Ellis Singer McCue – CEO of Territory Foods

Episode 202

What can be accomplished with a clear purpose and vision to make healthy food available to all? Ellis Singer McCue shares how a journey with a family history of health issues drove her to want to create change for all. Listen now to this inspiring conversation on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow

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Ellis Singer McCue 0:00
There’s a heartbeat to what we do. And the reason that people are here is because they want to make the world a better place through delicious healthy food.

Kara Goldin 0:07
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be, I want to be just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control.

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show, though. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go Let’s go. Hi, everyone. Its Kara golden from the Kara golden show. And I’m super super excited to have my next guest here who is just a total rock star fellow redhead if you are on watching us on on the video portion of this. So LS singer McHugh is the CEO of territory foods. And it is the absolutely one of the yummiest delivery programs that’s out there. And she was so kind to deliver way too much to my house. And I have to tell you, my 16 year old son was quite happy. He said he’s never eaten so well and his life which I wasn’t going to dissect that comment at all. But I just it was so so good. So Ellis has a super impressive track record. She spent years in global consulting at Deloitte and then went on to be at the gap. And then also at z x ventures. And she has a really interesting story. She had cancer and her family and she became interested in researching how food impacts health and wellness and fight diseases. And I mean, that cannot be more emphasized. I think so many people are thinking about that today. Like how do you stay healthy and, and so, so important. So in 2017, she joined territory as the VP of Strategic Finance. And then shortly after that was named CEO in 2019. And which is such a great, great, great story that we’ll get into. And she’s been featured as a top 25 Consumer Health Tech executive. So many accolades, she’s done a lot of foundational work in the food science, space. And she was also recognized as the best company for women, by the 2020 compatibly awards. And I mean, just so so cool. So I can’t wait to get started with LS and hear a little bit more about her journey. So thank you so much for coming on.

Ellis Singer McCue 3:01
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. Very, very

Kara Goldin 3:04
excited. So let’s go back to the beginning. So I always try and get down to sort of who you are as a as a kid who was young Alice? Right. Did you always know you were going to be working at territory foods and doing all the stuff that you did?

Ellis Singer McCue 3:19
No, no way. I would say young Alice, I wanted to be a rock star. Like if you’re like, What did you want to be when you were five years old, I wanted to be a rock star. I never learned guitar. So it kind of was a showstopper. But I really got my like my journey started on I went to Johns Hopkins University, and I studied International Studies, East Asian studies, history and economics. So I’m a massive nerd. And I was graduating from university at a time in 2008, when there were not a ton of like new jobs coming out. But the world was about to go into flux. And like you could kind of see it in the world of like finance, consulting, and things like that. And with that background, I ended up in technology consulting, and it was really on a little bit of a lark, because I was like, Well, if I can teach myself Mandarin Chinese, which I do speak very terribly, which is what I would say, teach myself, Mandarin Chinese, I could probably teach people how to learn technology concepts in a non technical environment. And so I loved consulting from beginning, I loved the business translation aspect. And I really loved the idea of how do you take people through a journey of transforming their business and, and I as young person have the tools to help you like that’s so empowering. And, and early in my time at Deloitte, I kind of said, I loved, like, listen to what is an amazing place to start a career. This is not a Deloitte ad, but I will say you’re on the fence. It’s a fantastic place, because it’s just got a ton of runway and just like phenomenal leadership culture. And so I learned from an early time to really believe in myself and to like, raise my own voice, where I know that a lot of women in technology specifically did not have that experience. And so I feel really lucky that I came up in this time, even with a non technical degree in the world of technology saying, you can learn this thing, you can teach this person, you can build this system and no one’s gonna stop you. But I was deploying large scale Oracle ERP, like packages, I will tell you, it’s like the least sexy technology. And it’s very dry. But what I really loved was working with the clients. And I love to their their experiences. And I worked with like large scale semiconductor tester manufacturers in Japan, and I worked with on Humvee manufacturers in Texas. And the thing that really struck me with all of them was that they really believe their business was so different than every other business. They really believe the way that they did their reporting was different in the way that they did their payables was different in their supply chain. And I started to just say, like, why, like, why is this so different? And I think that my like, innate like kind of tenacity and like an E and TJ personality was like, But why why do you think this? Why do you think this right? And it’s because for me, I looked at all these businesses. And with that really young, I like, you don’t really know the difference between one business or another, just kind of like, business, right. And so I started to form this hypothesis, that any difference in your business, anything that was special about you actually had to be different to the consumer. And then unless it provided value to that end consumer, you were pretty much just wasting efficiency in your back office, in your supply chain, and in whatever you were doing. And there’s all these tools, especially now there’s all these tools, if you want to launch a business, if you don’t have something that’s differentiated about that part of your business, you should use a tool that somebody else has created, because they’re going to help you do it faster, and get it in front of the customer to prove that they really love the product. And, and so even you know, before I knew I was going to be the CEO of anything, and certainly before I thought about the world of health and wellness and fresh for fair foods, I started to say, any business that I touch, I need to understand how that complexity drives that end value to the consumer. So from the beginning, I’ve always been obsessed with it from Deloitte, I was there for like six years, I got amazing management chops. I was like, top 5% The whole time I was there. And it like a crazy Taipei, I’d moved from the East Coast, the West Coast and was living in San Francisco. And I really wanted to own something. And I’ve always loved to global fashion. And I’ve always loved retailing, I’m a big shopper. So I said I’m going to go find a place that brings all those things together and the best and biggest global supply chain in San Francisco for fashion. It’s absolutely yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And their retail giant right six brands at that time incredible leadership team and incredible mission based company as well. And, and a lot of companies will say that they’re mission based, but gap actually invest in it, they have a huge, huge focus on sustainability on developing the communities they touch, and something called the PACE program, which is literally incredible. And Donna Doris Fisher were amazing, you know, patrons in San Francisco as well. So when you’re talking about companies with legacy and like building something that’s more meaningful for community gap is, it’s incredible. And the part of GAAP I came into was a really interesting part. And it was the global supply chain organization for the franchise business. And the franchise business was the 44 international markets that GAAP did not wholly own. And they worked with best in class franchisees around the world, and basically said, like, we’ll design the product, you sell it. It’s a really simple relationship. And it allows you to be in places like Saudi Arabia and the Niger, Malaysia, Singapore, you know, places that are hard for US companies to operate, but they do so in a trusted partnership way. And I came in at this amazing time, when this franchise business had grown to the massive, but on the other side of the world in San Francisco gap was optimizing their supply chain to build like better ecommerce practices here in the US and better global supply chain flow. And they made a critical decision in the way the goods moved, that basically just broke the franchise business. So my, my first day I was like, Oh, God, this is broken.

Kara Goldin 8:55
That’s insane. So did you but you didn’t know anything from Deloitte about franchises, right?

Ellis Singer McCue 9:00
Nothing. Yeah, I knew nothing about franchises. I knew very little about the global supply chain. And I really, and I was so nervous, but then I was also so upset as a young person making these choices because my first day I’d gap I came home, I just like cried my eyes out to my husband, my boyfriend. He’s my husband now. And I said, I made a horrible mistake. And he said, why? And I was like, I was sitting pretty at Deloitte. Like I had a great career in front of me, or what did I do? What did I do? I could have just stayed for 10 more years, and I probably be a partner, they were going to pay for my MBA, I didn’t get it like all these things. And I made that choice because I believed that I didn’t need to get an MBA to do what I wanted to do in the long run to own something to build something. And I made that choice because I said, I can always go back. I can always bring my hat to the door and say like, I’ve made a horrible mistake, please take me back. But you can’t compromise that next step forward. And so I put myself into an uncomfortable space. I walked through the doors of gap. I didn’t know anything about the business. But I used the logical reasoning that I had gotten as a consultant to basically say like, okay, like, what do I know? What do I know? Right? And how do I know that things work. And it was amazing. I was that gap for about three years and just worked through the number of challenges and problems in this global supply chain organization. Chung Curran, who is the EVP of supply chain, then he’s the CEO now, he’s an incredible human, incredible mentor to me, like never, ever, never would kick him kick me out of his office, for sure. And I really think that he helped me understand a lot of what I loved about supply chain and what a lot of what I didn’t, quite frankly, and he, you know, I remember him sitting down, he said, I think you can run a distribution center one day, and I remember being like, thank you so much, Sean, but inside being like, I could not want to run it.

Kara Goldin 10:47
Yeah, no, but it’s, it’s always good to sort of be asked right and and kind of think about that somebody thinks that you would be good at something. But it’s not even slightly in your interest. But exactly. And so then you go on to ZX ventures. And now how did that come about?

Ellis Singer McCue 11:05
I’m very much by accident. Wish I could say that I was like, more intentional. But I had moved from San Francisco to London with gap. And then I moved from London back to the US. And I was working in product operations of making the whole business more responsive to consumer demand. And so basically, the very early iteration of demand demand based ordering of product and like reading data and saying, like, what’s the colorways, we’re going to choose for this product based on the weight early consumers are buying. And now saying that in the world of like, DTC businesses are everywhere, it doesn’t sound that revolutionary. But for a gap, it’s actually huge. It’s a huge thing to say, we’re going to read the data before we place the orders. And we’re doing it manually. We’re doing it on spreadsheets myself, in a player named Nicole, we’ve cut purchase orders for hundreds of 1000s of pairs of pants at like two o’clock in the morning at 55. Thomas Street, like, it was fun. It was the Wild West. And but I kind of took a step back when I came back to New York, and I said, you know, what’s my dream? And what am I trying to prove? And I think that, for me, it’s always about what am I learning? And if I’m not learning, then why am I here? Right? I’m, I’m a constant state of learning. And I’m a constant state of like, acquiring new information. And I took a hard look, I loved my team gap, best boss ever amazing, like great career, again, similar to the joy story, great career, but I said, you know, I don’t feel like I’m learning as much. And I want to get into this direct to consumer idea. And I want to get into demand based design. And so I put my resume out on LinkedIn. I was almost instantly reached out to by ZX ventures through like one of their contract recruiters and they basically said, you have the strangest background, because I had supply chain finance, technology and merchandising. Totally, very weird. Yeah, totally strange. And they said, You just might be perfect for what we want you to do. And they were looking for. So first and foremost, the Accenture is is the venture capital and innovation arm of AB InBev. AB InBev is the largest CPG company in the world is $58 billion company, most notably owns Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona, and a portfolio of 350 other brands across the world. And it’s an incredible company to work for. And dx is a special part of ABN Bev that does innovation in venture capital, it has five divisions, and the one that they recruited me for was brand experience. And they basically said that beer as a category is declining. And it’s declining because of a couple of core, you know, massive macro level vectors in terms of buying behaviors of female consumers, lack of premiumization against wine and spirits. And then health and wellness trends in the beverage category in general, of which I’m sure you’re very, very aware. Yeah, well aware. And they said, we have all these brands, and people love them. And so if we could build other products that they wanted to buy, could we reinforce the beer buying habit without actually selling people beer? And I was like, Well, this is just like, the strangest business I’ve ever heard. So, sure, let me let me try it. And I basically said, you know, you’re never gonna walk into an environment where you have 350 of the best brands in the world. And what you can do is understand why the customer actually buys, what do they actually love, and then build products. And so for two years, I traveled around the world, myself and a creative director, and we would literally go on a customer Safari, and we’d say, okay, in Belgium, it’s Lefay. And who drinks Lefay. It’s a 45 to 55 year old male consumer, he has one after work with a friend. And then the second food hits the table for like an apertivo kind of premium snack. And they switched to wine because of perception that wine matches better with food. So how do we stop that switching behavior? And how do we sell them something different? And so we built a beer wash cheese program. And we basically told the consumer through a product that was okay to stick with beer on and these became their own businesses on their own. But it was amazing experience because I owned the p&l from design through delivery through all these things. In sales channels, whether it’s direct to consumer or b2b sales with Walmart, working with a truly global team, we’re interesting. It was super interesting. And like, I built the business, it was growing rapidly, rapidly for two years. And again, I kind of said, Okay, now what?

Kara Goldin 15:17
Wait, let me let me just go back to wait, did you guys actually build brands Then did you actually go and create new brands,

Ellis Singer McCue 15:25
we didn’t start brands from the beginning, what we would do is we’d get in at the beginning level. So like, a great example is this brand called Colorado in Brazil. It’s like the original craft beer of of Brazil. And we were there at the nascent stage when they’re doing the original brand design, building out all the products suite that would go with it. And if this, this brand heritage that we’re creating was very much about like local fruits and local businesses, like how could you build the apparel, the glassware, the food products, that all fit into that ecosystem of that brand?

Kara Goldin 15:55
And so you’d actually like start an apparel company around? Yes, a brand. So did you do they still own like an apparel company?

Ellis Singer McCue 16:03
Well, okay, so we did a lot their licensing, right? Because like the the best, as I kind of said, like the best way to do things in this world where we have access to so many things, you know, you don’t learn HTML and build a website, you go to Shopify, and use it as platform. Right. And so just like for that you find people who are making best in class, you know, whatever you’re looking for, and you come to them, you say, I have an idea of a concept of a budget, let’s build that things. But yes, we have a Bud Light fashion line in Mexico. And my counterpart, who runs the licensing business here in the US, and globally now has done a beautiful job of like, even growing even further, but a lot of a lot of really interesting products. And like for the cheese that I mentioned, we had a best in class licensee named Sensia. They’re incredible Belgian company, they made best in class cheese. And we said, we want to do a pure rush cheese for Lefay, to heritage brand. And they, they just got the concept right off the bat.

Kara Goldin 16:51
So interesting. I had no idea that they were even in kind of that business. So you saw like a whole different side of the world that I think a lot of people just don’t even know exists for business. Exactly.

Ellis Singer McCue 17:01
And but it was so much fun. It’s what I would say. Because when you’re creating something from zero, it’s just this most exciting and interesting part. But for me, the hardest part of creation is that brand love and to be able to come in to companies that already had that brand love and marketing teams that already knew how to speak to that consumer was so valuable. Because I said like, okay, I can study this customer, I can understand what else they want. But I think it’s very difficult to build that brand love from zero to one. And so I have a massive amount of respect for for the branding teams, especially maybe in the UK, but across, you know, big companies, small companies, you have the hardest job, because you’re talking to the consumer about why they should love your product. Yeah. And that’s not an easy conversation to have.

Kara Goldin 17:43
No, not at all. That’s Wow, that’s so incredible. So So then how did you get to territory foods then?

Ellis Singer McCue 17:50
Well, I was I was in the middle of 2000. You know, whatever, just kind of sitting on like my 36th week of consecutive travel is how I would describe it. And my health had fallen apart. And so you had mentioned I have a lot of cancer in my family, I lost my father to a stage four glioblastoma when I was 20 years old, which is brain cancer. And it was, as you can imagine, as a young person losing a parent, it is already so difficult and traumatic. But I think the thing for me about this particular type of cancer was that it was fast. We didn’t know one day, he was fine. The next day, he was almost gone. And he he managed to hang on for like a year and a half. So it’s just this crazy moment when you go through cancer survival as a like participant for lack of a better term or a loved one. It really impacts you as well. And as a young person, I’m like 21 years old, I kind of was like, okay, my aunt had a double mastectomy because she had breast cancer and cervical cancer. And my father just died of a brain cancer. Am I going to die? And I think that mortality moment, usually comes later for people it came pretty early for me. Sure. And I went to doctors, and I said, like, what can I do for cancer prevention? And they said nothing. And I was like, What do you mean nothing? Like, how is that possible? We know so many things, like how can we not know anything about this? And so as I went from like college to, you know, to young working age, I started to just kind of like look at my own health. And you know, as a consultant, I would go out like every night, go drinking with my team steak dinners, like all the stereotypes, everything, everything. And I was always walking around like super bloated. And I looked pregnant at like 24 years old. On Fun fact, I have not worn work pants since 2009. Well, every, every conference you will see me I’m in a dress because in 2009 I gave up pants because I was like these are unflattering and they may feel terrible about myself and like I can’t handle it. It’s that’s like the fun fact I used with our team all the time. But I went to Georgetown, Gastroenterology and I said, you know, my stomach’s really swollen, what could be wrong? And they said, Well, you might have colon cancer

and I just I couldn’t believe it. And I felt like my world was like caving in. And so I walked out of that doctor and I never walked back in. And instead I started saying, like, how can I change my How can I change my life. And I found Dr. Mark Hyman at four o’clock in the morning on on PBS who’s speaking at Saunders Hall. And he is the you know, forefather of the functional wellness movement in the United States, Cleveland Clinic, you know, all these amazing things. And he was talking about the body’s a system. And that really resonated with me because he was like, if you have an inflammation in one part of the body, it’s going to show up in other parts of the body. And you need to figure out how you can reduce inflammation in your body and figure out what is right for you. And so I started that process in like 2010, and started iterating, iterating and iterating. Fast forward to my time when I’m at CX ventures, and I’m traveling around the world drinking beer, so definitely not living an anti inflammatory lifestyle. I love Paljor queso, which is a Brazilian treat, and I love craft beer, which is very, very heavy and very glutinous. And I basically said, you know, from a business perspective, I’ve worked at large companies, I’ve started my own thing I’ve, you know, made a global supply chain much faster. I know how to do all these pieces. What else do I want? Right? Do I want to go start my own thing from scratch. I’ve never been somebody who has like a lightning bolt like aha moment. I’ve never been like, here’s this. I said, I’m a consultant by nature, I want to find something that is already going that I think is really special. And I want to help grow it. And I want to come in and bring this breadth of experience, a ton of empathy, and really strong culture to the place that I go to work. And I want to help take a company through the next level. So I found territory, they were hiring a like a finance person on LinkedIn again, this is like also a Loki ad for LinkedIn. Yeah, exactly. And, and I reached out and the recruiter and I had one conversation about ketogenic food and anti inflammatory food, and she was like, Holy shit, you’re one of us. And I was like, This is amazing. And I had a conversation with the founder. And he had, like, built this really interesting business because territory started in 2011, were a little bit of an older company. And he the founder, Patrick had started the company out of his own personal need for fresh prepared meals in the Paleo space, because he was doing CrossFit. And he was trying to get in shape. And at that time, in 2011, there was no way to get Paleo Food to the home, like Whole Foods did not have it, like nobody had it. And so he went out and he find a chef that was making Paleo Food. And he said, Well, you make the pre prepared paleo meals, every single week. And she said, Sure, I’ll make them but not just for you get a couple other people from your jam and see if they’re interested. So he went to his jam. And he said, Does anybody want to do this with me? And six people said, yes, the first week, and then six became 10, became 12, became 25, and all the other gyms in Northern Virginia where he lived. And he realized he’s a software engineer and entrepreneur. And he said, this is a business, because I’m solving a need for people that are super engaged, that aren’t, you know, excited about this. And I can do this at scale through technology. And what was amazing to me was that, for the, you know, six years before I joined territory, the business had really evolved on the operational side of the house, and on the culinary side of the house. And so as paleo became primal, and primal became whole 30 and whole 30 became keto keto became plant based. And with all this rapid fragmentation in the world of what the consumer views healthy territory had just kept adding chefs, they just would add more chefs and more capacity. And unlike everybody else in the fresh prepared meals category, who are vertically integrated, and very kind of classic CPG. territory, leverage the fact that they were a software platform to just bring on more capacity. So once I found this out, it’s like the perfect marriage of like, my own personal interest in health and wellness, the way I live my life, and then my supply chain magic brain just like exploded

Kara Goldin 23:53
just Yeah. Which is, which is so cool. And today, I mean, we’ll go back to the fact that then you took over as as CEO, but But I mean, today just sort of talk a little bit about I mean, your national, but you use local people. I mean, you’re not shipping from California to New York, you’re That’s right. Right. And so and then the delivery services, you’re not using FedEx, right, I mean, you’re right, using all local and which is absolutely amazing. And, and so that’s what I found so interesting about it, too, that you have a totally different type of supply chain, and certainly different from the gap and some of the other ones that you’ve seen out there. So it was definitely I’m sure a learning curve, but then this was your first CEO role as well. So how did you get the confidence to you know, jump in and just go do it at that point?

Ellis Singer McCue 24:47
I think, you know, territories are super special business and the moment I stepped through the virtual threshold because we are a remote distributed company, meaning that, like you mentioned, all of our food is made locally so everything made about 200 miles or less of where it’s being final consumed, which is really special, which means that your, your dollars stay in your local community. From a food perspective, everything is sourced from local farms. So everything’s fresher, there’s a lower carbon footprint, we work with local three peels, so on and so forth. The moment I started a territory, I realized it was a very special company, and not the heartbeat of the company was this amazing model and the culture that made it tick. And every single person that works a territory, we’re about 80 people now, there’s a heartbeat to what we do. And the reason that people are here is because they want to make the world a better place through delicious, healthy food. I love and that is so special. You know, that’s the thing about big companies, people are at them for different reasons, and a small company and a startup, you have to really believe. And so when I stepped in as CEO, was not during an easy time except in, you know, right as the pandemic really took off, which is a crazy, it’s a crazy time to do anything. It’s my answer. When I stepped in, in that moment, the first conversation with the team, virtually on the on 1000 little zoom boxes. Yeah, I literally said the words, okay, guys, it’s us, what are we doing? And it’s very much about like, let’s pull together. And let’s remember the core values of the company that we are. And let’s use those values as the central point of everything that we do. And if we build a company that is around our values, and we bring that to every single thing, in every single conversation, we build better partnerships with our local communities, we build better partnerships with our chef’s, we produce a better product for our customer, and we take better care of them. And that’s really what we’re here to do. And so I will not say that it was easy. But I think it’s one of these things where when the only choice is forward, you either freak out. Yeah, or you step up. And I’m definitely somebody who says like, alright, just got to do it. Take that deep breath, and just move forward.

Kara Goldin 26:54
Well, I love to you explain a little bit about your journey. And even though those weren’t entrepreneur, per se, right, they were maybe innovation groups within larger companies, or I always say to people, like, they’re like, I never should have gone to such and such place. I was never enum like every point along the way, is a learning experience, right? Where you can actually pick up stuff, and I’m sure there’s stuff from even, you know, dealing with franchises to, you know, creating, spotting new trends, or whatever it is, I mean, finding tools to do stuff. But more than anything, what I hear is like, the puzzle wasn’t done, right, ever, right? You were like thrown a bunch of pieces, there was no picture to the puzzle that was handed to you. It was kind of it was kind of like go create. And that is where I think the you know, the curiosity and the entrepreneurial spirit that you talked about early on combined with your own personal interest and health, then, I mean, that’s sort of my story as well, how I got to be a beverage entrepreneur. I mean, it’s, it’s, uh, you know, very, very, very similar. What do you think was like the hardest thing about taking over for somebody? I’ve talked to other friends of mine that have, you know, taken over, sometimes the founders still stay? And sometimes they haven’t? And, you know, and I think it, I’m so curious, like, what advice would you give to people? Who are sort of in that situation?

Ellis Singer McCue 28:22
Yeah, you have to believe like, you have to believe. Because if you don’t believe nobody else is going to believe. And most of the time, when I’m talking to people who don’t know, territory, they don’t know, I’m not the founder, like they will walk into like podcasts or meetings or things like that. Tell me how you told how you found the territory. And I’ll start by just saying, I’m actually not the founder. And I think that in our world of business, there’s, there’s definitely a little bit of stigma around not being a founder, people say like, oh, well, you’re pretty much a founder. I’m like, I’m a CEO. Yeah, okay. Yeah. They’re different. Yeah. And but I think, like, I believe so much in the mission of territory, and the vision, the dream and the team that’s doing it, that it flows through. And it gives me an incredible amount of positivity and incredible amount of belief that I bring to the team every single day. And I think that it is hard when you didn’t when you don’t start something to have that natural belief that is the heartbeat of everything that you do. And so if you choose to go to a place where you’re not the founder, and you’re stepping into the CEO position, or even high leadership position, you really do have to believe AI, because your team will be able to sniff out that you don’t. And if you if they can tell, then all of a sudden, they’ll start to say then why am I here? And that’s when the the cracks of doubt really start to trickle across an organization. And I’m a big believer that in a well performing organization, people have the spirit behind them to ask the hard questions. And it’s not just about blindly saying, you know, this is the best thing. We are the best. It’s about saying like, we’re the best. So why isn’t this thing working? Or I want to be the best and I don’t think we’re being the best in this way. And it’s the honesty and the trust that usually is in those early teams. is where people are saying like, Hey, I just want to build this thing so badly, let’s have a real honest conversation around it. It gets harder in later stage companies. But I think as a leader, it’s your job to really keep that conversation going and and challenge the people that you bring in as well. And the team that I brought in to have that kind of honesty and candor, respect and empathy together.

Kara Goldin 30:20
Absolutely. So how has COVID changed your business? Are you obviously man walked in to, you know, this really interesting time and situation? But, you know, it’s when I think about prepared foods, I think, prior to the pandemic, if anybody would have said to me, you know, prepared foods when people are living at home, maybe that is not a category that would grow. But I know that that’s not the case for your business, or I believe that’s not the case for your business. And so I think they’re, it’s just another one of those surprises, like, what have you seen in this category as a whole? And for your company?

Ellis Singer McCue 31:02
Yeah, what’s the category? Um, I’ll tell you, when I first came to territory, I started, you know, talking to investors and things like that we were the least sexy product on the market. We’re a delicious, very delicious, I promise everyone who’s listening very delicious, a delicious, healthy prepared meals company delivered to the home. Like there’s a lot of things there. And the number one thing that people would say, would be like, Well, what about distribution through Whole Foods? Like, have you thought of that? And believe you, me, I’ve thought about it extensively. But it was a really interesting thing, because people would confuse us with meal kits. And they said, oh, like a meal kit, and say, No, not a meal kit, because it’s ready in 90 seconds in your microwave. Everything is made by a real chef in a real restaurant. It’s not made in a factory, it’s not CPG. And there was just a category confusion. That was crazy. And that category confusion, what it means is that it’s harder to talk to the consumer. Yeah, it’s harder to explain the difference between territory foods and HelloFresh. In the digital world, right? When everyone is saying the same words, it’s harder to access capital to grow the business when investors around the table, haven’t seen it before. Or maybe remember some of the early models. If you remember a company called Monterey and San Francisco, that was a fantastic company. Yeah. They went out of business in early 2019. And I think every conversation, I walked into all of 2019 munchery was the elephant in the room. And I actually just started addressing the elephant early on, and what was it like we’re elephant

Kara Goldin 32:24
there? I mean, what do you Oh, there’s capital. I mean, there’s I’m sure lots of different things. But how did you differentiate yourself? I should say,

Ellis Singer McCue 32:32
Well, I mean, my entry, the big The reason there was the elephant was that Monterey had raised I think, $127 million, and went out of business in literally 48 hours. And it was a it wasn’t like a gradual process where they shut them down. And they really IT staff off, it was like, lights on lights off. And they left probably 1000, if not more vendors in San Francisco, small businesses holding the bag for products that they could not

Kara Goldin 32:56
pay for. Yeah, no, it I know, I’m sure

Ellis Singer McCue 32:59
you remember. And it was like one of these moments where I think a lot of people started to say like, is venture capital and food going too far? Like is this going to really negatively impact the the world of like the culinary world around us. And obviously, we’re in a different world now. But the way I would find it at the time was I would really talk a lot about actually about my experience as working in the franchise business. Because the thing about a franchise is one if the product is not good, no one wants it, which is the same universal truth across selling Hotaling. But to if both sides of the partnership don’t work, then the business falls apart. And for territory, versus a seamless or an Uber Eats or GrubHub and DoorDash. We really look at our chef relationships as partnerships. And we look at the unit economics on both sides of the agreement and say, how do we build solvent businesses on both sides, because if working with territory is not a solvent business for a restaurant, they’re not going to work with us. And then we have less supply side and then we can’t meet our customers demand. And so this is where I think we do things very, I know we do things very differently than everyone else on our category. Because we really seek partners that have the same values, the same ideals we do around making, you know, delicious food, healthy food. We partnered up here in DC with a wonderful company called founding farmers and farmers Restaurant Group. And Dan Simon CEO is like a leader in the local business community around conscious capitalism around building a better ecosystem for food. You know, we really try to find values aligned, restaurants, caterers, so on and so forth. And then what we do is we approach them and say, We want to build a business with you. Because during the pandemic, what happened to the culinary industry was all of a sudden they went from being you know, if you’re a restaurant, right, your your whole life is trying to plan for your main core business. So if you are a normal restaurant, it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and your whole business is kind of skewed around that meaning that your supply is set up for that your labor, set up your marketing everything. And you focus on in service because you’re trying to do a plus up you’re trying to get somebody to order dessert or add a bottle of wine or something thing like that. And that’s how you do your selling. In the pandemic, all of a sudden, all these culinary businesses, all these restaurants now are selling through platforms that they have no visibility to the end customer. And so your beloved restaurant looks exactly the same as all the other restaurants on the platform. And oh, by the way, some people are paying to be ahead of you in search. And oh, by the way, some of them aren’t even real restaurants. And they’re actually just like brands that the company came up with in their dark kitchens. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but like, fake brands that are not actual restaurants and chefs just cook the same thing. And the people who lose in this arrangement, I really believe the end consumer loses because as an end consumer, you’re kind of like, well, I want to Thai food, but I have no idea what these restaurants are. And I have no idea if it’s gonna be good. And I can’t believe anything on this platform. And then for the restaurant perspective, they lose because they lost control of their demand side, and they’ve lost control of that consumer relationship. And so they’re basically at the mercy of platforms that are very opaque. So I use a lot of stainless, I’m not, I’m not hating on stainless, but it’s not an ideal world, we really view ourselves as kind of a marketplace 2.0, where we say, hey, supplier base, hey, restaurants that we work with, we want to build a reciprocal relationship, so that as you’re building out your restaurant footprint, we are giving you information about where your customer is buying from through territories, so that as you’re placing your next physical restaurant, in a post pandemic world, we can tell you a little bit about that consumer, you can use our menu as your A B testing place before you put it on your real menu, we can have a conversation about we bring a lot of safety knowledge, we bring a lot of excellence in like in crafting individual meals in the way things need to look, we bring that to go to restaurant and we say hey, like the consumer like this more, if it looks a little bit more like this. And then on top of that, we bring a ton of like dietary wellness information, because we have six dieticians on staff just to to make sure that everything is just bought, like baseline healthy. So I think that the pandemic changed our category because people understand the category now in a way that they never have. But then also the consumers think about their health in a completely different way. The consumer is saying how do I change my health and every day. And then on the supply side, restaurants are saying, Okay, I need to build a better business who’s going to be with me to build that next business. And that’s really where we come in.

Kara Goldin 37:18
Now. That’s awesome. I love it. And the food is so good. As I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, it’s so so yummy. There was a chicken one that you sent me that was like, wait a minute, no one is touching this. It’s sort of like my favorite. My favorite drinks, my favorite hand bottles in the frigerator you touch it, you are going to be in a lot of trouble. So that’s my

Ellis Singer McCue 37:38
hint, watermelon. Yeah, that’s my hidden watermelon. Thank you for sending it because it’s delicious. Yes, I

Kara Goldin 37:42
love it. So well. This is so great. Well, Ellis, thank you so much for coming on. When where can people find out more about territory, foods and order from you as well?

Ellis Singer McCue 37:55
Absolutely. So you can go to www dot territory foods.com. And you can also find us all of our social, we’re at territory foods. You can also follow me I’m at Ellis McHugh. And then we also have a special promo for your listeners as well. And Kara 75 Is your promo for $75 off of their first order plus free shipping.

Kara Goldin 38:15
Oh, that’s amazing. Thank you. That’s so lovely.

Ellis Singer McCue 38:18
And we’re just so excited to be serving people and just excited to be helping people, they figure out what 2022 is gonna look like, I can’t believe we’re here. And 21 is over. I think in 22, we’ll probably still be talking about 20 and how it changed our lives. But you know, when we think about our goals and where we’re going, really just trying to modernize the way people eat and help them live a better life. So I think we’re aligned in that totally. And just want to thank you for the opportunity to share. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 38:47
absolutely. Well, thank you so much for coming on. And thanks everybody, for listening. And Ellis says work is just such a great example of how you can take your own passion and also health and wellness which are so critical to all and just go and run a business that actually is helping a lot of people. So I really admire the brand and what you’re what you’re doing and what you’re committed to doing. So I know that lots of people who are listening to this, learned all about it as well and are excited and I’m sure they’re going to order from you too. And thanks everybody for listening. We’re here every Monday and Wednesday talking to CEOs and founders and just people with amazing stories that we can all learn from and be inspired by their journeys as well. And if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a case a hint to definitely do that. I’m drinking a raspberry right now and it’s quite nice. And also my book which came out I can’t believe a year ago now it’s been a crazy time incredible and it was Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller and really talks about the journey of building hands and my own journey so hopefully you’ll get a chance to pick that up from Amazon or your local bookstore. It’s all over airports. Now if you’re visiting airports, I’ve had more pictures sent to me of people seeing it on the bookshelf at airports and and also on Audible and that’s that is it for today but everybody have a great rest of the week. And definitely thank you again for for sharing everything with us, Ellison thanks, everyone for listening tear things. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book calm and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara golden and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara golden thanks for listening