After completing her BCA in 1995, she moved to Japan for a couple of years as an English teacher, where she met her husband. They moved together to Singapore, where Rebecca worked in marketing for 10 years with Hewlett Packard, before returning to Japan.
She started her cracker business when she moved with her husband and kids to Buffalo, NY, and couldn’t get a job. “We lived in Japan for the previous 10 years and I didn’t have a job while my kids were young. Realising I was in a good position to start my own business, I remembered that adage ‘If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life,’ and that started me thinking.”
Rebecca decided to create a health food product, connecting nutrition and her first love, sport. “I've been making the crackers forever, as well as roasted seeds. And I enjoy giving my kids good nutrition, good food. So I thought, okay, I'll focus on that and see how that goes.”
When starting Top Seedz, Rebecca knew that she had to nail the branding from the get-go. The brand is a sports reference, but not everybody she gives her business card to understands that. “I'm the Top Seed on my name card, which confuses people who don't know anything about sport. My production manager, she's a Super Seed. And then the buyer, he's a play-maker.”
Her brand is so cool that her teens and their friends wear her merchandise to school, and star on the brand’s TikTok channel.
Rebecca puts her success, which recently saw her awarded a $1 million investment and mentorship package from Buffalo start-up investment company 43North, down to the support from her community. “So I feel happy making Buffalo proud—they gave me a good welcome here.”
The gluten-free, vegan, and certified organic crackers are sold across the USA, with continual growth online and via Whole Foods stores and specialty stores seeing their production ramp up considerably to keep up with demand. Rebecca employs newly arrived refugees to work at her kitchen, which is still based on manually rolling and baking the crackers.
“There is an organisation called Journey's End, they help refugees set up here in Buffalo. They call me when people arrive. Or I call them. My employees are from all over the world—Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo. And it's just perfect. Since leaving New Zealand, I've been in an international community, and I just love the mix of different cultures together.”
The $1 million from 43North has meant they can now afford more machinery, and will allow them to build a bespoke factory, so they can streamline manufacturing.
“I feel like I believe in myself a little bit more now, and the money means the equipment suppliers are a lot more on board. To move to a new factory, it's a challenge of figuring out what equipment can do what and trying to keep it as good a product as we have now, while automating as much as we can.”
The company has weathered the COVID-19 environment successfully, with the biggest change being they couldn’t ‘demo’ in-store, and instead had to switch to placing small packs in subscription boxes, and—in a stroke of genius—in marathon bags. “The boxes have little stickers telling people to go to their nearest Whole Foods if they like the product—I don’t know that we’ll go back to demoing because if you can get them in the hands of the right people, it’s more effective.”
Rebecca’s advice for anybody trying to make it in business in the United States is, “listen to as many people and talk to as many people as you can—and pay it back, help others in turn.”
And she promises she’ll get her crackers into stores in Aotearoa soon!