F&B Hospitality Professional Q&A
Q&A with Peter Maldonado, co-founder & CEO of Chomps Snacks Sticks
Everyone has a story. Tell us how you knew you wanted to enter the Food & Beverage field. What was your “light bulb” moment?
My lightbulb moment to start Chomps came when I went to the CrossFit Games in 2012. There were thousands of people – the fittest crowd I’d ever seen in my life. They were all die-hard about the sport, fitness and nutrition. I had some previous experience in the food and beverage industry, and I was trying to come up with the next great product. By 2012, I had my target audience in mind with the CrossFit & Paleo space.
As a kid, I ate way too many Slim Jim’s and thought to myself that if I could make a much healthier version, it would sell really well into these communities. Selfishly, it would also be convenient to have a constant stash of inventory on hand for my own enjoyment.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
As cliche as it sounds, my parents have had that impact on me. They both dedicated their lives to helping other people a long time ago. As I was growing up, my father was a Deacon in our church, and now he’s the Executive Pastor; my mother is the Director of Counseling at a church in Winston-Salem, NC. They’re also the ones that can take credit for my work ethic. In addition to all of the work at the church over the years, my parents somehow both worked full-time jobs while raising four wild kids. Now that I’m older and a father myself, I’m beyond impressed by them. I’m not quite sure how they pulled it all off.
What are the most important decisions you make as one of the leaders of your organization?
As a small company that has experienced explosive growth in a short period of time, our focus is to scale quickly without losing control. We’ve built an amazing support network of outsourced resources that help to keep us running and growing. By tapping third-parties to handle things like marketing, order fulfillment or data collection, we’re able to stay extremely lean without sacrificing the national coverage we need to be successful. One such resource we’ve found extremely valuable is Mobee, an application that uses crowdsourcing to collect invaluable insights in retail stores that sell our products. This technology allows a small company like ours to have “boots on the ground” nationwide, quickly and at low cost.
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
Whether it’s an internal hire or an outsourced resource, I don’t hire either unless I’m 100 percent confident that the person or partner is right for the job. I know that if I do a good job at hiring, I won’t have to micromanage later on; if I don’t hire right, that’s on me. We always set specific KPI’s and periodically review performance, but for the most part, we like to empower the team to use their own talents and creativity to get the job done.
As CEO., which do you think is most important to your organization—mission, core values or vision?
These are all very important to any successful business, but I believe that it’s our core values that have led to our success. Chomps operates according to a higher purpose, which is to benefit everyone involved in our company, including customers, suppliers and employees. All of these groups can expect quality, passion, transparency, honesty and appreciation from our organization. We are by no means perfect, but we are cognizant of the mutual benefit in treating others as we wish to be treated.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?
The tie breaker is personality and character traits. I’m most interested in the candidate who would be a good cultural fit. It’s not a single trait, but a set of traits that can’t be learned. I’m typically able to judge the compatibility very early on in the interview process. When a candidate expresses genuine excitement about our products and the future of our organization, the energy is contagious. That’s the candidate I want on my team.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Anyone in a position of leadership must keep their word. There is no better way to permanently lose respect, while making your employees feel marginalized than breaking promises. The opposite is also true. There is no better way to gain respect and trust than showing employees that you do what you say you will.
Can you explain the impact, if any, that social media has made on your organization and you personally?
Social media has helped to level the playing field for small companies and large corporations. Thanks to these platforms, anyone can create highly engaging content that can potentially “go viral” at little to no cost. I owe a lot of Chomps’ success to the exposure we’ve gained on social media platforms. We leveraged social during the proof of concept phase in 2012, and today it’s where we allocate a major part of our marketing budget.
Social media has also had an impact on me personally in my position as CEO, because it allows me to see exactly what people are saying about our brand. These are unfiltered comments that have actually influenced some decisions I’ve made in the past when it comes to new product launches or marketing strategies. People will say exactly what’s on their mind on social media, and while sometimes it’s not exactly what I want to hear, it’s a way to get honest feedback.
What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Books I’d recommend: Up the Organization by Robert Townsend, and Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I’d also recommend watching all of the TED talks on the subject of leadership. There are more than 80 talks, and a ton of research and articles that live in the TED website archives.
What are you doing to ensure your continued success, growth and development as a leader?
I put a lot of effort into honing my skills as a leader, and it’s a constant, ongoing process. There are so many resources to learn about how and why successful leaders do what they do. Great leaders that I look up to include Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson, Marcus Lemonis and Gary Vaynerchuk. All of these people are examples of world-class leaders in business who have used their positions of success to help others succeed.
What, do you do to relax?
My wife, Stephanie tells me that I need to learn how to unplug. It’s something I’m working on. We both love boating and fishing here in sunny Florida, and we do that as often as possible. We’re new parents with a three-month old son, Maverick, so that’s been life-changing. I won’t call it relaxing, but I love being a dad and spending time with our little guy.