Keep your body and mind healthy. Your business is a reflection of you. The stronger, healthier and more clear minded you are, the better decisions you will make. If you are stressed and panicked, that will be reflected in your business decisions. When you are clear minded, feeling good and positive, that attitude is contagious and will inspire your team.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Hanifin. Alex Hanifin has been in the CPG Food Industry for 10 years working on many accomplished brands. 2 years ago she launched her own business, Alpine Start, a premium Instant Coffee. Since the launch, Alpine Start is a national brand selling in many channels.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I love food. Everything about it. I also love business, so naturally the two paired well together. Originally, I thought I wanted to be a pastry chef, but after craving more of the business component, I knew that I needed to fold in more of that. It turned out to be creating new food products I could launch on a national scale.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story that has happened since creating Alpine Start was getting a national launch with REI before we were fully established. I was on the phone with REI while driving in my car, and there was a crazy rainstorm happening outside, all of a sudden, my car windshield started cracking all over the place while I was doing a national deal with one of our biggest customers! I had to keep my cool and act like nothing was going on, but it was a little wild.
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?
The funniest mistake I made was when I was doing all of our case pack planning. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to make everything in counts of ‘8’, and our MSRP was $8 dollars. There were 8 sticks of coffee in a box, 8 boxes in a caddy, and 8 caddies’ in a master case. It turned out to be the most confusing thing ever. Trying to explain to people what was what, and why everything was in ‘8’. We called it the ‘octopus disaster’. When I hired my COO, that was the first thing he changed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We stand out? The people at Alpine Start. We all have such a unique story and background. Half of the leadership team doesn’t have a college degree! It’s not because we couldn’t finish school, but because our path’s in our career ended up different than most and pulled us away before we could finish. We also all bring more than work into work. We are thought leaders who see a bigger picture than just being a coffee company, we aim to be a lifestyle brand and fill a real need for our customers!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes!! The product we are working on now is going to be very cool! I can’t wait to get it into the market. It will help with eliminating packaging waste. The single serve packs are fine for convenience and when you can only bring a few items, but we are always working to reduce the packaging (waste) that comes with the products. So, we have a product that will use much less packaging and can be re-usable.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would say, be strong and have a structure, but it’s okay to be a real person to your team. The best leaders I’ve worked for let their guard down a little. Share some insight into your personal life, when you ask how someone is doing, really mean it. I also love to have one-on-one meetings and let that space be created by that team member. That lets them feel safe, find growth opportunities and build a relationship with you.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Do your best to connect with everyone. You won’t have time to have daily conversations every day, but know who they are. Smile, say hi. Once you have a friendly connection and they feel ‘known’, it is so much easier to manage a team. They feel like they are wanted and that often leads to amazing work. It offers more self-motivation because their confidence is higher, and it takes away the ‘fear’ of failure.
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 about that?
Yes!! Jane Miller. She was the CEO of a company I worked for, and truly was the definition of an amazing leader. Watching her navigate difficult situations while still having grace and respect, but also not afraid to do work that wasn’t necessarily in the “CEO” job description. She would be doing demos at Costco because she loved to see consumer reactions in real time. She also knew every single employee’s name, who they were and what they liked to do. Everyone loved working for her! Jane helped me the most a few years later as my first investor when I started, Alpine Start. I was having a hard time getting going, being a 26-year-old trying to raise money for a business that was hardly started, and she believed in me. It was the best moment I’ve ever had to feel that trust.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to give back as much as I can! Mentoring other small businesses, volunteering and raising money for non-profits. I offer my network a lot of the time when I see opportunity for people to benefit from it. I am always learning, but those are my favorite things to do.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Listen, learn and GO. Start quickly and go. You have to learn, listen and figure it out along the way. The business world isn’t going to sit around and wait for you. You’ve got to get in, get moving and adjust where needed. Find mentors who will give you the shortcuts on mistakes they’ve made and build a network you can tap into when you need to.
2. You need to focus and set boundaries. There will always be tiny distractions around you, always. It could be people needing to ask you questions or providing updates, emails piling up, or your phone lighting up with messages or calls. If you are always reacting to these tiny distractions, you won’t give your business the focus it needs, or the structure you need to be successful.
3. Keep your body and mind healthy. Your business is a reflection of you. The stronger, healthier and more clear minded you are, the better decisions you will make. If you are stressed and panicked, that will be reflected in your business decisions. When you are clear minded, feeling good and positive, that attitude is contagious and will inspire your team.
4. Build your network. If there was one thing that gave me the most fuel in my rocket ship, it was the people that helped me along the way. It could be anything from a set of fresh eyes on a concept, a recommendation for a legal firm, or an introduction to someone that could help grow the business.
5. Have fun and be proud! Building a business is not an easy task! Be proud of yourself and your team! You will spend more of your daily life at work, and more of your brain power thinking about work then you will most other things in your life. If you aren’t going to have fun with it, and enjoy the journey, you’ve missed the biggest target of them all. (Go back to point 3, if you need refresher).
You are a person of great 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 am very passionate about reducing food waste to as little as we can. When I look at how much waste is left over from grocery stores, or large production facilities, I can’t help but think how this all could be used to help others in need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Make a plan, write that shit down, and work on it every single day.’ This is what it takes. You have to commit. And commitment is a daily activity. Even on the hard days.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow Alpine Start at: @alpinestartfoods