Ownership Culture with Mason Arnold at CeCe’s Veggie Noodle

Going beyond accountability is what I call an ownership culture. In an ownership culture, your employees feel the pride of ownership that drives a higher degree of customer satisfaction. It also drives fast growth like today’s gues. Mason Arnold is the Founder of CeCe’s Veggie Noodle. His company was ranked #3 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Mason and I discuss the power of the ownership culture. We look at how it works inside of a fast-growth company and why it is essential. Discover how you can lead an organization that has an ownership culture.

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Mason Arnold: The Transcript

Target Audience: Mason Arnold is the Founder & Veggie Nerd. Mason has won the prestigious Achievement Award by United Fresh Produce Association. Cece’s Veggie Co believes in simple nutrition. We perfected the spiral-cut vegetable that mimics the properties of pasta and is a healthy, fresh produce alternative to any grain-based pasta. Certified Organic and compliant with all diets.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Mason Arnold
Give people the freedom to do their job. And so to me, that means making sure they understand what the priorities are. And you know what the resources they need are, but then letting them go tackle those priorities in the way that they see fast and just making sure that we check in on those priorities. And it’s a hands-off leadership is a very results-driven leadership style as well. And that’s how we measure success and whether people are achieving expectations it really comes down to the results.

Intro [0:36]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:53]
Creating a fast-growth culture is something that you probably think about if you’re a leader that really admires those companies are growing fast being recognized for the growth and you want something that creates a real impact in the world. Speed is really important in the market, not just today. But always we want to make sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities and sometimes slow and steady wins. But most of the time, you want something that’s growing really fast.

Well, leading a fast-growth culture takes special skills, it takes special intention. And today we’re going to be talking to Mason Arnold, he is the founder of CeCe’s Veggie Co. They’re veggie noodles. They were number three on the inkless in 2019. They grew it almost 25 million in three years. And it’s just amazing kind of the story of someone who just had an idea invented like this little technology to turn vegetables into noodles, and now they’re in stores all across the nation. Now, we’re going to be talking about leading a fast-growth culture. What I like most about this conversation is he really wants his employees used to feel valued and connected. And as a leader he sees that’s a big part of his role along with, you know, casting the vision for the future and supporting them through whatever work they’re doing or the decisions he’s really hands-on, which is really important for fast-growth companies. But I really want you to think about what are you doing this may be getting in the way of your company growing faster than it could.

Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you. Those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to genehammett.com/worksheet. So you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episode. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. So here’s the interview with Mason.

Mason, how are you?

Mason Arnold [3:11]
Great. How are you doing?

Gene Hammett [3:13]
I’m excited to talk to you here on growth Think Tank. I’ve already talked to the other two companies that were the top of the list, but you’re the number three company on the Inc 5000. list. So tell us just a little bit about the company and what you’re up to.

Mason Arnold [3:28]
Yeah, so it CeCe’s Veggie Co. we believe in simple nutrition and I started the company in 2015. Partially as to help people eat more vegetables, but also because I discovered that my kids had to go gluten-free a couple of years prior. And so I didn’t want them to miss out on cake and cookies and you know, spaghetti and meatballs. And so when I tried a veggie noodle, I thought there was something there that it had a really great texture and it was a good kind of substitute for grain-based pasta noodles. And so I went to work, I have an engineering background and did a bunch of research and invented the machine that we still use to this day to make the vegetable noodles. And, you know, launched in 2015. And it’s been a little rocket ship ever since.

Gene Hammett [4:18]
Well, I will personally tell you, my wife had to tell me we actually have had these noodles. I love them. I really am a big fan of veggie noodles eating healthy. So thanks for what you do.

Mason Arnold [4:28]
Oh, yeah, thanks so much for your support.

Gene Hammett [4:31]
I, when we started talking a couple of weeks ago, was talking about you know, kind of your leadership style and I think all of our listeners are kind of curious what type of leadership style creates the kind of growth you’ve had. Looking at the numbers you did almost 24,000% in three years, you reached almost 25 million in sales. I’m sure you’ve gone past that now. Because that was months ago. What would you say is your leadership style?

Mason Arnold [4:59]
I think You know, subscribe to the camp of leaders and managers are often different people and have different roles. And so the most important thing as a leader that I try to do is align my team around a vision and get people excited about the vision. And then also, when you’re growing that fast, it takes some real convincing of people that we can achieve the vision they look at what we know I say we need to do and you know, often people who are not visionaries are looking to the future a lot just can’t understand how it can get done. So has he end up spending a lot of time convincing people that it’s possible to grow as fast as we need to grow to meet demand. And so I think aligning people around the vision is number one, and then in turn, then just you know, giving people direction and resources and respect I feel like making sure people are valued and given them the resource they need to achieve that kind of growth is a really important part as well.

Gene Hammett [6:05]
You know, you slipped in there making sure they feel valued. I want to make sure we highlight that because I think a lot of leaders think that they’re valuing their employees. How far do you go to make sure that people feel that sense of value?

Mason Arnold [6:18]
You know, for me that value comes in connection and support. And so making sure that my team knows that I am there to support them. And if they are struggling, I’m there to help them problem solve and help them find the resources that they need to get past the roadblocks they have.

Gene Hammett [6:43]
Fantastic. You had mentioned to me when we first talked a few weeks ago about this hands-off leadership. What is that to you?

Mason Arnold [6:53]
Yes, so to me, part of hands-off leadership is the fact that I’m not a great manager and So, you know, I tried to really help people, you know, do the things that I said aligning around vision, and then, you know, give people the freedom to do their job. And so to me that that means making sure they understand what the priorities are, and you know what the resources they need are, but then letting them go tackle those priorities in the way that they see best and just making sure that we check in on those priorities. And it’s, it’s a hands-off leadership is a very results-driven leadership style as well. And that’s how we measure success and whether people are achieving expectations. It really comes down to the results.

Gene Hammett [7:46]
Mason, I would imagine with the number of employees you have, you said about 170 probably more than that now. But you know, what type of process to you dude kind of create the best employees or find those best employees? Walk us through that a little bit.

Mason Arnold [8:07]
Yeah, so I think the, you know, an important part of creating strong relationships on a team is finding people that are interested in learning and are smart. So that’s kind of the baseline. And if you get people that are smart, and want to learn and do a good job, that goes a long way, and then it just keeps going back to that, what are the priorities and expectations? Are they is it? Are the team members aware of their expectations, number one, and if they are, do they think they can meet those expectations? And if not, What’s missing? It’s either a resource issue or a skill gap or motivation and you know, motivation and resources. May management can help with this. The skill gap often can be trained in there’s time to do that. But I would say that’s kind of the formula we use to try to build great team members in a fast-growing organization where their job is often changing very quickly.

Gene Hammett [9:11]
Now, I know it’s a tough labor market, but where do you come down on this idea of hire the best? Or do you hire the best for right now?

Mason Arnold [9:21]
I think that I come down on both sides of that, depending on their position, depending on the timeline. And you know, one of the I think one of the downsides of growing really fast is that revenue growth can cover a lot of sins and so people can be not a great match for position but if you’re growing great, then you can’t really tell and it’s when you flat now, which we had some flattening out this year where you really start to dig in and be like, okay or is your skillset the right match, you know, for this job, and I think some positions like you know, finance. I always want to hire the best and not the best for right now. But then other times it is just like we need to get a warm body in the sea cranking out work?

Gene Hammett [10:12]
Well, it does depend on what they’re expected of them.

Commercial [10:15]
Hold on for a second. Mason just talked about hiring employees. And I agree that some employees, you may just hire who’s in front of you, if it’s kind of hourly labor or if it’s something that doesn’t take a lot of the intelligence necessary, and innovation and creativity. But if you have the kind of job where you expecting your employees to really think what you want them to truly add value to the organization, you want to hire a players. I’ve had many conversations with the leaders, and even Mason said so in inside this interview that you know, at the top levels, the ones the roles that are most important, you want the best employees and you’re willing to wait for that. And as a culture, it creates a standard and it creates the space for people to know and hold other people accountable for what they’re doing. I really believe we should be hiring eight players every chance we can. So when you have to make that next hire, make sure that they’re thinking if they’re if they’re, you want them to truly add value to the organization, then you make sure they’re a player inside your culture. And back to Mason.

Gene Hammett [11:20]
When you think about innovation inside your business, you mentioned in the opening you’ve created in this category of vegetable noodles, and I know other people probably create vegetable noodles. But, you know, walk us through why innovation is so important for what you’re doing.

Mason Arnold [11:38]
Well, we did you know, people have made vegetable noodles before but no one’s gotten it to the retailer shelf in a larger way beyond them making it in the back of the house. So the company is the foundation is innovation where we invented this machine that allows us to make and distribute this product nationally in a manner where the retailers have enough time to sell it. And, you know, can make their margin on it. So we’re, we’re founded on innovation and that sets the tone for their relationships with the customers as well, when we go to them a year later, to try to grow the business. They’re like, what’s next? You know, what’s coming? what’s the new innovation?

And so I think it’s has been important for us to kind of stay in touch with that. And our What is, you know, we succeed when the retailer is able to succeed and grow their revenue per square foot or the metrics that they’re measured on in there in the produce department. And so in order to do that our relationship with them is to bring them new innovation.

Gene Hammett [12:47]
Well, I my mind is kind of going around this, how do you get your employees to be able to add to that, and I know a lot of leaders think well, it’s a top-down model, I have the ideas, I just want you to execute. I’ve found that fast-growth companies like yourself, really do encourage everyone to share these ideas, everyone to have that courage and confidence to do that. How are you doing that in your company?

Mason Arnold [13:12]
You know, often one of the ways that we kind of facilitate the flow of ideas and information is through technology into our Slack channel. And so we have channels that anyone can contribute to with ideas. And I often post things and ask the team, what do you think about this? Have you seen these things out in the market? And so that gives people a really, you know, a great way to share ideas that aren’t in front of a huge group, which would, which makes people a lot shyer. And then the other way of brainstorm sessions that anyone’s invited to, and we just kind of hang out and I set the boundaries, that there are no bad ideas and that we’re just here to help. Fun and talk about new things. And so we do that kind of activity on a regular basis.

Gene Hammett [14:06]
You can’t talk about innovation without talking about your relationship with failures. What is your relationship with failure?

Mason Arnold [14:15]
I’ve had massive failures over the years. My first company did well and I sold it after two years, and I had more money in the bank than I’d ever seen before in my life. And within one year, I lost all that money and was back on my mom’s couch broke side contracted parasites sick and alone lost my girlfriend. So I went from extremely high to the bottom of the barrel. And I think sometimes, whether you call it masochism, or delusional optimism, I was on my mom’s couch thinking, What am I going to do next? And so and then along the way, as well, I’ve had companies that we’re on the brink of failure, you know, multiple times and you know, clients Through that, and the, you know, the persistence and the perseverance to just keep working no matter what the situation is a, you know, I feel like a learned skill that I’m still working on and still have to put to use occasionally.

Commercial [16:00]
Just a second here, Mason just talked about, I don’t know what your relationship with failure is. But I know that those people that are afraid to fail, often aren’t willing to risk what it takes to grow fast. They’re not willing to take the chances to hire the right people, they’re not willing to invest in themselves. They’re not willing to get coaching, they’re not willing to do the things that are necessary to keep the company growing. And I mentioned this because I know that within my own life and my own businesses, and I’ve had many, that those times where I held back and stayed in fear, I did not grow the company the way I wanted to. But those 10 chances were I did, you know, very savagely, take a step forward and really move forward and see what was going to happen and create some small test around that. And I really got used to, you know, failing forward and again, I got my clients and used to failing forward I got my employees used to failing forward in everyone had a healthy relationship with failure. Things were different

Now, what I’m saying here, as a leader, you want to make sure that you’re not so grasping a whole to safety, that you don’t have a chance in the culture for things to evolve and innovate. If you want innovation in your company, you have to embrace failure to some degree. Back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [15:17]
Well, I appreciate you sharing that with us. How do you embrace transparency inside your culture as a leader?

Mason Arnold [15:25]
You know, I’m a big fan of full transparency, my most of my companies have had an open-book policy, and I would even try to teach employees about p&l statement and what it means and what it looks like and where our costs are, you know, and how to get people involved. And that, as always, I think paid off well, to help people understand their contributions to the business and how the overall business is doing and what we all need to do to make it succeed.

Gene Hammett [17:19]
A lot of people shy away from that. What would you tell leaders that that haven’t embraced the sense of transparency that you have seen work for your culture?

Mason Arnold [17:28]
I think it’s, I mean, I think it’s hard to give blanket advice even on an issue like this. I think some people don’t want to do it because they’re afraid if the employees know how much they’re making if they’re, you know, a lucrative company, that the employees would get mad, but I feel like if you can instill this sense of respect and value and employees and they want to see the company make a lot of money, and so it’s not damaging to show them they’ll be excited. To help the company make a lot of money, you know if they feel valued, and so if there’s problems in the culture, then I might not advise that they should go down that route. First, and then transparency is a great tool.

Gene Hammett [18:13]
Yeah. Well, Mason, I also want to talk to you a little bit about I asked you my big question, and I asked a lot of leaders this question in the fast-growth companies as a leader, what’s more, important customers or employees?

Mason Arnold [18:30]
You know, I think we talked about this before and I tried to skirt it by saying both you know, with the customer, there is no revenue to create a company around it, but for the long term, ongoing success. Employees can help create customers and create new customers or pivot the company to new customers, if they’re engaged in what the company’s doing so I think for in any, you know, a short period is the customer Long term as the employee?

Gene Hammett [19:02]
Well, I can definitely know, it’s a hard question. And I definitely believe that the company has to put the customer first. But when you value taking care of them and making sure they feel valued and connected, that tells me a lot of that how you feel about the employees. When you think about, you know, the next iteration of your business, what does it look like from a cultural standpoint?

Mason Arnold [19:29]
Yeah, I think it’s a, it’s fascinating, I think culture is an ever-evolving thing. And so what I would I feel like my goal in charge in the company is to kind of to put guard rails around the culture and basically help people understand where it can’t go. But then within that, let it let the culture be its own thing and evolve and develop as it will and every new employee is going to change the culture a little bit and every employee that leaves changes the culture a little bit. And so I try to just keep guardrails around it and then let it grow into its own thing.

Gene Hammett [20:10]
Have you created anything like you know, culture committees or something that’s got people that have their fingers on the pulse of how things are in the culture right now.

Mason Arnold [20:20]
I consider it more of it’s, it’s what we have as a network. And so I have people that are deep in the culture of particular shifts or you know, departments and then I keep in touch with them, and I make sure I have my pulse on what they are seeing out there. And then we have an HR department that I hired, you know less about the which we do you know, we cover all the legalities and process and procedures, but my head of HR is very culture-oriented and he’s very interested in how everyone is doing and how everyone is feeling and so I laid on him a lot as the organization has gotten bigger to help me understand our people, you know, fitting their roles and they happy and how’s the whole team working together and as issues arise, so

we don’t have, I am not really a big fan of things like culture committees where a small group of people decides what’s going to happen for the company. But I also try to be sensitive if we are not paying attention to it, that we do events, and we just set up the framework for people to connect, which I guess is what authentic culture committee does, but we often just have people you know, one person who says, Here’s, you know, we’re going to do four events a year that just give our employees an opportunity to connect and then make sure there are some fun activities in there and we get do giveaways and things like that.

Gene Hammett [21:55]
I want to kind of land a plane here with maybe a little bit of a curveball because I haven’t prepared you for this. You have an executive team, right?

Mason Arnold [22:03]
Yes.

Gene Hammett [22:03]
You count on them, if you’re a hands-off leader you want them to, you’re empowering them to run their departments and, and there, you know, their teams. What have you learned the hard way? Maybe over the years of building these businesses about how you engage with that executive team?

Mason Arnold [22:21]
Yeah, I think the hardest lesson I’ve learned is that they are the executive team. Everyone has pretty strong ideas, and you know, how they want to do things. And sometimes I’ve let that go where I’m like, I don’t agree with this, but it’s his team. So I’ll let him run his team his way. And then that creates a schism in the culture where this team kind of pulls away from the overall culture and community of the company. And that’s really hard to correct for once, as you can acid the executive guy to do it guy or girl, and they may or may not, they’ve already been doing it their way. So then that becomes a struggle. And if their whole team is used to doing something a certain way, that’s it, you know, out of bounds from where we think the company culture is…

That it’s like, do you have to replace the whole team? Or then do you have to do some serious coaching for the team? And so that’s been a really hard lesson and where to draw the line with the executive team of giving them that freedom, but then making sure they understand the guardrails around, you know, culture and performance.

Gene Hammett [23:42]
Wow, what a fantastic interview. I will say that the last conversation that we were having their last question got cut off, and I didn’t get a chance to going to wrap this up. But we packaged it up for you so that you get the tremendous value from Mason’s perspective on fast growth.

Now, when you think about your culture, you know, you want to make sure you’re very intentional about what you’re creating as a leader, because it’s up to you to set those boundaries or guardrails as Mason talked about, and it’s up to you to show up in a way to lead people so that they are courageous of their confidence, their feel empowered, they feel connected to the world. That’s your job. If you have any questions about how you’re showing up and about what you can do to change to create more growth in your company. Let’s have a chat. Let’s get to know each other. Just go to gene@genehammett.com I love to talk to you. If you could think of anyone who would appreciate these messages then make sure you tell them about Growth Think Tank, as always, lead with courage. See you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

 

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