Keisha Jeremie-Smith is Giving Us the Sauce! Apple Sauce That Is! Creator of Sanaia Applesauce Shares Her Secret Recipe on How to be a Boss
January 28, 2018
Name: Keisha Jeremie-Smith
Hometown: Freeport, Grand Bahama; New York, NY
Occupation: Founder of Sanaia Applesauce
Fun Fact: “I always think I know the words to songs and sing them loudly and I’m just wrong. You can count on me to be singing a song full on but I create my own meanings.”
From a young girl, Keisha has always had a genuine passion for and love of applesauce. She has been making her own special blends for over twenty years now, using organic granny smith apples exclusively, and infusing them with other sweet, tart fruits and a variety of spices inspired by her Caribbean heritage. A few months ago Keisha launched Sanaia, offering six delicious flavors of applesauce: Guava, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Lychee, Ginger and Lavender Pear.
Sanaia is tastier than any other applesauce on the market right now…trust me, I tried all six flavors and they are all delicious! Keisha’s applesauce blend leaves the peels in the mix, giving it a more rich, more indulgent, more full-bodied texture, and WOW-ness than any other brand! We had a chance to interview this inspiring, creative, highly spirited entrepreneur…ahem and Queen…as she shares more about her background, her love for Shonda Rhimes, and why she is so behind on the latest music scene…Enjoy!
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MN: Tell us about your background, where are you from, what was your childhood like, what other jobs did you have before you started your business?
KJS: I grew up in the Bahamas. And specifically, Freeport Grand Bahama, a little island in the Bahamas and obviously feel really lucky to have grown up there. A great community to grow up in. Much quieter life than being in New York City or even Virginia where I later went to college but I was in the Bahamas until I was 16 and started at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And so the Sanaia story is connected to those places because as a kid we had a backyard that was full of trees, fruit trees particularly, lemon trees, cherry trees, every fruit that you could imagine was in our backyard and if it wasn’t in our backyard, it was in the backyard of a neighbor.
So every season there were fruits to be had and you just spent all your time outside in your trees or in somebody else’s trees, picking fruit, stuffing your pockets and, climbing fruit trees,–I think probably what somebody would imagine of an idyllic island upbringing. And then I got to Charlottesville and it was the first time I ever saw snow. The first time, I just never had any experience with winter and winter clothes. And so I must have been missing home and the fruits, and in Shenandoah Valley which is where Charlottesville is–green apples are abundant there.
So I played around and made some applesauce that I left the skins on and that really was the basis from what now 20 years later has become Sanaia. That special brand of applesauce when the skins stay in, it but it was an accident but sometimes these things happen and there’s a greater purpose for it. You don’t know it at the time. In my college days everybody would gather around and eat the applesauce and it was just always like an event whenever I made a pot. So that’s where the story starts.
MN: Which applesauce flavor is your favorite and why?
KJS: Tamarind is by far my favorite and it’s funny because all of my group of friends who were part of the taste test when I first started would say ok this is my favorite, then I would watch them taste a new flavor and they would go like ok now actually this one is my favorite. But tamarind is probably my favorite just because it is so connected to my childhood that was in the Bahamas and even in Trinidad where my mom is from. We make tamarind sauce and get big pots of tamarind fruit, and my mom was literally with a big spoon making a pot and you’d get to lick the spoon at the end.
So being able to now have this tamarind flavored sauce it just so reminds me of just the best part of my childhood. So I love all of the flavors but that one has a very special place for me and it was the first infusion that I did with applesauce.
MN: How did you go about funding your business and did your business start as a side hustle?
KJS: I’m currently self-funding the business from money that I’ve saved from working all of these years and it still is I guess you would call it a side hustle. I don’t know how one defines [side hustle] these days, but I believe this is gonna be big and I believe this is gonna be big enough to be a full-fledged company supporting other people and supporting me, but today it’s not and so I have a day job. I’m head of HR at a Fortune 500 company and I will hopefully have that job for as long as I need to help me continue to fund and capitalize Sanaia.
At some point very soon, we will go out and start to fundraise. Get angel investors and gather a Friends and Family investment round. We’ve only been in business for six months; so, usually around the 9 or 12 month mark when you have revenues and commercial clients, that’s the time to go out and get funding from external partners. Today, it’s just all from my savings.
“…only less than 1% of venture capital dollars are going to women of color entrepreneurs, but that return of investment that women of color entrepreneurs give venture capitalists on their investment is significantly outsized versus any other kind of entrepreneurs…”
MN: Now that you are being an entrepreneur how has your life changed running your own business? What’s the good, the bad and the ugly of being an entrepreneur?
KJS:I would say for me I think it really has been all good, and that doesn’t mean that everything has worked out as I planned. I’ve already had loads of setbacks but I love learning. So I think about who I was as a kid. I was definitely a self-proclaimed nerd that loved to read, absorb, and learn about new things. I feel like I’m back in that childhood phase again of nothing is known to me. I’ve never done any of this before. I’m not even a chef. I actually don’t even cook anything else. So literally every aspect of building this business is new to me.
The great part of [being an entrepreneur] is being in that state where you’re just so intellectually challenged and stimulated and forced to learn these things and learn new skills. I had to do my first pitch to get into a local vendor program and so that’s the first time I had to do a formal pitch for a business. I’ve done presentations before with my HR job but now this is my business that I’m pitching. Also, another example of good is I just got a package today which has our new branding for when we go into supermarkets.
So there are so many times for an entrepreneur where something is an idea and then you get to physically see your idea in the world. Whether people react positively or negatively, but that’s my baby, like if it wasn’t for me that would not be out in the world and so that’s a great feeling as well.
You have to be looking at every single part of your business and making sure that it’s meticulously representing you in the way that you want your customers to experience it. Maybe they would see those things as bad but you’ve gotta be 10,000% hands-on, more so than you probably would have imagined and then every time you step away from a certain part of the business and hand it over to somebody else, you still have to be really hands-on and checking to make sure that it works. Those are what some of the new aspects that are very different from a corporate job where even if it’s an intense corporate job at some point you just check out because it’s not yours. But there’s no such thing as checking out when you’re an entrepreneur.
MN: What great advice would you give to young women of color who want to start their own business?
KJS: Starting your own business is certainly trusting your instincts and your unique perspective on the world. Being a woman of color you experience the world in a particular way which enables you to have ideas that other people don’t have and so trusting your instincts and trusting your perspective, and really see that as an asset instead of a negative. Instead of wanting your past to look like everybody else, to look at the fact that your past might be quite different but that’s really your asset and to be thinking about what is it about your unique experience that will make whatever product or your business differentiated because really at the end of the day, to monetize something, you have to be bringing something new to the ecosystem. So, I think a lot of times we undervalue the very things that make us, that would make us interesting to the marketplace, we try to like round it out and make it like everyone else and I actually think that you’re losing an inherent power that you have. And the other thing too is just to realize that I think there’s obviously there’s a moment to capitalize on.
I don’t think there’s ever been a more receptive moment between black girl magic and the venture capitalist firms realizing only less than 1% of capital is going to women of color entrepreneurs but that return of investment that women of color entrepreneurs give venture capitalists on their investment is significantly outsized versus any other kind of entrepreneurs. So just to break that down, although we’re getting the least amount of money, when people invest in us our businesses, we’re returning their capital at the highest rates.
You are more likely to produce great returns, so it’s about knowing the numbers and then walk in there with the confidence and frankly tell people about those numbers. I think not enough people know so it’s important when you go into the room that you make sure that people realize what a great investment you are. So I think those are some of the things that I would definitely encourage.
MN: Who’s your celebrity icon?
KJS: I would say Shonda Rhimes because I think she did exactly what I was talking about which is using her perspective to tell a story that hasn’t been told before and she doesn’t dilute the stories in any way. She doesn’t make them more mainstream or make them more anything which I think is such a strength because it makes people take notice and because it’s something that people haven’t seen before.
So she’s definitely somebody who I just think it took such courage to, I would imagine her walking into the rooms and pitching the stories that she would’ve at a time when nobody was saying oh sure a black actress could be the lead. She basically was just like yeah well this is the story I wanna tell who I want at the center of it and that’s just opened so many more doors as a result of it.
MN: Where do you see your business in the next year or in the next 5 years?
KJS: In this next year, 2018 is a big year for us. We are currently just direct [the products] to consumers on our website but the goal for this year is to see us in wholesale. Our goal is to be all across the Northeast–to be in supermarkets, groceries stores, specialty food stores and Amazon. To have a real presence, beyond our own website, so that’s really the goal for this year.
In five years, I would want Sanaia to be a household name so in the same way that people when thinking about yogurt, they think of Chobati–I would want people to think about Sanaia as adult applesauce. That’s a new category. I want people to be talking about how Sanaia created a new category of applesauce. It would be the leader in that space and the first brand that is recognized by adults that still love applesauce.
MN: If you could describe your company in three words, what would it be?
KJS: Indulgent, exotic and wow.
MN: What makes you smile, laugh and what makes you sad?
KJS: Smile and laugh would be–I feel like I’m always looking for the silliness. I’m always a person who’s on the verge of church giggles. So it’s pretty easy to make me laugh. It’s pretty easy for me to find the joke in almost everything. Sad, probably at this moment it’s just the state of affairs of our country. The divisiveness of the current state of United States if you call it. That’s probably what’s weighing on my heart the most at this moment. I see it as unnecessary and frankly the people who are most vulnerable are the ones who certainly don’t benefit from all of the chaos and destruction that we’re experiencing right now.
MN: What are you listening to right now?
KJS: Funny that this question came up because my friends are always like don’t you know that came out 6 months ago because I’m like I just found out that this is new–and they’re like oh, honey. I’m constantly late. I don’t know if I’m late on this or not but I started listening to today St Beauty.
“Running to the Sun” by St. Beauty that’s what I’m listening to and I also just heard that Meshell Ndegeocello is coming out with a new album so I have ordered it and it’s sitting in my iTunes waiting to happen but I love her. The other thing that I listen to on constant rotation is Jay-Z 4:44. My theme song for this year is, well for all of 2017 and until I achieve my Sanaia goals is “Say Yes” which is that song by Michelle Williams with Beyonce and Kelly Rowland. I love it. So my whole team basically whenever something happens that sets us back we’re just like Jesus said Yes, Nobody can say no! We’re good! That is in constant rotation in my house so that’s the playlist right now.
Please go support Keisha and purchase one of her amazing applesauce (or more!!!) by going to her website Sanaia Applesauce.