Summarize your life in a few sentences
From a young age, people typically described me as curious, stubbornly independent (sometimes using less kind words than that), and obsessed with solving problems (whether they existed or not). Early in undergrad, I conducted oral histories of our town’s aging African American community, an experience that made me love hearing other people’s stories and gave me a deep, lasting empathy for other people’s hardships.
Hard working immigrant parents with specific definitions of success led me to pursue engineering. And while engineering scratched my “problem solving” itch, it left a lot of my passions untouched. Much of my adult life became a journey to find that life and career that does build on all of these core characteristics, and I’ve discovered that social enterprise – solving social and environmental problems through business – is my calling.
What’s your background?
I moved from engineering to strategy and consulting for Fortune 500 companies. Realizing how much was missing for me from those professions, I worked at Teach For America for several years, helping them strengthen their teacher training and alumni support. During business school, I found social enterprise – that intersection of strategy, business, impact, and empathy – I didn’t even realizing I was searching for. A classmate and I launched Fresh Takes Kitchen upon graduation, with a mission to make healthy food accessible and enjoyable in lower-income communities. We made the very difficult decision to shut this business down when faced with the option of either shifting to serve wealthier individuals to generate the margins we needed to self-sustain, or converting to a nonprofit entity. I then supported emerging healthy food and sustainable agriculture businesses in my work with New Venture Advisors. In 2015 my husband and I acquired a small business – EcoEnclose – a provider of eco-friendly shipping solutions. I’ve since become the company’s CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer, with a focus on both growing the business and, more important to me personally, helping turn the shipping and e-commerce industries on their head and making them a positive environmental force.
How did you start your business?
My husband and I searched for a business to acquire for three years before finding EcoEnclose. We were looking for a Colorado company whose values and mission we believed in, that solved an important need for people, and that was showing promise but had an owner who was not able or interested in moving it forward. Many people have asked us why we acquired a company instead of starting one this time. I personally love the types of challenges that an existing, small but growing company faces – such as how to grow, how to innovate, managing personnel and building team culture – more than the types of challenges a startup faces (proving your concept, fundraising, etc). Once we started the search, we were also struck by how many existing, strong business concepts were already in existence, being run by wicked smart people who just didn’t have the energy or desire to take their company to the next level. When we found EcoEnclose (after looking at hundreds of companies over three years) it was immediately clear – this was the one.
What inspired you as a creative woman?
I get energy and inspiration every day from other women who are solving problems – big and small – in ways that often blow my mind. The fellow mom who found a great way to work with her toddler through a tantrum. The soap maker we work with whose handmade charcoal bar soap has cured all of my issues. The graphic designer who – in a single meeting – brought new life, spirit and purpose to our brand. A friend who even when recently widowed and pregnant maintained grace and a sense of humor I often can’t summon on any given day.
I also constantly learn from visionary leaders who focus more on the inspiring future they are aiming to build than the day to day bottom line. Little lessons from their books and speeches are in the back of my mind all the time.
What was your first job ever? Any funny or memorable story?
I was a hostess at TGI Fridays. It was awesome. In fact, to this day it may be the most fun I’ve ever had at a job. My fellow workers were such characters – authors, actors, comedians, teachers. I was a pretty innocent high schooler at the time…and I have to admit, I was pretty astonished by the things that went down in dry storage at that place. And by how the food was prepared (everything came out of plastic bags, quickly heated up and then plated to look freshly made)!
If you won a lottery today, will you still continue to build your business?
Yes! Thinking about the things EcoEnclose can do and accomplish with lottery winnings makes my head spin. We’d more aggressively test and adopt innovations in sustainable packaging materials and materials with as much post-consumer recycled content as possible. We’d push for more earth-friendly transportation and logistics for e-commerce. We’d develop a myriad of resources to help the conscious, purpose-led businesses we serve to be even more successful. We’d explore returnable shipping as a model for the future. We’d invest a completely “zero impact” immediately. We’d shower our awesome team with more time away, life and career opportunities, and professional development.
Walk us through your day as a CEO.
I always intend to work out in the morning, but half the time wake up with our 3-year-old crawling into bed instead, and our 2-year-old giggling to himself in his bedroom. Help them get ready, fed and off to school (this is sometimes smooth sailing, and sometimes fraught with tears!). Get to the warehouse and check-in with everyone on the team, especially Steph – our rockstar warehouse manager. Spend the morning focused on one of the 7-8 priorities I’ve mapped out for the current map. What are priorities? They could be in marketing (like redoing the website or content creation for SEO), outbound sales, developing new and more sustainable products, building out our team, reworking our company’s vision and values, adopting strategies to decrease emissions of our own operations, improving dynamics or processes within the team, etc. Break at 9:45 AM for our full team huddle. Spend a few hours responding to emails – from customers, vendors, inquiries, etc. Meetings are typically scheduled for the afternoon. These could be with anyone from Green Star Business to our graphic designer to a weekly 1-1 with my business partner and husband. Pick up the kids and play, catch up on their day, make and enjoy dinner as a family. Back on the computer at 8:30 PM, when I do the “boring” and “mindless” stuff – paying bills, staying on top of our cash and financials, responding to HR questions. Cap it off with some wine and conversation with Kyle, or a few minutes with the latest book (currently reading Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist!).
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
It is so hard to pick! Moving into our own, new 9,000 square foot warehouse in May of 2016 was a huge victory and highlight. With that move – eight months after acquiring EcoEnclose – we tripled our size, doubled our equipment capacity and expanded our team. It was a signal to ourselves that we were fully invested in EcoEnclose’s growth and long-term success, and positioned us to think about the business as a vehicle for innovation and change in the world of packaging.
Another highlight was selling our first meal at Fresh Takes Kitchen – that was my first rush that comes from generating sales while simultaneously having a healthy, positive impact – and I haven’t looked back since.
Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?
My title might not change, but the scope of work will have evolved dramatically! In 5 years, we’ll have turned EcoEnclose into a multi-faceted business, with offerings well beyond packaging. EcoEnclose is well on its way to achieving its goal of having not just “zero emissions” impact on the planet, but actually being a restorative “net positive” force. We are inspiring and supporting a community of conscious e-commerce companies to be both purpose-led and successful. We’ll have a large team, and EcoEnclose continues to hold onto its current values and culture and be a workplace where people at all levels are thriving and advancing.
Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25-year-old you
Stop overthinking every life decision! Trust your gut. Stop making excuses. Yes, the choice that makes your heart sing is probably not going to be easy. It will be uncomfortable and you will be able to come up with countless reasons why it isn’t the best decision for you (less money, more risk, you have to move, you may hate it…). But just do it. If it turns out to have been the wrong decision, and you don’t love where you’ve ended up, you will figure it out – and be a stronger and happier person as a result.