January 07, 2019 / LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT LOVE
January 07, 2019
Bulldog has worked closely with the leadership team at The Honest Kitchen for a number of years. As partners in this passionate brand, we’ve had the privilege to help guide innovation, brand performance, sales strategy and sustainable growth. Our collaboration is an example of what a long-term partnership can deliver at its very best. We recently sat down with Lucy Postins, one of the Founders, to exchange stories, advice, and to learn more about how she’s approached leading The Honest Kitchen.
Bulldog Drummond: As the founder of The Honest Kitchen, what are you proudest of?
Lucy Postins: I’m most proud of the positive impact that our products have made to so many pets’ lives over the past sixteen years. To this day, the thing that makes me all at once so proud and so humble is when we receive a letter, email, phone call or hug at a trade show from someone who had all but given up hope of being able to restore their pet’s health and then for whatever reason was prompted to try our products and saw a remarkable turnaround. It’s not that we have a magic secret ingredient, it’s simply just the power of real, top-notch ingredients and minimal processing. Whole food nutrition helps people enjoy better overall health and wellbeing and it’s exactly the same for pets. Some pets have previously been given weeks or months to live by their veterinarian, and are still here years later, bright eyed and bushy tailed. These are the stories that truly light up my heart.
On a more business-centered level, I think the way that The Honest Kitchen has raised the bar in the pet food industry at large is a source of pride for our whole team. Having pioneered the concept of human grade pet food, and worked through all the regulatory challenges and bureaucracy over the years to get the standard established and defined. And then seeing other companies get inspired to follow suit and elevate their own game in terms of quality and safety standards has meant we’ve really made a mark on the whole industry, which goes all the way back through the supply chain, even influencing small changes in the way farmers and processors run their own businesses to meet our uncompromising standards. Those things also make me proud, in a slightly different way.
BD: What makes The Honest Kitchen different?
LP: There are several key things that set The Honest Kitchen apart from conventional pet food companies. The first is the fact that we have FDA approval to state Human Grade on our product labels because our entire supply chain and production meets human food standards. The way we make our products is also pretty different from conventional, old-fashioned pet food. We primarily use the process of dehydration, which involves low temperatures and an all-around gentler approach to making our products, compared with the intense heat and extreme high pressure used in kibble extrusion and canning. The way we make our foods helps to preserve much more of the natural nutrition, phytonutrients and antioxidants in our lovely ingredients, which results in a much healthier finished product.
BD: What makes the culture at The Honest Kitchen special?
LP: I think we have a very authentic culture that’s built on mutual trust, empowerment of people at all levels throughout the organization, freedom to fail (within reason!) and a very open, transparent approach to sharing company goals and performance so everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction. There’s definitely a diversity of personality types but I think a common thread amongst practically everyone is a shared sense of humor, passion for what we’re striving for, love of animals, and a healthy appreciation for sarcasm! I’ve often joked that if someone is too polite to a coworker, it’s cause for concern about what they’ve done wrong!
BD: What advice do you have for founders starting their own business today?
LP: I think the main thing is to center the business on something you’re truly passionate about and then stay singularly focused on it and keep moving forward every single day. It’s easy to get distracted by the next bright shiny opportunity to diversify or branch out and then start second guessing everything, but to me, when you’re first starting out, it’s absolutely essential that every step you take is towards the primary objective. That’s not to say you can’t be nimble and pivot a little bit as you get going, but I see a lot of would-be founders falter in the really early stages because they spend so much time over-analyzing their idea or day dreaming about all the other things they could be adding on or doing differently that they never actually realize their full potential. The second thing is to define your values, standards or rules of engagement for how your company will conduct itself, and then never waver from them. Our overarching value at The Honest Kitchen is Pets Before Profits, which means always doing the right thing for the product and ultimately the end consumer (in our case the cat or dog) even if it means the bottom line suffers a bit in the near term. If you do the right thing, I believe the money will follow. To me, that is how a genuine brand is built, and how to ensure that the company you create will resonate with people.
BD: What was the best advice you were given as you built your company that you’d give to others?
LP: A couple of years in to The Honest Kitchen’s story, I was advised to really leverage our most passionate and dedicated customers. This led to the creation of a program called Uber Users (before Uber was a thing!) and it was geared to the people who’d been buying our foods for the longest (some since day one) and those who had the capacity to be most influential to others (such as rescue organizations, vets and breeders). They already authentically loved our brand and the Uber Users program both gave them a voice in how we do business, the types of new products we’d create, suggestions for ways to refine what we were making and also to be ambassadors for our brand.
BD: What’s the best advice you have ever been given in life?
LP: It’s hard to pinpoint one single thing (plus, my memory is absolutely terrible so I’ve forgotten most of the many, many pieces of advice that have been showered on me over the years!) but I’ve spent some time at the Chopra Center in the past year or so, and follow the work of Dr. Deepak Chopra. Many of his teachings have really stuck with me, particularly the ideas of just putting your intention on the things that you want to manifest and then being patient and open to all the possibilities of the universe in order to fulfil your potential.
BD: What was your biggest challenge and what did you do to overcome it?
LP: Some of the very earliest days of The Honest Kitchen were my most challenging. I loved the original ideation stage and getting things off the ground at the very start, the giddy feeling of the first orders coming in on the website, working away in our spare-bedroom office with no one to question or second guess the way I wanted to do things because there was no one but me and the dog! When our first daughter was born, I got very exhausted and overwhelmed and it was a really challenging time trying to balance having a startup with being a new mum. I harbored a lot of guilt of feeling that I wasn’t giving 100% to either of them. I literally only had four days off work when she was born and then I was back to packing up the daily orders in our garage every afternoon before the Fedex man arrived to pick them up while she was strapped into a car seat next to me, and answering customer emails whilst nursing her at my desk. Definitely not something I’d recommend! I still harbor some guilt about that now and don’t know that I was ever able to really do anything specific to overcome the situation, other than try my best, battle through the bone-deep exhaustion as much as I could and gradually climb out of it. She’s turned into a fully functioning, smart, beautiful and witty teen now, and the business made it to the other side as well, so it all turned out fine in the end but it was alarmingly difficult at the time.
BD: What keeps you up at night?
LP: Mostly, our dogs. The two larger ones are 87 and 105 pounds respectively and when the nights get cooler they LOVE to snuggle. Its starts out being lovely with them curled at our feet but a few hours in, they start stretching out with their big, strong legs and sprawling this way and that, which means I find myself clinging to about 8 inches of mattress with practically no quilt left and a sore back from the contorted shape my body has had to adopt to accommodate their enormous frames. I know we could make them stay in their own beds. But where’s the fun in that?
BD: What other brands do you admire?
LP: I really love companies that have clear purpose, passion and a distinct, consistent brand voice. A few of my favorites are British brands. I still love and admire the way that both Dorset Cereals and the food & drinks brand innocent both innovate, stay true to their roots even as they continue to grow and evolve, don’t take themselves too seriously, dream up cool marketing programs and weave a sense of humor into deep connections and authentic communications with their customer bases.
BD: What is it like working with Bulldog?
LP: We love working with Bulldog Drummond. Shawn and the whole team there have a lighthearted approach to helping us define clear objectives for the various projects we work on, open our minds to infinite possibilities with engaging working sessions and provide clarity when we’re feeling muddled about something, often just by asking all the right questions and knowing how to challenge us to give our best. Plus, they too foster that finely-hewn knack for sarcasm that we as a brand so appreciate and admire!