How I Lead This: Behind The Leadership Brand Of Chiwis Chips’ Sarah Goodman
Can kiwi chips help you discover who you truly are as a leader?
If you’re Chiwis founder and CEO Sarah Goodman, the answer is definitely yes.
Prior to founding Chiwis, Sarah co-founded consumer health tech company VitalSines, and led development of the iHeart health monitoring device and app. Despite success, she found that it was a challenge to align her personal brand with the business.
So she made a plunge into the CPG world. As an outdoor adventure lover, Sarah made kiwi chips for years at home to take with her while hiking, camping, and backcountry touring. She launched Chiwis with two varieties in 2021 with her first retailer being Whole Foods Canada. Her company now makes chips in eight flavors, including orange, mango, and pineapple, and has grown to over 1000 retail doors, with Chiwis snacks in retailers across Canada and into the USA.
The difference between her previous roles and starting Chiwis, she tells us, “was that Chiwis represented me. When I spoke about it and explained the why, and my goals for the business, it was 100% authentic. I didn’t hold back.”
Sarah was kind enough to share some insights on her approach to leadership and building her brand with Helm readers in our latest How I Lead This.
Here’s what Chiwis’ Sarah Goodman had to share with The Helm:
Emoji you can’t live without: Probably 😎. I feel like it adds a bit of sass to a text.
TED Talk you’d really love to give: Being your authentic self in business. Prior to starting Chiwis, I co-founded a consumer health technology company called VitalSines which developed a hardware product and app called iHeart Internal Age. I was very good at explaining this very scientific product and making it seem exciting, but I was not a coder, doctor, or scientist, and consistently felt like an imposter in the tech world. It was very buttoned-up for me, and I felt like I had to hold my real self back when being the face of the business.
When I started Chiwis, I felt a very different kind of excitement building the products and brand. It all started with the kiwi chip, which was a product that I had made for myself for a decade and had been sharing with loved ones with great feedback for years. I was the target customer. I loved the product. I was hesitant to raise money after having such a hard time with fundraising in tech, but when I began the first Chiwis funding round I couldn’t believe the response. People loved it, they understood it right away, and many bought in immediately. The difference was that Chiwis represented me. When I spoke about it and explained the why, and my goals for the business, it was 100% authentic. I didn’t hold back. I believe this is one of the reasons that Chiwis has been so successful. I am able to be my authentic self, and have been able to build a brand and a culture that feels natural to me, and my team.
Secret sign from childhood that you were destined to be a leader: I was always hyper-independent as a child with a huge imagination. I didn’t love playing by the rules and forged my own path in many ways, never sticking to the norm. Mine wasn’t one of the stories of kids starting businesses, but I did start my first business straight out of university and Chiwis is my fourth (and most successful!). I feel in some way that I knew that working in an office for somebody else was not the way I would go, and I had to build my reality myself to get to where I wanted to go in life.
Stories are everything in business. What’s your go-to story that consistently moves people? When I decided to leave my role at VitalSines I knew I was going to start another business, but wasn’t sure what that business would be. I love branding, marketing, and products, and thought that maybe I could make a brand out of my favourite snack. It took eight months of work on evenings and weekends researching the food business from all angles to make the call to start Chiwis. In the very stages of research I had gotten a bag designed on 99 designs and printed up about 100 of them to do customer testing. I would make kiwi chips at home and then place them in the pouches. I even bought a heat-sealer from Amazon and I would heat-seal the top of the bag so they looked legit. I would then go on a hike or to an event and bring them out around people who I thought would be potential customers. People would see the bag and then ask what they were, and I would tell them it was a new product I bought at Whole Foods (so they wouldn’t simply give me positive feedback because I had made them). This was such a fun way to get honest feedback from my target customer and gave me the drive to leave tech and dive into the food industry.
As a leader, what keeps you up at night? Ideas and excitement. I often have to turn on my bedside light to write down random ideas that come into my head right before falling asleep so I don’t forget them in the morning. If you had asked me this question when I was in tech, I would have said that stress keeps me up. With Chiwis, I am often so excited for what we’re doing that I almost want sleep to be over quicker so I can get started! I do love sleep and make sure I get eight hours a night, but I try to never go to sleep stressed out.
What three words or phrases define your leadership style? Clear. Goal-oriented. Approachable.
My biggest insecurity about how people perceive me as a leader is: I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome and I’m not sure any level of success will change that. I have gotten a lot more comfortable in my skin, and more secure in my abilities and leadership style, but I’ve always got that little thought in the back of my head that one day someone will just call me out for not knowing what I’m doing. Do any of us really know what we’re doing? We’re all trying our best… right?!
Social media as a leader: love it or leave it? I love sharing the good and the bad of the start up journey on my @chiwisfoundersarah Instagram. I love the raw qualities of our TikTok posts and the fun of it. Sometimes my social media lead/marketing co-ordinator makes me do funny trends that I am not the hugest fan of, but I think it’s worth it in the end but—I will not dance on TikTok ever. That’s my only rule 😎
I don’t love feeling like I have to compare myself to others, or that I have to post constantly. Social media mostly shows the shiny parts of life, and I’m trying to show the good and bad.
Your #1 must-follow account on social media: Katie Burrell because she’s hilarious, down to earth, and incredibly talented.
The ROI question—biggest benefit you’ve seen from building your leadership brand: I have grown so much in the three years since Chiwis has launched into retail stores. If you had told me at the beginning that we’d have products on Costco shelves, would have our chips in our target stores across Canada and launching in California stores, I would never believe you.
Being able to build a team of incredibly talented, hard working, funny, caring, and motivated people has been a heartwarming experience.
Connecting with leaders and entrepreneurs in the CPG space has been invaluable. I could have never built Chiwis without the guidance and support from some amazing people in the CPG space. I am now fortunate enough to help guide entrepreneurs starting out with mentorship and advising and it is just the best.