Most college seniors are focused on getting through their last few classes and finding a job. If you’re Liza Hinman, you’re spending your final year at college working with your friends to build a startup.
Hinman, 24, is a founding member of Snow Monkey, a vegan ice cream brand. Snow Monkey comprises an all-female team: Rachel Geicke, co-founder and CEO; Mariana Ferreira, co-founder and COO; Ruby Watkins, project director; and Hinman, marketing director.
Snow Monkey was an idea born on Boston University’s campus just two years ago. Geicke suffers from celiac disease (a severe intolerance for gluten) and is super sensitive to dairy. Ferreira and Hinman are both lactose intolerant. Having strict dietary restrictions, but loving to indulge in ice cream, the girls longed for a product that gave them the same feelings of indulgence as traditional ice cream without the health risks. So they set out to create their own treat.
Snow Monkey ice cream boasts many labels, including vegan, paleo, nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free, and each pint contains 21 grams of plant-based protein. So far Snow Monkey comes in five different flavors: cacao, cinnamon, goji berry, matcha green tea and passion fruit.
Though her title is marketing director, Hinman wears many hats under the Snow Monkey roof. She ensures brand consistency, codes the website, manages all of the e-commerce orders, creates Facebook and other social media advertisements, handles content creation and partnerships and manages the brand’s social media accounts.
The Snow Monkey brand and Hinman currently call Los Angeles home, but Hinman has strong roots in Rochester. Most of her family lives in Rochester and Sodus Bay, and every holiday and summer has been spent with her relatives in the area.
Like many others who don’t have the luxury of Wegmans, the famous grocery store is always her first stop every time she steps off the plane in Rochester. What’s more exciting to Hinman is that Wegmans now stocks Snow Monkey products.
“About a year ago Wegmans called saying they were interested in putting Snow Monkey on their shelves, and it was honestly as though someone had told me I hit the lottery,” she recalls. “I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. Then about a month later, I went to the Wegmans on Ridge Road, and seeing my product on the shelf at my favorite grocery store was something I’ll never forget.”
Snow Monkey is currently sold in 500 stores around the country, and that number is expected to escalate to between 1,000 and 1,500 by the end of the year. The team is committed to making Snow Monkey as accessible as possible, and the nutritious treat can be found in a range of retailers from specialty wellness to big box stores.
Prior to joining the Snow Monkey team full time, Hinman spent 10 months working for global public relations firm Weber Shandwick. She worked in its consumer practice in the Boston office, where she received useful marketing and branding experience in consumer goods.
As a startup, there is a new challenge on the table every day. Being a team of all women in a traditionally male dominated field has presented its share of obstacles.
“It can be a little daunting to walk into a room with men who are 20 years older than you and have 20 years more experience than you,” admits Hinman. “It’s intimidating, but to learn to really stand your ground and have a powerful voice in that conversation is so rewarding that it has become a great advantage at the same time.”
Leading a startup is not an easy road for people with substantial professional experience, let alone a team of four young professionals. But throughout her education, Hinman learned the importance of seeking out mentors and being curious.
“At Boston University, we were taught to reach out and ask questions, find mentors and people who do know the answers that you’re looking for and ask them to share their knowledge with you, then learn how to apply that in any way you can,” she says.
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani LLC, as well as the entire Chobani team have offered great support and mentorship to Hinman and her colleagues.
“We’re actually part of the Chobani Food Incubator. So the entire Chobani company has become a second family to us and great role models,” says Hinman. “And the work that they do on a higher level, bringing better food to more people at a really manageable price, is something that we’re really passionate about here at Snow Monkey. So, it’s great to work with a company that shares our values.”
Hinman and the Snow Monkey team are also committed to fostering vital conversations about food and health. Hinman, like many others, is concerned about some of the food being sold at stores today because it’s “not being produced with our best interests or our health in mind.”
“We really want to be able to ignite this conversation in the greater food community and figure out why our food options aren’t great, what we can do to make them better, how we can inspire people to eat better and show people that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean eating gross food,” she says.
Stepping away from her corporate job to work for a startup full time was a precarious move on Hinman’s part. But she believes in the importance of taking risks while you’re young and letting nothing hold you back.
“Young professionals have the ability to mess up and fail, and there’s no bad part of failure,” she asserts. “You learn so much from failure, and when you’re young you can really benefit from all of the possibilities that come along with taking a risk.”
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#Team PXY with Whitney Young and Corey James on 98PXY is a partner with Fast Start. Listen on Monday from 5:30 to 10 a.m. for their interview with Liza Hinman.