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What are the key leadership skills for a start-up in the Plant-based food industry?

What are the key leadership skills for a start-up in the Plant-based food industry?

In a start-up plant-based food company, it’s relatively easy for a passionate leader to develop a following and a strong bond with those around them.


Often times that leader will be the primary product developer – by design, that person is “in” the business, creating the product, crafting the mission as he or she goes, all the while setting off magnetic energy to those around them, hopefully to new customers as well.


But what happens as the business invariably grows in complexity?


That same leader gets farther and farther away from each employee – what energy that had been transmitted by osmosis previously now has no way of injecting those not close to the founders.  With a new office, a contract manufacturer, or a new influence-wielding investor comes a whole new source of energy (or an energy-sapper).


Leaders have to re-assess how they communicate at this transition between growth and scale.


In an early-stage start-up, the core team typically gain a sense of fulfillment helping the train engine up the hill.  There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment when plant trials are a success, Whole Foods signs on, or a new product is launched.


Now the business is at the scale-up stage; the employees won’t have the same sense of fulfillment looking ahead – it’s the leadership’s responsibility to re-assess, tweak, and develop new targets that align with the team AND the needs of the business.


So what to do for any leader in the plant-based food industry moving from start-up mode into scale?


  1. Take time to engage your customer-facing employees, your liaisons with your consumers and customers, and the staff that pushes the product or message out every day.

What feedback are they getting?

What roadblocks are they facing?

How could we do better with our messaging?

Where do you sense we’re off track?


They are the ones with anecdotal evidence – they are the ones that are carrying the “truth” of how your products and message are being perceived.


If you become a master at soliciting feedback, processing it, and tweaking your company’s behavior moving forward, you’ll limit down time, lulls in demand, or having to make a dramatic pivot off your business plan.


  1. Find out your team member’s WHY


At the earliest possible team, strive to align your employee’s personal criteria for fulfillment with the mission of your business.


If you’re interviewing for a position, start then.


If you’re conducting reviews of existing employees, survey them and identify any mis-alignments.  If you do find mis-alignments that’s impacting your business, re-assign the employee internally or develop an equitable exit arrangement for that person.


  1. Put natural communication channels in place for cross-functional dialogue and for developing mentor/mentee relationships.


Get everybody talking as one – this will naturally develop an employee base that’s being exposed to the entirety of the business, not just their single department.



On their own, all of these leadership skills and tactics are helpful and will help your company move from the start-up phase into an accelerated growth phase.  The real secret ingredient is recognizing that your market will dictate what you need to do in some instances.


The less time you stay rigid to a business plan that’s not rooted in reality the better.  If your market or your staff is repeatedly giving you feedback that says shift gears, don’t hesitate to bring other leaders into the fold and assess the situation.



Bob Pudlock is an executive recruiter and President of Gulf Stream Search, an executive search firm that specializes in the placement of top talent in the food, beverage, ingredient and flavor industries in the US.

For more information, contact Bob here or here.