Just in time for Valentine’s Day, ForceBrands teamed up with WeWork for a special event that brought together some of the industry’s most dynamic leaders to share lessons learned from building some of the most recognized names in beverage, food, and beauty. From heartache and loss, to resilience and strength, It’s Complicated showcased some of the greatest business challenges that leaders overcame to move their companies forward.
The event was hosted at one of WeWork’s locations in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood on Tuesday evening. More than 100 attendees showed up and were treated to hor d’oeuvres and drinks with food and beverage partners that included 21st Amendment and Haitus Tequila. Sugarfina and Laird Superfood set up activations with sample stations. The event was moderated by ForceBrands’ Founder and CEO Josh Wand.
Wand’s opening remarks touched upon the idea that great businesses succeed because of the passionate people who power them.
“We have the leading recruitment organization in the CPG universe and the best part of my job is connecting with amazing thought leaders who have vision and passion and are looking to build something that matters,” Wand said. “One of the things I can tell you about the leaders that are here tonight is that they are absolutely married to their work and are committed to building their businesses.”
Wand introduced the evening’s first speaker to the stage, President of KIND Snacks John Leahy.
Leahy discussed the challenges he overcame trying to sell KIND bars in the early years of growth about 10 years ago. At the time, some of the company’s largest accounts were primarily interested in creating a private label.
“It was a hard lesson but a good lesson,” Leahy said after the business lost out on millions of dollars by choosing not to pursue a private label with those accounts. “The company was true to who we are and what we stand for.”
After those accounts failed to sell snacks similar to KIND’s products, they returned to Leahy’s initial proposal and agreed to put KIND bars in their stores. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Weather the storm, fight for what you believe in, don’t give up… and the love will come,” Leahy said in his closing remarks.
General Manager of Oatly, Mike Messersmith joined the stage next to share his personal story of heartbreak and failure when he set out to pitch the plant-based oat milk product to coffee shops in New York City. When he was able to get Oatly into his local Irving Farm location in his Upper West Side neighborhood, the success was shortlived.
“Having Oatly in my local coffee shop was a big personal win. Just like in a relationship, that’s a high moment — there’s a swelling song in the air,” Messersmith said. He then went on to share how his success was short-lived when he walked by the store only to find a sign that read, ‘Sorry, there is no oat milk today due to a national shortage.’
“I was great at selling Oatly but not great at making it,” Messersmith admitted. He not only rerouted his daily commute to the subway station to avoid seeing the sign that symbolized to him ‘monumental failure,’ but he also revisited Oatly’s business strategy. Fortunately, the dairy alternative continues to gain momentum and Messersmith looks forward to the opening of a factory in Millville, N.J. in the coming months that will help boost production to keep up with growing demand.
President of Supergoop! Amanda Baldwin addressed the stage next to share her story about the heartbreak that comes with building impactful teams. She talked about the importance of org charts, finding the right hires, and learning that résumés can only go so far in determining if a candidate has ‘a stomach of steel to handle a startup.’
“Building a team is about matchmaking. There are no good people, and there are no bad people,” Baldwin said. “There are just the right people for the right jobs.”
Baldwin’s talk was followed by the VP and Head of Flavor at Citromax Elaine Kellman who discussed how to tap into your potential as a leader. When she was presented with the opportunity to create her own flavor company, she soon realized she no longer had all the resources she had access to when she worked for a much larger company. She credits a lot of her success to ‘winging it’ and tapping into her own strength as a leader, especially in a male-dominated industry.
“It’s beyond believing in yourself. It’s about believing in the person that everybody else thinks you are,” Kellman said.
Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer/Co-founder of Laird Superfood Luan Pham closed out the evening’s discussion with a story about following your truth and pursuing what drives you. He discussed his departure from Condé Nast Media where he was Head of Marketing to pursue his entrepreneurial passions and help launch Laird Superfood.
“Pardon my language but I remember receiving emails that said ‘Why are you doing that shit?’ when I left my last job,” Pham said. “Now I’m getting emails that say, ‘How did you do that shit?'”
The event concluded with intimate breakout sessions led by the evening’s speakers.
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