NEW YORK — Pat Vihtelic is the co-founder and CEO of meal kit company Home Chef. He says one of his breakthroughs as a leader was repeatedly firing himself.
Vihtelic founded his company in 2013 and says it’s gone from $1 million in annual revenue to $250 million in just three years as the meal kit industry grew rapidly. That culminated in the company’s sale to Kroger in June.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Vihtelic explains why booting himself from jobs was critical for his company’s success, and how Home Chef uses data to hone its business.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self about managing people or running a business? What did you learn from your early mistakes?
A: It’s never too early to start building a world class team. It’s easy in the early days to get completely overwhelmed with everything there is to do and a young founder might take on too much. There’s a time when that’s appropriate, but one of the best pieces of advice that I received was that I should be firing myself from the day to day and hiring the best people.
Q: What have you learned about problem-solving over the years? What are the keys to tackling your most difficult challenges?
A: For us I think it would come back to putting the customer first. It’s easy to forget about the customer when you’re in the middle of raising a bunch of capital or growing quickly, but at the end of the day that should be a consumer-facing company’s north star.
Q: How much do you pay attention to your competition, and what do you try to learn from them?
A: It’s easy to get distracted by what the competition is doing, but I think it’s more important to have a sense of where we’re going and where our customer wants us to go. For us, it’s less of a focus on the competition and more of a focus on the customer.
Q: What key things can a manager do in terms of workplace culture that separate a mediocre business from a high-performing one?
A: I would say setting very clear priorities. We start from the top and basically state one organization wide goal that we work on for the next three to six months. And then under that goal we have objectives that would clearly define whether we’re hitting that goal.
Q: How do you manage work-life balance?
A: I’ve got three girls under the age of four at home, so I’ve got a pretty busy home life. I think reminding yourself that you need to devote time to both and they’re both very important. I always make it a point to get home for dinner, be home for bedtime and some of the more important moments. But it’s a constant challenge for sure.
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