Samantha Barnes of Raddish: “5 Things That Managers And Executives Should Be Doing To Improve Their Work Culture”

Respect your employee’s time — not just at the office but outside of the office. We moved to unlimited PTO and WFH days very early on, because as a female founder with young kids, I knew I wouldn’t be at my desk 8–6 every day. I wanted to give my employees the exact same flexibility […]

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Raddish Kids Founder Samantha Barnes founded and bootstrapped the company in 2013. Raddish will ship its millionth kit this year and has helped more than 200,000 kids find confidence in the kitchen and beyond.
Raddish Kids Founder Samantha Barnes founded and bootstrapped the company in 2013. Raddish will ship its millionth kit this year and has helped more than 200,000 kids find confidence in the kitchen and beyond.

Respect your employee’s time — not just at the office but outside of the office. We moved to unlimited PTO and WFH days very early on, because as a female founder with young kids, I knew I wouldn’t be at my desk 8–6 every day. I wanted to give my employees the exact same flexibility I benefited from as founder. At Raddish, we strive for a results-oriented and flexible workplace built on autonomy, working smart, and work/life balance.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Barnes. Samantha Barnes is passionate about food and family. As the Founder/CEO of Raddish, a monthly cooking club and curriculum, she works everyday to empower kids in the kitchen.

During her time as a middle school teacher, Samantha realized that many of her students were aspiring foodies… yet they lacked kitchen experience, education, and knowhow. She launched her first kids’ culinary venture in 2006, and soon was teaching thousands of children across Los Angeles through after-school classes, summer camps, and cooking parties. Today, Raddish aims to be the world’s premier kids cooking brand through subscription and curriculum products, delivering monthly culinary experiences that nurture kids’ confidence in the kitchen and beyond.

Samantha is the mom to a 9 and 6 year old, and believes the kitchen is the ideal place to learn, discover, and create alongside her kids. She knows what it takes to be a successful and driven mom in the workplace, and as CEO, she is committed to running a results-oriented and flexible company built on autonomy, working smart, and work/life balance.

Samantha and her companies have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Sunset Magazine, NPR, Better Homes and Gardens, the Today Show, Parents Magazine, the Washington Post, the New York Times, MasterChef Junior, and the Food Network. Samantha attended Deerfield Academy and Bowdoin College, and lives and cooks with her family near the beach in Los Angeles.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was teaching middle school and my students loved sitting in my classroom during lunchtime, talking about the Food Network. They loved watching it, but none of them had any actual experience in the kitchen. Meanwhile, they were eating processed junk food that was negatively affecting their ability to focus and learn. I saw a huge opportunity to give kids the culinary foundation to be successful in the kitchen while learning how good food choices could benefit their mental and physical health. So I started teaching after-school cooking classes and grew from there.

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

I love the story of how I hired one of my first key employees. At the time, Maegan had recently finished teaching our summer cooking camp and was doing some side work for Raddish, the subscription cooking kit we were launching in a few months. She was in the final round of interviews for a full-time position elsewhere, and I spent 45 minutes on the phone giving a reference check on her behalf. The whole time I kept talking about how incredible she was. When I hung up I thought, “Well that was ridiculous — she shouldn’t work for someone else, she should work for me!” I called her immediately and offered her a full-time job…with a job description and title still TBD. She took a risk on the unknown and is still my right hand (and Head of Operations) 5 years later.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Raddish is exploring some exciting new partnerships with larger brands and organizations committed to health, wellness, and family. We’re considering opportunities with CPG and grocery brands, health care providers, and kids’ lifestyle companies to offer customized cooking experiences for families. We’re also looking at ways Raddish can become part of companies’ benefits packages and looking to expand our video content options so families can see how easy and fun cooking together as a family can be.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Perhaps employees aren’t surrounding themselves with people who make them feel good or aren’t doing work that makes them feel happy. My hairdresser recently told me she is in the “business of making people feel good about themselves”… and that is why she loves her job. Not because she’s a good stylist or likes cutting hair. My colleague who works on our customer support team told me she never expected this would be her career path, but “helping people gives her the utmost satisfaction”, and that is the very core of customer support. Understanding the why you do something is as important as the what. The first step to that can be the hardest part — determining what makes you fulfilled and why, and then finding a job that supports that goal.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

We’re past the days where management can force success out of employees through imposition of will. “Knowledge work”, specifically work that depends on fleshing out creative ideas, demands buy-in and enthusiasm from the workforce. Research has shown employees benefit from an environment that stimulates creativity and flexibility. So while a company could grind their employees in the short-term, long-term productivity will certainly suffer. Ultimately an unhappy, unmotivated workforce that can’t tend to their personal health or well-being hardly has the chance to thrive.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1) Recognize the inherent value each employee brings to the team. Give acknowledgement when it’s due, whether it’s a monetary bonus or a well-deserved “shout out” at a team meeting. Whenever possible, share your company’s financial success with your employees. Each employee has a special talent that makes them an important part of the whole.

2) Respect your employee’s time — not just at the office but outside of the office. We moved to unlimited PTO and WFH days very early on, because as a female founder with young kids, I knew I wouldn’t be at my desk 8–6 every day. I wanted to give my employees the exact same flexibility I benefited from as founder. At Raddish, we strive for a results-oriented and flexible workplace built on autonomy, working smart, and work/life balance.

3) Make sure your employees’ job description matches their strengths and interests. Ask them regularly: what do you want to contribute to this organization? What do you want to be known for? What do you want to do in the future? And if they aren’t in a position to achieve their goals, re-structure their role. At Raddish, employees have moved from customer support to content, marketing to product, and teaching in person cooking classes to writing recipes.

4) Good food fosters strong community! We are always testing recipes, which means at any given time a warehouse associate, an engineer, and a marketing lead could all be in the kitchen sampling pesto lasagna or chocolate cupcakes. This helps create common ground and brings our team together across all departments. Not testing recipes at your workplace? Birthday cake, lunch meetings, and afternoon popcorn will all bring a smile.

5) Practice empathy: treat people the way they want to be treated. Everyone in our office approaches the same problem from a different angle. My colleagues see, feel, and think about the world differently. I ask questions and listen, and learn to trust my team before assuming my way is the right way.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

One of the biggest challenges my peers face in the workforce is how to navigate a career and motherhood. Businesses need to invest in women and mothers by providing flexible hours, and by rewarding the inherent traits of parenthood: empathy, compassion, flexibility. Nationally, we need to completely re-examine childcare and re-construct how school hours align with work hours. Our goal as a society should be to de-emphasize the “busy” and embrace the “joie de vivre”. Let’s echo that old adage “work smarter, not harder”…starting from the top down.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Prior to starting my company, I was a middle school teacher. What that means is I had virtually zero experience working in an office, and most of my days were spent with large groups of 12-year-olds. Sure, we had occasional department and grade meetings, but interaction with other adults — and especially my boss (the principal), was infrequent. So I’ve learned to lead, and grow a company, without a lot of experience in a similar setting. There are plenty of times I feel vulnerable — “what if I’m doing it all wrong?” “does everyone know how ‘it’ should be done — except me?” So I’ve learned to rely on my gut and do what “feels” right.

I’m very involved in the hiring process, and I place a lot of emphasis on company fit. Once an employee is on-boarded, I tend to be more hands-off and let them do their job. Our company values flexibility and autonomy, so I expect employees to be intrinsically motivated self-starters who thrive in ambiguity. I’ve discovered some of my strongest qualities as a manager — asking questions, valuing collaboration, showing empathy, setting tone and creating strategy — are also ones I employ at home as “Mom”.

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 husband has supported me every step of the way, even the many early years when I worked my tail off without a paycheck. For years he counseled me on big decisions and listened to petty gripes — and there is plenty of both when you are a solo founder! Three years ago he was transitioning out of his job as Head of Marketing for a big public company that had been sold. I had been encouraging him to take the leap and work alongside me for years — so I seized this opportunity to write him a “professional offer” to work for a much smaller company (that happened to be operating from his own garage.) He decided to give it a try — and with a successful career in digital marketing behind him, and the infinite trust I had in him — he was able to increase our customer based nearly 400% in his first year. Together we’ve enjoyed over 100% YOY growth in revenue every year since. I am particularly grateful he decided to throw his hat into what’s become our family business — because it gave me the courage, and the company the foundation, to truly scale and thrive.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our mission at Raddish is to give kids confidence in the kitchen and beyond. We believe in the power of food to bring families together, to build communities, to expand conversation, to foster healthier lifestyles, and to strengthen relationships. We’ve shipped over half a million cooking kits to date, and each one of them empowers a kid to proudly say “I made that!” We are motivating kids to get off screens and into the kitchen, where they expand their minds and palates and make meaningful memories with their families. Raddish prepares kids for all stages of a delicious life: arming them with the culinary know-how to help their parents make dinner, to bake muffins for a neighbor in need, to prepare after-school snacks with their friends, and in time to feed their own families, passing along these same values.

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

Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it. Ask for help. Not because you are weak but because you want to remain strong.

I was raised by a single mom who as far as I could tell, did everything herself. She is my role model and my true compass. But one thing she wasn’t able to teach me was how to ask for help. As an entrepreneur and a mom, each day I must ask for help from the very capable and inspiring people in my life — whether it’s my Head of Operations or our babysitter. In the early days of my business, I didn’t do this (and I didn’t have childcare!) The benefit was that I learned every part of the business — from teaching cooking classes and writing curriculum, to designing a website and marketing our brand. But it took a few years for me to hire my first employee, and no doubt I could have grown faster and with more focus had I learned to ask for help, or embrace outsourcing, sooner than I did. Today I confidently know I am only as strong as the people around me.

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. 🙂

Cook it Forward! I envision a movement of kids cooking something they love (muffins? Trail mix? Soup? Jam?) to share with someone special — a stranger, a teacher, a crossing guard, a neighbor — with the simple expectation that the recipient “cook it forward” making their favorite dish for someone else.

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