Everyone is faking it. I have impostor syndrome and run up against it when I’m doing something new and challenging. I think this is normal, but not a lot of people talk openly about it — so sometimes it feels like I’m the only one. I have developed a couple of tricks to combat it — one is positive self-talk, and the other is reminding myself that everyone is faking it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby Coleman. Abby is a passionate and inspired builder of brands, strategies and teams. Thought leader in the next generation of food, and an alumna of incredible brands (Kraft, Mondelez, Quidsi/Amazon). Lifelong vegetarian and mother of two enthusiastic eaters.
Thank you for joining us Abby! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My personal and professional identities have been shaped by food. I decided as a young woman in Texas to become a vegetarian. This gave me tons of formative experiences of how isolating it can feel to be an intentional eater in a food system designed for the industry standard. My mom was a brilliant cook who shared a love of food and a joy for cooking with all her kids, and though she wasn’t a vegetarian, she worked with me to study cookbooks and ingredients that could help me thrive on a plant-based diet.
My very first job in high school was working as a prep-cook at a high-end catering company. It was a sweltering hot summer job in a Houston kitchen, and I loved it. After graduating college, I followed my food obsession and started my own catering company. During that time, I learned to love the business of food as much as the food itself.
In fact, this love led me to pursue a business degree. After earning an MBA from NYU Stern, I began a 10-year career in CPG and food. It was within those 10 years that I learned how to lead a team, growing a business, and respond to customer insights for some of the leading food companies like Kraft and Mondelēz. A peak professional experience was moving to China to launch a new product category, which meant figuring out the manufacturing, supply chain, regulations, and launch marketing in an entirely new culture.
After that, I came back to the US and started working in e-commerce at Amazon, leading a set of specialty e-commerce sites, including Diapers.com. Through those years, I extended my focus on the customer with access to unparalleled user data and insights.
This year, I joined Territory as a new CEO in food-tech, combining a lifelong personal commitment to intentional eating with a professional career in food and e-commerce. I’m so grateful for the professional experiences that have prepared me for the high-stakes challenges we face in supporting intentional eaters to make healthy eating possible. I feel lucky that I can bring my whole heart to work on problems that matter for families across the country. I am energized and inspired by the changes we can make to the health of individuals, families, and our planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I always start with the customer when I come into a new business. I like to immerse myself in customer feedback so I can better understand how we can serve them now and in the future. I was truly floored by the passion of the customer feedback at Territory. We currently serve four markets (DC Metro, Dallas/Ft Worth, Southern California and San Francisco) and have plans to expand our footprint, but until we do, our customers will go to great lengths to get their supply of Territory when they move outside our delivery area. One customer has a friend from her old neighborhood receive the deliveries and freeze them until she can pick them up. We have other customers driving 100 miles round trip to pick up their weekly meals. These customer stories illustrate how urgent the need is for our food, as well as how personal and deep our customers have to our food.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We create chef-crafted, fully prepared meals for intentional eaters. These are people who don’t eat the standard American diet — but instead are vegetarian (like me!), vegan, eating Mediterranean, Whole30, Paleo, Keto, etc. And because we feed our customers truly delicious food aligned to their nutritional needs with a constant rotating variety, we have outstanding customer economics. Our average customer eats over 100 Territory meals with us, which is incredible! Can you imagine eating 100 of anything? 100 times at your favorite restaurant?
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find your voice and trust your voice. As I have gained experience leading large and diverse teams, I have become more aware of my leadership style and more comfortable with my own communication preferences. Now, when I work with new people, I overtly share my style and preferences so they can spend energy on great business ideas, rather than “figuring me out.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Set a vision that is the north star for the team. Ensure every role on the team has a path to the North Star and ask yourself how each person’s role contributes to bringing the team closer to realizing the vision. Large teams often have a high level of diversity, lean into that diversity. While you have a shared vision, make sure you are benefiting from the multiple perspectives of your team which will help you spot issues and opportunities that you might not otherwise see.
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 consider myself lucky that I have spent the majority of my career benefitting from incredible female leadership. This includes Deanie Elsner while I was at Kraft, Lorna Davis while I was at Mondelez, and Emilie Arel while I was at Amazon. These women have been a powerful force in shaping what I imagined was possible for myself as a female leader and as a working mom. It means my default model of leadership is female rather than male! And I feel a great sense of responsibility to pay it forward and continue modeling that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I want to empower people to make changes that feel great for their individual health and are sustainable for the world. This is not a side-mission or an ancillary effort, but at the essence of what we are doing at Territory. We create nutrient-dense meals, using real ingredients, cooked by real humans. We improve our customers’ health and wellbeing on a daily basis, and this has a raft of positive externalities. When we expand, we are growing a human-centered approach to food systems. Our chefs, cooks and operations staff are real people who are partners in our work. They share in our profits, support their families, and bring those benefits and earnings back to local economies.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be intentional about sleep.
Because there is no end to the work, and my little kids are at a stage where they need a lot of attention, at the end of the day, the least demanding person on my time is me. This means that unless I set a goal for my sleep quantity, I will all too easily sacrifice those hours to get things done. Of course, it’s not sustainable to go without appropriate sleep, and the quality of work suffers. So I keep myself on track by setting goals for sleep and reminding myself that 1 hour of work takes 2 hours when I’m tired — and there’s no room for inefficiency in my life right now!
2. Everyone is faking it
I have imposter syndrome and run up against it when I’m doing something new and challenging. I think this is normal, but not a lot of people talk openly about it — so sometimes it feels like I’m the only one. I have developed a couple of tricks to combat it — one is positive self-talk, and the other is reminding myself that everyone is faking it.
3. Perspective determines your choice set
Everything can be an opportunity. Failure is an opportunity to learn, and a set back can tell you something critical about a market or a process. But you have to have the right perspective to see things as potential opportunities and expand your choices.
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. 🙂
Eat like your life depends on it! Not only does your future health and mortality depend on how you eat today, but our collective choices and preferences will shape the future of the food industry and have a defining influence on the planet our kids inherit.
If we can reduce the number of processed foods and animal protein our kids eat, the whole world will benefit. The small shifts we can each make as eaters, consumers, and models for our kids, can add-up to a movement.
Michael Pollan’s pithy seven-word manifesto captures it well: “Eat foods, not too much, mostly plants.” This movement is already underway, but I believe that there are many more people who have the desire to make changes, but get stopped because it’s hard, and it takes time and effort. My goal is to make these choices as easy and accessible as possible, so for every person who says, “I want to eat this way,” Territory can help them realize that intent.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Courage is…a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” –Brené Brown
Every time I am faced with a big challenge that scares me, I know I’m on the right track. Whether it be moving to China to launch a new product category, running a food tech business — every time I take on one of these new challenges that seem impossible at the outset, it expands my definition of what is possible.
Some of the biggest 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Serena Williams! She’s an extraordinary athlete, role model, business woman, working mom, and despite the incredible life she leads, she manages to be down to earth and real.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.