Jennifer Cue | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jennifer Cue

Background:  

Jones Soda Co. is an independent, Seattle-based company that for more than 20 years has bottled and distributed a variety of sodas known for their unique flavors and ever-changing, consumer-submitted labels. Flavors have included everything from Cream Soda to Turkey & Gravy.

The Mistake:

Jones is a small business, but when we reached a certain point, we thought it would be good to bring in someone with a lot more experience from a big company that could take our business and brand to the next level.

So the people we hired for the head of sales role had nice resumes and came from big beverage companies. Without fail, they didn’t work out. This would happen with board members with experience at big companies, too. At the end of the day, there was this disconnect; they couldn’t grasp how to move the company from the small stage to the large stage without spending a lot of money.

I remember, at one point, there were all these different projects the board wanted to take a look at, and one board member said to me: “Jen, just put two of your biz dev people on that.” We didn’t have any business development people. That sort of encapsulated the big company mentality he had.

We need people who are ready and willing to get down and do the job.

The Lesson:

People with experience at large companies are typically accustomed to there being ample resources to make things happen, but a small business is a very different animal. If you’re a small business, you’ve got to make sure that key hires on your board and in the business know how that works.

The people that work well here are the people who really understand that this is an opportunity to be a part of so many different things. They have a can-do attitude and an entrepreneurial mindset.

When I was the CFO, for example, I would sometimes take the calls and be the receptionist, if that was needed. We also recently gave out an award to our e-commerce manager, who decided to build out our new website on her own, in her spare time, because she felt it needed improving. 

While would like to grow and be a bigger company one day, people with that experience aren’t what we need at this stage. We need people who are ready and willing to get down and do the job. Being realistic about that has worked out pretty well for us. 

Follow Jones Soda Co. on Twitter at: @jonessodaco

Pictured: Jennifer Cue | Photo courtesy of Jones Soda Co.

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