By Mary Waldner, Founder of Mary’s Gone Crackers
As founder and chairman of Mary’s Gone Crackers, Mary Waldner leads product development and brand strategy for the company. Inspired by her own struggles with celiac disease, Waldner created Mary’s Gone Crackers to provide a delicious gluten-free snack option for consumers. Her handcrafted cracker recipe became a hit not only with celiac sufferers, but with everyone eager for delicious snacks they could feel good about eating.
We made the decision to start manufacturing my unique and delicious crackers in 1999, but it took us nearly five years to officially launch Mary’s Gone Crackers. I would like to share our Mary’s Gone Crackers story and five important truths I’ve learned about myself, about life, and about starting this company, which I hope you will find useful in whatever journey you might find yourself on.
In starting Mary’s Gone Crackers, there were so many pieces of starting a business that we had to focus on all at the same time: write a business plan and raise money; figure out how to turn my labor intensive, hand-made recipe into an automated process; develop a name and a logo for the company; decide whether to manufacture the products ourselves or find someone else to do it—the list was endless. At the time, my husband and I were also working full-time jobs and had a teenage son in high school. Little by little, we checked things off of our list and, of course, new tasks emerged to keep the list growing even longer.
Neither my husband nor I had previously worked in the food business, so at first we spent lots of time in grocery stores looking at other products, asking ourselves: What packaging did we like? Where do we buy wholesale ingredients? What kind of logo do we want? We immersed ourselves in this new world, made lots of cold calls, pursued every lead, and followed every idea or suggestion that everyone gave us. Slowly, our questions were answered and our vision became clearer. Looking back now, I see that we asked a lot of good questions—sometimes we hit a dead-end but we eventually always found the right paths to get us further down the road.
I still marvel at our determination and perseverance. I have pursued many ideas in my life, but if I hit an obstacle my energy toward that project would usually fade. For some reason, starting Mary’s Gone Crackers seemed to have a life of its own. We have often joked saying that “the universe wants these crackers” because it seemed like there was simply no other explanation for the serendipity that we experienced, even when it looked like we were doomed. I don’t want to make this process to sound easy because it has been, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The challenges, both expected and unexpected, have been fierce. The learning curve has been steep. However, the gifts have been enormous.
Prior to starting Mary’s Gone Crackers, I was a licensed marriage and family therapist. The skills that I developed over more than 30 years in the field have been extremely valuable in my journey of starting and growing Mary’s Gone Crackers. I learned how to listen to my deepest truth, which is critical especially when there is a lot of noise (both inner and outer) to sort through. Also, since I was older, I was less concerned about being different or going against the status quo when starting a business.
With a portion of my story now told, I’d like to share my five important truths:
- Hold true to your vision and your values. Don’t make fear-based decisions.
- Make sure you have lots of help and support—you will not survive any journey alone. Fear is the enemy and it can be very contagious. Make sure you have people to support your vision, especially when you are discouraged.
- Be flexible and strong. If you are wed to a specific outcome, you might miss the real opportunity staring you in the face. Be able to let go quickly if something doesn’t work, so you can find something that does. There are lots of paths to get to your goals, and staying flexible allows you to see that a change in direction might be best.
- Embrace your oddness! You bring unique gifts to the world and we all need each other’s distinct gifts.
- Think big—even bigger than you dare. I jokingly said when we started that I wanted my crackers to be a staple in everyone’s kitchen, like saltines. As ridiculous as it sounded at the time, I can see a day now where that could really happen!
Staying optimistic and having the courage to follow your internal truth is a revolutionary act. People who prosper from the status quo want you to believe that nothing you do can change or get better. We create the world every day, moment by moment, with our thoughts, words and actions. As impossible as our ideas may seem, it’s essential that we follow our hearts and pursue our biggest visions! All of our futures depend on it.