Hannah Barnstable founded Seven Sundays in 2011 with four muesli recipes, an old Raliegh bike, some rented after hour kitchen space at a friend’s restaurant, and a crazy desire to make breakfast special again. Prior to starting Seven Sundays, Hannah was a vice president on the consumer team at Lincoln International, an investment bank focused on mergers and acquisitions. When she isn’t buried in Excel spreadsheets or soft selling muesli, Hannah is out running around grocery stores or in the kitchen making meals from scratch for her sweet family of four.
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In this episode you’ll learn:
- How to align your life with your business
- How Hannah and her husband work together
- How they got their products into Target
- Their worst marketing mistake they’ve made
Tell us a little bit about you, Hannah Barnstable, and what you do.
I am a mom of two little boys based in Minneapolis. I’ve always been very passionate about food, and several years back I decided that breakfast needed to be revamped in the U.S. I traveled a lot in my prior life and saw that breakfast was an actual meal time and an important part of the day in most parts of the world. The options were just not great. I would quit my career in finance, and I decided to start Seven Sundays because I truly believe that the way people start their day matters and then the little things all matter. Having that good start can just trickle into so many parts of your day so that’s my passion. I love mornings. I’m an oddball. I get up super early. It’s my favorite time of day times ten. I would way rather watch a sunrise than a sunset, so this has just become my life.
How did you start Seven Sundays?
I fell in love with this thing called muesli. I was on my honeymoon in New Zealand, and we had it every morning. Muesli consists of whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits. It’s high protein, low sugar, and like really addictive and delicious. I made it in my New York City apartment every morning for my new husband and I. We loved starting our day with muesli . When we were imagining our life and starting a family at some point, it was really important to me to do something that I was more passionate about than finance. We thought there was an opportunity in the market to launch muesli in the U.S. It’s actually the most popular breakfast outside the U.S. I quit my job as a vice president of an investment bank, and we moved back home to Minnesota. We bought a little house in the city, and I just started making formulas and little coffee bags full of muesli and selling them at a farmer’s market. That’s how it started. It was a pretty big transition from what I was doing in New York, but I loved it and other people loved it. I really started it and boot strap style.
How did you figure out that you and your husband wanted to do this together?
He came on later. The route we decided to go with starting the company didn’t really need two full-time people, and that gave us some time to test it. It was too risky starting a family both go all in. It’s still risky regardless, but at least it gave us some time to try everything out and make sure it was working. We waited until I literally was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t take it anymore for him. This idea really was sparked on our honeymoon. We took 5 weeks away, and discussed our vision for life. We had these great jobs in New York, but we were from the Midwest and our ideal vacation was a tent in the woods. We thought through what was important to us, the lifestyle we wanted, and how we wanted to raise kids someday. It was all part of the plan, and I think the most important thing is we’re very different.
How important do you think it is to figure out your vision and your priorities before you move into doing something like running a company together?
The number one priority for sure. Brady’s dream was never to become an entrepreneur and run a food company. I think that there’s elements now of our shared vision because we decided to do this together. You never want to bring someone else into your company, especially part of your family, if they’re not gaining something from it. He really had to figure out. The good part is that he was an environmental consultant and really liked the sustainability side of what he was doing, but the reality was he was working with a lot of oil and gas companies. Being able to have a creative outlet was really important to him. Those were all the reasons why it made sense for him to join Seven Sundays. It provided the outlet for lifestyle, creativity, and making an impact that was important to him.
How did you figure out how to scale?
That is just the hardest part. We still struggle with that because it’s like what comes first the chicken or the egg? We need the distribution, but we also need the retailers to pull it. We need a co-packer, but we’re not quite at that volume yet so it’s just all finagling. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes you just have to look big. When I went in for those first few bigger retailer meetings, I did mock ups of packaging and got some just freelance help. I use Google all the time. Sometimes it’s a matter of looking bigger than you really are so that you can become bigger. Other times it’s asking favors like, “I know your minimum run size is this, but my plan will get us beyond that very quickly, but I need you to work with me on these first few runs.” That’s hard for me, and I think honestly for a lot of women. It’s a lot of relying on other people who’ve been there and done that. It’s a lot of juggling of the different pieces to make sure that you can grow when you’re not restricting yourself.
Is there a particular flop or disappointment that you can share?
Generally speaking a lot of them are marketing-related. You look around and you see what everyone else is doing, and you’re like I feel like I need to be viewed this way. That ends up not being authentic and then you hate yourself afterwards. You look at the trends around you and ask, “How do we morph to fit that trend?” Then you realize, that’s not who we are and you always go back to who you. There’s been a lot of marketing flops from that standpoint. I would say the other big flop are not making decisions quickly enough. When I first started, I had this great vision for a flavor that was a ginger pear macadamia. It was a total flop and we hung onto that SKU for a really long time because we thought it was unique and people would write to us and tell us how much they loved it. The sales data didn’t show that and we were growing in channels that we’re a bit more mass and conventional. I think it holds you back when you don’t make changes quick enough. It’s a risk to make changes quickly, but when you see something not working make a change quicker.
Hannah Barnstable is the founder of Seven Sundays. She fell in love with muesli on her honeymoon in New Zealand. She dreamt of bringing muesli to the U.S. and made it a reality. She runs her business with her husband in Minneapolis, MN.
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