How Lizanne Falsetto saw beyond the numbers to position thinkThin for success

Lizanne Falsetto, founder and CEO, thinkThin

It was a tough decision for Lizanne Falsetto, one that had the potential to go badly whichever way she decided to turn.

On one hand, she could continue selling the popular thinkFruit bar and risk confusing other customers who latched onto thinkThin as a company that makes snack bars that are low in sugar and high in nutrition.

Or she could drop the fruit bar, which had more sugar than Falsetto wanted in her products, and make a statement about thinkThin’s commitment to its brand name. She just had to hope that customers would appreciate the commitment more than they would mourn the loss of a popular product.

“It was very hard to explain the future of the vision because everyone just saw the numbers,” says Falsetto, who founded thinkThin in 2000. “Even the board saw the numbers. But I was adamant that this was about future growth. This was where the brand needed to be for the future to communicate one simple message that thinkThin is the weight wellness brand.”

Falsetto ultimately decided to drop the thinkFruit brand and hope that her customers would understand. Three years later, the 300-employee company seems to be doing OK without it.

The company is ranked No. 4 out of 119 national competitors in its segment, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry.

The key to maintaining success will be Falsetto’s ability to keep her finger on the pulse of her customers and remain proactive about what they want from her brand.

“It’s about leveraging industry trends and really watching what’s happening and seeing the future before it gets there so you can be ahead of the curve,” Falsetto says. “Those are probably the two biggest parts of leadership.”

Here’s a look at how Falsetto makes tough decisions and grooms her people to meet their full potential to help thinkThin keep growing.

Let people do their jobs

Falsetto was confident in her decision to drop the thinkFruit brand. But she didn’t approach the decision-making process with her leadership team exhibiting an attitude of “I’m the boss and this is what we’re going to do.”

“I let the team, the executives that run their departments, speak for their department,” Falsetto says. “If I can’t rely on them to do that, then I don’t have the right people. I can’t be everywhere all the time. If I can’t open up the trust and let them see that I believe in what they are doing, then I’m not doing a very good job.”

So if there’s going to be a presentation on marketing, it’s the VP of marketing who leads the talk — the same thing with operations or any other department in the company.

The meetings are a visible demonstration of Falsetto’s philosophy to empower her people to do what she’s hired them to do and to take advantage of the unique expertise they possess.

She recalls an analogy her father once made about a business being similar to a basketball team.

“He would say to me, ‘You know, you have the two guards, the two players underneath and the center, and you look at that team and say everybody has to touch that ball to get it in the net,’” Falsetto says. “It’s very similar to business to me. I kind of look at building a team with individual skills, and I’ve gotten much better at finding what the skills are for the moment and what the brand needs.”

She says the key thing to think about with this analogy is that not everybody has to be able to shoot from the outside, have a good inside game and play great defense. If you take advantage of the skills each person brings to your business, and you’ve done a good job trying to fill your needs, you have an effective team.

“You don’t need to have everybody understand everything,” Falsetto says. “They need to have a passion in what they understand and what they bring to the table. That’s really important.

“A marketing head might not completely understand what’s going on in the financial world and doesn’t understand the details of accounting. But accounting really doesn’t understand marketing. They just know the numbers behind it. But together, there’s a passion.”

You get people who love what they do and you let them do it to the best of their ability, and then you do what you do best. You be the leader who brings it all together.

“If I see there is something that needs to be sewn in between the departments, then I will definitely bring it to the table,” Falsetto says. “How does that operations decision reflect on the sales side? Obviously, we’re all intertwined. It’s my job to make sure we’re all seeing the connection to that big pie. It needs to be one vision, but together, they all have a different piece of that vision to get there.”

When you operate that way and you have a tough decision to make, you can feel more confident in your ability to work through it because you know that you’ve got the best information at hand to help you make the right decision.

“When you surround yourself with really wise people, you are wiser and you make smarter moves,” Falsetto says.

Enhance your talent

The search for talent begins when you look beyond the slot you need to fill in your organization and think about what skills a person could bring to your business — and you talk to them about it and make them feel like an important part of the whole operation.

“People want to work for a company that has a purpose,” Falsetto says. “Every person around the table that works with you, if they feel like they have a stake in it, if they own it like you do, it becomes easier to communicate on that basis. They are in. It’s really important to empower them around you so that you can put your ego in check yourself.”

Falsetto regularly speaks with her employees about their own futures and what they can do collectively to make that future better, both for the business and the individuals.

“I have different tiers of goals for employees, and when I keep bringing them back to those tiers of goals, it puts it in perspective,” Falsetto says. “Did we successfully do this? Can we go back and look at this again? It’s organizing the goals per employee and making sure you come back to touch on those with them. It’s when you don’t communicate with employees that they start to wonder.”

Alignment is obviously crucial when it comes to personal and business goals. If the personal goals don’t match up with the goals of the business, then you’re not going to accomplish a lot. So you take the time to get updates and make sure everybody is on the same page and you don’t worry if you have to make course corrections along the way.

“ThinkThin is going to own the weight wellness sector. That is my goal,” Falsetto says. “What falls underneath that vision could change depending on what is happening.

“It could slightly tier to the left or the right, but yet the main vision is still there. It might be communicated differently. It might look a little different when you get there because of the roadblocks you must conquer to achieve the true vision of what you’re doing. But it’s ultimately having the steps of the goals to get to the topline vision.”

Don’t be afraid to let go

As the company founder and CEO, Falsetto spends a lot of time thinking about what she can do next to keep her business growing.

“What else can I make?” Falsetto says. “What other kind of flavor bar would people want? What’s unique? So that’s always something that I think you become better and better at. I think it’s surrounding yourself with people who are in the industry, knowing your customers and keeping hold of your vision.”

Falsetto knows what her place is in the company, but she has to rely on those conversations and relationships with her people to know where they stand. And there comes a time with some people where they just can’t grow anymore with you.

“Like they say, you only have your personal assistant in that chair for three years and then you move them to a new position,” Falsetto says. “You always want to rotate certain positions to be able to have them strive to be either better within themselves or bring some new depth to that position.

“When an employee feels that they can’t grow any more within the company, it’s better that I don’t find a place for them. I let them grow on their own. When you maneuver your business around that individual, you disrupt everything.”

Certainly when someone leaves who you’ve grown attached to, it can be emotional. But it helps to view it as a positive event. You helped this person grow and now they are taking what they have learned and applying it to continue growing.

If you’re constantly focused on bringing new talent in and helping existing talent thrive, your business will benefit from your efforts.

“You just strive to be better and better at it,” Falsetto says.

How to reach: thinkThin, (866) 988-4465 or www.thinkproducts.com

The Falsetto File

Lizanne Falsetto

founder and CEO

thinkThin

Born: Seattle

Education: I’m a high school graduate. I was a basketball player, and I had a college scholarship offer. I had an option to go to a community college orSeattleUniversityand play basketball. I turned it down because I had a modeling contract on the table, and I decided I would rather travel the world.

What was the biggest takeaway from your modeling career? I didn’t do modeling to be famous because I knew I never would be famous. It was about making the money, it was about traveling and it was about the culture of where I was at. All of that really taught me the vision of looking ahead and thinking about where I want to be.

Who has been the biggest influence on you? My father has been the biggest influence on me. He is no longer with us as it’s been eight years since he passed. But he said many things that were very wise. My dad said, ‘You need to follow your dreams. When you follow your dreams, you will be successful.’ The other thing he said to me was if you ever lose those butterflies before a board meeting or before anything you’re doing, you have to stop and think about what you’re doing because you’ve lost the passion. Those things are so vivid in my head.

What one person past or present would you like the opportunity to talk to? I was thinking Margaret Thatcher. I just am in awe of her and think she’s a brilliant woman, very strong and statuesque. She really held true to what she believed in. But Lady Diana would be the other. The challenges that she was thrown into were not a choice.

Takeaways:

Don’t get too locked in on the numbers.

Let your people use their talents.

Don’t shake up your team to keep someone.