In Conversation with Amanda Rolat of Bramble
Describe your business in a few words?
Bramble is the first and only 100% plant-based fresh dog food. I started Bramble in my kitchen, along with board-certified veterinary nutritionists, for my dogs, Bryn and McGruff.
To me, Bramble is about feeding my dogs the way that I feed myself — a whole food (meaning non-processed) plant-based diet. I believe strongly that we are what we eat. I have always been interested in the connection between food and preventable diseases, so naturally I applied these same beliefs and concerns to my fur children!
Bramble was also created to educate pet parents about the untruths behind a lot of clever pet food marketing. We’re here to help pet parents make informed decisions about what to feed their beloved pets, without judgment.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I took the leap because that is how much I believe in Bramble’s mission and its importance! Like many people, my dogs are my family. After losing my dog, Harry, to cancer, and learning about the dangers and horrors of even the most premium commercial pet food, I realized that dogs are getting sick from the highly processed food they are fed, which contain low-quality ingredients. Similarly enough, it parallels how people are getting sick from the food they eat.
When I learned that dogs are omnivores, it was a wake up call for me. Dogs can thrive on plant-based protein sources for the same reasons humans do: they offer a clean, high quality, reliable source of protein without the hormones, contaminants, and bad fats of factory-farmed meat. There is a better way to feed our pets — and it’s not only better for their own health, but also better for the planet and other animals.
When I saw how much Bryn and McGruff loved their food, and how good I felt feeding them a fresh, plant-based diet, I realized that there must be other pet parents who, like me, had difficulty finding something like this. Bramble is personal to me, and I believe in it so much that I decided I was the person to fill the gap in the market.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I was a lawyer, specializing in wrongful convictions, in New York City. This often strikes people as wildly different from starting a pet food company, but I think the issues are so similar! Both concern justice and trying to do something to correct what I see as wrong. In both realms, the issues moved me so much that I couldn’t just be a bystander. I had to do something.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Not at all! I loved being a lawyer! And, I didn’t feel the need to be the boss or decision maker. In fact, I think that not being driven by wanting to be the boss ultimately served me well. That’s because I’m comfortable making this a team effort, which I think is a very important attribute of an entrepreneur.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
We are right at the beginning! Our strategy is to “soft launch” to the New York metro area, hyper targeting key neighborhoods and consumers. Our early adopters are pet parents who, like me, are plant-based for the sake of health and the planet, and aim to feed their pets the same way. We’ll use this soft launch to test our messaging, gain consumer feedback and ignite word of mouth, fueling our e-commerce roll out.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
The biggest lesson I learned early on is that, when you make a mistake, it’s best to immediately own up to it. We all make mistakes, and should take comfort in knowing that. Things can go horribly wrong when people try to cover mistakes out of fear or ego. Take a deep breath, go to your supervisor, and get to work fixing the problem. That’s the way to ensure everyone will eventually look back and have a good laugh about it.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Our recipes! I’m really proud that we created something that dogs absolutely love, which is also, in my opinion, the healthiest commercial pet food option. It also happens to be the most compassionate, sustainable choice to boot. It took us a year to get the formulation right. I love seeing dogs gobble up Bramble, and I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.
I’m also proud of the early steps I’ve taken to educate myself about building a business. I knew nothing about models, and projections and assumptions and customer acquisition. I had to learn all of this! I sought out the right advisors, surrounded myself with people who could coach me, and made thoughtful decisions. I think Bramble is in a much stronger starting position because of this.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
My hiring tip comes from an interview I heard with Mark Zuckerberg. Not in these exact words, but he basically said that when hiring, you should ask yourself whether, in another dimension, you could see yourself working for this person you’re hiring?
If the answer is yes, I think that signals a sign of trust and respect for the person you are hiring. I have had some incredible bosses in my life, and some not-so-great bosses. To me, it comes down to whether people are able to take their own ego and insecurities out of it, and give their employees the respect and room to do their job. But delegating can be a scary thing, so it’s essential to trust and respect your team.
Thinking in terms of the way Mark Zuckerberg framed it has really helped me to find the right people and hand over the reins.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Bramble happens to occupy a category that has benefited from COVID-19. It drove up online sales; pet adoption skyrocketed; Demand for plant-based alternatives increased even more, as people saw the conditions in slaughterhouses and made the connection between food-borne illnesses and animal agriculture. And, pet food has repeatedly proven to be recession-proof.
Bramble happens to be a plant-based pet food company that will be sold online, so it really dovetails with all that has fared well in the face of the pandemic.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are launching in the northeast, and aim to expand nationwide by the end of the year! Beyond that, we plan to build Bramble as the go-to for the highest quality, most trusted plant-based alternatives to the most sought-after pet products. This means more lines of food and supplements and treats that remove animals from the pet food supply chain… Because they’re not necessary!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
The power of friendship. Choose your pod wisely! There was a recent New York Times article about how our friendships can give us healthier, happier lives, and I really experienced it this year. I’m grateful that my close friends are mindful, healthy people. It really helped to keep me on track and feeling ok.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I knew what a marathon it would be to raise money! No matter how much everyone tells you this, I wasn’t prepared for the toll it takes on founders. It helps to remember that this happens to all founders, so it’s not personal and it doesn’t necessarily signal anything is wrong with your product or you.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Bramble’s mission keeps me grounded. All I have to do is think about what would happen if I don’t keep going – and it brings me back to how important this is.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Absolutely. I think having dogs keeps you balanced. No matter what you have going on, you have your dogs to play with, cuddle with, and take for a walk.
I understand how a founder can become consumed with their business, and not know how to turn off. But I also appreciate that, as a founder, you get to own your own schedule and structure your day in a way that works for you. As a first-time founder, I truly appreciate this and am mindful that it is harder for employees to do the same.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Even though I was raised in New York, I feel like a California girl at heart. I lived in LA for about five years after college, during some very formative years in my life, and it still feels like home to me.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Eat a whole food, plant-based diet! I have seen how cutting out processed foods, and sticking to mostly plant-based foods has transformed people’s health and lives.
- Get enough sleep. Even when I was in school, I learned that pulling all-nighters did not result in taking a better exam, it was actually the opposite!
- Make lists! This is another way of saying set out your daily goals. It not only keeps me productive, but it makes me feel accomplished at the end of the day.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means supporting other women and building each other up! The collaborations in business and on social media between female founders is empowering and awesome. I have so much respect for the women I see bringing conscious products to market. It’s tough raising money and building a business as a female founder, so I love how it feels like we’re in this together and have each other’s backs.