By Hailey Eisen
Suzie Yorke’s entrepreneurial journey may have started out in a way similar to most — a good idea, an investment of her own savings, and a leap of faith — but her Keto-certified brand of snack bars, Love Good Fats™, quickly took off in a way she could not have predicted.
Suzie came to realize bootstrapping — building her business without external funds — wouldn’t get her far, especially with a rapidly growing brand, so she spent the first three years of her journey deeply immersed in business development and financing. “For start-ups, cash is king,” Suzie says, “and very quickly I learned that having enough liquidity was critical.”
But before all of that, what started Suzie’s foray into entrepreneurship was a book, a dramatic lifestyle change, and a marketers’ mindset.
At 50, Suzie was a single mom, a triathlete, and a marketing executive. “I’d been following a low-fat diet for nearly 20 years,” she recalls. “I ran marathons and Iron Man races, and would reward myself with sugar treats after a run and on weekends.” Although she was very active, Suzie was also experiencing a great deal of stress, traveling a lot for work, and not feeling as healthy as she wanted to be. In March 2016, Suzie read The Big Fat Surprise, a book that dives into the benefits of good fats. “I realized that I’d been doing it all wrong.”
Suzie quickly recognized the opportunity for a brand to disseminate the information about good fats being written about in books and articles at the time. “I decided then and there that I was going to create that brand.”
Her business started small: a brand vision, PowerPoint presentation, and a list of compelling benefits of a high fat, low sugar, low carb diet. Her goal was to develop a healthy snack bar that would follow these principles. And, she’d fund the project with her personal savings.
From developing a bar prototype — two flavours to begin with — to finding a co-packing facility to manufacture them, to deciding on the brand name (at launch, it was Suzie’s Good Fats), to signing agreements with 10 stores in Canada, things started to ramp up. “The initial plan was to do one small run — 100,000 bars in two flavours,” Suzie explains. “But, just to turn on the machines at the co-packers, the initial cost would be $200,000.”
Suzie realized she’d need access to funding to support her launch. As she began networking with former colleagues and business connections, she started to form a board of advisors and interested investors. Her first round of funding, in the form of angel investment, brought in nearly $400,000 — enough to create a product inventory that would last six months.
“We sold out in six weeks,” Suzie says.
Still a nimble company with one employee and a board of advisors, Suzie took on another round of angel investing which allowed her to roll out two more flavours and a packaging and formula update.
“For women founders, you just have to go from left to right — start with savings, then angel investments, some potential crowd-sourced funding, the EDC and BDC. While banks are still tough until you are profit positive, there are many ways to raise funds beyond bootstrapping.”
What transpired between September 2017 and the end of 2019 Suzie describes as a period of hyper growth. “It’s a very different world than the usual start-up experience. You have to make a lot of big decisions and right decisions, and everything is moving rapidly.”
Suzie’s Good Fats bars were initially sold in 10 stores, but before long they were in 200, and then 2,000. “Once we had Loblaws and Walmart, everyone was calling, we scaled really quickly,” Suzie explains. In years one and two, the company did $8 million and $33 million in sales respectively; figures typically unheard of in the nutritional bar category.
She relied on five rounds of angel investing to give her the cashflow she needed to scale quickly — moving from a startup to a successful, well-recognized brand in a very short time. As point of sale results in Canada continued to hold strong, American retailers took notice.
“I’d been doing research in the US as early as 2016,” Suzie says. Gathering consumer input from Americans, while also doing the same at home in Canada. “As exporting became closer to reality, we doubled down on research, competitive assessment, pricing, positioning, and more.”
Before expanding into a new market, Suzie decided a name change was in order. “The name was really well-liked in Canada and the consumers knew me and felt a connection to the brand,” she explains, “but there were 10 Suzie’s in the natural space in the US, and we decided the name needed to be less personal.”
After extensive research and packaging redesign, the name Love Good Fats™ was trademarked and the brand’s US expansion began.
Around that time, Suzie had also turned to Export Development Canada (EDC) for support. “EDC has been a great partner, certainly for all matters related to exporting and capitalization,” she says. “Once you are funded by EDC, they join your board and you benefit from strategic direction as well.”
In 2018, when they were getting ready to expand into the US, Suzie was looking into investing options with a Venture Capital partner. “In the end, we realized we had a nice partnership with EDC and they came on instead of the VC, and did a round of convertible debt to help with the exporting process.”
With the convertible debt — which means the borrowed funds are converted into equity at a later date, rather than paid back in cash — Love Good Fats™ had the resources to grow. They did a soft launch in the US in January 2019 with Whole Foods, and soon after they were approached by Costco, Walmart, and Kroger, among others, and expansion again happened very quickly.
With all this success and rapid growth, Suzie could never have planned for 2020 to bring such a huge roadblock. With the start of the COVID pandemic came the dramatic decline in the market’s desire for on-the-go nutritional bars.
“2019 was amazing, and then COVID hit and suddenly everyone was staying home, eating homemade banana bread,” Suzie says. “Watching your sugar and carb intake went by the wayside.”
Financing again became top of mind for Suzie, and would come to have an essential role in the company’s ability to withstand these impossibly hard times. “The saying, plan for the worst and hope for the best, was really key for us,” she explains. “Thankfully, a year ago we were able to raise $10 million dollars with Series A financing — aiming for way more than we thought we would need to get through cash flow issues during the pandemic.”
As it turns out, the worst was much worse than they’d imagined. “COVID was a huge reality check for us,” says Suzie, “because for three years prior everything we touched turned to gold, we were incredibly blessed, and then we were beat up way more than we thought we would be.”
Preparedness and resiliency were key to her survival.
More than a year into the pandemic, and with things slowly starting to move in the right direction, Suzie reflects on her journey and the road ahead. She’s eager to offer advice to other entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to financing a start-up.
“Women typically don’t get financing for their businesses, and only 5% of VC funding goes to women entrepreneurs,” Suzie says. “It’s very challenging and we’re trying to get more support in Canada and the US for women-led businesses to ensure they’re getting their fair share of the government money available and VC institutional dollars. There’s still lots of work to be done there.”
Suzie says it’s essential to know where to look for funding and what to apply for. Resources accessed through organizations like EDC, for example, are a good place to start, helping women-led companies access new markets and capital.
“In our first year we were also fortunate enough to get small funding from Canada’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development program (SRED),” she says. The key was knowing that this funding was available and putting together a strong case for the fact that her bars were completely unprecedented, with a unique taste and nutritional profile.
“Today, I recommend to all founders to spend time looking at all funding options — there are a lot out there,” she says. “And while it’s harder for Canadian start-ups because there are fewer options available, we still have some phenomenal partners and incubators in this country.”
In its most recent rounding of financing, Love Good Fats™ signed on with an institutional investor, InvestEco — a Canadian institutional VC firm that has provided financial and strategic support as well.
“For women founders, you just have to go from left to right — start with savings, then angel investments, some potential crowd-sourced funding, the EDC and BDC,” Suzie advises. “While banks are still tough until you are profit positive, there are many ways to raise funds beyond bootstrapping.”