7 Ingredients for Eating Well & Feeling Great with Slender Seven’s Nikki Azzara

August 31, 2015

 
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Festival edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful Washington, D.C., and we are so excited to have with us, Nikki Azzara. She is the founder and CEO of Slender Seven. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much for having me. John Shegerian: Oh yeah. This is exciting. I mean, we’re going to get to taste some of your great products here. So, Nikki, your website is www.slenderseven.com, and before we get talking about your great product, I would love you to tell us about Nikki Azzara. Talk a little bit about your journey. How did you get interested in being an entrepreneur and being one that is interested in health and nutrition? Nikki Azzara: Definitely. Well, I was always raised very healthy. I’m a very healthy eater. Never in my life have I had fast food. John Shegerian: Wow. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. So that is my “fun fact.” John Shegerian: That is a good fact, actually. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: Where’s mom and dad? Nikki Azzara: Yeah, exactly. John Shegerian: We’ve got to get them to do some promotion. Nikki Azzara: Exactly. And I’ve always been interested in cooking. I’ve had family members that are kind of – I have one that is a professional chef, one that was just a gourmet chef, so I always loved helping them out for holidays and family gatherings. So it’s always been an interest of mine, but then sophomore year of college I found out I was gluten-intolerant. So I think just with the timing everything kind of fell into place. I started experimenting with my own recipes, trying to find healthier alternatives, coming up with my own recipes etc. John Shegerian: Were you a vegetarian or vegan before any of this? Nikki Azzara: No. John Shegerian: OK. Nikki Azzara: And I’m actually not vegetarian or vegan. John Shegerian: OK. Right. Nikki Azzara: Just now gluten-intolerant. John Shegerian: Right. Nikki Azzara: So I haven’t had gluten in three years. John Shegerian: Wow. Nikki Azzara: But I was in the business school at Wake Forest University, and I just had started having these ideas to do something with the recipes, but didn’t think much of it and really just kind of started writing things down. Finally, senior year of college, I was in an entrepreneurship course in the Wake Forest School of Business, found inspiration to launch the website, which would allow me to share all of my healthy recipes using seven ingredients or less. John Shegerian: No kidding. Therefore the name “Slender Seven.” Nikki Azzara: Exactly. John Shegerian: Seven ingredients or less. Nikki Azzara: Yes. So right now I have over 550 recipes and an app that is an extension of the website. John Shegerian: And again for our listeners and viewers out there, Nikki’s website is www.slenderseven.com. And can they download your app from the website? Nikki Azzara: Actually, it will direct you to the app store. John Shegerian: OK. Nikki Azzara: But it is available for iPhone. John Shegerian: And how many years ago did you launch the website? Nikki Azzara: November of 2013. So I just graduated last May. John Shegerian: Oh. Nikki Azzara: Yeah, so I’m still fresh out of college I would say. John Shegerian: Wow, you’re fresh out of college and you’ve got this business venture. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: How has it been going? Nikki Azzara: Great. So when I graduated last May, the big question was, “How will I monetize the brand?” John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: Because I had the website. I hadn’t launched the app at that point, so I was really just trying to put my business mind to it and figure out how to monetize the brand. I worked over the summer, built the app, had someone help me with that and then figured out that my recipe for cookie dough could be a viable product in the markets. So I spent all fall developing that, working on the logistics and then didn’t launch it until early 2015 and got into my first stores in April. John Shegerian: Congratulations. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much. John Shegerian: So your idea was to sell the cookie dough both online and offline? Or no? Nikki Azzara: So I started by selling it – actually, I did a crowdfunding campaign. John Shegerian: How did that go? Nikki Azzara: It went really well. I raised $10,000 dollars. John Shegerian: And how long did it take? Nikki Azzara: Thirty days. John Shegerian: Awesome. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: On which platform? Nikki Azzara: I used Tilt. John Shegerian: Tilt. Nikki Azzara: Because it was actually started by a Wake Forest graduate, so I wanted to keep it in the family. John Shegerian: Keep it in the family. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. Ended up raising close to $10,000 dollars, and that helped me with all the start-up funds and it also helped me pay for the Union Kitchen membership. John Shegerian: Awesome. Nikki Azzara: And that is a culinary incubator here in D.C., where I operate and produce the product. John Shegerian: And you’re a local? You grew up here locally? Nikki Azzara: Yes. Montgomery County, so about 20 miles outside the city. John Shegerian: That’s great. And for our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Nikki Azzara. She’s the founder and CEO of Slender Seven, and you can find her at www.slenderseven.com. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: So you launched the product. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: What store did you get in? Nikki Azzara: So I am in all seven locations of Yes! Organic Market – it’s a chain here in D.C. I’m in a store in Potomac, Maryland and I’m in the new Union Kitchen grocery store in Capitol Hill. John Shegerian: So talk about a morning getting ready for a pitch. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: Explain what kind of “night before” and “morning of” going in before you landed one store. Nikki Azzara: Right. So it’s very new still. I’ve really only pitched Yes! Organic and Potomac Grocer, which is the store in Potomac, Maryland. The Yes! Organic one that was the first kind of suspenseful panel type pitch where I was sitting in front of three of the buyers. John Shegerian: And you were there by yourself? Nikki Azzara: I was there with our Union Kitchen distribution manager but pitching it by myself. John Shegerian: It was all you. Nikki Azzara: Just me. John Shegerian: Wow. And how old are you? Nikki Azzara: I’m 23. John Shegerian: Twenty-three. So did you read any blogs online? Did you have any inspirational books in entrepreneurship? What prepped you for the pitch? Nikki Azzara: I think the pitch itself, when it came time to actually pitch stores. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: I had really been practicing the pitch through sampling events and different promotional things that I had been doing not being in stores yet but just a lot of opportunities to get my brand and product out there. So I had the pitch down, did a taste-testing and made sure the product was up to everyone’s standards before I pitched it to the buyers. But I just remember that morning waking up, going into Union Kitchen, dressing nicely for the panel members and sitting there and just. John Shegerian: Was it men or women that you were pitching? Nikki Azzara: It was two men and one woman. John Shegerian: So you go in. Nikki Azzara: I go in. John Shegerian: What time of day was that pitch? Nikki Azzara: I think it was like a 3:00. John Shegerian: So it was 3:00. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. John Shegerian: So you had all day to think about it. Nikki Azzara: All day. But at that point, I was ready. John Shegerian: We’re you calm and in the zone? Nikki Azzara: Yeah. I was in the zone. I was definitely in the zone. Calm. I felt confident about my product. John Shegerian: And you went in with this? Nikki Azzara: I went in with this, and I have one more flavor. John Shegerian: What was the other flavor you went in with? Nikki Azzara: So this one is chickpea based and the other one is black bean based. John Shegerian: OK. Nikki Azzara: I can tell you more about the products soon. John Shegerian: We’ll talk about it. Yeah. Nikki Azzara: But it’s our choco-chick flavor and then we have a choco-fudge. John Shegerian: So now you start the pitch. Nikki Azzara: So I start the pitch. John Shegerian: Was it going the way you thought? Nikki Azzara: So, for a while, I felt like I was kind of doing some small talk. My hands started sweating a little under the table. John Shegerian: That’s OK. Nikki Azzara: And one of the buyers asked me, “Does this exist in the world?” and I looked at him and I said, “No, that’s why I’m trying to do this now.” John Shegerian: “That’s why I’m here.” Nikki Azzara: So he looked at the distribution manager and said, “OK. We want her in all seven stores as soon as possible.” John Shegerian: So you knew right there in the pitch. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. John Shegerian: That the pitch went well. Nikki Azzara: And that doesn’t happen often I heard. John Shegerian: It doesn’t. Nikki Azzara: So it was a little confidence boost, especially because I had been working so hard to get the product out there, but until you get into stores, it’s all kind of theoretical. John Shegerian: So when you got out of the meeting…. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: First phone call? Nikki Azzara: No phone call yet. I walked downstairs. In the kitchen, three of my friends that also work at Union Kitchen were there and they were giving me hugs and high-fives, and it was just really exciting. John Shegerian: Then, when you had to make the first call. Who got the first call? Nikki Azzara: My dad. John Shegerian: Dad. Nikki Azzara: Yep. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Nikki Azzara: So I called my mom, called my dad. John Shegerian: Can we try this? Nikki Azzara: Absolutely. John Shegerian: OK. Right here on the air. This is a little bit of a mini pitch on Green Is Good. Nikki Azzara: Would you like me to give you the full pitch? John Shegerian: Yeah. Go on give me the pitch. Nikki Azzara: OK. So this is a healthy, eggless, organic bean-based cookie dough. John Shegerian: Bean-based. Nikki Azzara: Bean-based. So garbanzo beans are the main ingredient in this flavor. There is no gluten, flour, dairy, soy or peanuts. Completely safe to eat raw. You can also bake it into a soft bake cookie. John Shegerian: And it’s vegan for vegans like me. Nikki Azzara: Yes. No gluten, flour, dairy, soy, peanuts. The only thing is that there are almonds, so for people with tree nut allergies…. John Shegerian: That’s delicious. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much. John Shegerian: Oh my god. That is yummy. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. So the nice thing is that even though we’re positioning it as a cookie dough – thank you so much. John Shegerian: I wish I had a store to put you in. This is it. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: You’re in! You’re in the pitch! You win! Alright, so. Nikki Azzara: It’s low in sugar. There are only five grams of sugar per two tablespoons. John Shegerian: I’m having another spoon of this. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. Dig in. Please. John Shegerian: Oh my gosh. Nikki Azzara: It’s all for you. And, I mean, there is protein, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants, so a lot of times we position it as not only eating it for dessert, but it’s a lot healthier than a lot of breakfast options. You can put it in oatmeal. Eat it with a banana like almond butter. John Shegerian: Delicious. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: I could even put that on toast really. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. Exactly. John Shegerian: So first day. When did this actually get into the stores? Nikki Azzara: So this got in, I think, it was that Friday right before Easter. John Shegerian: OK. Nikki Azzara: So we got into all seven Yes! Organic Markets. A few weeks later got into the Potomac Grocery store and then when Union Kitchen opened their corner store in Capitol Hill we got in there as well. John Shegerian: And how have the sales been going since you’ve been in? Nikki Azzara: Really well. I mean, sometimes I feel like it’s difficult, because it’s just me, so it’s hard to be demoing and really pushing the product when I am actually making it in the kitchen. But I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to hire people and be the face of the company and go to more sales and pitching and demoing. John Shegerian: Which let’s talk about what you’re doing today at the Green Festival. Nikki Azzara: Yes. Exactly. John Shegerian: What was your goal here? Nikki Azzara: I think the main goal here is just to get the product out there, especially with people that are walking through. It’s a lot of local D.C. residents that are actually able to go buy the cookie dough in stores. John Shegerian: Right. Nikki Azzara: So for me if they’re not buying it here I try and encourage them to go to the different locations, buy it in stores, follow us on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, visit our website for the recipes. John Shegerian: How has the feedback been online? What are your consumers telling you about the product? Nikki Azzara: I’ve been getting really positive feedback, so I think that’s one thing that kind of boosts my confidence as I continue to go through this journey. I’m trying to – within the next few weeks – launch the online sales for the cookie dough. The obstacle is that it’s a refrigerated product. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: But I’m working with a company that’s going to help me ship it using a special insulated shipping system. John Shegerian: How are you going to raise money for the next round of growth? Nikki Azzara: Hopefully, the next round will be actual investors, whether it’s friends, family or people that have a personal stake in either the idea or my personal life. John Shegerian: Are we going to see you on Shark Tank anytime soon? Nikki Azzara: I don’t know. John Shegerian: Do you watch it? Nikki Azzara: I watch it sporadically. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: But I’m kind of more interested in finding investors that either back me or back the idea. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: Believe in the company. John Shegerian: I got you. Nikki Azzara: And are more willing to work with me and kind of be like a board of advisors. John Shegerian: What did mom and dad do? Were mom and dad into sustainability, or were they entrepreneurs, or how did they inspire you along the way? Nikki Azzara: My mom actually is a great role model. She is the CFO of a company. She’s also a CPA accountant, so she is in the financial services business. John Shegerian: Right. Nikki Azzara: But obviously inspiring because she is very successful in what she does. John Shegerian: Sure. Nikki Azzara: My dad is a financial advisor, so they’re both kind of more by the book. John Shegerian: Wow. Nikki Azzara: So sometimes we don’t see eye to eye because I’m more like, “No, it will happen. Let’s just see how it goes,” and I’m less rigid about the numbers, and I’m more willing to just take the risk and go for it. John Shegerian: Well, that’s what entrepreneur visionaries do. Nikki Azzara: Exactly. But it is nice having them to make me step back and see the financial implications and understand what goes into it on more of like a numbers. John Shegerian: What’s your mission? If I met you today on the elevator and we were going up in the elevator…. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: What is the mission and guiding philosophy of Slender Seven? Nikki Azzara: Our philosophy is “cook simply, eat healthy and feel happy.” John Shegerian: Man, I love that. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. So it really started with the website – all healthy recipes using seven ingredients or less – but my goal for the company is that all different facets of the brand will be more of a lifestyle brand so you have the website, you have the app, but you also will have products. Maybe eventually introduce more of like a workout section of the website or really just incorporating that healthy lifestyle. John Shegerian: That’s right. Nikki Azzara: Yeah. John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about your ingredients and sourcing them. How important is that to you? Nikki Azzara: So that’s one of my main goals with Slender Seven is transparency, simplicity and just the specific nature of the ingredients. This one has seven ingredients – obviously to fit the brand criteria – and I’m using organic garbanzo beans, organic lemon juice, organic virgin coconut oil. So just very specific ingredients. For example we’re also using pink Himalayan sea salt rather than table salt because it’s the purest salt out there right now. So the ingredients are No. 1 priority for me. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: I think that’s also part of the reason why it’s more of a quality item. I’m not just buying random chickpeas with calcium chloride and preservatives. I’m using organic garbanzo beans that are just cooked with water. And it’s really important for me to stick to that. John Shegerian: I mean, this is for everyone, including moms with kids. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: People watching their weight. People who are gluten-intolerant. Nikki Azzara: Exactly. John Shegerian: I mean, this hits almost every trend line that literally has a kegger that looks like that right now. Nikki Azzara: Exactly. And I think too just in general there is such a trend towards healthier alternatives to foods, so you don’t have to be vegan, you don’t have to be gluten free. This is just a healthier way for you to enjoy a sweet tooth. John Shegerian: And not give up anything in taste or quality. Nikki Azzara: Exactly. John Shegerian: Except you gain everything back, and you keep your health in good shape. Nikki Azzara: Right. John Shegerian: How much money do you need to get your vision out there? Nikki Azzara: That’s a good question. Right now, I’m kind of in this routine where I’m managing the production. I know what my schedule is. But I foresee in the near future obviously getting into stores and hopefully distributing across the country. My next step would be finding a co-packing facility so I can pay someone to do it for me. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: So I’m just in the process of beginning to look into that now and don’t really know how much money I will need but working on it. John Shegerian: When you follow paradigms that have had massive success, this is one of these great little niche products. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: That can go to the moon. You could be the next Ben and Jerry’s of this space. Nikki Azzara: Right. Hopefully. John Shegerian: Or Chobani yogurt. Nikki Azzara: Yes. John Shegerian: What business plan are you following, and what paradigm are you trying to model after here? Nikki Azzara: So it’s nice being in this industry, because I think a lot of companies have been successful with taking their dorm room products, which is essentially what this is. John Shegerian: Right. Nikki Azzara: And turning it into large food empires. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: So, I mean, a lot of companies I modeled this off of is like Chobani or Justin’s Almond Butter or people like that. John Shegerian: Great brands. Nikki Azzara: Right. So I think kind of next steps – like you were saying – would be finding people to invest and back the idea and help me find more employees and people to do a lot of the work for me on the scale of just making it so that I can focus on the sales, the marketing. I would love to bring in someone that has a lot of industry experience to help me. That’s the nice thing is that because I am so young I really don’t know that much. John Shegerian: That’s OK. Nikki Azzara: So I would love to bring in someone that knows more than me and can help me with the mission and the company and help me grow to be like a Justin’s or a Chobani or companies like that. John Shegerian: You know, Nikki, one thing I’m seeing here, which gives me so much hope, is you’re maybe the sixth or seventh millennial that I’ve interviewed today here that is just doing something that is making the world a better place. Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: And they’re not only on fire for making a nice living for themselves, but they’re on fire for the mission that they’re putting forward. Is that something you’re seeing among your generation more than ever before? Nikki Azzara: I definitely think so. I mean, just seeing my friends and how everyone’s eating behavior is so different, how boys and girls love this and there is no – you don’t have to be gluten intolerant. You don’t have to be vegetarian. Everyone is kind of working on this healthier lifestyle. So I think the fact that my generation is capitalizing on that and trying to come up with products and innovative solutions to help this trend, I mean, it’s really cool seeing people my age starting these companies. Especially at Union Kitchen, there are about 55 food startups in there. All different ages but a lot of young like me. Three of my friends from Wake Forest University started a food truck, so they’re in there also. It’s just really cool to see all this innovation and kind of everyone working towards the same goals on a different path. John Shegerian: What advice do you have for the entrepreneurs behind you or in your age range that want to be the next Nikki Azzara? Nikki Azzara: Thank you. John Shegerian: Yeah. Nikki Azzara: I think my biggest piece of advice and something that I’ve been so fortunate to kind of observe just talking with friends that aren’t doing what they love, finding something you’re passionate about and working on building your career into that just makes such a difference in life because every day you’re kind of excited to go to work. You’re passionate about it. You don’t feel like you’re working. You’re really doing something that has a purpose, and it just makes such a difference. I think that if entrepreneurs have an idea the best thing to do is go for it. The worst that can happen is that you fail. But you always learn from it, so if you have people to support you and you think your idea is the next big thing, go for it. John Shegerian: I love it. Go for it. And we wish you luck here at the Green Festival here in D.C. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much. Thank you. John Shegerian: And luck with your great and delicious product not only locally but taking it national. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much. John Shegerian: We’re going to have you back on the show. You’re going to grow, and we’re going to have you continue to share your story. Nikki Azzara: Perfect. John Shegerian: And journey forward. For those who just joined us or caught us at the last part, we’ve been interviewing Nikki Azzara. She is the founder and CEO of Slender Seven. We tried her delicious product during the show. I’m going to tell you something right now. This is the new Ben and Jerry’s. This is the new Chobani or Justin’s. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much. John Shegerian: This is delicious. Nikki Azzara. You can find her products at www.slenderseven.com. You’re making the world a better place. You are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Nikki Azzara: Thank you so much.