Laura Brooks is a 12 year CPG veteran and currently the co-founder and CEO of revolutionary supplement brand, NAPJITSU. She has extensive hands-on expertise building brands and e-comm businesses from the ground up, including two successful exits — as Director of Marketing at Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP and as Vice President of Marketing and eCommerce at Solid Gold Pet. Laura has also been part of growing iconic, household brands under the Clorox portfolio through marketing, e-commerce and business insights functions. Laura uses her passion for health and wellness along with the knowledge and experiences in CPG to quickly launch new brands with a better-for-you focus and strong e-commerce base.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Laura Brooks: Hello! Thank you for the opportunity. I am Laura Brooks, co-founder and CEO of a revolutionary energy supplement brand, NAPJITSU. I have a background in marketing and e-commerce in CPG, many in the natural and better-for-you categories. I live in St. Louis, Missouri with my husband, two young boys and two dogs. I am an avid consumer of fitness and wellness focused podcasts, which is a main reason NAPJITSU caught my eye.
We’re on a mission to build a world where everyone is focused, energized and always ready to perform. We do this with cognition-enhancing, naturally sourced ingredients like B vitamins, nootropics, cordyceps mushrooms and caffeine to achieve expert level rest and energy to awaken your inner ninja.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Laura Brooks: What didn’t I want to be?! I was always torn between two options. Early on I wanted to be a lawyer or a scientist. By high school, my dream changed to a journalist or a teacher. By college, I decided on an industrial organizational psychologist or a marketer so I majored in Marketing and Management with a minor in Psychology. There are 3 pieces of advice that standout in my journey to find my career path:
- If you can’t find the perfect career right away, then find the building blocks to get you there.
Think of your 3 areas of importance or motivators. For me it’s: Learning, Flexibility, Salary, and it’s important to connect the dots to build a path. You can have one of those without the other two being true, but then it’s just a single dot. You won’t last long before getting burnt out. You need two dots to draw a line to get you to the next step. For example, if I’m not making much money but I’m learning a lot and I have flexibility in my schedule, this could be a fun and educational building block to get me to the next step to unlock a larger salary. If I make a healthy salary and I’m learning valuable skills, but I have strict hours, then I think of it as line to get you to the next role that offers me more freedom. If I’m able to achieve the ultimate of all three, then I’ve built myself a triangle – a spot where I can have a lifelong career.
- Feedback is a gift, but your choice if you want to internalize it.
I constantly ask for feedback – the good and the bad. It not only does it help me learn technical skills, but it also provides me with new perspective and teaches me to better understand different ways of approaching situations.
- Lean into your strengths.
Everyone will have weaknesses and that’s fine, as long as they’re not an outage. I am a lot more successful when I lean into what I’m good at versus trying to improve what I’m not. I’ve seen quite a few times, myself included, where very capable employees are not successful. It’s not because of their skillset but rather they’re not in a role where they can lean into their strengths. When that’s the case, find where you can truly add value within your skillset and create your own role. I’ve done this three times in my career. I knew I was underperforming or stagnant and presented a new role to my boss where I could truly excel.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Laura Brooks: NAPJITSU is a revolutionary new brand on a mission to create a world that’s well-rested, energized and always ready to perform. We do that with our patent-pending products of cognition-enhancing nootropics, vitamins and mushrooms to help you achieve expert-level rest and energy — it’s a shortcut to give your brain the boost it would get from quality rest. Our hero product, NAP, is based on research from NASA, the US military and the Japanese government on the benefits of a 20-30 minute power nap. But not everyone knows how to nap, or they wake up groggy, so we created a solution. NAP includes a mellowing mint and 2 energy capsules, all made with naturally sourced ingredients. The tablet immediately goes to work with natural ingredients like valerian, lavender and lemon balm help pull you into a light sleep. In 30 minutes, the energy capsules dissolve and unleash nootropics, b-vitamins, caffeine and cordyceps to wake you up without that groggy, sluggish feeling. In a double-blind consumer study, consumers reported 2x more energy with NAP compared to coffee. It will give you 5+ hours of sustained energy and focus without the peak and crash.
Another product, NOW, is a perfect solution for those that need immediate energy. A dose of NOW is 2 energy capsules packed with nootropics, B-vitamins, cordyceps and caffeine. What’s different about this product is that the caffeine is time released in 3 doses so that you get steady energy and focus with 6+ hours of energy. You’d take this instead of coffee or an energy drink, which aren’t long-lasting and aren’t offering a robust set of nootropics.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have REST, because the best energy comes from actual deep, restorative sleep. REST contains all nootropics and no caffeine, and it helps to pull you into a 90-minute full cycle of deep sleep to get more out of the sleep that you’re getting so you wake up feeling recharged and refreshed — almost as if you had slept longer than you really did.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Laura Brooks: A degree will help get you to the CEO level, but in my opinion, experiences are better. CEOs need to be able to think strategically – not only for an aspirational, future-thinking mission, but also the building blocks to get there. CEOs need to identify how all facets of the business work together or against each other to meet those goals. A CEO does not have the best technical skills in the room – in fact they often don’t. Instead, they need to be able to be a problem-solver who can connect the dots, analyze and make decisions quickly and effectively communicate the vision to the team. Soft skills are also critical. Of course, grit and thick skin are important but so is humility. CEOs must be able to admit when they’re wrong or don’t know something and ask for help.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Laura Brooks: Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. If you can lead and inspire a team of smart, motivated and diverse individuals, it will make your job much easier. Listen more than you talk and empower your team to bring ideas and solutions to the table. Your role as CEO is to guide the team on the right path, but lean into your team to bring the expertise.
I am fortunate to have a strong mentor, Suzanne, whom I’ve channel on a daily basis for over 10 years. She is confident, tenacious and smart, but above it all, she sees her team as people first and employees second. That has been my motto since coming into leadership positions. She will show up to a meeting without a computer or even paper to write on. She does this because she knows her team will tell her and give her all the information she needs to know. As a member of her team, it was empowering and allowed me to do my best work.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Laura Brooks: Focus areas are completely dependent on the needs and life cycle of the business. A start up CEO may need to be focused on product development or fundraising – two very different things. A CEO of a large company may be more focused on acquisition or partnerships to grow the business. The CEO needs to first determine where the business needs to be in the next 3-5 years and then determine the building blocks and objectives to get there over the next 4 quarters and beyond.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Laura Brooks: We started during the pandemic so the good news is that we didn’t have to find a “new” way of working. The most challenging part has been supply chain constraints and pivoting while still staying true to our mission. As everyone is aware, there’s a shortage of labor and materials. We’re finding lead times are anywhere from 2 to 5 times longer than they used to be. We have to find new ways to source, new partners to lean on and have to plan supply and marketing programs much further in advance. The benefit of this is that all functions are in lockstep. The team better understands how their work impacts sales and supply because of all the planning that needs to be done for inventory and freight.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Laura Brooks: The biggest mistake is being too rigid and unable to pivot, regardless of the pandemic. One example would be an unwillingness to change marketing strategy based on new trends and going with the same tactics you used 5 years ago. I’ve also seen it as sticking too close to the plan and not increasing safety stock, resulting in sustained out of stocks. From a cultural standpoint, it could be unwillingness to change culture and allow for remote working, which can result in losing top tier talent. CEOs need to be able to take a pulse of the marketplace, consumer needs and employee morale to pivot while still staying true to the overall mission of the company.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Laura Brooks: A successful product is rooted in a consumer need. We were able to find a consumer need that didn’t have a strong solution. 72% of Americans feel sleepy on a daily basis, which tells me that what’s in market isn’t working. Caffeinated beverages, like energy drinks, pump you full of caffeine and are often filled with artificial ingredients, leaving you feeling worse. The answer has been to drink more caffeine, but that’s not healthy. Not only that, these products were made for physical performance – workouts, playing sports, etc. But what about a solution for the rest of us where energy means being able to focus while on Zoom calls or writing emails or reading? That’s why we created NAPJITSU. We found solution-backed by science to meet a need and improve performance.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Laura Brooks: We just launched in September 2021 so we’re a very new company! It’s an exciting time and I’m trying to ensure we stay on top of insights, trends and jump on every opportunity we can while scaling the business in a sustainable way.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Laura Brooks: I took an Irish Dancing class in college and sadly I have not been able to use those skills yet. Maybe one day.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Laura Brooks: I made the decision to delay launch an additional 3 months to ensure we had a website that was easy to shop and provided all the information consumers need to be confident in their NAPJITSU choice. While I would have loved to launch sooner and evolve the site as we learned, I knew it wasn’t the right decision and would result in extra re-work for the team. In the end, we have a beautiful website with strong traffic and conversion and the team is able to focus on optimizing and adding instead of redoing.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Laura Brooks for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Laura Brooks or her company, you can do it through her – Instagram
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