I’m Charlene, half of the husband-and-wife team who co-founded EATABLE, a gourmet snack company that creates 100% natural alcohol-infused popcorn refined for Modern Connoisseurs.
When people find out what I do for a living, one of the first questions I’m always asked is: “How did you come up with this idea? It’s so unique!”
I always say that snacking + drinks are two of my biggest loves. My husband, Vince, and I made the “perfect pairing” in every sense, so we decided to build a business around it so we could share it with the world.
But that’s the short answer – the truth goes so much deeper than that. It has to do with a journey of self-discovery over the years as I made a transition from my previous corporate life working as a professional accountant who eventually found my way to entrepreneurship.
Now, as a mom of a 3-year-old and running my business full-time, I love sharing my story to inspire other women who have considered taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, but have either felt too scared or don’t know where to start.
As much as people think starting a business is a game of numbers, analysis, or research, I believe the biggest challenge is really adopting a true “entrepreneurial” mindset and embracing risk and discomfort.
Honestly, the hardest part is just STARTING. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true.
If you’ve ever doubted your ability to take the plunge, don’t worry – You’re not alone. The entrepreneurial mindset seldom comes naturally to most people.
Remember, the entrepreneur mindset is an attitude that’s trained and strengthened over time by placing yourself in situations that could yield opportunity, and then just trying. Seeing what happens. Messing up. Then learning, pivoting, and trying again.
My first foray into entrepreneurship came accidentally after my own wedding in 2011. I had gone the DIY route on a lot of components including designing our own invitations, which was one of my favorite parts of the wedding planning process.
After guests received them, they couldn’t believe that this accountant possessed such creativity, and were blown away! I got requests from friends and family to make their invitations and didn’t realize in the process, I had actually done market testing of my product! After a few more referrals came in, my first bona fide business was born.
I started out meeting clients in coffee shops with a binder full of paper swatches and discussing design ideas from my laptop. One year in, I decided to rent a small 200 sq ft studio to display my creations, and that’s when business really took off.
My work ended up getting published in major wedding magazines, and I managed to hire a small team while turning six-figure revenues within two years. As a result, I ended up deciding to quit my corporate job and run my design studio full time. It wasn’t easy, but I loved it.
After I had my first baby in 2015, I made the heart-wrenching decision to take a step back from my business – My son had come 2 weeks early, and I was busy answering emails from my hospital bed. Nothing about the new parenting experience felt natural to me, and I had frequent bouts of postpartum depression and anxiety.
In the end, I wanted to be fully present for my son, so I knew I had to find something else that was more flexible and accommodating to my new norm as a parent.
Little did we know that lifestyle change would inspire my little family to pack our bags, leave our home in Toronto, Canada and relocate to Boston to work at a real estate startup. I went back to my professional roots, working in a Finance role, but we jumped at the chance to live somewhere else and experience new surroundings.
People thought we were crazy to move across the border with an 18-month old in tow, but we went where the opportunities took us, and for some reason, it felt like the right thing to do.
While in Boston, Vince took the opportunity to explore his passion for creating in the kitchen. He became involved in a local food startup incubator, Commonwealth Kitchen, that offered a 12-week intensive accelerator program that taught all the basics of running your own food business, from operations to legal, to finances.
The program finished with a pitch competition, where candidates got to pitch their food business to an impressive panel of judges and food industry experts.
I helped him whip up some banners, branding and EATABLE-branded stickers for the competition, and to our surprise, his first popcorn – a Scotch Whisky infused caramel flavor called “Whisky on the Pops” ended up placing Top 2 out of over 10 finalists.
At that moment, we realized our popcorn had so much more potential than just being the highlight of our own parties and BBQs – we had to find a way to share our creation with the world.
So, we packed our bags (again) and moved back to Toronto to be closer to our families and support network. We spent over a year working out of a commercial kitchen alongside professional pastry chefs, learning traditional, artisanal methods of infusing flavour into our creations while sticking with 100% all-natural ingredients, and ensuring our flavourful snack was a refined experience that no store-bought snack could offer.
In December 2018, EATABLE was launched with the mission of reminding people to savour and celebrate those everyday moments in life – Big or small, with the people you love.
After all, our business is the fruition of a journey of ups and downs, life changes, and soul-searching. To me, my business represents overcoming depression, with a new purpose to succeed as a “Mompreneur” and set an example for my son that you can be whatever you want to be.
Looking back, I’ve come a long way from my time as the young Finance manager with the window office. Even though I’m putting in many more working hours than my previous corporate jobs, I’ve never been happier. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m doing what I am genuinely meant to do – I no longer dread Mondays.
My business enables me to craft the life I’ve always wanted while being able to share a little bit of our happiness through our gourmet snacks. I hope to inspire those who enjoy our products to celebrate their own journeys and successes as well.
– Written By Charlene Li, Founder of EATABLE INC.
One For Women is honored to have Charlene Li, Founder of EATABLE INC., share her voice and her important message as part of our One Voice to Hear series.