This Woman Emptied Her 401(k) to Launch a Business – and It Worked

August 1, 2016, 11:30 AM UTC
Courtesy Yummy Spoonfuls

Agatha Achindu vividly remembers the day she told her husband she was quitting her six-figure salary job at a Fortune 500 company to work on her babyfood business full-time.

Ten years later, she’s still in disbelief over what she did next.

“It would only take an immigrant to do something like this: I took every penny out of our 401(k)s,” says Achindu, a native of Cameroon who moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s. “It was everything we had.”

In hindsight, she acknowledges how brash a decision it was, but at the time, it was what they needed to fund the packaging for her line of frozen, squeezable organic baby-food purees, Yummy Spoonfuls.

Achindu launched the brand in 2006 and had a handful of celebrity customers, including actress Tia Mowry-Hardrict, but growing the business was a slow burn. Then, one day in 2014 changed her company’s entire trajectory. She met Brazilian-born Camila Alves, model-designer and wife of actor Matthew McConaughey, over tacos at Ollie’s Duck & Dive in Malibu, California. (Alves was considering launching her own baby food business, but a friend recommended she speak with Achindu first). The two hit it off right away on both a personal and professional level.

“[Agatha is] from Africa, I’m from Brazil,” Alves says. “She grew up in a family of farmers, I grew up in a family of farmers. We both really understand the importance of real, organic food.”

Related: One Investor’s Advice to Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Don’t Hide Your Accent

The duo decided to team up and take Yummy Spoonfuls from a small venture in Georgia to a national brand. Alves took a co-founder role, and they began discussing production methods, raising money and packaging designs. Whole Foods was the first retailer to pick up the product in 2009. Target began selling it this past June.

Achindu and Alves say they stayed up until 4 a.m preparing a pitch for Target executives. Target was an important partner because Achindu “didn’t want this to be an elitist product,” and wanted to make it accessible to consumers who don’t shop at high-end grocery stores. Yummy Spoonful pouches are available for purchase in the freezer section of Target starting at a price point of $2.29.

In 2009, Yummy Spoonfuls had 25 different types of pouches available in 14 stores. Today, it has 31 flavors in more than 1,500 stores. The company declined to disclose annual revenue and funding.

The growth hasn’t been entirely easy on Achindu. As a working mother with a husband and three kids, her biggest challenge is spending enough time with family. She calls it “the working mother guilt.” Over the years, she’s learned not to let it consume her. “To all the women out there who are aspiring to start their own business — do not let the guilt take you away from your purpose because you can find a way to do all of it.”

Her secret to leading a productive life is a strict adherence to her calendar. Tuesday evenings are sacred to her – that block of time is reserved for a date night with her husband. If she’s traveling and has to miss a date night, she immediately re-schedules it. “It sounds weird but it makes my life work, so no one feels cheated,” she says. “My husband doesn’t feel cheated. My kids don’t feel cheated. And my business doesn’t feel cheated.”