In honor of Scaling Up Philadelphia, our new program for growing profitable and sustainable black, brown and woman-owned companies, by providing them with the tools, resources and operating system they need to be successful, we’re highlighting each of the incredible members of our inaugural cohort of seven dedicated, hardworking and inspiring entrepreneurs.
Next up we’d like to share a little bit of the incredible and inspiring journey of Michelle Carfagno, Founder and CEO of The Greater Knead.
With a long-term dream of starting a business and a passion for baking, Michelle began her career in human resources. In 2011, after two members of her family were diagnosed with Celiac disease, she saw an opportunity to serve those who have dietary restrictions by creating products that they once enjoyed. Her dream began to take shape into reality.
Michelle surveyed several people including her own family to determine what type of product they missed most. Born and raised in the Northeast, bagels were an obvious choice. In 2012, her idea became a reality with the start of The Greater Knead.
In the early days of starting up, Michelle was still working a full-time job in HR to support herself and her blossoming business.
“Over time the business began to grow,” Michelle shared, “I was finally able to dedicate all of my time to growing the company.”
Initially featured in restaurants, bakeries, and other small retail establishments, in 2013 Whole Foods expressed interest in bringing the Greater Knead into their stores. Over the next few years the company continued to expand and their products are now found in over 2000 stores.
The Greater Knead also expanded its product line to include pretzels over the past few years. “While the growth has been amazing, our goal for this coming year is to sustain it. In 2022 alone, we expanded by 1000 stores. We know that we need to put the right foundations in place to support us,” she stated.
“For many years we’ve been focused on achieving significant milestones. While those milestones are important, we’ve found that they are not the most accurate way to report what is actually occurring financially and as well as organizationally in the company. The Scaling Up Philadelphia program has provided me the opportunity to understand the importance of focusing on profitability and cash flow, which in turn will lead to a more robust business.”
What’s been most critical to the success of the program? From Michelle’s perspective it’s been the requirement of the Scaling Up Philadelphia program to have a plus one participating at the Monthly Meetings and Coaching Calls.
“Oftentimes as a CEO you want to take on everything,” she acknowledges, “but having a teammate going through the program has been incredibly beneficial. Not only can she share the weight of the work and the homework, but having two of us delivering the knowledge we’re learning to the broader team has been invaluable.”
Michelle’s best piece of advice for other entrepreneurs?
You don’t have to spend to grow. Early on, Michelle felt that she had to continue to spend in order to grow the company. She now realizes that there are so many other things you can focus on to achieve your goals, and put the right foundations and systems in place. She also stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people.
“It’s so expensive to hire the wrong people. We’re learning that taking the time to be clear about what kind of skills and knowledge are important for what the business needs, along with the results that you need from each employee comes first in the hiring process. Then, go look for the person, using a robust interviewing and onboarding process to ensure that they’re engaged right from the start.”