As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Tickaradze.
Nina Tickaradze is the Founder & CEO of NADI, LLC, a woman-owned business that makes all-natural rosehip juice drinks and Happy Hearts dried apple chips that were inspired by old family recipes of her Georgian mother and grandmother. NADI is also a social venture with a mission to create jobs and economic opportunities for displaced refugees who had to flee their homes and leave everything behind because of war and regional conflicts. Nina has more than 20 years of professional marketing experience. Her day job is Marketing Director at Hall Booth Smith, one of the fastest-growing defense law firms in the Southeast.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was raised in Tbilisi, Georgia, and moved to the United States when I was a teenager. I’ve been in marketing and public relations for more than 20 years, and my day job is Marketing Director at Hall Booth Smith, one of the fastest-growing defense law firms in the Southeast. I have always had an entrepreneurial bug. I ran a wine importing business for many years, and I had been thinking about starting something new.
One day I was talking with my friend Gaga Abashidze about all the things we missed from our childhoods. Our mothers and grandmothers used to forage for wild rosehip berries and make this delicious rosehip drink for us, and it was such a nostalgic taste of tradition. It’s the Georgian version of orange juice, but it has so much more Vitamin C, B Complex vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols and other healthy nutrients.
We also wanted to do something to help all the displaced refugees who have lost everything because of regional wars. They had to leave everything behind when they fled their homes, and they were living in makeshift camps. They had no jobs or money buy food and clothing for their families. There was this moment of inspiration — what if we could start a company that made healthy drinks and snacks, and create jobs for the refugees so they can get back on their feet? We called it NADI, which means “collective work effort” in the Georgian language, to honor the workers, family and friends who make it possible.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The day that John Hall, a founding partner of Hall Booth Smith, asked me to work at the firm was one of the most impactful moments of my entire career. At the time, I wasn’t looking for a job. I was focused on trying to grow a nonprofit called Hands in Hand that I started to help children in the country of Georgia, and I had just found out that I was pregnant with my third baby and I had a 6-year-old and a 5-year-old at home.
But I was so inspired by his vision of how he wanted to grow and diversify the firm that I said yes. I am so glad I took that leap! It has opened so many doors, and I’ve learned a lot about marketing, social media and public relations as we have grown the firm, opened new offices all over the Southeast and in New York and New Jersey, added new practice groups, hired so many new lawyers and won business from new clients.
I’ve also had the opportunity to start the Georgia to Georgia Foundation, which strengthen business and civic relations between the two countries. We plan and host delegation visits, and we have helped so many companies grow. Everyone at the firm has been very supportive of NADI, and they love our rosehip juices and Happy Hearts apple chips. Some of our attorneys who have expertise in a certain area like intellectual property have been gracious in giving me advice about trademarking and protecting our brand.
None of that would have been possible if John Hall hadn’t offered me that job. After 13 years, I still enjoy going to work each day and we are still growing just as he promised — 20 offices right now, with more to come.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In our early days, there was such a steep learning curve about the details and nuance of packaging and logistics. We sell a lot of product through Amazon, and use their Fulfillment by Amazon service to store and ship it. The fees were really high — about half the sale price of each case of NADI rosehip juice was going to these fees — and it was killing our profit margin. I couldn’t figure out why it was so high. One year on Christmas Eve, I was sick and struggling to stay awake until bedtime, and I started looking into the details of their requirements and costs to investigate why those fees were so high.
I discovered that we were using an incorrect box size that was a half-inch too big! Which meant that every single package was being charged at “oversize” rates instead of “standard” rates for both warehousing and shipping. We quickly made the change to smaller boxes, the fees dropped by 66%, and all of a sudden we were making a nice profit on every single sale.
That was a painful lesson, and it taught me that you have to pay attention to every single small detail. Read the fine print, understand the requirements, question whether you are doing it correctly.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As a WBENC certified woman-owned business, I am lucky to be part of a few mentoring and peer-to-peer groups with other women founders, and we share a ton of wisdom and advice with each other. We talk about everything like tips for working with retailers and distributors, marketing, raising capital, tax issues, you name it. I’m especially close to Sophia Marron of Dress It Up Dressing, Claudia McMullin of Hugo Coffee, Maria Palacio of Progeny Coffee and Junita Flowers of Junita’s Jar.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read physics books for fun. Books like “Biocentrism” by Bob Berman and Robert Lanza, “Reality is Not What it Seems” by Carlo Rovelli, and “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” by the Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, and “A Brief History of Time” by the late Stephen Hawking are some of my favorites.
What I love about physics books is that they are challenging and complex, intriguing, and thought-provoking. That helps pull my mind away from the day-to-day worries and stresses of work, running NADI and raising my kids. It reminds me that life is much larger than us, so the worries that seemed important during the day become absolutely insignificant in the broader scheme of history. It gives me a sense of peace.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Never give up. You have to be so persistent when you start a new company, and there are so many obstacles and challenges that you can’t even begin to anticipate. Sometimes you have to take outside capital, or personally bootstrap to cover expenses. It takes so long to grow and achieve scale. Costs will be higher than you guessed. So have you be relentless and stay focused on your original vision. Don’t take no for an answer, and use all the charm and persistence that you have.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
NADI is a social venture, and our mission is to create jobs and economic opportunities for refugees who have been displaced by war and regional fighting. They had to flee their homes and leave everything behind, and they had no clothes, food, or sources of income. We collaborated with refugee leaders to create a cooperative called TKIS NOBATI that hires workers to handpick our rosehip berries, prepare the fruit and make our drinks. We also work with local small family-run farms that grow the apples for our Happy Hearts dried apple chips, and we teach the farmers about sustainable and regenerative methods. During the pandemic, we also started offering English language and computer classes to help our refugees become more employable in the global economy.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Women tend to have a lot of other demands on their time and energy, like raising children, cooking meals, running carpool, cleaning and keeping family life running smoothly. Some of them are intimidated by the idea of leaving their day job and take on the risk of starting a new business. Some women don’t understand finance or capital structures very well and that scares them. I think we would have a lot more women founders if they demanded more support and help from their spouses or partners at home, and if they sought more financial education earlier in their lives so they would be confident about becoming an entrepreneur and running a business.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
We purposefully look for other women- and minority-owned startups to do business with, like when we need a new logo, website support, media relations, etc. We also encourage the women refugees we hire to think about opportunities for starting their own businesses if they have the entrepreneurial bug. I also make time to share the knowledge and insights I’ve gained along the way with other women founders so they can save time and energy by not reinventing the wheel.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Starting your own company, being your own boss, having complete autonomy over your professional career, and taking an idea and turning it into a viable business is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. It’s one of the hardest things you will ever do, but also one of the things that will make you ridiculously proud of yourself and your workers.
Becoming a founder is a big decision, and you need a ton of support from your family, friends, colleagues and other people in your network. Be shameless about asking for help and advice. Ask friends to make introductions to connect you with other people who run similar businesses and probably have wisdom to share. Cold call people and ask if they will give you a half an hour of their time to share their thoughts. You’d be surprised how most people are willing to help if you just ask.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
- Empowerment should start at a young women don’t discover their power until they are in their 40s, and a huge part of their lives and careers has already passed. Let’s help our daughters be independent thinkers, encourage them, let them lead, give them the freedom to make choices that truly affect their day-to-day goals. I appreciated this with my parents very much. They always asked for my opinions on large decisions and truly listened to what I had to say. That’s why we moved to the U.S. when I was a teenager. It was my dream and they 100% supported it, even though it meant leaving everything and everyone they loved behind.
- Encourage and help each other. As women founders, we need to lift each other up and truly go out of our way to do extra work for others. My promise is to help a woman founder each week by doing things like including them in our media relations and marketing, sending them ideas for awards they should apply for, inviting them to a networking session. Be truly selfless and just give.
- Government should do more. Chambers of commerce and local government-supported organizations should offer more financial education and entrepreneurship classes for free to teach women about finances, how to raise funding, how to find a mentor, how to navigate regulatory matters, etc.
- Banks need to step up. Lack of capital is one of the biggest things that holds women founders back. There should be special groups of loan officers at every bank that specializes in reviewing and approving loans for women-owned enterprises.
- Hire more women-owned businesses. I always make an extra effort to hire women-owned businesses, like our SEO company Hughes Media, our social media company, our package designers — Smith Designs, Evens company and so on.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We hope to inspire more companies to embrace a social mission, and find a cause that they are passionate about so they can make a real impact in their local communities. It shouldn’t be just a feel-good, one-time thing. Companies can have enormous influence through financial donations, allowing their employees to take paid time off for volunteer work, serve on boards of charities, use company resources and equipment to support nonprofits, etc. Think of the impact that could have on our society — it could be transformational.
The companies would also benefit from gaining a stronger reputation, becoming an employer of choice, keeping employees more engaged, lower turnover and a competitive edge in recruiting new talent.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have lunch with Hamdi Ulukaya, the Kurdish immigrant from Turkey who came to the United States with just $3,000 in his pocket and he didn’t speak English. He started a small business doing what he loved (making feta cheese) and then grew it and bought an abandoned yogurt-making factory where he expanded to make Chobani yogurt — which of course became wildly successful and got Americans hooked on authentic thick yogurt made with natural ingredients.
Hamdi’s native country of Turkey shares a border with my native country of Georgia, so we’re neighbors and we both understand how horribly the wars and geopolitical fighting have impacted people in that region. Thousands of people have to flee their homes and leave everything behind as they run for their lives, and they have no jobs, no money and no way to feed their families. I admire how Hamdi specifically hired refugees and used Chobani to create more jobs just like NADI does. He is such an important and vocal activist and philanthropist, and he has given back to much to the community that helped him be successful. I would love to meet him someday and share our stories with each other.