MLTer’s recognized as part of “40 under 40” – Julia Collins
Julia Collins is a 2007 MBA Prep Alum and a Stanford Graduate School of Business Alum. She is the founder of Zume Pizza where she serves a co-CEO. Zume Pizza is a technology-enabled food company whose mission is to make healthy food fast and accessible to every single person on earth. Named one of the 2016 40 Under 40 Top Diverse Talents in Silicon Valley, Julia shares insights into her experience of starting her own business.
Tell us about your career path before you founded Zume Pizza?
My first job after business school was on a water buffalo farm in Paestum, Italy. I not only learned how to make the best mozzarella cheese during my time there, but I learned what it meant to eat truly fresh food — no sugar added, no hidden ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce, etc. I wanted to bring this experience back home, not just for the taste but for the health benefits. This experience ignited my passion for quality food made and served with love.
I was blessed with the opportunity to work for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group where I helped Shake Shack get acquired.
Shortly after my time with Union Square Hospitality Group, a few of my friends and I branched out, creating a new concept called Mexicue in 2010. We currently have four locations in New York. After starting Mexicue, I spent some time at Murray’s Cheese as Director of Food Service and Restaurant Development.
After getting Mexicue off the ground, I joined Harlem Jazz Enterprises as Vice President and COO in 2014. That year our Afro-Asian Brasserie, The Cecil, won Restaurant of the Year. It was a very exciting time to be apart of such a talented team with tons of new ideas, pushing the boundaries and seeing results.
From my start in Paestum all the way to Harlem, my various experiences in the food industry have thoroughly prepared me for the work we do at Zume Pizza.
What motivated you to become start your own company? Please share a little about your company/organization.
Making an impact in the food industry is no small undertaking. You need team mates, people who understand the inner workings of a kitchen as well as what it takes to build a business from the ground up. That’s why when Alex Garden, my dear friend-turned-co-founder and co-CEO of Zume Pizza came to me with the idea for Zume, I jumped at the opportunity.
His vision was to make nutritious, delicious, affordable pizza options more accessible through technology. Seems counterintuitive — fresh food made more accessible by something so lifeless — but it’s because of Zume’s investment in automation that we’re able to invest in quality ingredients and employees, for that matter.
I couldn’t wait to get involved with such a talented serial entrepreneur whose pizza-making robot vision was so…appetizing.
Together, we’ve cultivated an environment where humans and robots work collaboratively to prep and deliver delicious pizza at affordable prices. Through its investment in automation, Zume Pizza sources 100% of its ingredients from local farmers that use sustainable agricultural practices and ethical farming methods. Unlike most food delivery companies, all of Zume’s workers are employees of the company with fully subsidized health insurance. Zume’s pizzas have no added-sugar, and on average contain 40% fewer calories, half the fat and half the cholesterol of competing pizza companies.
So, it all goes back to the mission of bringing healthier food to the masses. At Zume, we’re starting with Pizza.
What did you learn from MLT and your business school experience that helped you achieve your success?
MLT taught me the importance of building a personal brand and on being able to tell my story. Business school taught me how to be self aware as a leader.
Did you ever think you would be where you are today?
I could never have imagined this type of automation — robots helping to prep food, let alone being at the forefront of it all with a pizza company!
What I did know, was that I’d make an impact by pursuing my passions. My parents, both entrepreneurs in their own rights, set this example early.
My experiences with food, both good and bad, helped me find my passion early and I’m lucky to have been given opportunities to challenge the status quo.
While working under Danny Meyer, he taught me one of the best business lessons I’ve ever learn: take care of your team first. If your team is happy then your customers will be happy. If your customers are happy then your community will be happy.
Combining my passion for food with my passion for investing in my employees has always been important to me, and Zume was just the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Anything you wish you had done differently?
Absolutely not. Everything that I have done has helped to prepare me for where I am now.
Share briefly your experience so far in Silicon Valley. Include some of the things you’ve learned or discovered.
I grew up in San Francisco and I got my MBA at Stanford, so coming back to the Bay Area after 14 years in New York was coming home. But coming back to develop Zume Pizza with Alex was unlike anything I had experienced in building my other restaurant businesses. The robot-tech component added a whole other layer my decade-plus experience in the food industry had only mildly prepared me for.
It’s amazing to be at the center of constant innovation, and it encourages our team to continue to push further. It’s also really cool to know Google and Facebook employees are eating your pizza while they burn the midnight oil at the office.
How do you feel about winning this award?
It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized in one of the most innovative communities for my work not only with Zume Pizza but in the years leading up to this milestone. It acknowledges my passion and devotion to creating a diverse workforce that provides skilled jobs and great food to the communities we serve, it celebrates the beginning of what we aim to achieve with Zume.
What advice would you give someone interested in going into the Tech industry or starting their own business/organization?
Become a domain expert in the field that you choose. Read everything that you can get your hands on. Talk to and make friends with the thought leaders in your industry. Immerse yourself. This also applies to entrepreneurship.
What’s next for you?
Zume’s underpinning mission is to set the new standard for food prep and delivery through the entire food industry starting with pizza. There’s a lot more we have planned for Zume Pizza, and I am so excited to develop and share our pizza and our passion with the world.