Katlin Smith, ’15 graduate and Founder and CEO of Simple Mills, was recently spotlighted in Crains’ 20 under 20 for 2015. Nominated for this year’s Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards, Simple Mills makes delicious, simple, and nutrient-rich baking mixes that are naturally gluten-free. In just over a year, Simple Mills has grown from a retail footprint of under 100 stores to over 1,400 stores nationwide. Katlin was able to sit down and talk to us about her business and Booth alumni network.
Katlin, thanks for talking with us today. Your business and product look pretty amazing and I’m really curious how you started. Can you tell us a little about that?
Sure – while it only started officially in 2012, I think it really was in my head before that. In college at UNC, I majored in Business and Biology. I was interested in how the immune system works. I think a lot of illnesses start or impact the immune system. Usually when your gut isn’t doing well, your body reacts. After college, I was doing management consulting at Deloitte and started to have some medical issues. A friend of mine recommended cutting out processed food. So, I tried it out. The difference was miraculous, but I was spending so much time in the kitchen! Finding clean ingredient, nutrient-rich convenient options at the store is not easy – especially in the baking mix section. That started me experimenting. I traveled Monday – Thursday, went to the office on Friday and then left to drive to a test kitchen in the suburbs of Atlanta where I was experimenting with almond flour.
After a lot of hard work, I started making something that I liked, something I thought was really good, and something my friends and family liked eating too. I was still working full time and started selling on Amazon. They were a great resource for me, I had too much on my plate to be responsible for all the shipping and distribution. With good sales online, I thought about testing it out at the grocery stores around me. I called one up to see if they’d be interested in it and they asked me to come in and show my product. I went in with some baked up muffins and the mix and the manager tried it. He loved the taste and wanted to buy some to offer in his store.
That’s great! Winning supporters by just letting them taste.
Yeah, taste and the natural product has gotten Simple Mills far. It taste great and helps you feel great. We’re able to get feedback from our consumers. When I hear that they both like the taste and the impact the food has on their daily life, that it makes them feel better, it makes me happy and keep working at growing and reaching more consumers.
How do you keep growing?
Well, a lot of hard work. By me, and my team. We visit stores, trade shows, all sorts of things and brainstorm other products to build into our portfolio. Booth has helped me connect with the right people to give valuable advice. After winning the New Venture Challenge, we’ve been able to connect with investors to help us build investment during our first and second round of fundraising.
I was also lucky enough to meet some Private Equity students who worked for a firm owning grocery stores. They helped connect me to stores and some other former alums.
That’s great that you’ve been able to use the network.
Yeah, the alumni support is great. What I learned in classes pays off. I’m not naturally extroverted, and my role now pushes me out of my comfort zone every day. I consistently use material from Negotiations - in discussion with my employees, retailers, almond flour contract, all of it. I’m so thankful for that course!
You must be involved in a lot discussions - I think you mentioned last week you were at a trade show?
Yes, out in the east we were at a natural product expo. Relationship building is key to building Simple Mills, talking with investors, and talking with retailers – finding out what is new to them and where their focus is. It’s really helped our growth, both online and in retail.
Well it sounds like you are growing strong, both online and retail. What baking mixes are you selling now and where can we get some?
We have a few muffin mixes, pancake & waffle, chocolate chip cookie, bread, cake and pizza dough. We’re filling the consumer need – it’s a growing market, gluten-free and almond flour, specifically. We definitely have first mover advantage in the market and want to grow it strong. You can stop by our website or Amazon to get it. If it’s not in your local store, let me know. I’ll give them a call! Grow my business and feed your hunger!
Definitely, a different way to invest. Well, congratulations on everything that Simple Mills has been able to do, and really want you represent – feeding America healthy.