As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Sally Schimko, Founder of The Tahini Goddess, which launched in February of 2021. The Tahini Goddess is a female founded and led company that produces and distributes authentic and kosher flavorful tahini and sugar free halva that is made in Israel. A mother of two and established blogger and social media influencer focused on nutrition, health beauty and lifestyle, Sally is on a mission to inspire others to enjoy healthy food and vegetables, all while making cooking and meal preparation easy and enjoyable. Based in Miami, Florida, Sally is originally from Israel where tahini is the “peanut butter” of Israel. When she discovered that all tahini sold in the US was manufactured on “modern machinery,” making many difficult to digest, Sally was driven to launch her business to deliver millstone grounded and sustainably sourced tahini that promises the smoothest, creamiest and most delicious Mediterranean flavors. The Tahini Goddess has grown rapidly during the pandemic year as a result of positive reviews, a varied line of nutritious and delicious of tahini and sugar free halvah and most important, superior customer service and transparency during a pandemic.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I stepped into the kitchen after I had Ethan, my first child, and decided that I wanted to teach myself how to cook as I missed the Israeli and Mediterranean food that my mom and grandmother prepared for me when I was growing up. Ethan was born in Miami and my entire outside of my two kids and husband, is overseas. Ethan was a picky eater from day 1- from breast feeding to jarred food — he inspired me to step into the kitchen and make homemade food because it’s what I was given even though I never learned how to prepare it. This is how I got started. A few years later, I consistently had moms in my kitchen asking me about my “Mediterranean” food which was beginning to trend in America, but truly, it’s all I had ever really known. My friends would ask me, “How did you get Ethan to eat vegetables? How do you make homemade hummus?” If people loved my recipes and food, why wouldn’t I share it? So I opened my first Instagram account and during the first week, “Tahini Thursday,” where I shared one of my favorite recipes using tahini was a hit. While many people knew whole sesame seeds were, they didn’t really know what Tahini was. What’s crazy is that before Ethan was born, I was never in the kitchen! If you had told me that in 10 years, I would in the food industry, I would have laughed. A female business owner, sure, but in food? Never. I love how food brings people together as it’s the culture I grew up in. I loved sharing my journey and love for food with others, and this all launched with my Instagram account 3 years ago called @mysexyveggies because I told people that they could “make their veggies sexy” simply by adding tahini.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It’s funny now but when it happened back then I was sobbing crying. decided to ship Tahini in glass jars because I frown on most food in plastic containers, and my first entire shipment had most of the jars broken! I realized that after opening one case that almost every jar was broken and then like scary movie, I opened case and after case and I discovered hundreds of broken jars! I laugh now but it was the worst day at the time. The easy solution would have been to call the factory and say, “you guys were right, let’s move to plastic,” but I learned my lesson to not give up, stick to my gut and look for a solution. After a lot of research on what other companies that shipped glass were doing, I found a way to continue delivering glass jars which is so much better for our environment and the food! Today, I love seeing how our customers reuse the glass jars.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I owe a lot to my mother. I grew up watching her and she was magnificent — she somehow juggled it all! She worked full-time, she was there for my sister and me, and balanced it all so well in such an admirable way. She maintained a strong relationship with my father and her parents as well. My mother taught me that “if you want something, go for it and there is a way to juggle it all.” Or as we say here in America, “if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
I also am grateful for my husband because at the end of the day, it’s just the two of us here in Miami. Our family lives all over the world, and my husband is also an entrepreneur which can be scary for our financial stability, yet he has always been so supportive of me pursuing my dream and he continues to do so. He is truly my best friend.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
My purpose was that I knew that tahini helped everyone eat more vegetables. It goes back to my funny and cheesy and hilarious first blog name, “My Sexy Veggies,” because it truly was about making veggies look and taste sexy. No one wants to eat the broccoli or cauliflower steamed or roasted or even with olive oil and salt, but if you put tahini on it, it’s delicious! So many of my friends agreed. Current tahini on the market is not that palatable. It really doesn’t taste that good nor is it made in Israel. With my tahini, people would eat more vegetables and that was the goal, as it was the goal with my son from the beginning. I shared my food and what I eat because I love eating tahini. I grew up on it. Tahini in Israel is like the peanut butter of America. I never imagined to have built an entire business around this, but I love showing people how there could be so much variety and flavors in good food and vegetables. This is specifically why I developed the different flavors, so that people could dip their vegetables in several different flavors and have fun!
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
It’s definitely scary to lead a team during the pandemic. Everything starts and end with teamwork and coming up with creative solutions is key. I always said that this time is like waves in the ocean and the waves will pass. If we have a problem, we need to come up with creative solutions for how to talk to each other virtually and sell more via social media. For example, when we had to shut down the factory completely, we were able to support everyone and survive this. It’s important to be loyal to your customers and maintain trust with them year-round. There are surprises in life that we cannot expect, but we need to do our best, and most important is how we look for solutions and care for our teams during difficult times.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I’m not a person that gives up easily but when I first started the business it was really overwhelming to do it all. Prior to launching, I was a full-time mom and I felt like my life was so balanced as I had a great routine. The routine transition from full-time mom to full-time working mom was very difficult. It was overwhelming and I cried at times, but my customers kept me going. Whenever I feel like giving up, I read the reviews on the website — each and every one inspires me. I recall that I jump up and down when people would make my recipes, even if they had nothing to do with my tahini.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
You need to be strong and be there for the entire team and those around you. I learned this from being a mother. For example, you have to stay cool even when your child is throwing the biggest tantrum or has a medical emergency. I encourage leaders to choose mind over matter, take a deep breath and give people around them the sense that you are confident enough and that everything is going to be fine. There are times you may have to “fake it until you make it,” but I really believe that thoughts create reality.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Ironically enough, it’s a reason I believe in food. I believe that good food can fuel our bodies, minds and positive spirits. We all enjoy a delicious meal, and especially if it makes us feel good and it has good ingredients. This is what Chocolate Tahini is for! I also believe in movement. I have my morning meditation and I walk throughout the day, even while I take calls. It’s key to have communication with my team. You can tell me anything, ask me anything, criticize me, really, anything. It’s important to talk about feelings with you team and most problems can be resolved when we talk about feeling with our teams. I also like doing small special things to let my team know I am thinking about them, and make each person feel special in a small yet meaningful way.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I am very direct. There is no good way to deliver bad news. You just need to do it and rip the band-aid off. But most important is to be there for them after you deliver the bad news, and know how to offer up a shoulder afterwards. I don’t believe in shortcuts nor candy coating, rather directness.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
In Hebrew there’s a saying that when people believe that life will happen all as planned, God laughs. I work through facts and of course, need to make and follow plans, but it’s important to understand that we will always be faced with surprises, ups, and downs knowing that I will have to prepare mentally is key. I use perspective and encourage leaders to know that when they hit low points or are unable to predict the future, to trust that they can rise from the lows. Leaders need to use these low points as learning opportunities and acknowledge that it’s through these moments that we can thrive, become stronger, and most important, it feels so good to come out of these low moments.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
When you are down, trust that you can only go up from there. There will always be ups and down in running a business. It’s inevitable so be prepared for both the good and bad times and recognize that you will learn from the difficult times. A friend told me a quote I like, “You don’t lose, you either win or you learn.”
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is for businesses to continue to build a product if they are unable to deliver the same quality. Sometimes you need to know when to pause, and quality should always come before quantity. Another mistake is companies failing to support their because it was the easy way out. Teams and people come first so address those needs immediately. A third mistake is a decline in customer service. Many companies compromise transparency and honesty. For example, at Tahini Goddess we were sold out of products for almost 2 months because it was unsafe to open up our factory. We gave our customers an explanation of our inventory shortage and explained what we were enduring. There is nothing wrong with admitting, “we cannot fulfill or deliver at this time. We need to take a break.” With my customers, partners and retailers, I believe in transparency and honesty and share what our challenges are. I explained that putting my team members health and safety at risk for production for production was not an option. Businesses should not put anyone at risk for the sake of prioritizing that they need to make money.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
It was important to act quickly and get creative during the pandemic and I did so by enhancing presence and engagement on social media and digital platforms. I shared more about my real-life in my Instagram stories, shared more recipes for quick lunches, kids’ snacks, ways to keep meals interesting, and was extremely active in quickly responding to customers’ DM’s and reposting other peoples’ content to share the love and demonstrate that their posting meant a lot to me. I wanted to help them as well and this paid off by growing my audience and engagement. On social media, I’m not always looking for things in return, in particular if I am able to support another entrepreneur, and especially a mother or a fellow working mother. I was inspired by so many that lost their jobs and wanted to support the growth of their at-home businesses.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Care for your team. I explain this above but it’s important to show empathy and not just say it. Be there for your team, support them professionally and personally. When a team member was going through a difficult time, I told them it was ok to take time off work and I still paid them for the time- no questions asked.
- Be transparent. I explained to our customers that we needed to close our factory down due to unsafe conditions and this is why we were sold out.
- Be honest. I explained to my customers that orders would be delayed and demonstrated on social media that this was a challenging time for me personally too. I was specific with proposed timelines of product delivery.
- Support your team in all aspects of life beyond business, where they are willing to open up. This pandemic has taught us as a society that no matter how much we have or what we are doing, most of us are in a similar boat. We all had to stop for example, as a mom (or parent), we had to transform into simultaneously being teachers, house cleaners, drivers and even learn how to do things like cut our kids’ hair, do our own nails, etc. I tried to support my team members by showing them how I was home schooling and even offered the women tips for how to do their hair and nails, as I am passionate about beauty.
- Keep your head up. Trust that we will get past this and keep one foot in front of the other. When I wanted to cry or give up, I would read my reviews on my site or respond to messages on my social media and my customers really kept me going.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many quotes I love but I admire those of female leaders such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She said, “Fight for things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” This has been relevant to me in launching my business during a pandemic when so many people advised me that the timing was bad. I believed in myself and with the support of my family and community, launched The Tahini Goddess. I focused on sharing my learnings of making good food taste delicious and teaching others how to prepare easy meals. Soon enough, I had so many customers promoting my product, sharing my recipes and in turn, sharing new recipes for how they were enjoying my tahini and halvah, and I especially loved how their kids were eating it as well. I also shared health and lifestyle tips, and this helped build more of a following that encouraged others to lead healthier and happier lifestyles.
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