Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Journey From Stardom To Startup Success
“I’ll be totally honest; I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. Being an entrepreneur is the hardest job. It’s 24/7 grunt work,” says Sarah Michelle Gellar of the journey she’s taken beyond the big screen and into the business world. Having built a successful career portraying some of the biggest cultural icons of the 90s, the Emmy award winner and Golden Globe nominee made her foray into the startup arena in 2015 as co-founder of the baking kit and mix company, Foodstirs. While her celebrity status opened doors and helped put the brand on the map in its early days, carving out a successful second act came with big challenges for the A-list actress, despite her fame.
Often dismissed by potential investors and industry insiders who questioned her credibility, the former Buffy the Vampire Slayer star needed to first convince skeptics that she brought more than a bold-faced name to the venture. “I probably got meetings with big VCs that other people wouldn’t get right off the bat. But it was a novelty. It was, ‘Let’s see what Buffy has to say.’ But there was no real interest, and it was really about us having to sell once in that meeting,” she says. Gellar credits the hard-won lessons learned in building a successful Hollywood career as her greatest entrepreneurial advantage in rising above rejection and proving those critics wrong. ” You’re always going to get the ‘no’s, no matter what job you’re in. That was the one thing that the entertainment industry prepared me for,” she says.
Gellar’s entrepreneurial ambitions were inspired by a desire to channel her creativity and leverage her platform outside of Tinseltown. “I’ve always wanted to do something else, but I didn’t know what that space was. I didn’t know where my talents were, because I had only ever worked in one industry,” she says. Seeing a mass-market void in baking brands dedicated to modern, health-minded consumers, she teamed up with fellow co-founders Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman to transform the traditional grocery store aisle. Foodstirs was their organic, non-GMO solve that offered a reimagined baking process and a family-friendly kitchen experience that motherhood had made her crave.
As Foodstirs continues to expand its retail footprint and build a loyal following, Gellar has navigated a steep learning curve in cultivating her entrepreneurial know-how and business savvy. Her most powerful lesson to date? “Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. For every person that doesn’t want to help you out, there are so many people that just want to offer advice and who have been through it ,” Gellar counsels. “Make sure you have people around you that can talk you off the ledge and who can also pick you back up.”
I recently sat down with Gellar to discuss her journey from Buffy to businesswoman, the challenges presented by fame, and her best advice to aspiring founders. Edited highlights below.
“If you would have told me five years ago this is where I’d be sitting, I would’ve said, ‘I highly doubt that.’ I don’t say never, but the beauty of having the success of a show like Buffy so early is that you achieve more than you ever think possible.”
“I have two young children, and I love the lesson that they’ve seen, that Mommy had a great career, Mommy could’ve been doing that forever, but Mommy had an idea, Mommy wanted to try something new, and Mommy wanted to challenge herself.”
“I would have loved to have been taken more seriously as an entrepreneur. But I also hadn’t earned that right yet. Now I hope that the headlines aren’t necessarily that, because I feel like we’ve proven ourselves, and I’ve proven myself, and we have proof of concept. But in the beginning, you know, whatever gets them to notice, right?”
“I was extremely shocked at how tough it was being female out there, raising capital. I would say I definitely had a false bravado, and I think I was quite shocked at the difficulty that the road ahead entailed.”
“The biggest disappointments were the female funds. I think that it’s so hard to be a female fund and they’ve worked so hard to get there, that they’re still a little standoffish. And we actually wound up having more success with the traditional route.”
“What are the ways that they [investors] can connect to this product, that makes it something that they see the value in, as opposed to just, is it a money making opportunity? Especially with male investors, do they have kids? Do they have grandkids? Is there a wedding band on? Is there a dog on their desk? Because at the end of the day, when you’re investing money, especially when you’re investing someone else’s money, you need that personal connection. It can’t just be about the history of the founders, or the concept. You need all of the different facets to get you all the way to the top.”
“Make sure you have those people around you that can talk you off the ledge, and can also pick you back up.”
“At the end of the day, you want smart money. I think that’s something that we were all very well aware of in the beginning, which is you don’t take the first check that comes around. Because what do they have to offer in the long run? Is it someone you can work with? Is it someone whose experience is an asset to what you’re doing? And is it someone that will support you when you need it, but also be hands-off? You want to really look for not just money, but smart money.”
“I’m a mom, I’m an actor, I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m a juggler. That’s what I do, I juggle. I can actually juggle, and I juggle careers, and life, and family, and kids, and different jobs.”
“My husband and I always say, if you’re going to believe all the good reviews, then you have to give the negative reviews the same equal amount of attention and authenticity.”
“If you, as an actor, have a role that’s indelible in people’s minds, that’s an honor, and that’s what you hope for.”
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