In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Melissa Bartow, the founder of Wanna Date? Wanna Date? sells date spreads, is based in Brooklyn, New York, and has been in business for two years. Shop date spreads here.
Abound: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Melissa: I’ve always loved working out, exploring and trying new healthy foods. I wound up interning at an innovation food startup during my junior year at NYU and immediately caught the entrepreneurial bug.
I’d known that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never knew what “it” would be. However, the day I started in the food industry, I thrived and knew I would start my own healthy, innovative concept one day. I also fell in love with the freedom and thrill of a startup environment and decided that I had to do it myself. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work for anyone else come graduation.
From there I bounced around as many food companies as I could as a student at NYU. Pretty soon, I ended up at a smoothie and acai bowl shop, and one day at work I discovered that the acai we served was sweetened with straight sugar.
Annoyed and frustrated, I wondered why they didn’t just sweeten the products with dates. Dates (which were my newfound favorite fruit at the time) are healthy, taste amazing, and I figured that there had to be a way to drizzle the dates on the bowls like a nut butter, right? Turned out there wasn’t.
Abound: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
Melissa: I went back to my dorm room, bought a cheap food processor off Amazon, and blended the first batches of date spread in my dorm room with some dates, water, and cinnamon!
Abound: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
Melissa: Since then I’ve scaled those dorm room recipes into shelf-stable formulas and work with a co-packer for manufacturing. The process looks a lot like any other fruit spreads really, although quality and consistency is super important for me so Wanna Date? requires a little more TLC.
Abound: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
Melissa: I spend most weekdays answering emails and solving problems, it’s my least favorite part for sure! Nothing is as smooth-sailing as it seems in any startup, so I definitely have to be thinking ahead, planning, and staying proactive with business happenings. I like weekends the best because my inbox is quiet, which means I can spend more time creating content, brainstorming, and knocking out to-do lists.
Abound: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
Melissa: I am the only employee and everything has been funded by myself and my family so far. We were looking for an $100k investment, and we got it when we went on Shark Tank and got $100k from Mark Cuban!
Abound: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
Melissa: The first wholesale customer I landed was Pause Cafe! It’s my favorite cafe and I wanted them to carry the spreads so badly, haha. Go there if you’ve never been!
Abound: Where do you sell your product now?
Melissa: In about 80 independent retailers, online, and nationwide at World Market. The spreads are set to launch at the new Hudson Yards Whole Foods location when it opens this April! Our first Whole Foods! Hopefully we’ll expand into more locations if it goes well.
Abound: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
Melissa: Trader Joe’s is the ultimate dream.
Abound: Do you have a favorite product? If so, which one?
Melissa: The vanilla date spread is my personal favorite, but honestly they are all amazing.
Abound: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
Melissa: I’m most active on Instagram, and it’s super important for Wanna Date? I’ve never paid for marketing.
Abound: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
Melissa: Ugh, don’t get me started!
Abound: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
Melissa: Well I’m a very small business so every sale, raving review, and new follower is a big “YAY” in my eyes! But my greatest achievement of all is landing that first 100k investment on Shark Tank!
Abound: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
Melissa: You should never want to sell a product. Sounds gross and so not fun. You should want to share your passion with the world and bring value to peoples’ lives! And definitely go with something you are obsessed with yourself, because there will be millions of nay-sayers and you’ll feel like you are on the verge of failure pretty much every day.
Having an indescribable passion for your product will keep you going when you get knocked down. Plus people see, feel, and respond to passion! Like they say: you don’t sell the sauce, you sell the sizzle, lol.
Abound: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
Melissa: I am a big believer in the idea of reverse engineering, having a vision rather than a business plan, and staying disciplined.
Abound: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?