This month we hear from Maria Bettencourt Tavares, CEO and Founder of LOONAWELL, the first and only pet food brand in the world to be certified by the Swiss Vitamin Institute.

In 2020, coinciding with the beginning of the pandemic, Maria transitioned from her corporate career to the world of entrepreneurship and founded LOONAWELL, in Zurich, Switzerland.

Maria grew up in Estoril, Portugal, by the vast Atlantic ocean, which taught her one important lesson: to put things into perspective. Here she shares how this helped her change her direction in business and what she has learnt about her leadership style moving from working in a large corporation to founding a startup in an industry that she’s passionate about.

Setting The Scene…

Often leadership is discussed in the context of one leader, who leads others to transition, grow and develop. History has shown that a leader will be better equipped to do that job, when they themselves have undergone their own journey of inner-self leadership and self-growth, reflection and development.

Corporate careers are full of perks: healthy salaries, international traveling, exposure to different functions and levels of responsibility and a career ladder that provides a sense of progression. On the flipside, large corporations often work under highly bureaucratic systems, have highly compartmentalised functions, working in silos, with the natural associated power wars and more often than not, lack of accountability in middle management and unqualified leadership. All together it makes you feel like you’re part of something broken.

What was my trigger?

A continuously increasing, and significantly high dose of frustration, can be the main catalyst for change. Especially now, when we’re reminded all the time, that life should be lived with purpose and our actions should contribute to a more sustainable planet.  In my case, this is what happened: a high level of frustration plus the feeling that my job was contributing to little more than my bank account. At some point I no longer had an answer to my inner voice that kept asking “why are you doing what you’re doing ?”. But wanting to change for a better, more meaningful working environment and activity, does not necessarily mean that entrepreneurship is the right route for all of us.

Then came the doubts “Why in the world would I leave my comfortable, corporate, well paid job to start my own company at the age of 43”!

The answer involves a certain dose of madness… or maybe just calculated risk. Let’s discuss. Almost 20 years ago, I started my career as a scientist in cancer research. In other words, I worked around the clock, developing assumptions, experiments to prove those assumptions right or wrong and contributing to finding a cure to what sometimes can be an incurable disease. That was the happiest I ever was in my professional career.

I now realize that what I am doing at the moment, is just that. Starting a business from scratch involves working around the clock, developing business assumptions, experimenting to prove those right or wrong, and repeating the exercise. So, the process and the logistics are very similar. Most importantly, I came to realise that at the core of being a scientist, or now an entrepreneur, is a clear, strong connection to that feeling that my time and efforts are connected to solving problems, which is very important to me. When this connection is so strong, loud and clear, you feel you can move mountains, solve any problems and find solutions to any challenges. So what some might call madness I think it is the courage to reflect on who you really are.

During the transition you are assaulted by fears, questions, doubts. One interesting fact is that I really only had these, while I was still debating whether starting my own company was really right for me or if I should simply move jobs. Once I took that leap, the fears and self-doubts gradually dissipated.

Surround yourself with the right people.

Self-reflection was key during the transition. Surrounding yourself by people that you can genuinely connect with will be very important as they will be your allies during those self-reflections. If you have them available, great and if you don’t, consider hiring someone. This is not an expense, but an investment.  Entrepreneurship is a beautiful journey, but as many say (and I agree) it can get lonely and very demanding at times. So remember: create a genuine human network you can lean on.

You can’t, and shouldn’t have to do it alone! Your network of colleagues, friends and family will be your critical companions on your entrepreneurial journey, so if you are thinking of making that change, first look who’s around you..!

Find out more about Maria’s journey to starting a new company here:

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