Welcome to the 360i #SideHustle blog series, where we showcase the totally awesome side projects, start-up businesses and other ventures created by the always-curious and entrepreneurial crew of employees here at 360i.
For #SideHustle’s inaugural post, we sat down with Office Services Administrator Katie Mann, who for the past two years has been working to get her banana pop business, Lickety Split, up and running. In the Q&A below, Katie explains how the whole thing came together, expounds on the challenges she and her business partner have faced, and discloses how they come up with pop names like “The Hamibal” and “Shut Up Buttercup”.
360i: Tell us the origin story behind Lickety Split? How’d it all get started?
Katie Mann: “My roommate, Mariana [Ruiz] and I started Lickety Split kind of serendipitously. A couple summers ago, and to our complete surprise, our other roommate brought home about four bunches of bananas, nearly 50 in total. She explained that she was rescuing them, someone would have thrown them out if she didn’t take them.
To avoid fruit flies and eating all 50 ourselves, we froze them and made banana pops, dipping them in chocolate with different toppings. The pops lasted us pretty much all summer. We’d bring them to barbeques or take them over to friends. From there, the idea just snowballed and we thought, what if we made the pop with a filling like a banana split, but in popsicle form? Adding a third flavor element opened up more flavor combinations. Then the name came to us kind of instantly… Lickety Split.”
360i: So, the name came first?
KM: “The name came first. We kept thinking about the concept and started playing around with more filling ideas. We set up several taste tests with friends with different flavor combinations. When we started out the first batch was a mess, but tasted great. It took us a while to tighten up the filling process, but we did. And from there we decided to just got for it, Mari and I had both been looking for a creative outlet outside of our 9 to 5s, and we loved the idea of challenging ourselves with a new medium. Our thinking was to sell during the spring and summer seasons and then add an accessories line further down the road.”
360i: What are your mainstay flavors?
KM: “Down in Sexico was one of our first, it’s dulce de leche filling, with coconut, dipped in spicy dark chocolate, with mini marshmallows on the outside. We have a vegan one will all natural peanut butter and coconut cream filling, with vegan dark chocolate and sea salt on the outside. The ingredients work really well together. It’s perfect for people that are like, ‘I don’t really like bananas, but my girlfriend brought me here.’ It’s called Shut-up Buttercup”.
360i: That’s original. How do you come up with the names?
KM: “We try to be really punny with the flavors. We have one with candied bacon that we call “The Hamibal” like Hannibal Lecter. Part of it too, is that well you know… bananas are pretty phallic. So, in the naming we try to take the piss out of it before someone else does. It’s important to us to not take our product too seriously. It’s funny and it’s a thing you’re going to think about anyway, so we want to play into that. It’s a cute, sexy brand that’s fun and sweet.”
360i: It sounds like the whole journey has been pretty fun. Have you and Mari had any low moments or encountered obstacles?
KM: “Oh yea, all the time. A big part of it has been that food chemistry is not part of our educational or professional backgrounds. Before this, I’d never thought about how the taste of something changes when you freeze it. Or tempering your chocolate. If you get any kind of water in it, [the chocolate] will seize up completely. It’s been a lot of trial and error. That’s been the hardest part. We know what we want, but actualizing that has been difficult. Along the way we’ve brought on food production consultants, but at the end of the day it’s just me and Mari. We make every pop, create content of our social media platforms, manage the website and set-up vending opportunities. ”
360i: Is there a lesson you’ve learned that other start-up founders should know?
KM: “Do your research, ask for help and connect with others. Reach out to the Small Business Association (SBA) resources, go to classes and workshops, reach out to vendors even – they have industry/product knowledge and they give free samples. Talk to folks that are producing similar things or who are small business owners themselves you never know where you might get inspiration from. If you can, join a community that helps with those connections. Chamber of Commerce, shared kitchen spaces, shared office spaces. You honestly never know who you are going to meet and the information, inspiration, knowledge or lesson they might be able to share with you.”
360i: So what’s on the horizon for Lickety Split?
KM: “We are lining up our 2017 pop-up event schedule, including the Bacon and Beer Classic held at Citi-field end of April. Believe it or not, we have a banana topped with candied bacon, sounds odd but holy… people love it! We’ll also be in Williamsburg at Artist and Fleas Feb 11&12. In the midst of all the pop-ups, we’re also developing graphics and designs for a small accessories and swag line that will include things like hats, pins, patches. We’re really excited for the official spring 2017 launch.”