Juliet Kennedy: Overcoming family 'curse and killing it'


GreenSpoon founder Juliet Kennedy at her office compound in Karen. PHOTO | COURTESY | POOL

Greenspoon - the online food store - started from a 20-foot cargo container with a shoestring budget.

The premise of the business was based on a question Juliet Kennedy, the founder, posed to herself when she got her baby; how can I nourish this little being with good healthy food without hurting anyone or the environment?

It has been seven years now, and Dutch investors gave it the nod.

When Juliet is not worrying about good healthy food, she worries about the plight of Pangolins as a member of the board of advisors for The Pangolin Project, a non-profit for pangolin conservation.

What were you doing before you started Greenspoon?

I was in marketing. I love stories and I love humans. I studied anthropology at the university and I'm fascinated by how we behave and what motivates people.

It started as a story around food and safe food, and then I realised there's more to this. There's this whole story around our planet and I'm completely passionate and obsessive about that as well.

With food, there is the environmental side and then there's the social side.

So I guess the business grew in me in many ways and I'm passionate about sustainability in all its forms.

I want to be able to say to my children, yeah, "I've tried to do as much as I can in my workplace". Trying to be a great mom and wife, and running a business is not easy.

Have you found the balance?

No. I don't believe in balance. I believe in chaos. [Laughter] I believe that this part of life is a crazy journey, a rollercoaster and I've stopped feeling like I have to constantly pursue balance.

I feel like I have to pursue things that are going to keep me sane. Balance isn’t for me, I prefer to ride the rhythm of life. 

I read somewhere that motherhood is about finding ways to continue forgiving yourself for constantly falling short. What have you forgiven yourself for regarding parenting?

I'm away from home three days a week, and I love my work. In many ways, it's not a hardship, but I think forgiveness is coming to a place of acceptance and letting go of any kind of guilt.

Being away from home means that I get to have the most incredible work life which I can't do if I'm at home. But home is where it is because children are living their best life. The fact is that separation is what life is about.

Running a business, what has surprised you about yourself?

Maybe my optimism? Resilience. Resilience is a big one. You have to be able to pick yourself up even if things aren't going the way you thought they would.

[A tray of drinks arrives] Here, try some of this Kenyan rum, it’s called Bahari Rum by Papaya Republik. [Glasses touch in a toast]

Where did you grow up?

Here. Next to Hillcrest Sunshine on Nairobi's Lang'ata Road. I went to boarding school. My father was British, and my mom was a Kenyan, a mzungu Kenyan. My grandmother was born in Mombasa in the 1930s.

So my great-grandparents were the ones who came out to be lawyers in Mombasa.

My father died when I was five but thank God he had life insurance that paid for us to be sent to boarding school in the UK and helped us understand that side of our heritage.

My stepfather came into my life when I was about seven. He's been my dad since then.

Interesting story; my dad died at 39 and his dad died at 39. My grandmother casually said to me when I was 12, ‘it's like we're cursed and you'll probably die when you're 39.’

When you're 12 you're like 'okay, whatever, 39 is ancient'. But when I was 38 I realised I don't know what was going on with me. I didn’t feel okay. I was just a bit bonkers in the head.

So I went to see a hypnotherapist. Basically what emerged was that deep in my subconscious I was behaving like I was going to die the following year.


Yes. [Chuckles] Apparently since I was 12 I had been living like I was going to die at 39. I was conditioned like that yet I didn’t realise it. We delved in deep. It was an incredible session.


Juliet Kennedy, founder of Green Spoon Kenya at the firm's office in Regen on July 6, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

I went into this small room, lay on the couch and she hypnotised me. I went back to the past and saw my dad lying in a hospital bed with a brain tumour, dying. I came to the realisation that 39 was a really big deal that I didn't even recognise it.

I planned to skip it but the therapist told me not to ignore it. ‘You're going to face it and you're going to celebrate it and power through that year and you will be fine,’ she said. And so what did I do? I got pregnant at 39. I told death, 'you can’t kill me this year'. [Chuckles]

That's wild!

Yeah. But the other thing she asked me 'do you think you'd have achieved what you've achieved because deep down you didn't feel like you were going to have a long life?'

She said that perhaps that’s what pushed me, subconsciously. I've always been in a bit of a rush and the ultimate optimist, but perhaps the rate at which I was trying to do stuff was because I felt that there was an immediate deadline.

Now I'm 41. Man. I'm killing it. [Laughter]

That's fascinating. Did you find out after talking to your hypnotherapist, that there were certain patterns of behaviour in your life that spoke to this sort of impending death at 39?

Yeah. I’m a big believer that people should just live their authentic lives. Life is short. I had a huge impatience with people who are like, 'I don't like the job I'm in, I don’t like this friendship I am in or this place I live in'…I’m like 'well then change it!' What are you waiting for?'

Nothing will ever change in your life if you don’t do anything about it. Nothing. And for me, maybe I had the benefit of knowing that I had only 39 years on me and as such, I didn’t have time to complain.

I just had to make every year count.

What did you do on your 39th birthday apart from getting a baby, how did you celebrate it?

There was Covid-19. Oh my God, I was so tired. I think we just had a small party at home. It was a little bit like ‘okay, let me get through this year.’ There was still a little bit of me that needed to get through that year.

To put it in context Biko, my grandmother called my uncle every single day of his 39th birthday to check that he was still alive because she believed he would die at 39. He didn’t, he died in his 60s.

What killed your grandfather?

He had a heart attack and fell off his horse.

What have you learned about humans from anthropology? I know it’s a broad question.

Wow, that's a huge question. I intrinsically believe in the goodness of humans. What I've learned with maybe an anthropological background is we're not predictable creatures.

There's a kind of instinct. I would say running a business like Greenspoon, I've been guided more by instinct than by hard data. Patterns and behaviour are not always predictable and we're driven by emotion.

As someone building a young business, is there any sense of fear or apprehension because there are certain factors that you might not be able to control that will greatly impact something like this?

I would be lying if I said there was no fear. But I've moved from a space of fear and now see it as a healthy driver of innovation.

What is the point of worrying about things that are out of your control? It's like sitting on a treadmill and expecting to go somewhere.

I've learned from people who mentor me that it's not healthy to feel a great deal of fear. It's healthier to be driven by optimism, and if that includes a little bit of anxiety or something, that's okay.

Which one is harder, running a business or being a mother?

I don't think I can answer that question. (Chuckles) They both come with different challenges. It's like if you were to flip that around and say which is more rewarding. I would also struggle in a way.

But I know what I should say, I know I should say children are more rewarding than anything else in life. But, the way I'm made, it's a bit of both. I mean they all have their kinds of unpredictability.

They both have these moments of zen where you're like 'wow, I'm nailing it'. And then as quick as you think that, something comes around and you're like 'oh no I'm not'. I still have a lot to do here, a lot of growth.

The fact that my son and the business are the same age, it's quite fun because I can see the growth in myself. When you become a parent you see how you change, how stuff has to, and you see your children change.

One person you'd like to meet, where you'd take them for a meal, and what you'd order. Dead or alive - the person, not the meal.

Jamie Oliver (English chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author), which I know it's a bit of a cliché. Jamie Oliver for me came from humble beginnings and he's such a genuine person. He feels like the guy next door.

I would take him to Cultiva restaurant in Karen because of the organic-farm element. It hasn't been a smooth run for Oliver, the business and big failures along the way.

And I'm fascinated by that and how he's also managed to have a family at the same time, to remain so approachable and normal than become this removed or inaccessible person.

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