The “Debt is Not a Four-Letter Word” workshop at FounderMade’s D2C Finance & Funding Summit in June 2021 was very informative and inspiring; so much so, that Jennifer Palmer, CEO of Gerber Finance, invited one of the panelists—Mike Fake, CFO of Stasher—to join her on her Podcast, “We Grow Together.” We invite you to listen to the conversation on Podcast 11 as well.
What is Stasher?
Stasher, founded in 2016 by Kat Nouri, manufactures storage bags that eliminate the need for single-use plastic bags. These bags are made from high-grade silicone, are non-toxic, as well as being dishwasher-, freezer-, and microwave-safe. They are self-sealing and available in variety of sizes and colors. The purpose behind Stasher is to help lessen pollution and to save the planet—and these products help to accomplish this goal.
The unique vision of Kat Nouri
Kat Nouri is truly an “outside the box” thinker. Whereas many people are concerned about what they eat, Kat’s concern has been about the surfaces that food comes in contact with. She began her entrepreneurship by creating elegant tabletop products such as placemats, coasters, and trivets, as well as baby products like bibs, bowls, and cups. As with the bags that she would later create as founder of Stasher, all of these products were made from high-grade silicone. And, as with Stasher, the underlying mission was to protect the health of others as well as the environment.
The launch of Stasher
When Stasher launched, it quickly gained a huge following and an enthusiastic customer base. Mike’s theory behind this popularity was due to a “perfect storm” of circumstances relating to a growing distrust of plastic storage products combined with a strong consciousness to save the environment. The fast growth was great—but stressful. And as Kat and Mike learned, with fast growth came the need to find fast financing.
The financing journey
Another circumstance that required capital was Stasher’s entry into “brick and mortar” retail— both big box and specialty stores. Kat wasted no time embarking on a journey to find the right financing partner. They exhausted every possible financing option—from friends and family to private equity and boutique financial firms. Kat was even featured on “Shark Tank” in 2018, where she was offered a deal by Mark Cuban, which she later declined because she didn’t want to give up so much of her company.
Holding on to the mission
Kat Nouri’s passionate belief in the health and environmentally conscious mission of Stasher is evident in her sense of being patient. Before its launch, she took several years to put together dozens of prototypes, eventually arriving at a single-use storage bag that had both the functionality and design she was looking for. Had she accepted the offer from “Shark Tank,” or any other form of equity-based financing, she would have needed to compromise the values of her mission, be accountable to anyone she was in debt to, and risk slowing down the growth of Stasher. So, where would she find capital to back her company? The answer was debt financing.
The real deal of debt financing
Shortly after the “Shark Tank” experience, Kat met Jen and became acquainted with Gerber Finance. They soon realized that Gerber Finance would not just be a source of capital, but an ongoing strategic partner to help them navigate their financial journey. Unlike an equity-based option, partnering with Gerber Finance allowed Kat to keep control of Stasher, make her own decisions, and continue to grow the brand on her terms.
Expense: appearance versus reality
With the help of Gerber Finance, Kat soon realized that debt financing was much less expensive than equity. When they needed capital, the valuation was not high enough. This meant if they got the capital through equity financing, they would have had to give up too much equity and risk losing their identity and independence. Jen believes Kat to be “a force to be reckoned with,” and that Mike’s intelligence and “mindfulness of the numbers” helped their partnership to flourish quickly. After partnering with Gerber Finance, Stasher saw a 300 percent growth in the following year. Mike mentioned that in hindsight, debt financing was probably one of the smarter decisions they ever made at Stasher and his only regret was that this path had not been taken sooner.
Pivoting online during the pandemic
As with every other business, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic last year impacted all brick-and-mortar stores, so Stasher saw a hit in sales from those avenues. Despite some lost sales, Stasher’s online business built up, and the brand developed a strong relationship with Amazon. In the past year, consumer focus shifted from the environment to the virus, so some stopped using Stasher bags and resumed using plastic bags out of convenience. As we come out of the pandemic, there is a renewed focus on the environment. Market share is increasing. In short, growth may have slowed—but Stasher never stopped.
Advice to others seeking financing
If you are seeking financing, do your homework. Take time to research potential financial partners ahead of time. Talk to other business owners, ask questions, and learn what their experiences have been. (After all, entrepreneurs likely have other entrepreneurs as friends.) It is important to leave your ego at the door and maintain a sense of humility as you talk to entrepreneurs and explore financing options. At the same time, a sense of bravery and patience is also necessary. Never be afraid to say “no,” if the offer doesn’t seem right for your business at the time. Take the time you need to make the best decisions.
A final note about the fortunes of Stasher
As noted above, equity can look less expensive than debt in the short-term, but in the long-term, debt financing is definitely cheaper. (Case in point: When Kat Nouri chose debt financing, she kept the freedom to continue the rapid growth—ultimately receiving a much bigger payoff when she decided to sell the company. Had she decided on equity financing, she would have walked away with 45-49 percent less. She was able to keep all of that equity as opposed to giving it away to investors.)
In closing, we offer Gerber Finance’s “growth tip of the week”—which perfectly describes Kat Nouri, Mike Fake, and the mission of Stasher: “Challenging the status quo and standing up for what you believe in is paramount when starting a business.”