Perteet and Fred Spencer

Bringing ‘Joy’ to Entrepreneurship

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Inspired by their family’s West African roots, Perteet Spencer, ’06 MBA, and Fred Spencer, ’08 MBA, launched AYO Foods in 2019.

The frozen meals crafted from food of 17 different countries are diversifying offerings in the grocery store aisles in retailers across the country.  AYO, means “joy” in Yoruba, one of the many languages spoken in West Africa.

The couple spoke to the Carlson School about their favorite part of running their own business, the impact of their work, and what motivates them on a day-to-day basis.

What do you enjoy most about starting and running your own business?

Fred: My way of thinking has always been like an entrepreneur, and I think one big thing from me is that I want to build something that my family owns. I want to bring something to the table that I know I'm passionate about, and have the flexibility in what I do.

Perteet: I spent most of my career in the corporate world before making this shift, but the most exciting thing to me is that I'm able to directly see the impact of my actions on the business in real-time. I think as an entrepreneur, it pulls on all of the collective experiences that we've built over the past, but in really different ways that stretch our learning quite a bit. So it's been really, really rewarding to be able to build something from the ground up and see it scale in the market.

What motivates you on a day-to-day basis? What gets you excited to come to work?

Perteet: For me, it's the ability to immediately influence change. That's coming to life in a number of different ways. One way that is obvious is the impact we're making on grocery aisles. 

Being able to create a brand that's driving more inclusivity in grocery is absolutely motivating for us and exciting to see that play out in real-time.

I think above and beyond the impact that we're making in the stores is that we're a brand that's deeply committed to investing in the communities that inspired the brands. We launched an initiative shortly after we started, which is focused on the ground impact in West Africa. We've cultivated about 15 acres of farmland and that's being used to seed capital for women in Liberia who have been victims of civil war and to give them a fresh start. So in a pretty short time, we're able to have a meaningful impact on the outcome of their lives.

Fred: Outside of the business and operations what motivates us is impacting the environments that we kind of touched upon with this business. But for the most part for me, I get very excited every day, because my daughters see what we've created and know that what we're doing is for them. 

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs at the Carlson School?

Perteet: I think it really starts with having a solid business plan and a clear perspective on the financial model under which you’ll be successful. As an entrepreneur, there are many aspects that are incredibly rewarding. It's not for the faint of heart by any means. So I think being crystal clear on the business that you're in, and the business model behind that, I think is incredibly important for you to be successful as an entrepreneur. 

Next, I think you need to surround yourself with folks who will push you in meaningful ways to get better. I think the entrepreneurship journey can be lonely at times, so I think surrounding yourself with a village of folks who can share ideas and bring an outside perspective is incredibly helpful.