In Conversation with Jennifer Chow of Nurture Life
Describe your business in a few words?
Nurture Life is creating a whole new standard for kids food by providing fresh, nutritionally balanced, ready-to-eat meals delivered directly to customers’ doors that kids love to eat and parents are proud to serve.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
When I became a mom, I was running marketing for a high profile, high growth tech company in San Francisco, and found myself struggling with the pressures of being a new mom, and my career’s demanding long hours. When our son started eating solids, I looked at the available options and decided I didn’t want to feed him something that was older than him and started making all of his meals from scratch. After speaking with friends and fellow parents at a similar life stage as ours about how they feed their kids we found a common theme – they all wanted to feed their kids healthy meals made from scratch but the vast majority didn’t have the time to cook and were feeding their kids boxed meals, frozen meals, delivery or takeout and feeling guilty about it, but doing their best. And this is how the idea of Nurture Life was born. We created Nurture Life to give parents a new way to feed their families and tackle one of our country’s biggest challenges—the way our children eat.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Prior to starting Nurture Life, I had a 17-year career in marketing and product development at high growth technology start-ups and large, enterprise software companies SAP and Oracle. While working in the tech industry, I’ve always dedicated time volunteering for organizations supporting families and children including Raphael House, the first family shelter in San Francisco and the New York Center for Children.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes! I’ve always wanted to build a business from an idea that I was really passionate about that could change people’s lives in a positive and meaningful way. During my years in the tech industry I always sought out positions at start-ups and ran marketing for three start-ups, as I loved building and growing businesses from the beginning.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first launched, we primarily acquired our customers through word of mouth, parents spreading the word about Nurture Life to other parents, registered dietitians talking about Nurture Life to their peers, etc. When we were ready to scale our growth, we started by exhibiting at local events and advertising on social media. We quickly found that we could scale more rapidly through one to many marketing like social media versus one to few like exhibiting at events.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
By nature I’m a collaborative person. I constantly seek and want other people’s thoughts and opinions and believe if we have strong teams, by collaborating we’ll be able to achieve the best outcomes. In the early days of Nurture Life, one of the biggest mistakes I made was trying to be too collaborative. I wanted to create a culture of collaboration and inclusion but took it to an extreme. As much as I love to collaborate, I realized it should not be applied to everything and can create confusion and a lack of direction. There are times when a singular voice is critical to move something forward.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Professionally, I’m most proud of what we’ve built in Nurture Life. With Nurture Life, we have created a new standard for kids food that prioritizes nutrition, clean, real ingredients and variety to help expand palates. Today, we have thousands of families who rely on us to feed their children and have expressed to us the impact we have made on their lives and their children’s health, which is incredibly gratifying.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
- I have many questions that I always ask candidates but I’d say my go to interview question is why should we hire you and what will we miss out on if we don’t. In terms of hiring tips my top two are:
- Take the time to really get to know a candidate even if that means multiple interviews
- Always check direct manager references.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
As a food brand that operates its own manufacturing facility, we have been classified as an essential business since the start of COVID-19 and have continued to operate and deliver to families uninterrupted across the contiguous U.S. Cooking and delivering meals has always been our specialty, but meal delivery has a completely different meaning now as it has become a necessity for families across the U.S. looking to eat healthy while social distancing and avoiding trips to the grocery store.
Since the start of COVID-19, we have been committed to the health and well being of our team members and the safe and reliable delivery of our meals to our customers. Like most businesses, our business has been impacted by COVID-19 on many fronts and we continually work to manage and mitigate the current and future risks. In late March, we put in place additional measures for our team in our production facility including even more PPE (personal protective equipment), more frequent sanitation of our common areas during our production times and additional staffing to prepare for team members potentially having to call off. In select ingredient sourcing, we experienced a doubling or tripling of costs, especially in proteins like beef and pork, which we decided not to pass on to the customer and as a result, experienced much lower than usual contribution margins in the sale of select meals. Our delivery partners have also experienced shortages in staffing due to COVID-19 as well as a much greater than expected volume of packages due to more people purchasing products through e-commerce to avoid trips to the store, which resulted in a rise in delivery delays. To help mitigate the risk of our meals arriving late to customers, we have been upgrading many of our customers’ packages’ delivery service level, resulting in a loss to us in shipping the package, and shipping replacement orders to customers in the event of a delay.
We know our customers are counting on our meals now more than ever and take this responsibility very seriously. We also know that we are very fortunate to be an essential business, continuing to operate through COVID-19 and have not suffered nearly the negative impact that so many other businesses have experienced. That being said, to mitigate the COVID-19 impacts on our business discussed above, Nurture Life has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the safety of its employees and serve its beloved families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Our customers continually tell us that when they feed their children Nurture Life, they don’t need to worry because they know it will always be healthy, nutritionally balanced and made from the highest quality ingredients. In the coming years, we are planning to add additional product categories that our customers have asked us for including more cold lunches, breakfasts and snacks, as well as expand to additional sales channels (we currently sell direct to consumers).
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone and has taught us so much. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how incredibly resilient our team is in spite of the many, many challenges and obstacles we have faced and to always find a way!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
That it’s going to be so much harder than you expected, even if you’ve been in a start-up before, being fully responsible is very different. And it’s hard for different reasons at each phase of growth and development. But if you believe in what you’re doing, do everything you can to work through it, because what you’re trying to build, the customers you’re serving and the team you’re working with are all worth it.
Consistently hiring great people is really hard – sometimes you’ll get it right and other times you won’t, even when you’ve done all your diligence. If someone is not working out, don’t wait to make a change. You owe it to the business, your team and yourself. Too often, we wait too long to let go of someone who is not working out. In a start-up, the opportunity cost of waiting too long is far too great.
It is so easy to get distracted by the many ideas that will come your way as the founder of a start-up, from investors, partners, team members, your friend’s mother and more. Far too often, I’ve seen and experienced start-ups chasing ideas they should never chase. Your and all of your team members’ time and resources are very limited. Be ruthless about prioritizing and saying no to ideas that should not be pursued.
Be flexible. For many start-ups, especially in emerging categories, things change very quickly: consumer demand and sentiments, markets, channels and much more. What works and what doesn’t, can also change very quickly. You have to be flexible and evolve your business. Always be moving forward!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
With all that has transpired this year it hasn’t been difficult to stay grounded ;-).
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
As a mother of two young boys, the co-founder of a start-up and all the additional responsibilities that come with life, I have a tough time believing in work / life balance and an even tougher time trying to achieve it. For me personally, I try to be realistic about my expectations for myself and know what my priorities are and what I can’t compromise on so that even if I can’t achieve work / life balance, I can feel good about how I’m managing myself, my family and my work. My best tip is to be fully dedicated to what you’re doing when you’re doing it. For example, when I’m at work, I’m 100% at work and when I’m with our boys, I’m 100% with our boys, I don’t check my phone, think about work, etc.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I have a huge sweet tooth!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day
- Keep a to do list and actively use it
- Start the day knowing what you need to accomplish that day and reassess at the end of the day
- Always prioritize your team’s needs and be there when they need you
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
For me, being an Entreprenista means the opportunity to build something incredible that can change the profile of children’s health and nutrition in our country and transform the lives of families. It also means being fortunate enough to work with a team of passionate, intelligent and dedicated team members who care so much about our mission and the families we serve.
As a food brand, it is our responsibility to help our community and especially families who are food insecure during this time. Since the start of the pandemic, we have been donating hundreds of meals weekly to our local food dispensaries and community organizations.