As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,”we had the pleasure of interviewing Iona Campbell.
CEO and Co-Founder of Renegade Foods, Iona Campbell is developing and supporting a powerful shift towards a more compassionate and sustainable future of food. She has a background in the culinary arts and is passionate about utilizing fermentation to create innovative plant-based recipes.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks so much for your interest! As a lifelong vegetarian and foodie, creating plant-based recipes is something I have always been passionate about. After spending time working alongside traditionally trained chefs in Spain and learning all about meat preservation, I came back to the States inspired to take everything I learned about fermentation and smoking and apply it to plants. After about 10 years of product development, I decided I was finally ready to share my recipes with the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I don’t have a specific mistake to share but I can tell you there have been many instances in the kitchen, especially as I was getting started, where the products just didn’t come out as expected. I think the biggest takeaway is that when you’re learning and growing, mistakes will happen and that’s ok. It’s how you come back from them and keep going that really matters.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I met Ryan Bethencourt at a Future of Food event back in 2018 when I was just thinking about launching the company. Most people in the food tech space are familiar with him as he’s a total powerhouse (founder of IndieBio and founder/CEO of Wild Earth) and his encouragement and support inspired me to take the plunge and start Renegade. He is now one of our advisors and provides crucial support in our scale up strategy.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I started Renegade Foods with a mission to remove animals from the food supply chain. Animal agriculture is not only detrimental to the well-being of the animals and our own health, but it’s also destroying our environment and natural resources. I believe having a strong vision as to why I started the business is what keeps me going through all the long days and nights.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
From my experience, leadership really comes down to inspiring your team to share and execute the vision. As a mission-driven company, it’s really important to me to have a team that believes in what we’re doing and why. I find that commonality really helps us come together to accomplish our shared goals.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Sure, there have been those sleepless nights where I wonder whether this is all too much, but every morning I wake up excited to keep pushing forward and I think that’s because I believe so strongly in our mission. It also helps to have a passionate and driven co-founder (Kalie Marder) who I would never want to let down. We both believe so strongly that what we’re doing is absolutely crucial for the health of ourselves and our planet and we will never give up on that.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It’s so important for leaders to maintain a positive and can-do attitude. Challenging times will always arise but working through those challenges is much easier to do when you have a leader who believes in you.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I can’t overstate the need for positivity, especially when times are uncertain. No one can predict the future but when you have a team that supports and trusts each other, there is so much more they can accomplish. Taking the time to have some fun together is also so important!
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I think it’s really important to communicate difficult news in an honest and forthright manner. While being direct is key, it’s also crucial to be kind. Again, mistakes happen and challenges arise, but it’s how we choose to learn from them and keep going that really matters. Inspiring people to do better is so much more effective than leading with fear.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This is a great question, especially as it relates to the startup world. I have learned that it’s really important to set goals with multiple contingencies. Getting the team together to discuss and strategize multiple potential outcomes is what makes us resilient and able to pivot as needed.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Keep the vision and keep going. The road to success can and will get bumpy, but if you stay focused on the horizon and remember why you started in the first place, you will remain steady and on a straight path forward.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I see a lot of companies get stuck in the details which really limits their ability to grow. Don’t get me wrong, the details are important, but when you’re laying the foundation of a company, it’s important to make broad strokes that leave more room for flexibility. Starting a company is all about resilience and learning to be fluid as things change has proven to be crucial.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Again, this all comes back to resilience. We had to completely change our launch strategy due to the pandemic, but because we had already considered all paths forward, we were able to quickly pivot and not lose too much momentum.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay positive and don’t make decisions based on fear. When covid hit, there was a moment where I questioned how we were ever going to launch our products as the world around us shut down. After taking the time to asses the situation, we found a path forward and that’s what we chose to focus on. Sure, the world was literally dealing with a pandemic, but we all still needed to eat, right?
- Keep the vision and keep the faith. There have been times I have doubted myself but what keeps me going is that this movement is so much bigger than me and is so important to the well-being of our planet and ourselves. Knowing that so many amazing people are in this fight with me is what keeps me going.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you’re looking to innovate then you will make mistakes and that is a given. This concept used to make me uncomfortable but meeting other leaders who have shared their highs and lows has really helped me to step out of my comfort zone and focus on progress rather than perfection.
- Keep the big picture in mind and don’t get too stuck in the details. I spent 10 years developing our products and yet there are still so many improvements that I want to make to them. Something I have learned, though, is that at some point something just needs to be good enough for now. As an artist, you always want to get your creation just right before sharing it with the public, but to make progress, you need to learn how to get out of your way so that you can keep moving forward.
- Trust your team and make sure they trust you. Having a strong team is all about bringing a diversity of skill sets to the table and then supporting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This has been especially important for us a we navigate scaling our brand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Focus on progress rather than perfection. Mistakes can and will happen and that’s part of the process. This has been so important for me to learn and relates to every aspect of the business, from product development, to launching sales, and now as we begin to commercialize.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Check out our website at www.renegadefoods.com and follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @eatrenegade.