Stephanie Lind

Founder of Elohi Strategic Advisors

The founder of Elohi Strategic Advisors, Stephanie Lind spent over 20 years working for Fortune 500 companies like PepsiCo and Sysco, as well as privately held entities including McDonald’s supply chain partner Havi Logistics. She lead the global sales initiatives for Impossible Foods during their breakout year in 2018. Stephanie was recently named one of the top Female FoodTech Founders & Leaders for Accelerating Disruptive Food Solutions and a 2020 Nation’s Restaurant News Readers’ Pick to the Power List for the Most Influential Solutions Providers.

Where did the idea for Elohi Strategic Advisors come from?

I benefitted from coming into the workforce at a time when companies pushed to hire women and promote us, but by about 2014, the walls and limitations had begun to feel untenable. I didn’t encounter a glass ceiling, as much as concrete walls. I didn’t have any trouble moving up, but I felt boxed into a very rigid paradigm or way of doing things. I couldn’t expand.

Beginning Elohi gave me a way to do what I do best — help people grow more and sell more — on my own terms. I believed in myself and my network, and I believed in the need I saw. As a person with classical training inside big companies, I believed in my ability to address the needs of small entrepreneurs going up against these massive CPG companies.

I drew a line in the sand for myself. I withdrew my pension and gave myself until that money ran out. If I hadn’t made a go of it by then, I told myself that I’d look for a job. I was down to my very last $300 when I got my first big check.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wake up at 5am, to have my coffee in the peace and quiet. Beyond that, it could be anything. Could be an employee issue, could be a client issue, could be a new client call, could be anything. In fact, the unpredictability is the part of it that I love.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When I first started, I would notice patterns in the things people were saying. I might hear one side of a conversation from one person, when they said that they wished there were this product or service out there. And then later, I might hear another person give sort of the other side of the conversation or equation, when they said to someone, “yeah, but you’re never going to get paid for that.”

What I think I brought to the table is that I could step back and figure out what the real problem or need was, and then also the ways that my clients could meet that need.

In those days, I’d sit and stare at my whiteboard, or draw pictures, or call someone and ask for ideas. I put no guardrails on my ideas, until I had something that seemed possible up on the board. Then I’d leave it on the board for a couple of weeks and tweak it. I’d know it was ready when I ran out of tweaks.

Now that I have an executive team, I have a group of people who can help me vet all those ideas much faster. If one out of ten of my ideas passes muster with them, then I know we’re on to something. They help me get all of it out of my brain, and we an pull it apart together.

We can figure out not just is this a good idea, but how far out into the future would it need to be? How far removed is it from what we’re doing right now – how much would we need to change what we do, to be able to follow through on this new idea?

The team gives me a safe place to throw out the ideas, and judgment I trust about whether they’re good ideas, whether they’ll make money, whether we have the bandwidth to pursue them. We meet every quarter and list everything we’re doing, brainstorm what we might add or take away, evaluate the talent and ambitions we have in the company, and then move things around and act in a more process-oriented kind of way.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There really are two trends that excite me. One, that more and more people have started to step away from social media or put some boundaries on it. We’re starting to have real conversations about how we can manage the benefits of a digital world against the disconnection and dehumanization that it can also bring.

And two, a more mainstream understanding and awareness that Mother Earth is a living organism, rather than an object for us to exploit. We have to be thoughtful and aware. That one is not just a trend, but an imperative.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

That I read so much and that I read so widely – everything from fiction to politics to biography to business and back around to science fiction. This means that lots of ideas from lots of disciplines float around inside my head, and they allow me to look at things from multiple perspectives.

I don’t assume that what I read first is true, and I look at and consider the sources. I read at both ends of the spectrum on any number of issues, and let the sides speak for themselves, rather than lining myself up automatically with one side or another. Exposing myself to both sides, rather than automatically lining up on either side, lets me at least understand lots of different peoples’ points of view.

That also leads to a wider network, because I end up talking to a really wide circle of people. I might discuss a topic with someone that interests us both, even if our opinions about something else are miles apart.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t feel compelled to follow the conventional professional path – don’t feel like you have to stay inside those boxed-in walls. The money and titles and prestige will come, or they won’t. Follow a path that’s something you want to think about and stay excited about for your whole career.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The world would be a better place if women were in charge. (I suspect some other people agree with me about this.)

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Practice pivoting. Embrace your nimbleness and agility, so that you’re ready when the unexpected happens.

We constantly ask whether what we’re doing still fits us, still maximizes the talent and possibilities we have. On the other side of that, we also constantly ask what we’d do if the bottom fell out. What if a major client falls apart. If the economy tanks. If there’s a pandemic. We walk ourselves through the possibilities, so that whatever comes is less likely to surprise us.

When we do that, we intentionally let ourselves go to all the possibilities, even the ones we’d rather not have to choose. We acknowledge all the avenues, every time we do this exercise. Walk through the worst-cases, so that we’ve thought though some of the possibilities if a worst-case comes true.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Networking. Using LinkedIn to raise people up, including startup entrepreneurs. Helping people – women, people of color, people who have products or ideas that could really change the world – and giving them advice or ideas that can help them get over some of those speed bumps that can seem so huge when you’re first getting started. All of that kind of giving back really does come back around.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I took a client who quintupled my revenue, but I didn’t have people in place who could manage the business, and it was something I couldn’t do all by myself. This has happened multiple times, actually, and I’ve gotten better at it each time. I end up either losing the business or having to re-negotiate the contract, but we’ve learned some things to prevent and some ways to mitigate.

We’ve learned some painful but useful lessons. These huge leaps forward feel good, when things went sideways, we didn’t have enough business around that big client for Elohi to rebound the way that we’d be able to now.

It happens for our clients all the time. You get into Walmart or into major distribution, and there’s a huge rah-rah-rah moment, but you don’t really understand the implications of what’s going to be involved in executing the agreement you’ve just won.

I can close a deal, but I’ve stopped closing deals that – even if they feel good in the moment – won’t benefit the company in the long term. Those big injections of cash can feel good when they come in but may stretch your company in ways that are unhealthy, rather than healthy. Overcoming the impulse to close and knowing when to walk away from some of those big-jump clients requires a kind of maturity that I’ve learned the hard way.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d love to see an app that helps coordinate moving, particularly complicated moves. It would give me a place to keep information about/from realtors (who’re handling my sale, my intermediate rental, and my purchase), storage options, movers and/or truck rentals, attorneys, accountants and other professionals. It would help me find services in my new home, enroll my kids in school, transfer my memberships. It would anticipate my needs depending on the reason for my move – work? military transfer? divorce? Marriage? — and then walk me through the details for my kind of move. It would coordinate with my digital calendars to keep me on top of things.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I spent $100 on a plane ticket to see a friend, just to have a weekend out of circulation, of rest. Our corporate policy emphasizes time off – we close every Friday from Thanksgiving until New Years, for instance – and I took a weekend to practice what we preach.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

PandaDoc is RFP software that we use religiously to send out proposals and contracts. It’s easy to use and it helps us stay on top of what proposals or contracts are out, what’s expiring, and it just makes the writing process much more efficient.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Thinking in Bets, by Annie Duke. It taught me about taking risks and, more importantly, about understanding whether things went well because I took a good bet or for other reasons. Sometimes things go well, and we can be tempted to congratulate ourselves for our choices, when really our success hinged on luck or other people’s decisions or circumstances completely outside of our control. Knowing the answer to that question – How good was my bet? — helps me make better decisions and bets the next time.

A close runner-up of composite wisdom and usefulness: Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans.

What is your favorite quote?

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” ― Madeleine Albright

And a popular pop culture quote: “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”

Key Learnings:

  • Grow out, not just up. Advance your career, but don’t confine yourself to a job that constricts you.
  • Read broadly, engage your mind in subjects both inside your industry and outside of it. Allow both your mind and your opinions to change.
  • Let yourself imagine everything. It’s how you innovate, in the sense of having an idea and creating a company. The best solution might be the one that comes right after the craziest, dumbest one. And letting yourself imagine the worst-case scenario can keep you from panicking when things go a little – or a lot – sideways.
  • Lift others up; it’ll come back around to you. Life is short and you don’t want to have missed your chance to help someone.