Prioritize! It is so easy to get distracted by the many ideas that will come your way when building a company, from investors, partners, team members 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!
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Chow, a lifelong foodie and mother of two young boys, co-founded Nurture Life, a provider of fresh, nutritionally balanced meals for children, on a mission to deliver a healthier world through better nutrition for our kids. Prior to Nurture Life, Jennifer spent 17 years in marketing and product development in the technology industry, most recently as vice president of marketing at a high-growth, cloud platform startup.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My mother was a registered dietitian and for as long as I can remember, we ate healthy, balanced meals, made from real ingredients. My parents were immigrants from China and growing up, we had Chinese food for all three of our daily meals. Our fridge was filled with fresh produce, meats, poultry and fish and all our meals were flavored with herbs and spices. From breakfast on we always had a mix of produce, proteins and grains in every meal. And fruit was our only dessert.
I didn’t realize how unusual this was, until I started school and saw what my classmates were eating for lunch. I was even more surprised when I would go over to their homes and see what they were eating for dinner. I didn’t realize until I was seven or eight, that a lot of my peers primarily ate “kids food” out of a box or can. I also didn’t realize how fortunate I was to always have fresh, nutritious meals from such an early age, until then. It was at this time that my passion for good, clean, healthy food started.
Throughout my career, I have always been involved with organizations focused on children’s causes, but it wasn’t until I started running marketing for a high growth tech start-up, that I struggled with balancing the pressures of being a new mom, and the job’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. When he was a baby, steaming and pureeing veggies and fruits was easy, but as he started eating whole meals, I found myself spending hours making mini adult meals for him– from the planning, shopping, prepping and cooking. I started talking to friends in a similar life stage as ours about how they fed their kids and found a common theme — a lot of guilt and compromise with shelf stable, frozen, fast food or take out. All the parents I talked to wanted to feed their kids fresh, nutritious food, but in the majority of cases, didn’t have the time to cook. And this is how the idea of Nurture Life was born. I feel so fortunate to have founded a company that brings together my early love of and exposure to real, nutritious food and passion for childhood nutrition.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
This isn’t really a story, more so a learning. Early in my career I felt very insecure, even though I had the education and preparation to be in the positions that I was in. As a result, I didn’t assert myself nearly as much as I should have, even though I was consistently praised for my work and work ethic. My main lessons and takeaways from this are if you’re early in your career, have confidence in yourself, typically you are in the position you’re in for a reason. If you’re later in your career, always take the time to coach those early in their careers to assert for themselves, whether it’s for more responsibility, a raise or something entirely different, especially with those who have great potential but may lack the confidence to do so without encouragement. They are so worth the investment of your time and effort!
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?
I’m not sure how funny this is, it’s more so naive. When we were first getting started, the direct-to-consumer food industry was just getting started and most consumers had not tried direct to consumer food and did not necessarily understand it. When we first started marketing our meals and service, we were so focused on promoting the nutritional value of our meals, high quality ingredients and unique varieties and cuisines that we neglected to start with the very basics, which is explaining to our consumers that our meals are made fresh to order, shipped in refrigerated packaging and delivered directly to their door, making them incredibly convenient and parent practical.
The lesson I learned from this is when you’re marketing a product, service or solution to consumers and it’s an emerging category, start with the basics and take the time to explain them to consumers. Don’t assume that your consumers are already knowledgeable about something that is already second nature to you.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Honestly…we have faced so many hard times since we founded Nurture Life, which is the reality of starting and building a company from scratch. That being said, we’ve always had so much conviction in what we are building and passion for our mission of creating a healthier world through better nutrition for our kids, that we have never considered giving up. What we’ve created with Nurture Life is really transformational for the kid’s food industry, childhood nutrition and the families we serve, and that is what drives us to always move forward.
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?
I’m most grateful to my mother who has been my guiding force for as long as I can remember. She came to the US as a student immigrant, moved through three universities depending on where she could get scholarships and work, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, became the first female graduate of the MBA program at Loyola University in Chicago, and then went on to start a dietary consulting practice when she was in her thirties (as you can tell, I’m also incredibly proud of her!). As a businesswoman in the 1960s through 1990s, she had many experiences that shaped her ideas of how to work. She taught me many things from these experiences, both through her words and the examples she set, the most memorable ones being, 1. Always be overprepared, 2. Have a strong work ethic, 3. Be humble, 4. Be kind to and take care of people and 4. Do something you’re really passionate about.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My sister-in-law Lisa, who has three wonderful children who are now young adults, worked throughout most of their childhoods. I’ve frequently asked her what she and her husband Kerry did to raise such wonderful children and she shared with me that she had a quote taped to her computer screen at work that read, “If you mess up your children, nothing else you do really matters” from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Being a present, thoughtful and proactive parent is incredibly important to me. Our boys mean the world to me and there is nothing more important than ensuring they develop into kind, caring, independent young men who want to make a positive contribution to our world. As an entrepreneur, it is so easy to get caught up in all the demands that come with work morning, noon and night. The quote reminds me to always be present with our boys when I am with them as I can always focus on work after they go to bed.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
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. Today’s kids’ food offerings are overly processed, full of salt, sugar and fat and often lacking real foods with the essential nutrients children need for proper growth and development. We created Nurture Life so that parents wouldn’t have to compromise between convenience and nutrition. Nurture Life provides fresh, nutritionally balanced, ready-to-eat meals made from organic produce, antibiotic free meats and whole grains, giving parents meals they can be proud to serve that their kids love to eat. All our meals are created by our team of registered dietitians and chefs to ensure they meet the nutritional needs of kids at each age and stage of development, while never compromising on taste and kid appeal!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Nurture Life really stand out is that we’re tackling one of our country’s biggest challenges — the state of children’s nutrition — and providing a solution that is completely revolutionary for the kids food industry and more importantly, for parents and their children. For too long, our kids have been conditioned by the food industry to crave a certain type of food — highly processed, full of salt, sugar and fat and empty calories. And with so few healthy yet kid-friendly options available, parents can’t be blamed. As parents, we’re all doing the best we can with what we have available — which is why we thought, “Why not change what’s available?”
At Nurture Life, our mission is to give families what they deserve: nutrient-dense, well-balanced, delicious meals that are based on nutritional research and appropriately portioned for the developmental needs of every age group. We also offer a wide variety of meals from picky eater favorites such as Mac & Cheese with Butternut Squash to adventurous meals such as Teriyaki Salmon and Chicken Biryani to help expose children to diverse flavors, ingredients and cuisines from a very early age and help expand their palates. Most food brands don’t do this because it’s really hard. It takes an incredible amount of work to achieve the high nutrition, quality and variety standards that we’ve set for ourselves — but we know that our kids are worth it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always working on a variety of exciting new projects! The projects I’m most excited about right now are our new product development projects, where we are expanding existing product categories with new offerings and varieties and also adding new product categories that our customers have been asking for, including more cold lunches, breakfasts and snacks.
Our customers know that when they choose Nurture Life for their kids, they will be feeding them fresh, nutritionally balanced foods, made from real ingredients, that their kids will love. Nurture Life helps parents by providing meals they can be proud to serve that their kids love, that are healthy and convenient.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women make up 47% of all employed adults in the US but only 25% of tech jobs and that percentage is much smaller when it comes to leadership positions in tech. We as an industry have a lot of work to do to change this status quo and create more gender equality. I do believe the change needs to start at the beginning, with education all the way through opportunity. We need to help and encourage more girls in the early stages of their education to pursue STEM subjects all the way through universities striving to enroll and offer scholarships to more women in science, technology, engineering and math based degrees to tech companies putting more formalized and proactive programs in place to recruit more women.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
At Nurture Life, we’re always focused on providing the best possible user experience and customer service.
- Keep it simple, make sure the experience can be understood by the vast majority of users if not all, don’t make any assumptions about what your users may know or not know, and continually test the experience and refine it.
- Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call users who contact support expressing frustration and/or confusion from your user experience. We do this all the time and have learned so much from users to improve our overall experience.
In terms of customer service:
- Always put yourself in the place of the customer and try to understand what’s working and not working for them so that you can provide the best service and experience.
- Be empathetic!
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
To limit churn / attrition, we spend a lot of time with our customers. We are always trying to better understand our customers’ needs and pain points, what’s working and not working for them and their kids when it comes to Nurture Life’s meals and service, why they’re staying with us and why they’re leaving if they’re leaving. Then always prioritizing and executing on the things that are most important to our customers.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create a company based on an idea or concept that you’re really passionate about, then try to validate it, whether it be through market and industry research, family and friends, networking, etc. It’s really important to try to ensure there’s a real need that your idea is addressing.
- As you’re getting started, create a plan. Try to lay out what needs to be accomplished to build out your idea and what resources will be needed including people, funding, potential partnerships, deliverables and milestones and more. Then get started and take one step at a time and always move forward and make progress!
- Hire great people and if someone you hire is not working out, don’t hesitate to make a change. 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.
- Prioritize! It is so easy to get distracted by the many ideas that will come your way when building a company, from investors, partners, team members 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!
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. 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. 🙂
We are already inspiring a movement that we believe can positively impact the health and wellness of generations to come…giving children the healthiest foundation possible from the very beginning and providing parents with the education and solutions to help them accomplish this.
Starting children on nutritious foods from the start is critical for providing the key nutrients essential for their growth and development. However, it goes beyond health. Part of our mission at Nurture Life is to help shape the palates of children at an early age, giving them the foundation to make healthy food choices through the introduction of veggie-forward meals incorporating varied proteins and flavors that are not typically a part of a young child’s regular diet. As we know, most “kids food” today has too much salt, sugar and fat, which can damage the palates of young children, teaching them to crave these foods. If we can teach our children that vegetables, whole grains and a variety of proteins are normal and delicious at the beginning of their eating journey, we can set them up for increased food acceptance which encourages healthy eating for the rest of their lives, which we know is essential for chronic disease prevention.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Michelle Obama! Not only is she an inspiration to me and so many others but she is also able to connect across generations, including the youngest generations, and compel change. I would love to talk to her about her Let’s Move initiative and how we as Nurture Life can help accelerate putting children on a path to healthy futures faster as it’s not happening fast enough!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!