Why one marketer made the jump from big brand to startup

La Vie’s chief marketing and creative officer Romain Jolivet left Danone after 17 years to build the plant-based meat brand from scratch.  

With all the upheaval of the past few years, many marketers have been rethinking their career priorities. For some that has meant moving to a brand that better aligns with their beliefs or given them a nudge to try new challenges, for others it has created a need to strike a greater balance between work and life.

For Romain Jolivet, the chief marketing and creative officer at La Vie, the French plant-based meat startup, it was the opportunity to make his mark at a growing business that inspired a move from big brand to startup.

Jolivet spent the bulk of his career at Danone, where he started his career as a sales executive before rising to global brand director for the business’s dairy and plant-based division. After 17 years, he left to join La Vie.

“I was very happy at Danone,” he tells Marketing Week. “I just made it to a point where I wanted to create much more and impact much more,” he says.

Never underestimate the value of setting realistic, ambitious, time-bound goalsThe corporate ladder can be a tricky business to navigate. The higher up you go, the harder it perhaps is to leave. And the more you rise, says Jolivet, “the more you are expected to manage and succeed through others.” He adds: “I wanted to succeed for myself as well.”

There are also many layers of input from different departments within big businesses, all of whom want to have their say. “At some point, there are so many people giving their opinion on an advertising campaign, or packaging decision, or the choice of placement for a press conference,” he says, suggesting it’s a bit too much.

“At the end of the day, many big companies don’t prioritise creativity that much. They want to claim they do, but in order to foster creativity, they need to let the creative people do their job, and make mistakes and take some risks,” he says. However, taking risks is difficult when there are millions of pounds in spend at stake.

A jumping point

Jolivet says he believed so much in La Vie’s mission that he began helping its cofounders, Nicolas Schweitzer and Vincent Poulichet, build the brand while he was still working at Danone. “When I arrived, it was a research laboratory in Paris called 77 Foods,” he says.

“We met when I was thinking about my career,” Jolivet adds. “At the end of the interview, I was super engaged.” How one CMO moved to general management by harnessing the power of brandAt the time, Schweitzer and Poulichet had been working on creating the product for three years under the name 77 Foods, and the founders told him the product was so good, it didn’t need to be a brand.

When he heard the company would just be a company, and not a brand, Jolivet’s reaction was “no, no, no”. “I came back to the lab and said to Nicolas, ‘I’ve been thinking, and I cannot let you do that. I will create a brand for you’,” he recalls.

He made the switch to full-time at La Vie when he realised he was “working all night long and all weekend without giving a shit,” because of the “energy” he felt.

“Sometimes in your professional life, there are just moments where you don’t see the hours,” he concludes.



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