Episode 185
November 21, 2023

Perfectionism and Plastic-Free Packaging

with Kate Flynn, Co-Founder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods

About this episode

Today, Lee sits down with Kate Flynn, Co-Founder and CEO of Sun & Swell Foods. In this episode, Kate shares her inspiring story of making her sustainable snack brand plastic-free and creating a company that is a force for good (as well as good food). Tuning in, you’ll also find out what Kate wanted to be when she grew up, the tough lessons on failure that came with changing careers (and being a consultant), why she doesn’t consider herself a “typical entrepreneur,” her take on when is the right time to go full time on your side hustle, and her advice for leaning into your authentic leadership style versus being the leader you think you should be.

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 In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

•   [02:51] Kate’s “standard” upbringing in Ohio and her early love for consumer-end products.

•   [08:07] Why she changed her name and how moving to North Carolina helped her realize the value of surrounding yourself with down-to-earth people.

•   [14:08] Kate’s first job as a CPA and how her vision to be a businesswoman became a reality.

•   [19:03] From Deloitte to Harvard (for an MBA) to Kurt Salmon (now Accenture Strategy): Kate’s trial-by-fire introduction to the retail and consumer products industry.

•   [24:25] Tough lessons on embracing failure, being wrong, and getting over perfectionism that she learned a little later than most entrepreneurs.

•   [25:55] The origin story of Sun & Swell and when Kate knew to go all-in on her “side project.”

•   [32:31] How COVID strengthened her commitment to building a truly plastic-free brand.

•   [41:43] Unpacking what Sun & Swell means when they say their packaging is compostable.

•   [49:39] Insight into the battle between ego and authenticity in Kate’s fundraising journey.

•   [54:41] Kate’s evolution as a leader, her advice for entrepreneurs in the trenches, and more!

 To Find Out More:

Sun & Swell

Kate Flynn on LinkedIn

Kate Flynn on Instagram

Lee Greene on LinkedIn

Stairway to CEO

Stairway to CEO on Instagram


“There has been a connection to consumer-end products since I was really young. [There was] something that really resonated with me there.” [0:05:42] 

“Surrounding yourself with people who bring you joy and make you a better person tends to serve you well in life.” [0:13:38]

“That vision of – being a businesswoman, I don’t even know what it meant. It was way too broad for me to understand, but that’s what I wanted to be. It wasn’t a teacher, it wasn’t a doctor – I wanted to be in the business world.” [0:15:51]

“I’ve learned as an entrepreneur to embrace failure, but it didn’t come until later in my entrepreneurial journey. I was not okay with failure for many, many years of my life.” [0:22:32]

“My whole journey as a consultant – was learning to get over perfectionism. It was learning to be okay with not being right all the time and be okay with failure. That was the first time I had to go through all those lessons, which ended up serving me well.” [0:25:05]

“[Transitioning to compostable packaging] is way harder than it sounds because of all the supply-chain differences between compostable and plastic.” [0:33:54] 

“This is about a movement away from plastic, not just building a [snack] brand.” [0:36:10]

“We have two types of customers; one who is committed to zero-waste, they discover us because they’re trying to go plastic-free, and the other – who is just trying to make small steps in the right direction.” [0:47:00]

“The ideal state is no packaging – Ideally, you’re buying everything from your farmer’s market or [you have] a reusable bag and you’re going to your bulk store – The compostable solution is an interim solution to make it easier for people to make a step in the right direction if they can’t do the ideal state.” [0:48:58] 

“It’s not about the end. It’s about the journey. Sometimes, the journey is way longer than you think. It’s usually very different than you think it’s going to be – If all you can focus on is the end goal – it’s not going to be a very fun journey.” [0:58:06]

Read the transcript

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