Every entrepreneur has their own trigger for starting a business and for Kate Weiss it was heartfelt.
Her daughter Amy was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, a genetic developmental disability affecting one in 300,000 individuals, when Amy was five years old. Kate wanted to be there for Amy and to ensure, to the best of her ability, Amy would be cared and provided for throughout her life.
The result was Table of Plenty, a fast-moving consumer goods food business built on the back of what was very much a life changing experience, which turned into an opportunity to find deeper purpose.
Kate had previously been a senior IT professional, as had her husband who works with her in the business. She knew that particular lifestyle would no longer work and sought a creative outlet, built on a specific notion: “I firmly believe that none of us needs to be defined by our personal life circumstances in what we set out to do, and what we set out to achieve. If we are unfulfilled or don’t enjoy what we do how can we possibly give everything we need to those we love?”
For Kate, food was that outlet and moving to the food industry was a big sideways step from IT. “Table of Plenty creates food with integrity in its ingredients – food that is nourishing and good to eat – and we are stocked in the major and independent supermarkets here in Australia, and we also export to some countries. Our products include breakfast cereals, especially muesli, snacks and meal bases, and seasoning products.”
Interestingly, although Table of Plenty reflects a personal life experience, Kate didn’t create the company because of any food intolerance experienced by Amy. She explains: “The motivation was the trust each of us puts in the food we get from our mothers and I wanted to replicate that trust from one mother to another. I wanted to make a difference and make good, nutritious food available to other mothers around Australia.”
A life of plenty
With such a personal back-story, I was intrigued to learn more about Kate’s approach to managing her time. As well as Amy, she has a son, so describing her life as ‘busy’ is an understatement.
“Occasionally, I can feel overwhelmed, but I often feel I have everything well and truly under control. I guess no two days are the same and we have designed plenty of tools and methods over the years to help us operate at our best.
“I firmly believe that if you do work you love, work becomes something you want to do, which means any new venture flourishes.
“In fact, our whole business is built around a concept of living an integrated life, which we call a ‘life of plenty’ – one in which you take care of all the departments in your life, which is much different from a concept of trying to balance one part of your life with another.
“You do though, pivot around moments in your life. I recently found a photograph of Amy just moments after she had been born, taken with me in the hospital, and at that moment I had no idea that our lives would change so markedly. Those changes do in fact run back to that one special photo taken at that one particular moment. Table of Plenty almost certainly would not have existed had Amy not been born.”
Creating points of difference
Kate says Table of Plenty is about care, encouragement and trust. “Customers can trust that our product is what it says it is on the packet and that care has been taken in finding the right ingredients to put into that packet.”
“One example – we were one of the first companies to introduce dukkah to supermarket shelves and our competitors at the time were using rice flour to dilute their spices, as a way to cheapen materials and improve margins. We don’t do that.
“Another point of difference is that we actually talk to our customers. My email address is on our packaging and I actually will reply to anyone who sends me an email.
“We also believe in giving back and creating opportunity, so we have partnered with NGOs over 10 years and created hundreds of thousands of work hours for people with disabilities. We wanted to make sure there was space for everyone in the world.”
Kate’s team has expanded to 10 in the Table of Plenty head office, building off the first five years that saw Kate and her husband working together from home. “I think we ‘survived’ because we are a good team working together in the business. We ‘tick-tock’ very well together, creating a lot of good, creative mess!”
Give and take with the market
There were many challenges at the start. Kate is of the view that life quickly lets you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. In her case, starting a business with a young family and a disabled child, without the resources the family needed, was difficult. “We won by working very hard, and we scaled as quickly as we could. Now we are putting the foot on the accelerator.”
Kate’s perspective on starting a business is well defined as well: “Do what you love, this is vital, but don’t be too attached to that dream. Listen to the market and be prepared to change. Being an entrepreneur is like being a dance partner – you have to give and take with the market.
“Don’t let the business consume you. Not every day has you on top of the mountain – some days you’re down in the valley with a shovel, digging.”
Technology also plays its part, but its role at Table of Plenty remains rooted in the basics of helping them be connected, including with their main customers, such as Coles and Woolworths. Market and sales intelligence comes from data, not assumptions, which lets Kate make decisions with much more confidence. “Numbers don’t lie, that’s for sure.”
Daughter Amy is, of course, an inspiration. “She lives each day in the moment and enjoys each of her days because she’s actually unencumbered by many of the worries the rest of us have. She’s a very happy person which, of course, is always wonderful to see,” says Kate.
Away from Amy, Kate believes inspiration comes from inside each of us, working off that mindset that we each have plenty to offer in life and that there is plenty to go around. “You have to be motivated to want to go to work, so choose an inspirational career that’s right for you,” she says.
Kate has grown a FMCG brand with an authentic message that enables her to create a dialogue with consumers before they even get to the supermarket. She will share her strategies for global expansion and her insights into social entrepreneurship at Rare Birds Con 2016 (8-9 June), at the University of Sydney Business School.