The Story of Nomz
While there seems to be some new “next best” packaged healthy snack or granola bar popping up everywhere these days, Nomz was one of the very first. These simple yet nutritious treats hit the market in 2013, are now distributed throughout Canada, and have become a staple in health food stores and grocers across the country.
It was a pleasure to sit down with the incredibly grounded, soft-spoken founder, Jana Zaibak, who literally exudes zen – definitely not the stereotypical stressed-out CEO.
I think it's appropriate to start this post as did our conversation - with Jana sharing her no-fail calculation for success:
Dreams + Grit = Success.
Jana admits she’s always been a dreamer, but is also proud to say that she’s also learned to power through the bad times, “we all have our battle story” she laughs.
After studying psychology in Undergrad and going on to get her Masters in Early Childhood Studies, Jana took part in a life-changing summer internship. It was with a First Nations Community through a Right to Play program, which changed her outlook on what was truly meaningful to her and what she wanted to accomplish.
While she felt the definite “shift” – the exact direction was still unclear.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #1: Just because the path ahead isn’t clear, it doesn’t mean you are not experiencing a sense of “clarity”.
It was really inspiring and refreshing to hear Jana speak so honestly about how she had no clue what she wanted to do at that time – even after this epic “life-changing” event. While she was able to grasp a deeper understanding of herself and what was important to her, her exact plan for moving forward was still blurry.
Jana did know what she DIDN’T want to get into though, and that was “business”.
On a separate note, she also DIDN’T want to snack on crap (*trust me this is all related and ties in together at the end).
So anyways, she would make these delicious little mid-day treats as the perfect thing to munch on in-between meals – all from scratch, using only a few healthy (yet delicious) ingredients that she could feel good about - and consequently helped her body feel good too!
Whipping up these goodies in the kitchen perfectly fit her lifestyle and love for food, and Jana didn’t really read much into it – it was simply #MealPrep.
Until one day, she brought some goodies over to her parents' home. Her mother, initially hesitant, enjoyed them so much that she ate them all.
Never did her mother imagine that something so healthy would actually turn out to be so tasty.
One brief conversation (slash epic realization) between Jana and her mother – which took place in an Ikea parking lot – sparked the decision to officially start selling these “Nomz”.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #2: If you’ve got something worth sharing, might as well give it a go and test the market - first with friends and family, and then beyond!
Jana was up for at least giving it a go, as her current job hunt wasn’t feeling intuitively "right", and Nomz was something she felt passionate and excited about.
Okay, decision made. That’s arguably the easy part. Now what?
First things first, Jana went home (literally that night), and reached out to an old graphic-designer friend to design their first logo, in order to approach stores with a “polished” pitch – or at least something relatively presentable.
Obviously, making the Nomz was an essential element to her pursuit, so Jana rented a commercial kitchen space to start, and made a few small batches to offer to local health food stores.
Nomz were in stores within 1 month of that parking lot conversation.
Their debut location? Evergreen Natural Foods in Toronto. It was the first grocery retailer that she approached with her proposal for them to carry her artisanal made healthy snacks, and they agreed to test it out among their customers. They sold out the entire case in one day, and Jana was validated that she was onto something great.
REAL LIFE TAKEAWAY #3: Don’t be scared to ask.
I was shocked hearing that Jana literally just walked into a store and asked them if they would carry her product – was life really that simple?! She giggled and explained that she knew there was nothing to lose, and it intuitively felt like the right thing to do. Jana visited the store, spoke to the owner, and with a single sheet of paper listing about 6 bullet points about the product, she made her very first sale.
Turns out she didn’t hate “business” so much after all.
With that said, it wasn’t always a walk in the park (or rather, a delightful stroll into Evergreen Natural Foods) – Jana faced major hardships while trying to find their own kitchen space to rent in Toronto.
In order to meet their demand and grow, this was essential, but everywhere was way too expensive to make it worthwhile. This was one of those times that grit was an absolute necessity in order to power through. Although Jana admits that she was close to giving up, she kept reminding herself that it would get better.
I challenged her on this: What’s to say it wouldn’t fail?
I wasn’t trying to be pessimistic, but I wanted to point out that some “entrepreneurs” simply continue along a path that is CLEARLY not working for them.
I think it’s essential that when there are red flags, they be at least acknowledged and analyzed accordingly in order to move forward with a realistic mindset.
Jana claimed the fact that the very first store they got into sold out during their first in-store demo – was enough to provide her with the confidence (and fuel her “grit”) to keep going.
Needless to say, they found a kitchen space in the end, and today Jana declares that her kitchen and production staff is like family - each member being the underlying reasons for the success of the company to date.
So does it get easier or harder being an entrepreneur?
Jana admits that “the battles get fiercer” but adds that you naturally develop more confidence as time goes on. As a CEO, you start to become more agile and adapt to dealing with the challenges thrown at you.
Interestingly enough, while Jana openly acknowledges that she’s faced several difficult points throughout her business, it's hard for her to even remember the specifics of any of those moments. While it may seem like the end of the world at the time - ups and downs are all just a natural part of business and everyday life.
In terms of resources Jana relied on to get to where she is today, it was comforting to hear that it was the community of Toronto she thanks most dearly for support.
Nomz is very much “grassroots”, with zero funding – Jana rightfully declares that you don’t necessarily need lots of money to grow a business.
“All money does is make things go faster,” she points out. What makes things go even faster, are those individuals that give you the time of day and aren’t afraid to have a bit of faith in you. Two of those "angels" are Peter Neal and Tanja Fraser, who graciously guided Jana in the right direction and provided key insight into the industry.
Beyond the kind hearted help from others, Jana believes that timing is everything, and at the time Nomz entered the healthy snack space, she was literally one of the founding members of this industry.
While Jana is grateful for entering the market at the right time, it’s clear that her passion for food and nutrition, mixed in with an unexpected enjoyment of this “business” thang, Nomz is a true success product of her dreams and grit.