-minute camp for him.
Cutting a long story short, we were able to find a music camp (he hates music), and got him there at 7 a.m. because I had a plane to catch. There were eight beautiful girls and a four-year-old boy there, and my son burst out crying. He rarely cries—it was one of the hardest day of my life. I hugged him, and told him to sacrifice this day for me—”I know you hate this, but mama has to go to work,” I told him. “You know how I take you to putt-putt golf on Fridays, you know the African in me cries every time, but I do it because I love you so much. I really hate it and don’t even like soccer, but you love it and that makes me do it.”
And he looked deep into my eyes and said, “I am going to love this camp for you mama.” I kissed his little handsome face, got into my car and cried all the way to the airport—it broke my heart, but I didn’t feel guilty going to work. When I got back, guess what we did on Friday? Putt-putt golf.
Don’t let mom guilt stop you from living your God-given purpose. We can be amazing mothers, business owners or employees simultaneously. Motherhood doesn’t limit us; it expands us to our fullest capacity. Give yourself permission to do what gives you joy. Doing what you love doesn’t make you a bad mother—it makes you HUMAN. Lose the guilt; you are worth it.
How do you prioritize self-care?
The older I get, the more I realize the power of self-love. As women, we take care of everyone else, but we sometimes forget to extend the same care and consideration to ourselves. Only when we are healthy, vibrantly happy and full of energy can we truly make a difference in our world and beyond. Remember you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of and doing things for others is a great way to show how you love them. Taking care of yourself shows how much you love YOU. Be good to you first.
There is more to self-care than a mani-pedi or day at the spa. It starts with prioritizing yourself. Seek that which gives you joy and do it consistently. I have scheduled date nights with Georges—even when we had no money to go out, we kept our date nights (today, a staycation is fashionable). Except if someone needs a kidney from us, nothing moves that date/time.
I am dutiful about going to the gym, going to church, playing cards with my boys, traveling, and yes, cooking. My joys are scheduled like everything else on my calendar—I am that intentional about it.
In hindsight, is there anything you wished you’d done differently when building your business?
Taking the time to celebrate every milestone, no matter how small. We missed so much because we were so focused on the hustle. I remember when we made it into Whole Foods, it was just another day. Today, looking back, I now know how important a moment that was for a start-up.
You left an IT executive position to start Yummy Spoonfuls. What was that process like and when did you decide to make the leap to full-time working on the new business?
Fear of the unknown is the killer of so many business ideas. I knew I had a solution to a problem that so many parents in my community and beyond needed. I remembered Georges and me talking through our fears of me giving up my steady paycheck and turning us into a single-income home. His belief in me made me believe in myself. I also knew that for this to succeed, I had to give my 100 percent—it wasn’t going to work as a side hustle.
Agatha’s Advice to Entrepreneurs
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs who want to start a business?
Well, basically I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to consider three things: authenticity, support and money. It is most important to make sure that your idea flows from your passion and your gifts. Your idea has to be authentic to you, it has to be the thing that gets you out of bed every day, because it isn’t going to be easy!
Second, you will need an excellent support network. Owning your own business can afford a level of freedom and flexibility that allows you to really have it all. But one person cannot do everything. You will need partnerships—spouse, family members, friends and others, who want to help.
And, last but not least, you will need a sound financial plan. My husband, Georges, and I invested everything we had in the business. It was terrifying, and could have gone badly, but God had our backs. In hindsight, it would have been better to gain financing for the business before quitting my job as an IT executive—that way, we would have been able to save our own money for the future.
And if you are a woman… Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t follow your career dreams because you’re a mom. You have ideas and passion to bring to the world. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t live your life fully and completely fulfilled, because your path can include a multiplicity of things. You can be a great mom and have a great career. Do surround yourself with positive, supportive people; do nurture yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You can’t care for others or fulfill your potential without caring for yourself first. You are worth it.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
When you need an answer, don’t be afraid to go straight to the top. Don’t waste time with non-decision makers.
What failure have you learned most from?
The hardest lesson I learned was borrow when you have money. I know it sounds crazy, but it is the truth. It is better to have it and not use it, than to come up short when you need it. And as a business start-up, you are going to need it. When I left my job as an IT executive for Agilisys to start Yummy Spoonfuls in 2006, I was credit worthy, so I funded my start-up using my own resources, and I believed that if I needed money down the road, I would simply go to the bank and borrow the funds. Access to credit had never been an issue, so it never crossed my mind that I would not be able to take out a loan.
But what a mistake that was, because a few years in, I had gone through all of my own money, our 401K and family savings, and needed more to keep going. By that time, I was in a very different position. I had no steady income, no job, and my husband and I had spent all of our savings—everything—and our only asset was our home. Lenders turned me down for business loans because I was no longer credit-worthy, having bootstrapped the business for years. There was no way to collateralize a loan at that point.
In hindsight, the perfect time to get a bank loan would have been in the beginning, when I was credit-worthy. Rather than using up all of our personal resources, I could have leveraged my healthy financial position to secure funding before I even left my corporate job.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
As an IIN (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) alumni, self-care is a huge area of focus because of how important it is to our overall health and wellness. Epictetus said it best: “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” To me, a balanced hustler is believing in my core that I, Agatha, have the RIGHT to live MY life fully and vibrantly without guilt, and in full gratitude each and every day.
I pour the same love into myself that I so freely give to my family. It is not just about going for a mani/pedi and occasional massage—it is believing and living every moment with the same love I want for my children. Life is way too short to be anything less than the very best.
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.