…Because I’ve had the opportunity to speak alongside many a founder or other executives on fast growth and building teams, I’ve been introduced to so many people who are not only sounding boards for me as I grow but also open up a world of opportunities to partner with on a business level.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Dew. Vanessa co-founded Health-Ade Kombucha in 2012 alongside her best friends and husband-and-wife team, Justin and Daina Trout. As Chief Sales Officer, Dew brings an invaluable knowledge of sales and marketing amassed from years spent at a major pharmaceutical company before leaving to help start Health-Ade Kombucha. Through her expertise in channel penetration and people management, Dew has led Health-Ade’s sales team to boost availability in key channels and markets, while cultivating the Health-Ade brand as a whole. The brand is now available in 26,000 stores including Whole Foods, Target and Trader Joes. Originally from Los Angeles, Dew received her BS in Biochemistry from UC San Diego and an MBA from the University of Southern California. One of her passions is to give back to the community and other entrepreneurs and serves as a USC Marshall Mentor, advises several, young CPG companies, and is an active member of the Female Founder Collective, Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and Asian Business Association (ABA). She has been awarded the NextGen Innovation Award and has spoken on her entrepreneurial journey from Singapore to NYC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My earliest memories were two-fold: wanting to be a doctor to cure my mom’s rare blood disease, but also, starting my own business by selling my mom’s flowers in her garden to any takers in the neighborhood. I grew up with a science focus and though I majored in biochemistry, I realized the pre-med route was not for me, and I pivoted to a sales/marketing role within a major pharmaceutical company. It’s there that I met my best friend and co-founder, Daina. As time went on, I realized that the job and the pharma industry was not for me, and I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. To help understand what else was out there in the world of business, I enrolled at USC Marshall School. It was during school that I was exposed to all sorts of entrepreneurial ventures and really caught the bug of wanting to create something from nothing and call it my own. Around the same time, Daina, Justin and I started an entrepreneur club to talk about various business ideas and we voraciously dove headfirst into the feasibility of whatever our business would be together. Through a bit of a windy path, we landed on selling kombucha at the farmer’s market in Brentwood and the rest is history.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Interestingly enough, I would never call myself a thought leader or an authority on thought leadership. It’s a bit like having to tell people you are rich, it’s probably because you are not and trying to overcompensate or just very egotistical. I do think the title of thought leader is earned either through experiences, significant research and being able to apply those learnings to share with an audience. For me, it’s always been a deep focus on what’s the best thing to grow Health-Ade and how do we make that happen. It’s this focus on solutions and continuous improvement where our team and company has been able to grow to amazing heights over the last 7 years and has allowed me the honor of being a sounding board for other budding brands.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There’s many a story to share, depending on if you want to laugh, cry or say “WTF”! One day, in particular, stands out as “WTF” but also a turning point for me. In the morning, I was just finishing up a call in my car with my window open, and all of a sudden a black and white cat jumps into my car and kept on meowing at me. He looked benign and not feral but I couldn’t get him out of my car for almost an hour! Finally got him out and headed to Chinatown for another appointment. I parked, stood on the sidewalk and then a 14’ truck comes speeding by and splashed me with sewer water and seafood remnants sprayed off of the truck and doused me. After having a cat jump into my car and then sprayed with what seemed like radioactive liquid, I knew that I had to make a change in my career as this was not the life I envisioned for myself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first customer calls in pharma was with a doctor who had a name on paper where the gender was not known. Going into that meeting, I assumed it was a male (from whatever gender-normative stereotypes existed in my head) so when a male and female walked into the meeting, I immediately greeted the male as the doctor. As a joke, the female, the real doctor, quickly corrected me and kicked me out of her office for disrespect. She was being facetious and she could tell by the look of horror on my face that I learned that lesson. And I did — not letting preconceived notions whether through bias or stereotype sway me. I get this all the time now whether because of my age, gender, or race, a lot of people are floored when they learned I started a company.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader has some type of expertise or real-life experience that lends to credible opinions or recommendations for the subject matter at hand. Because of his/her sphere of influence, level of credibility, and ability to articulate a point, they may be able to sway decision making and influence direction. A leader can rally a team, a movement, toward a shared vision. A thought leader doesn’t necessarily have to rally anyone. The simplicity in the words and the movement that develops because of his/her content is what makes a thought leader. An influencer can certainly be a thought leader. The spectrum is broad and it’s all dependent upon the reach, relevance, and the resonance an influencer has on his/her audience.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Investment into thought leadership can add credibility to our brand message whether it be through the science behind kombucha, health and wellness nutritionists who advocate for the brand and product, or through influencers who can increase the reach of our message. It not only shows relevance to the topic we are trying to bring attention to but also a balance to hear from the experts on what they are advocating through their own platforms.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Because I’ve had the opportunity to speak alongside many a founder or other executives on fast growth and building teams, I’ve been introduced to so many people who are not only sounding boards for me as I grow but also open up a world of opportunities to partner with on a business level.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
Yes, as I mentioned, I don’t believe you can call yourself a thought leader, you actually have to walk the walk and earn that title. Here’s how I think someone can help build their profile though.
1.) Figure out what you are an expert in. For me, I ask myself these questions to help understand what’s true to my core: What do I love? What have I built my career around? What fulfills me? What am I more passionate about than my peers? I can definitely say being an Asian-American female entrepreneur in CPG gives me a unique voice and it’s through that lens in which I speak.
2.) Build the content that is true to you. The expertise is only part of the recipe, the rest is you — your special sparkle. Disingenuity can be spotted a mile away and it’s so important to let your voice and personality show.
3.) Be consistent. Dependability in the content that is generated and published regularly is very important to the audience and when they don’t get it, it’s disappointing.
4.) Building a Strong Team. The Health-Ade team is who makes it happen day in and day out. They go above and beyond to make sure the work at Health-Ade and everything they are doing for the brand come alive. Going at it alone doesn’t make you a martyr, but real success is being able to rally a team and allow them to feel empowered to make it happen. I owe our success to those at Health-Ade.
5.) Don’t limit yourself. I used to think trade publications and any CPG related sites were the main places to be relevant. But in fact, I found some of the best collaborators and supporters in media, the creative arts and across geographies. Being open to the what-if opens you up for awesome opportunities for yourself and the brand.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
Although I think Simon Sinek has had the biggest influence on me and Health-Ade in terms of leadership thinking with the golden circle and organizational development, Gary Vaynerchuck is someone who I greatly admire. He is unapologetic about his perspective and his personality is certainly one of a kind.
He has a no holds barred approach and it’s refreshing to hear amidst a lot of fluff that exists today.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Yes, I would agree that describing yourself as a thought leader is trite and overused. If you do think you are a thought leader, then awesome. You might be — but no need to broadcast it as such. Chances are that with your reach and your insightful perspective, people will be inspired and find your work useful and will be able to broadcast that for you.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I’ve always been either 0 or 100 but I realized it’s an unsustainable way to live. If I’m all in on one thing, I can’t balance out the other parts of my life and it’s that balance that is so so important to longevity. I read a book called “Design Your Life” and it taught me the importance of making sure that all the ‘cups of importance’ are filled so ultimately I feel fulfilled.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I live in Downtown LA and, more specifically, very close to skid row. I drive by ‘tent city’ and hordes of people that are displaced, mentally ill, drugged and everything else you can imagine every day. The problem is only getting worse. I hope to bring some sort of help by way of creating a system of change (not just simply handouts) to this homeless crisis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I remember my 7th-grade teacher saying, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. This has stuck with me ever since then. Having a strong will to persevere, being able to move things forward quickly and strategically, and knowing that there is always a way to get things done is part of my DNA and my modus operandi.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Wow, there are so many, I currently have girl crushes on Michelle Lee (@heymichellelee) and Jen Atkin (@jenatkinhair). I would love to hear how they started out their careers, what kept them going and how they were able to get to where they are in their respective fields. They are at the top of their game, looking fabulous and totally owning their platform.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram: @v_dew @healthade
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.