How She Got There: Kristin Richmond & Kirsten Tobey, Founders, CEO & CIO of Revolution Foods

Names: Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey
Job Title and Description: Kristin is the CEO and founder of Revolution Foods; Kirsten is the CIO and founder of Revolution Foods
College Name/Major: Kristin attended Boston College with a major in Finance & Accounting, then went on to receive her MBA from UC Berkeley; Kirsten attended Brown University with a major in Development Studies, then went on to receive her MBA from UC Berkeley
Website: revolutionfoods.com
Twitter Handle: @KirstenTobey; @RevolutionFoods
Instagram Handle: @RevolutionFoods

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

KR: We are the co-founders of Revolution Foods, a company that sources fresh, clean-label meals that are affordable, nutritious and taste-test approved by the students and families. We work to serve over 2.5 million freshly-prepared meals each week to 2,500 schools and community sites nationwide, specifically in low-income communities where access to fresh and healthy foods can be challenging. My role as CEO is to ensure that our team and board have a clear strategic plan and resources to execute the plan. A typical day - if I’m not traveling to one of our regional culinary centers -  is usually jam-packed, but might include a meeting with an investor, tasting a new menu item, planning for a critical partnership development meeting and connecting with members of our executive team, either one-on-one or in a strategy meeting.

KT: Each day is a little different. We both have families to attend to before the work day which means making breakfast and school drop-offs each morning, and when we return home from a work day, our focus is on our families. My day might include a meeting with a current or potential strategic partner, interviewing a candidate for a key role, tasting new food items for our school or community meals program, working with our team on a new innovation idea and visiting a school site.

What is the best part of your job?

KT: Working with and building an amazing team and witnessing firsthand the impact we are having on schools and communities. We are working toward and seeing evidence every day that the system is changing as a result of our work. This is incredibly satisfying.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

KR: After college, I worked as an investment banker and later moved to Kenya to start a school. Returning to the U.S., I worked in teacher recruitment and retention, and both of these experiences demonstrated to the importance of the school environment for building healthy habits in kids, as well as the critical role that food plays in setting students up for success.

KT: My first job in the food industry was working as a catering delivery driver; I got it by looking in the yellow pages. But it was my work as a classroom teacher and my later work in food systems policy where I developed a deep understanding of the disparities that exist among students’ access to healthy food across communities.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

KR: When I was 25, I worked in Nairobi, Kenya, helping to start a school for children with learning differences. We recruited a new head of school, Janice Simpkins, who moved to Kenya from Pittsburgh. After watching me buzz around the school in a constant state of motion, attacking item after item on my checklist, she sat me down one afternoon to have a conversation. She explained that over the years, I would likely learn that the presence and depth of conversation with my colleagues was far more important than "checking" off my daily to-do list. She shared that she had a similar energy and approach at my age, but learned over the years how to build trust, teams and commitment in her work through taking the time and presence to truly connect and show respect. I have never forgotten the wisdom of Janice and her incredible guidance early in my career.

KR: When Kris and I were first starting the company, a woman told us to always make sure we wore comfortable shoes. As silly as that advice seemed at first, looking back I think there is something metaphorical about it. If your feet are hurting, or you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be your best self.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

KT: One of the biggest challenges we’ve experienced was our expansion into a major market early on in the company. When we were in the process of planning the expansion, we had different scenarios in place for what we would do if it was unsuccessful. We put so much thought into planning for our failure but failed to discuss what would happen if it were actually a success, which ultimately it was. We ended up having to temporarily relocate our families to build the program because we won so many contracts right off the bat. What we took away from it was you can’t forget to play for every scenario – both positive and negative.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

KT: Every time we see kids eating healthier meals in a school cafeteria or look at the career progression of our earliest employees, we are reminded of the important work that we are doing each day to change the system, which is a surreal realization.  

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

KR: We look for individuals who are hard workers and who fit into our company culture. We are a mission-driven company, so we want team members who are familiar with and passionate about the work we do. We are so lucky here because our team believes in the mission of transforming the food system. They have a deep connection and feel a responsibility to achieve that, which is an important draw for inspiration and ultimately success.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

KR: Don’t sweat the small stuff – when it comes to your career, try not to ride the ups and the downs so hard. Celebrate the wins, learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on either. Also, if your goal is to build your own business, be sure to invest in a good team and have a good support system behind you. We believe that the team is everything, and when you reach a point when your business is expanding and you can no longer do everything yourself, you’ll want to be sure that you invested in the right individuals early on that you can rely on.

KT: Learn how to integrate your personal and professional lives, but not put one off for the other. When you’re running a business, it’s so easy to forget to take "me time" and work on your personal life, but it is so important not to put your life on hold because of your work; that is how you start to resent it.

What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?

KT: I always like seeing people doing something off the traditional track with pursuing passion-related endeavors. It’s important to build a solid foundation and get traditional training in a core skill area, but we like to see people who have also taken some risk in their career.