Caren Magill: Flexing Her Muscle with the Perfect Protein Pancake

Caren MagillIt began, perhaps, with a fitness competition, which Caren Magill did not win. She finished, she says, “in the middle of the pack”.

Or maybe it began further back, when Magill was a teenager. “Growing up, healthy living was not a part of our general household conversation. I sustained myself on canned soup, white Kaiser buns, and processed cheese. From the time I got home from school until the time I went to bed, I was on the couch eating. By the time I left high school, I weighed over 200 pounds.

“I realized in my early 20’s that not only was being overweight uncomfortable, but it was going to limit me in all sorts of ways. When I finally lost the weight it made me realize I could do anything I set my mind to. It raised my level of self-efficacy, my pride in myself. It really did change the course of my life.”

In 2011, Magill got a Master’s in media psychology and social change and began working at a large utility corporation in Southern California as a communications adviser. While the job was in many ways a good fit, she wasn’t happy. Among other things, she struggled to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As a way to motivate herself, she signed up for a  fitness competition.

During the six months of training that preceded the competition, she became desperately bored with the foods she was ‘supposed’ to eat, and her Caren Magill ProCakescoach suggested she try adding egg whites and protein powder to a pancake mix. “It was really gross, and yet I was inspired by the idea because I wouldn’t be hungry again for hours after eating it.”

She began working on her own pancake recipe, something that would produce the same benefits she had experienced but, she hoped, be a bit more palatable. After more than a year of experimenting, she finally came up with a product that achieved everything she’d hoped for: it tasted great, used high quality ingredients, and provided the right nutritional profile. And so, in April 2014, Magill took that recipe and made it the basis for her new business, ProCakes.

“It was very small in the beginning. I’d never been in the food industry before so there was an enormous learning curve. Still, I had created a formulation, found a co-packer, and started building a brand.”

She was now ready to leave her job at the utility company. “It’s difficult to leave a role where you’re making a great salary, but I did.  The planning process was long – I gave my boss a full two-month’s notice. It was a methodical process. The exodus was over time, it wasn’t overnight.”

Caren Magill ProCakesShe sells her high-protein pancake mix primarily online, because she is targeting a fairly narrow audience which makes it less practical to sell in brick-and-mortar stores. “Reaction to the product has been very good, particularly because I target a niche audience. I have some competitors but my product is unique because I don’t use any grains in the recipe; it’s gluten-free. It also naturally sweetened – there’s no sugar added – and happens to be a great-tasting product. The struggle has not been convincing people in my particular audience to try it but to educate those who don’t supplement with protein powder about the benefits of doing that.”

As for advice for other women looking to start their own businesses, Magill has quite a bit to say. “There are a lot of coaches and women’s support groups out there that are great for emotional encouragement. But I find that many of them stop there. They’re all about the ‘woo-woo’. What often trips women up is that they don’t have the financial experience. I wasn’t thinking about profit margins when I started ProCakes, I was thinking about the healthy food that I wanted to get out into the world. I wasn’t thinking about acquisition costs and margins and selling direct to market and all of the costs associated with that. And I should have been thinking about those things. The passion will only take you so far.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s easy or that I don’t have moments of regret. There are things I miss about the Caren Magill ProCakescorporate world, like a steady paycheck, for example. The profit margins in food are small, so it’s really a volume game. You have to hustle. There are more and more competitors coming into the market every day. There’s a lot of pressure. I’m selling a product with a shelf life. It’s a very difficult market to succeed in.”

But despite the challenges and the moments of panic, the 44-year-old Magill has achieved much of what she sought. “I have a vision for the way I want to work and I’m very clear about that. My business model right now suits my lifestyle. It’s about creating space in my life to work when I want to work – it’s still pretty much 24/7 but I make that choice for myself. That’s what drives me forward. There are times I think that maybe I could have looked for something that suited me better in the corporate world. But that isn’t the decision that I made. Ultimately, what I am doing makes me very happy. It’s very creative and very fulfilling. But it’s a tough business.”

Tips From Caren Magill
  • Find a mentor that isn’t going to be all about the woo-woo, and is in the field you are looking to break into. Find someone who can talk to you about profits and margins and acquisition costs. Think about the financial ramifications and the logistical ramifications in addition to the passion element. I’m passionate about health and fitness and will always be, but there is so much more to a business.
  • Prioritize what’s important in your life. You need to have clarity in your goals – what do you actually want out of your business? I would highly recommend reading the book Essentialism, by Doug McKeown, which addresses these issues.
  • Try the website for good non-woo-woo business advice and mentors.

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