Naomi Posner, a Japanese American woman grew up in the U.S, is the founder of the most successful vegan gelato mix in the U.S. Her company Mami's Gelato was established in 2015 and grew 4000% within 5 years. Currently her mix is sold in 500 and more cafes/restaurants in 45 states and 7 countries.
In this interview she talks about her ice cream and how she became successful after raising 3 daughters, obtaining master's degree in Philosophy and moving into a small town in Indiana state where she didn't know anyone.
About ice cream mix
Q：What made you decide to become an ice cream manufacturer?
Naomi: I was making gelato for our restaurant from scratch, and it was a lot of work. I wanted to train my cooks to make the gelato, but it was rather complicated, so I decided to make it easy for them by making a mix. After a few months, I realized I could try to sell the mix to other shops. That’s how it all started.
Q：What makes your product different from other products (ice cream mix)?
Naomi: Well, most ice cream mixes are liquid and they have dairy ingredients in them. Our mix is vegan and it is in powder form. There are other non-dairy powder mixes – mostly soft serve - but they tend to have little to no fat in them, but our mixes have relatively high amounts of fat. Also, our mixes have whole food ingredients in them - the whole coconut, the whole almond, etc.
＊Naomi's daughter is the designer for the brand
Q：Why will people buy your product (and not something else)?
Naomi: When we first started the business, they bought it because there were no other options. Now in the last year or two, there are other options, so they have a choice. I think they continue to buy from us for many reasons, but mostly because they like our product, they like our company, and they don’t want to risk trying something else.
People also buy from us because we have influencers in the industry who recommend us. Customers trust other people with whom they have done business. And, when they recommend us, they believe them.
Q:Why will customers stay or do repeat business with you?
Naomi: With a business like ours – which is B to B (business to business), relationships and customer service are very important. We spend time with our customers, getting to know them, and helping them understand our products.
Once a relationship like that is established, there is a sense of loyalty and understanding that cannot be replaced by another company. Also, our company is known as the expert company for vegan ice cream mixes with 5 years’ experience and more than one type of mix. I think people feel comfortable knowing they buy from the best!
Q：How do you predict the growth of world vegan ice cream market in the future?
Naomi: I look at reports and analysis of the market and see very clearly that it will continue to grow. I don’t rely on my own perceptions as much as the data that is available.
Q：What is the vision of Mami's Gelato in 10 years?
Naomi: In 10 years, I hope that Mami’s Gelato products are in most of the countries around the world. I also hope to have more types of mixes such as macadamia and cashew, as well as soft serve (less fat) mixes. It would also be great to relaunch our latte and bubble tea mixes. I would also like to have a few shops where people could try all of our products – like an ice cream shop. I hope I can retire by then, and have other people run the business!
About her entrepreneurship
Q：What did you study in graduate school? Why did you decide to go back to school?
Naomi: I studied philosophy! I was living in Japan raising my kids, and felt very bored, and I felt that my mind was turning to mush! I longed for an intellectual challenge, and one day I was reading the Japan Times, and I saw an ad for the University of Chicago – Tokyo – asking for students to apply. I did, and I ended up taking my kids with me to Chicago for a year in order to get a Master’s degree. It was
one of the best years of my life!
Q：Did you take a leave from your work when you attended the graduate school?
Naomi: I was not working – well I was a “shufu” with three children at home. Of course that is work. In a way I left my work because while in Chicago I stopped cooking and did only the bare minimum of housework to get by. We all sacrificed together in order for me to get my degree. But, since all my children are girls, I think it was a good example for them – to see their mother as a woman reaching for her goals!
Q：How did the study at the graduate school change your life?
Naomi: Yes, it completely changed the way that I think and look at things. I am able to more easily separate my emotions from my thoughts and examine a problem while examining my own mind, assumptions, and preconceptions in order to solve a problem.
Q：Do you utilize what you leaned at school in your business?
Naomi: I think I use it in everything but not necessarily in an obvious way. For example, if I had taken a class on accounting, it would have been obvious how that helps my business, but since I studied philosophy, it's a more general way of thinking that informs everything that I do. I tend to ask a lot of "why" questions and try to get to the root of issues at a meta level.
For example, with the coronavirus challenge, I'm not only just trying to figure out my new cash flow and working capital, I also spend time figuring out what it means to me as a person, or what it means to my country, and the world at large - I look at and consider the ethical questions involved, and - well - I just use my thoughts to examine what is going on beyond the financial aspects.
Q：What made you decide to start your own business?
Naomi: I’ve always started businesses from the time I was a child. I used to make stickers and sell them to my friends – I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time.
The first business that I started as an adult was an ice cream shop when I was in college. I started it because there was no good ice cream in the town that I lived in. So, I decided to make my own! I think that I’ve always had the natural tendency to solve problems and to try things out. And, I think I naturally have an entrepreneurial way of thinking.
I’m not sure why, but maybe I was born with this tendency. I think of new business ideas all the time. It’s almost impossible for me to stop thinking in this way.
Q：How do you generate new ideas?
Naomi: We try to keep up with what is going on in the market. But, honestly, generating new ideas is not difficult. Implementing them is difficult. We have at least 5 product ideas just waiting in the queue until we can put them out into the market.
Besides ideas for new products, we also need new ideas for marketing. Up until now, we have done almost no marketing because our product sells itself, however, we will have to start soon. The best way to get new ideas is to gather everyone together and brainstorm and consult openly. This always seems to work.
Q：What do you love about your job?
Naomi: This business has allowed me to meet lots of new and different people and travel to new and different places that would not have happened otherwise. I have loved this opportunity to meet people and travel.
I don’t think I “love” anything about this job. As I mentioned above, I think I just do this naturally, and cannot stop myself.
But the most satisfying moments are when I hear positive feedback from my customers. And, clearly another satisfying moment was when I realized that we were profitable and that I could actually give myself a salary for the first time!
Q：Can you describe/outline your typical day?
Naomi: I have 4 employees, and we all work remotely. We no longer have a physical office because it dawned on us that it wasn’t necessary. We live in different countries also. So, my typical day is always in front of a computer communicating with my employees, suppliers, etc. I am a morning person, so I usually work from about 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the latest. Then I spend the rest of afternoon with my family or taking care of other things.
Q：How do you overcome obstacles?
Naomi: It depends on the obstacles. Some obstacles are not worth overcoming, so we just change directions. For example, when we first started out, we were also selling dairy mixes, but there were a lot of obstacles for dairy mixes that did not exist for dairy-free mixes, so we stopped selling them rather than trying to overcome them.
For other obstacles, we usually talk thru the issues involved, then make a plan on how to overcome them, and then move forward and adjust accordingly.
Q：What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Naomi: Many people have said I am fearless, and maybe this is true. I’m not sure. In terms of business, I am very risk-averse and I don’t jump into things without assessing the risks involved. If I am able to sleep at night without worrying about a decision I’ve made, then I know I’m going to be ok.
On a personal level, I have a daily spiritual practice that allows me to have a lot of faith that whatever happens is for the best. I feel that there is a loving intelligence that permeates everything and guides us if we accept with gratitude. I’m sure having had this practice my entire life has helped me overcome fears and obstacles.
Q：If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Naomi: In order to be an entrepreneur, you have to know yourself. You have to know what your values are, and know what you want. Starting a business is essentially a creative process and you are at the center of it. It is more art than science. Every day, indeed, every moment, you have to be true to yourself and allow your beliefs and energy to be your guiding power. Even if you sell the same product as another business, your business will be different than theirs because you are different. Have confidence and faith in who you are, and then take daily steps to grow the business.
Q： Will you give a message to people undergoing this pandemic?
Naomi: I think that this pandemic is very interesting because it causes different reactions from people. It's almost like a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves and see what our current status is - emotional, financial, spiritual, and even physical (health). It brings out worries depending on what condition we are in - for example if we are in bad health, we will suddenly be worried about getting back into good health in order not to be affected by the virus. We will change our diet and our lifestyles. If we have been in bad shape financially, we will suddenly be worried about that more than before. For example, people and businesses that have saved and prepared for crises may have less worries than those who haven't. So, it is difficult for me to offer advice for people who are worried, because it depends on what they are worried about!
However, generally speaking I can say this:
- Worrying does NOTHING - To worry is to waste your time. So everytime you feel you mind going into the direction of worrying, STOP, and DO something useful - even something small, like calling a friend, or washing the dishes. Anything positive that adds value to the world is worth doing at any time.
- Look at this virus as a gift and an opportunity for improvement. Whatever happens that appears to be bad, there will be something good that is also happening. LOOK for that good thing and focus on it and be grateful for it. Maybe you have more time now for your family - be grateful for that! Maybe you have more time to plan for the long term - be grateful!
- Face your fears and imagine the worst thing that could happen. Imagine that it has happened. Then accept the worst. Ask yourself if you can handle it. If not, ask yourself HOW you will handle it, then pretend like it has happened, and see how you feel. For example, maybe your business will declare bankruptcy. Maybe you will lose your house! Accept this, imagine it, and see how you feel. Usually, you will find that even the worst is not that bad because human beings are resilient and can always find a way to survive and thrive.