Today I have a little bit of a different twist on our Featured Designing Mom. Meet inspiring “Designing Dad” Zak Normandin of Little Duck Organics. If you want to glimpse into the passion and perseverance of what it takes to launch a successful creative business be sure to read on. Megan had a chance to ask Zak about his story and for some insight and advice on keeping your eyes on the prize…
What’s the story behind Little Duck Organics?
Back in 2008, I was a new dad with two beautiful little girl – a 3 year old and a 1 year old. I was working as a design engineer and doing graphic design work on the side for various clients including a couple of food companies. As I began to spend more and more time in grocery stores buying snacks for my kids, I noticed a huge void in the category – both nutritionally and from a brand differentiation standpoint. On the nutrition side, almost everything that was available on grocery store shelves had junk in it; stuff like added sugar and corn fillers that I didn’t want my kids eating. Beyond that, there were simply no brands I could relate to, and the category had a clear lack of innovation and creativity. Because I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I decided to create it myself.
In 2009, I spent the year building Little Duck Organics (LDO) from the ground-up. After a year of no sleep, long nights, way too many pizzas and tons of coffee, I launched Tiny Fruits – the only line of organic dried snacks made with only 100% fruit – in January of 2010. Fast-forward three years, and we now have seven products available in over 6,000 stores nationwide. As we continue to grow, my goal for Little Duck is to push product and branding boundaries, become an iconic brand in its category, and to give consumers the most innovative products with the best ingredients out there.
We love your joy and fun-loving attitude. How does this translate into your business and being a parent?
As we continue to grow Little Duck Organics, it’s important to me that the brand can be used as a platform to make fun ideas happen. Giving our employees, and even our customers and fans, creative freedom to contribute to the process of innovating as we launch marketing campaigns, plan events, and design new products is something that sets us apart from other brands. This approach contributes to the overall culture we are working to create at Little Duck – one that is fun, collaborative and energetic.
I have the same style when it comes to parenting. When the kids come to the office, they have access to all the shipping labels, markers, printing paper and scotch tape that they can get their hands on – they use this stuff for art projects and other creations. When we make breakfast, I ask them what shapes they want me to make their pancakes in and we end up eating butterfly and fire truck pancakes. Just like at the office with my team, I encourage my kids to not be afraid to express themselves creatively. I think that when you work (or live) in an environment that allows you to think big and use your imagination, it’s hard not to enjoy what you do.
What are some unique experiences you’ve had being a full time dad with a business?
Although my days are usually extremely crazy, fortunately I do have the flexibility to spend quality time with the kids during work hours. Because we are kids brand, there are a lot of fun activities they can be a part of which would not be the case if I worked in another industry. Not only do I take them to the office often, but they also get to tag along on work trips and take part in LDO events from time to time. One of my favorite recent memories was a trip that I took with my girls to LA for a father/kid photo shoot that featured LDO. We spent the weekend buying clothes, going to Disney, and having fancy dinners with Shirley Temples and ice cream sundaes. Not bad for a work trip!
How do you promote healthy eating habits with your own kids?
I love to cook with my kids. One of our weekend traditions is to go to the grocery store and pick out whatever we want to cook for a big, delicious breakfast that morning. Sometimes it’s French toast or chocolate chip pancakes; sometimes we make egg sandwiches and cut shapes into the bread with cookie cutters. We always have a big jethro bowl full of fruit salad and extra carafes of juice. During this process, I try to teach them about moderation. For example, you can’t have chocolate chip pancakes and chocolate milk. It’s just a rule. You need to drink orange juice and you need to have some fruit. And, stop picking your nose.
Giving back is so important. How did you become connected with 1% for Humanity and what’s your advice for finding charities that parents can believe in?
When I was in the Coast Guard, I experienced a lot of social injustice and poverty in the countries that we were working in. We interacted with families from South America and the Carribean who would risk everything, and attempt to travel to the US via ocean to make better lives for their children. We also spent a lot of time in Haiti with some of the poorest communities in the world to support humanitarian relief efforts there during the Aristide’s coup d’état in 2004. These experiences gave me amazing perspective on how different life is outside of the US.
When I started Little Duck Organics, a good friend of mine, Nick Pearson, had just launched 1% for Humanity, a community of socially-minded businesses donating at least 1% of their profits to non-profits supporting humanitarian relief and social good around the world. This mission really hit home for me given my first-hand experiences during my time with the Coast Guard. And it was the perfect fit for Little Duck as we’re able to give back to the farming communities where our fruit is grown.
Even for us, finding organizations that you can trust is an arduous task. I suggest you write and get to know the people who started the organizations; find out why they started them. Hopefully, you’ve chosen an organization you truly believe in or one that you have a personal tie to – that will give your contribution more meaning.
What advice do you have for other moms (and dads!) looking to start their own business?
Here’s my advice: If you want to succeed, create a situation where you absolutely can’t afford to fail. When I started Little Duck, I came to a point where I needed to either let the idea pass or give it my best shot for success. It was a critical moment in our history as a company which I still remember to this day. I sat in my basement at 1:00AM, talking to a packaging supplier from Asia on Skype (we now print and manufacture all packages here in the US), and he gave me the total I needed to be pay to complete our first run of packages: $10,000. Damn. I didn’t have that, buuuuuuut thanks to a little thing called “cash advance,” I was able to pay the low interest rate of 24.6% on my US Airways Mastercard to have the money wired to my bank account next day! Can you beat that?! That was my tipping point. I realized that if I maxed out that card (and several more as the months progressed), the clock would start and I would be in it for the long haul. I literally had no way to pay that money back, and with a family to provide for, I had no other choice but to hustle and make it work.
Without a doubt, most people’s start-up stories will not be as extreme (or reckless) as mine, but I think the same principle is true regardless. If you want something to happen badly enough, you are going to do everything in your power to make it happen.