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Connecting the Dots:<br/> How Suzie Yorke Used Her Life and Experience to Launch Two Successful Start-Ups

Interview - Suzie Yorke

Connecting the Dots:
How Suzie Yorke Used Her Life and Experience to Launch Two Successful Start-Ups

Suzie YorkeThe early stages of Suzie Yorke’s career were marked with several “firsts”. After graduating from university with an electrical engineering degree, she was the first “non-business” student hired into the brand management practice at P&G. In the years that followed, Suzie climbed the ladder from Assistant Brand Manager to Director of Marketing, allowing her to work on a range of brands including the iconic Pampers, Doritos, Tostitos (she launched it into Canada) and Heinz Ketchup. She was the first to provide a strategic recommendation to discontinue a brand at P&G in the 90’s – an unprecedented move for the company at the time. Eventually, she went on to turn around the declining brand of Downy fabric softener, one of the first brands at P&G to move into an emotional end-benefit positioning. Suzie’s time in the CPG industry ignited a sense of “intrapreneurship” in her, and when she decided to step away after over two decades, her journey took a turn.


“After those 12 years in three top-tier CPG multi-nationals, I was doing Ironman races, and I was a new mom. I wanted to shift my career to something that was more aligned with my values, and back then, I was into sports, but there were not a lot of options for seasoned marketing roles so I didn’t find any meaningful roles in the sports industry so I ended up going into vitamins, one of the best pivots ever for my career.

Here, an opportunity to work with a small vitamin company led me to join a hyper-growth supplements company in weight loss category in the US. During my time there, the company grew from 10 million to 100 million in sales. I experienced a whole other area of brand management that I hadn’t learned in the first 12 years of my career and that was incredibly exciting.

This was the beginning of another fulfilling ten years of positions including VP of Marketing and CMO experiences. I also started doing fractional VP of Marketing and fractional CMO work on and off for two plus years. It was here where I learned I could step-into the CEO roles as I was doing most of their heavy lifting: writing strategic plans, P&L models, sales and marketing plans and executions and innovation plans.

This gave me the inner confidence and realization that I can do this on my own.”

 

While traveling on a plane to a conference, Suzie read a book that changed her life. Nina Teicholz’s revolutionary book, “The Big Fat Surprise,” made it clear that the way we view fats and sugar had been terribly wrong, and that Suzie had to do something about it. From there, Suzie’s first company, Love Good Fats, was born.

“I realized another marketer was going to see what I’m seeing – there’s a need for a fats brand to show the world that fats are good. Finally, I had MY idea! And the vision and mission were easy to write from there. I started doing quick consumer research and using databases that were practical and not too expensive. I took my life savings and kids’ savings and, with my little PowerPoint deck, started to look for some funding and shop around the idea I had.

 

Suzie’s concept was proven to be a great idea – her company took off, growing exponentially and smashing records for growth in Canada. From the beginning she knew this product had the potential to scale, all she had to do was enable the growth.

“Having this scientific backing to our product, we knew this would not just be considered a fad: it had staying power. I had my own personal case study once I introduced these changes to my diet. Before, I was craving sugar to the extent that I would do a four-hour run so that night I could “reward” myself with my cravings: brownies with extra caramel sauce. As soon as I started shifting and reintroducing good fats (after following a low-fat diet for 20+ years), I didn’t crave sugar anymore. My entire body, my cravings, my IBS, my blood pressure – everything changed. I knew that, foundationally, I was on to something really, really big.

It was a time when there was a lot of confusion; fats were considered bad, and sugar was bad, and we were told to over consume protein. As soon as the world was told that if you start introducing good fats back into your diet you get fewer sugar cravings, it all started to make sense for everyone. Finally, with Keto diets, low carb diets and fats being “ok” to consumer again, we saw more/more people like me, able to decrease their sugar consumption as their bodies were satiated with good foods and good fats, finally. Suzie’s Good FatsTM that turned into Love Good Fats® was the first keto-friendly, on-the-go, nutritional bar in North America! And a wonderful option to help you walk away from sugar.

Many brands started launching low-sugar versions of products, and anything that was low-sugar was finally taking off. It was a combination of the right brand at the right time, as well as the right execution. It moved very quickly from bootstrapping and being scrappy at the dining room table to selling 50,000 of our products each month. In our first year, in CY2018, we exceeded 8 million of Revenues, and in the second year, CY2019, we had sold 47 million in Gross Revenues.

When a brand gets awareness, it can get the footing, momentum and scale to then “take off”. Even when COVID hit, which took a bit of wind out of our sails, the brand got enough awareness and scale to break through the clutter.

Love Good Fats smashed 30 year old records for growth in Canada. In our Strategic plan, we made the decision to grow fast and scale to capture Critical Mass. I knew I had a brand that had the potential, so I made the decision to enable that to happen.

When I decided to step out of that CEO role, after about 5 years, I started to look at what I was going to do next. At that point, I had a lot of experience – I had over 100 million in sales, and I had raised 30 million in working capitals, and I had been on a really talented Board that had to work through a lot of different things. Eventually I decided to use that experience to start a second company.”

 

At age 50, making the shift from a career in CPG to entrepreneurship could have been a culture shock for Suzie, but she was able to dip her toe into the experience through advisory roles and possessed a balance of big-picture thinking and practical execution that made the transition much easier.

“For me, it was a gradual shift from working in large companies to running my own because I did two years of consulting work. I got to work with 20 different CEOs and see the very practical side of business. Without that, I think it would have been a pretty big shock. Not only have I ‘dipped my toe’ in the experience, but I also have a DNA that is more in line with the entrepreneur, and I think you need a mix of both factors.

The founder should be able to understand the whole business. You’ve got to see both the big picture and come down into the details and, honestly, hand hold the execution. You are connecting the dots all day long. I was always like many entrepreneurs, focused on “ideate, ideate, ideate”, go, go and get it done! which I balanced with a sense of practicality. I was grateful to have all the large company training and then to work side by side with some awesome intrapreneurs. That was just the perfect combination for me.”

 

Despite her extensive brand training during her CPG days, Suzie grew her strategic muscle by exposing herself to new organizations and continuously looking to case studies to help her own business grow and thrive.

“I developed my strategic muscle in the first 20 years of my career. If you look at seasoned senior executives in large companies, they develop that muscle of moving from execution to strategy by progressing through the ranks. Over time, they collect more and more case studies that help them connect the dots on strategy. I had that with the first 20 years of my career and then by immersing myself in startups with Love Good Fats and The Better Chocolate.

One example I drew from was MOSH, a brand by Patrick Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. The product was solely available on e-commerce for the first several years, but the mother-son duo was able to get $10 million of revenue through e-commerce alone. This is pretty rare in our ”previous” CPG world. They took that approach because they knew they had public attention, had access to PR, and awareness through social media, which, in the past, would have to be bought. For me, that was a good case study of the new realities of influencers, spokespeople, or founders who are well-known and tap into their network or audience to launch a brand.

Now, I continue to build that muscle through board roles and smaller advisory roles. By working with other small companies in an advisory position, I can flex my strategic thinking in different ways.”

 

Throughout the development of her two start-ups, Suzie made a name for herself by sharing her story online, garnering a huge following in a few short years. Suzie’s approach to building her personal brand boils down to sharing her authentic self.

“I started posting on LinkedIn about six years ago when I had 400 followers. Eventually, I realized that I love to story tell. On top of completing eleven Ironman races and being a mother, I’m a lesbian and on the spectrum for autism. There are a few of us out there who have that combination. When I started, I was just authentically putting myself out there because I needed help finding resources for my business, but my authentic stories struck a chord with my audience.

When I decided to quit my well-paying CMO job a year and a half ago to launch a second brand, I decided to bring everyone along for the journey. Now, I have 20,000+ followers on LinkedIn, and I know what I’m doing. This time, I had a success story that I could leverage to build a second brand. I have been fortunate so far that people want to follow my story so I can keep doing it.”

 

Since founding her two startups, Suzie has been a promoter of women founders by empowering, uplifting, and providing a network of support. Informed by her own journey, she has plenty of wisdom to pass along to other young women who aspire to be future strategic leaders.

“If you aspire to, go for it. When I was in my 20’s, you couldn’t break through the clutter if you didn’t follow a certain path of climbing the ladder and earning your executive roles. It was very, very rare that you could just break out and just start a company in your 20’s and forge your own personal brand.

For the generation of young women that are coming out of university now, you can pretty much do what you set your mind to. You see it on TikTok every day, where you have women who realize their uniqueness and niche strike a chord with an audience and find huge success. Everyone has special gifts and talents; you just have to find it.

I spent the first 15-20 years of my career learning. There are different companies, different cultures, different ways to do things, different leadership styles. There’s not just one way. In those first ten years, if you allow yourself to be open to seeing the diversity in style and culture and how things are done, it’s just a gift. You’re learning stuff that will help you later in your career.

The more you are exposed to in whatever role or experience you’re doing, the more you become open to the notion that there is more than one way to get to the end result.”

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