Inspiring Latina entrepreneur, Cristie Besu shares her life lessons on starting her business, Eat Me Guilt Free
Cristie believes that you should not have to choose between delicious and better for you foods.
The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Cristie Besu has had quite the journey herself. She’s the Founder and CEO of Eat Me Guilt Free, a health-focused line of bread, brownies, snacks, and tortilla wraps. We interviewed her for a few tips on how she got here, and how you can follow your dreams too.
LBT: As a young person, what factors helped shape your career aspirations?
I grew up with my family that immigrated from Cuba. When he was 13, my father came alone to the U.S. as the Castro regime was beginning, because my grandparents feared that he would have to join the military and they would not be able to get him out later. My family was very grateful for the opportunity to rebuild a life here in this country, so they took nothing for granted and worked very hard towards their dreams. It is difficult to be surrounded by that environment and to not be influenced to seize every opportunity that comes your way. I learned not take things for granted.
LBT: Was there a key job or experience that shaped your career goals?
I think working as a nurse in the emergency room for nine years really sharpened my problem-solving skills and made working under pressure the “status quo”. Both of these skill sets really set me up well for entrepreneurship.
LBT: Let’s talk about how you got to where you are now. First of all, did you ever have an advisor or mentor?
Unfortunately, I did not have a formal mentor. I typically leaned on new friendships that I made in business relationships to share their experiences in their lives. My accountant, my nutrition clients, family and friends. Listening to other people’s obstacles was helpful. Even if their situations or businesses were not similar, there are common denominators even in different career paths.
LBT: What was the motivation or inspiration behind establishing your business?
Eat Me Guilt Free products were created as a solution for people that did not want to choose between foods that tasted delicious and their health. In 2014 there were not very many “better for you” food options yet, and food conglomerates had convinced society that healthy had to taste healthy. People thought if something was delicious it could not be good for you. Eat Me Guilt Free set out to FREE DELICIOUS from this ridiculous notion that food had to unhealthy to taste good.
LBT: Where is your company located?
We are located in Miami, Florida. I was born and raised here, and I am excited to be part of the growth of such a diverse, inclusive city that is booming.
LBT: What was your start-up plan and timeline?
At first it was a passion project, so I did not really have a plan. It was not until I realized the impact of what the products and the brand stood for, that I began to formulate a vision. My original timeline did not really have goals beyond direct to consumer, or beyond selling brownies. The possibility of scaling and an actual business plan took about 2-3 years to come to fruition.
LBT: Did you acquire any skills through running your own business?
I had to learn how to find solutions for my business, even when I had no clue what I was doing! I often hear people say that they want a roadmap or a process to ensure that they can deliver what I ask them for. I think not having a roadmap or experience really brought out the resourcefulness in me. I had to dig deep sometimes when I felt like I was failing to find a solution. So, I would have to say resourcefulness along with perseverance.
LBT: Finances are important to a business. Did you research and anticipate start-up costs?
I researched the cost of goods and what the labor could possibly cost once it went beyond myself. I executed the ideas I had, even when they were not fully baked (no pun intended!). Even if what I came up with could be better, I still released the best that I could do at the time and would improve upon it as I could afford to. It really helped me keep my finger on the pulse of what was going on with the consumer. I used my own money and kept reinvesting the first two years.
LBT: Any thoughts on your experiences with financing?
I took on expensive debt at year three, but in retrospect it wasn’t such a terrible mistake. Although I lost a lot of dollars in interest, it was too early on to lose equity to a partner that was not beneficial other than for the financial aspect. I get asked this question a lot by young entrepreneurs and the answer is not the same for everyone. If you have the opportunity to take on a strategic partner and the timing is right, go for it.
LBT: Tell us about the factors and people who have influenced the growth of your business.
My original sales channel was ecommerce, and all of my traffic was via Instagram. I shared my journey as a business owner and as a consumer because ultimately I was also someone who would have bought my products. Social media had a big influence on EMGF and continues to be our pillar for marketing.
We started out with a sports distributor in 2019. That was also part of the growth of our business because it began the B2B phase. Building a strong relationship with them and their sales reps was a huge part of my learning curve on how best to pull through the sales in the stores. Getting the sales reps and store owners to be fans of the brand was key.
LBT: Although you didn’t start off with a business plan, in retrospect, what would you say are the essential elements of a business plan?
Your vision needs to be clear. When people hear your plan from you, it should be so clear, that they can not only picture it, but they should also get excited about how passionate about it you are. When you are able to really envision your end game, the paths on how to get there easily become exposed because you only choose methods that align with that vision. So, after you have defined your vision, I would say the next essential element is to describe clear- cut paths or revenue channels that align with your vision. Proof of concept is also key. This is why I am so big on execution of an idea, even if its half-baked, because it might serve for a good proof of concept down the line. If you don’t have your own, finding something similar to your scenario serves as a good second choice to actually including a proof of concept in your business plan.
LBT: Any future plans for your business?
Yes! We are in the planning stage of our own automated production plant. We have been using co-packing facilities to date and this is going to be a gamechanger for us. We are also about to launch a cake mix box for consumers to make at home. It will be the first “better for you” cake mix to market.
LBT: Balancing professional and personal lives is a continual challenge. How are you handling the work/, life balance?
[Laughing] Sometimes it feels like I am not. I think finding balance for me happened when I learned to be 100% present and set boundaries. I no longer feel guilty for when I work or spend time with loved ones because I am not trying to think about one while I am doing the other. If I tried to do both, I wouldn’t be 100% present.
LBT: What are the best rewards you have received from owning a business?
Being able to create a workplace that makes people feel like they are making a difference. Having the means to give back and mentor other busines owners is so rewarding. Watching them grow is just as exciting as being on your own journey.
LBT: Do you belong to any Latino organizations?
Not currently. I belong to WBENC. I live in Miami though so a lot my network is Latino.
LBT: Any final thoughts for other Latinos who might want to start a business?
Do it. Be part of making our businesses more inclusive in how they sell and do business. The more of us there are stepping up, the more Latinos will feel confident to do so in the future.
LBT: If could turn back the clock on starting a business, what would you have done differently?
Nothing. It has a been a rollercoaster, but I love who we are today and who knows if we would be the same Eat Me Guilt Free if we had not gone through it.
LBT: Last Question. Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
“Always make space for your imagination to run wild.” -Me
To read more about Cristie Besu’s, Eat Me Guilt Free story, check out our article, A Passion for Food and Nutrition Turns into a Guilt Free Business.