Never point fingers. There was a time where I was part of the blame game. Blaming failures on other people’s mistakes. Now I take the blame for everything and again embrace it. If someone on my team messes up, I try to understand what led to it and figure out where I went wrong. Did I not communicate something correctly? Could I have pointed this out at an earlier time? When I take the blame for whatever it is, it helps me improve thus leading to me showing how our team to improve.
As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kunal Kohli. Kunal is the Co-Founder and COO of BOU, the innovative food company bringing joy back into cooking with its versatile range of bouillon, gravy and miso broth cubes, and instant soup cups. A strategic leader in the food start-up industry, Kunal is known for his ability to deliver successful marketing, operations and sales initiatives that effectively increase brand awareness and retention. Kunal graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in Economics & Political Science before initially starting a career in finance and investment banking. After working on a management consulting project, he discovered a passion for the food and beverage industry and began his own consulting firm that helped advance F&B start-ups’ brand recognition through marketing and sales strategies. With the help of Kunal’s firm, each brand experienced triple-digit growth YoY and secured placement in thousands of new retail doors. Kunal then took the role as General Manager for Metcalfe’s Skinny & itsu Grocery, one of the fastest-growing snack and restaurant companies in the UK. Working under CEO Robert Jakobi, Kunal developed the US brand’s sales and marketing strategies, budgets, and product formulation until the company changed direction and was acquired by Snyder’s Lance (Kettle Chips) in 2016. In 2017, Kunal and Robert co-founded BOU in the US, disrupting a section of the supermarket that had not seen innovation in decades. Through Kunal’s ability to create and implement ROI driven sales & marketing strategies, BOU grew into a national brand in just over three months and is now available at major retailers such as Whole Foods, Kroger, Wegmans, Safeway/Albertson’s and 6,000 more retailers. BOU encourages people to rediscover the joy of cooking with their convenient cubes full of big, bold flavors without compromising on taste. Perfect for cooks of all skill levels, BOU’s products are US-made, are non-GMO and contain no artificial ingredients. To date, BOU has raised $7.8M with backers including Nebari Ventures, Andy Gellert (Gellert Group) and Shelly Stein (Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? I was originally in finance and went through the ups and downs of corporate life. After the 2009 recession, I realized I wasn’t happy and wanted to do something else, something more fulfilling. I was hired to do some management consulting for a struggling food company and immediately found my passion. Even though that business failed, I enjoyed the F&B world and was fortunately introduced to my current business partner through that failed venture and here we are!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I believe many entrepreneurs can relate to this but I was aggressively pursuing a General Manager position with a UK based company that was looking to launch in the US (again my current partner’s past company). There was a whole list of requirements where I had zero experience in half of them. When asked if I could handle everything by the UK company, I confidently stated “absolutely” and took it on. Not only was I building budgets and creating/implementing sales and marketing strategies, I was also developing flavor profiles of the products we were launching. I had to understand ingredients, how they impacted flavor, salt content, and also had to make sure it fit within the required nutritional specs; I had no clue what I was doing! But I was determined to do it and do it correctly and so I spent many all-nighters researching and learning. It also helped that we had great partners in our manufacturer who are actually co-founders of our business, BOU.
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 always thought that marketing involved getting noticed and getting noticed meant creating some funny and experiential campaigns that people will remember. While this may be true, it can’t be the foundation of your marketing strategy. I went ahead and heavily promoted a city wide flash mob that would hand out our products to consumers passing by. I thought we could do this on the subway, on the streets even on buses! After doing further research, talking to people, I quickly realized that a lot more substance was needed and that we can’t just depend on a flash mob to get your product out there. It was funny, silly and helpful at the same time because I was able to learn that I didn’t have the right answer and didn’t waste money by doing it!
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
Every person comes from a different culture and each culture is different within its own. We are all products of our upbringing and what we are exposed to throughout our young lives. I was brought up in a family who owned their own business and valued work and education above everything else. While conflicting at times, it shaped me into who I am. I believe the three reasons why it is important to have a diverse executive team are:
1) Multiple perspectives — As a CPG brand, it is crucial to understand the consumer’s needs and desires. A product is only successful if it satisfies a certain need. Everyone has different needs which stem from their culture/lifestyle. By having a diverse executive team, multiple perspectives are taken into consideration, we try to understand the needs and then build an effective plan that we believe will satisfy multiple needs.
2) Company culture — Our team is made up of people from all different backgrounds, religions and cultures. It is great to learn and hear all these amazing stories and unique experiences which helps us become closer and more than just colleagues; a personal bond created with your teammates leads to a stronger company.
3) Ability to foster a learning environment — By having a diverse executive team, people are both exposed and not exposed to certain things. I am a strong believer in constantly learning about anything that can shape you to be a better person and/or a better leader. Diverse leaders have a host of experiences under their belt and you can learn many things to do and not do from them. The goal is for this to then trickle down to the team and have them become curious and hopefully learn how to be better as well.
5. More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
Culture is constantly evolving. Culture is a result of your surroundings — people, places, activities… If you surround yourself with an atmosphere that is driving you towards your goal, then it is more likely that you will achieve it. One specific example is our team culture. I believe it is of the utmost importance to have a working and effective team culture. Not just becoming friends with your team, but actually depending on them, challenging them, having them challenge you. I believe all this comes from learning, discussing multiple perspectives and coming together for that optimal answer.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
- I believe success stories/testimonials of companies with a diverse leadership can be shared more with the general public (via social media, blogs, press, etc.).
- Encourage minority leaders to become more involved with education and teaching people entering the workforce (I.e: colleges/universities having guest speakers at certain classes).
- More recognition being given to not only minority leaders but also lower to mid tier managers and employees. The younger generation is the future and if you highlight their accomplishments at level one, you give that person motivation to move up the ladder and then do the same for others.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership in my mind is living in the trenches with your team and not just barking out orders and demanding people to do certain things. Leading by example is what shows your team your commitment, dedication and most importantly your vision. People emulate the ones they respect and if a leader doesn’t participate, they won’t gain that respect. It is then very hard for the vision or the goals of the company to be accomplished.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Under promise and over deliver. When I was first starting out, I told people what they wanted to hear. I promised them the world and of course made mistakes and didn’t deliver. This sets you up for disappointment which leads to more stress and anxiety. Now I under promise and work even harder to over deliver.
- Never fear failure, learn from it. When I wouldn’t hit certain targets or achieve something that I put a lot of time and effort into, I blamed it on being unfit or not up to the task. Little did I know that I was becoming smarter and more experienced in how not to do certain things. Failure is good, failure helps you be better. Embrace it, learn from it.
- Make more time for yourself and your family. When I was coming up through my 20’s, I was constantly working and looking for ways to make more money or be better liked by my bosses. I thought this was done by working longer hours. I would tire myself out and lose out on several experiences with my friends and family that I will never get back. Now I manage my time better and put my family and my health first.
- Listen more than you speak. An effective conversation is one where you listen more than you talk. Always hear the other person out, understand their perspective, put yourself in their shoes. This will help you have a better conversation that leads to positive results.
- Never point fingers. There was a time where I was part of the blame game. Blaming failures on other people’s mistakes. Now I take the blame for everything and again embrace it. If someone on my team messes up, I try to understand what led to it and figure out where I went wrong. Did I not communicate something correctly? Could I have pointed this out at an earlier time? When I take the blame for whatever it is, it helps me improve thus leading to me showing how our team to improve.
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. 🙂
Being a father to a beautiful girl who is funny, smart and so innocent, I have really started to pay attention to what more can be done to educate and motivate our children who are the future of our world. Being in the food business, it boggles my mind how children go hungry in such an advanced world. We can make food out of pretty much anything and we are still not able to feed the world’s children. I find this truly unacceptable. I believe if we can figure out how to nourish our children, it can spark a movement that will only better our world’s future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you want something, go get it. Period.” — Chris Gardener.
This quote was made popular by Will Smith in the movie: “Pursuit of Happyness”. It is so simple yet so powerful. Success doesn’t just happen for people. Working hard, working smart, sweating, bleeding, doing whatever is necessary is only how I believe you can achieve your dreams. I constantly remind myself of this every morning and apply it to all that I do.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I am sure many people have probably said this: Barack Obama. I just finished reading “Becoming”(great book, highly recommend) and Michelle Obama does a magnificent job of portraying a true leader in Barack. He is personable, honest, extremely smart and passionate and truly believes in the better good. I want to learn how a brilliant mind like his works, how true passion defines who you are and what you set out to accomplish. Let’s also not forget that he ran the most powerful country while maintaining a great marriage and helping raise two daughters. Definitely not easy!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Instagram is primarily about my daughter. As you will see, we just recently went to Disney! @crzykunali (my uncle made up this name for my when I was younger and it stuck, so excuse the corniness!). But, I prefer that people follow our company, @bouforyou because we have a really cool campaign for the summer that I am extremely proud of our team for creating. Plus it always puts a smile on my face to see some delicious food pics! #foodporn
Thank you for all of these great insights!