Paul Janowitz of MANTRA Labs: “Hire for resourcefulness and drive”

Hire for resourcefulness and drive — not experience or skills: It’s great if you can get all 4, but I will take the former Marine, or kid that worked two jobs during college over pedigree anytime. You can acquire skills pretty quickly but drive and a “can do” attitude, not so much. I want the person that […]

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Hire for resourcefulness and drive — not experience or skills: It’s great if you can get all 4, but I will take the former Marine, or kid that worked two jobs during college over pedigree anytime. You can acquire skills pretty quickly but drive and a “can do” attitude, not so much. I want the person that says “Yeah, I don’t know how to do that, but hand that over buddy. I can Google anything and put in a few hours tonight and I will figure this out.”

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Janowitz.

Paul Janowitz is currently the Founder and CEO of MANTRA Labs — a better-for-you nutrition brand with a social mission to improve mental health resources. Mr. Janowitz is an active investor and board member who focuses on mission driven businesses. Paul lives in Austin, TX with his wife where he also lectures at the University of Texas and enjoys daily trail runs and helping aspiring entrepreneurs.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Sure thing! I was born a hippie child, raised vegetarian, and spent summers in the woods. My parents split up when I was young which is always hard, but there was always love and I feel lucky that I got to experience two different worlds growing up, I think that taught me flexibility and allows me to move from one environment or group to another easily and enjoy it and contribute.

I grew up mostly in Venture, CA but also lived in New Jersey, the Philippines and Texas. I went to college at UT Austin and as most folks know that is it, I ended up settling in Austin, marrying my best friend from high school, having two kids and starting several businesses (the first one in college that I grew and ran for 15 years until we sold it to a PE firm a few years ago). Along the way I invested in CPG and other venture funds, started several side businesses that taught me a lot (e.g., — they “failed”) and now I am on to my new company that we got to launch right in the middle of COVID!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The quality of your life is a direct result of the decisions you make today, compounded.” That is from Shane Parish of The Knowledge Project. When I sold my last company I had what most folks know as the post-sale depression — you go from chasing something so hard to nothing overnight and you have this lack of passion and direction and motivation. So I got deep in mental model, the power of tiny habits to move you forward, and health. This quote stuck with me as it was empowering and made total sense. It sort of ties together the big themes from most self-help books, Buddhism, Stoicism and so forth. Focus on what you can control, decide what your goals are and then realize you are empowered to make choices and those choices determine your life — period. So does my next action bring be closer to my goal or not. If yes, great, if not choose a different decision. That frame work comes from Tom Bilyeu another podcast host I love.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Woops, looks like I answered this above. But I will add to it. A podcasts I recommend all the time — Impact Theory (Tom Bilyeu), The Knowledge Project (Shane Parish), Rich Roll and of course Tim Ferris. Tom Bilyeu and his articulation of a growth mindset vs. fixed was life changing for me — I finally got it. I thought I was all open minded and growing and I was solidified in a fixed mindset that left me ungrounded and always needing to be right. By deciding learning would be my highest goal vs. being right — well that changed everything. Now, each mistake or something someone points out that I did wrong becomes something that moves me closer to my goal vs. something I need to argue or fight back against.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

Long story short — I built a market research and analytics company in grad school and then grow that into a software company that provided a platform for collecting qualitative and quantitative data. I sold that a few years ago and started working on what was “next”. I had just finished a long R&D period into health and wellness and nutrition and was getting ready to execute and fundraise when the pandemic hit.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Basically everything hit a wall at the start, but the big piece was that I believed in our vision and that what we could build would be life changing and does good in the world. So, I had to push back our launch date, pause fundraising, put a ton of my money into it and change the entire marketing strategy. On top of that we were trying to build a physical product (nutritional supplements, boxes, packaging etc.) without being able to be at the warehouse. It was definitely pushing a rock uphill every day. No one was in their offices to answer phones, we were sending samples back and forth via FedEx and so forth. I think it is what is called a goat rodeo!

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

It came down to wanted to be healthy and find a system that made that simple, was science-backed and elevated my day vs. a bunch of ad-hoc items. It simply did not exist so that was the beginning of the quest. As the pandemic hit, health and mental health with sleep became from and center. So that is where we focused.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Absolutely great! People are loving the products and the reviews we get about how they have impacted someone’s health, a loved one’s ability to sleep, and so forth has just been wonderful. I know I should not be surprised it is so loved — we worked hard to created game changing nutrition — but you never really know how the market will react. So this has been just awesome.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Too many people to name. I will throw out a few first names — Kenn, Mike, Matt, Kristen and of course my wife Sally. What they all have in common is kindness, hard work, resourcefulness, loyalty, and integrity. If you surround yourself with people like that there is no failing in this world, there is just doing things and overcoming obstacles with a great team. To me that is fun!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I entered an industry I knew very little about at a time when it was really hard to get together at the trade shows and conferences (places that make it much easier to learn, connect with retail channels and source products). So, what has been interesting is that in all of this people have adjusted their work styles and still make it happen. It has been a wild learning experience and what I now know about packaging, moisture barriers and FDA regulations seems a ton but is only a fraction of a fraction of what my team knows. So almost everything is an interesting story to me right now.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Brain heavy — asset light: I have always tried to buy a computer and contractor time and interns to start a company. Take ego out of it and just see how far you can go with that. If it is getting traction scale up appropriately.

Hire for resourcefulness and drive — not experience or skills: It’s great if you can get all 4, but I will take the former Marine, or kid that worked two jobs during college over pedigree anytime. You can acquire skills pretty quickly but drive and a “can do” attitude, not so much. I want the person that says “Yeah, I don’t know how to do that, but hand that over buddy. I can Google anything and put in a few hours tonight and I will figure this out.”

Family first: Employees can’t be engaged at work if they can’t take care of their families and have freedom to do so.

Kindness is strength: It seems simple but for some reason even kind people sometimes think that kindness has no place in business. The smartest and most successful people I know are humble learners, that are always kinds. I like to think those attributes helped them get there and if not, well at least they are kind and happy which to me matters more than the rest.

CPG is hard: I thought I knew how hard CPG was, but assumed it was easier than running a technology company — NO! CPG is running a tech company (digital marketing, online commerce, payment processing, etc.), running a manufacturing organization, running customer service, running a distribution network, and on an on.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

These are definitely stressful times and then when you throw the financial, operational and overall house/lifestyle stress of a startup you have lots of unknowns on top of unknowns for a of hours each day! In order to help with that I have been ensuring I exercise (run, walks, weights) to get the good endorphins going and make sure that I don’t just work 16 hours a day. I have also been spending time connecting however I can with my family and friends and building new connections as the business grows which is always a positive and energizing thing. Then to layer on top of that, focusing heavily on what I put in my body and ensuring my nutrition supports my daily exercise and movement but also support my mind for overall mental health and the focus I need for the business (we all know it is easy to get distracted working from home). So in a nutshell — daily movement, keeping connections strong and a focus on whole body nutrition for total health.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Love this one! It would be to elevate the conversation on mental health. People die every day or live miserably completely unnecessarily. Simply talking saves lives. If we could continue to work towards destigmatizing these conversations on mental health we would all feel better and fewer people would die. It’s that simple — talking saves lives.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Oh wow — that is a hard one! I will go with my childhood hero whose posters I had all over my wall — Arnold Schwarzenegger☺

How can our readers follow you online? , @paul_janowitz and @gomantralabs

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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