From teaching school to managing people & culture at an alcohol company - Becca Lo

For this, the 20th episode of StartWell's Gathering series we sit down with Becca Lo, the Toronto based People & Culture Manager at Ace Beverage Group.

Becca went to university for education - but a career in teaching seemed daunting to her as she approached graduation.

A temporary role testing products for a startup called Iconic Brewing (owner of Canada’s No. 2 vodka seltzer brand, Cottage Springs) evolved quickly when the company was acquired by Ace Beverage Group in 2020.

As the combined team grew, Becca found a place in stewarding the culture of the company and is now its People & Culture Manager. 

In this episode we talk about how her career has formed and some recent experiences managing a team remotely and then bringing it back in person - which apparently involves animating their office space with some interesting ways to keep everyone engaged in the company's product development process.

    Spend time with this conversation - here's the full transcript

    Building a shared culture after a merger.

    Qasim Virjee 0:00
    I paint the picture of the like post merger culture. Oh, man, it's

    Becca Lo 0:03
    like so strange thinking back to it, because we were also all remote at the time. So that adds an extra layer of complexities. I mean, I handled the culture stuff. Using my teaching background, funnily enough, I started scheduling just little coffee chats where we could meet in small groups and just kind of start getting to know each other and talk a little bit. This sounds very silly, but I implemented some show and tell.

    Qasim Virjee 0:27
    I love that. That's not silly. That's awesome.

    Becca Lo 0:29
    I thought it was awesome too. And again, it came back to my teaching roots. And I thought to myself, Okay, when it comes to children, and like pretty much everyone, the best way of really building shared context is how I like to refer to it is by like making new inside jokes, like getting to know people outside of work as well, the key was creating these projects that people could work on together. So regardless of you know, which which company someone came from previously, like they, we just encourage them to shed that from their identities, and recognize that we have a new shared identity, I like to think about the idea of creating an employee value proposition. I, as a people and culture leader have to think about, okay for my employees, how can I make their time with us valuable as well?

    Qasim Virjee 1:21
    Awesome, okay, Becca. Hello. Hi. Thanks for joining me in the studio. You're so welcome.

    Becca Lo 1:27
    It's very exciting to be here.

    Qasim Virjee 1:28
    How does it feel to be here? In this wonderful black room,

    Becca Lo 1:32
    it was a little overwhelming at first, what the audience can't see is the large screen with all of the faces looking back at you my own face, of course, granted, but I think that makes it worse. Because it's, I think, like real pros learn to not be self conscious. Give me some time, I'll get there.

    Career path and entry into HR field.

    Qasim Virjee 1:50
    I don't know. You know, all the famous celebs are extremely fragile people. Oh, really. So I don't know, it's us everyday people that you know, should feel like more empowered to be in front of cameras, because it whatever, we won't feel ossifies about cameras, and everyday society and social media is up. But it is an absolute pleasure to have you with me. for so many reasons. One, because this is part of our ongoing gathering series, a near and dear to my heart project, where we're sitting down with people, even people in culture, HR positions, supporting teams in whatever capacity and kind of get a try to survey and get a sense of, you know, what are the needs of teams and Canadian companies? And how can, the lessons that you'll share on the mic today, help other people that will be in this room as part of the series. So it's kind of this like peer mentorship experiment. The other reason is because we have a little bit of history with ace, which we could dig into in the session. But, but I think it's another one of these kind of growing Canadian brands, it's really rooted in Toronto. And it has had a really interesting growth story. So I'm really happy to have you here to kind of relate your take on that. And let's jump into it. Cool. Yeah. So how, okay, people and culture is such a weird thing. Because every almost every single person that's been on our podcast series for gathering has told me that they came into people in culture, because they were really good with people. They like being around people and helping people. How, what was your entry into that kind of like, into that world into that job description?

    Becca Lo 3:30
    Yeah, it's, I can totally see how that's the case. And I think my story's not dissimilar. Just anecdotally, I feel like a lot of people fall into HR, or people or people in culture, which I certainly felt like I did. So I think to tell the story, I do have to back up quite a bit.

    Qasim Virjee 3:46
    Rewind, rewind, rewind, select.

    Becca Lo 3:50
    And go, we'll jump back to when I was in school. I did not study HR. Okay. I did not study business. Yeah. Instead, I studied English literature. Oh, history. So super relevant. I also studied teaching. So I did the concurrent education program at Queen's, graduating in 2018. And it was a five year program where you end up with two degrees that you work on simultaneously. So yeah, I think like, one of the things that led me towards that path in general was that as a kid, I was never someone to really pursue things that I wasn't already good at. So yeah, this kind of goes into this whole idea of like the locus of control, but the way I picked my career path was basically Hmm, what traits do I currently have, you know, XYZ, okay, if I have these traits, then that kind of limits me to these options. So yeah, like I think it's a bit of an unfortunate way of limiting yourself and I think like, I'm not the only one who falls into a trap like this, but I ended up studying what I studied, liked it but it was like, you know, I think it's, it's okay, like it's a career path. It's stable. Oh,

    Qasim Virjee 5:00
    what was that career path for you though,

    Career path and industry experience in beverage alcohol.

    Becca Lo 5:02
    I'm just teaching like teaching in high school, right being an English and History teacher. So I stuck it out. Even though I knew that, you know, I didn't know that I was the most passionate about it. And what I actually was very passionate about during my time in school was the part time job that I had throughout university. And that was working at our campus, pub and nightclub. So I started off in my first year as working in the kitchen and cooking and the coat check person at the nightclub, super fun. And then I in my second year, I was a server and then in my third year, I became a manager. So that was kind of my foray into alcohol. Or hospitality. The wonderful world of alcohol, right, exactly. And it was really neat seeing not just like what kind of went on to the operations of, you know, a hospitality establishment like that, but also, like purely in the alcohol part of things like working with the vendors that would come in being able to taste tested new products. And I just thought that it was really cool. And in between my fourth and fifth year, that's like, where you wrap up your, your bachelor's and then in September, you start like your full time teachers college. In my head, I was like, Okay, this is my last chance to like, do something totally unrelated to teaching before I am a teacher forever, or life. Exactly. Because like, I still thought of it as that like, lifelong career path, because that's

    Qasim Virjee 6:33
    a very Ontario thing to Canada thick, right? For our audience is global. It's kind of like you also don't make so like, What shall we say? You won't be comfortable with your salary unless you have tenure as a teacher, right? And you're like, which might be, I don't know, 812 years or something? So exactly. Public School System.

    Becca Lo 6:52
    Right? Right. It's like it's a system very much based on seniority, not just in terms of salary, but even like the placement of school that you go to, or even having a full time job. In general. When I graduated, it was very much like a grinding game of like, getting being on a supply list and then being like a preferred supply teacher and then, and then becoming like, maybe you pick up a couple of teaching contracts, takes awhile before you get up to the point that you, you know, are like a study teacher at a particular school. So yeah, like it really is something that is, you know, a long journey. And the thought of it was very daunting in my head as well. I mean, I feel daunted just talking about it now. So yeah, that summer was very much like, Okay, time to do something that is totally unrelated before, I'm, like, you know, stuck in this stuck. Sounds kind of bad. But you know, married to your career exactly, like you're in this very long career path. So I applied to a bunch of different things. There were some interesting jobs out there, I will say, but I did eventually find this little company called iconic Brewing Company, located in Toronto, not too far from here, right at the corner of King and Bathurst and the job description read that it was a part time kind of sampling opportunity. You know, we're out there trying to connect with consumers and have them taste test our products. And I said, okay, like, ideally, it would have been full time for the summer, but I'll take what I can get. And it sounds interesting. So I applied and they accepted me. I was like, okay, cool. And I show up for my first day of training to two people in the very small office. Yeah, weird, teeny, tiny back in the day. couple others who had joined for the orientation as well. And we just spent the morning like, you know, learning the different products that we had, and like talking about tasting notes and running a couple like roleplay scenarios where I could practice selling to a customer.

    Qasim Virjee 8:50
    Again, brewing there on site. They still were

    Becca Lo 8:52
    Yeah, we weren't because yeah, we were we've always relied on like a co packing production model where we work with manufacturing partners who do it for us, but we, we kind of do the r&d internally, and the marketing and sales. Yeah. Which we can talk about further on, because I think that is still really neat. Yeah, of course. Um, so yeah, I again, like I

    Qasim Virjee 9:12
    first show up in this like, empty place, right? It's like a tiny office.

    Becca Lo 9:17
    Yeah. And, again, like I always considered myself good at talking to people. That's why I ended up in teaching. And yeah, like I think I did decently. My bosses at the time seem to think so too. And they, at the end of the day, pulled me aside and basically said, Hey, we really liked you. I know that originally, this was supposed to be, you know, like a part time job, doing some samplings. But would you like to be our intern for the summer? Like doing full time, full time hours? And I was like, Oh, perfect. Yeah, that's exactly what I was looking for. And thus began my actual career in the beverage alcohol industry. And yeah, being a startup and like maybe this is something that you'd be familiar to You wear a ton of hats? Oh, yeah, yeah, you do everything doesn't matter. You know what the task is, if it's something that's of deep importance, everyone puts down their things and helps out. Right? So that was like the epitome of what that summer looked like. It was the first year that we launched a brand that you might be familiar with now, cottage springs, and at the time, there are only like two skews or two products. But this

    Qasim Virjee 10:23
    was iconic beverage company iconic, which is right, ace, yes.

    Becca Lo 10:27
    Which is now a so this is a snake. Yes, this is how it comes together. It will come together in a few years time, I promise. So yeah, I spent the summer like on Monday to Friday, I'd be like cold calling the LCBO doing sales stuff, trying to get them to bump up inventory and whatnot. And then sometimes on the weekends, I'd be working at the various events that we had serving at like Beer Fest and Rib Fest right beside the co founders. We were very entrepreneurial. We like believed in like hustling and grinding hard. It was a really competitive industry. It still is. Yeah, more. So now probably more. So

    Career growth and job opportunities in the beverage industry. 

    Qasim Virjee 11:08
    we're talking what year this is a few years, 2018 2018 years

    Becca Lo 11:12
    right before the seltzer explosion. That's how I like to think about it. As a category, it's just grown tremendously. But right around that time was when consumers were just starting to dip their toe into the pool of you know, no sugar drinks are better for you drinks. And that was something that we were kind of riding the wave of that we saw it coming and we were like, Alright, we gotta get on this. And we really nailed it with our first two products, which were the the cottage springs, Ontario, peach and lemon lime vodka sodas. So yeah, I basically spent that summer doing everything as needed. It was really fun. I loved it a lot. You know, there's always a little voice in the back of my head saying like, okay, but I know you like this. This is not related to what you studied at all. It's a surreal

    Qasim Virjee 11:59
    job, or are you just biding time? Are you exactly this is summer gig that's taking too long. Yeah,

    Becca Lo 12:05
    that's, that's very much what I like thought about and you know, my family talked to me about you. Like, they were like, Yeah, you can have fun. But remember, you went to school for a particular thing. You're gonna have a job and that thing, and I was like, okay, so September rolls around, and I'm like, Oh, time to go back to school time to be a teacher forever. Yeah, but I wasn't really ready to like, go yet. So I talked to the founders of iconic brewing and told them like about my situation, and let them know that hey, like, if you do still have anything you'd like me to do, like, if I can do that from from school, like I would still love to be involved in any capacity. And thankfully, they said, like, Oh, of course, we always have work for you to do. So they let me do that. Well, we'll skip ahead. Because again, the teaching stuff, not too relevant. But by the time I finished up Teachers College, I was still like, Okay, I know, this isn't for me, still, I'm still thinking about this company that I love so much, and the work that I'm doing there. So upon leaving school, they offered me a full time job again, just kind of being a jack of all trades, like doing what was needed. So the time in between was how long? So from 2018 to 2019,

    Qasim Virjee 13:12
    I'd say just a year. Okay, just a year, but they've grown I'm guessing since right? Yeah.

    Pivoting a beverage company during the pandemic. 

    Becca Lo 13:16
    When I joined I was employee number seven. Wow. So we were small on the day. And I'd say since maybe we had grown to maybe around 15 people by 2019. And so that was that was really cool. I appreciated the fact that they gave me all these opportunities, and they were letting me try a bit of everything. And yeah, I was really that person who's always been about like, I'm for the team, like whatever the team needs. I'm there doesn't matter if it's like something i i already know how to do or don't if I don't know how to do it. I'll figure it out. And then I'll do it. So yeah, anytime there was some kind of opportunity for me, they were like, Hey, would you like to try this? I said, of course. So I got to try again. I did some sales. I did some marketing, I did some events, I dipped my toe into logistics, a little bit like coordinating Orders and deliveries. route planning, a little bit of E commerce, especially once the pandemic hit in 2020. That was a big moment where, you know, everyone in alcohol in Ontario had to really pivot. Because, yeah, like, restaurants were closed, like a lot of things had shut down. Like the LCBO was closed for a while, too. We turned to a direct delivery model where I became the order coordinator and route planned every morning and then like pretty much everyone in our company became drivers. Oh, wow. But that's what you have to do. Right?

    Qasim Virjee 14:41
    Sounds like steam whistle. Yeah, that's kind of what they used to do in the beginning. Right? Exactly. And that's their like love of their cars, right? The green old cars, heritage cars, but so this is interesting. Okay, so you came back to it. You guys are growing pandemic hits. Everything becomes about kind of like direct to consumer a little bit more. And on that logistics Friday, you'd have to build out a bunch of stuff to fulfill direct orders. What was that picture like in terms of how you guys scrambled to get something together to, to actually pivot?

    Becca Lo 15:14
    Oh, man, I think there was a lot of conversations going on behind the scenes, I'm sure there was panicking because again, putting myself back into that time, like we really didn't know how long this was going to go. Go on for what we knew is that we were committed to not laying anyone off, because we understood that this might just be temporary. And we don't want to lose the talent if we can help it. So we turned instead to again, like, looking to find if we could find someone who had a license that we could, or sorry, a liquor license that we could leverage, and then use that to then sell alcohol as well. Because again, since we didn't produce our own alcohol, right, we technically didn't have our own premises, or our own liquor license to be to be doing this. So it was a little bit of a loop a loop around, I guess you could call it Yeah. And, like, a loophole. That's the word. Thank you. But we made it work. And I think we've always been about that, like those little tricks, those little loopholes like, because you got

    Qasim Virjee 16:12
    to be agile, you got to be agile, in an industry, with all this differentiation, tons of products in the marketplace to compete against, you also have mainstay brands that are of course, like I don't even know how the market share breaks up, let's say locally in Ontario, do you know the stats on like, how many different breweries there are? How many different brands in play for? Let's call it beer, right? And then of that, what the market share ownership is for the big two or big three breweries?

    Becca Lo 16:40
    I gotta admit, I have not heard Yeah, it's I'm not a stats person at all. But your your, your inclination is spot on, from what I know, what we have been seeing from a personnel standpoint, and like just looking at the various companies is that it first started in craft beer, and now it's in seltzers. There's a boom, in which, you know, a lot of people see this trend, they try to jump in on it, and they make these products, they realize that now the market is oversaturated. And it's hard to really differentiate yourself. And the way that a lot of breweries are staying alive these days is through acquisitions. So you'll see that there are a lot there's lots more consolidation, these bigger companies are snatching up all the smaller companies, and that helps them you know, take over more regional parts of market share, where like those those brands may be doing really well. But in the grand scheme of things, you know, they might not be big time players. And yeah, the big time players are just like, that's how they're, they're, that's what their growth strategy is looking like these days, just acquiring others.

    Qasim Virjee 17:39
    So through the pandemic 2020 21 is inserted, like maybe retail sales, and like b2b business started picking up after that two year kind of period. I keep telling, you know, it's funny, I keep telling people funnily enough, just this week, reminding people that q1 Last year, Ontario, or Toronto was, yeah, Ontario was in lockdown. Like it was a year ago. Right. So though everyone's kind of have the mindset, especially now as the weather warms, they're gonna be like all forget about the pandemic was so long ago, Middle Ages, it was last year, you know, right. So the business realities were definitely restrictive, up until very recently, and even then retail hasn't necessarily picked up. Right. So where were you guys at in terms of growth? Kind of, let's call it like at the beginning of last year, like 2022?

    Post-merger culture and integration.

    Becca Lo 18:28
    Yeah, yeah, I think I might even jump back a little bit to like the very end of 2020, where, again, we started to get used to this new model. Thankfully, at this point, we were allowed back into the LCBO. Like they they were allowing for our sales team to enter again and do their business with restrictions, of course, yeah. But we're sampling, right for samplings and just like, like working on displays and everything. But, again, like we saw the direction that a lot of the market was going in about consolidating different companies and looking to, you know, just like, really hold on to their place in the market. And our founders at iconic Brewing Company had been longtime admirers of the founders at ACE Hill. So they just they started talking like through 2020. Yes. And they were kind of just like, oh, like, What's going on over there? Like, what are you guys doing? And I think sharing some best practices that way as well. It turns out that ace was doing something very similar to us. They also had a very similar ethos of, you know, hustling, like making, making things work and just looking for solutions whenever they could. So as the founders talked more, they realized, hey, you know what, like, ACE has a tail has beer, iconic brewing doesn't have beer. And while both companies have a vodka soda, like they're still they're still like little things that are different. And even in terms of the personnel like some things that iconic brewing was missing a sale had and vice versa. So as those conversations progressed, it led to a merger between the Two companies, which was right around the time that I also stepped into the people and culture role. purely out of necessity. I think someone had to do, right. Someone had to we had gone. We were like around 25 employees at that point iconic at iconic. Yeah. And then we understood that, you know, we need someone to help look after this kind of stuff. And I'm sure like, while I wasn't privy to these conversations at the time, like maybe our founders were also thinking, we're also going to need someone to help once, you know, we've merged and manage the culture that way. So I stepped into the role, and then shortly after the merger occurred, and we immediately doubled our headcount. Yeah, to Around 50 people total, so they were 25. Right there. 25. Yeah, so very similar companies to begin with. And thankfully, their culture was quite similar as well.

    Qasim Virjee 20:49
    So what does that mean? Paint the picture of the like, post merger culture? Like, what is the culture of now? I guess, just as beverage group,

    Becca Lo 20:56
    right, all right. Um, I'd say, oh, man, it's so strange to get back to it, because we were also all remote at the time. So that adds an extra layer of complexities, you know, getting to know people through a computer screen or over slack. I'd say in general, everyone was, you know, curious about each other, like, we had never really met everyone on the, on the, on the other side, on the other side of the screen. And, yeah, everyone was just kind of like, interested and, you know, looking forward to what the future had to offer, because we understood that having joined forces, our resources suddenly doubled. And we have a lot more firepower in terms of, you know, the products that are in our portfolio, the people that are available to us, and just various resources. So I think in general, like when I stepped in to start managing the culture, this was also like my first foray into people and culture. So there was also kind of that extra thing to think about, what do I have to do right position, like from a compliance perspective to like the cultural perspective. So I mean, I handled the culture stuff. Using my teaching background, funnily enough, I started scheduling just little coffee chats, not unlike what we're doing right now, where we could meet in small groups and just kind of start getting to know each other and talk a little bit. And another thing that I did was sounds very silly, but I implemented some show and tell.

    Breaking silos and building connections in a post-merger remote work environment. 

    Qasim Virjee 22:21
    Okay, I love that. That's not silly. That's awesome.

    Becca Lo 22:24
    I thought it was awesome, too. And again, it came back to my teaching roots. I thought to myself, Okay, I understand that, you know, people maybe will organically talk to each other a bit as they're working, but like, how do we break those silos, because you might only be working with a handful of people within teams. And I thought to myself, Okay, when it comes to children, and like pretty much everyone, the best way of really building shared context is how I like to refer to it is by like, making new inside jokes, like getting to know people outside of work as well, right. And we're all working from home. So I thought to myself, I have knickknacks at home, I'm sure other people do as well. So why don't I schedule again, like small groups, and the only prompt I'm going to tell people is, please come prepared with an item that you would like to show to others. And you can talk a little bit about what it is maybe it's significant to you. Maybe it's not it could be a little trinket maybe it's like something you brought back from vacation. And we got to hear some really interesting things. I still remember some of my teammates back then. And like the the items that they share it because it just created such a strong

    Qasim Virjee 23:31
    thing someone shared. Oh, gosh,

    Becca Lo 23:35
    the weirdest thing. Honestly, none of them were that weird. A lot of them were really like cool, like definitely a lot of trinkets from vacations that people had gone on. Like I thought that was something that was neat.

    Qasim Virjee 23:47
    Like a treasure chest full of gold that someone dug up from broken and pirate ship in the Bahamas.

    Becca Lo 23:53
    I wish if they had that they wouldn't be working with us. They'd be good. Like, guess what, guys? I only have this job for fun. Yeah. And everyone's freaking out. That would be cool. But no, we like we just saw a lot of neat things. And we got to know each other a lot more that way. And I think the other thing too, with any merger acquisition is it's hard to shake that the fear and insecurity about what it means for your own job.

    Qasim Virjee 24:20
    Honestly, up, people get freaked out. And it's a tough thing, even from a leader standpoint to communicate clearly because there's things you can't say until a certain time there's also your heads probably as the leadership team trying to close a deal and work on logistics. You got a lot of work in front of you. So it's very difficult, especially with this like small medium sized team. If someone you know if you aren't there, owning that role of trying to like bridge these communication gaps. That's interesting, but That's good thinking to try and kind of break the ice and humanize this law. Like, growth stage. Exactly.

    Becca Lo 25:02
    And I think that's exactly what my goal was, is when I really liked the term you just use is humanizing. I wanted people to realize, like, Hey, these are people as well, there were they're going to be working on our team, just like we have, you know, these past few years. We don't need to be afraid of each other. Yeah, we're ultimately all just trying to get by do our jobs. And like, that's, that's really it. And I think once people kind of understand that, and they come to a mutual understanding about that, they can relax, right personal standpoint. And that's when they can start making connections. So

    Qasim Virjee 25:35
    how did you? So then, I guess, as people came together, like, what's been the journey of kind of like the post merger posts remote work zoom reality?

    Becca Lo 25:48
    I think it's been awesome. It's been it's testing in a couple years, because we, again, we had two offices as well. So there was like the physical merging that had to happen. Like we ended up leaving our office at King and Bathurst due to the building being demolished. I don't think we would have left if we could help it. Just stay there forever. Yeah, that building is ancient, but so fun and so many memories in it. But it was really cool. Like, I think the key was creating these projects that people could work on together. So even in like, you know, physically relocating offices, regardless of you know, which which company someone came from previously, like, they, we just encourage them to share that from their identities, and recognize that we have a new shared identity, like, okay, so like, if I'm the one who's like managing this transition process, I might say, Hey, who wants to come with me to that old office, pick up some things, maybe laugh at some old memories. I'll tell you some stories and some old jokes about things that happened here. And people from both sides put their hands up. Awesome. Yeah. And I think that's, that was key. So those shared projects were really big thing. I think the other thing too, was, I like to think about the idea of creating an employee value proposition, okay, kind of like the way how any company thinks about their own value proposition about what they're bringing to a market. I, as a people and culture leader have to think about, okay, for my employees, how can I make their time with us valuable as well. So on returning to work, I tried to I tried to do a lot of different things to really make our office fun. And you're like, Yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 27:26
    Color Me. And, yeah,

    Becca Lo 27:27
    I think there have been a lot of really cool things that we've implemented, since you could call it like, again, like q1 of last year, where we really returned to work properly. For one thing, like sprucing up, like silly things like snacks that we have available, like having coffee available to people, that wasn't something that we always did. The other thing too, from a more physical perspective was that we we made changes to the space so that people could work closely and work on the same level. So at our office now, which is located like up at DuPont, and Dufferin, it's a big open, like, it kind of looks like a co working space, it doesn't look too similar to what you guys have going on here, actually. But people are like, people can chat, they can you know, be working on things, but then you can just look over and chat with someone you know, I think there's there's a lot of beauty in that. There's still breakout rooms so that if you want to have a private conversation, or have a smaller team meeting, or even just have a space to work away from others, like whatever the reason, focus are, right, totally right. Everyone has a different working style that works best for them. So like those little changes there. From an innovation specific standpoint, we've always very much prided ourselves on innovation, and our company values are based on innovation as well. So we thought about ways of encouraging innovation always. And one of the things that our Director of Innovation has done is she's created an innovation station on one of the walls. Okay, so her team will create various flavors like and they rotate on a weekly basis. Imagine like a Starbucks like pump, like how you can order different pumps of things. Okay. It could be like two pumps of blue raspberry, one pump of Concord grape, and you just pump them into you know, a glass or something. And then you could top it up with sparkling caffeinated water, sparkling water and also vodka soda for our happy hours. I like this. Yeah. Interesting. Yes. So it's super neat. It's something that everyone loves, keeps us hydrated. It keeps us energetic. And, you know, the hope is that people start thinking about flavor combinations. They try things outside of the box. And although it hasn't happened yet, we are hoping that maybe one day it will lead to a product idea, because I think that that would be really neat. So there's a there's a fun little idea there for you.

    Qasim Virjee 29:45
    Well wait, I need I need to hear more about this sparkling caffeinated water.

    Becca Lo 29:51
    So we have a sister company called wake water. I don't know if you've ever heard ever heard of it. Yeah, they are also based in Toronto. It was an idea that our CO founders at iconic made and then eventually spun off into its own business because it was really taking off. But they created a ready to drink energy drink that is sparkling caffeinated water, starting with a grapefruit and lemon flavor. And the whole thing was that, you know, in a lot of these energy drinks that currently exist on the market, they're full of all these other additives like other things that you don't really know what's going on to get your heart attack, right. And a lot of sugar too, was the was the big one. So they developed a product that was no sugar. It's using your green tea base for caffeine. So in addition to the caffeine, there's also a compound called L theanine, which naturally exists in green tea. And it helps to counteract some of the more, you know, anxiety producing symptoms that can come with just drinking coffee or caffeine regularly. So you get like the energy for sure. But you also don't get that crash. Right. Some people would, or the jitters, which is really nice. So yeah, it's it's delicious. We do we use the exact same liquid in our sparkling caffeinated water system at the innovation station. Except this way, like, you know, you're not bound to whatever is currently available and can form you can make whatever flavor you want. Yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 31:18
    so that's fun. So a little bit of like animation and opportunity for serendipity and people to like, have fun together in the office, right? And

    Becca Lo 31:25
    like a very literal water cooler, like almost an upgraded water cooler, if you will, right. Now,

    Qasim Virjee 31:31
    we've definitely seen the popularity of that just this water alone, like we have, we have a couple of different like hydration stations of Star Wars and sparkling water on tap itself is magic.

    Remote work, team connections, and summer drink preferences. 

    Becca Lo 31:42
    It is it really is. I think like sometimes what we've learned is that people want just some levity in their lives, they want something to really make them feel excited about it. And I think it's an added bonus, when it's an opportunity to step away from your desk and just chat with people talk to them about what's going on outside of work. And I think it's it's moments like that, that really make like connections. Yeah, it's so hard to replicate virtually, is something that we've learned that

    Qasim Virjee 32:11
    you can, I mean, I'm all for like the remote worker revolution, you know, that, like North Americans are high on right now. But just in terms of saving people like the inconvenience of long commutes and the expense of unnecessary gas, and environmental damage, and all that stuff's valid, but it's bloody wicked to spend time with people that you really enjoy the company of, and that you have fun with, right? And you can, I don't believe you can replicate that digitally. It just like, as someone who I used to be in the open source software community for many years, in different open source projects, managing teams that were, you know, 1000s of developers around the world. And that was like a good decade almost, that I was doing that. And, and that was back in like 2005. Two, well, before that, or two decades of doing open source work. Yeah. So for like 20 years, I was working with remote teams all over the world. And like, it was cool. But all those communities always had some form of meetups in their local regions, and, you know, global annual conference, because working only remotely doesn't necessarily give people that like positive feedback of the collective of the experience of the collective right. And that can be so empowering. If people share values, and are excited by their company in real life. That feeling of collective pursuit, enables that kind of motivation. And I think gives it energy, you know, and it gives people the energy to keep feeling committed to the purpose.

    Becca Lo 33:55
    100% Yeah, I think that's, that's a really interesting point that you make, too, because it's something that I've noticed, in having everyone be back in the office, you know, in the hybrid capacity, some more than others, like some, like myself, are in four times a week. So pretty often, what has really done is also in strengthening those connections, it has, in a sense, built a more innovative workplace. Okay. And I really attribute that to just the fact that people feel a lot more psychologically safe. And it's actually, to me, it's being together. Yeah, being together, it feels psychologically safe. Knowing your co workers outside of the screen means that, you know, you understand their intentions, you understand, yeah, you trust them. You you just understand the best way of communicating with them. And with that, all together, it creates a workplace where people understand that like, Hey, I know that that person is like there for me, I know that I can trust them. I know that if they give me an aid or if I give The main idea and they provide me feedback. That's not them attacking me. It's us working towards a shared goal.

    Qasim Virjee 35:04
    There's so much gray area in communication with just pure digital. Yeah, that assumptive anxiety is, is very difficult to overcome. Yeah. So that's cool that you guys are kind of like back in action. And for the first time, in a way, right,

    Becca Lo 35:21
    right. Yeah, I think we've we've definitely been hitting our stride. Summertime is a time that we look forward to a lot because we're all generally in office a lot more. We have like a team of awesome interns who are joining us too. So our headcount grows pretty significantly. And it's definitely our busiest season as well, given that, you know, people do generally tend to enjoy beverages the most when it's warm out. So we've started implementing, like, weekly All hands to like, we call this period like the 90 day sprint prior to the Victoria long weekend. Okay, so the May long weekend like me, too, for right? Because that's the time where we believe that everyone starts picking out their drink of the summer. So by May two, four, you've decided on your

    Qasim Virjee 36:06
    20 year old thing. Taking your drink out for the summer. Yeah, yeah. That's an interesting concept. It's not a 20 year old thing. I don't know. What's the demo on that? Like, what kind of age set are we talking about is that everybody picks out a drink for the summer,

    Becca Lo 36:22
    I think probably a Gen Z millennials. For

    Qasim Virjee 36:25
    the decade, I stick with my red, you know, red wine, of course variations. But yeah, so you'd be scored this summer, you'd be

    Becca Lo 36:32
    a hard person to win over but with the with with Gen Z. And Millennials being so are like, with tick tock, and you know, Instagram and other social media driving their own consumer choices and preferences, we understand that they can be a fickle crowd. And it's like, every year, we have to work again at winning them over. So this, this time period is so crucial for us, like, we're just trying to get as many people trying our products as they can, recognizing our products so that the next time they stop by a store and they see cottage springs or a sale on a shelf. They were like, oh, yeah, I think I saw that, you know, somewhere, like, I saw someone from my school drinking that are like, Oh, I heard about that new flavor, I should check it out. And then it leads to, you know, incremental sales that way,

    Qasim Virjee 37:17
    ya know, especially coming out still coming out of that kind of like the pandemic where, you know, actually, this might be the first Yeah, I mean, realistically, this is the first real summer return to IRL in Ontario. Right? It's interesting. One other thing, of course, that's interesting is a few years ago, I don't know if this is still the case. Ace Hill became the drink on board. Porter, right? Airlines. Yes. Is that still the case?

    Becca Lo 37:48
    No, unfortunately, yeah. The contract is now with someone else. So rotates. It rotates every once in a while. But that was such a cool way of really cementing like, what a Toronto staple that as hell is. Yeah, I attribute this to how powerful our on premise team is. And we call on premise anywhere where you can both purchase and drink alcohol at the same spot. So like, you know, a concert hall or restaurant a bar, and in this case, also Porter. And, yeah, like they have been doing so much work to get us out there. And I think when you go to, you know, the small and local places like a bar restaurant, and you see our products like an ACL beer, for example, you're just like, oh, this is like, this is what we drink in Toronto. Right. And I think that's so cool.

    Company growth and culture. 

    Qasim Virjee 38:36
    Yeah, absolutely. I agree. I agree. In fact, ACL was the first beer that we offered to on campus when we were primarily a, you know, what would we say a startup focused kind of co working space in 2017 at stairwell. And we had kegs here and there and are keg fridges. And it was all like self serve, which was crazy. Back then the Neil's High Times of startup revelry. But yeah, so we had like Ace Hill on tap. And people were basically enjoying it. Back when there was just two ACL beers. I think there was a pill stone a lager.

    Becca Lo 39:12
    Yeah, no. White and Blue can right. Yeah. Yeah. made it easy.

    Qasim Virjee 39:18
    And we're proud. We're proud because it was definitely a Toronto play. And it that's an annuity was was there. So definitely. Team growth. What does it look like? And how do you how comfortable do you feel in your role, as you've kind of been stewarding a culture for the company in the next couple of years? Like what's our next year? What's what's ahead pass this summer season?

    HR insights, networking, and company culture.

    Becca Lo 39:44
    Yeah, I think it's really exciting. I'd say last year was our era for meteoric growth, where like, quite literally again, we added our head to our headcount quite a bit. We're slowing down now because we understand that we've assembled an amazing team And we want to like, really develop everyone and make sure that everyone has a chance and opportunity to grow further where they are myself included, actually. So what I've done for myself is, you know, I do feel like I've come a long way from initially stepping in and 2020 with no HR background, and like learning on the fly. But I attribute that to having amazing mentorship from my own my own supervisor, who's our CFO at our company. And he's been an amazing source of, you know, pushing me to develop my own business acumen to develop my skills and in helping to manage people and always reminding me that even though I'm a team of one, so I'm the sole HR individual at our company, in a sense, my stakeholders, and my clients and my customers are the rest of the team. So that's something to always take into account is that I need to have the same, you know, customer service mindset and that like stewardship, in order to really be serving my own people the best that I can, and I do so with bettering myself professionally, I am doing courses outside of work as well. So I do one course every quarter working towards a designation in HR, which the company is supporting me for supporting me through and I'm so grateful to those spent understanding that you know, everything that I learned out there, I can bring back as well. And really, like help make us stand out even further, have been like that, and just really like improve that award winning culture that we're known for.

    Qasim Virjee 41:35
    Well, this is what this gathering series is all about. Because I found that there's so many professionals in this space that come to the come to various roles in supporting teams. Even if they did have scholastic training, you know, in sociology, and whatever it is human psychology and HR, organizational behavior. things evolve so fast, especially like we've mentioned just in your short career history of talking of something like the pandemic taking work remote, and then a merger happening. And now you've got to steward the change and people people's expectations and how they inter relax, interrelate digitally and then in person, and then preparing again now for growth. And there's so much that you've already been privy to. How are you otherwise finding if at all sounding boards and mentors within this kind of type of role? Do you have a posse of HR people that you've, because I know everyone ends up, it seems like ends up in their silo, and they're very busy in this role. So it's hard to even kind of like find time to meet other people in different companies that are in the same roles said,

    Becca Lo 42:48
    yeah, yeah, I hear you on that, too. I think there's a couple of ways of tackling it. In my experience, there's a very structural way, in the sense that like, one of the goals that my my mentor and I at work have set for me is doing like three networking chats every quarter. So like, quite literally, I'm held to that KPI, it's not a burden to me, I really like it, it's basically an excuse to go get coffee, and meet someone new and you know, try to hear about what their own experience has been and glean whatever insights I can. So that's been selling, that's been amazing. In the course of working towards my designation, there is the human resources professional association, as well. So I've attended just one event so far, but I've met some lovely people there. And we have plans to keep meeting. And I think finally, the last thing is that good HR insights don't only have to come from others in HR. And that's something that I've learned. So at our own office, we have developed like a little bit of a culture committee, and it's of these people who have always been, like, comfortable sharing ideas about things that we can be doing, like, hey, like, what about if we tried this, like, I think that could be really cool. And they don't work in HR? Again, I'm the only person but they've just always been so good and so insightful that sometimes Yeah, I like why do the heavy lifting myself? Why do I have to be the idea generator? If someone comes to me with a great idea, then I think to myself, yeah, that why don't we do that,

    Qasim Virjee 44:15
    let's culture should be participatory. And it's funny, because it's something that kind of does take that, you know, open dialog within organization to steward because otherwise, people fall into all these silos of like productivity and focusing on like, whatever the milestone for achievement is, and everyone's doing their own thing very functionally. And yeah, they might have pauses here and there to hang out. But without making culture a topic of discussion in the organization. Yeah, I think I think anyone in that role would be kind of lacking but also would feel disengaged from the people that they're working with. So right

    Becca Lo 44:55
    right, I think yeah, it's been a it's been an interesting journey is merging. Innovation deeply into the root of our culture, because we've effectively turned innovation into our culture. So one of the things that we do, and I think, again, this builds into our culture and how like we build it is an Innovation Day. So a couple of times each year, we hold what I like to think of as a one day Dragon's Den competition. Oh, yeah, harkening back to our own co founders appearing on Dragon's Den, initially, with their product idea, but we gather everyone in the company, we put them all into different teams. So they're working with people across departments. And that morning, we say, okay, you have until this afternoon, you're going to create a product idea, you're going to work with marketing and create the packaging. So you're going to work with innovation and make the liquid. And in the afternoon, you're going to present it in front of a panel of judges from the CPG industry. So we've had like, founders from flow water, or bio steel, you know, like, some VPS, from Loblaws, and everything, just to add extra credibility in for their insights. And people get really into it, for sure. Because it's like, at the end of the day, it's a great team building exercise. But the organization also benefits because we've taken these ideas, and we've actually created them. Yeah. And it's amazing. It's so great. Like it makes everyone buy into doing beyond what their job is, and understanding that there's a bigger cause than that. So, yeah, it's it's one of the most unique things about our company. And I think it's a great example of exactly how we've turned innovation into our culture. Well, I think there's

    Qasim Virjee 46:30
    a lot of lessons and insights that you've kind of been picking up through your career journey, and it was awesome to hear them and share some of these stories. But also, you know, we're going to actually be good about I've been very bad about keeping this as a monthly thing. But starting in May, we're going to be doing this like a social gathering social, which is just a kind of a happy hour sort of situation of sanka set once a month on a Thursday, to bring our audience for this series together in Toronto, to be able to kind of like meet each other and just jam on ideas. And every month we'll have a talk. And I'd love to kind of involve you in a panel talking about this. You know, I think fun and innovation seems to be like two pillars of your approach, which I'm sure people would love to hear anecdotes from and jam on.

    Becca Lo 47:18
    Yeah, I would I would love to be there. Awesome. Awesome. And we'll we'll bring the beverages Yeah. Okay. Sounds good. Sounds like a plan.

    Qasim Virjee 47:26
    Well, thanks for joining me today. It was awesome to have you on the podcast. Awesome. Well,

    Becca Lo 47:30
    thank you for having me. I had such a blast. Nice. Nice.

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