“The best system is the one that gets used”
I interview Jessi Freitag, Operations Freelancer and host of the Startup CPG podcast. In this episode, Jessi and I discuss the challenges and opportunities of scaling a startup, with a focus on the operational side of things. From co-manufacturer services and full commercialization to managing sales leads and ingredient suppliers, Jessi will provide practical advice and insights on how to stay organized and set your startup up for growth.
Resources Mentioned in the Episode:
Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at Foodbevy.com to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.
[00:00:00] Jordan: Hey everyone, for today's episode, we're gonna be talking everything organization and management for C P g brands and founders, as we all know. Running a business requires spinning lots of hats. But what do you do when you have so many hats that things start falling down? You can't remember where you put them.
So for this conversation, I've invited on Jessi Freitag, who's the an operations freelancer, host of the startup C P G podcast, and a lover of organization. Jesse, welcome.
[00:00:35] Jessi: Hi. Thanks for having me, Jordan. It's so nice to get to chat with
[00:00:39] Jordan: you. So love having you on this side of the microphone as well. I'm typically listening to you as the host of the podcast, so this is fun getting able to, being able to interview you.
What I wanna kind of start is thinking about as founders are starting their companies, . You know, I always say there's two parts of the business that they're really managing. The first are their operations, manufacturing, supply chain. And then the second part are sales and marketing, kind of giving customers and growing their business that way.
And I think two things are at the core of that, right? Like relationships and making sure that you can maintain those relationships over time. . And I think that's where a lot of founders run into to issues. Have you kind of found the same when you're talking with. .
[00:01:27] Jessi: Yeah, for sure. Those are definitely huge and I, I think I also see a lot as someone that I've worked in operations in a lot of different industries as well as within cpg and when I was at, you know, just one CPG brand.
It's definitely interesting. I think there's this kind of tendency to think like, oh, operations, like the, you know, the person that keeps everything organized, all the systems, and yes, that's definitely true, but there's definitely that component of relationships. Really think that operations is more similar to sales, if not a, a type of sales of, because you're managing all these, you know, your supply chain is at the end of the day, it's about all these relationships and then any tools or systems that you set up for your company as it grows are gonna impact the culture of your company and your relationships internally to the company.
So yeah, I think there's this huge like, relational component to like being organized and the op side of the. .
[00:02:20] Jordan: I love that. So I wanna start a little broad and kind of jump into some specifics here so that our listeners to the show today can kind of come take away some practical kind of tools and tips and how to think about setting themselves up now for success later.
So from a maybe a broader perspective, how do you think founders end up going about kind of setting up tools and ways of organizing their business from the beginning? And what do you think is most important to you? Yeah,
[00:02:50] Jessi: and I think most important to consider is like how you work as a person. And you know, you'll, it's, there's a lot of advice out there about like, oh, use this system, use this setup.
This is the best way to organize. And like, yeah, there's definitely some best in, in class, like ways to organize certain pieces of supply chain, et cetera. But it, when it comes to like the overall organization of your business and your super early stage, it's about what makes. For you, what will help keep you on the path?
What will help keep you motivated? Because it's really hard, and I know I've tried to like set up a system that someone else was like, oh, this worked amazing for me. I try to implement it for myself, whether it's like how I manage my to-do list or something, and then I'm like, . Ugh. Like I just, you know, and I, and then I revert back to what I do, you know, before or something.
And it's like, and then at some point it's like, all right, well how do I actually like to work? So from a high level, I think through like, you know, what motivates you? Are there parts of the business that you enjoy more than others? Are there parts that you find more challenging? And then how can you structure your day and your to-do list to keep yourself motivated through all those things.
From a like high level, I like to think through those before evaluating any sort of like, tool and keep in mind like, you know, if you have, if you have adhd, or if you have, you know, like just depending on how you work as a person, like that will impact how you want to set up your business as the founder, especially when you're small and as you grow, you know it's gonna look.
It, maybe their systems will look a little bit more corporate, but you have the opportunity when you're growing to like set things up the way you like and, and just make sure that you have enough, you know, enough energy to keep getting through the day. Cuz there are pieces that I think we all encounter as we're working in emerging brands.
We're like, oh, you're doing a little bit of everything. It's like, I don't love this part, but I have to get it done. And so how do I build that into my day? And, and that may look totally different than the person that you, that you know, some other founder that you know, or that you see on LinkedIn.
[00:04:49] Jordan: I love that approach.
And maybe let's kind of start there and talking about like, what are some of the ways that you've found to stay organized as overall that maybe founders should think about in terms of like tracking your to-dos for the week or managing your team and the projects that they're working on. Are there any specific kind of like tools or that you found that can be really helpful?
I know there's probably lots of things that people can consider, but things that you've maybe tried and.
[00:05:15] Jessi: Yeah, for definitely the way that, like I think through of all the things that need to get done, I kind of like to have some sort of master view of all the things that are going on in the business so that I can kind of see like, oh, this is what's going on in ops, marketing, sales.
And in the past I've built out kind of like, you know, a master Trello board or something, or now I've built out those kind of set setups and like notion where you can kind of see like, oh, these are all the, these are all my to-dos in all these different. . And then from there, going through and prioritizing like, okay, what do I need to get done today?
I've really enjoyed this book a long time ago called The One Thing, and you probably don't need to read it because you get everything you need from the title of the one thing because there's so many things that you need to do in a day. And the one thing essentially boils down to what is one thing I can do today?
they will move the needle forward for my five year goal. And then you look at your to-do list, you look at all the bazillion things you need to do and then are like, and then you pick just one. You can't pick more than one. You just pick one. And it's so hard because you're like, well, they all need to be done.
And yes they do, but we gotta pick one. And then building your day around that. And there's really great tools like. Sun samma that Jordan and I have nerded out on before too, that can help, like, you know, can help you prioritize like, okay, here's what, how I'm gonna block my time. But generally I kinda like to look at, here's the full lay of the land, here's everything that needs to do.
I keep little like side lists of like, these are all the due dates for everything. And then I kind of pick like, this is what I'm gonna tackle. One big thing, I'm gonna get that done in the morning to give myself momentum for the day, and then I'm gonna work on other things. And then I also think through like energy levels for the day.
Like, am I a morning person, afternoon person? I'm more, I know that my peak. Activity, energy level's gonna be afternoon, early evening, so I'll also plan another big task around there. So, but you know, I met with someone the other day. We were working on setting up how, you know, their to-do list and getting organized and they don't wanna look at all the, the everything they need to do for the day.
They just wanna look at the next seven days. And so they set up their to-do list very, here's the next seven days. They'll occasionally look at the big view, but they just look at that and keep a really clear tally. You know, to-do list. So you can really depends on how you work, but for me, that's how I kind of like zoom out and then totally zoom in on just one thing to start with and, and knock something off the list.
[00:07:39] Jordan: so important because the best system is the one that gets used. Right ? Yes. If you do this work to set up something that you never look at, it doesn't work for, for your mind, then then you won't actually use it. You know, I, I, I love thinking about that. One thing that I, that works well for me is for my business, I set up a list of the top three.
Priority priorities for the the quarter usually or for the year sometimes. And then make sure that every task that I do or take on aligns with that.
so that that way when I actually look at my to-do list, I can decide what's aligning with my priorities and what's not. And it helps me to say no to a lot of stuff because I feel like that's one problem that every person and especially founders run into are a lot of extraneous things that don't align with their priorities, but they feel like they have to take care of it because it shows up in their, in their email inbox.
[00:08:38] Jessi: Oh yeah. And I, there's, it's kind of, it's, you know, I liked some of the different matrix tools too, and I'm really trying to like get through a time crunch of something. And I think one of 'em that I've seen, or maybe I've combined it into it, is like, what do I want to do? What do I need to do? What do other people want me to do, and what do other people need me to do?
And then anything that's just in the other people want me to do and it doesn't meet any of the other things, you know, that. Be a like, I'm gonna say no to that or like the, I think it's the Eisenhower matrix of like urgent and important and separating like what's urgent, what's important, and then anything that's urgent and important.
Start there. Anything that's not urgent and not important, like, , you know, sure. It may sound fun for the day and you know, maybe you make that your reward at the end of the day or something, but like, you know, that's not gonna be what you start with a priority. And I, I find those like matrixes can be kind of helpful to move around your to-do list.
And it doesn't have to be like, oh, I'm gonna draw out a matrix and take. An hour to plan my day. It's like, no, it's just more of like, oh, I, you know, I'm visualizing it or I'm pulling it up and just kind of looking at your list and being like, yep. Yeah, I'm, I'm gonna move things around quick. And then, you know what, it's, it's kind of a five second, you know, reset to just, you know, decide what you're gonna do next.
[00:09:54] Jordan: Yeah. And I know Parker Olson from Forage. He was saying recently that he color codes his calendar now around what parts of the business he's working on so he can have a visual check on where he's spending the time, his time. And it's a way that works his mind where he doesn't have to like write something down specifically for every single event, but he can look back at his calendar and say, Last week was all marketing and not operations.
And I know that like we need some things to improve there. So here we go. And like, let me focus on that, right? It allows you to have a visual look. So I think there's lots of different things that you can try to switch gears a little bit. When a lot of founders start their companies. I know. I did this as well.
I started building out my business, essentially like my business system using Google Sheets, where we recorded our sales in there and our inventory and kind of fulfillment. and that was kinda how we started. And a lot of founders end up doing that because it's free. Do you have any perspective on kind of building systems from scratch as you get started versus using like a E R P or a you know, a lot of times they call like employee oh my gosh.
What does the e r P stand for again?
[00:11:03] Jessi: Enterprise resource Planning. Planning,
[00:11:05] Jordan: right? Like it sounds so enterprise and complicated Yeah. That a lot of startups can't don't find it useful, but essentially it's a tool to be able to manage your sales inventory and the entire kind of supply chain flow. But do you have any perspective on starting from scratch versus using tool?
[00:11:22] Jessi: Yeah, I think, you know, depending, if you are the type of person that is kinda organized systems, you know, process oriented, you may be able to build something in Google Sheets that works really well for a while. I remember talking once with Ken from Fiddle about their inventory system, and he was saying that, you know, he's seen people get up to like a million dollars in revenue running on Google sheets and sometimes that works okay for, for their business.
But if you're, if, if you're really struggling with that, it may be worth even, maybe you don't need to buy a system. , but you know, maybe you book an hour with, with someone that either has done it before, you know, another founder that can show you their setup or even maybe, you know, a freelancer consultant to just be like, Hey, here's a template like for how to do this and that might save you some time.
Cuz I do think you can build a good setup in Google Sheets. I've built some, you. They, they looked a little bit like monstrosities, but they, they did run the business for us in like the warehouse, you know, the production manager. Like we all got what we needed to from those Google sheets, and then eventually we had to move to you know, to a full blown system.
So I think as long as you can get by, you save a lot of, you save a lot of money on those those software costs. It can be really expensive. I think the, where I start to think about the differences, like the time savings, it, you know, how much time. Spending inputting into the sheet, how much time or, you know, has a, are big mistakes happening?
Like you didn't order enough ingredients because you know, there's too many formulas for you to keep up to date. Like, that's when it starts to be like, Hmm, okay, maybe, you know, X number of dollars per month makes sense if I don't have those mistakes, or I save five hours. So I start to think of those kind of hour cutoffs, but I definitely don't wanna discourage anyone.
You, you can build a good setup. And definitely you wanna make sure that, but I'd have someone look at it that, you know, has that mindset. If you don't, if you have a warehouse employee or you know someone on your team too, and knowing that. All of our brains work a little bit differently. So like you may have a view that works best for you, you may build another view of it for someone else, but you know, at the end of the day, you just want it to be simple, help you run your business and not have any like big costly mistakes.
Like I, I had a system I built in Google Sheets and it, we hit this point where we had so many employees in it. That we missed ordering an ingredient because the quantity wasn't up to date. And so, you know, we, we had to, we were late with the production run and it was like, okay, this is the point where like it makes sense that we're, we need a formal tool that we're gonna implement to help us plan some of this and help, you know, manage a column, can't be deleted in those kind of things.
[00:14:03] Jordan: I think I love that story because, , I, I'm normally a very scrappy person myself, , and with T Squares I built we built our system in using Google Sheets and kind of same way, there are lots of formulas in there. It worked for a while until we got to about half million dollars in sales. And then like I remember we added a new.
Size for our product and like the entire sheet broke because it was built around having one product and three flavors. But as soon as we needed a different size and then added three new kind of skews, essentially, like all the formulas needed to be updated and the whole system was like bound to collapse.
And so it was at that point that we actually moved to inventory management software to be able to track everything. And I've become, a, a fan now of using systems in a way where it lets you focus on the core part of your business without having to manage the things that are just kind of Supportive.
And so like with my my company now, good food brands, I use fiddle to manage everything. I can tell you like, it's a lot easier when we need to add new products or buy buy ingredients to have everything in there. And like with the King system, it takes a little bit to learn, but not reinventing the wheel every time I've realized can be a huge benefit and not just like a time saver, but like a mental stress saver as well.
[00:15:26] Jessi: Oh yeah. And then, yeah, and just, you know, with so many like awesome communities out there, like the community that you manage, Jordan, like being able to just ask other founders too, to like see their setup. Ask to see how somebody's, you know, are they using a system, you know, that can also help too, like you said, not reinvent the wheel.
Maybe it isn't a formal system, maybe it is, but just see how other people are using it cuz there's a big difference between that and like what you might hear on a sales call because that's, you know, It might not quite look like your business or it may sound really rosy. So just being able to like vet that and then also think through the like change management pieces, like, you know, I think we.
at least I've seen, and I know for myself, it's easy to underestimate the change involved in adopting any software tool. Whether you're, you know, starting to use notion for your to-do list, or whether you're switching from writing things down on paper to putting them in a Google calendar. Like that's change management and thinking through to as you grow for employee.
What's gonna help me onboard and an employee and help existing employees be successful as well. Like if I add this system, will that make it so that when I hire someone, it'll take me less time to onboard them, cuz I won't have to walk them through the 10 hours of training to use the Google setup. I can just show them how to let you know input into this system and those.
Pieces for scaling can help too. And thinking through for the team, like, what does this mean for our culture? Does this make this employee's life easier? Like, is this gonna actually help them in their work? And then showing them how that is possible because we all, you know, it's hard to, it's, it's hard to learn new things and new tools so.
being kind to ourselves and employees too as we implement of like, this is a lot, even if it's a little, you know, just a little tiny shift. It's still a lot for our brains to manage and being kind and, you know, kind of coaching ourselves and making it as easy and fun. as possible is will, you know, really help a tool be successful in the long term.
[00:17:23] Jordan: So Jesse, I also wanna hit on kind of managing your operations as well, since you do a lot of work with companies there. What are some of the organizational issues that come up when actually managing the operations of your business?
[00:17:36] Jessi: I think a big one that I see is keeping track of suppliers and, you know, especially for ingredients, if you're, if you're using a co-packer and they're providing, you know, all of the ingredients, that's one thing.
I mean, you may want to be looking into, you know, the pricing to see if you could get. , you know, potentially better pricing as you scale or just have backups. But if you're providing any ingredients either as self manufactured or providing ingredients to your co-packer, I see this as a pain point of like, you go and get a quote a year ago, or you're like, shoot, I met this really cool, cool person and an expo and they have, you know, tapioca starch.
I should follow up with him trying to like kind of central. You know, where you store all of those. It, and that can be a Google sheet too, of like, these are all the packaging suppliers I've ever talked to. These are all the, you know, these are all the people I've talked to for each of my ingredients. This is about where their price is.
And just putting that in a spreadsheet versus like letting it live in your email and being able to like, Easily go back and track. Cuz I think right now, with supply chain being, having been really difficult the last couple years, you know, whereas you used to have one backup for an ingredient, now you maybe need three backups for an ingredient.
And so to be able to have that information handy of like, shoot, that's not shipping or that, you know, , that freight got lost, like I need to call someone else. And having that handy and not having to search through your thousands of emails and try to find that, find that person, be like, oh no, I've got it in a spreadsheet here.
Here's where it is. And be able to reach out to, you know, a couple different people. So I think just having some of those like backups and like, it sounds weird, but like having your, your relat. Organized so that, you know, like who do I call when I have, you know, a packaging issue or whatever, and having it somewhere central and also so that other employees can access, cuz I see too, a lot of times a founder has so much incredible knowledge in their brain and then you hire your first couple employees and then they're the ones dealing with, you know, an ingredient crisis and they don't have access to inside your brain.
So what can you write down and have documented for them so that they. Go watch a recording of you ordering something or they can just check your list of, of all the suppliers you've ever talked to, that'll save a ton of time and headache.
[00:19:54] Jordan: I love that idea. And you're right, like a lot of times founders or the co-founders will start a company and start bringing on employees and then they have to, they don't think about the on onboarding from educational and knowledge sharing standpoint of making sure that they're able to translate that company knowledge to everyone of them that.
Jesse, I love that you talked about all these topics. I want to make sure that our listeners know where to find you if they're looking to get in touch. So what's the best way to get in touch with you? .
[00:20:23] Jessi: Yeah, definitely. I am pretty active on LinkedIn, so feel free to look me up on LinkedIn and connect.
I have my own weekly podcasts. I, I love, I love that I get, you know, getting to be on Jordan's podcast cuz I listen, I listen to this podcast is so fun. So yeah, I, you know, you can catch me on the mic, on my podcast. Once a week, which is the Startup CBG podcast. But LinkedIn is a great way. I also have a website, Jesse Fry tag.com, where you can kind of see all the different things I'm working on and get connected with me at Boyle Brands or Startup cbg or any, you know, productivity tool work I do, but you know, more than happy to connect with
[00:20:57] Jordan: anyone.
Thanks so much, Jesse. I'll make sure to include those links in the show notes as well and stay organized out here. Everyone, there's a lot of chaos and if you can have a little bit more control, it'll make the whole process. , thanks so much. Yeah, thanks Jordan.