Vanessa Phillips

Talk and listen. Seek people out who have built a business (even if they’re not directly in your industry) as there is always something to learn from other successful entrepreneurs

Vanessa Phillips founded Feel Good Foods, an all-natural and gluten-free frozen food company, in 2011. As a lover of food, Vanessa’s celiac diagnosis in her early 20s had her rethink her entire diet and day-to-day. She went into the restaurant industry and at the same time saw a void in the frozen food aisle for delicious options that were made with real ingredients while keeping dietary restrictions in mind. Utilizing her innate passion for food and gluten-free lifestyle, Vanessa has brought a fresh approach to frozen foods. Feel Good Foods now satisfies a craving for the familiar frozen foods that conscious eaters know and love, while also accounting for those who are paying special attention to dietary preferences. Under Vanessa’s leadership, Feel Good Foods has grown into a national brand that is now available in over 6,000 stores including Whole Foods, Target and Costco. Prior to cooking up Feel Good Foods, Vanessa served as the Managing Partner for Friedman’s Restaurant, an eatery inside New York City’s historic Chelsea Market. In her role, Vanessa implemented a significant gluten-free component of the menu which attracted a new set of guests with restricted diets – increasing revenue by 100 percent in her first year. Today, there are five Friedman’s Restaurants throughout New York City. Outside of her career, Vanessa enjoys spending her time outdoors and honing her cooking skills while entertaining her friends and family in her Brooklyn apartment. Above all, Vanessa’s greatest joy is spending time with her six-year-old son.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Growing up my favorite food to eat was Chinese. My parents had a lot of Chinese restaurants and ordered in a lot- I had an overexposure to gluten products. I always used to say to my mom I thought I was allergic to something, but would always say “I don’t care what it is as long as I can keep eating these egg rolls.” When I found out I was celiac, I was devastated Chinese food was no longer an option for me to eat. When I met Tryg, he also shared my love for asian food. He had worked at Nobu, John George, Spice Market, it was a shared passion of ours. He asked me one day what foods I missed… then I listed off egg rolls, dumplings, and tempura, and he started cooking me dishes from his former restaurants, tweaking them to be gluten free. I felt bad for celiacs who are really hungry and miserable and didn’t have access to someone like Tryg day-to-day, like I did. While Tryg was at Balducci’s as their executive chef of prepared foods, I was in PR at the time. Still wanting to be involved in the food side of the food industry, I had done a trial run gluten free menu for my father’s restaurant- and the foods were met with rave reviews. One day someone had come into the restaurant, and the customer liked these lasagnas I made so much she asked if she could buy it in bulk to take home. I put up an ad online and had like 20 orders after the first week, which grew to 50 orders a week after a lot of gluten free bloggers started writing about this girl in the west village delivering gluten free lasagnas and my order count exploded. I was living in a 450 sq ft studio apartment and realized it wasn’t economic, so I took down the add and regrouped, which is how the inspiration for Friedman’s came to be. However, I loved the idea of people serving my food in their homes and I never got over that idea…I knew that one day I would come back to that concept, but it was on the back burner while Tryg and I launched Friedman’s. Feel Good Foods was born from that. It’s Friedman’s but in a box.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I try to start my day with a 15 minute meditation (usually before my son wakes up). I find it centers me before my mind gets flooded with all the craziness. My son and I usually make smoothies together and then I drop him off at school. Once I arrive at my office at 8:30 AM I focus everything I have on my business. I am 100% present and give all my energy to growing my company, working with my team and problem solving whatever the day brings me. I end my work day with a workout. Depending on what I have going on- it can be a 20 minute run or one hour full gym session. However, I always try to get something in as I struggle mentally and physically when I don’t move. After a day’s work, I go home, cook dinner with my son and spend the rest of the evening catching up with him.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am definitely an idea person- to a fault. I am always thinking of ideas and take notes in my phone or on my notepad constantly. Not all my ideas come to life and I often joke that I have a catalogue of “ideas” that may make an appearance at any date later in my life. What excites me most in my career is the possibility of my ideas rather than the actual execution of them.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Veggie crusts…keeping the crust and dropping the grain. I love indulgent and crispy crusts and being able to execute on that using a nutrient-rich vegetable is super exciting and innovative!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

What makes me most productive is finding balance and putting myself first (and not feeling ashamed of that). Sometimes I get so wrapped up in work and I put my own needs second. That’s when my work suffers. I have become strict about making sure I always find time in the day to do the things that make me most productive and in term the best version of myself. Whether it be meditating, exercising or spending quality time with my son- these daily routines are essential to my business productivity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

1. Talk and listen. Seek people out who have built a business (even if they’re not directly in your industry) as there is always something to learn from other successful entrepreneurs

2. Accept early on that you’re going to make mistakes. It’s an inevitable reality and the sooner you accept that you’re going to make mistakes, the smoother your journey will be.

3. Start today. Even if you don’t have all the answers! So much of growing a startup is learning as you go.

Go for it! Go for all of it!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

If someone isn’t willing to step on stage and speak about their business with conviction and passion then they have doubts. We are all different- some of us are bold while others are shy. However, when it comes to talking about your business all personality styles go out the window. If you believe in your company vision you will put out a PSA to anyone who is willing to listen.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Never stop trying. Regardless of how many times you hear: “no”, “come back later” or “this is not a good idea”, KEEP TRYING. Whether you’re labeled as stubborn, relentless, driven–just continue every day to keep trying until you get the outcome you have always dreamed of.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Talk is cheap, but in the best way! I will knock on any door in an effort to meet people who I can talk about my business with. By talking about my business with those who have been through it I have been afforded the opportunity to listen and learn. I have been told throughout my career by family and friends that I just “won’t shut up about her [my] business” and that in turn became a big strength.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I don’t believe in identifying anything in my life as a failure. I reject that philosophy. When I was in 4th grade I had a teacher who gave me a sign that read “celebrate mistakes”. I carried it with me everywhere. I have had good days and bad days in my career. Some of the days were hard to rebound from but the best advice to overcoming adversity in business is to make sure you’re overly and madly in love with your company. Treat it as you would your best friend, child or spouse. You wouldn’t give up on them, would you?

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I make my own skin care products at home because I am very neurotic about what I will put on my skin. I keep all my creams and face wash in my refrigerator. I often think it would be such a dream if a company could deliver me refrigerated skin products with only 3 to 4 ingredients in them.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I am a plant junkie and fill my apartment with as much lush green plants as possible. My son and I just bought a new fiddle leaf fig plant last weekend and it has brought me so much joy.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I would be lost without Dropbox. I struggle with organization and keep track of all my files, documents, contracts etc… Dropbox has given me a safe deposit box for all my important items so that everything is floating around my cloud.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I don’t think I could name just one! I love reading biographies of other entrepreneurs. I really enjoyed the Steve Jobs biography as well as “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. I was incredibly inspired by Sheryl Sandburg’s story on the power of resilience with her book “Option B”. I also loved loved Oprah’s book “What I Know For Sure” and keep it on my bedside table.

What is your favorite quote?

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” I try and live by this. I find that its when I push myself well beyond the realm of my comfort zone that I see the best results.

Key Learnings:

  • Surround yourself with people who are fundamentally the answer to everything you’re not good at. There is no shame in that.
  • Don’t commit to anything where there is not an out clause. I look at the few years of my career in Feel Good Foods as a graduate program in business- filled with learning, tests and sometimes not very good grades! It is all part of the course. What saved me is I never got into a contractual agreement with anyone where there wasn’t an easy out. I knew mistakes were bound to happen and relationships could easily turn sour. I always gave myself the opportunity to make mistakes and easily transition out of them.
  • Know when to speed up. Know when to slow down