As children, when the Garza siblings fought, their parents forced them to hug for 15 minutes to work it out. That parenting hack helped foster a foundation of love and trust that carried through to the family business, according to Miguel Garza, CEO and co-founder of Siete Family Foods. Founded in 2014, the company created a category in grain-free and dairy-free Mexican-American staples, building a business from an almond flour tortilla in their mother’s kitchen to the shelves of 13,000 grocery stores, including Whole Foods.
In Capital One and Inc.‘s Your Next Move series, Garza spoke with Inc. editor-at-large Tom Foster on how to build a brand that’s an extension of your own values to sustain your company through challenging times, whether it’s a sibling disagreement or a global pandemic. Here are three takeaways from their conversation.
Don’t have a business plan. Solve a problem.
The Garzas didn’t have data or a business plan; they had a problem, Garza says. Veronica Garza, who became co-founder and president of Siete, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. She adopted a grain-free diet, and the family joined her. But, it meant they could no longer eat tacos, tortillas, or corn chips–fixtures of their Mexican-American heritage. “So, culturally, we felt very disconnected,” Garza says.
Veronica experimented with creating an almond flour tortilla. It was a hit with the family. When they decided to make a business of it and took their first batch to a nearby Wheatsville Food Co-Op, it sold out in two days. Eventually Whole Foods CEO John Mackey heard about the tortillas and asked about putting it in his stores. In this case, a product that developed from a personal need beat everyone else to market.
“We probably wouldn’t have created an almond flour tortilla if we had looked at all the data,” Garza says. Later, as Siete introduced more products, the Garzas discovered another consumer pain point: No one was selling Mexican-American products in the health-food category. Soon they expanded the brand from tortillas to a line of innovative yet heritage-inspired products, like cashew milk queso.
“That authenticity resonates with the end consumer,” Garza says.
Build a brand image that’s authentic.
The first Siete almond flour tortillas were delivered to their first customers in ZipLoc bags, and the company was called “Must Be Nutty Tortillas.” The jump to selling product on a regular basis in local grocery stores and, later, Whole Foods, demanded a sleeker marketing strategy.
They decided to make the brand a reflection of their identity as a family. Siete means seven in Spanish and represents the original seven family members who started the company. For the logo, they chose a heron, which Garza means in English. Inspired by Veronica’s struggle with her autoimmune disorder, the logo designer the family hired created a phoenix-like image with a sense of rising out of the ashes, resulting in the orange bird that looms large on the company’s products. The packaging is striking, frequently mixing opposite colors, like featuring the orange logo on a predominantly blue chip bag. Similarly, Garza says “the beauty of the brand is in all of the tension it holds,” in being both Mexican and American, traditional and new.
This tension animates the company’s values as well. “We try to be passionate, but we also want to be compassionate. We want to be bold, but we also want to be humble,” he says. Humility was particularly important in their decision to seek funding. As the family built an attractive brand and core consumer base, it needed to expand to keep up with increased interest in grain-free products and knew that it could not do it alone. With their core values in mind, the Garzas were able to let go of ego and realize they needed a partner, he says. Last year, it secured a $90 million investment to continue to grow.
Focus on relationships.
Siete did not have an “influencer strategy,” Garza says. It tried to build relationships with people on social media, one follower and influencer at a time, by interacting with them and providing recipes online. “We have this guiding philosophy of being relational and not transactional,” he explains.
It wasn’t the most scalable approach, but they didn’t care, Garza says. They thought, let their future selves worry about scaling, and focus on connecting with people in the present. It’s a principle they regularly apply to their daily operations, and it comes from the time when the siblings did what now looks like a trial run for building a multimillion-dollar company together: the Garzas owned a gym in their hometown of Laredo, Texas.
There, their philosophy was to treat each client like “part of the family.” Now, they refer to employees as “extended family”–an attitude that drove their decisions during the pandemic to focus on the safety of their team. They have moved the test kitchen to employees’ homes, and the new first taste-testers for new products are the research-and-development director’s two kids, Garza says. But even within the family leadership team, there can be conflicts, he acknowledges. They solve them by focusing on the vision, so the issue is not about whether a person is right or wrong, just whether an approach itself is.
Unlike some executive teams, they don’t set a boundary between family time and company time. “We love being a part of what we’re building so much, it’s the topic of every conversation,” Garza says. If you’re also eating your delicious almond flour tortillas together at the dinner table, that probably is true.