Mary Waldner was a practicing psychotherapist in the California Bay Area for 27 years before starting Mary’s Gone Crackers, the gluten-free, organic cracker and snack company and inadvertently becoming, “The Mary”. After having been sick most of her life, in 1994, she finally discovered what was wrong when she received a diagnosis: Celiac Disease. Always having had an interest in health and healthy foods, even before it was trendy, and especially with the added need from her new diagnosis, she saw a need for nutritious, gluten free options that also tasted good, both for herself, and eventually, in the marketplace. She literally began by experimenting in her kitchen, and eventually, after many iterations, trials and tribulations, she managed to get the crackers sold in grocery stores around the country. It wasn’t an easy journey, and she claims, not even fun, but as the Co-Founder, Co-CEO, Board Chair and often the only woman in the room, Mary certainly accomplished a lot by not sacrificing her values and, as she often discusses, cultivating her relationship within herself. Mary offers a unique perspective when sharing her stories and insights as a mental health practitioner, health enthusiast and a food company entrepreneur.
As with several of my guests, it seems, Mary and I first encountered via Hudson Valley Women in Business. Last winter, Mary was the guest speaker at one of the HVWIB monthly meetings. At the time, I was going through a LOT in my personal life – as I’ve sometimes discussed. Harboring feelings of failure, low-self worth, and continuous anxiety and low-grade depression at the time of the event, getting myself out to the event was a feat in itself, if I do say so myself. And, I am certainly glad I did. Much has changed in my own life since that time, but to attend an event where the speaker was a therapist-turned-food-entrepreneur, I was certainly fascinated. At the time, her stories of mental health and the challenges of the instability and rejection faced within entrepreneurship were what resonated more than anything. I was truly inspired by her perspective on the concept of success, which is not so much about external circumstances and achievements, but rather about cultivating inner peace and love — my words, not hers, but this is the general idea. This is an idea I’ve been thinking over and meditating on even more in the last few weeks. In any case, it took months, but once I got myself back on my feet and feeling better, Mary and I set a date for the podcast!
In this episode, we cover the long and often painful, challenging and stressful journey of building Mary’s Gone Crackers from a personal kitchen experiment to a venture-funded, profit-making cracker business. Mary is no longer part of the company. We discuss this, as well as her own personal journey and insights on mental health, physical health and how to stay sane while going through this crazy entrepreneurial journey – from the perspective of someone not only professionally trained, but extremely practiced, in the science and art of psychology.
In this conversation we discuss:
- Building a consumer packaged goods business
- Why it’s so important to carve out your brand values at the start… and then stick to them even when it gets hard
- How to stay sane when entrepreneurship gets tough
- What Success means
- An in-depth conversation around her story
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