Simple & Crisp makes artisanal dried fruit crackers that founder Jane Yuan calls an innovation in dried fruit and a disruption in crackers. Naturally gluten-free, high in antioxidants and high in fiber, Simple & Crisp products offer a great healthy alternative for cheese platters and a decorative way to add presentation to dinners, desserts and cocktails.
What started as an experiment in Yuan’s kitchen is now a successful business selling its products in retailers nationwide. Simple & Crisp dried fruit crackers have been featured in media outlets from the TODAY show to Time magazine to Martha Stewart Living.
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How did you get started with your business?
It was a kitchen experiment at home that turned into a food company. I wanted to make dried fruit that wasn’t sugary or chewy. I wanted to highlight the beauty of nature – Most dried fruit is cut up into bits and pieces, but I wanted to show a perfect, beautiful slice and keep it as simple as possible without a lot of ingredients.
I started dehydrating fruit in my home kitchen. I used the fruit to make my cheese tray presentation more beautiful. It was just a healthier way to enjoy cheese. We were sharing it with friends, and my friends were like, “Wow! This is really interesting!” Then I shared it with my Internet network of friends who were very nice and thought it was a cool idea. As I thought more about it, I wondered if it could be a possible product. I started researching and realized there was no elegant dried fruit out there.
Getting excited, I started sharing my fruit crackers with people who were in the food industry, like restaurateurs and chefs. I asked them what they would do with them and if they found them interesting. I wanted to have the validation of people with a culinary background. One chef used an orange and put it on his citrus-marinated ceviche. That really opened up a pairing possibility beyond what I had though – At home I was just using them with cheese and ice cream and cocktails. I had another chef who put foie gras with a pear. I realized this fruit cracker was a unique way to better pair and highlight different dishes.
My background is in PR and marketing. I’ve always been a foodie and loved discovering new food. But once I had the positive feedback from people in the food industry, it gave me more confidence to move forward with manufacturing.
Who was your first customer?
I started to visit some of the retailers in the Seattle area who I thought would be a perfect fit for the brand. Beecher’s Cheese in Pike Place Market was very enthusiastic and supportive. They were one of my first customers.
Whole Foods gave me the opportunity to open up the product beyond just specialty retailers to a national grocer. They were excited to have a new type of product that wasn’t out there already.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
We started with a business partner who’s allowed us to get started with buying equipment, hiring staff and purchasing packaging.
We also raised some money on Community Sourced Capital. I love how it’s a very flexible, nice way to have your friends and community get the chance to support your business with no interest to pay back. It’s a very, very simple way to loan friends your money, support their dreams, and help them get to the next point in their business.
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What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
I think mistakes are good. You have to make mistakes to really grow. They happen. You have to accept them and move on and learn.
We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Learning about our product’s shelf life. Learning about staff and who to bring into the business.
You have to learn to trust your own instincts. There are a lot of people who try to influence your decisions. I’ve made mistakes by trusting too much and following the path that was maybe not the right path because someone influenced that decision too much.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Positioning the product and finding why we are unique. And sharing and inspiring other people by showing them the product.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I’m still learning every day. You have to always be adaptable. You have to always be ready for a rollercoaster ride. You just kind of learn as you go. I’ve been supported by a lot of people who have been very supportive and who are willing to share experiences.
I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs, and we’re all learning together. There’s no formula for what we’re doing. It’s just kind of survival.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The possibilities are endless. Every day, you have an opportunity to shape and grow the business. It’s exciting, because it could go either way!
I use the analogy of having a baby that you brought into the world. You want it to be happy and healthy and eventually grow up to take care of itself. You want it to be a very happy and successful adult!
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What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
It can feel lonely. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made. A lot of bumps in the road that make you feel constantly challenged. You can feel very confused and lonely. But, you have to stay strong. It’s so rewarding, ultimately. It’s not really work; it’s a passion.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
It’s actually been amazing to feel so embraced. It feels like everyone’s rooting for you. If I have any questions or feel lost, I feel like I can talk to anyone else in the business or another entrepreneur. Everyone’s open and willing to share their mistakes and insights on how they got over certain things.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
I have other friends who are doing what we are doing. They are people who I admire, and it’s exciting to see them grow, like a company out of Brooklyn called Morris Kitchen that makes really cool cocktail mixers. There are just so many that I admire, like jam makers, chocolatiers, salt makers – So many people who are following their passion and launching a food product.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
If you are passionate about what you are doing, people will see that passion and be 100 percent behind you. It’s the passion behind the product and the person that truly helps differentiate you from the rest.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
It’s challenging. It’s definitely not so easy to have an idea and get started right away. If you don’t stay strong, it can be a difficult journey, but it is an exciting journey. It’s been a fun journey, but it can have lots of bumps in the road.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.