Chia Sisters' founder Chloe Van Dyke is gutsy in her approach to business, taking brave stances very much aligned to her personal values. But she is also highly introverted, and here shares the pros and cons that this has presented.
Chloe Van Dyke will lock herself in bathrooms at events. Just for a few minutes, for a breather, so she can go back out into the crowd and converse.
"In business, networking is really important, and I really don't like it. It's the same with tradeshows, we never go to tradeshows because I find talking to so many people about the same things in one day quite hard."
Google up reports of highly-introverted Chloe's exploits as Chia Sisters' founder, however - innovator, leader, outstanding food producer, woman of influence, top businessperson, sustainability transformer, high-achiever, and positive impactor of community and the environment - then marry these two seemingly incongruent notions together.
"Yes, definitely I'm an introvert - and so, all of those words are quite confronting!" says the former neuroscientist, who also finds public speaking (which she does regularly) really challenging.
"I've found giving talks quite difficult, but have got more comfortable with it. It took a long time and I'm still not good at off-the-cuff. I need to prepare and know what I'm going to say because I want to ensure that it gives value to the listener. But in a way this is almost easier than the 'hello, how are you?' type conversations.
Hopefully, people benefit from our story, and it is helpful for our business. The way I've had to approach it is that fear is an ego thing and I just need to get over it - which is possibly the opposite of what people might think it's like."
None of it was intentional, she says. Referring to the success of Chia Sisters' solar-powered, zero-carbon juicery, seeded from initial experimentation in her garage and literal chia seed explosions. When the business first started out, Chloe was simply doing her own thing, never conceiving of the idea that it would grow even to the stage of hiring other people. Albeit that she did determinedly set herself the goal of making the world's most nutritious drink.
And while cold calling and door knocking strike fear into the heart of many an introvert, back then Chloe Van Dyke braced herself and did it anyway - and was pleasantly surprised at the feedback.
"Some of the comments I got from those I approached were that they were tired of reps with the perfectly honed sales pitch. People came onboard with my story, they wanted to become part of a journey with me. In that way, I got lots of support.
With expansion came a team, and effort learning how to facilitate a happy and productive one. This did not come naturally. Chloe read and researched, and wrote a lot down initially.
"Our team is our greatest asset, and everyone works in a different way. I found I actually really like learning about each person and how I can help create the right working environment for them."
Introverts lead from behind Chloe says. It is about listening to people, allowing them to step forward, take the stage and do their thing - easier when you are not occupying all the space. "I think good leadership is a lot about stepping back from someone else and letting them shine, and I enjoy that."
Yet her favourite part is having a platform to explore true sustainability in business. To test different ways to positively impact the community and environment, rather than just superficial box ticking.
"I've spent a lot of time delving into sustainability and what good business means, I've become really passionate about it. It's a bit of a side tangent to just running a company, but it's become a crux of ours because it spreads throughout everything we do, which is a quite a thoughtful process."
Bringing personal values into the workplace has been intentional. As an introvert, Chloe suggests this actually makes things easier - you get to be your whole self all of the time, rather than feeling like at work you have to do things deviating from what is important to you as a person.
Some brave stances have been taken. Such as going public with the opinion that New Zealand's major food sellers could walk their talk re sustainability. Meaning ditching exclusivity contracts with the major global suppliers to enable more ethical local producers a look in.
"It can be hard to take a strong viewpoint and put it out there. I literally woke up to messages telling me how silly I was, but I'd do it again tomorrow. It wasn't beneficial to our business, but I hope it will be helpful to someone at some point."
Being an introvert is not an impediment, but about finding comfort in yourself and what you want to do. "I'm interested in how I can grow and be a better person. If there are any barriers as to why I don't want to do something, I want to explore that. Am I comfortable keeping it there or do I want to test it out? Either is absolutely fine - it's about recognising and deciding whether I want to play with that boundary or not."
This is part of the 'When Quiet Women Succeed' article series, where inspiring New Zealand women share insights into their journeys as introverts working and reaching success within their chosen fields.
Image: kindly supplied