Her spirit is infectious, her creativity cannot be contained and her ambition limitless. She roams the world with a harem of bad b’s, she’s fearless, she never freezes in danger, she’s a… zebra. Well, sort of. The zebra is Erika Szychowski’s spirit animal and the inspiration behind her fittingly named brand Good Zebra, the first-ever spirit animal cracker brand. 

Only someone as wild as a “zebra” could create a brand with this much soul. Good Zebra is your favorite childhood snack reinvented with high quality, all natural, preservative free ingredients, packed with 12 grams of protein and sweetened with organic honey. Only the “good stuff” is in these cookies- “black and white, nothing shady.”   Like a zebra!

Szychowski is a seasoned global branding authority who before her foray into food, specialized in sports and entertainment, financial services and fashion. Her client roster has included names like Rolling Stones, the NFL and the Olympic Games. She also worked in the fashion industry as an executive at Brown Shoe Company and later became the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Nine West.

As she climbed the corporate ladder all the way to the top, she realized something didn’t feel right. The glitz and glam of corporate New York City had lost its shine. “I was just exhausted – I found that the more senior I became, the more rules imposed upon me – I used to refer to it as the ‘death of creativity’ – the brain that was taught to question everything, to think outside the box and to constantly strive for solutions was being caged,” Szychowski explains.

As we all know, zebra’s don’t do well in captivity. Szychowski decided to trade the security of her corner office in the C-Suite, for the wild, grassy, plains of entrepreneurship.

How’s she fairing? We’ve got all of your unanswered questions below.

Why Good Zebra?

In my own life [as an adult who works out], I’ve seen how difficult it is to avoid refined sugar, and I’ve long enjoyed making sweets with honey or maple syrup. When choosing snacks, it is extremely difficult to avoid processed sugar and chemicals. Good Zebra is fearlessly crap-free. You can pronounce every one of our ingredients. Good Zebra cookies have protein, so you actually feel satisfied after snacking. I put an enormous amount of energy into researching my ingredients, supply chain and process to invent a formula that retains the nostalgic elements of animal crackers — the look has been elevated, no more lions and tigers, instead a tattoo artist created peacocks, butterflies and wolves, to name a few.

How have your past experiences prepare you for entrepreneurship?

Snack food is my fourth industry. Working in environments from the Olympics to the fashion industry has showed me again and again the value of being fearless. I think that shows in both the company’s personality and in how I have taken on the challenges of this business. People told me that it would simply not be possible to make a cookie from the ingredients I wanted to use — not that it would taste bad or that it wouldn’t sell or that it would be expensive but that it was beyond human science and technology to combine these ingredients, shape them and bake them into animal crackers. I wasn’t afraid to do the work to make Good Zebra a reality.

What are the major differences between corporate America and life as a founder?

I got pretty used to having a large team of people to get things done, but with that came corporate politics and a lot of processes and procedure.  Startups are built by innovative thinking, humility, loyalty and aligned beliefs for the greater good.  Lots of compromise, but knowing what is worth it and what isn’t makes it easy to pivot and go a different direction. Corporations can’t do this so easily – of course they need to change. They have an entire generation of entrepreneurs bubbling up around them – called Millennials.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?

1. Create a very tight inner circle because you’re going to need more support than ever before.

2. Trust yourself and have patience in the process. For me personally, every time I rushed a step, it had to be redone.

3. Keep a journal. The ups and the downs poured out on paper seem to have a much different interpretation a day or two later.

In such a saturated market, how do you stand out?  

We have created a product that delivers greater value. We are the only animal cracker that delivers high protein while being free of refined sugar.  Our competitors are not animal cracker brands, but rather protein bars and protein cookies. And our unique shapes (tattoo inspired) are the only option in a resealable zip top pouch that allows you to eat as many (or as few) as you want!

You traveled all over the world in your career, what is your favorite destination?

Travel is in my bones. It drives my heart and my former road-warrior days are actually what inspired this brand and our launch product.  I love so many places for a variety of reasons, but right now I dream of a beach. So, let’s go with the one place I can fully relax, be spoiled rotten and hit the beach: Isle of Hope, Georgia.  Home of the parentals.  

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Hearing from our customers their favorite animal cracker memories and seeing in their eyes how excited they are to be given permission to eat animal crackers again.

How important is giving back to and mentoring?

My mentors were the ones that not only laid the foundation of my entire career, but in the moments that I was pondering this brand – they collectively were the ones that cheered me on.  Not many days ever pass where I don’t reach out to one of them asking for guidance, advice or a contact.  I will spend the rest of my life trying to pay this forward, hoping to do so with half as much grace as each of them have shown me.  So – in other words – TOP of my priority list.