To some, New Zealand means Kiwis, All Blacks and Lord of the Rings. To Hannah Barnstable and her husband Brady, it became the inspiration for a new business - and a new life as creators of the “Seven Sundays" brand of muesli.
Five years ago, Hannah was a successful investment banker in Manhattan, on “the career track”, logging the road warrior miles and killing her assignments. However, she began to realize that her lifestyle of travel and long hours was far from sustainable.
Newly wed, she and her husband Brady chose New Zealand for their honeymoon (“our ideal vacation was in a tent in the middle of nowhere”) where they stayed in small B&Bs and explored the vast, beautiful land. As they travelled, they fell in love with the country but also something more unusual - muesli - the healthier version of granola that many New Zealanders eat for breakfast. They began to relish the space and quiet given to breakfast each morning. It was that space that gave them the inspiration to change their lives.
How did New Zealand inspire you to change your career path?
When you’re trapped in the rat race it’s often too scary to think of jumping. We did a lot of thinking while we were traveling - we knew we had to leave our jobs and start a company somehow. We thought about reclaimed lumber and other categories that we felt close to, and meanwhile we fell in love with the homemade muesli which was served each morning at ours B&Bs. We began to think that could be “it”.
When we returned to NYC we got sucked back into rat-race. None of the muesli I found in NYC tasted the same as the type we had experienced, so I ordered ingredients online and starting making it at home. Within six months I realized that I had to leave my job, so I began to think more about making the business idea real.
How did you make the decision about focusing on muesli?
I backed into it - I was a food investment banker and am really passionate about revamping our food system. So, I started with the business need of breakfast inspiring people and providing solutions to help get breakfast where I thought it should be. I spent four months making sure the model could work and reading a lot of marketing books. Then, I called my boss one day and said “I’m leaving to start a muesli company!” He was surprised but everyone at the firm was really supportive during my transition.
Seven Sundays is now four years old and nationally distributed across the USA (wow!) - what doubts have you had along the way?
Oh, I had tons of self worth questions! When I started, I was in a restaurant kitchen scrubbing pans at 10pm and would think “what happened to the Hannah that was on track to be a partner at an investment bank in Manhattan?”. I would say the first few months were by far the hardest. We had gone from NYC and moved back home. There was a lot that took time and as an investment banker, I was used to intensity. There was a lot of waiting around and no-one around to encourage you, give you a performance review or paycheck. But thankfully that was short-lived.
How did you learn the things you needed to know?
The learning curve is the challenge - we knew we were going to fall flat on our face at some point, that we need to find a way to navigate new channels, products. In the early days, we did a lot of Google searches and talked to people - we learned that you can always find an expert if you need help.
How would you describe being an entrepreneur?
When people ask how are things we always say: “the highs are really high and the lows are really bad.” There is just more at stake! As we grow, it’s harder to balance the work and managing business. Muesli is a relatively easy product to make - I developed a new flavor when my youngest was one week old - strapped to my chest! But, when you get employees you have to learn to see the business through their eyes and make them believe it too. The things you don’t have control over are often scarier...
Learn more about Seven Sundays, get recipes and other inspiration at sevensundays.com.