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 Lindsay Kritzer, VP of Consumer & Growth at Rachio.
Lindsay Kritzer brings more than 18 years of professional experience, half of which has been focused solely on eCommerce and Growth Marketing. After years of working for Fortune 500 companies, Lindsay moved into focusing on growth stage startups which, she feels, are more closely aligned with her personal values and where she can meaningfully help shape the strategy. She has worked in diverse verticals including Consumer Goods, Beauty, Durables & Manufacturing, Cannabis & Hemp and Baby goods. Before finding her home and purpose at Rachio, Ms. Kritzer spent time as the CMO for a baby subscription company set up to help tackle the problem of diaper need in the US. Her love of eCommerce was honed when she was previously the Global Lead for eCommerce Breakthrough Strategy at Kimberly-Clark, where she developed the global strategies, playbooks, and planning processes which grew the business >5x to exceed $1B annually. Prior to that, Ms. Kritzer was an “intrepreneur” at Whirlpool Corp, where she developed and ran their first ever direct-to-consumer ventures, Outlet.Whirlpool.com and Outlet.Maytag.com. She began her career managing in excess of $500MM in new product launches for MAC and Estee Lauder companies.
Ms. Kritzer has a B.A. in Communications from Tulane University. She received her M.B.A. from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, where she was awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations Management. She speaks six languages, can’t leave CVS without spending >$50 (mostly on sheet masks, cotton rounds, clearance seasonal candy, discretionary household purchases) and has unending love for cheese.
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?
In 2017, after more than 15 years working in Fortune 500 companies like Estee Lauder, Whirlpool and Kimberly-Clark, and 20 years living all over the world, I decided to move back home to Denver and re-set myself professionally. After years of working towards The Next Big Promotion only to be presented with options and cities that weren’t consistent with what I wanted for my life, I relished the opportunity to un-learn corporate and make myself a useful player on any startup team. It was, in a word, humbling to understand just how useless I was coming out of massive companies! For years, I had spent time doing revisions on strategy decks and then turning over best laid plans to markets and brand managers — I didn’t really know how to run a business tactically. In startups, particularly Seed and Series A sized companies, there really isn’t the same kind of “role definition” that there is in big companies, so you wear all the hats and YOU are the resource that you have to get anything done. I really had to learn to setup and manage accounts, write strong content, and figure out how to get the analytics. While sometimes excruciating, the experience has made me a much stronger business person and manager by expanding the depth of my understanding in all these new areas and has made me a much more empathetic manager. This experience also taught me how, once in the startup world, it can be very easy to build the right business for the wrong founders. It’s so important it is to make sure that, as a Growth Marketer willing to passionately grow a business, I’m investing my time in something that I love, that I believe in, and with a founding team that I’m excited to work with every day. All of these learnings have led me to my role as VP of Consumer and Growth at Rachio, which has been a deeply fulfilling experience.
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 was a foreign exchange student in Norway in high school, and didn’t speak the language, so I cleaned houses to make some money. I had no experience so I was feeling very proud of myself as I was nearing the end of my first afternoon of cleaning. Unfortunately, I cleaned everything from the floor upwards and left all the countertops and dusting for last and made a mess of everything! That was my first exposure to Operations Management and it became very clear why working smart (and strategically) was better than working hard, in that regard. This sparked a lifelong love of processes and efficiency and paved the way for me to later receive a fellowship to study Global Operations as part of my MBA experience at University of Michagan!
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’ve been privileged to find great mentors to help usher me through every phase of my professional development, and most of them have been larger-than-life characters. Boren Novakovic was an incredible manager who taught me to lead by making everything about ensuring the success of, and removing obstacles facing, my team. Boren’s loosely translated Eastern European idioms like “the only way to run faster is to run faster” and “you can get nine women pregnant but you can’t make them have a baby in a month” which, although folksy, have actually really shaped my approach to and experience with Growth Marketing. Similarly, Clive Sirkin is a brilliant CMO for whom Boren and I both worked at Kimberly-Clark; his “7 Truths of Marketing” and philosophy on creating a space for customer participation and engagement provide the foundation for my own understanding of how to speak to, plan for, and most importantly, show that we respect our customers
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?
Rachio was born with the mission of making saving water effortless and personally rewarding for the consumer. Since we launched, that mission has been our key purpose driver in all things that we do. All of our products have been created around the mission of encouraging sustainable water use, and in result we’ve been able to build a water saving community that has helped save nearly 40 billion gallons of water — and counting.
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?
As a leader during COVID-19, it was essential for me to develop a framework that made sense for the overall Rachio business and our employees. The framework was multidimensional and included everything from playing defense in a tough year to prioritizing protecting our employees’ physical and mental health.
Leveraging that framework weekly has helped myself and the team find a balance between empathy, transparency, and driving towards our business objectives, while also providing my team with a holistic understanding of the situation we are facing.
People seek comfort in uncertain times through what is known and what is structured in place. Having a deep empathy for my team members and being transparent with them at all times further allowed me to provide them with a useful and meaningful structure that provides a sense of comfort and security.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I spent many years of my career supporting brands with a large public presence, but those brands and their values may not have resonated with me personally. Since getting married and having a child, it is much more important to me to spend my time working on something that is making an impact on the world we live in — the world my daughter will grow up in.
The work that Rachio is doing by making water sustainability effortless is extremely meaningful to me and keeps me going when challenging times arise. Being able to be a leader for a brand that is contributing to resource conservation has fueled my passion and my duty to drive a company to social sustainability, no matter the circumstances.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being transparent with your team members is critical during challenging times. Transparency will provide an increased level of comfort and trust between you and your team members. Sit down with them and recognize the reality of the situations you are facing and acknowledge what information you know and what information you may not know. By doing this, your employees will appreciate your level of honesty and they will also feel more comfortable going to you with any questions as they already know that you will provide them with an honest answer. During difficult times, it happens too often that team members are too nervous to speak up and ask questions. Instill confidence in them so that they feel confident in asking those tough questions.
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?
During these extremely unpredictable times, it’s been more important than ever for me to not only be a strong team leader, but to be a true team player. To get in the sandbox with my team and toughen out the challenging times with them. To truly be a part of the team means you are able to lead from within. Leading from within has allowed me to focus on the success of my team members, finding ways for them to each grow in their roles.
Pushing your team and helping them to get the right experiences to help personal and professional growth has benefited all aspects of the business. When your team sees and feels that you are helping them persevere through these times, you are able to inspire tremendous levels of loyalty and confidence, which ultimately leads to higher levels of productivity and stronger results as a company.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Though it is inevitable, communicating difficult news to my team is never something I enjoy doing. It is imperative to be thoughtful when doing so, finding the delicate balance between empathy and structured transparency. While some leaders will share too much information, others will not share enough, so being able to parse out what information would cause unnecessary stress is crucial. Instead, have a realistic understanding of the situation and know what information will best help in providing a sense of comfort to the person on the other side of the conversation.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
During unpredictable times, it can be hard to plan for exactly what the future of your company looks like. That’s why it’s important to look for benchmarks and indicators along the way. At any state in time, be able to define what success looks like in the next phase, and when you get to that phase you can then define what success looks like when you go beyond it.
As Rachio is a smaller company, our team is extremely agile where we can use an unpredictable future to our advantage because we can move quickly and adapt as needed. Having the right decision making processes and communication plans in place so we’re able to turn on a dime if needed makes for a much simpler planning process.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Understanding how to give your customers what they want while simultaneously building a strong internal team is a main contributor to Rachio’s success, especially during the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using tough times as a chance to deeply understand what your customers want can bridge the gap between an “up” and a “down” for any business. We’ve found that crises allow people to express their thoughts in a more granular way, so learning from that has really been a silver lining that has helped push the company 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?
Not staying true to the brand and core values of your company is a common mistake I’ve seen. For instance, Rachio’s mission surrounds sustainability. While we were conceived as a water sustainability brand, we’ve done everything with the overarching theme of sustainability in mind because that’s what’s true to our brand. Taking your company’s brand and using it to shape a point of view that is both authentic and jives with the current state of society is almost guaranteed to drive your business forward. Companies should avoid anything that erodes their core values or undermines their mission.
With that comes having a strong point of view. If you don’t have a clear point of view from all sides of your business, it makes it harder for your brand to make authentic and thoughtful decisions. For example, Rachio realizes that yard care companies typically sell the white picket fence dream to their consumers. Knowing that this lacks authentic representation, we saw this as an opportunity to focus more on highlighting home ownership and the pride that comes with it.
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?
There have been a couple things that have helped us forge ahead during the pandemic. First, we have put forth a great effort to really understand our customers and what they’re looking for. In a bad economy, we want to understand the products they’re most comfortable spending their money on and what they want to invest their money in. Even in hard economic conditions, we know that sustainability still matters to our customers, which helps. We also know that right now, people are spending more money on their homes, home technology, and home innovations. Besides that, we’ve seen tremendous results from working closely with partners to decipher how their channels were shifting and how we could step in and support them in line with those shifts. That measure produced tremendous results for us.
During the pandemic, we experienced exponential growth with over a 290% increase in sales month over month between April and May with strong sales since. This exponential growth is largely due to the continued focus on the home, now moving to the exterior space, and Rachio’s efforts toward sustainability — a movement which has otherwise been compromised since the start of the pandemic.
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.
- Make everything about the team: the first and most important thing is to make everything about the team. Our team is filled with real people that have real lives that have all inevitably been affected by the pandemic. You have to respect that and treat each person like the important member of the team that they are. Build that rapport and respect within your team and the rest will follow.
- Transparency: Being transparent is hugely important in business and especially as a leader. Recognizing the reality of different situations and sharing that with your team and also acknowledging what you don’t know and things you’re not believable in as a leader makes a huge difference.
- Structure: you must provide your team with a structure that also provides comfort. During uncertain times, it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that your employees are as comfortable as they can be. Setting a structure in place that will ease your employees minds is crucial to their performance.
- Be more human: place yourself in the mindset of your team members. Have a clear understanding of what they are going through and be thoughtful in how you approach them. Spend the extra five minutes of a meeting checking in with them and asking how they are doing. By doing this, you will instill trust and make them feel valued and comfortable.
- Think ahead: during these uncertain times, it can be difficult to plan ahead for the future, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It’s imperative that you set realistic goals for the future based on the current happenings and it’s okay if you need to alter those goals to be more attainable. Be honest with yourself and with your brand on what feels right for the future of the organization at this time, 6 months from now, or 1 year from now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Bloom where you are planted”
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