The Story of "Oats and Woes," The U of M Fitness Startup Turned Social Media Sensation
By: Amber Mitchell
If you’re a student at the University of Michigan, you’ve probably heard about Oats and Woes. At the very least, you’ve seen one of their beautiful oatmeal kaleidoscopes on your Instagram feed. Oats and Woes is an artisan oatmeal startup created by Ross School of Business sophomore Sarah Wood. Although many have heard about Oats or seen one of Sarah’s aesthetically-pleasing Instagram posts (@oatsandwoes has over 6000 followers as of publishing), few know the story behind the handcrafted bowls.
Like any good thing, it all started with breakfast. Going into her first semester of sophomore year, Sarah transitioned into two completely new environments: she began living at the Tri Delta house, and was immersed into the intense atmosphere of business school at Ross. Such a transition proved to be challenging as both new environments proved to be a complete change from the freshman school experience to which she had adjusted.
At first, Sarah wasn’t sure she could thrive in her new place at Michigan. However, her outlook soon improved when she connected with a Ross professor who highlighted the importance of personal value and purpose in actions. This same professor encouraged her to experiment with writing and yoga, two things that helped Sarah reflect on the competitive nature of her new environment and take positive steps forward. This focus on holistic personal wellness eventually led to Oats and Woes.
Originally, Oats and Woes was just a personal creative outlet. Last summer, Sarah created an Instagram account to document what she describes as her love for “playing with food.” As she curated her photo feed, a devoted following grew around her inspired oatmeal creations. Thousands of fans and fitness bloggers alike made clear that they needed more oats, less woes in their life – and what’s more, wanted to buy her mosaic-like breakfast creations. Sarah was flattered, but never considered an Oats and Woes startup until she took an entrepreneurship class that required her to make a product-based business plan. At first, her group wasn’t sold – who would even want artisan oatmeal? But after many long and fruitless meetings deciding on a product, Sarah, out of good-natured frustration, burst out “but all I know anything about is oatmeal!” Days later, Oats and Woes truly began.
After months of work and countless presentations, Oats and Woes came to life this winter through a launch party on the Tri Delta lawn. The Oats and Woes team sold out of all the 80 bowls they had prepared – turns out, everyone wanted Sarah’s creations. From that initial launch party, Oats and Woes truly took flight. Sarah and her team reached out to the owner of Comet Coffee about opening a breakfast food pop-up store in Comet’s Nickels Arcade storefront, and were met with enthusiasm and a golden opportunity. This experience provided an great opportunity for Oats and Woes to collaborate with an Ann Arbor institution, as well as a fun learning experience for the team.
Most recently, Oats and Woes operated a surprise delivery service. The fast-paced fun of running a food delivery startup also offered an abundance of learning opportunities, teaching the Oats and Woes team the importance of thinking through every aspect of an idea before running with it. Together, the team made oatmeal bowls and delivered them everywhere on campus, from residence halls to sororities and fraternities, as well as libraries on campus. Although many people got their bowls on time and were extremely satisfied, the sheer number of bowls delivered meant some delays, cold oatmeal, and unhappy customers. Looking back on the experience, Sarah emphasized the importance of failure and its ability to teach us how to improve.
With a positive outlook towards the future, Oats and Woes dreams of one day bringing their artisan oatmeal creations to the entire Metro Detroit area. In 5 years, the team hopes to have a food truck to bring to local farmers’ markets and tailgates. As evidenced by their hard work, dedication, and willingness to learn, Oats and Woes highlights the importance of being unafraid to pursue your passions. Sarah’s personal advice to others? Follow what makes you passionate, seek out opportunities to pursue what you love, and ask for help when you need it. Especially if the end result is delicious (and beautiful) oatmeal bowls.