When Courtney Nichols Gould and her husband Gordon were inspired to create a new kind of vitamin gummy, there was no “aha!” moment. It was an evolution of an idea, Courtney said.
She and her husband had already been discussing the problem of finding quality vitamins, but the real defining moment came when she went into a grocery store in late 2009 and stood looking at the thousands of vitamin choices, with no idea what to pick.
“For people who can spend a bunch of money, those high end ones are great. And we don’t need more junk at the other end. What’s left out is the middle people who can’t afford to spend a lot, but deserve to have the vitamins,” Courtney said.
And so she and her husband got the ball rolling on what would become Smarty Pants. They didn’t see their work growing into a business that would take over their lives, but soon they became “obsessed.”
“It seemed like such an amazing opportunity to do something that could impact such a big part of the community,” she said. “We wanted to be able to go to bed at night knowing for a fact we’re making something better for people than what’s out there.”
The problem with most vitamins is that they contain too many fillers and not enough actual nutrition, Courtney said. If they’re taken correctly and consistently, supplements do have a health benefit, but the vitamins themselves often don’t work correctly.
“This is obviously something that started out as a good thing, but now has grown up into a thing driven by corporations, instead of something designed from the ground up by a human being for another human being’s use and benefit,” she said.
So this sweet snack maker did things differently. They took out the junk that’s normally in gummy vitamins, and worked hard to put only real nutrition back, in an “all-in-one” package to help people avoid having to buy a bunch of different vitamins.
For example, Courtney worked for almost a year to get to a place where she could use methylfolate in SmartyPants to provide customers with vitamin B12, a form of folate few gummy vitamins use because it’s much harder to come by.
“That’s the difference,” Courtney said. “We use forms that all the fancy vitamins use, but in a gummy, and take out the additives so people can afford it.”
SmartyPants launched their first product, the Kids Complete, at the end of 2010, and within a few weeks Courtney said they were getting questions about a similar product for adults. Since her family eats the vitamins every day, Courtney said it’s actually easier to see how they really work and what the flaws are.
Since the goal of the company is to give people an affordable vitamin option while still including all of the nutrition of more expensive vitamins, Smarty Pants’ production costs are much higher. But their efforts make it all worth it, Courtney said.
“Our original theory was that if we did these things, we would have a much higher repurchase rate,” she said. “It would be okay to have those margins because we had customers who would stick with us, and we were right.”
The advice Courtney would give to a similar snack maker just starting out is simple -establish your values and stick to them in every decision.
“It’s very tempting and human when things get hard to make the easier and faster choice, and typically that will be in conflict with your values,” Courtney said.
“It’s those moments when you define the character of your company. If you do that every day, even thought no one’s watching, you will stand for something that will be worth so much more than you realize.”
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