Marina Cooley of Lavva: “Staying on same page”

Staying on same page — in a non-remote world, we would probably be looking over each others shoulders to proof something, draw something up on white board, confirm a quick piece of information, etc. when you have to email/text/call, it takes an extra layer of work. Do I really want to interrupt someone’s work flow to get […]

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Staying on same page — in a non-remote world, we would probably be looking over each others shoulders to proof something, draw something up on white board, confirm a quick piece of information, etc. when you have to email/text/call, it takes an extra layer of work. Do I really want to interrupt someone’s work flow to get confirmation? It’s so easy to have a misunderstanding. I could give 20 examples of this a day…and I’m sure you could too.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Cooley.

Marina Cooley wants to democratize healthy food through scaling brands: making better-for-you foods accessible and affordable to more people.

In 2019, Marina joined start-up natural food company, Lavva, as the CMO. Lavva is a clean label, plant-based yogurt made with live probiotics and no added sugar. At Lavva we are forging a new path to maximizing flavor, nutrient density and functional benefits while minimizing processing. No small feat! Lavva is now National at Whole Foods Markets and Sprouts with pilots in Target and Kroger. Marina’s mission will be to grow awareness for Lavva’s mission and introduce consumers to the Lavva taste profile.

Prior to Lavva, Marina was with the Coca-Cola Company for 6 years working with emerging brands including Honest Tea. During her time on Honest, she helped scaled the brand from 170M dollars to 600M dollars in revenue, including getting Honest Kids into the McDonalds Happy Meal as the chains first organic product. Marina also brought the brands first mission driven campaign to life “Small Decision, Big Impact”.

Marina received her MBA from Emory’s Goizueta Business School where she was recipient of the American Marketing Association award. She received her BS from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I’m a planner through and through. I’ve always done these crazy timeline exercises where I map out what I want to achieve. There’s a word for it now “manifesting”, but I didn’t know that more than a decade ago! In my early twenties I became passionate about health & wellness, perusing natural food stores for the latest trends and products. I envisioned that I would move from NYC back to my family in Atlanta, go to Emory’s Goizueta Business School and then learn to be a marketer at Coca-Cola (HQ in Atl) and after 6 years I would join a natural food start up and apply all the lessons I’d learned. I did all those things, joining Lavva in 2019, and now I’m in uncharted territory…the timeline didn’t go this far so I’m busy manifesting something new!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I was at NYU for undergrad I joined a newly launched organization called StartingBloc which was addressing how business can drive for social change. We met with fascinating people among whom was Seth Goldman (founder of Honest Tea & chairman of Beyond Meat). At the time Honest Tea was a vision and years away from being acquired by Coca-Cola. Of course this story is getting a the fact that almost exactly 10 years later I found myself in the room at Coca-Cola meeting Seth again, this time as the newest member of his team. I went on to work with Seth for four more years and learned in incredible amount about all the levers it takes to scale a brand and how you stay committed to vision. It just goes to show you never know how full circle life will go.

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?

This is so ridiculous but it haunts me to this day. I so wanted to work at Coca-Cola as a Brand Intern, at the time it was the only way to get started as an Associate Brand Manager at the company. I had gone through a competitive and nerve-racking process to get the internship and there I was, on day 1. I received my brand assignment working on a then new beverage called FUZE. I was tasked with putting together a competitive assessment and sharing out with the whole cross-functional team (a team of people that actually new the business). I agonized over the content and email and when I finally sent out the note the subject was for “FUSE Business Assessment”. I had spelled the brand wrong. Horrifying. I wanted to die. I didn’t. But to this day, I re-read subject lines obsessively and proof read everything one extra time.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Give people mandated time off. Most of us are living in a weird place warp of get up at home, care for kids at home, work at home, care for kids at home, sleep at home. Day after day. I see not just my team but many friends are simply not able to take time off because it seems silly to take time off to maybe just be at home! At Lavva, we’ve tried really hard to turn 3 day weekends into 4 day weekends, encourage summer fridays or at least unplugging early after a hard week. It’s so helpful for everyone at the company to take a collective breather and have the emails stop.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I’ve managed remote teams for about 4 years but the current state of remote is so different than before! Previously I managed a team in Bethesda while being in Atlanta and then in NYC while being in Atlanta. But I was still seeing team members at least 2 times a month. We always saved brainstorms, work sessions and fun outings for the live meetings. In March we were all thrown into a situation where those live meetings no longer existed and we had to figure out how to brainstorm and plan in person.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

Staying on same page — in a non-remote world, we would probably be looking over each others shoulders to proof something, draw something up on white board, confirm a quick piece of information, etc. when you have to email/text/call, it takes an extra layer of work. Do I really want to interrupt someone’s work flow to get confirmation? It’s so easy to have a misunderstanding. I could give 20 examples of this a day…and I’m sure you could too.

We haven’t full cracked the code but I think the lesson is, if you need a confirm than get it. Pick up the phone, text, make the connection to get on the same page.

Schedules — I’ve got some working mamas on my team (including myself), people that always work out at lunch, people that like to start really early, people that crank things out late. In a way, connecting on times has gotten more challenging than when we were all trapped in the same room. The lesson here is to be flexible and give everyone the space they need to stay mentally healthy. In a time when there’s so much we can’t control, it’s really nice to have more control over how we plan our work day — be at a sweet slow morning with kids or an online yoga class during lunch.

Motivation — It’s so critical to remind the team what the overarching goals are and how the work they do ladders up to those goals.

Bonding — We used to have dinner, drinks, photoshoots, cultural events, etc to create memories, to laugh together, share experiences. Now we have the phone and video! Yet, I feel really close to my team, probably we do talk so much on the phone and video and we have let each other into our home lives. We see each others kids run by, deal with home issues, hear about family members and friends.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Do it on video — be human just like you would in person. Remove the distractions and speak to someone directly about what they are doing that’s working on where there’s an opportunity for growth.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I hate to say it takes a compliment sandwiches because that sounds so fake, but chances are there are things that are working from the work being presented and there are things that need to be optimized. Be fair in sharing what’s good work and what needs to be refined.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

Trying to treat working remotely as if it is being in one location. Let people have more flexibility in making working from home work for them. Offer times to disconnect, understand that people can’t make themselves available at all hours and everyone needs balance.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Appreciate people and the contribution that they make. Acknowledge the contributions each person makes, not just to them but to others. Let people really own the work that they are doing and trust them to get it done!

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. 🙂

Have a nationally funded child-care option for toddlers so that families are able to have a dual-income household without giving up all their earnings!

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

“Be where you are.” — When I’m at work, I give my all, when I’m at home, I give my all. Compartmentalization is my greatest skill.

Thank you for these great insights!

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