Inviting Katy Jones to lunch was intimidating but not because she was the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Durham’s FoodLogiQ. It was about the restaurant selection. Where do you take someone who markets SaaS supply-chain transparency solutions to track food safety? Luckily Durham’s Page Road Grill was a winner. Whew!
Over lunch I learned that FoodLogiQ, recently recognized by Forbes as being one of the top 25 most innovative AgTech startups, is on a mission to change the food industry and that the food-traceability technology market is expected to grow 9% annually, reaching $14 billion globally by 2019. It’s no wonder they raised $19.5 million in a Series B funding round that included investments by Tyson Foods Inc., subsidiary Tyson Ventures and sensor-manufacturer Testo, Inc.
Katy joined FoodLogiQ in 2015 and served in various roles as a thought leader within the food industry, providing insight and education on the importance of supplier management and traceability across the food-supply chain. Under Katy’s leadership, FoodLogiQ’s recognition has soared, awards have been won, and funding secured. Their client list has grown too and includes innovative restaurant customers Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., CKE Restaurants and Panda Restaurant Group. She also works with food manufacturers Hain-Celestial and Seal the Seasons, Amazon.com Inc. grocery chain Whole Foods and hundreds of growers, co-packers and produce marketers.
And there’s more. She just partnered on a panel with Tyson and AgBiome at the Blockchain East Summit in NYC this month addressing the topic of blockchain and how it is being used in the food and beverage supply chain. She is a 2017 recipient of the Triangle Business Journal C-Suite Award and has been named a 2018 finalist for the annual CMO Rising Star Award, which recognizes a demonstrated range of capabilities in leading an organization, marketing innovation, and leading a company’s growth agenda, with fewer than 10 years of senior marketing experience.
Our lunch concluded with a few insider tips about where to have lunch next time and where not to.
1. You took a big career pivot going from research to a tech startup. Tell us about that transition.
It was definitely a big jump and an opportunity for which I am incredibly grateful. I left a very stable career at UNC-Chapel Hill to be the first Marketing hire at a startup. It was risky but it has paid off. At their very core, marketing principles span across industries, but there were certainly approaches to software and tech marketing I had to dig in on. I read a LOT and networked with some amazing talent across the Triangle, including several members of the Alliance of Women in Tech Leadership. And then it just boils down to executing on a plan based on metrics, failing fast and quickly readjusting.
2. You joined FoodLogiQ as the 9th employee. How has the company changed since you joined?
We’ve seen such great growth over the last several years. I was the first marketing hire more than three years ago, and we have since grown the team significantly to include digital marketing, product marketing, sales development, demand generation as well as corporate communications and PR. The first year or two was spent on a lot of housekeeping, getting our inbound machine up and running, building the brand and driving demand generation. When I first started, I wrote every single blog post and now we have an entire team that contributes.
3. Congratulations on being nominated as a finalist for the 2018 CMO Rising Star Award. What do you think the greatest challenges are for a CMO these days?
Thank you! I am incredibly humbled to be nominated amongst an amazing roster of talent. One of the biggest challenges to CMOs these days is the ability to unequivocally tie the marketing function back to revenue. You have to have the data to make decisions on strategies and priorities based on outputs, based on what’s working and what’s not for the business. The challenge is not to get too focused on vanity metrics and to better position marketing as a critical factor in driving business.
4. Coming in on the ground floor of a startup puts you in the talent management driver’s seat. What can you share about that experience and what would you do differently?
It’s critically important to know when and where to add talent as you scale. Within marketing we focused squarely on content and SEO right out of the gate with the second hire being our Digital Marketing Manager. And because of that investment we now see a solid percentage of our pipeline generated from organic search. One area we didn’t focus on as much as we should is on training, specifically on the ins and outs of the food industry. We’re working on making that more of a priority now.
5. You and I talked in depth about the food industry and what you have learned. What would you like our audience to know?
I have learned a lot on the job for sure. It would amaze you the details that go into getting food from the farm to your plate. The food industry is increasingly global so we can get strawberries and avocados year-round. With that comes a complicated web of touchpoints between suppliers, brokers, food distributors and the end point of the retailer, restaurant. or consumer. The other remarkable thing I have learned is the sheer volume of recalls that take place across the industry. Now most of them are fairly innocuous but it is rare that a day or two goes by without some type of recall or voluntary product withdrawal.
6. What is an overrated piece of advice that people tried to give you?
The most overrated advice I have received is that you have to stay at a job for at least three years or otherwise you’re seen as flaky. While I certainly don’t condone skipping around a ton, when an opportunity for advancement presents itself, you take it. If it’s going to challenge you more, give you more access to greater responsibility and get you another step towards your career goals, you take it.
7. Let’s throw a fun one in here. What were you like in high school?
I actually just attended my 20th High School Reunion (go Falcons!) and several people said to me, “You haven’t changed one bit!” I was very focused in high school and took my education very seriously. I was also an athlete and helped start our varsity field hockey team.
8. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
When opportunities present themselves to do work outside of your core “job,” take them. Do the extra work. Volunteer for the committee that gets you access to other departments and helps you build an understanding of how a business works. Don’t get hung up on what’s in your job description and what’s not. You will not only get the reputation for being driven and a hard worker, but you will be able to build such a diverse experience.
9. Is there a mentor that stands out that contributed to your success and development?
I have had too many to count. I believe that everyone — whether it was the amazing boss who gave you your big break or the horrible boss who made your life hell — they all teach you something you have to learn in order to grow in your career.
10. What gets you most excited about the future?
Professionally, I am really excited to see how technology disrupts the food industry, especially things like blockchain, AI and IoT. The industry is at such a disruptive place right now and the companies who can embrace that disruption and channel it into improving the brand experience for their customers will be the winners.
Personally, watching my sons grow into young men.
11. Share something we might not know about you.
I flew an airplane before ever flying in one commercially. I was a Girl Scout growing up and completed a “Women in Aviation” Program and at the end, everyone was able to go up in this tiny Cessna plane one at a time and take the controls for a bit. It was just one of the amazing experiences that being a Girl Scout awarded me.
12. If you could change one business “maxim,” what would you change?
I would change the emphasis on “fake it until you make it” in leadership and the notion that vulnerability is a weakness. I think men in leadership suffer greatly from this idea that they should never show weakness or fault. Women, on the other hand, suffer significantly from imposter syndrome — this feeling that you’re never quite good enough or qualified to make the jump to leadership.
If we all walk around acting like we know everything all the time, we leave no room for ideas. I have been reading and listening a lot to Brené Brown lately and she puts it best in saying, “Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity. There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”
13. What is next for Katy?
Now that we’ve finished the Series B raise, I am looking forward to the next chapter at FoodLogiQ as we continue to grow and scale the business.