A few months back, I connected with Lauren Chew through Parsnip. I immediately fell in love with her company, CompletEats, a healthy cookie company. Lauren is the founder and based out of San Francisco. You know I love the stories of female founders and their journeys so without further adieu…
1. What was your major and your first job before starting CompletEats?
Both were totally unrelated to CompletEats! I studied International Relations & Sociology at UC-San Diego and then went on to work at the largest solar installation firm in operations & sales for six years.
2. How’d you come up with the idea of starting your own vegan/gluten-free cookie company?
I decided to go full-time vegetarian when I was a freshman in college but honestly, I’ve wanted to be a vegetarian most of my life. I was first introduced to the plant-based lifestyle through my stepmom, who became vegan about five years ago for the health benefits. She was the one who taught me how to bake using vegan techniques such as using flax or chia “eggs” and I became hooked. When I got back to the Bay Area, I couldn’t find any cookies that were made from plant-based ingredients and so I decided to launch my own product.
3. Did you have a moment when you were first starting out that you knew you were on to something big in the food industry?
When I first started out, I launched in local retail in the Bay Area and started doing a lot of in-store product demonstrations for my customers. Since I didn’t have any resources, I did most of them myself which turned out to be eye-opening. I was able to talk to my customers face-to-face and get direct & honest feedback from them. The real moment I realized I was on to something amazing when people who tested our cookies were shocked to find out that they are vegan and gluten-free.
4. This is your first business, right? What were the first few months of starting CompletEats like for you?
Originally, my background was in solar and distributed battery storage (renewables). While there are some similarities in startups, I really had no idea what I was doing when I first started out. As I kept forging ahead, I learned on the job how the industry worked from sourcing ingredients to working with a co-packer to acquiring new wholesale customers. Also, I talked to lots of people in the industry and that was incredibly invaluable.
5. What is the most satisfying part of running your own business?
I love baking a product that not only tastes delicious but shows people that not all plant-based products taste terrible. My ultimate goal is to show everyone that living plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to become 100% vegan. In terms of living a more sustainable lifestyle, you could start with Meatless Mondays or even eating plant-based for a meal a week. If everyone did this, the environmental impact would truly be significant, since globally greenhouse gases from mass cattle farming is around 14-18%.
6. Where do you see the future of CompletEats in the next two years?
I would love to see CompletEats in almost every corporate kitchen and cafeteria in the Bay Area, as well as distributed nationally in grocery. I’m also looking forward to growing my brand into a recognized, household name.
7. Do you have any advice for first-time female entrepreneurs?
I would say just go for it! Of course, you’d want to do product market research, consumer insights, and estimate your COGS or Cost of Goods Sold. But the advantage you have is that lots of people have business ideas, but even fewer people actually execute them. If you are worried about stability, you could launch your product as a part-time side-hustle and grow it from there. I know several brands who have started this way until the founders were able to quit their full-time job to work on their brands full-time.
8. Do you have any new cookie flavors in the works?
Yes, we do! We have 4th flavor coming out in a couple of months, as well as a few special seasonal flavors down the road. I’m super excited about this and am sure you will love them!
9. In your professional opinion, what is the best way to eat a CompletEATS Cookie?
Plain Jane! It’s a great grab & go snack. When I have a long day of deliveries & meetings in my car, it’s my go-to snack. I also love sandwiching two cookies with some dairy-free ice cream in the middle or chopping it up over a bowl of yogurt and fruit in the morning.
10. Who has inspired you the most or been your greatest cheerleader?
Honestly, it has been other female entrepreneurs in the packaged foods space. I’ve been blown away by how supportive and nurturing the community is in San Francisco, along with other cities as well. I’ve been fortunate to meet so many other women who have been generous with their time—whether it’s giving me advice, someone to bounce an idea off of or ask a quick question/compare notes. Some names that come to mind are Becca Salmonson of Becca’s Petites, Lauren Joyner of Eat Loca, Emily of Lil Bucks to name a few.
11. How do you define your balance between work and life?
This definitely has been a work in progress, but I try to meditate every day with the Headspace app, or meet my best friend once a week for a hot yoga class. It’s hard because when you own your own business, you always feel like you should always be working! I adopted a dog a month ago, and she has really taught me how to be present and take breaks, especially when she needs a walk or wants to play.
12. If you could change one thing from when you were just starting out, what would it be?
I wish I had more confidence when first starting out. It’s easy to question yourself or doubt yourself and starting my first business really made me feel vulnerable. I worked at a large company and then a smaller startup. So, I was used to having a boss and some level of structure. When you have your own company, it’s up to you to create your own structure and goals. Initially, this made me nervous. Now that I’ve been doing this for almost a year, I’m used to it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
13. What are you most excited for personally in the next year or two?
I’m really looking forward to hopefully starting a family with my husband and finding new ways to give back to our community!
For more inspiring stories, head to the HERStory section on the blog.
Affectionately known to her friends as Millennial Martha for her love of DIY and decorating, Jen can’t help but pour her heart + soul into everything she touches. She’s loved to entertain since acquiring a table and chairs, and giving gifts is one of her favorite hobbies. Jen is the creator of Girl Meets Party. Her dream is to share her passions with the world in hopes to inspire others by making the seemingly unattainable attainable.