Cindi Thompson, Founder and Owner, Crafted Kitchen
Cindi Thompson is Founder and Owner of Crafted Kitchen.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
Although I’ve always loved food, I didn’t start out in either food or entrepreneurship. My first career was in financial services and, when the economic crisis hit in 2008, I was laid off from my job.
Losing my job was a blessing in disguise. The severance package I received allowed me the freedom to do many different things, including enrolling in culinary school.
Working in a restaurant or hotel held no interest for me, so I started thinking about what else I could do. There was a product idea that had been simmering in my mind so I did some research to understand how it could be manufactured and sold…. legally. It was overwhelming.
Owning a small food business is hard. It starts with creating a product, sourcing ingredients, producing and packaging the product. Then, there’s sales, marketing, promotion, distribution, labeling, legal, and the list goes on. For many reasons, I knew that, as a one-woman operation, I’d surely fail. One reason was the lack of a facility that offered what I needed: access to a licensed commercial kitchen, guidance on food-related regulations, support to help me launch and grow a food business, and more. If I needed these resources, surely I wasn’t alone and thus, the idea which became Crafted Kitchen was born.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
The ‘one person’ idea, while seemingly magical, wasn’t my experience. For me, at different times of need, the right people stepped up to support me.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
At the beginning, we were really struggling. A friend said, “Cindi, I can fill this place for you overnight, but you said you want to build a community. Communities are built one person at a time.” He also gave me a book, “The Dip” by Seth Godin. The book looks at the difference between when your business is experiencing a short-term dip prior to continuing “up and to the right” vs when it might be time to accept that your business model isn’t viable. Courageously ask yourself the hard questions and double check them with your trusted advisors.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
What I’ve learned about leadership is that it’s based on building trust. Whether it be with your customers, your team, your partners, your investors, or your vendors, always show consistency in your principles and core values. Leaders and managers, while both important, have different roles. Leaders take the long view. They openly and transparently communicate. They show compassion. They act with integrity and choose to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. Prioritize leadership.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
Here are the top three things I wish I'd known.
Build your support network. Starting and growing a business can be incredibly lonely, especially if you work from home. A community is essential for your mental and physical health. Almost all of us have imposter syndrome and the naysayers only make it worse. Find trusted, like-minded entrepreneurs for advice and feedback.
Hire for your weaknesses. Asking the right people for the right help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Find responsible local service providers especially if your business is infrastructure heavy. You’re going to need plumbers, electricians, etc., sometimes on a holiday. Many are small business owners too, so treat them with kindness and pay them promptly. If you’re struggling with cash flow, be candid with these people and work out a reasonable solution.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Like building a community, building a network of advisors is an ongoing process. Seek out other business owners. Regardless of the industry, our struggles have a common thread. Look for people at all stages of business ownership. People who’ve been at this for a while generally have greater wisdom to share. As your “kitchen cabinet” grows, so too will the support, guidance, and encouragement you receive. To maintain these relationships, remember to pay it back while also paying it forward.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
As a business owner, I have a deep understanding of the needs of my target customer. Over time, their needs change. Don’t get too attached to the “way you’ve always done things”. It’s important to stay on the pulse of customer needs and adapt along with them. When is it time to “pivot”? When your core offering is out of alignment with the needs of your customers. It’s ongoing.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
All businesses have highs and lows. Crafted Kitchen is no different. Recognizing patterns provides some reassurance during seasonal and other known “lows”. Along with that, breaking down goals into more manageable bites allows me to experience the highs of accomplishment. That’s motivating. While I often draw inspiration from business leaders, motivation, for me, is an “inside job”.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
If I were to start again, regardless of my financial status, I’d find people to whom I could delegate certain tasks. Accounting and bookkeeping? If it’s not your strong suit (it isn’t mine), hire professionals who understand you, your business, and your goals. Because I had so little money, I tried to do it myself and I regret it. Likewise, social media can consume hours of time. If your time would be better spent advancing your mission, hire someone or delegate it to a talented team member.