Kiki currently works as the Director of Marketing at Meal Garden. I met her once last year when our former Entrepreneurship professor asked us back to her class to speak about our experiences in the startup world. We instantly bonded over both our achievements and the similar challenges we had faced, so I was excited to connect with her to hear about her difficult decision to pivot in her career and the resulting positive impact this change has had on her life. I truly admire her drive and believe she will continue to achieve great things in the years to come!
Tell me a bit about yourself and your journey so far.
My name is Kiki, I’m 23, and I am the Director of Marketing at Meal Garden. I graduated from Rotman Commerce with a Specialization in Management. I always enjoyed learning, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I thought that business would be a well-rounded area I could study. I enjoyed it, for the most part, and now I’m starting to find my real passion in the health and wellness space. Working at a startup, I feel like I’m still a student – I’m still finding out what I want to do. So that’s where I am right now – enjoying life and enjoying figuring out what I want to do [laughs].
Do you have any people that have influenced you and guided you to where you are today?
Meghan Telpner – the founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. What she’s done with her academy is really inspiring! She’s built a business around inspiring others to take a handle on their health, share their love for healthy living, and share that knowledge with other people. She literally started by hosting workshop classes in her own kitchen, and has built it into this huge business. I feel like her approach to healthy living, what she calls Undieting, is really holistic – seeing food as an important fuel for life, but not getting sucked into dieting trends in the industry.
What is a saying that you live by, or that influences your daily life?
May we be healthy, may we be happy, and may we be free. It’s just this simple saying I have on a postcard on my fridge that a lot of yoga teachers often say at the end of their classes, but it’s grounding – at the end of the day, we just want to be happy, healthy, and therefore be free.
What is one of the best decisions you have ever made?
Listening to myself when I knew something wasn’t right, realizing that I needed to make a change, and being brave enough to take the risk to put myself our there and look for another job. I found this particular role and it seemed like it was out of my league – they were looking for an experienced marketer and I didn’t have any marketing experience. But it was something that really resonated with me, and so I decided to try it, and I think that is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
In my About section, I spoke about the various barriers I put up for myself. Is that something you relate with? If so, what is the one thing you wish you could stop doing?
Aesthetically, women are expected to look a certain way, so I feel like I need to workout, and eat healthy because I want to be seen as a healthy, attractive female. That’s a very superficial barrier I put up for myself. I also find myself playing into certain roles or stereotypes because I’m female, which then become obstacles for myself. For instance, at my current position I feel like the team sees me as the dramatic, passionate, emotional player on the team – I really love the company and what we are doing, and I connect with our users, but sometimes I feel forced to play into that role of the because I am the only female on the team.
You had an interesting journey into the startup world as a fellow at Venture for Canada. How do you feel it prepared you for your ongoing career in the startup world?
While I did learn concrete things from the training camp, the real value I got from Venture for Canada was connecting with other fellows. Not only is it helpful for our mental health to be connected to other people who are going through similar journeys, but learning about their journeys is inspiring and gives me confidence that if they can do it, I can do it too. When I got into Venture for Canada there was a lot of talk about tech and apps, and I had little experience around those things. And because I didn’t know about tech I went through this phase of denial.. I kept thinking – I shouldn’t be here, I’m not good enough. But now, having connected with other people in the startup world I realize that it’s not this big, intimidating thing I thought it was going to be and that just because I’m female and don’t have a Computer Science background, that doesn’t mean I can’t speak on tech and startups with confidence.
What have you learned from working at a small start up at an early stage where companies are usually laying their foundations?
It’s been really exciting to me! What I’ve learned is that you have to be flexible, and everything matters. You think that sometimes you are wasting your time – you’ve just spent time on something, but then things change and everything you did may feel like a waste. But if it’s not benefiting you at that particular time, it eventually will. It’s the same with business development – sometimes you spend a lot of time trying to find partners or connect with people, and you think that they’re not listening. What’s happening to me now at Meal Garden is that now that we’re gaining momentum and have traction, those people that I reached out to in the past are now reaching out to me instead.
We’ve previously discussed the process of realizing that it’s time to take on a new challenge, or move on to try something new. What was that process like for you?
First, you realize that you need to make the change, then you go into the phase of complete denial [laughs]… because you realize that the change is going to be hard, and you don’t know how to do it, nor is anyone going to hold your hand throughout it. So, I went through a few months of blocking that out and convincing myself that I was fine. And then one day it just clicks and you realize that you are ready, and that you are done faking that you’re happy. Once you make that decision to make the change, you get energized – you feel motivated and are willing to do everything you can! It’s an odd combination of confidence in your abilities, and this complete insecurity and fear of failure. When you finally accomplish the change, your whole life changes and you realize that you are capable of anything you set your mind to because of this one amazing thing you did in your life!
Can you tell me what drew you to Meal Garden?
I actually had a really good talk with someone I had met at a restaurant I worked at while I was still at Kira. He owns a management consulting firm so when I mentioned possibly looking to find another job, he offered to look over my résumé. The most important thing that he did was asking what I was actually passionate about. And although it’s such an obvious question, it was the only time someone had actually put it in plain English. It was a scary thing to think of because I’d never thought of myself as deserving of what I wanted. So when I finally took the time, I noted my interest in food and nutrition – I like cooking and baking, I spend my time on blogs looking for recipes and reading about meal plans… From there, I found Meal Garden, and I really resonated with their authentic focus on being healthy for the long-term, in a way that suits your life, and that’s sustainable. I didn’t really care what role I had – it just made sense that what I do in my free time is basically what they do for their business!
Can you describe what your role entails?
My focus is on outreach, partnership development, talking to users, creating campaigns to drive users to the product, onboarding, and then strategizing on how to retain them. In terms of a typical day, it can vary because one day I could be in meetings for partnership development, looking at things on more of a PR scale – how are we going to get people to write about us, and get traction? On another day it could be talking with users because something went wrong with the tool, and then translating that information to the development team so that they can fix it. And then, other days it could be focusing on developing content. So, it varies but honestly I love it [laughs]!
Can you speak on maintaining a work/life balance?
What I’m doing at Meal Garden is part of my life and I enjoy it. For instance, when I’m using the tool on my own time, I’m technically helping create content. So I think the first step is finding a job where that line is so fine that you don’t necessarily know when you’re in which category. But then, it’s also important to realize that time away from work is valuable for the sake of your productivity. I remember the first time I took time off at Meal Garden I mentioned to our co-founder that I would still be online, and he insisted on me taking the time off reminding me that productivity and creativity expands when you take some time away. So I’ll remind myself of that on days I get into the habit of answering emails at 6am, working all day, then still feeling like I have so much to do at 9pm; by actually taking some time away, I’m technically still working because I’m fostering creativity.
What advice would you give the younger you?
Be brave, take risks. This past year has been really influential to who I am because I’ve taken a lot more risks, and I’ve said yes to things even if I feel unqualified, or uncertain. Some things paid off, and others didn’t, but I grew from all those experiences. A few years ago when I was in university, I really let myself get intimidated by other people that were succeeding because I felt like if I wasn’t the best, then I should just not try. It was such a cognitive distortion – not wanting to look “stupid”. But you’re only going to regret it if you don’t try, and then if you do, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
What do you want to accomplish with the next phase of your career?
I really want to grow something big at Meal Garden; I feel the momentum. From there, I want to take all the learnings and experiences and use those to help me build my own business in the health and wellness space.
What is success to you?
In a way, I hate the word success because it has become this thing that we’re always running towards and can never achieve. Yes, it’s good to have goals but it’s also important to realize that there’s already so much in our lives that we can enjoy and feed off of. So success, to me, means being able to take the time to stop and actually appreciate what is already so present in your life. Because if we can’t appreciate that, then why keep striving for more?
What is your definition of a feminist?
A woman who is so confident in herself that she doesn’t let macro-environmental elements influence what she wants to do or achieve. Someone who is an inspiration for the fact that men and women are the same. Specifically, I’m thinking of a good friend of mine, Aliza, who has achieved so much and has never let being a woman shape her direction or influence any of her decisions. In a way, I don’t think that we should let being a man vs. being a woman interfere with how we live our lives.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female advancement, and what role do you think we play in our advancement?
There is still this stereotype around women not being seen as the leader and instead being seen as the helper. I saw that in my work at Kira where I felt that because I am female, I was seen as the emotional helper – the person who could not only help with operational tasks but also bring a nice vibe or warmth to the office. In some circumstances people that inflict these stereotypes are coming from a positive place. But we need to be more aware of these things that we might think of as almost positive, because those things then limit us in terms of becoming a leader rather than just that emotional, supportive helper that’s never really going to rise to the top.
What advice would you give girls/women looking to pursue a career path similar to yours?
Connect with other women who are in similar roles just to get their perspective and experiences on it. Right now I work at a company where it is all men, so it would be interesting to hear other female marketer’s perspectives and devise strategies based on how they’ve dealt with things. In terms of advice I would give for marketing in particular: fake it till you make it. I remember in my presentation during my final interview, they had wanted to see stats and figures for things, and I had no clue what stats they were looking for or what process to even get those stats. Looking back, a lot of what I put in my presentation was probably 100% wrong [laughs]! But what helped was the fact that I was passionate, but also explicit about the things I didn’t know, made it clear that I was willing to learn, and was confident that given the chance I could actually execute on those areas.
Do you have any book or blog recommendations that have inspired you as a woman in tech?
The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle. It’s really inspired me to be in the moment; in tech we’re always trying to iterate and be one step ahead, and think of what our competitors are doing and how to beat them. But we also need to be really aware of what’s going on right now, in terms of the perspective of our users – what are they trying to do right now and how can we optimize those things? How can we make what they are already doing a little bit more delightful?
I would also recommend Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. The book is amazing and spells out concrete strategies that you can easily apply in building a product.