When Michelle Carfagno’s grandfather and sister were both diagnosed with Celiac Disease, their family’s weekly Sunday morning bagel ritual was thrown out the window, as they attempted to find delicious gluten-free bagels. An avid baker, Carfagno was frustrated that she couldn’t find any store bought Celiac-friendly bagel options – so she decided to make her own. Today Carfagno runs The Greater Knead, a gluten-free and top 9 allergen-free bagel, soft pretzel and flour company. The Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based entrepreneur hit big milestones early on, making over $1 million in revenue after just two years in business. But when profits steadied and plateaued, Carfagno had to find some creative solutions to keep up momentum and growth.
Carfagno’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I started my business after my sister and grandfather were diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I saw how much they struggled to find safe food that actually had good taste and texture, so I set out on a mission to recreate the thing they missed the most; a bagel.
How do you define success?
To me success is comprised of any of the following: having a positive impact on the world and those around you, hitting your goals (no matter how big or small), learning and growing from each experience even it’s it was the preferred outcome.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
My biggest success has been making it past the point that most food businesses failure. I always thought failure was something that could happen to you but I learned that failure is a choice. My biggest success is that I continue to choose to push through the challenges and stay flexible to achieve my goals in business and continue to grow.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge lately has been scaling up. Since hitting $1 million in revenue two years ago I found it hard to grow past that and started to see a plateau. I surrounded myself with new mentors that fit the place my business was in, hired new employees with experience in achieving what I am trying to achieve and I started to fundraise after 9.5 years of doing it all myself. I am happy to say we are getting close to closing our Series A, we have three new full time employees and I am finalizing my official board of directors. These are all the things needed to scale and continue to grow past the $1 million mark.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Yes, the passing of my father was a really hard time for me. He passed away in 2017 at the young age of 55 and in that instant I started looking at everything a little differently. I had become complacent in many areas of my life and my business. Allowing people to treat me in less than ideal ways, leaving people in my company that weren’t good fits, chasing after every new shiny opportunity. You never expect to lose someone so soon and it really shook me up to look at my life and business and make tough decisions. The excuse of fixing something in the future when the future is very unknown no longer sat well with me. I made the changes necessary in my business; parting ways with those that were taking advantage or were not a good fit and staying true to what I want for my business and not just going after everything that comes my way. I have made it a point to live more intentionally and make more positive contributions in the time I have left here.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Try your best to make decisions quickly. I learned that belaboring over every detail, overthinking a situation, or not having the confidence to trust yourself in making a decision can all lead to lack of achieving the greatness you deserve. It’s far better to make a decision that maybe didn’t work out the best and you can learn from it than to be paralyzed and not make any decision at all out of fear of error.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I remember that there is ALWAYS A SOLUTION no matter what, there is a solution to your problem. You just need to find it, and if you continue to push past that darkness the solution will appear. It always helps to have a great support system around you whether you have it at home or you find mentors or a business coach. Having people to lean on when I am feeling down about myself as business owner is critical, they give me the confidence boost I need to push through the mental challenges.
Who is your most important role model?
My father is my role model. He was an entrepreneur so growing up that is all I wanted to be. I never really thought that I could do it until I found my passion for baking and my earning to learn a little bit about everything. I always knew one day I would find a way to follow in his foot steps and finally on my 27th birthday I got sick of saying “one day” and decided to just make that day happen. With the emotional support of my father that I could really do it, I quit my job and started my entrepreneurial journey. ◼