“Cut the sh**, I’m here to do business.”
It’s not a phrase that has passed Sarah Michelle Gellar’s lips, but she has wanted to say it, many times.
“There’s been plenty of meetings that I wish I had just done that, and said, ‘Look, if you’re not going to take me seriously, let me leave,’” she says.
It’s 13 years since Sarah was Buffy the Vampire Slayer; 17 since she was Cruel Intentions’ Kathryn Merteuil, a role she’s set to reprise for an upcoming TV series. She hasn’t left acting behind; it’s just no longer her sole priority.
Inspired by one of her favourite ways to spend time with her two children, Sarah has co-founded lifestyle brand Foodstirs. It’s a subscription-based service that delivers baking kits, aimed at families looking to spend time together in the kitchen. It’s been running since September 2015.
You’d be hard pushed to find a startup founder who hasn’t had their credibility questioned. Few founders however have to contend with the added burden of potential investors and advisors being more interested in their A-list acting past.
Sarah isn’t looking for sympathy though, and acknowledges the help an iconic role or two can have in the business world.
“A lot of people think I have it easier because I can get in the door, and that’s true. I can get in the door easily but it’s a little bit harder for people to take me seriously. I have much more to prove,” she says.
Not #girlboss, #justboss
Having raised an undisclosed Seed Round from Mucker Capital, Third Wave Digital, and BAM Ventures, Foodstirs’ seven-person team is now based in startup accelerator MuckerLab’s Santa Monica coworking space.
It’s here that the challenges facing women in tech have become apparent to Sarah, although she says that a focus on gender isn’t helpful.
“We’re one of only two female-founded companies in the programme. But I do believe that it’s not about women in business or men in business, it’s about business. It’s about making the best possible product, and being the best person for the job to sell and promote that product,” she says.
Sarah with Co-Founder Galit Laibo and Gia Russo, a former editor of Martha Stewart Living and now Foodstirrer
When Sarah first became a household name in the late-90s, feminist tropes permeated pop culture. It was the time of the Spice Girls’ Girl Power and TLC’s No Scrubs manifestos. Buffy creator Joss Whedon has spoken of the TV show’s feminist themes, and how he thought Buffy could introduce feminism to teenage boys.
Although not the biggest fan of the word feminist due to its “sort of negative connotations”, Sarah recognises the significance of the show’s strong female lead. “I think it was one of the first shows of its kind to really have a female heroine and show that it was the female who saved the day. There’s always been stories like that but they’re secondary. Wonder Woman was always second to Batman; Supergirl was second to Superman. We’re obviously still fighting,” she says.
She says her lack of a tech background has posed its own difficulties but the combination of her “Type A personality” and general fearlessness have allowed her develop as a techie. She’s now a coder.
“I’m still learning. What’s amazing is how quickly you pick it up. For the first six months, I did all of our emails and all of our HTML coding. I’d never known anything about it, but I went to a class and I did a couple of lessons. I wouldn’t say that it was easy, but it’s definitely getting easier,” says Sarah.
Oh #startup life. When you finish your tv segment and no one stays to help you to your car…..you do it yourself!! #behindthescenes of @foodstirs #foodstirs A photo posted by Sarah Michelle (@sarahmgellar) on
Sarah goes DIY after filming a TV spot
“I wanted to show my children I’m capable of more”
There was no one single Damascene moment that led Sarah to launch Foodstirs with Co-Founder and CEO Galit Laibow. A series of realisations about opportunities open to the startup, the decision to use her profile and to prove herself as an entrepreneur gradually saw her commit.
She was struck by the failure of fresh, relatable companies to emerge in the baking industry. No organic, dye- and preservative-free brands. If you were looking for cake mix, you were pretty much stuck with legacy players such as Betty Crocker, she says.
“I thought it was so odd that it in every other aisle of the supermarket, you would see all these modern companies. It’s not just Gillette anymore, now you have Dollar Shave Club. It’s not just Serta Mattress anymore, now you have Casper. It’s not just Pampers, now it’s Honest,” says Sarah.
Hole in the market identified, Sarah was nevertheless conscious that business wasn’t her strong suit or what she’s traditionally known for. She says that her faith in her own authenticity allayed her initial scepticism.
“I realised that it’s something I’ve spent my entire life cultivating. My fan base knows me; they know what I stand for. I thought it would be such a good use of my talents, and I wanted to show my children and other people that I’m capable of more.”
“It only takes one person to say yes”
You could probably call Sarah a high achiever. She was first discovered by an agent at the age of four and soon after began a career of steady television work. Along the way she managed to place third in a New York state figure skating competition, reach black belt level in taekwondo and maintain straight A’s at school.
Sarah’s explanation for her success, acting or otherwise, is straightforward: it’s been down to tenacity. While confident in Foodstirs’ potential, she’s sanguine about the level of rejection she faces as a tech startup founder. It’s nothing new.
“As an actor you get so much rejection on such a grand scale that it falls off your back a lot easier. If we go to a pitch meeting and someone doesn’t get it, whatever, there’s another pitch meeting tomorrow. It only takes one person to say yes,” says Sarah.