CPG can be a pressure cooker. You have limited resources, lofty expectations, high visibility and tons of challenges. Tons of places glorify "the grind" but on our podcast "Better for YOU" is all about normalizing talking about the journey and how we really feel about it.
In this episode we are talking to Hugh Thomas the former CEO of Ugly Drinks. Since our conversation there has been a ton of speculation on why he stepped away. Hugh shares everything he was feeling and why he ultimately decided to leave Ugly.
You can listen to the full conversation here
Or continue reading for some of the highlights of the conversation.
What were you feeling that lead you decide to leave Ugly Drinks?
One of the first things we asked Hugh was to try and walk us through how we was feeling leading up to making the decision. To truly understand those feelings I highly recommend listening to the full episode but we will do our best to pull the quotes to do it justice.
What it ultimately came down to was a search for life balance. Instead of riding extreme highs and low lows.
"Over the last two years in particular, I was beginning to try and separate, Ugly Hugh, the founder and the person running ugly and myself, which can sound quite pretentious. But, that also means really taking a step back and looking at yourself objectively."
"I felt everything. I felt every bump in the road. On a daily basis I'd have a terrible morning, and then by the afternoon, I'm like, this's could be bigger than Coca-Cola, you know? Every day it was like highs and lows. And I think I realized something isn't quite right here and I need to get a bit more balanced."
What has finding balance looked like for you?
Hugh set out to find balance in his life, we asked him what that has looked like. Like many of us the pandemic put a few things into perspective for Hugh.
"The pandemic was a wake up call that things are outside of your control, right? Whatever I'd put into the business, however hard I'd worked on it for the previous, four or five years, you know, we never had that in any models we built for a pandemic. So when that happened, it was like, okay, I'm gonna work on myself now."
Working on ourselves has so many different meanings but for Hugh it meant changing up how he ate, drank, and exercised now that he wasn't on the road as much.
"I started exercising, started eating healthy, joined a local CrossFit gym, cut back on alcohol massively. I started isolating where the stress was coming from. And I began to feel so much better physically and mentally, and had had a purpose outside of work. I even did the New York marathon last year."
With a clear mind comes clarity on big decisions.
With time to be introspective what did you discover about your relationship with work?
When we take the time to be introspective we learn a ton about what brings us energy and what drains energy. Through looking inward we are better able to express what we want in life (and what we don't want) externally.
Here's what Hugh's introspective work revealed to him about his relationship with work.
"Sometimes I felt like there was two versions of Hugh. The version I actually was and the version I was playing for other people."
"The younger version of myself would stupid hours. We had a team in London and a team in California, right. So it was like, if I wanted to work and talk to someone about work, There was always someone replying on slack."
"So I'd created this validation check in slack, or there's 10 notifications. So many people wanna talk to me sort of thing. So it took a lot of self introspection and self work and like focusing on myself to no longer need that dopamine hit."
We all know that feeling of just waiting for the next thing to work on, even if that "thing" comes to us before we put our brains into work mode, or long after we have exited it.
What did stepping away look like practically?
Hugh shared a ton with us on how he was feeling leading up to the decision, how he thought about that decision, and even why he made it. But what did stepping away as a cofounder and CEO actually look like?
Hugh explains how the decision was put into practice.
"If I share my vulnerability, are they gonna think? Is this a less investible business. does it make me look weak or something like that to express this stuff? Investors were nothing but supportive of me whenever I shared this stuff. And it did take me a while to be more open about it."
"I had incredibly supportive investors who understood what I'd put in, what I'd committed to it, how much I'd worked at it. I spoke about it in a very clear way and left things in a good place and did things in the right way."
"Love the team. Still love the brand. Haven't fallen out with anyone at the company, but what I built didn't serve me anymore. And the way I built it and what I'd found in life."
The weeks following were a but rough as Hugh began forge his new identity that wasn't tied to being Ugly Hugh.
"At the end, I became, you know, I got so intertwined with Ugly Hugh that you get scared of losing that identity. But what I got to was like, you know what I can create, I can create more stuff. I can do more things. I can do other things in my life. This doesn't define me whether it's successful or isn't successful."
"It's not a reflection of me as a human. And, I felt really free after that realization. But I think I was so far into building a company that worked a certain way that had been built a certain way. That, that it was right for me to like, kind of take a step away from it."
The summary notes can't do this episode justice
We have done the best to summarize the best parts of this conversation in this post. That said this episode was so emotionally charged and spoken right from the heart that we cant even begin to do it justice.
I highly recommend giving the full episode a listen to discover why Hugh decided to step down from Ugly and all of the feelings, emotions, and realizations that fuelled that call.
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