At the beginning of this year, Ruby Schechter, founder of The Better Pop, had big ambitions for her second year of business. Ruby’s uniquely shaped probiotic kombucha popsicles were inspired by her mom’s digestive issues—Ruby wanted to create a more enjoyable way for her mom to consume probiotics with a delicious easy-to-eat popsicle made with fresh fruit juice, kombucha and no added sugars. After a successful first season at a popular outdoor food market in Brooklyn selling a variety of flavors of probiotic kombucha popsicles, she had plans to set up business at almost every major outdoor market in the summer of 2020. In March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and New York City’s shelter-in-place regulations, Ruby had to make the difficult decision to change her living situation to continue working and keep her family safe. We spoke with Ruby to see how she has been doing.
How have you been doing personally?
Every small business owner right now not only has their own stuff going on with their business, but they also have a lot going on personally. During this COVID-19 period, I have moved four times and I have this constant feeling of not having a home and feeling displaced. I usually live with my mom and was not paying rent, which allowed me to focus on my business. But she is older and has Parkinson’s disease I don’t want to risk her health right now. Because I have to go outside and continue working, I decided to move out. It’s definitely taken a toll on my mental health and now paying rent is another challenge I have to overcome. You just never know what people might be going through.
What is the experience of being an entrepreneur right now?
I think everyone has a very different experience as an entrepreneur but I would say it’s incredibly difficult right now. What makes things so difficult for me at this time is reconciling with the fact that I had all of these opportunities, events, and exposure planned to happen this year. I was going to participate in Smorgasburg again, have a stall at Governor’s Ball, and a few other summer markets.
I guess what’s hard is not dwelling on it. I think to myself, I know these opportunities were going to be great for my business but, now we’re onto other things. We are all trying to figure out what we can do in this situation, adjusting and adapting. Change is one of the hardest things for a lot of people, especially when it’s unexpected. It’s hard for us. I know a lot of small businesses support themselves with just their business alone, so in order to continue to do that despite everything, they have to adapt.
Each pop is $6 and it’s a lot of money, I know that. It’s a premium product, so when people buy it, I’m really appreciative because it directly affects me and my dream of running this business. Even though I tell each person that I appreciate their support, I don’t think it comes across how much I do. I really do.Ruby Schechter, The Better Pop
How have you found community during this time?
I think specifically being in the food industry, it has felt different because there is a community. The first time I returned to produce popsicles at Hot Bread Kitchen since the beginning of COVID-19, the other members who were in the kitchen at the time all greeted me with “how are you?”, “I haven’t seen you in so long. How’s business?” It is an environment that has an “if you’re winning, I’m winning” type of mentality, which I really appreciate.
Right now, everyone in the food industry is going through the same exact thing and we’re all just trying to figure out what is the best way to get our product out there.
Have you applied to any small business loans or grants?
I have not. I thought about doing it but many of these loans require having a payroll. I am fortunate right now that I am the sole employee which means I did not have to lay off anyone. I was able to file for unemployment which has been really great and I’ve been able to put that towards the business.
The first time I returned to produce popsicles at Hot Bread Kitchen since the beginning of COVID-19, the other members who were in the kitchen at the time all greeted me with “how are you?”, “I haven’t seen you in so long. How’s business?” It is an environment that has an “if you’re winning, I’m winning” type of mentality, which I really appreciate.Ruby Schechter, The Better Pop
How have you pivoted and what are the ways you are getting your product out there?
Selling at big seasonal outdoor markets is the main way I sold my product. Some of these seasonal markets have an expected attendance of 20,000-30,000 people on a given summer weekend. Now that selling at markets isn’t an option for me, I am trying to focus on delivery and other sales.
I don’t drive or have a car, so when I do have a delivery order I am taking the subway with my little cooler and an ice pack delivering around the city. Earlier this summer, I was in Central Park with my friends and saw so many people and I thought you know what these people really need? An ice pop! The next week I packed a couple of coolers with my pops and brought them to the park and sold out pretty quickly. I think people were really receptive to it, my story, and the fact that I’m out here—the founder—really hustling and selling my own product. I do think this has been a great way to get my brand out there.
Have you come across any new sales opportunities during this time?
Before COVID, back in the beginning of March I was talking to ‘Wichcraft about having The Better Pop in their shops. I had delivered a few boxes of my product to them for a trial run. Then the city shut down and their restaurants were closed. A few weeks ago, they called me back up and let me know they are going to stock my pops in three stores! I am really excited about this opportunity.
During this time, I was also able to make a popsicle donation to NYU’s Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. The nurses and doctors at this research center have been working so hard to help their patients throughout this time not only with chemotherapy but also with COVID-19. Seeing the photos the hospital sent me in their masks and signs that said thank you, was amazing. I shared this on my social media because I just wanted people to know the important work that they were doing.
What do wish your customers knew about the experience of running a business right now?
Lately, I’ve been feeling a big sense of gratitude for the customers who have been buying my pops during this time. Each pop is $6 and it’s a lot of money, I know that. It’s a premium product, so when people do buy it, I’m really appreciative because it directly affects me and my dream of running this business. Especially now. Every single purchase of a popsicle brings me that much closer to it. Even though I tell each person that I appreciate their support, I don’t think it comes across how much I do. I really do.
Before I became a small business owner, I didn’t understand how many costs going into having a business. Yes my popsicle is $6, but I’m not taking away $6. There is so much work that goes into producing one popsicle.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.