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Success is a Team Sport: Lessons in Creating a Food Business

Posted by: Mallory Kates | Posted on: July 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

Success is a Team SportBy Mallory Kates

(In 2006, Mallory Kates founded and managed Ciolo, a fresh, ready-to-eat dip and spread company in Boulder County. From a small kitchen in Lafayette that sold a dozen products to 15 Whole Foods stores, Ciolo expanded rapidly. By the time Mallory sold the company in 2010 it had a second brand (Piccolo), 26 products, and hundreds of customers nationwide, including 150 Whole Foods stores, multiple other retail outlets and two regions worth of Costco Clubs. As our new VP of Marketing, we’ve asked Mallory to share a few of her insights and “lessons learned.”)

Let’s start with the truth – one person’s lessons learned aren’t necessarily applicable to you.  So view everything you hear or read through your own filter. My personal observation is that people rarely learn from the mistakes of others; they learn from their own mistakes. The same goes for benefitting from pithy sayings.  They’re not often useful, especially when offered to food industry people who are almost always too stressed, overworked and tired to absorb anything.

With that said, I’m still going to offer three “lessons” I believe you might find valuable

Lesson one: face reality. The food business is hard.  If you’ve been in it more than three weeks you probably know this already. Before I started a food company I had been in and around many tough industries – hardware, software, Internet services, video production, healthcare.  None of those is easy but if you think the food business is extra tough, you’re right. Why am I telling you this?  Because most food company founders I’ve met have taken some small comfort in knowing how universally common their feelings of stress are. At some point we all have to accept the fact that this is an extra difficult industry.

Lesson two: be self-aware. Know your weaknesses or be undone by them. Once in a while something external ends a business – a natural disaster, a global stock market crash, or something wildly unlucky – like your primary ingredient supplier leaves town in the night to escape his paramour’s rifle-toting spouse. Or the son-in-law of your biggest customer decides he wants to be in your business.  But usually if you’re going down it’s because of something you did or didn’t do and could have averted if only you’d seen it coming.  If only someone had pointed out the problem early on. So this leads to Lesson #3.

A great company, like a great life, is a team sport. You can’t live a great life by yourself just like you can’t have a great company alone. You must learn what it means to be a terrific team leader. This starts with treating your employees and advisors like the valuable assets they are. Thank your employees lavishly and often.  You can never give too big a bonus or throw too big an off-site thank you party.  Never forget to acknowledge the individuals who work in your business.  Always introduce them to visitors with their title. Always solicit and listen to their ideas, the more informally and impromptu, the better. When it comes to advisors…pick them wisely and embrace them fully. Start with one trusted person whose judgment you’ve seen proven. Let them help you find another. And another.  Make it possible for them to have skin in your game. Chances are the people who can help you are busy. Their time is valuable. Don’t expect them to give it for free for very long. If you make it worthwhile for advisors to reap benefits from your success, they’ll work harder to help you gain it.  For me, my business team was probably the greatest reason I made it. I know my personal team is the reason I’ve made it too.  A great life is a team sport.

Mallory Kates

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