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Renata Amaral Morris of EAT: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

When building your brand, trust your own instincts. Bring your leadership team into the room, but leave your cousin, aunt, neighbor, out of it.

As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Renata Amaral Morris.

Renata Amaral Morris is the Founder and CEO of EAT. With over 17 years of experience in branding and design, Renata leads all facets of EAT’s business from closing deals to ensuring client success. Her exceptional ability to interpret client needs and translate them into effective creative direction has allowed her to build deep relationships with brands such as Amazon, Netflix, Adidas, Twitch, Red Bull, Blizzard / Activision, EA Games, and The New York Times while firmly positioning EAT as one of the leading high end branding and design studios working with the new media industry today. Renata’s work and professional philosophy have been recognized by Forbes Magazine and she continues to share her passion and industry knowledge as a public speaker and educator in the field of creative intelligence with upcoming workshops planned for the US.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Yes, absolutely! My career path was born out of a perfect combination of necessity and a passionate vision for how a design company should be run. When launching EAT, I wanted to create a company to truly elevate and enhance people’s lives. I have mad love for art and the emotions behind functional design and I found an opportunity to inject creativity from around the world into American companies. Ultimately, I wanted to launch a firm that cared more about delivering thoughtful, high-quality results. I had the desire to create a company that strives for human values and human happiness. As leaders, we have the responsibility to take good care of our team and clients, even when that costs the company extra money. That means supporting the team by thinking about their wellbeing, not just on paper but by taking actual action.

I’m originally from Brazil and when I first came to the United States in 2005, doors weren’t quick to open for me despite my qualifications. I felt discriminated against for being an immigrant and having an accent. It didn’t matter that I had a degree from the best federal university in Brazil, that I spoke 3 languages fluently or that I was currently getting straight A’s while pursuing a masters degree at UCLA. The doors somehow never seemed to open up. Because of this, I had felt discouraged when I couldn’t land a job in my field. My frustration surrounding my struggle to get work propelled me into a drive to start my own business.

A quick story — When the pandemic hit, we offered our team a package of benefits, including paid online therapy, memberships from Masterclass, yoga classes, learning tools, and a budget to purchase workout tools. We also began having 15-minute morning chats every day to feel less alone and closer to our team.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

It’s hard to pick just one. When I first launched the company and built the team, I had initially struggled with coordinating all of our time zones. With members in Paris, LA, Brazil, Portugal and Spain, we had to get creative with our workflow to ensure effective communication. I will admit, it was lonely and weird to never see the people you work with in person. But we made it work and ended up developing incredibly strong relationships online.

We also struggled with pricing. Being from a foreign country and not being aware of the value of our work, we now realize how much we had initially undercharged our clients. We would work 17+ hours a day just to keep the lights on. At some point, I set up meetings with a few people in the industry who I look up to and I presented our work. The feedback was so incredibly positive that it gave us the confidence we needed to start pitching our work accordingly. Never underestimate the value of your work and don’t be afraid to reach out to grab other people’s perspectives from the same industry. People usually love to share their experiences. Last but not least, we struggled for a while with hiring the right people. It can take a while to understand who is a good fit for the company. Things take time and eventually, we landed the best team I could have asked for.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

This is an easy one. I always knew that EAT was what I was meant to pursue. It was simply a gut feeling. I have a strong trust in my intuition and that little voice told me ‘this is it’. The feeling never wavered. And I’m so proud of our company for working through so many difficult times. We have never had a problem acknowledging or apologizing for our mistakes. We’ve always made it a priority to do what’s right for our clients and in doing so, we’ve stuck to our values. We’ve also always found ways to laugh at our worst problems. We believe that humor can be used as a stress-coping mechanism and we truly believe that.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

2020 was a hard-earned, awkwardly timed, but ultimately successful year at EAT.

As I knock on wood I can say that things have never been better. I’ve been fortunate to work in an industry that has seen tremendous growth during the pandemic. We work with a lot of gaming companies and with people stuck at home, the gaming industry has truly thrived. We are also fortunate in that, our business model has always unintentionally been ‘pandemic proof’. Since we have a global team, we are used to working remotely. The client’s are used to our process of working remotely so when the pandemic hit, nothing really changed for us. Again, we are very fortunate. There have undoubtedly been hard times since covid hit but our work culture and the support we have for one another truly keeps us going.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh my goodness — so this hasn’t been repeated for more than 10 years. But one mistake we made when first starting out was when we accidentally printed 30,000 copies of print collateral without proofreading the final copy. Therefore, 30,000 copies were printed with erroneous dates instead of the right ones. The lesson here is that you should always print one version before mass printing so that you can go through the copy with a red marker and edit it line by line. And don’t be afraid to get a second or third pair of eyes on it. Repeat the same process with digital files.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

First and foremost, what makes our company standout is the quality of our design. Because we are a global design studio, we are able to approach our work from a diverse set of perspectives. This as well as our combined years of experience has given us an edge that keeps clients coming back. Our customer service and company culture also standout to me. We find that a healthy company culture allows creativity to thrive. Not only this, but we are immersed in a versatile environment and it’s so exciting!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Meditation is key! I try to incorporate mindfulness practices into my daily routine. I’m a firm believer in that, when you take care of your body, you take care of your mind. Meditation is a big helper in avoiding burnout. I went through two burnouts before I decided to seriously implement this into my life and now it’s led to me becoming a certified meditation teacher.

Meditation is a skill that can serve as an antidote to stress. When we sit down and close our eyes, we’re able to tap into a meditative state and turn on a relaxation mode in order to relieve stress. Imagine a computer with a ton of tabs open. It slows the computer down. If we are always keeping all of our tabs open, we’ll function at less than optimal speed and this bleeds into our productivity.

My meditation practices spill over into how I approach my work as a leader at EAT. Maintaining a healthy company culture allows creativity to thrive and EAT is a firm believer in the ‘work smarter, not harder’ mindset.

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?

Absolutely. Our COO/CFO at EAT, Gabriel Seibel has played a huge role in the reason that I am where I am today. We are the perfect balance to one another. Whereas I’m a bit more sensitive and can read our clients emotionally while evaluating their needs, Gabriel truly thrives with making sure all of the straightforward and technical work gets done. I am so grateful to be sharing a business with Gabriel; we share a unique vision and even if we don’t agree on something, we respect each other’s opinions and always know how to agree to disagree. EAT wouldn’t be where it is today without Gabriel at my side.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

On a cultural level, EAT has been nurtured by putting human beings first. Through our own business, we bring goodness by maintaining a healthier harmony between work and life while also extending care to the client to make them feel heard. It’s the absolute key to developing long term relationships with your clients.

I want to inspire other companies to not be afraid to say ‘no’ when it’s time to prioritize their team’s mental and physical health. In the long term, this will always lead to increased productivity as well as higher quality work. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to unnecessarily long work hours or to working on weekends. We have challenged our clients to think outside of the box since the beginning by encouraging the work to live rather than ‘live to work’ mindset.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) I wish someone has told me that carrying stress as a badge isn’t sustainable and that it can lead to irreversible health issues.

Story: Back in the day, work used to give me everything I didn’t have in my personal life, so I ended up working a lot. And it was fun! I genuinely enjoyed it. In creative industries, it can be very hard to know when to stop. And because of the stress of working such long hours, I developed a painful chronic disorder that causes inflammation in the lining of my uterus which in a lot of cases, including mine, causes infertility.

2) I wish I knew that there was more involved with being a business owner than having a passion for the craft. It’s also about the overall aspects like company finances, managing people, the operations, production, etc.

Story: Because of my lack of knowledge as it pertained to accounting and finances, I used to run away from anything and everything related to it. I closed my eyes and trusted that the team would always have all of the answers. Well, life doesn’t work that way. We almost closed our doors twice. Even the most talented CFO needs the CEO’s eyes on the numbers.

3) I wish that I knew that a company needs to know its DNA before truly understanding who and how to hire.

When managing a company remotely, you can’t afford to have to micromanage a team. It’s simply unsustainable. It was important for us to truly understand who we were as a company and what our brand’s personality was in order to be successful when hiring professionals that would ultimately be a good fit. I’m happy to say that we are graced to work with extremely talented people who love what they do and people who are able to share their passion by delivering impeccable work.

4) Teams need real leadership, and being a boss doesn’t mean that you need to practice power over people.

Story: I’ve always feared the idea of being called a boss. In my head, most bosses made bad use of their power, and treated people unfairly. I never wanted to be that person to my team, so I created a hierarchy that was horizontal. We were all leaders. We all had a voice. We were all the same. But of course, that didn’t work either. My team asked for leadership. They wanted to be told / taught what to do, while still having guidance and being heard. It took me a long time to find this sweet spot.

5) When building your brand, trust your own instincts. Bring your leadership team into the room, but leave your cousin, aunt, neighbor, out of it.

Story: This is something I often share with our clients. When building a brand, people tend to feel insecure at times and so they start requesting everyone’s opinions about it. A strong brand is an honest brand. And this honesty comes from its leaders’ strong beliefs. At EAT, we rebrand every time we feel like we’ve changed enough to share that with the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I could start a movement called SHE “Share Her Experience”. It would be a platform, newsletter, podcast, etc where women would simply share their different experiences in life, the workspace, etc. When I had endometriosis, it was through a community of amazing women that I learned how to change my life and completely eliminate the symptoms through changing my diet. Support systems are important and I’d love to create a space where women can be that support system for one another.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow EAT at: https://eat.studio/ and you can follow me personally at https://www.instagram.com/renataamaralmorris/ as well as on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renataamaralmorris/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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