This CEO Is Proof You Don’t Have to Follow One Set Career Path—Here’s How She Did It

After Serafina Palandech and her wife, Chef Jen Johnson, exited the chicken company they built from the ground up, she found herself questioning what would come next. Little did she know that what was next was a hemp-infused snacks company. Now, Palandech is the CEO of A Boring Life (a play on her and Johnson’s new home base: Boring, Oregon), which launched earlier this year. Read on to find out how Palandech got to where she is now, her tips on working with a romantic partner, and what’s next for A Boring Life.

 

Name: Serafina Palandech, CEO of A Boring Life
Age: 45
Location: Boring, OR
Education: Bachelor’s in Painting and Women’s Studies from UC Santa Cruz

 

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to this place in your career?

 

My career has taken some wildly divergent turns. When I got out of college — I went to UC Santa Cruz — I moved up to San Francisco, and started working for a fundraising event called AIDS Walk San Francisco. I started as, like, Receptionist Number 3, and back then, AIDS was very, very much a crisis and millions of people were dying annually. There really was no hope in a fight, but there was a lot of community organizing around HIV and AIDS and folks were really trying to continue coming together to support people that were living with HIV and with AIDS in order to build some support that wasn’t being offered by the government or by social institutions.

I took a job there as a receptionist and I ended up spending 15 years in that line of work. I moved my way up from Receptionist Number 3 to the event director within a very short amount of time. I held a variety of different positions there and it evolved into doing mass-participatory fundraising events across the United States for a variety of different non-profit organizations. So, I think what I learned there was the ability that a small group of like-minded people can change the world with very little resources. It really suited my skill set and was a great opportunity and I learned a ton — I did that for 15 years. At the end of it I started my own events business where I would put on fundraising events for different non-profits. 

After 15 years of essentially fundraising for nonprofits and community organizing, I retired to have a baby. My wife and I got married, and I got pregnant and I decided to stay home with her and I realized within months that that was not a possibility for me. I really enjoy working and I really needed to pursue a career.

Now, my wife, Jen Johnson, is incredible. She has this amazing culinary background — right out of culinary school she went over and cooked at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters and cooked there for 10 years. Then, she got a private cheffing position with the Getty family and cooked for them for 16 years. She’s just this incredible, incredible chef and she’s cooked for everyone you could ever imagine. After we had our daughter, we decided to start our own business featuring one of Jen’s products. She would make chicken fingers — like a healthy, organic version of a chicken nugget — for the kids. So we decided to take that to market. The idea was to innovate a really kind of disgusting category, right?

A chicken nugget is not known for its high quality, but it’s a mass-consumed product, and utilizes all organic ingredients as well as very high animal welfare standards for the animals that we sourced from. We took that to market and it grew really quickly. We took it into grocery stores across the country, and I sold chicken nuggets on QVC, and we got all these awards for innovating. It was a crazy ride, and this year we sold it to a competitor.

As we were exiting Hip Chick Farms, we moved up to be closer to my family. We moved up to Oregon and we bought a farm in a town called Boring, Oregon — it’s beautiful and it’s very dull. It was great because we wanted to be with family, and we also needed a little break from the kind of craziness of starting and building a food company. It’s a lavender farm and is very beautiful.

Jen and I had both started taking CBD and we wanted to take it and incorporate it into a food product for ease of incorporation into our daily lives, so we developed the next venture, called A Boring Life. It’s a line of high-protein snacks that are infused with hemp extract. I just really believe in hemp as the miracle cure for all of us, and for our environment. Okay, so it’s not the cure, but I feel like it could be part of our solution.

So that’s where we’re at today. Now I’m running a hemp company, and we just started that this year. I never would have thought. Never. I actually was quite anti-cannabis, to be honest with you, but I’ve completely changed my perspective. Like, I was doing chicken, and now our products are all vegetarian. We’ve completely flipped and it’s awesome.

 

 

How did you choose Boring, OR? Did the lavender farm & CBD-infused snacks business come from the decision to move to Boring? Or were those things the driving force behind your move?

 

Yeah. I mean, honestly, I was on the farm, like, “What do I do next? What do I do next?” And I was actually legitimately bored, for the first time in a long time. I don’t actually get bored, but I got bored, and then I started reflecting on the whole idea of that. Why is this so uncomfortable for me to like have quiet moments? Or to not be constantly entertained? So it ended up being a play on the idea that maybe having boring moments can create a spark of creativity.

 

What inspired you to make CBD-infused snacks a business?

 

Our first product line is almonds and walnuts — I love almonds and walnuts, and I eat them all the time as a snack. The properties of almonds and walnuts work really well with CBD. So the high-protein and the omega-3s help your body to absorb it and to incorporate it into your own cannabinoid system — and they’re natural antidepressants. Hemp extract [may] help with anxiety, depression, and pain relief. In my experience, it helps with anxiety. I wanted to get it out in a format that was really convenient and easy to use for people like me, and also didn’t have the social stigma of pulling out a vape or a bottle of oil, so it’s just easy to incorporate into their daily life.

Each single serving has 25mg of the full-spectrum hemp extract, and for me that’s a really good starting place. I wouldn’t say our products are prescriptive, they’re just overall feel-good foods. I take like 40-50mg a day, but my wife takes like four times that, so it seems to vary greatly by person.

Everybody is so different, but there are also a lot of players in the field and it isn’t regulated yet, so it’s difficult to know. There are certain things to look for and to think about how the product is being grown and how it’s being processed. 

 

What does your typical work schedule look like?

 

Oh my gosh. So this time around, I’m definitely implementing some of the things I’ve learned from the tech world. Every day we start with a 15-minute stand-up meeting with our team. We utilize a variety of different tools to manage workflow because we’re all in different locations — we don’t have a centralized office or anything like that yet.

Right now I’m in Boulder, but we also have an 8-year-old, a farm, and [I have] a wife. I travel lots and I’m always working on sales and raising capital for the business, so that takes up a majority of my time. It’s kind of all over the map in terms of where I am and what I’m doing.

Just lots of juggling and lots of scheduling.

 

What’s it like working alongside your wife?

 

It’s great. I mean, of course it has challenges, but we have really different skill sets. We’re both used to being the boss, so that’s been a challenging thing for us in the past — who’s the boss and makes the decisions. Jen is in charge of production and recipes and all the operations, and I really don’t want to be. So that’s great. She really doesn’t want to be involved with the outward-facing sales and marketing efforts that I love to do.

I think she’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’m always blown away by her creativity and her drive and her focus. I just adore her, so it’s great. We get to have this amazing lifestyle together where we get to be together all the time, and yet we can do our own thing too. It’s pretty cool.

 

Courtesy: A Boring Life

 

Is there anything that you think everyone should know before starting a business with a romantic partner?

 

Oh my gosh! Yeah! We didn’t get married until we were a lot older — we just actually had our 10-year wedding anniversary May 30 — and I think if I had done it when I was younger, it would’ve not lasted, because going through the transition of exiting Hip Chick Farms was really hard. It was emotionally draining for me, and I really had an identity crisis.

All of the sudden I was like, ‘Oh my god, I poured my entire heart, soul, vision, determination…, everything into that company’, and when it ended, I was just like what do I do now? Who am I? Like, what? I had a hard time with that and it shifted the dynamic between us as well. But what it comes down to between Jen and I is that like we just love each other so much that it’s like all that matters is family — that’s the most important thing for us.

It’s hard — it’s super hard — but it’s really fulfilling too. I guess it depends on whether you’re able and willing to really talk things out. Stick through it when it gets really hard.

 

Do you have any tips for working with a romantic partner?

 

I think that you definitely shouldn’t fight in front of your staff, that’s a good one. You know what I mean? Don’t bicker. The way you talk in the office is probably really different than the way you talk at home, so figuring out that communication challenge is something that takes work. It’s something we still struggle with, because the way I talk to an employee is very different than the way I talk to my wife, right? Work on communication tips.

Don’t take things personally if at all possible.

The one we’ve been using recently is we did The Color Code personality test. You can do it free online. It divides everybody into four colors — that’s it. So it’s super simplistic, but I’ve been able to utilize it really well. It tells you your main drivers. My main driver is emotional attachments to people — I’m a blue. So we did that one this time around with the team, and it’s really helped us to be like, ‘okay, alright, you’re just doing this thing that you do because you’re driven by this thing’ and not take it personally. 

 

How has your business grown so far and where do you see it heading in the future?

 

We launched the nut products into grocery stores about two months ago — we’re in about 60 stores right now. It’s doing well at retail. I just got back from the Fancy Foods Show in New York and we talked to around 67 leads — so we got a really good response. There was just a study that came out about how snacks and hemp is going to be the next big thing, but I think hemp is really the next big thing, more than CBD. So I think we’re going to have a huge growth. I think we’re positioned at the right time and the right place with the right team. I think we’re going to have a huge growth opportunity and then eventually we’ll be able to develop additional products across a product portfolio to be more of a lifestyle brand.

 

What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

 

I love having a voice at the table. I love having a voice, and I love having an outsider voice. So when we were in the poultry industry, it was like a true outsider voice — like, the lesbian chicken company. We truly had an outsider voice.

This time around, I love running my own company, and I love creating opportunities for the community that we live in. That’s always my number one focus: how do I make the best opportunities for the folks that work with us? I get so excited thinking about the opportunity that hemp has to help regenerate our soil and how that can make this huge difference in our world.

But mostly, I like doing things differently. I see and operate in the world different as a woman CEO, and as a lesbian CEO. I think the difference is what should be celebrated and to support each other all lift each other up. I love everything about being an entrepreneur. I love the risk, I love the reward, I love the lifestyle, and I love working really, really, really hard. 

 

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

 

It gets better. At 22, I was very concerned about what the world thought about me, you know? And I was pretty angry about certain life circumstances. I just remember that I was crushed by student debt, and I was working like three jobs. I couldn’t even imagine a way I was going to get out of it. I was just pissed off about the government and the way the world worked. I just didn’t know how good it was going to get.

It gets better. It gets so much better — at least for me it did.

 

Serafina Palandech is The Everygirl…

Go-to coffee order? A large coffee with two shots of espresso.

First thing you do when you feel anxious? Take a moment. I have a daily practice of meditation, so I try to sink down to my body a little bit, feel the earth under my feet, take a moment, and take my CBD.

I never leave home without… My cellphone.

Ideal Friday night? Oh my gosh, at home with my wife and my kid and my animals.

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