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Jan 29, 2021

Denise Woodard, the founder and CEO of Partake Foods, is not shy about asking for advice. In an interview featured in this episode, she reflects on how guidance from other entrepreneurs has been a key part of her success in building a fast-growing packaged food brand. You might be surprised, however, that the counsel she most values comes from unsuccessful founders.

“I think oftentimes when you’re company’s on a rocketship to success, it’s hard to remember the stuff that went wrong,” Woodard said. “But when you’ve lost your last dollar and put all your blood, sweat and tears into a company that didn’t work for whatever reason, you have really good advice about what not to do and what you wished you would have done.”

A former executive with The Coca-Cola Co.’s Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) unit, Woodard founded Partake in 2016 after her infant daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies. Frustrated with the lack of allergen-friendly food brands, she launched Partake with a line of cookies that are free from the eight major allergens, followed by a move into baking mixes. The brand, which sells its cookies at Target, Whole Foods and Sprouts stores nationwide, made waves in June of 2020 when it announced a $1 million seed round that was partly funded by Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners. Seven months later, Partake closed on a $4.8 million Series A round that included industry luminary John Foraker and music icon Rihanna. 

It took a lot of heavy lifting, sacrifice and hearing the word ‘no’ dozens of times to get Partake where it is today, and as part of our interview, Woodard spoke about how her experience working with entrepreneurs while at Coca-Cola impacted the planning for and development of Partake, as well as how a boom in allergen-friendly brands has affected the brand’s growth and why leaning into retailer programs that support Black and female-owned companies has been critical. She also discussed why Partake was self-funded at launch, how she went from raising $5,000-$10,000 at a time to multi-million dollar, celebrity-led funding rounds, how the tragedy and social unrest of 2020 impacted Partake and why she sings the praises of a leadership coach.

Show notes: 

0:36: Celebrate Green Juice! But Did You Forget About Everything Bagel Ice Cream? Join The Club. -- The hosts chatted about waves of greens and green juice, a new ice cream product with a unique flavor and what they are learning about social media app Clubhouse. They also discussed new packaged food and beverages to hit the office, including better-for-you noodles, a “big” candy bar brand and non-alcoholic craft beer.

23:22: Interview: Denise Woodard, Founder/CEO, Partake Foods -- Taste Radio editor Ray Latif spoke with Woodard about her prompt email replies, her background as an entrepreneur, her transition from a beverage executive to a founder of a food brand and how she’s saved at least $250,000 in retailer fees. She also discussed how she was able to differentiate Partake from a growing set of competitors in the allergen-free space, how she determined her capital needs for launching the brand, staying focused after hearing rejection from investors, why data was a key asset in the company’s Series A round and why she doesn’t separate personal and professional responses to issues of racism and inequality. Later she explained why entrepreneurs should ask for specific versus general advice about building a business and why she views her employees as her “boss.”

Brands in this episode: Partake Foods, Suja, Evolution Fresh, Your Super, Organifi, Jeni’s, Coolhaus, Ben & Jerry’s, Foodstirs, Zesty Z, Ayoba Foods, Belgian Boys, Nona Lim, Om Som, Banza, Daytrip, BrewDog, Athletic Brewing Co., De La Calle, immi, Gigantic Bar, Ugly Drinks, Milky Way, Hershey’s, Honest Tea, Zico, Once Upon A Farm