In our latest View From the Top series, we chatted with Missy Koo, co-founder of Brooklyn Piggies, where she shared the vision behind her delicious idea and some words of wisdom for entrepreneurs.
America’s Favorite Hors d’oeuvre
It started out of necessity. It’s a funny story; years and years ago, my friends would have cocktail parties, and we’d always have these fancy hors d’oeuvres and canapés, and I thought I’m bringing pigs in a blanket. They would chuckle and roll their eyes because the connotation was that these were lowbrow. Without fail, they were always the first to go. And these were just cocktail franks in store-bought crescent pastry.
I knew something was there, and I told my friend Stacey Cole, who later became my partner, that I had this idea to make Pigs in a Blanket better. She said, If you don’t do anything with this, I’m stealing this idea from you. Almost five years later, I called her after feeling personally stale. I had left the workforce to raise children, and I missed being in the game and the hustle. We got together and launched a plan, which escalated quickly from there. We set out to improve what we see as America’s favorite hors d’oeuvre, and Brooklyn Piggies was born.
With only two main components – sausage and pastry – we sourced the best purveyors of both and moved to test our concept.
We thought the perfect place to test this would be Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – America’s largest weekly open-air food market. They invited us to come down and audition. We had to bring an oven. We got in front of them and presented. They were stone-faced and didn’t give any indication of how we did, but a week later, we were accepted into Smorgasburg, which felt like our first big win.
We had no idea what to expect at Smorgasburg. We turned up with one oven, looked up, and realized we had a line of people waiting for our product. So, the next week we came in with two ovens, which was a good thing because we got scouted by Oprah Winfrey’s team. They were looking for items to be featured in Oprah’s “Favorite Things.”
There’s this idea of prepare, prepare, prepare, and be ready for business and know every part of it. In this case, because we knew nothing, it didn’t hinder us from succeeding because if someone told us we were going to go from hand rolling 5,000 pigs in a blanket in a local commercial kitchen to drop shipping nationwide, building the infrastructure that goes into that, and doing it with no experience in just three months, I would say absolutely impossible.
Getting labels on frozen products that are USDA-approved takes longer than that. But because we didn’t know it was virtually impossible, obviously, we made it work. We didn’t say no; we seized the opportunity, which accelerated our plan by at least a year. Our goal was to start selling wholesale. But when Oprah came knocking and said we’re putting you on the list, we jumped into action.
We found a co-packer and a fulfillment center. We built a website that could handle the volume, and we managed to somehow get USDA labels approved. We learned a significant amount in three months and got on that list. It was our first major step forward.
We discovered an organization called the Women’s Enterprise Action Loan Fund (WEALF), dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs go from concept to execution. A critical piece of advice they gave us was, don’t be afraid to sell out of your product. Entrepreneurs always think they must seize every opportunity and make as much money as possible. Selling out can support your popularity, so don’t let that be a bad thing. The entrepreneurial mindset is to fill every order and maximize the opportunity. Their point was, don’t take on too much risk. Don’t overproduce. It’s excellent advice.
We also seek out advice from other entrepreneurs. The one thing about shop owners is that we love to talk. When there’s a fork in the road, we love getting on the phone and finding people in similar businesses who want to talk shop. Whether male or female (they are usually female), there’s nothing better than giving and receiving real-world guidance. In the end, whether it’s widgets, pigs in a blanket, or whatever else. The principles are universal.
Being a female entrepreneur brings unique challenges—mainly the challenge of a working woman and the label of a working mom. Because to every working mom, there is no working dad counterpoint. That suggests a limitation to what we can do in the workforce. When people wanted to interview us early in our careers about being a working mom, we completely shut that down. My husband is not asked those same questions.
It’s an interesting challenge in that you can be running a business (and not to say that men are not partners in building and supporting a family). Still, there are always those responsibilities that fall upon a mother. The challenge is in trying to wear two hats – a professional and a caregiver. It’s very important to model what we’re capable of to our children.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just as they’re about to push the button? Make sure you have someone like my partner Stacey Cole in your life. Someone to balance the visionary, creative person. Someone who reads the fine print and understands the true cost of your product, which includes direct material cost and labor. Have a solid operating plan.
Be prepared to make mistakes. I don’t look at them as mistakes but as learning opportunities. Just figure out how to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Don’t pretend to know everything. It’s impossible. Keep your ears open. Keep pushing forward every day and find the confidence to figure it out as you go. If you don’t have questions about where you are in your current business, then clearly, it’s not growing. We still have questions because we’ve mastered yesterday, but we still need to figure out how to grow into tomorrow.
Beyond ordering online, where can we find your product? I like to say wherever there’s a party! When we got on Oprah’s list, we had to start shipping nationwide. I called Dean and Deluca – a chain of upscale grocery stores based in New York City – and said we have a great problem. We’re going to be featured in Oprah. And I don’t have any retailers selling our product. They very quickly got on board, and we started shipping to other specialty retailers, but those places are only equipped to store what can fit in their freezers. We needed to go from cases to pallets.
Things started to change when we attended the Fancy Food Show. We met the chef from Madison Square Garden. He called us in and said he was putting us on the suites menu, and we’ve been there for 12 years now.
This taught us the difference between shipping a case to a specialty store versus shipping a pallet to an arena. Our thought was, let’s do all of it. There’s no reason why we can’t, so we continue this model. We have since grown into Citi Field.
Our trajectory is to focus more on large volume foodservice – not that we don’t still service specialty retailers. But that is the direction we are focusing on now.
We have considered raising funds from VCs, but we have been able to keep our financing in-house to this point. However, we are looking more closely at it as we want to expand, which requires money. But you must be careful because just money doesn’t help you if it’s not the right VC. For us, it would need to be someone in the food space who can open more doors.
We have absolutely sought legal counsel to help us manage complicated contracts and are considering our position on trademarks and patents for certain food concepts. It’s a big deal to make sure those things are buttoned up. Stacey manages that process. But again, it’s vital to pick partners who understand our world.
The story of Brooklyn Piggies is an excellent lesson that entrepreneurship is not only about business acumen but also about passion, perseverance, and the willingness to challenge the status quo. Missy Koo and Stacey Cole have shown that with the right combination of vision, tenacity, and a little bit of humor, they were able to turn a simple idea into a thriving enterprise. So, if you haven’t tried Brooklyn Piggies yet, you’re truly missing out on a delectable experience – head over to brooklynpiggies.com and savor the taste of their delightful creations. Here’s to embracing our dreams and forging ahead with courage on our entrepreneurial journeys!
Rooney Law is an international corporate law firm based in New York, London, and San Francisco, with an affiliation in Hong Kong. Our lawyers represent a wide range of clients around the world, including established multinational public corporations, emerging start-up enterprises, investment funds, financial institutions, governments, educational institutions, and nonprofit entities. No matter the client size or industry, our firm applies a flexible, business-focused, and entrepreneurial approach to providing sophisticated legal services and solutions seamlessly across jurisdictions.
If you need help or have questions, please drop us a line at +1 212 545 8022 or visit our website – www.rooney.law.
© 2023 Rooney Law. All rights reserved. Rooney Law PC is an international corporate law firm. In accordance with the common terminology used in professional service organizations, reference to a “partner” means a person who is a partner or equivalent in such a law firm. Similarly, reference to an “office” means an office of any such law firm. This may qualify as “Attorney Advertising” requiring notice in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Nothing herein shall create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Rooney Law PC.