John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Windsor Waffles’ CoFounders Iby and Michelle Nemati.
1. Will you please tell us your Windsor Waffles elevator pitch?
Iby: Michelle and I have discussed elevator pitches, but we have always preferred our why: We make waffle wishes come true, bringing joy, happiness and color to your everyday, creating memories to be shared and treasured from baby showers to birthdays to weddings.
2. What prompted you to start the business and why a waffle-on-a-stick business?
Iby: We have both had an entrepreneurial mindset from a young age and we had always wanted to create businesses. We both went to university and got busy in our careers and we never really felt like we had the time to focus on a business. When we came up with Windsor Waffles, we had multiple business ideas in mind but we wanted to create something where we could gain lots of experience while starting simple, and create something fun. We both love food, especially desserts, and wanted to do something that would make people happy and put a smile on faces no matter the age.
Both of us really wanted to learn, making sure we knew how to manage things from the ground up and gain experience in all facets of the business. We also wanted to create something where we would be more in control of hours worked so we could learn the business better which would in turn help create more time to coach and transfer knowledge to our teammates. We did this so we could focus more of our time on growth and strategy and work on the business rather than just in the business
3. It is quite an interesting food product. Did it take a lot of testing and trial and error to get it right?
Michelle: There was a lot of testing, trying new flavors and processes until we felt we got it right. For example, initially just developing the batter consistency to stay on a stick was a task. The fun part was taste testing; both of us love all things sweet so we had originally come up with 10 flavors of various kinds. We involved our friends and family in our version of a fun focus group, using a variety of demographics spanning regions, ages and jobs which helped to narrow down flavor options, and create some new flavors too. Iby, being from England, wanted to do a lot more of the Nutella based Windsor Waffles but after the Friends and Family Focus group we realized that here in this part of the USA, things are much more peanut butter based which is not as common back in England. The popularity of cinnamon sugar surprised us both and was a recommendation from the taste testers. Another totally unexpected side of the business that we ended up getting very familiar with was how to adapt our product and set up to handle the elements. Until you have to work outdoors, you really learn how varying and extreme the weather is in ND/MN.
4. I first met you two at a GFMEDC FM Welcome Party. This was before Windsor Waffles and you both had regular “8-5” jobs. What made Iby make the switch and go full-time into Windsor Waffles?
Iby: While both working full time, we realized that the type of jobs and careers we had chosen were never really an 8-5 job. I was working late evenings and weekends too, it was just the nature of being in the mortgage profession. So, with me working so many hours we realized that one, we would find it difficult to find any time to ever get a business started, and two, I was already working so many hours, so if I’m going to put that many hours into a business it might as well be my own. And three, we were waiting for a perfect time to start a business for years and realized that if we don’t start it now when will we? So, we tested the business model and concept at the Folkways event Christkindlmarkt here in Fargo. The event organizers Joe and Simone answered a lot of our questions and we were lucky enough to get accepted into their event to trial our concept. Once we did that first event there was no turning back; the reaction from customers was better than we could have imagined, so I jumped in with both feet and started designing a sustainable business model where I could replace my income.
5. You do both public events, such as the Red River Market, as well as private events of varying sizes. What can you tell me about your strategies for event sales?
Michelle: We have changed up our strategy over the years to adapt to the nature of our business. We like to incorporate a variety of public and private events of all sizes. For the first few years it was finding out where our product did the best at and capitalizing on those events, especially when the summers are short. The community has been a great support for small businesses like us to start and grow. Events like the Red River Markets, Night Bazaars and food truck festivals have been such an amazing thing for us and a way for us to increase our visibility and awareness. Public events have also led to many private events. One strategy we have taken is creating hard copy materials to have at our booth – tri-fold brochures with product images, info on pricing and how to place a special event. Through having these materials on hand, we have been able to book customer or employee appreciation events, private parties, weddings, graduations, etc. Our primary focus has been the metro area, however, over the past year or so we have expanded our events to Minneapolis, Detroit Lakes, Bismarck, Minot, Grand Forks and even recently to New Salem.
6. I can tell that planning, process and consistency are important to you and your brand. What kind of processes to you have in place to effectively operate your business?
Michelle: I am much more of a scenario planner than Iby, however, we both agree that processes are important for a business to succeed. This goes from quality standards to making sure the business is running as efficiently as possible. We have continuously learned and toyed with perfecting our processes and are now at a stage where we have standard operating procedures with feedback and creativity from our teammates to create these. The attention to process has been helpful in training staff and developing team leads which has allowed us to shift responsibility so we no longer always need to be on onsite. But even though I am a huge planner, I have come to realize that you can have the best plan but things can change and obstacles can present themselves. You just need to know that it’s okay if things go wrong – you just need to react, learn and adapt. From adversity, struggles and obstacles can come better processes.
7. Have there been any particularly helpful resources for you along the journey?
Iby: We have been lucky to have a lot of great resources in North Dakota and Minnesota. One of the biggest things we learned was while you can Google things to learn, sometimes it can be easier to pick up the phone and have a five-minute phone call rather than spending hours researching online. For example, there are many resources at your fingertips such as info from health inspectors, patent offices and also leaning on other business owners in the community has been a great help and resource. Fargo Moorhead is so community-based that many other entrepreneurs have given tips and tricks they’ve learned. The owners of Thunder Coffee have been so helpful and have given us great advice and each owner has their own set of knowledge; plus, they’ve let us do some pop-ups there in the winter months which we have been very grateful for. We also attend as many entrepreneurial events as possible, such StartupBREW, as these events are a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people and an entrepreneurial community. It is really important to find people that you can surround yourself with who are positive and entrepreneurial. This community is great for that.
8. Is there anything new on the horizon for your business that excites you?
Michelle: We continue to focus on growing the business through more events and locations, but we are also working on some cool things to grow our brand as well as test out new product offerings. Follow our website and social media pages to stay up to date on where you can find us and our new offerings to come.
You can follow us on Facebook + Instagram: @windsorwaffles
9. If you could go back in time to Iby and Michelle from a few years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
Iby: Start now! Don’t wait. There is never a perfect time to start a business. Start now and figure it out as you go, as there will always be obstacles but that is not a reason not to start something. Obstacles are the reason to start something and where your business will find strength in adversity!
Michelle: Take time to appreciate and celebrate your achievements as they come.
10. What can we do as a community to help Windsor Waffles succeed?
We would love to be part of your personal and company events. We love working with groups of all sizes and needs. This can include company Christmas parties, customer appreciation events, weddings and graduations. Find us on social media, and like our Instagram and Facebook pages.