1. You have an extensive business leadership background with companies that include General Mills, VSP Consulting, and Yitto Paws, the business that you founded and now operate. Tell us about your journey. How did you get to where you are now?
My business leadership journey breaks down into three significant paths. First, my experience at General Mills and big consumer product goods (CPG) companies was all about building experience, expertise, and strategic muscle memory. Working in CPG companies, you learn all the different aspects of a business. As the so-called hub of the wheel, you’re the marketing expert, but you also master how to run a business. Those skills have been foundational.
Second, my path to starting VSP Consulting was planned well in advance. Going into the CPG world, I knew I didn’t want to be CEO—I didn’t have the stomach for all the corporate politics. A few years into my CPG journey, I set my goal to reach the director level and then go out on my own as a consultant. After running General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios business and its half-billion-dollar Dry Dinners business, I knew I had earned my wings and founded VSP Consulting.
My goal with VSP was three-fold. First, I wanted to broaden my experience beyond consumer product goods. Second, I wanted the strategy work to be more central to my day-to-day work. Third, I wanted to make more time for my family, me, and my bucket list. While working as an independent consultant is incredibly hard, you have the great gift of a more flexible work schedule. I used that flexibility to (1) spend more time with my son, (2) travel the world, (3) invest more time in my health, and (4) tackle a significant item on my bucket list — writing a novel. If you’re interested, you can check out my bestselling thriller, FAT PROFITS (written under my pen name, Bruce Bradley).
The third part of my journey was founding Yitto Paws. After ten years of consulting, I grew restless and tired of sharing expertise vs. running a business. One morning I was out walking my dog, thinking about an organic dog treat recipe I had posted on my blog that went viral, and wondering about what I wanted to do next with my career. Right then and there, I had one of those “Ah-Ha” moments that led to Yitto Paws.
It’s been a very long, exciting, terrifying road building Yitto Paws from scratch. Still, I can honestly say that my time at Fuqua, CPG experience, and work as a consultant prepared me exceptionally well for the marathon of running a start-up.
2. What makes Yitto Paws special and different from other dog products companies?
It's shocking, but 85% of pet owners don't think that companies are doing enough to keep their pets safe (Mintel 2018). Yitto Paws was founded to address this tremendous opportunity and to prove that a company can be profitable AND loyally serve its consumers. To bring this challenge to life, Yitto Paws created its mission to put dogs first with the best treats on Earth.
Every day we bring our mission to life with unparalleled quality—Yitto Paws is the first and only brand of organic dog biscuits that are 100% human-grade, have six simple ingredients or less, and have no sugar, salt, or additives. And over time, we hope to bring our mission to life with unparalleled charitable giving. Our 20 by 30 pledge will set a new standard for corporate giving by donating 20% of our profits by 2030 to help dogs in need.
3. What's the first question people ask you about Yitto Paws?
“Who’s Yitto?” is the number one question I get when talking about Yitto Paws, and it makes for a cute little story. My sister-in-law was a nanny as a teenager, and one of the children she cared for couldn’t pronounce the letter “L.” So when the little boy tried to say the word little, it came out as yitto. Years later, when she and my brother adopted a puppy, they nicknamed him Little Man, which morphed into Yitto Man, and quickly became just Yitto. You can see our adorable, animated video about Who’s Yitto on YouTube.
4. Your company is planning to launch internationally in 2023. What has been your biggest roadblock along the way? How do you plan to overcome it?
One of the fundamental business-building principles I've learned over the years is planting seeds for growth. Even though your business' growth may be strong today, who knows what tomorrow may bring? That's why you must constantly keep the idea pipeline full by testing and learning. That's the formula for fueling consistent future growth.
Testing international expansion in one market is part of our plan for 2023. Our major obstacle is ensuring our production capacity can handle the increased demand. Thankfully, since we're an e-commerce business, we don't have the typical distribution headaches that most traditional brick-and-mortar brands face.
5. What’s one quality that all entrepreneurs should nurture to ensure success in today’s economy?
I’ve always believed that resilience is one of the key building blocks for success, regardless of economic conditions or business stage. A company’s ability to quickly adapt and learn from challenges and disappointments is crucial. That’s how we minimize failures and create opportunities.
Resilience is a vital form of emotional intelligence essential for effective problem-solving. No problem is ever solved if you can’t bounce back and dust yourself off first. That’s why I’m always looking to surround myself with business partners and people who embody resiliency.
6. Your colleagues commend you as a leader with the “right combination between people management skills and business/marketing skills.” What is the key to simultaneous excellence in both areas?
Striking the right balance of people skills and expertise isn’t rocket science. It does, however, require purposeful leadership to bring together some special ingredients.
First, from a knowledge perspective, it’s about showing up and nurturing a strong sense of learning and curiosity. Second, you must demonstrate your passion and help your team discover their “why” for the work. Third, when it comes to the softer skills, you need to meet people where they are and avoid taking a “one size fits all” approach. Recognizing that we’re all wired differently, and each one of us brings a unique basket of skills to a team is essential to maximizing our potential.
Finally, the glue that brings all this together is asking for and sharing feedback in all directions. I learned a simple tool called “Start, Stop, Continue” early on in my career. While it’s great for giving formal feedback, its true power lies in everyday interactions. Whether (1) sharing thoughts after your direct report presents recommendations, (2) getting input from a team member on your plan, or (3) soliciting input from your boss or an investor, using the start-stop-continue framework can be a powerful way to learn, share, and gain alignment.
7. How has Fuqua played a role in your career success?
Fuqua has helped my career in so many ways. From the very start, Fuqua set the table with an excellent education and lifelong critical thinking skills. It has also opened so many doors with its extensive network and name. I’m also incredibly thankful for a core group of Fuqua friends that mean the world to me. Despite living all over the country/world, we get together every couple of years, and we are always there to help one another. Finally, Fuqua has so many resources for its graduates. From career counseling to entrepreneurship forums to continuing education and speaker series—there is so much that Fuqua offers its graduates to keep learning and solve problems. I feel so fortunate to be part of the Fuqua and broader Duke community.
8. What does Team Fuqua mean to you?
Team Fuqua unlocks the power of we through me. Now more than ever, we understand that teamwork has far greater potential to unlock transformational growth than authoritarian leadership styles. Fuqua has been ahead of the curve in terms of recognizing the power of teams, and I’m so thankful that Team Fuqua helped inspire my leadership style.