On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Salt & Straw co-founder and CEO Kim Malek discusses how she self funded her business and shares how she dealt with criticism from investors.
Malek founded Salt & Straw in 2011. The Portland, Oregon-based ice cream company is known for its unique flavors made by hand with local ingredients.
Malek began conceptualizing her business in 1996, but had doubts because of her father’s own failed business endeavors.
“This idea of running your own small business just seems so scary and risky to me,” she said. “Even though I was really passionate about this and I could feel it in my bones, this is something I want to do and it felt right. I just shelved it and that also felt right and it felt safe. But it was always percolating in the background and something that I had thought about a lot.”
Nearly fifteen years later she took a leap of faith, cashed out her 401(k), sold her house and organized a garage sale, all to fund their first location. The years she spent working at companies like Starbucks, Yahoo and Adidas made her realize her love for creating something new.
“Even though some of those companies were on the bigger side,” Malek said. “I was always looking for those entrepreneurial spots where we were introducing something new and sort of setting that up for people.”
She added, “ I would find when I was in an environment that was a lot bigger, it was hard to just have just one little piece to the puzzle. That wasn't fulfilling to me. And also just the timelines, things would take so long and the bureaucracy….I love coming up with ideas and just trying it to see if it works and evolving it over time.”
Clearly Malek had a knack for the entrepreneurial lifestyle, but she had no experience making ice cream. Despite that missing link, Malek knew she would eventually meet the right business partner. Little did she know, it would be her cousin Tyler.
“He got an ice cream maker from Goodwill and [was] trying all these different recipes and sending them to me,” she said.
Throughout all of the stride’s she’s made in growing Salt & Straw, Malek admitted that she still experiences the fears she felt prior to starting the business. But she understands now that some of the hesitation for taking the leap of faith was fear combined with this idea that many women face–imposter syndrome.
“I’m in rooms with my brethren and all these other entrepreneurs who are a lot of men,” she said. “And they will wake up in the morning and say ‘I just had the best idea. I cannot wait to share it with the world.’ I’m going to honor you with this brilliant idea I had and then you know myself included, women are so famous for wanting to perfect something before they bring it to the world.”
More than a decade later, Kim has grown Salt & Straw into a successful business, and even brought on celebrity investors like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Her first few stores were self funded, but she said that eventually that runway was running out. She started applying for SBA loans and needed to find a new direction to fund the business. Eventually, she got a hold of some investors that included Allan Karp and the rest was history.
“I did partner with him and Danny [Dwayne Johnson’s ex wife] and the team because during the pandemic, we really needed help and it tests you know, you can get money from a lot of places, but you want to have money that aligns with your values,” she explained. “Especially when the cards are down and your backs against the wall and decisions are being made that affect the future of your company, big or small.”
Malek emphasized the value one’s network has on a business. She attributes some of her success to the people she’s met throughout her career journey that has helped her grow her business to what it is today.
“I wake up every morning and I’m like, we cannot be complacent. This doesn't happen by accident,” she said. “We have to go above and beyond what people could ever imagine they would get from us both in terms of our ice cream, but more importantly, in terms of how we make them feel.”
dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.
This podcast is produced by Behind Her Empire. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.
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