“5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of A Cajun Life,” With Chris Fontenot

Chris began his career with inside sales at a small diamond importer then moved to marketing followed by a switch in careers to CPG starting as a merchandiser and eventually working his way up to high level customer management. Having accumulated nearly 20 years in sales and CPG, Chris’ experience has helped propel A Cajun […]

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Chris began his career with inside sales at a small diamond importer then moved to marketing followed by a switch in careers to CPG starting as a merchandiser and eventually working his way up to high level customer management. Having accumulated nearly 20 years in sales and CPG, Chris’ experience has helped propel A Cajun Life. The story of A Cajun Life starts in the heart of Cajun country in Chris’ hometown of Eunice, Louisiana. As adults, he and his wife ended up in Oregon, but never lost the craving for authentic Cajun food. After sharing their recipes with friends, they were encouraged to bring Cajun products to a broader audience. That’s when A CAJUN LIFE was born.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ialways knew that at some point in time I would start a business. From a very early age, I excelled at selling and though I may not have known it at the time, it was obvious to others that this was a path I was likely going to take. When I started at Hershey’s, I realized that my childhood ability to sell was actually a natural born talent for selling beyond just fundraisers and lemonade. It became a perfect fit for me to be in corporate sales generating growth in every area I was assigned.

Eventually, after working in CPG for an extensive period of time, I started to meld my heritage, love of Cajun food and my business acumen. A Cajun Life began from my love of cooking and sharing food I grew up on with my friends both new and old. The salesman in me saw an opportunity as my friends told me over and over that I needed to sell this product. I thought they were crazy until I moved to Oregon and found a niche that I could fill, and an audience yearning to try Cajun foods.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

When I think of major challenges, two things come to mind. One lesson would simply be the importance of fundraising for a startup CPG brand and the need for intimate understanding of the business and how it operates. These both go hand in hand. The second is getting buyers and consumers to want your brand when you have no proven track record.

It is an ongoing challenge to learn how to educate consumers and buyers about our small, new brand. With buyers, we have to show them why they need us without use of syndicated data to back it. With consumers, we have to get them to try it because we know once they taste it, they want it. I’ve also learned to always be ready to pitch my brand because you never know who you will run into who may be interested in an investment opportunity. Also, it’s always important to know every aspect of your business because you never know what you’re going to be asked. The same reasoning goes for knowing how to prepare for retailer meetings. As a challenger food brand: Know your pitch and hone in on what appeals to category managers, and know the data that tells a larger story about the product.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

My industry experience has been hugely beneficial to my success as an entrepreneur, coupled with my desire to succeed. Failure isn’t an option, and growth is a core mindset that has propelled me forward.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?

  1. A CEO’s job is to think about everything and every possible scenario for today, tomorrow, 5 years from now and how it pans out for everyone involved. A CEO also needs to know how to communicate all changes and movements within the business to employees and all involved.
  2. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to be raising money ongoing and in increasing amounts. Especially as a food company.
  3. Lawyers are expensive, but you need to have them.
  4. Prepare for the highs and the lows — they both come and leave just as quickly.
  5. Measure your success based on the terms of the investment you’ve made. Don’t expect immediate results from a long-term investment, let the long term pan out and reap the benefits as they come in due time.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In order to avoid burn out, a very real epidemic within the entrepreneurial community in my opinion, is to set a dedicated timeframe for your workday. My workday is generally 7:30–4:00 however, my hard stop is 6:00 PM. No matter what is going on, my workday ends at 6:00 PM and family time begins. As one of my bosses once told me, “it’s not so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow.” As entrepreneurs, we should take that advice.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people who helped me get where I am today and who have helped me along this path. In particular, God has allowed me to have the skill, ability, and experience to do what I do. He has guided me in very difficult times especially earlier on in our business journey and ultimately provided the resources and calm to get through those times. I would like to also call out my parents and my wife. At first, they were apprehensive when I left the comfort of the corporate world to pursue this crazy journey, but they have been by my side supporting me along the way both in good times and bad navigating the entrepreneur’s world.

With that said, there have been countless other people from elementary school through corporate life that have steered me to where I am now

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Professionally, I want to continue to grow our business and create new products, more brand awareness and new extensions of our brand. I hope to continue to grow as a CEO and help other food startups when I can by passing along the knowledge I’ve obtained via my career to budding entrepreneurs. Personally, I always aim to be the best husband and father I can be as well as creating financial stability for my family while planning for my kids as they get older. All while continuing to put God first and finding that balance between working and being present with my family.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

From a business perspective, I hope that Our Life Foods and its brands such as A Cajun Life will become THE brands across the world for authentic flavor and taste experience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

As cliché as it is, I would love to encourage people as a whole, especially corporate/startup folks, to enjoy life a little more, to be present, and to stress that work can usually wait until tomorrow. Find that so called “elusive” work/life balance and put the phone away. Set parameters and stick to them. It’s not that hard. I’m not saving any lives per se with Cajun seasoning so it can probably wait until the morning.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow along with A Cajun Life on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest @ACajunLife.

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