It is a classic American success story. Lizanne Falsetto had a great idea for a protein bar and whipped it up in her own kitchen. That laid the foundation for her company, thinkThin.
Over the next 20-plus years, the onetime fashion model grew her company without a dime of venture capital and without taking out a single loan.
When she wanted to take thinkThin global about four years ago, Falsetto turned to private equity, selling a majority stake to TSG Consumer.
She had met TSG Consumer founder and CEO Chuck Esserman about 15 years earlier. “At that time, he said, ‘I like what you’re doing, but you’re too small,’” Falsetto said in an interview. “Later on, they were the right partner. They were knowledgeable in premium brands that have potential.”
Esserman, who had previously worked with protein supplement maker Met-Rx, helped grow thinkThin quickly, boosting its marketing muscle. Falsetto declined to disclose any specific growth figures, but said she was thrilled with the result.
It wasn’t long before thinkThin caught the attention of Glanbia, an Ireland-based nutrition conglomerate. In December, Glanbia paid $217 million for the protein bar maker.
Falsetto praised Esserman and TSG Consumer’s Hadley Mullin, senior managing director, with the ability to connect with people who have started up their own businesses and said other private equity firms need to do the same.
She said private equity firms have been keen to cut deals in the nutritional food segment, which continues to draw strong interest from GPs. She’s seen Natural Products Expo West, the largest natural food show in the United States, evolve from a event frequented by people wearing Birkenstock sandals to business folks wearing suits.
Asked if she had any advice for GPs, Falsetto said: “Always make sure there’s an entrepreneur on your team that can relate to other entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurs build the personality of the business while private equity firms look for strategic partnerships and the right time to sell. If a business-starter finds the right partner, the results may be fantastic, she said.
Now that she has sold her company, Falsetto said she’s able to spend more time with her family. She is also active in philanthropic activities, with a focus on sharing lessons learned with other entrepreneurs. “I never did it for the money,” she said. “I did it because I loved what I was doing.”
Photo courtesy of Lizanne Falsetto