The Buffy The Vampire Slayer finale aired 13 years ago, but its star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, remains beloved to every millennial who came of age during her high-kicking stake-wielding antics.
Gellar is known for her talent, smarts, and sassy comebacks; abilities which are equally relevant to the entrepreneurial world. Now she’s hoping her fans will fall in love with her cooking with the launch of Foodstirs, a bake-from-the-box subscription startup she launched in October 2015.
Over the last decade a number of red carpet names have made overtures into the business world, from designing clothing lines like Jessica Simpson, to slapping their logo on every pair of headphones they can find (Dr Dre., obvi). Recent celebrity businesses cover cannabis (Snoop Dogg’s line of vaporizers), vodka (Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl), and makeup (Drew Barrymore’s Flower line).
But for every successful celebrity business lies a graveyard of failed attempts, where celebs discover that simply slapping their face onto a box of chicken (Flavor Flav, you know who you are) isn’t enough to create loyal and engaged customers who come back for more.
Sarah Michelle Gellar’s brand recognition should get some customers signing up, but she needs to offer a good return on investment if they’ll continue to buy into her baking products. And what does she know about building a brand?
Let’s start at the beginning:
What does Sarah Michelle Gellar’s company do?
Foodstirs sells boxed kits that let home cooks create recipes with their kids. The premise is not particularly original. Consumers have a choice of home cooking kits to purchase, each including the ingredients and instructions to help you make 12 heart shaped fudge popsicles or a bunch of cupcake cones, etc. Everything is under $30 and free from GMOs and artificial ingredients.
Gellar’s said that her goal was to recreate those “lick from the spoon” moments you had as a kid… but without the stress and fuss. “I know that together we can all bake it better!” she wrote in a 2016 blogpost.
They’re sugary and cute, and the fun comes from making something tasty and pretty; and doing so as a family. Sure, you could solo create, but the design and imagery suggest that this is something to make with your kids. There’s also an option for subscriptions, where you sign up and get a box a month and then make that recipe.
Why would you use this?
Gellar’s going big on the “yummy mummy” market. Her company website mostly features videos and images of herself, often with her two adorable kids. She seems involved, like she’s having fun. She makes being a mom seem easy.
But what if you’re not a mom?
Are you lazy? Love sugar? Want to be a little healthier? The packaging and style might be kid friendly, buts it’s also suitable for lazy (and possibly stoned) millennials who like Instagramming their meals.
Fine. But what does Sarah Michelle Gellar know about business?
Well, if her acting roles are any sign, she’s absorbed a fair amount. Her recently canceled show, The Crazy Ones, co-starring Robin Williams, featured Williams and Gellar as advertising agency head and daughter/protegé.
“My pivot is I took what I learned from advertising and marketing and content, and I now put it all into this,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “That’s what brought me to this place.” She knows that her name will help, but said that she has to follow through.
“Maybe the name gets us in the door, but it gets you in the door as a little bit of a novelty. You have to ask when they’re taking you seriously — if it’s like ‘Let’s see what Buffy has to say, and maybe I’ll get a picture for my kids’.”
What Buffy can learn from failed Hollywood businesses
If everything goes as planned, Sarah Michelle Gellar can hope to get the fame and acclaim that Jessica Alba’s achieved with The Honest Company, current valuation $1.7 billion. But there’s always the concern that’s she’ll sink further than Blake Lively’s short-lived Preserve venture.
Launched in 2014, Preserve.Us shuttered after a year of operating as a quasi-boutique/lifestyle mag/not sure what goes here. Her original launch statement can be read here, but you’ll most likely take away that she tells the readers she likes enchiladas… and that she’s no editor, artisan, or expert.
“And certainly no arbiter of what you should buy, wear, or eat.” – Blake Lively, Preserve.Us launch statement
This lack of focus – and belief in herself – is likely the reason for Preserve’s demise.
“We launched the site before it was ready, and it never caught up to its original mission: It’s not making a difference in people’s lives, whether superficially or in a meaningful way,” Lively said in a heartfelt interview with Vogue.
You have to give Blake Lively props for going public with this. It’s hard for anyone to admit failure, even more so when everything you say/wear/do is analyzed to death.
“I never thought I would have the bravery to actually do that, to take the site dark and to say, ‘You know what? I haven’t created something that is as true and impactful as I know it can and will be. And I’m not going to continue to chase my tail and continue to put a product out there that we, as a team, are not proud of.”
When a celebrity doesn’t know something they partner up.
When Jessica Alba launched her business she knew she needed help. “Having a dream is the easy part. Making it happen is a whole different story. Turning any business idea into reality is hard, so I enlisted the help of experts.” These people were pivotal in her company’s growth, helping with production, distribution, marketing, and raising money. Any entrepreneur knows that there’s no “I” in startup, so getting a team together can help create a win.
Sarah Michelle Gellar has two co-founders: local mom friend Galit Laibow and product expert Gia Russo. They both bring marketing and baking skills to the venture, and Gellar brings her brand name and enthusiasm. They received funding from MuckerLabs, a Los Angeles-based incubator, and from Laibow’s husband, who’s luckily a director at Oaktree Capital management. This team gives Gellar the skills and funding she needs to make this a success… or at least, a head start towards it.
Celebrities know they are branding machines
There was a lot of press on the Foodstirs launch in October 2015, and how Gellar & Co. are working together to build the brand. But Jamie Zoch at The Domains revealed that the website had been registered since 2012, and functional (with no mention of Gellar) since 2014. It seems Gellar joined at a later stage, re-tooled the company, packaged it with her fans in tow, and set out to push this bigger and better.
Originally, Laibow showcased Foodstirs to parents at her kids’ school… which is how she and Gellar got connected and teamed up. Gellar’s children, Charlotte Grace (6-years old) and Rocky James (4-years old) go there.
Celebrities need to keep learning to get ahead
“Two years ago, I didn’t know what VC meant. I thought it was V.C. Andrews, the author who wrote ‘Flowers in the Attic’,” Gellar said. But where some might falter, she persevered and gained a large number of news skills.
“My husband jokes that I speak an entirely different language now, with all of the terms that go with having a business online, from SEO to SEM. It was literally learning a new language for me. I’ve also learned how to bake,” Gellar told Momtastic. “I test recipes and taste products and bake constantly, sometimes late at night, sometimes early in the morning. We’re not a big corporation that has huge kitchens all over the world that tests this stuff, so we’re doing all the work in our own kitchens.”
“We see a lot of celebrities put their name on stuff. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be there every day, I wanted to go raise the money.”Gellar
A PESSIMISTIC baseline reason for the rise of celebrity businesses is…
“Actors are not making anywhere as much money as they used to,” Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter told The New York Times. “Hollywood is not making the kinds of movies that require gifted performers. They are making the kind of tent pole movies that require rippling abs, and women as extras. So you have to make up that income somehow.”
“It’s so hard,” Jessica Alba told TechCrunch about starting her business. “You’re working day and night. It actually never stops. If you’re not so passionate and working day and night, it’s not going to happen.”
The future for Buffy baking
No startup, even one with a celebrity head, is guaranteed success. But Sarah Michelle Gellar is learning from mistakes her contemporaries have made, and is focused on a clear market, goal, and trajectory. She’s raised funding, and is using bloggers as focus groups for reviews on her products. Some of them haven’t been that positive, but that’s helpful data to build on.
And by leveraging her 500,000+ Twitter followers, her 360,000 Facebook fans and her 593,000 Instagram followers, she has a wide reach and a good connection with her market.
She has time to prove herself, and the year ahead will tell if she’ll fall into the Alba and Paltrow camp of winners or sink deeper than Blake Lively’s Preserve.Us. But either way, we’re sure she’ll follow the Buffy-mantra:
“Seize the moment, ‘cause tomorrow you might be dead.”