Junea Rocha of Brazi Bites: “Never stop learning; The more you know, the more you know you don’t know much”
Never stop learning: The more you know, the more you know you don’t know much. This is closely related to embracing change: an understanding that your knowledge will never be complete. Put an emphasis on listening when it comes to discussions with peers, employees and customers. If I can’t reflect on a day with a feeling that I got a little bit smarter, it wasn’t a good one.
As part of my series on strong female leaders, Junea Rocha, who is the Co-founder and CMO of Brazi Bites. Brazi Bites was born in the kitchen of husband-and-wife duo Junea Rocha and Cameron MacMullin in 2010. In a few short years, they grew into a nationally distributed brand with a cult-like following after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2015 and were then included in Inc. 5000 2017 & 2018 list of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up in Brazil, cultural and family expectations pushed me toward three career choices: lawyer, doctor or engineer. I always had a head for marketing and business, but those career paths were not highly regarded among Brazilians who dreamed of successful careers. Law school wasn’t for me, and I had no interest in practicing medicine, so I went the engineering route. After five years of school, I took a job at a top construction firm in Portland, Oregon, and rose through the ranks quickly. With very few female engineers and project managers, I was assigned to work with the Executive team to help the firm tell its story to potential developers and secure new projects. It was a merit-based environment where my hard work truly paid off. I hit a career high, yet I still felt unfulfilled.
It would have been easy to lean into the success I found in engineering, but when I imaged my future I knew that I would rather reflect on taking a risk and following my dream than playing it safe and sticking with a career that ultimately left me feeling unfulfilled. I needed to find a sense of purpose. Not having any immediate background in the culinary or food space, my love and passion for my homeland ignited an idea. In 2010, I started Brazi Bites with the hopes that Americans would love Brazilian Cheese Bread (“Pão de queijo”) as much as I did.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most exciting thing that happened was watching the demand for our products skyrocket after we appeared on Shark Tank in 2015. In a matter of hours we went from a small company with a delicious product working hard to get traction, to one of the top selling items in freezer sections across the country. Everyone came calling and consumers couldn’t get enough. Brazi Bites became a different company the following week.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake yoshu made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake we made was buying, restoring and owning a food truck to promote Brazi Bites in the early days. We spent a lot of money and time — that we didn’t have — and it didn’t make any sense given that we sell frozen products in grocery stores and had limited distribution. It created a lot of confusion and was a distraction. After that mistake we learned to be laser focused on what works.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think to stand out companies need to zero in on bringing value to consumers and creating something new and unique. Being first to market helps too, but doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay there. Brazi Bites stood out because we hit the perfect combination with taste, quality and convenience. The freezer section of grocery stores has been lagging behind with artificial junk food and brands that have failed to innovate to keep up with consumer trends. We have seized that opportunity and are playing an active role in revolutionizing how consumers view the frozen section of grocery stores by making delicious, better-for-you snacks that highlight taste, quality and convenience. Our mission is to make Latin-inspired, naturally gluten-free foods that you will love from the first bite.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Brazi Bites, our goal is to introduce true Latin American staples to American homes via the frozen food aisle so we can make them healthier and convenient for everyone. This year we’re launching a line of 4 flavors of Empanadas and our first sweet flavor of Brazilian Cheese Bread — Cinnamon Churro! We are thrilled to expand our footprint in the Latin-inspired, naturally gluten-free snack category and continue supplying consumers with frozen goodness they can incorporate into their day to day lives.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Embrace change, be fierce and trust your gut.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Create just the right amount of process to keep your team moving forward, but not so much that it will slow you down and stifle growth. Speed is the ultimate advantage for smaller companies. Communicate effectively and make your employees owners, if possible.
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 about that?
Our peer founders have been our greatest mentors. Founders know they can trust each other and be “real”. You skip all the BS and tell it how it is. When we were preparing to go on Shark Tank we called on a few of our founder friends who had been on the show previously. They coached us through the process and helped us succeed.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Making foods that are better-for-you and replacing the junk people buy in the freezer has been one of our greatest achievements in growing the company.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.Execution is key: One of the biggest lessons for me as a Founder was the realization that when great ideas die, their cause of death is often a failure to execute. There are very few truly unique ideas but the focus and determination needed to consistently execute and deliver is what separates successful companies from failures. We were not the first ones to believe Americans would love Brazilian Cheese Bread but we stayed laser-focused on turning our idea into a reality and that put us at the front of the pack.
2. Embrace change: Since we started Brazi Bites almost a decade ago, we’ve watched countless companies fail because the founders stubbornly cling to an idea that wasn’t resonating with consumers. Successful companies are led by people that pivot early and often.
3. Be Fierce: There is an intangible “killer instinct” that I’ve seen in the best leaders, especially for companies that target ambitious growth. It’s not a focus on eliminating competitors, but a desire to tackle any and all challenges head-on. And fast. Avoiders don’t get far in founder / leadership roles.
4. Never stop learning: The more you know, the more you know you don’t know much. This is closely related to embracing change: an understanding that your knowledge will never be complete. Put an emphasis on listening when it comes to discussions with peers, employees and customers. If I can’t reflect on a day with a feeling that I got a little bit smarter, it wasn’t a good one.
5. Be Authentic: People respond best to leaders that are true to themselves in all situations. I’ve learned that being open about my opinions, beliefs and feelings at all times is a powerful way to connect with people. It’s rarer than you think and I guarantee you will be recognized and respected for it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I want to inspire people to value the food choices they make and understand the very real connection between what they consume and how it affects every aspect of their lives. There has been a lot of progress made in the last decade, but you don’t have to look further than the grocery store aisles across the country to understand that we still have a way to go. Educating Americans on dietary decisions is something that all of us should rally for.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Perfect is the enemy of progress” is one of my favorite business quotes. At some point, you must pursue your idea even if it isn’t perfect. In fact, it will never be perfect because markets and audiences are constantly changing, and you’ll always find ways to improve. At some point you must get out there, take your shot and hash out the details as you go.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I’m a huge Oprah fan, especially her Super Soul Sunday series. She does so much for others and continues to grow and evolve as a professional and in her personal life. I’ve also been following Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) and Rachel Hollis (motivational speaker).
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