There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Marcia Bateson, former CFO of JPMorgan Partners and now the owner and co-board chair of Ruby’s Naturals, makers of Ruby Rocket’s frozen vegetable and fruit pops. Ruby Rocket’s, an organic line of fruit- and vegetable-based frozen treats, was launched in 2013. In 2015 the company projected revenue at more than $3 million and has more than doubled its retail presence across the U.S.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Marcia Bateson: Rather than thinking of an occupation, what I knew from a young age was that I wanted to lead. I grew up as the daughter of a U.S. Air Force General, so I was exposed to great examples of leadership from both of my parents. Throughout my childhood we were always moving around, and I recognized early on that in order to thrive in that lifestyle, I needed to be accepted in communities, and the way I did that was as a leader.
Also, growing up in a military family made me conscious of serving; growing up as I did, you know that your family is making concessions to serve our country. Where those two interests—leading and serving—intersect is what I wanted: to lead toward making our country better, more successful and more prosperous.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Bateson: I didn’t start Ruby Rocket’s, but the woman who did found it, Wendy Makkena, offered me the opportunity to join the company and help grow it. I accepted because I was instantly intrigued, and I like to build companies that solve real problems. And we do have an obvious, large, solvable problem in our country of Big Food—the established players—giving not-nutritious food to consumers.
I’m interested in investing my time and money in companies that can provide a solution—a guiding principle I share with my father. When he became an entrepreneur, he made it a rule to only invest in companies that he believed would be able to provide a solution to a real problem in his lifetime.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Bateson: When I was graduating from high school, I didn’t get into my first-choice college. At the moment when I was turned down, I realized that I had to create options for myself. I went to Vassar, which turned out to be terrific for me. And while I was there, I knew that I had to get really great grades to give myself those options. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a 3.98 average. When I graduated, I had 19 job offers.
Another moment, very small but enlightening, was when I realized that if I could manage my 2-year-old son, there was no male CEO or vice chairman or whatever I couldn’t manage. That has certainly proved to be true, and my son reminds me of his gift to me all the time.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Bateson: The best advice I’ve received is to always offer solutions to your consumer; never take problems to your consumer. And it’s better to have a couple of options for solutions rather than just one.
And the best piece of advice I’ve given, and still give, is to young women. I tell them that I was probably 35 when I first listened to those little butterflies in my stomach and acted on them, and I wish I’d done it sooner. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get there and that I’d known the virtue and power of listening to my instincts. Women have to trust themselves and listen to their instincts.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Bateson: I worry about the texting and proliferation of immediate communication and the expectation that questions will be answered immediately. I’m concerned that we are getting reactions rather than responses. People tease me about carrying a flip phone, but I explain that I’m often asked via email or text to answer questions about allocation of resources, somebody’s time, money—and I want to process it and think through and understand the ramifications of the decision. I don’t want to simply react to get somebody’s email off my screen.
The “best practice” I take away from that is being willing to “sleep on it”—that is, to process a decision. One of the strengths we have at Ruby Rocket’s is that we do take the time to process decisions before we make them. And that is what I recommend for entrepreneurs; it doesn’t stop you from being nimble or fast, and it results in better decisions.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Bateson: I think the climate of big businesses not hiring or not being very attractive to workers will result in small businesses growing at a greater rate than we’ve seen in the past. I believe small businesses will see the white space left open by big businesses in terms of attracting and recruiting talent, and they will step into that void and grow to the next level. I see that happening more.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Bateson: I’m devouring—no pun intended—a book called Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble. It’s brilliant, and it really speaks to the problem we’re trying to solve at Ruby Rocket’s.
But my all-time favorite book is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I had to memorize the first 18 lines of it for school, but I love the richness of the characters; is there any character more real than the Wife of Bath?
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Bateson: There are two; the first one is: “God is in the details,” from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the architect of the Seagram Building, one of my favorite buildings in the world.
And the second is: “The best is the enemy of the good,” which is popularly attributed to Voltaire. I see that as an admonition that you cannot wait till your product or your solution is perfect. You must sometimes go with—for the moment—the “good,” or what you have right now. And I guess that shows my bias toward action!
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