As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Brady, founder of Top Seedz.
Lifelong passions for nutrition, sports, and educating her children on the importance of good health led Rebecca Brady to founding all-natural snack foods company Top Seedz in 2017. In just over three years, Top Seedz has doubled its annual sales each year, and is now sold in over 100 stores across the U.S., starting with her local co-ops and now Whole Foods and Wegmans.
As a founder, Rebecca strives to run an ethical business that employs a diverse, all-women team, including refugees and foreign expats. She believes the diversity behind the scenes at Top Seedz translates into an exciting and innovative product. That altruism also extends to supporting the local community. Top Seedz donates to various food banks in Western New York.
Prior to founding Top Seedz, New Zealand-born Rebecca spent 20 years working in Japan and Singapore. Before moving to the U.S. Rebecca previously worked in marketing for leading tech company HP. Rebecca received a Bachelor's degree in Commerce and Administration from Victoria University of Wellington. She lives in Buffalo, NY with her husband, three children, and a dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Iwas born and raised in New Zealand with sports and healthy eating being a large part of my upbringing. Growing up, I played competitive tennis, which is actually how the name of my company was inspired. In sport, a “top seed” is the player most favored to win in a tournament. Top Seedz is healthy snack food products made from simple, all-natural ingredients. Just like the high quality, natural food I grew up on in New Zealand. I was always taught how important nutrition is to fuel an active lifestyle; little did I know at the time that it would eventually inspire me to start my own company.
Another big part of growing up in New Zealand is how simple (in a good way) the lifestyle is. Of all things, I fondly remember our clothesline, we never used a dryer. It’s a seemingly small aspect of the kind of life we had in NZ. We also grew all our own vegetables. At the time I was teased for having a veggie patch, but now I really appreciate how special it was to be able to eat organic foods and live simply.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
We had been living in Japan since 2005. In 2015, my husband was given the opportunity to relocate to the US as his work’s head offices are based in Buffalo, NY. Although it was a big move to make, as a family we’re very open and love adventure, so we were really excited about it.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Our experience moving to the US was great. We were truly welcomed by the community in Buffalo which we really appreciated. My biggest challenge was finding work in a new country. Before moving to the US, I had taken time off work to raise our three children but struggled to find a new role with a gap on my resume — a common obstacle for many parents returning to work. In the end, something good came out of it when I was inspired to start my own company in 2017. For years, I had been making the same crackers and roasted seed mixes for my children; I thought why not share my snacks with the rest of the world. That’s how Top Seedz was started.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My dog Max! We had always wanted to get a family dog, but it didn’t make sense whilst we were living in Asia as we were moving around so much. When we knew we were going to be settled in Buffalo, we were so excited to finally get a family dog! Having a loving, furry friend certainly made the transition a lot easier on us. It’s true what they say about pets improving wellbeing.
So how are things going today?
We love the life we have in Buffalo. My family has settled in well and become part of the community. I am proud of Top Seedz and how far it’s come. I now employ a team of 10 and sell our products in over 100 stores across the USA. We’ve continued to grow every year and I’m excited to keep growing the brand and our team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As expats, we’ve humbled by the warm welcome we’ve had wherever we’ve lived, whether that’s been the USA, Singapore, or Japan. I try to reciprocate the same welcoming attitude I received by employing a diverse team. We currently employ 9 refugees and an expat from the UK. I also try to give back to the community when I can by donating broken crackers to food banks and supporting local sports clubs.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Having a positive attitude: You’re now in America and possibly missing home, but you’ve got to make the most of it. If you don’t have a positive attitude, you bring everyone around you down with you. It’s very easy to arrive and start complaining about the differences. I love the differences — they’re all part of the fun and adventure.
- Networking as much as you can: Tell people your ideas! The more you share, the more people share with you. I have a very competitive nature, so once I shared my plan, I had no choice but to follow through and I knew I couldn’t fail!! I joined women in business networking group upon arriving in Buffalo. The people I met through that were invaluable to me in the early stages of setting up.
- Hard work: Nothing comes without putting the work in. Hopefully, your hard work sets you up for a bit of luck to come your way too. I worked hard, then was lucky enough to win $50,000 in a business competition. With that, I set up my own kitchen which meant I could work when I needed to work and grow the business.
- Have an open mind: You’ll meet new people and learn about their culture. There are lots of systems you need to learn about when you get to a new country e.g. medical, schools, insurance to name a few. You could complain about the differences or just get on with it and accept everyone’s country is different.
- Perseverance: It’s important to be resilient. It can take some time at first to find your feet in a new country, but if you give it time, you’ll find your way.
We know that the US needs improvement. But what are some things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- The great mix of cultures from all around the world really excites me. The diversity of the USA makes it so special. New York especially has such a melting pot of different cultures and it’s truly amazing to experience the camaraderie between people from all walks of life.
- The entrepreneurial spirit. The “American Dream” is a special part of life here. I love that Americans are passionate people who follow their dreams and have big ideas — though I know it’s not always easy. I think the “go-getter” nature here in the US is why the country is home to some of the most innovative companies and brands.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I’d love to meet Serena Williams. She’s an amazing woman who not only dominates the tennis scene but is also an accomplished businesswoman. I’m in awe of how she does it all even with a family. I’d love to hear her insights on how she finds balance in life.
Sports is something that really matters to me on a personal and professional level. I grew up playing sports and continue to play tennis and squash as much as I can fit in. Being a business owner, it’s tempting to want to work 24/7 to make a success of my company, but playing sports gives me a mental break that I need. I also use a “sports mindset” in the workplace to overcome challenges. For example, when I find myself facing an obstacle, I remind myself that if I was in the middle of a tennis match, there’s no way I’d give up. I also often refer to the same process you’re taught in sport when thinking about efficiency in the kitchen. To consistently make the best product we can, our processes have to be the same every time. In tennis, to get a perfect topspin forehand, you train by repeating it over and over again until you always have the same fabulous shot every time.
I’d love to find out if Serena also applies the same principles she’s applied to her athleticism to her business endeavors. I’d also love to talk to her about her diet. We are what we eat and I am sure Serena has a lot of insight into optimal nutrition as a world-class athlete.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!