“The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” I’ve heard it said that people greatly overestimate what can be accomplished in one year, and greatly underestimate what can be accomplished in 10, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you would have told me a decade ago, while I was still touring, that I would be married, with a kid and a growing kombucha business, I would have thought you had me mistaken for someone else. We so often are frustrated when our efforts don’t yield the results we expect within an arbitrary time frame, and in doing so, forget about the power of compounding interest. Remembering this quote has helped me keep things in perspective.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashleigh Lockerbie.
Co-founder and CMO of Better Booch, Ashleigh Lockerbie has taken a premium small craft kombucha company from farmer’s markets to 2,000+ retailers nationwide; including Whole Foods, Amazon, Target, Sprouts, and Erewhon. Prior to starting Better Booch with her husband Trey Lockerbie, Ashleigh was a touring musician who toured extensively with artists like Rihanna and Selena Gomez. While on the road, Ashleigh dove headfirst into nutrition. After several years in the music industry, it became clear that something was lacking. She decided to stop touring, in pursuit of a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. When she met Trey, also a touring musician, they realized they had a lot in common. Trey had been brewing kombucha while at home for his sister, who, at age 24, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Kombucha was known for its potentially anti-cancerous properties, but not for tasting great.
So, together they set off to make a better booch, hoping to promote natural remedies through a brew that is labeled accurately and meticulously tested for quality. Today, they are proud partners of City of Hope, supporting their Program In Natural Therapies, which takes non-toxic cancer treatments through clinical trials.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Ashleigh! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in Southern California and had one of those moms who was cooking with coconut oil and serving up kale and goji berries in the 90’s, so I have always been very aware of nutrition and how what we eat can impact our health and quality of life. Before starting Better Booch, I was a touring musician and songwriter — I toured with Rihanna for 4 years as her backup singer. It was an incredible and life-changing experience, but we were constantly working, constantly in-transit. After 4 solid years of traveling, I saw the writing on the wall; so many of my colleagues were years, if not decades, older and were missing much of their families’ lives, their children’s lives. It is unbelievable, what you must trade if you want to make a living as a musician, and I realized that it wasn’t for me. A few months after I stopped touring, I met my partner, Trey, and 6 months after that, we founded Better Booch out of a desire to create a healthy, well-rounded life for ourselves, and to be able to share that with as many people as possible.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We started in a shared kitchen that we rented by the hour, but when it was time to build out our own space, we found a small 1500 sq ft place in Pacoima that, we were told, had already been built out to code as a commercial kitchen. We signed a lease, taking the landlord at his word. Of course, as soon as we moved in, we realized that everything was broken, and ended up having to completely re-do all the plumbing, electrical, flooring, and even the bathroom in order to get it certified by the health department as a true commercial kitchen. We found out later that the previous tenant had been an illegal marijuana processing facility.
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?
Very early on, to save money at our hourly commercial kitchen, we would start the brewing process at our house and then drive up to the kitchen to finish it. That involved brewing 5–10 gallons of sugar-packed tea (kombucha requires sugar as fuel for fermentation) on our stove in giant pots, letting that cool for several hours and then transferring it all to giant containers with flimsy lids. We’d lay those on their sides in the trunk of our Volkswagen Jetta and one night one of the lids came off in transit and filled the car with hot, sticky tea. It was the last time we did that!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I have always been fascinated by looking at something big and seemingly farfetched and breaking it down into small steps to make it achievable. I’m always in awe that you can dream something up in your head and then hold it in your hand.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
There is a notion that if you’re the leader, you’re at the center of the ring. In actuality, if you’re doing your job well, you are empowering your team, and championing them to be the best they can be — sharing the spotlight and sometimes stepping out of it altogether.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
Being able to make an impact within the company and within the lives of my employees.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
It’s impossible to please everyone all the time so the job is about being fair and kind, but also firm. You have to create boundaries and stick to them because when you waver and make exceptions for one person, it inevitably gets you into trouble with someone else.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
People often believe that once they achieve some level of success, or make a certain salary that they will be happy or be able to relax. That’s a myth because more than likely, that salary is in exchange for bearing much expectation, stress, responsibility, and if you’re the founder, liability. If something is going wrong, it is your problem; it follows you home.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The expectation that women must be inoffensive and overly kind in order to not be labeled a bitch, or difficult, or controlling. If I’m writing an email expressing concern about something, I write it twice: once the way I’ve been conditioned to, replete with exclamation points and apologies. Then I edit out 90% of both of those and hit send.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I find it incredibly creatively fulfilling. Coming from the arts, I would never have thought that. I love the process of developing a brand and finding interesting ways to iterate that across various platforms. I love creating a community within our company that extends to our customers. It’s challenging, and it’s different day after day.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
If you have thin skin, it’s probably not a good fit for you. Other than that, I believe anyone can accomplish whatever they put their minds to. I also believe that most skill sets don’t just happen naturally, but are developed and practiced. So that being said, here are a few skills to develop that would be helpful for anyone aspiring to be an executive:
- The art of friendship — Making and maintaining connections
- Self-discipline — Creating a routine for yourself
- Meditation — 10 minutes a day is a great start and there are so many phone apps like Headspace and Calm that make it easy
- Being decisive — Learning to assess a situation quickly and not delaying in making those decisions. 9 times out of 10 you’ll get it right, and if you don’t, there is always a solution. Inaction doesn’t serve anyone.
- Listening to understand — It will make you a better friend, a better boss, and a better conversationalist
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Check-in with your team on a personal level as well as a professional level. Listen. Admit your mistakes. Hire good people who have different strengths than you and then trust them to do the job that you hired them for. Encourage and build company culture. Encourage communication.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you to get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Remember that first kitchen build-out I mentioned? We used up all of our working capital to fix the unforeseen issues and had very little cash left over. We ended up subleasing some of our kitchen space to Secret Squirrel, a cold brew coffee company whose founders we met at a farmer’s market. We formed a great partnership with them and ended up sharing costs on a lot of items and combining our orders to get bigger price breaks — including bottles, labels, and even some ingredients. They moved with us to our next facility when it was time to scale up and we were able to share costs there as well. It was a huge part of how we were able to scale without funding capital in the beginning.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We’ve been pleased to partner with City of Hope since 2017 to support their program In Natural Therapies, which takes non-toxic cancer treatments through a clinical trial. Various compounds found in mushrooms, blueberries, and pomegranate seeds would never be tested clinically otherwise because no one can patent them; there’s no incentive for a pharmaceutical company to invest. Their progress has been impressive and we are passionate about the program.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There will probably not be a time when you’re not worried about the business disappearing out from under you, so just try to focus on what you can do, today. Sometimes, that might mean taking a mental health day to recharge.
- The product doesn’t have to be perfect before you put it out. It’s ok to get feedback from customers and use that to improve and sometimes even pivot.
- Take the time to connect with other business owners and other folks who are at the same place in the journey as you, and help each other.
- Be liberal with information, and quick to connect someone with someone you know who may be able to help someone else out. It will come back around.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I definitely do not know enough about what programs are available to folks and what the current research shows, but I think if yoga and healthy plant-based meals were incorporated into the program at homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers, we might see some positive effects.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.”
I’ve heard it said that people greatly overestimate what can be accomplished in one year, and greatly underestimate what can be accomplished in 10, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you would have told me a decade ago, while I was still touring, that I would be married, with a kid and a growing kombucha business, I would have thought you had me mistaken for someone else. We so often are frustrated when our efforts don’t yield the results we expect within an arbitrary time frame, and in doing so, forget about the power of compounding interest. Remembering this quote has helped me keep things in perspective.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx is Entrepreneurship goals, relationship goals, and mom goals all at once. And she seems like she’d be a riot to hang out with!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.