#YourStoriesMatter: Building A Company to Help Transform the Food System

All of us are likely feeling a sense of loss right now. Since the pandemic, our lives have drastically changed. One thing that seems to cut through this feeling of disconnect, monotony and isolation we might be experiencing is: telling stories.

If you’ve participated in a program, lesson or event at The Practice Space then you’ve likely worked on your storytelling skills! Each one of us has a story to tell. We are helping capture people’s stories in a variety of ways — written, interviews, videos. Let us know if you’re interested in sharing a story from your life with The Practice Space community because #YourStoriesMatter. Today we’re excited to share our first story of this new series.

This story is from an interview conducted in March with Trishna Saigal, CEO and Founder of Down to Cook. Trishna first came to The Practice Space for private lessons a year and a half ago. She also participated in one of our Sunday Community Days, where people practiced their business pitches in a supportive group of peers with opportunities for feedback. During our discussion, we covered several topics and will be sharing some highlights below, all in Trishna’s own words. As you’ll see, we learn a lot about what it’s like to be the face of your own new company, what helped her connect better with her audience, and how she hopes to use her voice in the future.  

Trishna’s Story…

Trishna first talked a little about her background and what got her into the food industry: 

I’m a food product developer. I’ve been making different food products for the last 10 years. And what I’ve seen over that time is a lot of opportunities to create healthier options for folks and accessible healthy foods. Healthy foods tend to have this stigma of being really expensive, but they don’t have to be. So that is where I set out to create products that help people cook with fresh veggies and do it in a sustainable way, and be at a price point that’s affordable to more communities. I started with that mission and that’s where I’m focusing now, but I’ve been in food for a while, from making ranch dressing, to making milk and dairy out of split peas, and now doing this. That’s where I’m coming from and it’s the story I want to tell and build off of. 

I started my company a year and a half ago, and you know, I have an R&D (research and development) background and now I’m in a CEO role, so I’m doing a lot of public-facing activities from just general networking but then also pitching either to an audience or to investors or buyers. I’m pretty comfortable with [public speaking] in general, getting up in front of crowds. Not that it’s the same, but I used to do stand up comedy too so the act of getting up and talking in front of people wasn’t such a worry, it was more, I guess trying to figure out this new setting of how to be charismatic and confident. Being able to adapt to different situations, I think that was what really drove me to want to hone in on those skills. I knew there was opportunity to improve and if there was a time to do it, it was now, while I’m trying to build a company and be the face of it too.

She also explained how improving her presentation skills has helped her connect with more people:

When I have a pitch or event coming up, I usually spend all my energy putting the content together. [AnnMarie] helps me say the same things but in a more relatable way. So people who are listening can engage with the same content in a different way. And also there are other tactical things. Like I tend to have a pretty low voice which is why I think I gravitated toward a hobby that I use a microphone. (laughter) She helped with how to find my natural tone and use it in ways that it’s authentic to myself and to the material I’m presenting. [The lessons] helped with a ton of things I just never would have thought of on my own. It’s how to take the content you have and take it to another level, in terms of delivery. The other thing I didn’t mention that we worked on a lot was you know, the hand gestures, the body language, and the things that no one teaches you unless you seek out that kind of help. All those things combined with reframing the content has made my communication a lot more accessible to people. It helped me present my best self. Because otherwise I was missing the opportunity to connect with people.  

The last pitch event comes to mind the most because it was short, it was only 5 minutes, and it was in front of all of the food industry, like 300 people. Not only investors, and I had only been talking to mostly investors up until that point, but it was people just generally interested in healthy food, and it was buyers for different stores, and other entrepreneurs. So it was a pretty broad audience. And if I had gone in without doing the lesson with her beforehand, it would have been kinda methodical, like “here’s our progress, here’s what I’m doing.” And I was able to make it more performative so people actually came up afterwards and said they resonated with my story.

“It helped me present my best self. Because otherwise I was missing the opportunity to connect with people.”  

It’s been noticeable for Trishna to be a woman of color business owner in the natural food space, which she discussed: 

The natural food space tends to be pretty mixed in terms of gender, but in leadership levels there’s still a very low percentage of women that lead companies or are on leadership teams. And even lower for people of color. The space is all natural organic type food so…it’s still not a very diverse set of people that tend to work there. 

It’s been hard. The investment, trying to fundraise, I think that definitely played into it. I should say that’s probably a lot of the reason I went in for the classes too was because I wanted to do my best, you know, sound as confident as possible. But it was hard. I’m still struggling with it to be honest. I don’t have a positive win story there. I’m still working on it. (laughter)  

And finally, Trishna shared why she believes it’s important for people to feel comfortable expressing themselves and what’s next for her: 

When you have interesting things to share, it can get muddled if you’re not able to connect with people in the best way. So I think having these kinds of skill sets can give you the best chance of whatever it is you’re trying to do. Like for me it’s trying to transform the food system, right? People will listen to me better if I can communicate it well and in a way that is authentic and can reach them. So I think if you’re trying to accomplish things, then being able to communicate is one of the more important pieces of that.

In the future I’d hope to be doing more community work. I haven’t had a lot of time to do that now but I want to do a lot of nutrition education, classes, demos, whatever it is in the area. And talk about how plant-based eating can help with lowering some diseases. But anyway, the point is, I want to engage more out of the industry and with customers and people I’m trying to reach. And I think that will also be different in terms of how I communicate, and so it will be an ever-evolving process.

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