2 reasons why I started Sweet Nova:
- To make healthy eating accessible, fun, and easy.
- To create a healthy company where people feel fulfilled, inspired, and supported at work.
Part 1: A Workaholic Eats No Food
Not too long ago, I was the Strategy Director at Vice’s digital agency Carrot (now Virtue) and my typical workday looked like this:
7 am: Alarm goes off, snooze.
7:30 am: Alarm for “GO RUNNING” goes off, snooze again.
8:30 am: Third alarm, look at clock bleary-eyed, realize I’m going to be late. F*ck. Jump out of bed.
8:33 am: No time to shower. Run panicked throughout my apartment putting on an acceptable outfit, look at my hair disappointedly in the mirror before tying it up back, look in fridge to see if I have any food, not having anything, running out the door hungry.
9:00 am: Sprint into subway train and somehow do makeup using my iPhone cam as a mirror while being smashed up against 100 fellow riders
9:40 am: After speedwalking from the subway station and waiting 10 minutes for the elevator, finally get to the office. Drop off my coat and bag and run into my first 9:30 am meeting that I’m late for.
9:40 - 3 pm: Meetings. Client call. Internal regroup. Team status. Another client call. Work session. Every meeting is crazy productive but runs late so I have to sprint to the next one. Squeeze in a spoonful of peanut butter at 2 pm. Barely have time to go to the bathroom.
3:05 pm: Uber is here to take us to Jersey to deliver client presentation. Finalize last-minute parts of the deck, grab a powdery sugary snack bar, grab all my sh*t and take the slow ass elevator down to an impatient Uber driver.
3:05 - 4:30 pm: Get carsick in the car after eating aforementioned sugary snack bar and working on presentation in the car. Close eyes and try to deep breathe for last 15 minutes of drive.
4:30 pm - 6:30 pm: Client presentation was great! Team nailed it. High fives all around. I feel lightheaded and exhausted (surprise, surprise).
7:30 pm - 2 am: Finally get home, brain dead, order take out and take a 20-minute break, then try to start doing all the work I didn’t get to do from all the meetings that happened that day. End up comfort-eating half a pint of ice cream. Feel gross. Work till 2 am. Pass out on couch.
I was riding the high of killin’ it in at work but literally didn't have time to feed myself real food. You may have noticed that the only things I ate looked like snack bars, peanut butter, and takeout. With my ridiculous schedule, I needed real food fuel that could keep me going that was easy, full of clean, nutritious ingredients, and would be there for me whenever I needed it.
Part 2: How to Get a Workaholic to Eat Fruits and Veggies
Somewhere along the way, I became obsessed 3 things in the world of food and wellness:
- “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants” (The first 3 sentences of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan).
- Smoothies. Essentially those 3 rules^ blended into one cup. My husband bought me a Nutribullet and it was a game-changer.
- Freezing fruits and veg (learning that frozen fruits/veg can often be MORE nutritious than fresh). This obviously tied in very well with both points (1) and (2).
I didn’t know how to cook, but I could blend a bunch of frozen fruits and veg together! And blend I did. For a while, smoothies seemed like the perfect healthy food hack until...
While trying to batch-making smoothies on Sundays, I realized they went bad in about 3 days. 3 days! With my schedule, there was no way I could blend a fresh smoothie every morning. It was loud, stressful, and plus I’d wake my husband up (he’s a restauranteur and has a much later schedule). Frozen-fruit-in-a-cup services weren’t gonna cut it if I still had to do the blending myself.
Attempt 2. Freezing blended smoothies. After batch blending, I’d try to freeze the smoothies. “I’ve hacked it again!” I thought. But alas, the smoothies froze so hard it took 2 days to thaw in the fridge. WTF.
I researched and researched. Out of all the healthy snack options out there, most of them:
- Are nuts (literally...it feels like 90% of all snacks are just nuts...which I love, but you can’t just live off of nuts guys)
- Have little to no fiber
- Are extremely processed and hit macros in a really fake, overengineered way
- Use fake sugars
I was determined to make something better tapping into my love of smoothies.
Part 3: Smoothie Base -> Ice Cream Texture = Perfect Snack Fruit+Veg Snack
The idea emerged over time, as ideas do, after mulling over this question of “how to create a smoothie that doesn’t go bad and is as close to fresh as possible.” I was eating ice cream, my favorite dessert, and thought...what if ice cream was healthy?...which evolved into “What if a smoothie base could be churned into an ice cream?”...which evolved into “Then it wouldn’t go bad, it wouldn’t require someone to have to blend it, it could be “grab and go,” and it would be SO FUN TO EAT.”
So came to be the “smoothie freeze.”
Part 4: A healthy product and a healthy company.
According to the World Health Organization, a Health (of a person) is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Health = (Physical + Mental + Social) * Well-being
Additionally, according to The Table Group, a company that specializes in organizational health, “A healthy organization is one that has all but eliminated politics and confusion from its environment. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else a business does, and even more important.”
What! Companies that have eliminated politics and see morale soar? Sounds like a frickin' fairytale.
What I didn’t mention in Part 1 was that not only was the workload insane in my previous job, the culture of the company was also broken. I got to do great work with some great people, but overall it was a terribly managed boys club that had highly discriminatory and inappropriate practices including incidences of sexual harassment. The toxic, damaging cultures across Vice and Carrot were significant enough to have been written about in the New York Times and Business Insider.
The hottest, highest-profile companies like Telsa, Amazon, Away, and WeWork, Uber (to name a few) have been known to celebrate and encourage extreme, non-stop, work-hard-play-hard company cultures. These companies create enormous value for customers, but what about their employees? Are people happy? Is it a diverse team? Do they welcome healthy debate and unique perspectives? Do they collaborate? Do they feel both challenged and supported? Is the staff seen as humans beyond how they drive the bottom line? It seems harder than ever to be a company that both does good and is good. And I'm quite sure no VC has ever asked about or valued company health.
Yes. I want to create a big, financially healthy company. But I also want to see if it’s possible to create a profitable organization where the diverse, brilliant, unique people inside it also feel happy, supported, heard, seen, and on a team with a singular goal they all believe in. And I think it’d be pretty badass if that company was also run by a 5’3” Second-Generation Taiwanese American woman (and maybe not someone named John or David :D).
And, folks, that’s why I started Sweet Nova.