Profile: Nikki Azzara

Chickpeas, chocolate chips and a Wake Forest dorm room.

If you add Nikki Azzara to the equation, you get cookie dough. It’s a vegan, better-for-you option, part of Azzara’s P.S. Snacks brand that strives to modernize traditional treats with unconventional ingredients, changing the way we satisfy our sweet tooth.

Azzara founded the company in 2014 right after graduating from Wake Forest and is now trying to expand the brand and get the products nationally distributed.

What I’m really interested in today is you as an entrepreneur. Is that how you would define yourself?

Yes, definitely. I’ve never looked up entrepreneurship, but I think the fact that I have built something from the ground up and that I’m really the only person doing this venture — the business wouldn’t be anywhere on its own if it wasn’t for me.

Are people born to be entrepreneurs or do they develop the skills?

I think that it really depends on the person; everyone that may be running a business has different skill sets and personality traits.

I think that there’s this passion, which is a quality that all of these individuals, leaders and entrepreneurs share and while that passion may be different, I really believe it’s the successful entrepreneurs that are able to take the risk and turn this passion into something much greater.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

If anyone were to ask me at the age of five if I’d be an entrepreneur … [I would have said] probably not. Wake Forest was the inspiration to turn the idea into a business venture. I think that I’ve always been entrepreneurially minded — I was doing car washes and summer camps and really anything I could when I was younger to make money instead of finding a desk job. I’ve always been really passionate about health and wellbeing and I loved to cook.

So, there were a lot of things that were kind of setting this up for success. I think there was a culmination of things that enabled me to take that risk and just go for it.

Was your family supportive of you starting a business right out of college?

My family has been extremely supportive. There’s always those pretty up-in-the-air questions when you’re first starting because you’re really trying to do so much to validate a concept but luckily, I’ve kind of passed that point.

My parents have been alongside me every step of the way. My sister has been extremely supportive. They’re all major advocates for the brand. My mom actually has a day-to-day kind of part time role helping me with the financial side of things.

I definitely could not have done it without them this far, and I think that being able to take the risk early can be attributed to the fact that my parents were supportive of me pursuing this passion.

What was the hardest thing about turning this passion into a career?

I think that the fact that I started this right out of school was both a blessing and a curse because I went from really not even having my own credit card or paying my own taxes to trying to run a full-blown business.

I really just do not have that quote unquote real-world experience, so the learning curve has always been pretty steep, but on the other hand, the fact that I don’t really have a rule book to play off of [allows me to be] kind of naive and willing to take risks, pivot, adapt and listen to other people and be open minded because I don’t have that experience.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done with this before I even consider anything else, but to be completely transparent, the goal with this endeavor is to sell it to a larger food corporation, whether it’s Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nestlé, that type of larger corporation that can really help deliver this to the masses.

A lot of natural food entrepreneurs like myself, they’re trying to set up these cutting-edge brands that provide a plant-based alternative or something that’s much healthier and better for you, and the goal would be to sell it to someone like a Nestlé or a General Mills who has an amazing portfolio of brands and are looking to invest in these smaller, more cutting-edge startups.

This is my baby, so I’d love to stay on as long as I possibly can, but I think there will be a point where someone much smarter and more experienced would probably come in and take this to a level I probably could never do on my own.

What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?

I would say that sometimes I think entrepreneurship is very much glamorized whether is through Shark Tank or what people think about running a startup, and it’s really not that glamorous. It’s amazing and it’s fulfilling but the piece of advice I’ve learned is that passion is that one constant that constantly drives me every day.

Even if I don’t have answers or it’s really stressful or difficult or I feel lost, I’m so passionate that every day that I work it doesn’t feel like a chore and I’m excited and I love what I’m doing.

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