Kara Landau: “5 things wish I’d known before becoming a CEO”

Your personal relationships will be tested. The deeper you get into running a company from the top level, the more it can hit home, and the dynamic of the relationships you possess will be tested. Understanding how this may affect those around you, and their responses to it can help you understand who has the […]

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Your personal relationships will be tested. The deeper you get into running a company from the top level, the more it can hit home, and the dynamic of the relationships you possess will be tested. Understanding how this may affect those around you, and their responses to it can help you understand who has the capacity to support you versus who can not, and hopefully help save everyone a lot of strain as time goes on.

I had the pleasure to interview Kara Landau. Kara, the “Travelling Dietitian” is a respected NYC based Australian Registered Dietitian and Founder of Uplift Food. A previous spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, and now the media representative for the Global Prebiotic Association, Kara has successfully lead Uplift Food to receiving the first ever investment by Mondelez Internationals SnackFutures new venture arm within 12 months of launching, and is on a mission to support consumers globally reap the mental healthy benefits of a prebiotic rich diet.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Kara! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?

Ultimately it wasn’t a choice but rather a natural process to become a CEO. For over a decade, I had a career as a dietitian, and when I took the leap to launch Uplift Food to pave the way in the food industry by creating a brand focused on the connection between a prebiotic gut-healthy diet and mood, the role of CEO was presented to me organically. I love the fact that at the current stage of my company’s life, I am able to guide the direction it takes and instigate bringing incredible partners and team members on board to help shape the company for the future.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?

As the CEO of a fast-growing start-up, the role transcends beyond that of the strictly just CEO. At many times, I wear the hat of COO simultaneously, and am very much hands-on in every aspect of the business, from product formulation to package design, to sourcing, marketing, communications, sales, capital raising, and more. I believe the true role of the CEO is to be the visionary, to be able to see where the company needs to be in the future, and to see the opportunities well before they present themselves.

What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?

Finding people that could see the vision I was explaining in addition to being willing to take risks to bring the concept to life has been a continual challenge throughout my career. Being at what is called the “bleeding edge” and trying to identify when the correct timing for an idea to be invested into takes a certain degree of trust and openness from others who may not be as close to the source as myself. In honesty, the only way this was overcome was by persisting — by moving on from ideas that missed their boat, and continuing to seek new opportunities and people that were in alignment.

What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I certainly feel that when raising capital the consistent factor in the room is that there are more male investors present. Having said that, I have always had the attitude that when I walk into a room, I am there as Kara, with everything that I know I can offer, and with gender not even entering my mind. I think this internal self-confidence can help put any potential hesitations that may arise otherwise due to gender differences aside.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?

The best thing has been having the ability to bring together amazing people who have complementary skill sets to help shape the company and bring the vision to life.

What are the downsides of being a CEO?

There is no off button; no matter what is going on in your personal life or whether you need a break, the reality is that you are responsible for seeing through what the company has said they will achieve, and you are there to both keep your team calm and motivated, driving the changes that need to take place to push the company forward. You have a duty to the company and the investors (if they are present) to keep to your word.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Most certainly the most interesting story was from the moment I connected with the Mondelez International innovation team, who months on spun out to be the SnackFutures team and lead to Uplift Food being their first-ever investment. It was like a dream rolling out in front of my eyes. Between begin nervous of stuffing something up and the sheer belief that it was going to happen, I remember flying to Chicago to meet with their Chief Growth Officer and having a superb meeting, followed by a few tough months of due diligence and negotiations, to finally getting to the day that the announcement of the investment was taking place. It was a reminder that when you truly believe in something, and you put in the effort, sometimes things come together just the way you envisage.

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 think believing that just because you have an incredible product that stands out in a crowded market, people will “understand” the benefits and feel a need to try it was a mistake I made. Being in an area of gut health that is cutting edge and having an education piece required in order to convert the masses to become consumers, I have learned that there is a true process involved that takes a monumental amount of time, energy, people, and funding.

Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I thought there would come a day when I could stop for a second and breathe — that I would be able to do the higher-level components and not be stuck within every detail of operations — maybe this day is still ahead of me, but for now, it certainly is still part of my role as CEO!

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?

I think you have to be someone who is generally calm under pressure and can stay composed even in stressful moments in business. You need to be able to understand the details of the different elements of the business but also be able to explain them at a simplified overview level. You also need to have strong people skills to gain the support of those that can be more influential in seeing your company through to success. I think if you prefer knowing exactly what is coming tomorrow and having someone tell you what task needs to be completed by the end of the day, the CEO role is not the role for you. If you are someone who is willing to endure the ambivalence and help lead the company forward, then you may be better suited for the position.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t look at your gender as a weakness, looks at it as a strength — many women are quite perceptive and have strong softer skills — use these to your advantage, if you possess them, and be willing to assert your knowledge and expertise no matter who is in the room. When you have a team to lead, seek to understand your staff, know what they need to be autonomous and motivated, and instil confidence in them.

Who inspired/inspires you and why?

My colleague and friend Tanya Zuckerbrot has always inspired me — she has encouraged me for years, and has also shown me the positive impact you can have both on those around you, and in your business life, by building your own brand and consistently spreading a clear message that becomes attached to your name.

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?

My mentor and dear friend, Rod Curnow, who is the CEO of the Click Foundation, a not for profit that helps raise awareness and educates the public on epilepsy, has been instrumental in pushing me to live my truth, keep pushing forward, and to surround myself with those that understand me. This man has lived multiple lives, producing films, setting up advertising agencies across the globe, lecturing at universities and much much more. Besides literally pulling together a production crew to film a pilot episode of a television program I had an idea for, all out of his own free will and back pocket, just to help me try see a vision come to life — so too has he helped in the more personal ways — when I previously lived in Melbourne I recall us going on almost weekly coffee or brunch meetings where I would be presented with a blue folder filled with newspaper pull outs and digital article prints that were relevant to my industry or information that could help motivate me as a female entrepreneur. This source of energy has never gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I like to keep things short and sweet, so here are three things:

  1. You will be tested emotionally more than you know possible. The uncertainty and pressure that is constantly on your shoulders as the leader of an organization, which you have to both manage and defuse in order to present confidently and calmly, will test you emotionally, no matter how calm or secure you usually are in life.
  2. Your personal relationships will be tested. The deeper you get into running a company from the top level, the more it can hit home, and the dynamic of the relationships you possess will be tested. Understanding how this may affect those around you, and their responses to it can help you understand who has the capacity to support you versus who can not, and hopefully help save everyone a lot of strain as time goes on.
  3. Things will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expect. From product development to sales — it is essential that you place reasonable targets and expectations on yourself so that you don’t feel you are constantly chasing your tail or falling behind.

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 would encourage people to believe in themselves, to give things a try, and feel confident that they will be okay. So often we miss out on the opportunity of bringing our best selves to the table due to simply being too scared and being too stumped by the prospect of others opinions that we don’t allow others the opportunity to see and receive the benefits that would come from us actioning our ideas and bringing our most fulfilled, and ultimately happiest selves, to the table.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I think one of the most courageous things a person can do is walk away from a situation that is no longer meant for them, no matter how much they wish it was.”

I have read this quote on a daily basis when I have had to make some of the hardest decisions in my life, be it personal or professional — it has helped me take leaps of faith I have needed at some of the biggest life changing moments of my life — be it moving countries, ending relationships, or letting go of business ideas that were not coming to fruition the way I had envisaged.

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

I would love to have breakfast with Ellen as her energy exudes the uplifted state that I am striving to elicit for the masses through the messages and prebiotic gut health products that are within the Uplift Food range I have developed. I would love to share my passion with her, learn what she is striving for at this stage in her life, as well as learn from her what she believes I could improve on to help my message reach and successfully received by a global audience.

About the author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. He is the author of two books, I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business, and Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke

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