Ep. 050 – What I Learned From CEO’s

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Key Takeaways

  • How leaders use family as a support network
  • How to not only innovate, but how to introduce new ideas
  • Should you incubate or join a mastermind if you choose to start on your own?

Other Links

Pina Romolo, CEO from Pico La Cucina 
Rohini Dey, Founder from Vermillion
Naz Athina Kallel, CEO from Save Good Food
Crystal MacKay, CEO from Farm and Food Care
Lisa Tse, CEO from Sweet Mandarin
Mike Hewitt, CEO from One Haus
Raf Peeters, CEO from Qcify
Ali Bouzari, CSO from Pilot R+D
Dr. Howard Moskowitz from Mind Genomics
Terra Chips
Dang Foods
Taco Bell
Fancy Food Show
Expo West
Peas On Moss


The last ten episodes had a bunch of startups and businesses that are not only innovative, but also are down to earth and realistic. It was amazing to talk to the owners! In this context, we’ll refer any owner, and founder as a CEO, though sometimes this isn’t the case. What I loved about learning from the CEO’s was that these people were in a stage where they made something profitable but can also tell us the tangible tips needed to succeed in the food industry.

This episode will take a lot of excerpts from past episodes, such as Pina Romolo, from Picco La Cucina and Rohini Dey from Vermillion as they have also created businesses from the ground up. The last ten episodes brought on a great amount of guests including Naz Athina Kallel from Save Good Food, Crystal MacKay from Farm and Food Care, Lisa Tse from Sweet Mandarin, Mike Hewitt from One Haus and Raf from Qcify. Within these interviews, we see a common thread that hopefully you can dissect in terms of starting something… and executing something.

The word CEO, is fancy and powerful. Those that hold the title know that theya re the ones with the final say in anything that goes. Any initiative they bring will override any other opinion.

Being the Chief requires a special type of person. A person obsessed with science might actually not make a good CEO. Take for example both Dr. Howard Moskowitz and Ali Bouzari. Both are Chief Science Officers and rely on a CEO with a different skill set.

Ali Bouzari’s story on pilot R+D’s role describes this well. A team of three creative food professionals had hired Dana Peck to run their finances. Once they realized how essential she was on the team, they made her CEO. She was CEO because she knew much more about finance, a which is the blood that runs companies, and that her business experience trumped all three of her partners. Her experience with mergers and acquisitions in her past life brought a point that she could get clients and manage them well.

So it’s very important for a CEO to generate money and be a champion of what their company stands for. I think in most situations, a CEO is designed to generate money needed to fund the other arms and legs in the department.

Anyways, I have about 6 core topics that I found beneficial from interviewing these guests and the idea is to distill the information well enough where you can be innovative, supportive, and efficient. Let’s begin

Family Matters

Both Pina and Lisa are in family companies. Pina has her mother do the R and D work, and Lisa collaborates with her sisters. From their interview, you can tell that they are big picture, and that they are risk takers. All of the founders we’ve interviewed are.

Though I don’t want to be biased, being younger, more ambitious, and the most adaptable in your family seems to be the best indicator of being considered a CEO. Some people like the spotlight, or rather, are willing to sacrifice being in the spotlight.

Another side of the coin is Mike Hewitt, who wanted to start his own business because he wanted to spend more time with his family. The chef is life is hard, with 12 hour days and minimum pay, Mike had to decide to change jobs.

They say that an entrepreneur has to sacrifice working 40 hours a day to work 80. But most people who work those hours have their family supporting them, which I think is vital for success.

Whther you work with family or for family, a support network is necessary to succeed. We drive into this a little bit further down, but I want to state it now. The people who you care about are probably your first customers. And like all businesses, it’s important to make your customers happy

Challenging Unfamiliar Concepts and Trends

Naz and Rohini both made concepts that were risky. Naz found opportunity in ugly fruit and Rohini decided to take on ethnic indian cuisine. Both, however, added their own little twist. Naz combined ugly food with technology and created an amazing app that allows her to pick up ugly food and Rohini decided to add a fine dining element to Indian cusine to make Vermillion a hit.

Something I’ve noticed during a lot of lectures on innovation is a specific formula that is quite common. Combining a new concept with an old one and creating a new yet familiar concept. This has been the best way to introduce something really new and pairing it with something old.

A big example of something new with something old is an example I gave about an article about the Fancy Food show.

Terra Chips, who make specialty vegetable chips. I was fortunate to listen to the Financial officer speak and their story was interesting.

Two chefs were working under this superstar chef at a restaurant and the chef started deep frying things like lotus root and putting them on top. Everyone raved about them. However, the two chefs could never be as good as the superstar chef so he started to be better at something else.

They took off and decided to start frying vegetables like lotus root on their own. Soon it became things like orange sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, taro, etc. They started with a bicycle, then an ice cream truck, then finally got a distributor going.

Terra Chips uses the unfamiliar concept of fried root vegetables but sine they serve it in a familiar chip bag

Here’s a twist on it: I was listening to the snacking innovation summit the other day and Dang foods was speaking. He was saying it was thanks to Whole Foods white labeled coconut chips that they were able to be successful. An old entity introduced a new concept and people realized that these coconut chips were there the whole time.

The most important thing to know is that not everyone will like your innovative concept, but there are people who love those things. As many of our CEO guests have said, follow your audience.

From Novice to Expert and when to split

The basis of any consulting business is to be an expert in your field that is so good, people will pay you directly for your services.

Can the same be said for starting your own business? From what I’ve been researching, it depends.

From who I talked to, most businesses are born out of passion or born out of solving a problem.

So based on our guests, about 3 guests who started their business out of passion are people like Pina, Rohini, Lisa, and Naz

Rohini started with a high paying job in the business consultant industry but she found a gap in Indian cuisine. Because she absolutely loved food, she decided to dive in and conquer the ethnic up-scale dining scene.

Lisa and her sister sold their houses to continue on their family restaurant and took it to the next level. Though they might have had some restaurant experience as children, they took it to the enxt level as adults with a  sauce line and cookbook. Sometimes other types of experiences can work.

And Naz’ story is amazing. She started her business after her bout with cancer. Absolutely amazing. She has embraced technology and is solving our food waste problem.

The other 3 guests I want to analyze are people who started something because they could do it better, and that would be Mike Hewitt, Raf Peeters, and Crystal Mackay. These people have actually experience in their field and have used their network to leverage their business.

Mike Hewitt created One Haus with about two years of Human Resource experience. Maybe that’s all you need. However, Mike’s previous experience in the hospitality and restaurant industry gave hi the ability to make One Haus unique.

Raf Peeters has said that Qcify is created based on a need in the market place, but his decade of experience in optics electronics has helped him build a stable and profitable business.

Crystal Mackay has been an educator all her life and from pigs to pretty kuch the whole Canadian food industry, she’s the best at telling stories.

I guess what I’m saying is that, does experience matter? I guess not. I think (as Raf has said), passion matters. You can start something any time you want if you have decades of experience, or none at all.


I’ve written a couple articles about this on linkedin. All CEOs are innovative, either rn product, or process. It’s extremely important to develop this type of mindset as this will not only help you make great products, but also help you develop a mindset to create new products, or let me try and say it in a way you should think of it…. To develop a mindset to solve problems.

Learn How to Look for Solutions

Every day it seems like there are problems. Every second something happens at the white house, there are a bunch of problems. Though those are problems that are a bit harder to solve, it’s important to think of ways to fix them. Just imagine, nothing else. Write it down. Now more than ever, social media shows us so many things wrong with the world. If we just thought of solutions, it would make the world a better place, right?

Ugly food has been a creeping problem recently. Funny enough, we discussed it about 3 years ago in food science class and now we see people doing something about it. Naz was able to see the problem, and not only think of a solution (giving technology for farmers to tell her to pick up excess produce) but also build a business out of it!

I started the podcast the same way. Nicole from Foodgrads wrote an article about a problem, I thought of a solution to use a podcast to interview people about their jobs. It was an idea I was floating around and once I saw that someone else had a problem, I gave her a solution.

People who can analyze problems and figure out solutions are so valuable and those that execute are worth their weight in gold.

So I leave you with a challenge that every time something on the news makes you mad, sit down and write how you would solve it.

Be on the Cutting Edge

Naz mentions “uberification” to gather her ugly fruit around San Diego. Uber is technically a cutting edge industry and anyone who hops on the trend to empower people to share their assets. Podcasts are also cutting edge technically. A lot of big advertisers are looking into podcasts because they’ve noticed the podcast model makes the consumer trust the brand more.

So how can you be on the “cutting edge”? Expos like the Fancy Food Show help, even farmers markets, but also articles like foodbeast and Food Dive show amazing food trends no one has ever heard of. This is hard to realize, but if you are an expert at something, you might actually be on the cutting edge! 99% of the world’s population is probably not as smart as you are in a specific subject.

If I were to boil down my experiences, am I on the cutting edge of my industry? I focus a lot of my time on food. My facebook is full of it, I go eat at trendy restaurants for fun, I work at a private company (more on this below) that does a billion/year so they have innovation to burn, I’m networked with amazing professionals and I always ask my friends “what new technologies are really exciting you right now?”

This is not to brag, but I put a lot of time into food, and to be on the cutting edge, it does take commitment.

CEOs are experts int heir field, and theya re also the tip of the spear when it comes to making innovative postions. In factm I would say the best part about being the head of a company is that you can direct innovation in a way that you want to do. However, it’s very important to realize is that you aren’t the one driving the decisions, it’s your customers.

Make Little Bets

If you read any self-help, startup book, this is a common thread. The point of making little bets is that you have to actually do something for you to be truly innovative. Yes, to actually become the definition of innovative, you actually have to start something!

This might sound scary, but it gets easier the more times you do it. Not only does making little bets make you more creative, but it builds up your confidence and thought process where you can execute great ideas over and over again.

I’ll talk about an example. In the past, I was in a group of product developers. We conceptualize new products. Before, there was old management who would shoot down every possibility because in theory, it sounded dumb, or other political BS. But once we started actually making the product and then doing a sensory test of 20 people, people started to change their minds

Another example I give is from small projects. People are usually overwhelmed with huge goals. For example, starting your own Tech Company, or grocery store, or national soda brand. They think they have to start with a million dollars in capital to succeed. Not really. It takes maybe $500 dollars to make a product, create a label, and start a farmer’s market stand. Good luck!

Should you incubate?

Naz is the only person I’ve intereviewed who went though an incubator. Does that mean you should? A common theme I’ve seen through these leaders is that they have mentors and likeminded people surrounding them.

Incubation is a great tool when it comes to networking but from what I’ve researched, it isn’t 100% necessary. In fact, most businesses that are sorted out are more or less focused on at least having a mentor or 5 and a support network of friends.

Mentors seem to be a vital resource to succeed in life and I’ve had guests on the podcast who are not business owners praise their mentors.

I’ve had a decent amount of mentors, some I’ve paid and some that I’ve earned. Some failed in their ventures, and some say they haven’t failed.

Mentors are hard to choose from, and like any relationship, it might take a while for the relationship to click. You have to be in constant contact with each other, and in most situations, YOU have to be the one to take initiative to contact them.

My advice to finding mentors? You can join start up incubators as a guarantee, but I feel like working hard and publicizing your work is the best way to bring attraction. Not only in side projects like this one, but also in your career.

Sometimes a mentor isn’t necessarily set as a title, but rather the way you communicate. I have weekly office meetings with the Chief Science Officer, he makes room for these meetings because he likes to see me grow. When we talk, he talks about his experiences in the past on how to deal with people, or how he talks about not only the best way to solve the problem, but also why it’s the best way.

The way him and I interact, where he is passing down knowledge to me, and I am receiving and executing. That is mentorship.

A support network is also important. And an incubator can give it to you because there are people in the same boat as you.

Some people throw around the world mastermind, which I fell in love with the idea at first, but then I realized they kind of suck.

I think if set correctly, they can be a huge asset, but I’ve noticed they are only for MLMs and dreamers. Especially for starting something new, goals are really really hard. Accountability is extremely necessary, but surprisingly, you only really need one person.

The most effective way to have a support network is constant yet separate contact with people who love what you do. I’ve found tis to work in the podcast when making certain decisions. I am in constant contact with Nicole Gallace from food grads, Kim Schaub from peas on moss, Katie Lanfranki, and others when it comes to making decisions. I call them, ask for advice, and take it to heart, and execute. They do the same.

What I’m getting at in most cases, it just takes one person to help you get motivated and help you with decisions. 3 is way too many.

So finally, is incubation a good thing? You don’t need it, but you also don’t need to buy a $100 dollar outdoor fireplace, you can build one yourself. If getting the resources for a mentor and support network is too time consuming, then an incubator is a very good option,

The Food Industry is more than being a chef.

After 50 episodes ranging from chefs, product development, food authors, consultants, engineers and recruiters, I can safely say that the food industry is much more than restaurants. Mike really hits this home in his interview. You don’t have to play with food to be part of the food industry. All you have to do is contribute to feeding people. Though we do have the CEOs who have restaurant businesses here, who’d ever thing you can be like Raf and combine technology and quality control!

You can be a manager of a liquor store, or hustling people to buy wheat protein as a broker. If you love actually being involved in quote: feeling the food, that you can get a stable job and become a research chef, or you can be a food scientist.

The food industry has so many different opportunities because as we’ve heard before, everyone has to eat. And you can be just one piece of the puzzle for feeding the world. Whether you help the big companies or carve your own path.

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