SN 1 EP 1

The Importance of Grit

Feat. Erica Liu Williams, founder of gr8nola

Leaving a stable career to start your own company takes grit. When Erica launched gr8nola, she quickly learned how to run a business and how to show up for herself as a solo founder.

Erica Liu Williams is a former Olympic trials swimmer and Silicon Valley techie, so it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about ambition, perseverance, and determination.

Today, Erica’s career looks a lot different—she works full-time as the founder of gr8nola, a granola brand you can find in the kitchens at big tech company headquarters (think: Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and Slack).

Erica also sells her wildly delicious superfood snack through gr8nola’s website, on Amazon, and in select retailers.

On this episode

Erica shares with hosts Katie and Jenny:

  • How she went all in on gr8nola and held herself accountable
  • How she motivates herself during difficult times
  • Where she turns for support when self-doubt creeps in

Top takeaways

Editor’s Note: We’ve edited and condensed the questions and answers slightly for clarity.

At some point, you had to take the leap and leave your secure corporate job. What was that day like? And when did that light bulb go off?

As I was able to get more momentum with gr8nola, I saw the more that I prospected, the more I got connected. The more that I sampled, the more I continued. I saw myself impacting the bottom line of the business.

That’s when I slowly started to feel like my corporate well was starting to drain and the gr8nola well was starting to fill.

It gets to the point where you realize you’re spending all your energy, all your time, all your mindshare at a job that has an empty well. And there’s this other well, that’s incredibly fulfilling to you—it’s completely full, but none of your physical time is spent there.

That’s when it was very clear that I had to make the leap. But making the decision to take the leap wasn’t like one day I woke up and decided to quit my job. I gave myself a year.

I’m one of those people who, if I tell someone something publicly, I’m usually going to follow through. So I started telling my husband, my friends, I even told the CEO at my company. I said, “By this time next year, I’m going to be doing this full-time,” and I basically made sure that they held me accountable. And then I made the leap.

You have a background as a swimmer, which is a self-motivating sport. Has that helped you in those times when you’re lacking motivation and you’re not exactly sure what to do?

I definitely think the lessons I learned from swimming have directly translated into what I do. I’m not afraid to work hard. I work well under structure. I’m super competitive. You learn to keep going, even if you’re not always going to win.

And a business is very similar. It’s one thing to endure physical pain, but I think it’s another thing to endure constant self-doubt and fear of failure as a founder.

Even when I was swimming, although it’s an individual sport, you have a coach and a team, and you have to show up.

With a business, there’s no one holding me accountable but myself. As a solo founder, it’s even tougher because I don’t have another co-founder and I don’t even have full-time staff, so everything is on me.

One of the first things I had to figure out when I went full-time with gr8nola was how to create structure in my week, and in my day, because there’s no one there outlining a framework for me, which was key in getting into a rhythm early on.

In the beginning, when you’re figuring things out, you also have to go through a formal goal-setting process and put numbers on paper. I didn’t have a really fancy business plan when I started, but you still need to have something to use as your North Star. That’s really important to do when you’re first starting out, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.

What do those moments of self-doubt look like and how do you work through them?

A lot of times, when I’m working on a product launch or campaign, there’s really no space to have self-doubt and fear of failure because you’re so busy. There’s just no space. There’s no capacity. But your business is not always going to be centered around some huge campaign.

This feeling of imposter syndrome and lack of confidence is a common thread that happens frequently and not every single day. But it comes into those little crevices when you might have downtime and think, “Am I doing things right? Am I making the right decisions?”

What’s important for me, and I’ve learned to prioritize this even when I’m incredibly busy, is networking.

Being in the natural food and beverage space, it’s very friendly and communal. I’m not afraid to go on LinkedIn. There might be a brand that I know of or a founder that I’ve heard of, and I’ll reach out with no agenda saying, “I love your brand. I’d love to connect with other founders and see how we can support each other.”

I’ve proactively networked through these years to the point where I have an immediate tier of founders like myself, who are my go-tos when I want to talk, and they do the same thing with me. It’s so important to make sure you have a support network—I didn’t know a lot of these people prior to being in the industry, and now they’re great friends.

It provides a healthy balance with the support that I have from my husband, because even though my husband has been very supportive and I could talk to him about anything, you also don’t want to inundate your relationship with just your business. It’s important to find support both in and out of your industry.