Profiles

JESSIE LITOW & RACHAEL SHERIDAN

By Above the Glass On January 29, 2016 Photography By:   Darcy Hemley
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Business Name:

Solstice Canyon

Website:

solsticecanyon.com

Social Media Handles:

@solsticecanyon

Contact:

info@solsticecanyon.com

Location:

Los Angeles, CA

Short Business Description:

We lovingly make all organic/truly raw/stone-ground/unpasteurized almond butters and pantry items.

When we sat down with the founders of Solstice Canyon, Jessie Litow and Rachael Sheridan, over the course of two separate fall mornings, it was only fitting that we did so in restaurants. These ladies are, first and foremost, food aficionados.

They met while both working in the food industry, and formed a cross-town partnership after some wildly successful experiments with organic almonds and a Vitamix. With an eye on health, beauty and groundbreaking flavor profiles, their artisanal almond butters set the standard for what food products should be.

Jessie and Rachael live and breathe their product, and have created something that truly resonates with their customers, who are women exactly like themselves. Now stocked in some of LA’s most prestigious boutiques, Solstice Canyon is busy plotting their next move within the lifestyle market. In addition to creating an incredible brand and product, Jessie and Rachel are kind and gracious, and represent the new guard of female founders: ones who go out of their way to embrace their peers and support other women. Read on to learn more about the challenges they faced while building their company, and why nothing feels as good as being your own boss.

 

1
Background

Before launching your business, what did you do?

Rachael: I was a gourmet food buyer for 12 years. I imported all different types of things from Italy, and sourced a lot of different domestic ingredients.

Jessie: And I did food and lifestyle PR for 8 years, and worked with Rachael for 6 of those years. The company she was the buyer for, I did in house PR for. I stole her!

Did you face any obstacles in your previous career/endeavors that propelled you to want to go out on your own?

Jessie: I think that when you are working for other people you always encounter…

Rachael: Tough personalities?

Jessie: You encounter tough personalities. You have to navigate how to balance attaining the goals of a company owner with your vision, and realize that sometimes your vision takes a back seat, and that can get really hard.

When Rachael and I started Solstice Canyon, it was really important…well it was really nice actually… that we naturally share a vision. It wasn’t so hard to create a strategy, and a long-term plan for the company, because we both saw it in the same way. That was a really pleasant change from working for other people, like we had in the past, and that’s one of the real blessings of having your own company.

Do you think that if you two hadn’t found each other you still would have started a business?

Jessie: There were several years where I considered having my own food-based business. I love to bake, and I love making people happy with sweets and homemade things. I tried for years to make that happen, and it just didn’t work. And when we conceptualized Solstice Canyon, it worked, and it made sense from the beginning. Yes, there were obstacles along the way, and it was really challenging, but it made sense.

Rachael: I definitely had a lot of ideas, and I had been asked a lot to be a partner in numerous businesses, it just never seemed like something I was passionate about. And I feel like, when I started as a food buyer, I was really passionate about it. Quite frankly that got beaten out of me, and I didn’t want to do anything anymore that would get beaten out of me. I know your day-to-day life isn’t going to be this Hollywood fairytale, like you’re walking on clouds all the time, but at the end of it, I wanted to feel really good about what I was doing at least. My father owns his own business, so I grew up with that, and I think there is just something so romantic about being your own boss.

Did you have any formal business training before launching?

Jessie: No. This was an accelerated MBA program. In no way do we know everything at all. We know nothing still, but it feels like every week you learn something new, or you teach yourself something new. You have to acquire some skill.

Rachael: And we learned it all the hard way.

Where did you get the information from as you went along?

Rachael: Trusted friends, mentors…

Jessie: Family.

Did you have a mentor? How did they help?

Rachael: We were so lucky to get a business mentor: someone who is experienced, who we trust, who we can look to… in the beginning it is just nice to have that validation that we are on the right path and we are doing everything we can do.

Jessie: There were a lot of times when we felt like our instinct was correct, but we needed that third party, an impartial voice, to kind of move us forward.

Rachael: It was confidence building.

Jessie: I think that our intuition was generally correct on many things, but when you are in the infancy stage of a business, you don’t want to always rely on your intuition. Sometimes you just need that stable third party voice.

How did you meet your mentor?

Rachael: We got the mentor from an introduction from the lawyer who put together our partnership agreement.

2
Your Glass Ceiling Turning Point

Is there anything in particular that spurred you to start the business?

Rachael: Everything just fell into place. In the first month, when we were talking about the concept, I would pause and say, “we’re doing this, right? I’m in, are you in?” and she would say, “I am in, are you in?” We were just checking in with one another.

Jessie: It really did. It felt like the stars aligned. People were really responding to the test batches that we were doing. And once we found our designer, who really shared our vision, we felt like, this is going to be a viable product.

Rachael: We could do this.

Is there anyone who was particularly influential and who inspired you to start it?

Jessie: Rachael’s husband is a chef [Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar] who I am so impressed by.

Rachael: Is that true?

Jessie: Yeah, a lot of people are really impressed by him! So when he told us he thought the products were really good, that was a major moment of reassurance. You can hear it from friends and family, but he is not going to lie. Jeremy is not going to sugar-coat it.

Did you set out long-term goals for what you wanted your business to be from the beginning?

Jessie: Yes, we did write out things from the beginning. And our short-term goals are to go back and look back at our long-term goals and continue to write that out. I really believe in putting things in writing to actualize them. You can only do some much blindly going along, so if you put it in writing, you set yourself on a path.

 

3
The Business of Your Business

How did you finance your business?

Jessie: We each set an amount that we were going to invest in the company from the beginning. And people said, “oh, you have a number? Go ahead and double that.” And they were right! There are always expenses that come in. But we haven’t done any outside financing, it’s all within the partnership.

Rachael: Which makes it easier and harder.

Jessie: It’s really nice to not have any outside debts, but its also really hard because you feel the strain. Rachael: It’s so hard. We just so did not want to answer to anyone else. We had done it for so long, that we just really wanted it to be us for a while; for as long as we could keep it that way. We hope to keep it that way, but there could come a time, when to grow, we have to.

Jessie: And there could come a time when it makes sense. If it is the right person who came along, then it could be a major helper, and a relief, to have that outside investment.

Do you work with other professionals (i.e. accountant, lawyer, graphic designer, etc.) or advisors? How did you find them?

Jessie: Rachael’s father owns an accounting business, and my father is a lawyer, so we get a lot of really good “in-house” advice, which was immeasurably vital.

Rachael: I don’t know what we would have done.

Jessie: We also had to rely on outside attorneys for things like trademarking and labeling. Things you don’t even think about when you start your business. We never thought we would have to have a labeling attorney, or a packaging attorney. But it’s a business, and we wanted it to be legitimate. We also took the interviewing process really seriously for a designer, because we knew the packaging was going to be a major component of our product. We wanted it to be insanely delicious and healthy, but part of the formula, we knew, was also having gorgeous packaging that people would want to keep out on the counter.

Rachael: That was our biggest thing. When I was a food buyer, you could bring in the most delicious products, and tell people all day that this meat is life changing, or this olive oil is going to take your cooking up a notch, but if it looked like it was straight off a farm, no one cared. It was such a tough sell. Especially if it was expensive. They couldn’t understand why it was expensive, unless it was pretty.

"We wanted it to be insanely delicious and healthy, but part of the formula, we knew, was also having gorgeous packaging that people would want to keep out on the counter."

How did you find the designers you interviewed?

Jessie: Recommendations from friends whose taste we trusted. One of those names was Cleo’s [Project M Plus], who we ultimately ended up working with.

Rachael: It was a no-brainer.

It sounds like a lot of it was following your gut.

Rachael: Yeah, it was. But giving yourself permission to do that is hard. It is hard to tell yourself, yes, you are right.

Jessie: It is also hard if you choose a designer you are not friends with over a designer you are friends with. You might have guilt. But we just knew, that these were tough decisions we had to make. This is business, and you don’t want to sacrifice something because you are “doing the right thing,” but you are really not doing the right thing for your company. And ultimately, that will just set you back financially, or in some other way.

4
Inspiration

Where do you find inspiration?

Jessie: We find inspiration in the every day. We will see beautiful packaging on something that has absolutely no relation to food, or to our product, and we’ll say, oh, that’s so beautiful, and it might inspire a concept for a product that we have in the making for a year from now.

We both just really love food, and we love to dine, so we might taste something that is totally savory, but it might inspire a sweeter product, because there is a flavor combination that we think could work.

We are lifestyle consumers, so we kind of find inspiration in our favorite stores, in nature. The name Solstice Canyon comes from a local canyon Malibu, which is a huge inspiration because of the lifestyle, the vibe, the beauty of nature and the simplicity.

Has building a family changed how you make business decisions?

Rachael: For me, it makes everything more immediate and more important because it’s about building a future. I want to be doing this in 10 years, I want it to be a certain way, and I want it to be something that not only we are proud of, but also that our families are super proud of.

Jessie: For both of us, it has become a really vivid priority to keep this business viable, and constantly breathe life into it. Rachael being pregnant definitely sped up the immediacy and the need to make plans, keep plans, revise plans, keep looking at the plans and asking, how does this look for the next day, month, 3-months, year, 3-years, 5-years? You have to keep looking at things to make sure they make sense for the short-term and the long-term.

What books or magazines are on your nightstand?

Rachael: I read a lot of cookbooks. I’m reading Bringing up Bébé. It’s about French kids, but there are recipes in it, so of course I am reading it. And I’m reading a book about cooking in Burma, which I am really into.

Jessie: I have a yoga book called The Goddess Pose. I have a lot of health books, a lot of dietary books. There was one I loved about fermented foods, and I am always looking up random chapters in it. And US Weekly; I have no shame.

What apps do you use the most and why?

Jessie: Waze! Waze has changed my life because I drive to the east side (of Los Angeles) multiple times a week for the business, and it probably saves me at least an hour or two a week of car time.

Rachael: Instagram, Pinterest, and Spotify. Music is really important to me.

Jessie: I love Spotify. You (Rachael) use Instagram a lot for the business. Rachael runs our social media, and Instagram has been really vital for the business. She has done research that has gotten us accounts, and accounts have come to us because of posts that she does.

Rachael: More than any other social channel.

5
Resources

Favorite book(s) about business:

Jessie: Well we probably should be reading Business Plans for Dummies.

Rachael: We definitely should. My father helps open small businesses in Ohio, and he gave me The Little Engine that Could, and he told me it was the best business book he had ever read. The Little Engine that Could is actually a really great business book. You just gotta keep going!

"Sometimes when you are working with men, they have a way of making you feel like you shouldn’t ask for something, or you cant ask for something, or that its not normal that you are asking for something. We as women need to realize that just because they make it harder for us to do it, doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate for us to ask for it."

6
Balance

How do you balance work and personal life?

Jessie: At the beginning it is really hard to balance. There were weeks where I did not sleep, and I felt like a zombie because there were so many things to do. I would say make sure you are realistic in imposing deadlines on yourself, and don’t do things at the expense of your health and your wellbeing, but there are definitely times that you are going to have to make sacrifices.

Your partnership is a relationship, your marriage is a relationship, and your business is an organism. All of these things have to coexist, and are totally symbiotic in a way, so you have to just find the balance. And your partnership is so important when you are in a business partnership too. You have to have that open communication and that honesty, and that respect, and all the things you have in your other relationships.

Do you have any health tricks?

Jessie: Tons of water, kombucha, organic flax-seed oil to make your skin glow, yoga, stretching, walking. I personally feel the best when I’m not eating a lot of dairy or sugar, which really limits your enjoyment of life. Your joie de vive really goes down, but your feeling of wellbeing, health-wise, goes through the roof. I can eat our product, and feel totally fine about what I am eating. That was really important to both of us, to create a product that we felt really good about.

7
Experience & Insight

What is the best thing about running your own business? The most difficult?

Rachael: We have faced some serious challenges recently, that I think, had this not been so important to us, and had we not at the beginning set out really clear goals for ourselves, could have pushed either of us over the edge.

Jessie: I think the main issue is knowing that you have other people you can rely on for certain aspects of your business. If you are outsourcing things, you want to know that you genuinely and legitimately trust the people you are outsourcing to. Some of that is just a learning curve. Some of that is being tougher than we want to be, and forcing people to put things in writing. Sometimes when you are working with men, they have a way of making you feel like you shouldn’t ask for something, or you cant ask for something, or that its not normal that you are asking for something. We as women need to realize that just because they make it harder for us to do it, doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate for us to ask for it.

Rachael: It’s so hard.

Jessie: Nobody wants conflict. But this is our baby, this is our business, we put everything into this, and just because somebody doesn’t want to doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to not deal with it. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with the notion of a female business owner saying, “make this happen.” It’s traditionally, for so many years, been a man’s world in that respect. We’re here. Hi. It’s happening now.

"Know your day-to-day life isn’t going to be this Hollywood fairytale, like you’re walking on clouds all the time, but at the end of it, I wanted to feel really good about what I was doing at least. My father owns his own business, so I grew up with that, and I think there is just something so romantic about being your own boss."

What are you most proud of?

Jessie: There are so many moments when we have been tested. And there are weeks when you are just done. But then something will happen, and you have these moments when you are so proud. You get a huge store calling you to express interest in your product, or you will get a really important piece of press, or you will have somebody who you really respect come to you and say they love your product, or love what you are doing, and it makes it all worthwhile.

At what point did you think, “I made it”?

Jessie: We haven’t yet. Maybe the day our company gets bought.

Rachael: That’s probably when it will happen. Even then, we will probably think, we could have gotten a little bit more. If only we had asked for it.

Jessie: Even then, we will be thinking, what is the next step? I think that maybe a year ago, if you had asked us that question, we would have said certain things that have happened now would have made us feel that way, but when they actually happen, you have moments of pride, but you don’t think you are done. We think, what is next? Because it is a constant hustle.

Rachael: A constant hustle. I think that is something I wasn’t expecting. We feel so good. We reached out to 50 stores, and 20% said yes. Those are really great numbers, we are doing really well.

Jessie: We have had events reach out to us to be included, and we are shocked. We are really proud to be included, but we don’t feel like we made it because of that.

Rachael: We are like, really? Us? You realize what we do, right?

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in business?

Rachael: You can have the day where you can be really pissed off, or mad, or sad. And maybe want to quit. And then wake up the next morning and know you’re not [going to]. Just persevere.

Jessie: I would definitely second that. There are going to be days that are so difficult when running a business. You can’t even imagine how exhausting or difficult. You have to really trust yourself, and you also have to surround yourself with people who you trust. And trust your intuition.

Rachael: And [surround yourself with] positive people.

Jessie: Positive people who believe in the business. And limit the voices you listen to. When we were starting, everybody had opinions: from our packaging, to our flavors, to our price structure. Everybody wanted to be a critic. But not everybody has the knowledge that is relevant. So we had to drown out the sea of voices and narrow in on the ones we actually trusted. Trust your [own] voice, surround yourself with people you trust, and put your horse-blinders on to a lot of the chaos.

Rachael: Be really honest about, in the beginning, about why you are starting the business. The reasons behind your business have to be pure. Do you want a better life? Do you want to be your own boss? Do you feel like you can add value where value hasn’t been added yet? Why do you think you want to do this? If your answer is to make a gazillion dollars, that’s just not going to happen. Sorry, it’s not a good enough reason.

Photography by: Darcy Hemley

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