Keisha Smith-Jeremie pitched Sanaia Applesauce for applesauce-loving adults on Season 10 of ABC’s Shark Tank. After the show, Black Enterprise sat down with Smith-Jeremie for an interview about the show and her business.
Brandon Andrews: No one, ever, outgrows their love of applesauce. Is this true?
Keisha Smith-Jeremie: It’s absolutely true. The absolute best part of this journey has been proving that adage true over and over again. Every day I meet adults who whisper to me about the applesauce that they sneak and squeeze out of their kids’ pouches or how they feel like they have to pretend that they have kids when they are in the applesauce aisle. Millions of us adults still love applesauce and Sanaia was made with us in mind.
Andrews: The Applesauce market is a relatively crowded space with some major players. How do you distinguish Sanaia? What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs who want to compete in a market with big brands?
Smith-Jeremie: Sanaia is unlike any other applesauce on the market. The category is crowded but all around the same theme: what kids want. Sanaia uses green apples exclusively where all other brands use red varieties. We also include actual wedges of baked apples in every jar and our flavors are authentically island-inspired. I think the key is to hone in on the customer or problem that you address that no one else has. In our case, it’s the adults who’ve been settling for baby food taste and consistency in the current applesauce marketplace.
Andrews: How did you take the idea of Sanaia from concept to reality? What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs who are developing new products or services?
Smith-Jeremie: The very first thing I did was to research sources of information from others who had already been on my path. I found a book called Good Food, Great Business by Susie Wyshak. I then took it a step further and after reading the book found the author on LinkedIn and asked her for a consultation. The lesson here is to be relentless about finding paths already paved and to proactively seek out the advice and counsel. Don’t reinvent the wheel even if you’re creating a new product.
Andrews: You appeared on Season 10 of Shark Tank! How did you connect with the show? Tell us the story.
Smith-Jeremie: In March of 2017, nine months after we launched the company, I received an email from the producers of the show. I was at first certain it was a crack email! We applied and three weeks later learned we would be pitching in June. The application process is extremely rigorous but the production team was really helpful along the entire journey.
Andrews: How did you prepare to pitch your business on the show?
Smith-Jeremie: Practice, practice, practice. The first 2-minute pitch when you enter the tank is really important and you have to develop a strong one that gets the sharks attention but the real key to surviving the experience is to know your business inside and out. I watched hours and hours of shows and wrote down all of the questions and practiced with my team until I could comfortably answer every single one.
Andrews: Calculating a valuation can be a challenging task for startup founders. It is also central to pitching on Shark Tank. What helped you calculate your valuation before the show? What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs who are working on their valuation as well?
Smith-Jeremie: The valuation process is particularly tricky for a young company like ours. We had to come up with something realistic and defensible. The key is to not get laughed out of the tank with a number that feels too lofty but to set a target that you can make reasonable estimates to build your way up to. I did consult with friends that I have who work in the finance sector to pressure test my rationale and it was an incredibly important exercise to have those practice sessions.
Andrews: Give us an update, what have you been working on since being on the show?
Smith-Jeremie: Since the taping of the show we have been following up on all of the interest from buyers we received at the tradeshows this summer. We will be on grocery shelves across the country in our plastic cup offering in January. That first moment when I see Sanaia on a grocery store shelf will bring even more tears than what the Sharks brought out in me.
Andrews: How do you plan to grow the business in 2018 and beyond?
Smith-Jeremie: For 2019, our focus will be establishing Sanaia as the definitive choice for adults who love applesauce. We see our single-serve plastic cup offering as the ideal option for breakfast as well the midday and after dinner snack. Beyond the grocery stores, we will be working to place our single-serving plastic cup offering Sanaia in airports, corporate cafeterias, universities—basically, whenever adults have a hankering for some light healthy and sweet—we want Sanaia to be there.