Stick to your core principles and focus on making products that you make well and are passionate about.
Stacie is CEO and owner of Bilinski Sausage Co, a third-generation family business, headquartered in Cohoes, New York. Under her direction, Bilinski’s transformed from a regional old-world sausage company to a one of the country’s most innovative and respected organic meat processors, committed to making sausages from responsibly-raised organic chicken and simple, every-day ingredients. Stacie grew up in the meat business, but began her career in the technology industry after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University. Later, she earned a Masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and served as an advisor to the US government on national security policy issues. In 2004, she returned to New York’s Capital Region to reinvent and grow the family business. Stacie lives in Clifton Park, NY with her husband and two sons and enjoys hiking, training for triathlons, and inventing new flavors of sausages in her home kitchen.
Where did the idea for Bilinski Sausage Co come from?
My company makes plant-forward organic sausages from simple ingredients and responsible proteins, like humanely raised chicken. A year or so ago, I realized that our customers were also interested in a fully plant-based sausage – but only one that was actually made from clean, simple ingredients – since many people are choosing to eat less meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Although there were some plant-based sausages out on the market, many were heavily processed and contained artificial ingredients and flavorings. They were really not very healthy, convenient, or appealing to flexitarians. So, I created a fully plant-based sausage, High Peaks, to fill that gap – plant-based sausages that are made for your meat-free days crafted from real ingredients, that are fully cooked and ready to eat.
High Peaks helps you eat a little bit healthier, and incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, so I wanted a name that celebrates that idea of continuous improvement, like climbing to the top of a mountain peak, or eating a little bit healthier. High Peaks happens to be a real-world place too! We’re upstate New Yorkers and the 46 highest mountains in the Adirondack mountain range are known as the High Peaks. I grew up hiking in the mountains and to me it’s the most beautiful place in the country, and that feeling of accomplishment when you get to a summit and get to take in the view is thrilling to me.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Things start early in the food business! We start making sausages around 6:30am. Most days I’m up long enough before that to run, bike or swim before my workday gets started. Then I connect with my team and make sure to clear any roadblocks that they have. My biggest contribution is making sure that the team has a clear road ahead so they can stay productive too. To keep myself motivated, I always find a way to move the ball forward on at least one big picture goal, so that I never end a workday without a feeling of accomplishment. This helps to anchor me, so I don’t get too sucked into the busy work that inevitably comes up. At the end of the day I summarize what happened – wins, losses, things to think about for the next day. That really helps to me to stay on track and motivated for the next day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is the best thing about being a food entrepreneur – I get to make up delicious recipes and then turn them into a real-life product that people buy and eat every week. We create our sausages the old-fashioned way. Our office is a converted house with a regular home kitchen. We make little batches of sausage in new, fun flavor combinations, make a link or two and then everybody tries them and makes comments. I usually bring them home and get my kids’ opinion too. Once we have something delicious, we try it out on our larger scale equipment. But it all starts out in our kitchen because we focus on making sausages just like our customers would make them at their own homes.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really excited about the trend toward more plant-based diets. I think people are starting to understand that mindful eating is better for your health and for our planet.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My secret productivity weapon is to always do the thing I don’t want to do, first. It’s such a simple idea but so effective! If you get whatever it is you’re dreading out of the way, you don’t lose all that time you’d otherwise spend procrastinating – which can be a surprisingly large amount of time.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could go back in time I would tell myself to focus on the big picture. I tend to get into the minutiae but if I could do it over again, I would have delegated more, earlier in my career – because I have an awesome team that is more than capable of getting the job done. Sometimes it’s hard to see that in the moment, when you feel that tremendous entrepreneurial risk and pressure.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Many plant-based and organic foods are actually just junk food in disguise. They might be highly processed, full of sugar and fat, or just nutritionally empty. What is true is that eating a balanced diet of mostly simple, whole foods and more vegetables and plants is better for you, and it’s better for the environment to support organic foods. The easiest way to tell the difference is by reading the ingredient statements!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I take 10 minutes every day for a little mini meditation. I pick one problem or thought, close my office door, close my eyes and just think about it in a focused way. Every single time I end up having a flash of inspiration. It’s such a minimal time commitment for a disproportionately big result! I took the inspiration from the book “Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership,” by Janice Marturano – I highly recommend it for all entrepreneurs.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I think I’ve been very well served by sticking to our core principles and focusing on making products that we make well and are passionate about. It’s really easy to succumb to the latest fad when it comes to food, and that’s the case for those of us who make food too. But I’m a true believer that real food is always on trend, so we try to see through the noise and make our products in a way that will stand the test of time – simple, fresh ingredients, made from responsible proteins.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve definitely suffered more than once by getting involved in a customer’s passion project that didn’t amount to a real business opportunity. I tend to be overly accommodating and have spent way too much time and money on developing these sorts of products. I don’t know if I’ve really learned my lesson on this actually, but I try to stay focused on what works for my company.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Climate change is a trend that will turn every aspect of the food industry upside down. This creates tremendous opportunities for an entrepreneur to innovate and be a positive force for change.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A fancy notebook and fountain pen. I do everything electronically like everyone else, but I really think best on paper – it somehow gives me clarity. And it’s a little luxury to have a really nice pen and nice paper to record thoughts and ideas. I carry my notebook around with me everywhere.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love Asana for project management and to do sorts of task lists. It’s easy to assign things to different groups and teams, or myself and to set up recurring project checklists for things like onboarding new team members or setting up new products. You can write the list once and then all you have to do is assign roles and timelines for new projects that follow the same format. It helps my whole team save a ton of time and the aggravation of forgetting important steps.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
This one is a classic, but I’m a huge fan of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. I recommend it to everyone and it was a life-changing book to me that I go back to over and over again whenever I feel like I have an insurmountable challenge. It really puts things into perspective and helps free my mind to move forward and take action.
What is your favorite quote?
Luck is the residue of design. I’ve had this quote on my wall since I graduated from college. It’s definitely one I live by!
- Many people are choosing to eat less meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
- To keep motivated, find a way to move the ball forward on at least one big picture goal and you will never end a workday without a feeling of accomplishment.
- Stick to your core principles and focus on making products that you make well and are passionate about.
- Focus on the big picture.