We had the good fortune of connecting with Mariam Elghani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mariam, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My thought process was a bit sporadic, I’ll admit. Initially I just wanted to make the garlic dip/sauce available to people who love it as much as I do. I didn’t realise just how much was going to go into it, how hard it was going to be, or how much investment it would need to really get it into the hands of consumers. My whole vision was that this Mediterranean Lebanese garlic dip/sauce will eventually be so widely used and common in households in the same way that hummus is today. I took it step by step making so many mistakes along the way and learning as much as I could from those around me with years of experience. I still learn something new every single day, and I wouldn’t change that. It’s an exciting journey, albeit a very difficult one.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think what might be a bit unique about my journey is just how inconsistent and incredibly “all over the place” it was.
When I started my company in March 2018, I was already in the midst of a then two year court battle against a man that had attempted to assault me in Spring 2016 on the eve of the “me too” movement (which really took hold in the summer of 2016.) So, it was an intense time of my life. There I was starting my company and getting all excited over the posisbilities and trying to figure things out, but at the same time behind closed doors I was an emotional wreck because I had to deal with this incredibly heavy ordeal. It’s kind of hard to talk about, but at the same time I think its so important that I’m transparent about the fact that I am incredibly human and not some powerhouse perfect entrepreneur.
That pain I went through is what provided me the strength to endure all of the tremendous difficulties that come along with starting a CPG product and brand. I knew nothing I went through in this business would ever be as hard as what I went through in that court experience. That’s what fuels me until this day – it’s really just my way of turning something super negative into something very positive. That’s why I donate a portion of the profits to the Joyful Heart Foundation where survivors of assault, PTSD, and other traumas can get the resources they need to better their lives. I myself am a survivor and have overcome PTSD.
I’m really proud that I was able to continue with my company and not give up even though I had that other situation following me around like a black cloud. It’s important to note that I was also working anywhere between 30-40 hours a week for the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley as a Program Manager while also running a business and dealing with that court situation. It was TOUGH.
Me balancing all of those things is a huge reason why I was taking my sweet time to grow my business. I mean, I technically sold my first jar in the summer of 2017 at a local foodie event. It’s been quite a while and I’m just barely starting to expand. There is no shame in that! I think the best advice I’ve been given was to take my time – there is really no need to rush. The first ones to market aren’t necessarily always the ones that make it. And, “making it” is so so subjective.
In the Spring of 2020, the court ordeal ended ( I “won” ) and suddenly that black cloud over me was gone. I didn’t realise that I was living in a fog until it finally cleared. That’s when my business really started taking off I guess – because I finally had the clarity to actually focus on it. It just so happens that the timing coincided with the start of the pandemic.
A few take aways form my bumpy journey to where I am now
-Life still happens even when you’re starting a business.
-Nothing and no one cares about your journey in the same way that you do.
-So, advocate for yourself in every aspect of your life.
-Demand respect, demand your rights, and demand from yourself that you wont give up without a fight.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Wow! I can get very detailed with my 7- day itineraries. So, I’ll try to spare you. But here’s a rough draft.
Monday Day 1: SF : Stroll along Crissy field, walk through a nature up onto the golden gate bridge and relish at the views. Head over to Octavia for dinner where my friend, Nico Peña, is one of the head chefs. Anything he makes is divine!
Tuesday Day2: Beach day! Drive along the coast on the peninsula. Go for horse back riding along the beach and grassy half-moon-bay fields. La Costanera for a Peruvian lunch/early dinner. Then continue the drive up to Pacifica to get to Rockaway Beach. Enjoy the views, light shopping, farmers market and a killer sunset.
Wednesday Day3: Wine Country! Who could come to Northern California and not go to Napa/Sonoma!? Even if you’re not into alcohol – there is lots to see and do in this beautiful region. Gondola ride on the Napa River . Checking out the Oxbow Public Market at some point would definitely be neat + walking along the beautiful streets of the quaint downtown. In addition to that, there is a train that takes you all long the vineyards for a unique/relaxing way to see all of the scenery. For dinner, we’d head to Zuzu for Spanish tapas!
Thursday Day 4: Working out after eating and drinking the day before – we’d head over to Marin County and hike the Dip Sea trail on Mount Tam down to Stinson Beach. The trail will take everything out of a person – but it also makes you feel the most alive you’ve ever felt. I’d head over to Good Earth Natural Foods after one of those hikes – grab a veggie burger, fresh pressed juiced, and a chocolate chip cookie.
Friday Day 5: First Friday, anyone? Yep – we’d head over to Oakland for a bit of karaoke and a walk along Lake Merritt when the sun is still shining. The vendors are out, so there’s lots of different food and other stuff for sale. But personally I’d love to take my guests to El Patio in Berkeley for dinner and drinks.
Saturday Day6. It’s time to head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk! You can’t hit the Bay Area without seeing this beach town. Banana slugs, surfer dudes, scenic views, and of course locally made crafts and foods. We’d grab a calamari burger over at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery.
Sunday Day 7: Last but not least – Monterey. I’d love to take my guests over to the Aquarium, on the pear, kayaking, and the popular 17-mile drive. For food I’d indulge in the locals best-ever clam chowder at Schooner’s.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people who have helped me along the way! I definitely want to give a loving shoutout and thank you to Ron Beltramo and David Hollister of Grow Better Brands for their dedicated guidance and belief in me, a big thank you for incredible and consistent mentorship to Meiky Tollman whom I was connected to via Project Potluck, Björn Oste of Oatly who has been a source of encouragement with his enthusiasm for my products, as well as some of my inspirational and supportive Food/Beverage founder friends Wes Wang of Hoptonic, Ryan Armistead of Happy Moose Juice and Annie Woo of Sweetduet. This is leaving a lot of people out – but, thank you all!
Aside from people, I definitely lean on books and podcasts for support and information. A few of my favourite books are “The Self Reliant Entrepreneur” and “Duct Tape Marketing” by John Jatsch, “ Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss, “ Ramping Your Brand” by James Richardson and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Like most entrepreneurs, I am a huge fan of the How I Built This podcast by Guy Raz.