Gail Becker ’88 MS managed communications for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, worked as an executive at Warner Bros., and spent more than a decade as a president at the global communications juggernaut Edelman. But last year she decided to leave her career in corporate America to create Caulipower, an Encino, Calif.–based company that makes gluten-free pizza. Two events inspired Becker: the death of her father, who had built a successful salvage business as an immigrant in the United States, and a gluten-free dinner with her two teenage sons, who have celiac disease. In 2016 she decided to try making cauliflower pizza, a healthy alternative that would appeal to her boys. They loved the pizza, but it was messy and took too long to make from scratch. She couldn’t make it regularly during the workweek, so Becker, who lives in the Los Angeles area, started exploring options at her grocery store. When she couldn’t find premade cauliflower-based pizza anywhere, she thought it might be a viable business. Her instincts were right — today the company sells one of its pizzas every three seconds, and the product can be found in more than 17,500 stores across the country. Caulipower now has 32 employees. In November Becker launched a sister product, Sweet Potatoasts. Through the sales of both, Becker supports OneSun, which encourages and supports the health of children through gardens and nutritional education, primarily at underserved schools.
Someone told me when I left, “I have five business plans in my desk.” And every day they would open their desk and see them. I know to this day they have never acted upon any of them. I didn’t want to be like that person. When my dad died, something switched on. You realize this is not a dress rehearsal, so you better spend this time doing exactly what the hell you want to do or have a hell of a time trying, because life is fragile. It was my turn.
The day you stop learning is the day you have to leave. When you work in an industry, you’re lucky if you keep learning, but you have to grow. I left because I wanted to keep challenging myself, and all of those things required major job shifts — but none as large as the one I made to Caulipower.
I knew that starting your own business was hard. I thought I was ready for it. But there’s no possible way you can be ready for the onslaught of issues that arise when you start your own company.
It’s the most wonderful, difficult, remarkable journey I have ever been on. Giving birth and raising a child is 10 times easier than giving birth to a company and trying to grow it.
There’s not a day that goes by that I regret what I did. I used to go to bed on Sunday night and not be excited about Monday. And now I think, “Oh, thank God it’s Monday.”
I think people were envious that I had taken the plunge. Look, the easiest thing to do in life is to stay, whether it’s a job, a relationship or a city. The hardest thing is always to leave, and I think there are people who have their own ideas but are afraid to pursue them. So I’d like to think I’m giving them some inspiration or a little push, to say, “If she can make that work, maybe I can make that work too.”
There’s this pressure when you’re in college that you need to know what you want to do in life. It’s not like that, though. How are you supposed to know how you will feel when you’re 30, 40 or 50?
I always tell my kids to always bet on themselves, because nobody else will. And I realized that if I made this move, I would show them firsthand that I was betting on myself.
Interview and text by Daniel Fernandez, a Medill senior from Saratoga, Calif.