Imagine dining out with a client. Sweet, savory, crispy foods jump out off the menu onto your taste buds. There are almost too many options to choose from.
Now, imagine looking at the same menu, with an important client, only you’re not sure if anything you’re allergic to might show up in your meal. It’s stressful. You already feel nerves to make sure the business lunch goes right, and now you have to worry about your health and safety.
It can be an anxiety-ridden situation that can make those with food allergies want to avoid dining out altogether. But it’s also a situation that’s now found a business friend in CertiStar, a company on a mission to make dining experiences more enjoyable for men, women and children with food allergies.
The female force behind CertiStar is Shandee Chernow. In a sales role for a long period of her career, she faced this very situation quite often. And something inside her said there had to be a solution for her and others facing food allergies. Now, with plans for expansion, Shandee’s sights are set on owning this space and helping others eat safer in the process.
As a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I danced competitively growing up, and my dad was a doctor. I wanted to be both, and probably a thousand other things in between.
After college graduation, what did your career path look like from then until your current role as founder of CertiStar?
My senior year of college, MicroStrategy recruited me directly from Vanderbilt. I started there immediately after graduation. My first job involved designing software and how it was supposed to work, which I did (and adored), for five years. The company moved me out to Arizona to work in the technical sales organization, supporting sales people. Eventually, I moved my way on to the sales side, which is relatively unusual for someone with such a technical background.
After 16 years at MicroStrategy, I moved on to Hortonworks and then to Tableau in sales roles. I was taking customers out to eat all the time and traveling a ton. I got tired of trying to manage my food allergies in that environment. It was super challenging, and I decided there must be a better way. Thus, CertiStar was born!
Tell us more about CertiStar in your words. What is its mission? How does it help those suffering from food allergies when dining out?
CertiStar makes serving diners with food allergies very, very easy for food service/restaurant staff. We take the menu, marry it with the guest’s food allergies, and we instantly produce an individualized menu for that person. No one has to stress out about what will be okay for a person to eat. Our mission is to make all dining experiences as enjoyable (and safe!) for food allergic guests as they are for everyone else.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Hands down, my favorite part of my job is when the light goes on for our potential customers. It’s when they figure out that we’re doing something that really saves them time and stress, and it helps their customers to be as safe as possible.
What is the most challenging, can-keep-you-up-at-night part of your job?
The thing that keeps me up at night is trying to spread the word about what we do and how we do it. I think: How do I make the company successful, and therefore, make my team successful.
What was the most surprising part of starting your own business?
It’s how many little, day-to-day things go into it. It’s amazing how all of those things can take up the entire day before you get to the things you thought you set out to do. In bigger companies there are whole departments for finance, IT, HR and so on. When you start your own company, everything is on your shoulders.
As the mom of two boys, in addition to your role as founder, what are some time management strategies you use to ensure your priorities are being met in all facets of your life?
My boys are the most amazing part of my life, and I try to be as present as possible for them. The fact that I’m always connected allows that to happen a bit more. I attend school activities and soccer as much as I can, but by being connected I can also answer the phone when it rings. My boys understand and are super proud and supportive. They hand out CertiStar pens and swag to their classmates, and tell servers at restaurants, as loudly as possible, “She’s the founder of CertiStar!” despite any of my efforts. When they’re with me, they’re the priority. When they aren’t, it’s work, work, work.
What advice do you have for others who want to start their own business?
It’s harder than you think it’s going to be. Just remember why you’re doing it and keep on moving forward.
What goals do you have for CertiStar in the coming year?
My goal for CertiStar is to be ubiquitously available. So, for this year, the goal is expansion: More schools, more restaurants, more hospitality customers. I want those with food allergies to have more options and safer places to dine.
What do you want others living with food allergies to know?
You’re not alone, and we’re here to help. We’d also love your help in asking for our services when going out to places that aren’t taking advantage of CertiStar yet.
Any parting advice?
Do something you love and that you believe in. People always tell me that my passion for my subject is always coming through. It makes the message much more compelling.
I’d love to have coffee with:
JK Rowling. I am such a fan of her work, and she’s incredibly erudite. I cannot imagine a world in which she wouldn’t be an amazing conversationalist.
The books on my nightstand are:
The All Souls Trilogy, The Girl on The Train, The Demon Cycle, Zero to One
My current favorite saying, or mantra, is:
Don’t think, just do. I don’t mean don’t think about what you’re doing, but when it’s time to do something, just attack it. It’s my way of getting procrastination out of the way.
My favorite way to spend my day off is:
Watching the kids play soccer, chatting with friends or painting.
One lesson I’ve learned lately is:
I should follow my instincts more confidently.
I can’t live without:
I feel my best when:
I’ve had a day with excellent news, lots of things clicked off the list and it’s time to cuddle in with the boys and relax.