Episode 33 – Wildgrain, Wild Idea, You Decide with Ismail Salhi
Ismail Salhi is an unstoppable person by any standard. As he says, “I am a computer scientist by training. But fell in love with entrepreneurship in the last 10 years”. His company, Wildgrain was formed in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world. Mr. Salhi and his wife had a dream and they decided not to let anything stop them from bringing their dream to reality. Today they arguably make the best sourdough bread around.
Come join me and hear not only the Wildgrain story, but hear a story of someone just like you and me who shows us all that no matter what, we can be unstoppable. Who knows, you might even discover a new tasty item that is even healthy for your diet.
Thanks for listening and I hope you will let me know your thoughts about our episode and the Unstoppable Mindset podcast by emailing me at email@example.com.
About the Guest:
I am Ismail Salhi, Co-Founder of Wildgrain. I am a computer scientist by training. But fell in love with entrepreneurship in the last 10 years. I teach computer science and digital marketing at UMASS Boston and mentor students and staff members who are interested in starting their own ventures. I am passionate about product design and how technology can help people live a simpler life. Whether through food, hardware, or software. I thrive to build experiences that simplify our day-to-day. With Wildgrain, we help our members get healthier, artisan, and delicious “bake-from-frozen” bread, pasta, and pastries within 30 minutes.
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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UM Intro/Outro 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:21
Well, Hi, and welcome to another episode of unstoppable mindset. Glad you’re here, wherever you are. And we have an interesting guest today. Somebody who I have to tell you the story upfront, I discovered by accident, we received an invitation to a shower from one of our relatives. And in the invite, which was an email was an advertisement for something called Wildgrain. It sounded pretty intriguing. And we weren’t sure that we wanted to spend a lot of money. But by the same token, it was interesting to look at. So I went to the Wildgrain website and the first thing I heard was put your browser in a screen reader mode. Button. That immediately told me that it was a site that was helped to be made accessible by accessiBe, which is the company that I worked for. And that was pretty exciting. And that was enough to sell me on it right there. But we, we we explored it further. And you’ll hear more about the company wild green a little bit later. But the bottom line was that we signed up and so because of excessive B they have a new customer so I have the one of the cofounders of wild grain with us today. Ismail Salhi, am I pronouncing that right?
Ismail Salhi 02:53
Michael Hingson 02:54
and Ismail Welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Ismail Salhi 02:58
Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here. and Ismail
Michael Hingson 03:01
is in Boston, which are actually close to it right. You’re not You’re not in the city or you
Ismail Salhi 03:08
know, I mean, I’m in Somerville, mass,
Michael Hingson 03:10
Somerville, right. But I’m jealous. I lived in Boston for three years. And, of course, there’s great food in Boston. And now we know about wildbrain. So it’s even better. But I’d love to hear a little bit about your story of where you where you came from, how you grew up, and what got you into the things that you do. He is a computer science teacher at University of Massachusetts at Somerville and also is the founder of a company so there’s a lot to talk about here.
Ismail Salhi 03:41
Yeah, I come from North Africa country named Algeria. And I was born and raised there lived there until I was 23. Eight, I believe, and then got my engineering degree in computer science there moved to Paris to do my PhD in computer science. Then finished my PhD. This is where the bed the bread bug got into me because Paris is bread paradise. Basically, there is good bread in every street corner. But to come back to the story i i lived there for 10 years. I got my PhD degree and then I started working for a technology transfer office. I was helping companies and startups in professors and labs start new businesses and new ventures and fund them. And so I worked there for a while and got the entrepreneurship bug myself started to think about starting my own business. And then I did and that got me to Boston. We got investors here in downtown Boston and they asked us if we wanted to move to the US I send my co founder and now wife, and I moved here. Six years ago, I believe, and worked on that business for a while, got it to a certain place. And then COVID happened and destroyed the business, our most customers were in the hospitality and the support in the event business. And so all those were shut down for pretty much a year and a half. And we lost a lot of customers. And in the meantime, we were my wife got pregnant with our first son Jack, and she was looking for healthy bread to eat. And we started looking and we couldn’t find anything that made us happy, because we had the European bread, we were really looking for a European style bread and, and then she started learning how to make bread and based on wild yeast, and sourdough, and she was making so much that we had to give a lot to friends and family here in the area. And we discovered that if you freeze it, it’s actually more convenient, because you can refresh it whenever you want. And you have fresh bread every day, whenever you want. And that’s where the idea came in.
Michael Hingson 06:18
So why is it called? So the company is called Wildgrain? And why is it called Wildgrain.
Ismail Salhi 06:25
So it’s a play on wild yeast, which is really the main strength of our products. We use natural sourdough starter for making our breads. And that brings a lot of different health benefits to people who eat that bread. So part of it. So that’s the first part of the name. And then grain is natural. We specialize in all sorts of grain products. So pasta, pastries, anything that has wheat in it, we try to make it make it delicious, but also make it a little healthier, a little easier to use and mainly focus on the artisanal process.
Michael Hingson 07:09
And now you you have the company, it’s up and running and you’re shipping all over the United States.
Ismail Salhi 07:17
Correct? We’re shipping to 48. States. Yes.
Michael Hingson 07:21
So you haven’t gone to Alaska and Hawaii and spoiled them yet?
Ismail Salhi 07:25
Not yet. It’s it’s pretty hard to get frozen boxes, frozen through to Alaska and Hawaii. But we’ll try it.
Michael Hingson 07:35
Yeah, it is, it is certainly more of a challenge, the longer you have to go, we got our first box. And it turns out that the boxes have dry ice on on the inside on the top, and ours had melted. So we understand that it would be even more of a challenge going to Hawaii. But now we’re getting into the summer. So I suspect you’re all going to put more dry ice in. And that will help.
Ismail Salhi 08:01
Absolutely we we base the dry ice quantity that we put in every box based on where you live. So depending on your zip code, we know. We know first of all the weather that week. And that helps us know if it’s going to be too warm or less warm that we can then define the quantity of dry ice we’re gonna put in your box,
Michael Hingson 08:20
you’d probablyhave to use a lot of dry ice if we were getting anything today. It’s supposed to be in the 90s and down the hill in Los Angeles. It’s supposed to get up to 100. But we’re going to be in the high 80s and low 90s. So it’s starting to warm up.
Ismail Salhi 08:35
Luckily, we’re not shipping today. Right? We don’t ship in Thursday.
Michael Hingson 08:42
Well, it’s it’s of course hit and miss with the weather anyway, we’re amazed. I still think that we all missed out on not getting jobs as as weather people at television stations because it’s amazing how quickly they change and how inaccurate they are for the longest period of time. I think we all missed out on getting a great source of income. That they really do try. It’s it’s interesting. We we lived in New Jersey for six years and we coming from California were quite amazed at the amount of bread available and pastries but especially bread. In New Jersey Of course it’s very Italian and so on. So there is a lot but nothing compares to what we’ve been tasting with Wildgrain.
Ismail Salhi 09:34
That’s amazing to hear. We the secret is partly the sourdough so because because we don’t sell in retail. We sell purely online we can afford basically to not put a lot of things that they have to put to be in retail. When you put a loaf on a shelf at a supermarket. You want to optimize that love to stay as long as possible. It attracted on that shelf. And so you have to put a lot of preservatives and additives to make it look good and make it stay longer. And that and they the other piece is that they because of the industrial process that they use in commercial bakeries, they churn Lopes in 20 minutes, they have these chemical E’s that they use that make it pop very quickly. But that makes it deprived of all the nutrients that you want in a bread. And we use the oldest method of making food, which is fermentation that’s been usually used in ancient Egypt, the same process, it’s all handshake. We start with the sourdough starter, we let it ferment for more than 20 hours. And then once it’s ready and full of that good bacteria that your body wants, we put it in the oven, part bake it to almost 80% of the baking is happening. And then we flash freeze it shipped to your door, and then you can finish the bake at home and have amazing fresh, high quality, very nutritious, very healthy bread at home.
Michael Hingson 11:10
Which explains why it’s suggested that you keep the bread frozen until you put it in the oven that you don’t thought. Exactly, yes. What happens if people saw their bread and then they cook it? It’s good,
Ismail Salhi 11:23
you get a slight decrease in quality. It’s not it’s usually when you let it thaw for a day it’s not noticeable but you know, the longer it stays outside in thought in the air the quickest it’s going to start stealing and so yeah, the best taste you really want to make it from Frozen.
Michael Hingson 11:44
Yeah, I I agree. Based on everything we’ve tasted stove so far. It’s it’s interesting, though, that you do this and you teach at UMass aren’t those both kind of full time jobs.
Ismail Salhi 12:00
I am part time and UMass. So I, I am an entrepreneur and residents. And so what that means is not only I get to teach every now and then but also I mentor students, staff members, when they want to, they’re interested in starting their own venture, I sit down with them, help them with fundraising, help them with tech, help them with marketing. And I use my network here in Boston to support them when I can. And so it’s I do it because I love it. It’s just something that I always thought I’d be a teacher, but then the entrepreneur side of me one. And so I still tried to give back and talk to young people who are interested in entrepreneurship and the kind of demystify part of it, there is a lot of mean fairy tales told about entrepreneurship, good and bad. And so I want to help them see through that.
Michael Hingson 13:00
What are some of the stories that people have told you, or that that you’ve heard about people interested in going into entrepreneurship, maybe some of the good and the bad kinds of things that you hear and the things that you have to demystify?
Ismail Salhi 13:15
Yeah, a lot of them, you know, the myth of the solo founder, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. And people think if you have a vision, and you build a product, and then people will buy it, and they, you just need to be sort of a genius. And, and that’s, that’s it, and you know, they’ll get it, they will come in my experience with my own companies and with other founders that I know it’s never like this, it’s really a teamwork, you better surround yourself with smarter people than yourself very early. Challenge your idea. And the second myth sort of is, the idea is key, like a lot of people think, Oh, I have an idea. Or I could have done some some of that, like, Oh, it’s just an idea. Idea is maybe 2% of the business. And then 98% of it is how you execute it, how you build a team around it, how you choose the right people to work with you. And then how do you grow it from that seed into into a big forest that that sustains everything? And so I tried to show them that I tried to ask them hard questions about why they want to do what they want to do. Because if, for example, if you want money, it’s better not to start. entrepreneur is a risky way to get money. There’s other safer way safer ways to make money. And so usually I try to seek something about passion or something about what they really can because there’s a high chance of failure. There’s I think nine out of 10 startups fail. And so you really want to put that number into their head and everybody of course thinks they’re going to be that 10% but more Like we they’re not, they’re not and they’re going to fail. And so the lesson there is, hey, what how are you going to handle that failure that you’re there’s going to be failure within the company, there’s going to be failure maybe of the entire company. So there’s there’s that. And then the good, of course, is just, it’s amazing to meet people who have good ideas and who have that spirit in them, even though they don’t know financing, or they don’t know accounting, or they don’t know tech. Those are things they can acquire and learn. And that’s what I get excited to come in and try to help them.
Michael Hingson 15:36
I’ve been fortunate to be around a few companies as they started up and start up. My first exposure into all of that was, in the 1970s, I was involved with the National Federation of the Blind, and Dr. Ray Kurzweil, the futurist and inventor when he was starting his company and the National Federation of blind worked with him to get funding to create what he wanted to develop, which was a machine that would read print out loud, he had developed an algorithm to literally provide Omni font optical character recognition, and was looking for a home and decided that the first thing he wanted to do was to create a machine that would read print out loud. And he did that and was helped by the National Federation of the Blind. And then I went to work for Ray, the original job I had was working for the National Federation of the Blind, with machines going to various parts of the country. And my job was to take them there, leave them, teach people to use them, do all the other things that related to making people comfortable, comfortable with a whole new concept, which was literally reading print out loud, rather than it being in Braille or just to recording. And then went to work for Ray and got to observe upfront, exactly what goes on inside of a company as its starting up. And as it’s growing. And the fact was almost a victim of one of the big mistakes that a lot of technical and technology oriented startups make, and that is that the company hired too many non revenue producing people. And so they were doing lots of stuff. But they weren’t bringing in the income for it. And I was actually called in one day, and I was told we’ve got to lay you off. It isn’t that your work is bad. It is simply that we need to get more revenue produces, so we have to lay you off. And then the guy who was talking with me said, unless you want to go into sales, which was a was a compliment, although I love to say, thinking about it, knowing that the unemployment rate then as now, the unemployment rate among employable blind people is like 70%, that’s seven zero. And what I love to say to people is I decided I’d lower my standards and go into sales. But the reality is, it was quite a compliment that they wanted me to do that. And they didn’t want me to sell the reading machine for the blind, they had developed a new product, which really quickly became sort of the flagship product, even though the reading machine was the most well known. But the new product was a commercial version of the reading machine that banks, lawyers, publishers and other companies could purchase, to literally scan documents and convert them to various different computer forms, whether it be text or word, well, our word perfect at that time or other places. So I went into sales, and again, got to continue to watch the company grow. And I’m telling this story, because I really appreciate the work that goes into it. And you’re absolutely right. It’s all about the team. And it is a vision. I think any entrepreneur that has any chance of success has to have a vision, but part of that vision has to be how you’re going to make it happen.
Ismail Salhi 19:06
Absolutely, yeah, go to market and my first my first company was also a victim of that I was a technical founder. And as you know, technical founders, I fell in for the myth of build it they will come and then make a great product and people will buy it. And the truth is you’re right you need people who to promote the product people to sell it people to talk about it, people who and it’s a full time job, it’s a different job and it and tech people don’t know how to do it. And so you need to surround yourself early and the mistake I’ve made in my previous business was to focus too much on product and not focus enough on go to market and and I think that’s why one of the reasons when we started Wildling was to hire ally who you know, who is our head of marketing, who is the champion at at getting the product in front of people’s eyes and making people know about us, in addition of making a great product, you also need to build a machine to that helps you get that product in front of people. Otherwise, you’re just making things.
Michael Hingson 20:16
I joined accessiBe in January of 2021. And one of the main reasons I joined as I investigated the company and talked to a number of people at the company, was that, clearly, it was a team effort. And there was a really strong depth of knowledge about what needed to be done to make a company successful. There were, there were things that the company needed to learn. And I was able to be a part of helping that and continue to be a part of helping that. And part of that is also this podcast. But the fact is that there was a great team, the three people who were co founders of the company, founded the company, because of necessity of making websites accessible in Israel. But they saw the value and the mission and the vision of making a product that others could use. And they’re still learning all the ins and outs of how to market to the community of persons with disabilities. And the things to say and not to say and that it’s a very sensitive consumer group. But at the same time, they are building and continue to build a great team of people who come on board. And the company spends a good amount of time getting them to get a new hires, especially to understand what the vision is and what the goals are. And really wants to make people fit and be a part of the organization and be real contributors at all levels.
Ismail Salhi 21:57
Yeah, that’s, that’s extremely important. I fell in love with the product itself. As a technical person and a product person in general, I am an engineer. And when I see a simple product that brings a lot of value. And in a beautiful, simple, efficient way, and that does the job, it can tell you the number of people who write in our reviews, or thank us for using accessiBe, because it’s just simply very well done it it integrates beautifully with our it was a great way to onboard with them and get them started out, get us started with the product and make it work. And so I’ve been a promoter of accessiBe to every founder that I know and telling them how easy first of all it is to and how low impact it is for you to make your website accessible to a maximum amount of people is just a first of all, it’s not because it’s just a good thing to do. It’s also because it’s the right marketing and right way to present your company to the people you want to sell to. And we set it up, it worked amazingly fast. And we are complemented by our members and it doesn’t obstruct with anything we do. And the way from just the the technical point of view of just using the product and seeing how it’s built. I can see how that how much thought and how many, probably I don’t know how many engineers were behind it. But I can see that it’s really well done.
Michael Hingson 23:42
Yeah, there, they have done a tremendous job. And there are always things to improve some of the things that the artificial intelligent widget doesn’t necessarily do yet. And the reality is that will change over time. But things like you have a video up on the site and it doesn’t say anything. So I as a blind person have no idea what was in the video. And of course, I corresponded with all of you about that now you’re working with accessiBe to address that issue.
Ismail Salhi 24:09
Absolutely. Yeah, we, I we have a lot to learn as a company on that topic. And we I mean, it was amazing that you guys pointed that out and let us know that he doesn’t let the thing also you need to be thinking about now we think about it every time but and we expect that from SSV not only because we use their product but also to be our coach in learning more about how we can make websites and even our experience in general more accessible.
Michael Hingson 24:43
How long have you had accessiBe to be on the site now?
Ismail Salhi 24:46
I would say probably a year
Michael Hingson 24:49
so you’ve you’ve grown with accessiBe be a little bit because certainly the overtime the widget is has changed and evolved. That’s pretty cool.
Ismail Salhi 24:56
Yeah, yeah, it’s it’s very, I remember it RST was pre, just this is technicalities, but it was taken some of the time to load and it was a pretty heavy piece of code. And now it’s just a breezy, it doesn’t impact in any way. The way our website loads, it loads nicely, synchronously. And it doesn’t disrupt anything else. And so it’s, it’s awesome. We’re very happy to have it.
Michael Hingson 25:25
Yeah, it’s, it’s an exciting product. And it’s an evolving product. And of course, it’s using some of the state of the art, bleeding edge technology, this thing we call artificial intelligence, which it has been evolving for a long time. I mean, Ray Kurzweil used some of that with the original Kurzweil Reading Machine developing into it, and ability to learn different type styles or learn to recognize appropriately different characters as the machine saw them. And the more I saw of different characters, and using different algorithms, the more accurate the OCR became, with the commercial version of the machine, they actually produced a mechanism by which the user could interact with the technology and say, No, you got this word wrong, this is what it is. And that, of course, improved a lot of things in a hurry as well, they were able to do a little bit more of that with the commercial version than they could with the reading machine for the blind. But also, the reading machine for the blind originally was just a high end agency device, $50,000 per machine, so the average individual wouldn’t purchase it. But Ray always knew that was going to come down. And I think that with accessiBe, again, the vision is of the technology becoming even more scalable, and more usable, and accessiBe, be providing the other tools that deal with the parts of a website, that the widget doesn’t, doesn’t necessarily do. And we’re seeing a lot of progress in that, which is pretty exciting.
Ismail Salhi 27:06
That’s awesome. Yeah, I’m very excited to see what what’s coming in the product line and, and honestly, understand more as well on how we can improve our access to our website and our products in general.
Michael Hingson 27:24
So, so Wildgrain was co founded by you, and presumably it’s your wife, who’s the other co founder. Yes, correct. I’ll bet she has lots of stories to tell about founding a new entrepreneurial type of endeavor to
Ismail Salhi 27:39
Yeah, we’re, we did it forever with our previous business. And we loved it so much that on when when our previous business was about to shut down, we were thinking about what we should do. And both of us sat down and had the option to take different jobs. And each one of us takes their own job. And we sat down and we were like, We need to work together again, because we like it. We’re good at it. She’s more she’s a designer, a product designer by training, and very avid Baker. I am a tech person. And so we complement each other very well. And she she became an entrepreneur, just as I become become one now just jumping right into it, learning, getting better at it everyday working hard on it. And then when it came to Walgreens, there was no even there was no discussion they will it had to happen with her. And she was actually the the first loves we sold the first boxes we built were made by her hands entirely. Well, the craziest story is that we we found in Wildgrain on January 2020. So right before the pandemic, and our son was a few days old. And so we just had a newborn and started a business. And every time we tell this story, people tell us either that were very brave, or that were very stupid.
Michael Hingson 29:18
Or very adventurous. Yes. What was it like founding a new venture in the time of COVID that had to create a lot of challenges and a lot of a lot of issues that you had to deal with. But at the same time, since you were moving forward with it, it must have been part of a really great adventure. Yeah, it
Ismail Salhi 29:41
was like, you know, every entrepreneur story has some sort of event or dramatic event that changed everything and COVID was one of them. We we were planning to open our own bakery and do our own everything ourselves. And we did that for a while but then we People were ordering bread a lot online and we couldn’t cope with the orders were just me and her and the baby. And we left our home kitchen to go to a commercial kitchen here in Woburn, Massachusetts. And then, we quickly outgrew that place. And we started trying to hire people to work for us. And but it was locked down. And nobody was working. I used to remember I, we used to drive in an empty highway because we were the only one going to work. And we couldn’t hire people. And then we had a phone call with a bakery that lost a lot of business, because of COVID. So they were selling bread to hotels and to restaurants and everything was shut down. So they they didn’t have any orders coming in. And we convinced them to make some of the bread for us. We taught them our recipes without them or proper baking process, how we freeze our loaves. And we partnered with them, and then we realized that that would be the right way to do it. And so instead of opening our own bakery ourselves, we started partnering with small bakeries across the country, and teaching them our method and helping them how to make our products. And that’s yeah, and then we kept growing. But I remember when we were making everything, I don’t know if you remember the first weeks of the pandemic, there was shortages of everything, including Oh, and so I, I remember driving with my van and I just buying flower bags and bags of 50 pounds of flour everywhere, I could find them and bringing them home. And so the baby’s room will became the flower room because we just stockpiled all the flour, all the ingredients, the nuts and everything in the baby’s room because we didn’t have room to put them anywhere else.
Michael Hingson 32:00
So I have to ask what is Jack’s job in Wildgrain? I mean, you must be putting him to work
Ismail Salhi 32:09
how can I describe that the his first job when we started was to just be in his bouncer and look at us bake and make pasta and make pastries and, and mix dough. And then as as we grew, he was at the office with my colleagues every day basically until we we can we can bring him babysit or we could bring a babysitter after COVID restrictions slowed down a little bit. And then he was a little bit out of the office. But my second son, Rob Robbie, he’s here and he’s, you can barely hear him, but he’s on the back with my wife at the office and his bouncer chilling with us.
Michael Hingson 32:54
Well, you certainly have to future executives, hopefully at the company. I hope I hope they
Ismail Salhi 33:03
do something else. It’s very, they do something more relaxing, but who knows,
Michael Hingson 33:09
or, or adventurous. And I mean, you’ve gone through enough that you you know that sometimes you got to take risks and at least allow people to grow. And that’s I think that’s a scary thing today with with our society for kids, it’s really tough to let them take a lot of the risks that you took, and that I took and deal with a lot of the things that we did growing up just because it’s a kind of a scarier time, don’t you think?
Ismail Salhi 33:39
Yeah, I keep thinking about that. And I, at one point, I think we always think that but then I try to refrain from thinking that way. Because it’s I tried to think about entrepreneurs 50 years ago, there was no Internet, there was no way to learn all this stuff very quickly, like we have access to there was no way to meet other like minded people and hire people online and work remotely and and so we I think we we have tools that are making entrepreneurship easier. You can test your product for very cheap now you can run interviews online, you can build websites pretty cheap. But at the same time, you you’re the risk of running a business and then failing and then finding yourself in a financial complex situation that that’s also scary and but I think entrepreneurs don’t really care about money, they care about the thrill of the job. And they I remember I when I had normal quote unquote normal jobs, I would get really antsy and if the if I’m not challenged by the job, I would get bored very quickly. And I think it’s part of that that drives entrepreneurs is this thrive to just be be challenged and work on hard problems to solve.
Michael Hingson 35:03
Well, the other side of it is that if you never try it, you won’t learn nearly as much as if you just read about the theory. So at some point, you have to step out. And it’s the same with kids, they’ve got to experience it’s part of growing up, it’s part of life. It’s part of evolving.
Ismail Salhi 35:22
Yeah, absolutely. I, I am a fervent believer of, yeah, do it, do it to learn it that 10,000 hours, whatever you want to do spend $10,000 doing it, and you’ll be good at it. There’s no, there is talent. Of course, there’s people who are gifted, but you can’t count on that, as an individual, you have to really put in the work and, and once you put in the work, you’ll get good at it regardless. So i i That’s why part of what attracted me in to move into the US is this really attitude toward work and the work ethic of Americans in general is very interesting to me, and a very good concept that you don’t find in other places of the world that I’ve been
Michael Hingson 36:11
to. So what what’s different? What do you what do you mean by that?
Ismail Salhi 36:16
I think a lot of Europeans, for example, work, but see work as just work as part of their life. And they live for the weekend, they, of course, I’m generalizing. And this is not everybody, but in the US, I think people make work more part of their life and embedded more into what their personal beliefs and what their passion is. And they try to make it it’s more important part of their life than I think in Europe. And there is less cynicism about work here and more positive attitude toward work ethic and putting in the hard work and trying to improve and learning and failing. There’s also a very good attitude toward failure here, that doesn’t exist in Africa or in Europe, where if you fail there, it’s it’s kind of a stigma versus in the US, if you fail, the first question they ask you is what did you learn about your failure?
Michael Hingson 37:17
And how will you then use that knowledge?
Ismail Salhi 37:20
Michael Hingson 37:21
What do you think about the concept that we often hear, which is that in the case of companies, especially companies that have shareholders and so on, their only function is to make money for shareholders and to make them richer? Well, I
Ismail Salhi 37:38
yeah, I disagree with that, I don’t think I think you you are a company that doesn’t, doesn’t care about their shareholder cannot function and cannot attract more investors or more customers. And, and, and so I don’t think refusing that entirely is a good idea. But I think the opposite is also a crazy idea. I think the first people I think I’ll be for my shareholders is my employees, and my customers, and then the shareholders are important as well, because they support us into this mission. Um, but I’m, I’m not I’m definitely not waking up every day thinking about my shareholders, I think about how my customers are feeling I think about my employees and how the workplace is for them and how I can support them. But I do not work for my shareholders, I work for my customers, I think, and that’s a good attitude to have.
Michael Hingson 38:37
If it’s interesting now, what last week, we just heard that at one of the major Amazon warehouses in New York, they unionize the first time that’s happened. And of course, I’m know that there are two sides to it. But you hear employees and the more, if you will, liberal aspects of society saying that’s a good thing. I suspect that there are people on the other side of that as well. But one has to wonder why enough people felt it was necessary to unionize, to cause that to occur, and whether that’s a sign that maybe they weren’t paying enough attention to employees, I don’t know. And now the union coming along and saying we want you to pay attention to us. I come from
Ismail Salhi 39:27
Europe where and I forgot actually where almost every job is unionized. And so for me, it’s less shocking than it is in the US. I I am. I’m not anti union. I think I’m at least in Germany and in France. Every job is unionized, almost 90% of jobs are unionized. And there it’s a good thing. It’s structured in a way that the union tries to help the employees have a say. I think it’s always better when your company you can make everybody happy without having to unionize. But I agree with you when you say, if they are unionizing them then then there is maybe something wrong in the communication between the leadership and the employees of the company,
Michael Hingson 40:16
somewhere there has to be a disconnect or connection that needs to be reestablished when that sort of thing occurs. I know I’ve seen examples of, of unionization, where the unions had too much power. I remember working for a company. Well, it was actually quantum Corporation, the company I worked for when I was in the World Trade Center on September 11, but before then, I was working for Quantum. And we had when actually was even way before Quantum. But anyway, I was working for a company that made a product that a financial firm wanted to buy. And in addition to the product, they wanted us to manufacture a device or a stand to hold the product, what it what it was, the product itself, can best be described as a pizza box. And at that time, Sun Microsystems made what was called the spark workstation, which was a pizza box, you put it on a table, and you could put the monitor on top of it, it was very flat, literally, it looked like a pizza box. And we made a disk subsystem in the same form factor. And this particular company said we want you to make a bracket. So we can mount the pizza box to the side of a desk. Okay, that made sense. Then, when we made the first prototypes, the union heard about it and came in and said to the financial company, are these people a union shop? And they asked us and no, it wasn’t, it was a small company that I was working for at the time, it wasn’t quite them. And they said, we were not a union shop. And the union said, well, then you can buy it from them, we have to make it and we’re gonna charge you $160 whereas we were going to charge $40. And when the guy told me this, who we were working with at the firm, he said, over the weekend, the union is gonna probably flex its muscles to drive the point home that we can’t work with you, we have to work with them. And they did, they actually caused an elevator to stop running. And so suddenly, they had to have a marshal fire marshal, the union representatives from the elevator company come in on a Friday night to check the elevator. And that meant that it was after five o’clock, so they got time and a half or double time for that. And they kept the elevator not working and eventually deciding that they could now test it, even though they didn’t have to do anything to the elevator. But they started testing it at about midnight, which meant now we went into Saturday, which meant that the people doing the work got triple time. And eventually, like about five in the morning, they said the elevator could be used. There was nothing wrong, but it was all about saying the unions are the only ones you can listen to. And that’s unfortunate, too.
Ismail Salhi 43:13
Yes, absolutely. It’s always you know, a fight between two sides. And the best place to be is to be in the middle where nobody’s fighting, and your company is doing a great job communicating with everybody and not people don’t feel the need to unionize, if if you’re doing a good job. If you’re not, then you probably have been doing some damage for quite a while. And now people are upset. And so it’s kind of tricky to navigate that on and maintain. And so I think that the job of a founder is always to be eyes open and ears open to their employees and their customers, as I said, like, this is the obsession that we have is to make sure that everybody’s happy at that company and every customer is happy. And as long as you have that the magic formula will work. If you don’t have that you’re kind of starting the trouble.
Michael Hingson 44:09
I think you say that in a in a really interesting way when everyone is working together when people at the company are generally happy and and the the leadership of the company is making people feel like they’re part of it. It is magic. And it is something that you don’t see in other places. And the magic is really important.
Ismail Salhi 44:32
Oh yeah, it’s crucial. I mean, it’s we spend most of our awake time at work. It’s the place where we spend the most time we spend time at work more than with our spouses with our children. And so it’s extremely important to show people especially the new generations are having so much opportunity you have to show them that they’re valued you have to show them that they have an impact and you have to give them ownership of Have their jobs so that they can evolve in them and be happy and it is established in them. And, and I think if you if you fail to do that you will lose your best people, you invest employees and, and customers start feeling that and then it’s a vicious cycle. And the opposite is true. If you make your employees happy, it’s going to reflect on your customers, and it’s a virtuous cycle and people will use your company will be better that way. And so I think as long as you have the mission, and that drives people, as long as you have the right people, and as long as you’re building the right stuff, you’re you’re doing the right thing. As a founder,
Michael Hingson 45:46
it’s always a balance to make sure that people are happy and feeling satisfied, but at the same time, getting them to feel the drive and wanting and hoping that they will drive and work as hard in their own ways as you the visionary does, because you really want them to become part of the vision and emotionally buy into it, as opposed to forcing people to do that.
Ismail Salhi 46:14
Absolutely. And that’s, that’s part of why we hire. We don’t have a strong belief in hiring very experienced people, we were very, how can I phrase this, we want people who are versatile, so we’re in the startup, you know, it’s everybody does everything until it becomes too much. And then we try to solve that. And, for example, I was doing even our label design, and I was doing the website, and then engineering and the financials, the bookkeeping, and then I was doing customer support and marketing. And Brandon was sometimes jumping on the packing line, and sometimes working on operations. And every single one of us has multiple roles. And when you try to hire people who won’t budge on that, and won’t buy into division, they will quickly get overwhelmed and say this is not why he was hired for and, and that attitude, I understand it, not everybody’s cut for a startup. But that’s why hiring for us is very important. And we try to find that spark, in in people, when we try when we talk to them in interviews, and we try to bring them into the company is are you really ready to for this, it’s gonna be a lot of you know, sweat and blood and tears, and it’s gonna be hard. But hopefully there’s a reward, you see the effect of your work, you’ll learn a lot more than in other jobs. And you in in one or two years, you’ll learn what you would learn in an corporate job, maybe in four or five years, because everything goes so fast. They say, you know, your job changes every six months in a startup? Well, in COVID times, I think it was every three months, your job title changes.
Michael Hingson 48:06
Yeah, it’s part of the necessity, I sort of learned a lot of the things that I learned more vicariously than from experience. I didn’t have any kind of job in high school other than my brother and I had a paper route. But he also went to work for a restaurant, he wanted his own job, and he wanted to earn some money. So he applied at this place of wouldn’t be a fast food, it was a diner kind of place near where we lived. And they said, Okay, we’re gonna hire you. First thing we want you to do is to go out into the lot in the back and pull weeds. He went out without question, pulled and got rid of all of the weeds in the backyard. And the the owner came out like two hours later and said, you’re done. And he said, Yeah, they’re there all times, which made him really much more respected by the owner because he just did it. And it was what he was asked to do. And he felt that his job was to take direction. And over time, he he did other things there, but and it was a good thing. But he he did what he should. And I remember that even though I never had a job. I remember that. The reality is that you’re going to have a lot of different opportunities. And also you need to be flexible in what you do. And what you want to do because it doesn’t always start out just the way you think it will.
Ismail Salhi 49:35
Exactly never does.
Michael Hingson 49:38
It never does. How large is wildbrain today.
Ismail Salhi 49:43
We are a small team of four people work here and then we have partners partner bakeries all across the country. So in Maine and Massachusetts and Wisconsin and California. We have our fulfillment party. nors we have our member support team, who is the six people team? And yeah, that’s it. We have a couple of consultants for digital marketing.
Michael Hingson 50:12
So. So do we get our bread from a bakery here in California?
Ismail Salhi 50:18
Most likely, yes.
Michael Hingson 50:21
Where do you have partners in Southern California?
Ismail Salhi 50:24
I think we have partners in San Francisco.
Michael Hingson 50:29
Okay. Well, that’s a good place for sourdough anyway.
Ismail Salhi 50:32
Yes. I mean, it’s sourdough in the US.
Michael Hingson 50:36
Yeah. Well, I will certainly be looking forward to someday being up back up there and going into someplace and finding that they’re using Wildgrain sourdough, that’ll be the ultimate for me. But it is a it’s it is an adventure. And it’s great that you’re partnering. And obviously, as you grow, you’ll you’ll get more people and more partners and so on. How big of a company is it right now in terms of sales and all that if that’s something you can talk about?
Ismail Salhi 51:07
I can’t share too much. But I can share that we’ve grown 300% from 2020 to 2021. And we’re still growing pretty strong in 2022. Oh, great. We’re it’s it’s a crazy ride. It’s it’s been very, very pleasant to watch, but also very hard to execute on a lot of challenges. As you may imagine, you’ve been through the startup many businesses and say that, you know, and so yeah, we’re we’re extremely happy with with the way people are responding to our product, people can go to our reviews page and see how people what people think it’s my favorite thing to do. When I feel too tired and exhausted from work, I go to the reviews page. And it makes me extremely happy to see how people react to our product.
Michael Hingson 52:01
I’m assuming there is continued, and maybe even accelerating growth as we come out of COVID.
Ismail Salhi 52:08
Yes, it is. We were kind of on the lookout on what was happening post COVID. But it doesn’t look like people are changing their habits, I think they got introduced to a lot of things. So part of a lot of our members are live in areas where there is no good bakery around. And so in an urban area, it’s in provincial areas, there’s sometimes the closest thing to their house is a Walmart and it’s a 30 minute ride. And so having high quality products delivered to their door without them having to drive an hour to get it is a tremendous value proposition for them. And so we are very proud to serve these customers and get them our products. I
Michael Hingson 52:58
remember growing up living in a town fairly close to us, but 55 miles away Palmdale, California, we had a bakery that we would visit, especially on Saturday mornings, because we would time it to get there just as they were pulling rye bread out of the oven. Yeah. And so it was too hot to even put in a plastic bag, we would get it in the loaf bag paper, take it home. And just cut off hunks and put butter on it and eat it off all of us. And in my family. There’s nothing like fresh baked bread like that, which is
Ismail Salhi 53:38
the best way to eat bread is to eat it warm and to eat it with butter and or olive oil or any like the simplest thing and it becomes a meal and it’s the best meal. It’s the oldest food one of the oldest foods we react very, you know, it’s a very primal reaction to regret is the oldest thing humans, one of the oldest things humans have been eating for a long, long time.
Michael Hingson 54:01
As an entrepreneur, where do you see conditions and things going over the next few years? Hopefully, as we come out of COVID whether it be how will it be enhancing and improving for wildbrain? Or what do you see in terms of just business and opportunities?
Ismail Salhi 54:19
Yeah, we’re, we’re excited about the future. We think people and our generation and people in general are looking for healthier options for their diet. People are more in tune with with their bodies want and are kind of sick of artificial things and and so we we our job is to educate people on why you know, carbs isn’t are not bad carbs are bad when they’re deprived of their nutrients and why they’re good for you if you make them the right way than the way nature intended, as we say and I’ve agreed, and that’s where we’re pushing For and so our job as a company is going to be to educate people on eating healthier. Breads, pasta pastries, providing the best quality we can provide and delivering a five star delivery to your door where you and your family can enjoy all our products. And so as long as we keep doing that, we the sky’s the limit, we want to become the online bakery of everybody in the country. And we’re building the team and the products to do so.
Michael Hingson 55:35
You have my vote. Thank you appreciate that. So when did we get to see you on the Food Network channel in some way or, or something like that.
Ismail Salhi 55:45
We were featured in Channel Five here in the local channel. News in Boston back when when the pandemic started, and we were still in our commercial kitchen testing and making rounds. And so I am not I prefer my wife to be the face of the company. I am more of a shy engineer that wants to stay behind his computer screen. So you won’t see me on the Food Network anytime soon. I
Michael Hingson 56:14
will have to figure out how we get her there. We we need to get Guy Fieri on diners, drive ins and dives to come and look at the bakery or Robert Irvine or somebody to come in and talk about you guys because you do have a great story to tell.
Ismail Salhi 56:28
Thanks. Thanks. Episode,
Michael Hingson 56:32
then there’s always getting Bobby Flay to come up and you could do a throw down who makes the best sourdough bread? I don’t think he stands a chance to do that. I don’t think he stands a chance. Well, let’s smell it’s been wonderful having you here on unstoppable mindset today, if people want to learn more about you, and Wildgrain, where do they go? And how can they find or talk with you and so on
Ismail Salhi 56:58
wildgrain.com, they can go there. And there’s everything to know to reach out to us or to learn about our product. And if they have any questions, our member support team will be super happy to talk to them. And even me or Johanna would be very happy to to interact with them.
Michael Hingson 57:16
And, and I can say that going to Wildgrain.com was a very accessible experience. And I was able to use the shopping cart and all the features on the site. And for me, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Ismail Salhi 57:29
That’s awesome to hear.
Michael Hingson 57:31
Well, thank you again for being with us. And I want to thank you out there listening. We really appreciate you and all of your thoughts and comments. If you have any suggestions or questions please feel free to reach out to me my email is Michaelhi@accessibe.com. That’s M I C H A E L H I at A C C E S S I B E.com. You can also learn more about unstoppable mindset at www.Michaelhingson.com. That’s M I C H A E L H I N G S O N.com/podcast. So love to hear your thoughts if you have any suggestions of people who you think ought to appear. Or if you want to come on the podcast to talk about being unstoppable and help us to inspire others we would love to have you on. So please reach out. And we’d love to chat. You can find us on LinkedIn and all the other major social media sites we do a lot on LinkedIn. So thank you very much for being here. and Ismail again, thank you for appearing with us today on unstoppable mindset.
Ismail Salhi 58:45
Thanks for having me.
UM Intro/Outro 58:49
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