"Mita needs to be more strategic. She needs to showcase more of her strategic thinking capabilities. She has yet to develop strategy. Mita needs to be strategic."
Please. Not again. Please don't tell me to be more strategic.
In those early years out of business school. In review after review, this word strategic kept coming up. It was like a SAT word that I had never mastered. It was a word I couldn't use correctly in a sentence. It was a word that I also misspelled on one occasion.
What the heck did strategic mean anyway?
I asked some of my managers. The ones who had given me the feedback. I needed to understand what this feedback around being strategic meant.
"Can you help me understand how I could be more strategic?"
They said. Be more strategic. Think big picture (apparently when you say this phrase, you should also extend your arms up into the air.) Take a step back. Think about the overall goal. Showcase your strategic thinking skills. Make sure everything you do ties back to the overall strategy.
Not very helpful.
I then asked the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them. Carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage. Necessary or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.
Also, lots of reference to war planning. Strategy was used to provide military forces with an advantage. Relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics. Required for the conduct of war and not available in adequate quantities domestically strategic materials.
What the heck did military forces have to do with selling body wash?
And finally. I asked my husband. He shrugged his shoulders, downing a Chobani yogurt in one bite.
"Did you ask your boss?"
Again. Not very helpful.
So I tried to observe others in their strategic mastery. In their strategic prowess. Basking in their strategy and strategic ways. Who was strategic and how could I be more like them?
"Before we think about the next step, we need to take a step back and think about the overall strategy."
"The long-term strategy should be the focus of this discussion."
"I like this idea. Ties back to our strategy."
"Yes, we should think strategically about this."
"I believe our strategy should be focused."
These individuals had mastered strategic thinking. They always seemed to have a lot to contribute in meetings. They peppered in the word strategy, strategic and strategic thinking into their monologues.
"Here's the deal," my assigned buddy sat me down one day. In the middle of the afternoon in the dark corner of a cafeteria. "Let me tell you what my buddy once told me."
"Being more strategic. It's about what you choose to work on when and how much time you devote to initiatives."
I was writing everything down. Word for word. Scribbling as fast as I could.
"Being more strategic is about how you work. Send less emails and go talk to people. Go find them in person.
"Being more strategic is about how you show up in meetings. You don't need to sit there writing everything down word for word. Be present, absorb what's being said, and engage. And when you do engage make sure you sound strategic."
How do I sound strategic? Do I start just using the word strategic and I would magically become more strategic? If only it were that easy.
The truth was, that conversation with my buddy that afternoon was another turning point in my career. I wasn't being strategic at all.
I wasn't strategic about the use of my email. I sent way too many emails all the time- checking them off as items on my to do list. I sent emails as a way of getting stuff done, moving it off my to do list. I didn't think about how my colleagues felt about me bombarding their inboxes.
Instead of setting up 30 minutes with individuals to review a list of actions we needed to do together.
I wasn't strategic in my thought process. I would show up to meetings with my boss and cross functionals. Outlining an understanding of problems at hand, and early on never really providing any concrete solutions. I was ready to do whatever they wanted me to do. And not what I thought we should do.
Instead of coming up with three clear options. And putting my name behind one of the options as the recommended solution.
I wasn't strategic about my project list. I worked on whatever people gave me. Sometimes work from those who were not even my boss. Because I was building a brand around getting shit done.
Instead of asking. Should I be working on this and is this driving the overall business? Or raising my hand to work on projects aligned with the business priority and my passions. Or offering to work on an idea I had.
I wasn't strategic on how I approached the work. I just dove right in, doing what I was assigned and not asking too many questions. And doing it as fast as possible- showcasing that bias for action. And kept my head down. And just worked.
Instead of taking a moment. To understand what I was being asked to do and why. To ask clarifying questions instead of spinning my wheels. And creating work that was not value add.
I wasn't using the word strategic when I was indeed being strategic. To reinforce with others that I was being strategic. Because it finally occurred to me what strategic could mean.
That I was being thoughtful about how I use my time and what I asked of others. That I was thinking of, anticipating problems before they occurred. And could then recommend on how we course correct. That I was working on projects and activities that aligned with what we said our business priorities were.
Please. Not again. Please don't tell me to be more strategic.
Feedback is a gift. You can keep it, toss it, maybe even re-gift it. When you repeatedly here the same feedback, from different sources, it's time to sit up listen. Accept the feedback and do the work to course correct.
The work has paid off. Because it has been awhile since anyone has told me I wasn't strategic.
And that's the beginning of the story. Of how I became more strategic. I showed up strategic. I engaged strategically. I spoke strategic. I became strategic. And yes, I even started spelling the word correctly.
How can we help overcome the national health crisis and allow people access to nutritious food on a regular basis?
It's a question I've been driven to answer since 2009, catalysed by one of the scariest scenarios a daughter can imagine - the health crisis of a parent.
Determined to help my father overhaul his lifestyle and overcome the sudden obstacles he faced, I began prepping healthy, homemade meals. When friends and family members noticed the remarkable recovery he made, they became interested in the plans too.
This inevitably led to the birth of Fresh n' Lean, my organic meal delivery service. What started as a solo 19 year old student cooking meals out of a one bedroom apartment in Redondo Beach, CA, has since evolved into a 9-figure brand, with 100+ amazing employees operating out of a state of the art facility.
I'm often asked why Fresh n' Lean has continued to grow while other food delivery services struggle. I believe it comes down to many interacting variables that I wish to share with you today, with the hope that they might someday help you as you embark in your entrepreneurial journey too.
Know Your Values: Fresh, Convenient + Delicious
Whenever you pursue something in life, whether it's a scary fitness goal or starting your own company, it's important to know your values, and to stay true to them. This is something I was taught from a young age, and was super aware of with Fresh n' Lean.
Our mission has always been to achieve three things: to make food that's healthy, accessible and delicious. It's about getting that balance between each component. If any one of them is missing, the formula doesn't work.
Sure, it would be easy to cut corners with the quality of our ingredients to save money, but that's not the point! I have a strong desire to impact people's lives in a positive way - a 'reason why' that directly ties into the work we do. I'm also surrounded by a tribe of inspiring individuals who believe in the vision, which helps massively.
The collective understanding of our value system helps us stay true to the mission and to be completely transparent with how we operate the business. This creates trust and brand loyalty amongst our customers - a key component for future growth.
Taking Risks: Bootstrapping to Nine-Figures
Anyone who has started their own venture can attest that the early days are a little shaky. There are always going to be problems that pop up (usually at the most inconvenient times), and key decisions that need to be made.
One of the latter that I was faced with at the very beginning was whether or not to turn to investors for capital, or to bootstrap Fresh n' Lean. I went with the second option and committed my life savings to self-fund my venture. Looking back, it was a bold move. I put it all on the line to make my dream a reality, and thankfully the risk paid off.
Sure, initially it meant that we had certain restrictions when it came to funding, but I like to think those restrictions lead to innovation. Because we had limited options, we were forced to be creative and to come up with novel solutions to challenging problems.
It has also meant we've had a much easier time when it comes to choosing the direction of our business. Because we don't have to answer to a board of investors, we're able to explore various avenues with a degree of freedom - like our recent move from online to in-store.
Be Creative: Leaping From Online to In-Store
The latest evolution of Fresh n' Lean has been a dive into the brick and mortar sector, with the recent opening of our first On The Go store in Santa Monica.
Though many people believe brick and mortar is dying, we still feel that there are various opportunities to pursue. Grab-and-go healthy food near business centers is still something that's lacking in many areas. We're also in the process of partnering with Hak's Foods to bring ready-to-eat meals into grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Gelson's, and Costco.
As well as being a viable business venture in itself, having food in stores also gives people a chance to try our product before signing up for an online subscription. We're always trying to think outside the box when it comes to business growth, and this is just another example.
Sue, we could have listened to the naysayers, played it safe and stuck to what we know. But if we always take the comfortable route, how will we ever know what we're truly capable of?
If I could sum up the main things I've learned over the past ten years, it would go something like this: the key is to never stop learning, growing or innovating. Know your mission, keep moving forward, and always be ready to adapt.