Q&A Series: Family and Community

By: The Soom Crew  |  January 24, 2017

What are the advantages of owning a business with your sisters?

Shelby: We grew up in a family of family businesses. The three of us never talked about starting our own business, however, it was also never something that was foreign to us. The three of us have such complementary skills that work really well together. Additionally, having a reason to talk to each other everyday is definitely an advantage. If we were this wrapped up in something else not at the same time, it would be hard to keep in touch because we would be so actively engrossed in different things. It is so fun that we are experiencing this together while also building memories around it.

Amy: We also set up guidelines about what is business, what is family, and what are the times when we are not talking about Soom Foods (which is very difficult). There are certain parameters that we try to uphold to make sure that business and family don’t blur if we can avoid it. We also said from the get go: if the business ever came in the way of our family, the business goes because family comes first.

Jackie: It is also great because now we have a common goal. The success of Soom Foods is a success for our family. We are able to consider the next generation and what we can accomplish together. Not many families start businesses together and that’s what makes our business unique.

Who do you seek advice from for your business?

Shelby: We have developed an advisory board which is a more formal group of people that we turn to with questions about the business. We also have a list of informal advisors who have offered their time and expertise to help us sort through issues or questions. It can be really hard to get out of the business and get out of the weeds and see it from a 50ft view. Therefore, it has been really for important to us to turn to people who can bring us to that vantage point and think a little differently about the problems at hand.

Amy: We also are part of a Philadelphia-based food entrepreneur group which enables us to connect with other entrepreneurs who are in a similar place and learn from each other. We have found a few really close colleagues that we can chat about this roller coaster with. In addition to that, Shelby is also now a part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses alumni community.  The businesses are not in the same industry, but it is a strong cohort of peers who are also going through challenges and evaluating growth opportunities for their businesses.

How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?

Amy: The joke that we share is that Shelby had a business degree, Jackie married a sesame expert, and Amy needed a job. But if you expand on that a little bit, Shelby studied business, Jackie and her husband really understand and care about the product, and I studied interpersonal communication in college. Essentially, all of our natural skills came through in roles. But everything that we do now has been learned through our experiences in the last 3 years. You can only theoretically understand how operations might work for a food business, but until you see it in action, no one can teach you what to do when things are mislabeled or how distributor negotiations work. I think so much of what we’ve learned is because we had to figure out how to do it in the context of those situations or conversations.