As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zac and Jericha Jordan. It all began one evening when realtor and mother of four (and a fifth child on the way), Jericha Jordan found herself heading back to the kitchen to heat up the queso dip (yet again) during family dinner. It kept going cold! She turned to her husband Zac, who worked for a private recruiting company, and asked, “Why don’t they make a vacuum-insulated bowl for food?” After weeks of doing research to see if that perfect bowl was out there, it became clear it did not exist. Jericha and Zac decided to take things into their own hands.
They began researching and developing their own bowl, a stainless steel, air-tight, spill-proof, BPA-free lidded bowl that keeps items hot up to four hours and cold for up to eight.
The product took two and half years to create, as Jericha and Zac wanted to get one particular thing just right: the lid. The lid was the main reason RIGWA needed that time from concept to launch, however it’s also the game-changer for what makes it the most versatile bowl. The lid is BPA-free and insulated with a dynamic, yet simple design that increases the functionality, durability, and versatility of the bowl. When you close the lid, you’ll hear the internal air release through the pressure cap, giving you confidence that your lid is secure and air-tight. Once you close the pressure cap, you simply cannot remove the lid. When you’re ready to eat, the simple two-finger opening system removes the lid with ease. This dynamic feature — secure lock, yet easy to open — was the final touch to the RIGWA.
Not only is RIGWA an innovative and family-owned company transforming fresh food for consumers, they’re conscious of the environment and local communities. As the negative impacts of single-use plastic and other less reusable products increases, RIGWA is dedicated to reducing plastic waste with their reusable bowls. In 2019, RIGWA partnered with Feed the Children by making sure every RIGWA bowl sold through December 31, 2019, supplemented six meals for children and families in need.
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?
When we received our first group of prototypes we were being extra careful with them, because we only had a few samples. We told the kids not to touch or play with them and took extra care to protect them. One day our son, who was 6 at the time, was playing with it and dropped the lid on a tile floor and the lid shattered! We were so frustrated for about 30 seconds… until we realized how ridiculous we were acting. Why would we want to protect a bowl that we’re planning to market as durable?? We laughed at ourselves, apologized to Jackson and then told the kids to go nuts with the product. We gave several out to friends and family and asked them to use it aggressively, beat it up, and give us candid feedback. Ultimately we redesigned the lid to ensure it was durable and ready for any adventure!
This was an early wake up call for us that we needed to test our products in every way possible to ensure we’re bringing a long lasting, quality product to market.
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?
There really have been so many people to help along the way and so many that we’re truly grateful for. My parents have certainly stood out as they have been so incredibly supportive from the very beginning and still remain our biggest fans today. When we came up with this concept, both Jericha and I were working full time jobs with 3 kids and a 4th on the way. Life was hectic and crazy and perhaps not the ideal time for a career change, but even with our doubt and hesitation, their encouragement and support helped us take the leap and start RIGWA LIFE. When we launched our kickstarter campaign they turned into our leading sales reps, promoting RIGWA to friends, families and even retailers! They would go into retailers and ask them if they sold RIGWA bowls… just to get them curious and asking about the company and product! From sales and marketing to visiting production facilities, they have truly been there for every step in this journey and we’ll be forever grateful for them.
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?
Our “light bulb” story is a funny one considering where we are today and the mission behind our brand. We were having a family taco night and Jericha had to reheat the queso a number of times for the kids, when she asked me the question, while pointing at my vacuum insulated drink container, “why don’t they make something like that for food?” It was this question that sparked our curiosity and our search for vacuum insulated food containers. As we began researching and starting the design process for our first product, our mission and purpose began to take shape. We learned so much about plastic waste and the impact that eco-friendly, sustainable water bottles have on our environment. This made us more aware of the impact similar food containers could have. That said, we also became highly sensitive to the market saturation with vacuum insulated drink containers and how many different styles, sizes, and brands people own.
Our research and our own life passions began to merge as we set out to design and create a vacuum insulated bowl that would function incredibly well (keep food fresher longer) and reduce plastic waste (positively impact our environment). We wanted to do this by creating the most versatile bowl one could imagine… One that would keep food hot or cold, or one that could be used for breakfast, lunch or even a shareable dish at a party. We wanted a bowl that would be as sleek & stylish as it is durable. Ultimately we wanted a bowl that would transform the way people think about fresh food at home and on-the-go!
As we learn more about how customers use our bowl and how RIGWA 1.5 functions, we continue to innovate and create products that seamlessly work together, in harmony, to help promote minimalism through incredible versatility and exceptional quality and function.
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?
Uncertain and/or difficult times are inevitable. I believe they require a leader that can balance the big picture vision with the goals of the company and the day to day activity that is required to advance the business. More specifically, within this leadership style, one must be truly genuine and confident in one’s vulnerability. It can be easy to sway, adjust, or even become an imposter trying to be like another business or act like another leader. You must be YOU and embrace your genuine self and style. Ultimately, the right people you need on your team to build your business will respond to your genuine self.
I believe great leaders are confidently vulnerable. They don’t need to have all the answers and actively and thoughtfully engage others for advice, input, and even direction. As a start up, we’re left wearing all hats, and the reality is, we don’t wear them all equally well. We have a great team that is made up of unique talents and perspectives. Their input and at times, pushback, helps us make more thoughtful decisions based on perspective and expertise from the entire team.
For us, RIGWA LIFE launched in November 2019, where we saw a quick jump out of the gates with the holiday season and then an exciting January and February as consumers looked to RIGWA as a great tool to assist in their healthy eating goals for 2020. We were focused on a blended model of retailers and DTC (direct to consumer) until March, when COVID entered our life. COVID-19 effectively shut down physical retailers and delayed or stopped much of the progress we were making. Retailers simply were not buying in the same way, or at the same levels and most were not interested in bringing on a new product from an unknown brand during such uncertain times.
We remained focused on “building our business”, but had to look at things differently. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do… I certainly had no idea HOW to do it. We needed input, perspective, and advice from our team, as well as other startups and local businesses that we’ve grown to admire and respect. These conversations and meetings led to a quick and decisive pivot in our strategy to more fully embrace the DTC model. Going direct to the consumer, however, brought on additional challenges and needs that we were not yet ready for. Through cultivating great partnerships and opening channels for outside thoughts, perspective, and expertise, we quickly adjusted and put the pieces in place for our DTC model.
With much uncertainty still alive in our economy, I find myself constantly leaning into this model. We often talk about our vision and big picture goals, but these conversations are quickly followed by the actions and steps that are required to advance the business. My vulnerability and growing comfort level with exactly who I am as a leader continue to help push us in the right direction.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Not yet! Since launching in November, we’ve been hit with challenges each and every month, but nothing yet has pushed us to consider giving up.
We set out to build a company that our entire family would be proud of. We want to show our children a positive example of courage and passion, and the level of commitment it takes to realize a dream! Our company name, RIGWA is an assortment of our middle initials and a constant reminder of what we’re building and why.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Remain positive and solution oriented. Problems become magnified in challenging times and they can add up quickly. Solutions are a necessity and force yourself and your team to think through challenges and advance the company forward. If you don’t have a solution, your culture should encourage one to cultivate relationships and partnerships with those that can assist in finding a solution.
Challenging times often present great opportunities. Solution minded thinking and leadership helps position your team and company to realize that opportunity.
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?
Celebrate the little wins! Wins may not look or feel the same as they did prior to uncertain times, but great leaders find ways to keep moving forward and celebrating the advancements. The dashboard for success will likely shift during uncertain times and acknowledgement of these wins / advancements will only encourage more small wins. Many small wins lead to big wins… and before you know it, you’re stronger than you were before!
Transparency and empowerment. Transparency from leadership around goals, plans, execution, and results is paramount. What are you executing as the leader? What were the results? What did you learn and how will you implement those lessons moving forward? This sort of transparency with your team empowers them to try, execute, succeed, fail, learn, etc. All while creating natural accountability among the team! Empower your team to take ownership and create within their group. Your transparency will encourage the transparency and sharing from your team — ultimately leading to a highly empowered team that is executing and sharing often — leading to increased accountability, moral boosts, and advancements in the business.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
With empathy, directly and transparently communicate difficult news with a plan or solution (if possible). Your team and customer will see through the BS and anything but direct and transparent communication fuels ambiguity, uncertainty, and frustration.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This is really difficult for me to answer as we’re currently trying to make plans for our business and it’s incredibly difficult in such uncertain times. It is hard to tell if our existing strategy is right for the future or if we need to adjust and pivot based on changing data and analytics.
Ultimately, our mission and vision have not changed. We plan to move forward with our current strategies, however we expect to sustain great agility and awareness of what our customers want and expect. We believe in creating an excellent customer experience through quality products, thoughtful innovation, and exceptional customer service. If we continue to do this, we believe we can adapt our strategies to meet these unpredictable times.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Know your WHY. Keep your mission statement and purpose front and center and share it with everyone! One of these is sure to be your “number one principle” to guide you during turbulent times.
Our WHY is our family, our kids!
Our mission statement is: We will create an excellent customer experience through quality products, thoughtful innovation, and exceptional customer service.
Our purpose is: Grow to GIVE. We want to grow our company so that we have more to give the people and organizations that are near and dear to our hearts. Children and Families with food insecurities, our environment, civil rights and more!
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?
1. Busy is not productive. Especially in difficult times, people mistake being busy with being productive. It is critical that the leader set the example for what productivity is. Using the “SMART” method for goal setting is a great way to get productive versus staying busy!
2. Chasing short term growth. During difficult times the pressure can mount and lead businesses to “chase” growth, meaning it is not part of a long term plan or strategy and does not align to their “WHY”, but rather a reaction. Difficult times do create opportunities, but businesses should be careful of reacting with (or chasing) short term growth. These can distract from the main thing and in the long run, set the business back significantly.
3. Ride the emotional and financial roller coaster. Leaders need to keep the WHY, Mission Statement, and Purpose front and center. See the forest through the trees if you will. While others are reacting to hourly, daily, weekly results, stay true to your WHY and lead your team through the ups and downs with the WHY in mind.
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?
Hustle, creativity, and collaborate.
It’s so difficult to increase or even maintain financial stability during difficult times, but you have to hustle like never before. We are working around the clock to keep the business organized and ensure all pieces are in place for our revenue generating pieces. This takes a level of effort and time that none of us could have imagined.
Creativity — we’re constantly talking to people, watching partners and competitors and looking for new, unique, and creative ways to generate income. Things can get stale quickly these days and in difficult times, it’s important to stand out. Let your creative juices flow and find ways to differentiate yourself.
Collaborate — I truly believe there are more people and businesses out there that want to collaborate than not. There is power in community and power in numbers. Not only can you learn so much from one another, but collaborating with well aligned brands can help you feed off of each other’s customer base and increase awareness, trust, engagement, and yes — sales!
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.
- Know your WHY. (Keep it front and center.)
- Transparent culture. (Leads to increased empowerment & accountability across the team.)
- Stay productive. (Don’t mistake busy for productive).
- Stay positive. (Celebrate small wins / advancements!)
- Hustle like never before! (Get creative, collaborate, and work your tail off.)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many amazing life lesson quotes that inspire me to be the very best version of myself — as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, coach and of course as a leader. 15 years into a successful career with a large, international recruiting firm, I came across this quote. I had read it before, but it didn’t resonate with me like it did in this moment. I had a great career going for myself, but Jericha and I had this amazing business idea and concept that we wanted to go for. I was nervous and scared to take the leap into the start up world, but this quote (among others) were great reminders. Great reminders of the courage it takes to try, to fall and get back up… the courage to simply step foot in the arena. Now that we’re here… we’re not leaving!
THE MAN IN THE ARENA: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who know great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt