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“Integrate Your Personal and Professional Life Priorities”

Words of Wisdom with Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, Co-Founders of Revolution Foods
I had the pleasure to interview Kirsten and Kristen the founders of Revolution Foods — an Oakland-based company that serves fresh, clean-label meals that are affordable and nutritious to over 2.5 million students every week

What is your “backstory”?

We co-founded Revolution Foods in 2006 after meeting and taking many classes together at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Through our experiences in business school, combined with our previous involvement in the education space, we saw firsthand that the education system needed an upgrade on its school meal programs, particularly those in underserved communities, and decided to take this on as our mission together.

Kristin: Kirsten and I balance each other’s skillsets perfectly — together we drive the vision for the company. As CEO, I continue to lead the growth of the Revolution Foods brand, which now serves over 2.5 million freshly prepared meals every week to students in over 30 cities across the country. Kirsten focuses on our new channel innovation and impact strategy.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? — Kristin

In the early stages of Revolution Foods, we had a few interesting taste-tests that we still chuckle about to this day. Before it was trendy to eat wraps, we presented children with a Cold Turkey Wrap as a fun alternative to serving school sandwiches. To say the kids were not excited about eating a “cold tortilla” is an understatement. But this incident is exactly why we work with the schools and the children to determine what foods they will be excited about.

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

What’s unique about Revolution Foods is how we work with each school district, community site or school system we serve to create a unique menu that’s healthy, but also culturally relevant to the surrounding community — which ensures we are serving foods that the kids are already craving. Since the very beginning, it has been our mission to provide school districts with affordable and healthy options that are tasty too, so we develop unique chef-crafted menus, designed specifically with the students in mind. We service public school systems in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and many more, focusing on low-income communities where access to fresh and healthy foods can be challenging. Revolution Foods has served over 250 million clean-label meals to date. Our menus rotate through a range of nearly 300 items across breakfast, lunch and dinner items served over the course of the year. [Note: these numbers are taken from the recent Forbes media opp]

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?

My husband has been a steady rock and support system for me from day one, and the same has been the case for Kris. However, I would also be remiss if I didn’t share how grateful both myself and Kristin are for the incredible early investors who have supported Revolution Foods and our mission to bring affordable and nutritious healthy school meals to schools across the U.S.. Our investors have been coaches and mentors, and Revolution Foods wouldn’t be where it is today without their guidance.

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

Revolution Foods is centered around our mission to build community wellness by making healthy and affordable food accessible to children and families across the nation. Revolution Foods is the only company on a national level to offer a clean label supply chain for schools and community programs, which enables us to provide a great balance of real, freshly prepared foods and a composition of nutritious, high-quality meals. We serve 2.5 million freshly prepared, healthy school meals every week, with the intention of reducing the effects of food insecurity on family wellness and ultimately promoting the success of our youth as they grow.

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

1) Take the time to invest and build the right team. It’s a hard lesson, especially when you find your business expanding rapidly, which is a great problem to have. However, to be successful at running your own business means trusting and leaning on your team, so finding the right people at the right time is essential. My advice now: hire people smarter than you!

This lesson is also two-fold. I wish I had known that in the event you discover you don’t have the right person on your team, don’t be afraid to part ways quickly. The longer you have someone within your organization creating friction, the more time it will take to refocus the team afterward.

2) Communication is everything. Whether that’s internal management across your team, or when working with outside partners, it’s critical to be able to clearly communicate your goals and set everyone’s expectations so everyone knows their purpose. Be confident and don’t be afraid of speaking up or speaking your mind. There are a lot of stigmas surrounding women in leadership, but you shouldn’t let that change how you lead. Take your seat at the table and assert yourself into the places you want to be, especially if it’s not within your comfort zone to be there.

3) Focus on what will propel you and your goals and learn to cut through the clutter. When you tell people you’ve decided to start your own businesses, it seems everyone has “friendly advice” or an opinion on what you need to do to be successful. And while this is helpful and I welcome advice from those who’ve already blazed the trail ahead of me, at the end of the day, their goals may not align with yours and it’s important to bring the focus back to yourself and your mission.

4) Integrate your personal and professional life priorities. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is critical, but it is difficult to feel “balanced” all the time, so it’s easy to get down about feeling out of balance. It helps me to think of it as work-life integration or work-life composition. For example, schedule your workouts or family time on your work calendar, and consider them as important as a critical meeting.

5) Make taking care of yourself a priority. It sounds like it would be instinctual, but when you have a new business, and young children, sometimes your personal needs fall to the bottom of the to-do list or get delayed. Reframing the situation to consider that you are a better professional and a more productive person when you are adequately caring for your own needs is helpful. You can’t be your best self at work, or contribute fully to your family, if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read my column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Kirsten: As a Bay Area resident, I would love to share a meal with Steph and Ayeesha Curry. The two of them together are setting a wonderful example of how to play an active role as a supportive parent while being in the public eye. They are incredible role models for health and wellness, and It’s powerful for men and women to see fathers like Steph being actively involved in his children’s’ lives and a mother like Ayesha stepping up as a confident mother and woman in business. They exemplify the idea that both fathers and mothers can support their children while also maintaining successful careers.

I’m a big advocate for the idea that until both parents share the responsibilities at home, we can’t expect for both men and women to reach the same success.