We met with Smicies co-founder Carola Stock to talk about innovation, Die Höhle der Löwen (cf. Dragon's Den) and Pizza in the form of drop-size bites.
The founders Carola Stock and Immanuel Rebarczyk met a few years ago at the SpinLab (a startup accelerator) in Leipzig where Carola was working at the time. While watching "Die Höhle der Löwen" together the basic idea of Smicies came up for the first time. Contrary to regular founding ideas that are usually exaggerated by marketing, Immanuel wanted to base his founding on true innovation. Compared to ordinary, mostly unhealthy snacks, Immanuels idea aims to fight the munchies and offer a healthy alternative with no regrets.
From cravings to a hearty snack
Point of origin of his idea was the consumption of vegetable broth that helped him fight appetite and sudden food cravings. Smicies picks up this idea. Savory drop-size snacks that are meant to be chewed and put an end to the munchies with their formula and taste. At the moment customers can choose between three distinct flavors: italian pizza, cheese gratin and bacon pita. The flavors are based on fast food that is typically associated with munchies. When Immanuel first told Carola about his idea she was exited and motivated to make the idea come true. Being a visual oriented person, she immediately had some concepts on how to turn the basic idea into a business.
In 2016 the two founders were able to find a manufacturer that would develop and produce the formula behind Smicies in Bavaria. Other than regular snacks, Smicies as a healthy snack is not based on sugar, but wheat fiber. Other main components include coconut oil, inulin and pea protein. For these reasons Smicies counts as a high protein, low calorie snack. Therefore they aim for health-conscious and athletic people as their target audience. Nutrition-conscious individualists as Carola likes to call them. Within this group the healthy snack is well received and people like boxing vice-European champion Sarah Scheurich give the company a face as a brand ambassador.
A first big step was the attendance of German TV channel Prosieben's Accelerator program. The program offered them a TV report in the TV show Galileo as well as an advertising budget. being shown on TV brought a lot of attention and traffic and caused the first larger selling wave. Their second television appearance would soon follow, this time at "Die Höhle der Löwen". Other than Galileo, Die Höhle der Löwen was authentic but also critical and not as generally positive as their first TV appearance.
Smicies: a product innovation
This could partly be due to the novelty of the snack. Smicies kind of started its own product category that has not existed before. Innovative products like Smicies that are not just based on variations of existing products are rare in the food industry. Because of that and the novelty of the product itself, opinions on Smicies seem to be polarized.
The two founders started the company with equity and were looking for investors and money from subsidiary funds to get the ball rolling, with limited success so far. Carola clearly sees the reason for this due to the partial focus of the investors that are only looking at technology-based ideas. Innovations from other industries are often pushed to the side. The entry barrier into the food industry is comparatively high since neither investors nor customers have a reference product and product features have not been fully established. Therefore customer's opinions vary greatly. Placing the product on the market is a key challenge for the founders. At the moment they are looking to place the product right at the checkout next to sweets and other small items people might grab in passing. Presently this seems to work in smaller and owner-managed grocery stores. Smaller stores are often a lot more open and willing to test new ideas and products.
The founders of Smicies
Over the years Carola has learned to deal with critical opinions and look at them as one of many. Like her affiliate, Carola also believes in Smicies and is focused on realizing the idea. There is no reason not to be motivated if your innovative product is not everyone's cup of tea right away. Due to positive feedback Carola feels validated as a founder and publicly appears as the confident face of Smicies.
Carola majored in communication design and had no intention of founding a company before Smicies. Based on her previous studies she was more or less thinking of becoming a freelancer in her professional area and gaining work experience. Being employed as an employee she quickly realized how much she missed autonomous working and decision making. When working for her own company she can put these strengths to full use. The two affiliates have a clear division of tasks. Carola is in charge of company communication, marketing and market positioning while her affiliate Immanuel is head of processing and product development.
Quick questions to Carola Stock, co-founder of Smicies
Since when do you live in Leipzig and why did you choose this city?
Originally im come from an area close to Lake Constance where I gained my bachelor's degree. Afterwards I did my master's degree in Bremen. After graduating I chose Leipzig as a place to live because its green and there are lakes and rivers. But most importantly, everything is close by and can be reached with a bike. I live here since 2015 and feel very comfortable.
Your Leipzig insider tip?
Watchman city tours! They are funny, cool and informative, I can even recommend them for Leipzig locals. Where I also like to go is the Renkli on the Karl-Liebknecht-street. I love wine and the premise does have a great atmosphere.