Interviewing Toronto Entrepreneur: Vanessa Diab
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Welcome to our Friday Feature: Toronto Entrepreneurs segment, where we bring you insights, experiences, inspiration, and advice from prominent entrepreneurs in the Greater Toronto Area!
We’ve interviewed prominent business leaders who have been kind enough to take the time to share their experiences with us on what it’s like starting their very own business (and nurturing it as well)!
We believe that these stories would be valuable to other aspiring or established business leaders. On behalf of TorontoEntrepreneurs.ca, we hope that you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed creating it! Feel free to share this story with your networks.
Introducing Toronto Entrepreneur: Vanessa Diab, Founder of Freedom Jars
Company name: Freedom Jars
What does your company do? We make vegan and gluten free breakfast jars that have a positive impact on your health and happiness.
Year launched: 2017
Number of employees: 4
1. How did you get the idea to start your business?
It all started when I hit rock bottom. I was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) at the age of 21. When I first diagnosed, I was prescribed a medication that came in the form of an injection. I was told to take it once a day, and to inject it on different parts of my body as the liquid created a welt that would last for days. It was painful. It made me feel weighed down, like I had shackles on my ankles. It gave me muscle loss in all parts of my body. At 23, I had reached my lowest point. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to be in a wheelchair by the age of 25.” And that terrified me. I’ve always been a social person, one that loves to move and dance. The thought of my body being a jail is what changed my life and the very reason I developed Freedom Jars.
That very same day I told myself, “I will not let this disease take charge of my life, instead I’m going to be in charge of this disease.” I began to do research and found an MS specific diet, for people who could not afford the medication (it is not covered by OHIP and it costs approximately $1500 a month). The basics of this diet are: eliminating gluten, red meat and processed meat, refined foods and dairy. The purpose of the diet is to help manage and improve your condition by eating anti-inflammatory foods. I tried the diet and instantly felt better. I was uplifted, I could move, I felt normal again. Two weeks later, I cheated and ate a couple of slices of pizza. I felt sick within minutes after eating. That’s when I knew I had some MAJOR sensitivities.
Ever since that day, I have been on a wonderful journey of healing. I have been off medication for 6 years now, and my MS has been improving instead of progressing. My diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, vegan proteins and superfoods.
I started Freedom Jars to inspire others to eat more plant based foods. Everyone deserves to feel happier, healthier, more energized and more clear headed. When developing Freedom Jars, I had three main goals: 1. Make them taste delicious! 2. Design them to be fun and colorful 3. Make them affordable.
I like to think Freedom Jars are “food that makes you happy” :) 2. What's the best/worst thing to happen since you started your business?
It’s so simple, but seeing my creation on display in stores is the most rewarding feeling. Knowing that people enjoy (and want to spend money on) my creation is just out of this world!
3. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur? Being an entrepreneur is a lot like raising a newborn baby. You have to be prepared to dedicate all of your time and attention to it - and possibly lose some friends along the way.
Pushing myself. No one is there to tell you what to do, so you’re in charge of what time you wake up, how many hours you work a day, how much effort you put into tasks. On days like these, I remind myself of my purpose, my mission and the reason I chose to do this. For me, that’s influencing people to live happier and healthier lives by choosing the right foods.
Hiring people for new positions as you grow and develop the company can be challenging - it means that you have to let go of old patterns and trust someone else to do the job as well as you do it.
4. What are some lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur? Making mistakes is valuable- even if they cost you money, in the end that mistake will step up your game and lead you somewhere greater.
5. What are the best parts about entrepreneurship? The creativity! You have to be creative everyday - with the way you handle challenging situations, the way you motivate and speak to your team, the way you cut costs and create efficiencies. You’re always striving for the best, and that requires so much creativity.
6. What has been your most effective form of advertising? Instagram has been very lucrative. We sponsor posts on Instagram, offering specials on bundles of jars, and that has proven to be very effective. I find that for some reason, people are more open to advertising on Instagram, as long as your sponsored posts fits the content you would usually see on Instagram (my formula is to make content that is creative, unique and professional quality).
7. What goals have you achieved for your business so far? I have doubled my projected revenue in the first fiscal year. That’s kind of exciting!
8. What are your goals for your business in 2019?
Expand our facility
Expand our retail partners
Expand our team
9. Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years? A larger product line with lunch, dinner and snack items. More retail partners.
A retail concept space in Toronto. I’d like for our retail space to be able to host talks, seminars and yoga classes for people struggling with MS and other chronic conditions.
10. What upcoming projects are you working on? We’re launching Salad Jars this year at our pop up markets and soon it will be available on our website.
11. What trends are you seeing in your industry?
Vegan foods are becoming so trendy in Toronto & other North American cities. I’m noticing consumers are a lot more open to trying plant based foods and are understanding the benefits associated. I’m seeing everything from vegan restaurants, to vegan and/or gluten free packaged goods. I’ve also met a lot of tourists from small towns that are interested in these foods. I think this trend will become a lifestyle and spread beyond the big cities.
12. What business advice would you give yourself if you were to start all over? Trust your intuition. It never fails you.
13. Last but not least, let’s end off with a fun fact! What might we be surprised to know about you? I quit my 9-5 and traveled to Thailand & Bali alone before starting Freedom Jars. I wanted to launch the company inspired and refreshed. I would travel alone again and again. It was marvelous!
Let's get social. Follow Freedom Jars on social media!
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/freedomjarstoronto/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/freedomjars/
Many thanks to Vanessa for sharing her story with us! Stay tuned for our next featured Toronto Entrepreneur!