How These Co-Founders Balanced Growing Families With an Unexpectedly Fast-Growing Company
One co-founder was pregnant and the other was breastfeeding when Revolution Foods entered a new market and got more than twice as much business as planned.
Editor’s note: In the Women Entrepreneur series My Worst Moment, female founders provide a firsthand account of the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they’ve had while building their business -- and how they recovered.
Entrepreneurs might work for years trying to secure funding, partners and customers, until one day they wake up and realize they’ve gotten everything they bargained for -- and then some. That’s exactly what happened to Revolution Foods, a company that produces healthy meals for schools. When co-founders Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey decided to expand their Bay Area-based business to the East Coast, they were eager to fulfill their mission of providing thousands more kindergarteners through 12th-grade students with nutritious, affordable meals. They bid on several contracts with schools, figuring no more than half of them would bite, if they were lucky. Meanwhile, they gathered a team, a facility and enough equipment to produce 2,000 meals per day.
When they ended up winning 5,000 daily meals worth of contracts, with just one week’s notice before the school year started, they didn’t want to say no to growth -- or the opportunity to serve more kids. Their resources were stretched thin. Not to mention, Tobey was six months pregnant with her second child at the time, Richmond had just had her second baby and the women and their families lived across the country from their new market. Still, the duo got every meal they promised on cafeteria tables on both coasts.
Here’s what they’ve learned about the importance of planning ahead -- for upsides and downsides -- instead of relying on heroics and brute strength.
What follows is a first-person account of these women’s experience. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tobey: "Today, we're serving hundreds of thousands of meals a day, but back then, 5,000 versus 2,000 felt like the difference between night and day. We were working around the clock, trying to pick up our heads enough to say ‘OK, what's the longer term solution here?’ because we were so focused on just getting the meals out the door every day.
"Over Labor Day weekend, we ended up moving after about a week and a half of operating in one facility -- which we thought was going to last at least a year -- to a larger facility close to an hour away. Our team that we had hired in one place had to commute 45 minutes farther. Kris’ husband, for a couple of weeks, was actually driving a shuttle of our team to the new facility."
Richmond: "My husband had just left the company he had founded, so the timing perfectly aligned for him to be able to help. We even had our nanny at the time come out for part of that time to help us with our toddler and 3-month-old.
"We also had people from every department in our Oakland offices come there, but we soon limited them to one week at a time. I’m not saying we were able to protect them from the urgency and the intensity of the experience, but we were trying to staff the whole experience to where we wouldn’t lose our team.
"There’s fear in that moment around, am I pushing my team too hard? We knew we were. And fear around, will I be able to deliver on the expectations of the company? Then you add in a mission-based brand, where you’re serving students in schools every day and you’re moms yourselves, and it gets highly, highly personal not wanting to let anyone down in the process."
Tobey: "We ended up hiring 15 to 20 temps who, very quickly, we hired as full-time employees. When we finally were able to move into a third, longer-term facility, they stayed on, and many of them ended up becoming supervisors and managers a few years later."
Richmond: "One moment my husband and I recall is, it was the summer that the song “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas came out, and we were driving the shuttle to get people from their neighborhood to our new facility. When that song came on, regardless of people’s age, first language, ethnicity, background, everyone was jamming out at 3 a.m. What was absolutely one of our hardest moments became one of our most heartwarming moments."
Tobey: "My husband wasn’t in such a position to come and stay with me on the East Coast. I ended up coming by myself for a chunk of the time, and my husband and 18-month-old daughter came and visited me a couple of times. I felt so much guilt and sadness about being gone from my daughter for weeks at a time. Today, my now 11-year-old daughter has no recollection of that, but I remember it feeling so heart wrenching. I was also six months pregnant so my emotions were running high.
"What I hope is not a lesson for people is that you shouldn't try to start a company and have kids the same time. There’s never going to be a perfect time to start a family -- and for men, too! You’ve got to do what you want to do when you’re ready to do it. It does take a village, but it’s totally possible."
Richmond: "We now joke that we hire people who are way smarter than we are in their areas of expertise. Every leader graduates into that mode where they go from doing a lot of things themselves to knowing how to hire people at every level who are going to move the organization forward.
"When we finally got to the point where we weren’t planning just to get through the next day, but planning to get through the next two weeks and beyond, we knew that the team in place could run the operation well without us. That was when the pressure relieved."
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