Be Fearless — As an athlete or business owner you are faced with obstacles that seem too challenging to overcome. I attribute that perception to the fact that a lot of times as an athlete trying to reach the highest level or an entrepreneur getting a new business off the ground you are doing something you have never experienced before. It is normal to be fearful of the unknown and terrifying feeling like there is nothing to catch you if you fall. I can promise that going into a situation fearless will give you a higher rate of success than being paralyzed by fear.
As a part of our series called “From Athlete to Entrepreneur: 5 Work Ethic Lessons We Can Learn From Professional Athletes”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Lloyd.
Justin Lloyd, 28 years-old, is a former professional race car driver and the founder of Angry Angel Mind Body Soul FUEL. Justin began racing cars at the age of five and turned a passion into a career as he climbed the ranks to pursue his dream of becoming a NASCAR driver. He transitioned from a successful racing career after winning over 200 feature races and obtaining 10 championships to a beverage entrepreneur. His brand, Angry Angel Mind Body Soul FUEL, is the first Non GMO Project Verified High-Performance Energy Beverage that can be found at Whole Foods Market locations across the United States. Under Justin’s leadership the company has grown from a novel functional beverage idea to one of the fastest growing health and wellness beverage brands in America and an industry leader in beverage ingredient transparency.
In addition to his success as a race car driver and entrepreneur, Justin obtained a degree in Bioprocessing Engineering from North Carolina State University in 2015. He participated in Pfizer’s Technical Leadership Program for two years and spent time applying his bioprocessing engineering degree as a Gene Therapy Process Engineer in Pfizer’s novel Global Engineering — Gene Therapy division.
Justin’s ability to successfully transition from his career as an athlete to an entrepreneur has helped pave the path and provided inspiration for many others looking to do the same. Justin has become a highly-regarded business mentor and frequently speaks at events across America as an advocate for young and career-transitioning entrepreneurs. His lessons learned as a professional athlete, bio-engineering knowledge and passion for health and wellness offer an invaluable insight into what it takes to be a highly successful professional.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I spent my childhood growing up with my parents and younger brother in San Jose, CA. San Jose was a fantastic and rapidly growing place in the ’90s. From a young age, I was always a problem solver, risk-taker and filled with persistence and energy that at times probably drove my parents nuts. Looking back, I feel like the following story encompasses all of those qualities I displayed early on and defines who I am.
Like most parents when they have a five-year old boy with too much energy wreaking havoc in the house, they eagerly decided to enroll me into a local soccer league. Unfortunately for them, my high energy off the field did not translate to success on the field. Still to this day, I cannot drop kick a soccer ball.
I was more interested in a go-kart that a teenage neighbor used to race around the block every evening. After begging my parents for my own go-kart for weeks, my persistence (and realization that kicking a ball into a net was not for me) paid off. My dad caved and agreed to what seemed to be the longest “long shot” of all betting odds. If I scored a goal in my next soccer game, he would buy me a go-kart; if I failed to score a goal, I had to promise that I would never ask for a go-kart again. Mind you, I had never scored a goal in my illustrious one-year soccer career.
My next soccer game turned out to be the most expensive bet of my dad’s life, as I scored not one, but three goals. The rest is history — kick-starting what would turn into 23 years of auto racing, pursuing a career as a NASCAR driver, moving to North Carolina, competing on tracks such as Daytona International Speedway, graduating North Carolina State University with a bio-engineering degree, working as a gene-therapy engineer and, most significantly, becoming a young entrepreneur disrupting the highly-competitive functional beverage industry with my brand, Angry Angel.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete?
Instead of love at first sight, it was love at first left-turn for me. From a young age, I became obsessed with and passionate about car racing. Maybe it was my ADHD, or the thrill of the adrenaline rush, but all I could think about during the school day was the excitement of pushing the boundaries of a car on a race track and the risks that accompanied. It also helped that I was pretty dang good at it from the start. I won my first race at the age of five and was willing to do whatever it took to get better every race I entered. In racing you have the ability to compete against other competitors, just like any ball sport; however, when I drive a car that has over 800 horsepower and goes 180 miles per hour, my mind and body move in-sync. The level of risk each time I hit the track made it that much more enticing for me to make a career in NASCAR my full-time pursuit.
The race car driver that inspired me the most growing up was Bobby Labonte. I can vividly remember pushing his green replica race-car, with number 18 painted on the side, around our living room at a young age while he competed in the NASCAR race every Sunday. Besides winning and beating the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte was one of the most down-to-earth humans the sport has ever seen.
Growing up my family would take my brother and I to Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway) in Napa Valley, California to watch the NASCAR race every year. After the race one year, my parents rushed me into the garage-area to see if by chance we could catch Bobby Labonte for an autograph or photo before he left the track. We were successful at sneaking into the restricted area and gathering autographs from his team members, but just missed Bobby as he had left to head to the local helicopter pad. Dejected but still excited to experience a whole day cheering on my favorite driver and hero at the time, my family and I walked back to the parking lot to begin our 3 hour drive back home to San Jose. On the trek back to the car, I could not help but to picture myself racing on that track someday and what a dream it would be to compete against my favorite driver, or better yet beat him. It filled my thoughts and almost distracted me from the fact that we were approaching a helicopter pad on the left-hand side of the parking lot. As fate would have it, I spotted my hero, Bobby Labonte, waiting for his helicopter ride back to the San Francisco Airport. I dropped everything and ran. The next twenty minutes spent on that grassy hillside at a race track in Northern California would help to shape the rest of my life, vision for who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act as a successful athlete. Bobby Labonte passed on two helicopter rides, following a grueling four hour race in 100-plus degree weather, to talk to a young fan of his. Little did he know that he was doing more than just signing an autograph and taking a picture, he was planting a hopeful seed in a hungry young race car driver’s heart and engraving in his brain what it means to transcend beyond just being a successful athlete with accolades. It was the foundation of the standards I set for myself off the track and how I wanted to be defined by those that cheered for or against me. A human that is humble, gracious with his time and self-aware enough to realize how precious and impactful small gestures, like the 20 minutes he shared with me, can be in a person’s life. From that day on-ward, a hot day in June for six year-old little Justin, I wanted to be a fierce competitor, successful in my racing career but defined by the human I was off the track. I wanted to be like Bobby Labonte.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
In combination with the love for the sport, I was inspired and graciously encouraged by my parents to pursue whatever career made me happy. We all knew that meant sacrificing over 40 weekends a year at a race track, hundreds of hours on the road and in the race shop and the financial support that I will forever be grateful for until the day I die. The lengths at which my entire family, including my amazing brother, went to support my dream of becoming a NASCAR driver inspired me from the very beginning to give unwavering focus and dedication to my craft. As much as I was racing for myself and my future, I was doing it to make them proud and prove to them that their selfless support did not go unnoticed.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The funniest that happened in my racing career actually occurred during my first race at the age of 5. After completing the six week training program in a shocking three weeks, the lead trainer and my parents were confident that I had the basic driving skills necessary for my first race on January 1st, 1998. The basic driving skills that I was taught and tested on during the training program included what each flag meant, an acceptable pattern to drive around the track, crash avoidance and other skills that would get me ready for my debut.
I can vividly remember sitting with my dad on the back of the van eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that my mom packed for us while staring at the race car. I was really nervous for my first race but confident that I would do well after flying through the training program. After getting help from my dad, I was strapped into the race car with my safety gear for my first race. I am sure he was just as nervous as I was after he pushed my car off and away for me to take the track. Unfortunately for me and the hype surrounding my debut I failed to do the most important thing in racing, press the gas pedal when the green flag flew! For the next eight laps around the track I went idle speed and finished in last position. I swore after the race and to this day that I did not see the green flag fly. I promised my dad that from that day forward I would never lose sight of the green flag and give 110% every race. The very next race later that day I almost pushed the gas pedal through the floorboard and ended up leading every lap en route to winning the race. Not too bad for a five year old kid that couldn’t drop-kick a soccer ball to save his life.
Beyond the obvious lessons that I learned about the green flag and paying attention I was aware enough at that age to use the embarrassing situation as an opportunity to prove others wrong and myself right about my abilities. I had practiced and prepared for that first race and instead of letting a mistake define my debut I turned it into a success and a story I am telling 14 years later.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Athlete or not everyone faces pressure. I believe that following your initial instinct instead of over thinking the high stake situation will almost always lead to a better outcome. As a race car driver there were dozens of times I was faced with a split-second decision to avoid spinning cars or some sort of danger in front of me. Over-thinking leads to no decision, which is an expensive and dangerous mistake to make on a race track or in everyday moments.
Learning to push fear aside is another key to taking control of the moment. Allowing fear to creep in creates a compounding effect on the added pressure a person might feel. I try to list out what can go right in a situation and make a strategic plan on how I can accomplish those goals. It allows for greater clarity in complex moments and replaces fear with confidence.
Preparation is critical. We gain confidence and build our instincts through repetition. As a race car driver that meant hundreds of practice laps, time invested in the gym, time spent in the race shop preparing the car and countless hours of film study. As an owner of a beverage company that has meant studying all aspects of the industry and the fundamentals of being a business leader: market trends, ingredient supply chain, regulatory requirements, retail partnerships, distribution, marketing, sales, raising capital, team building, empowering others and building meaningful relationships. I will always look at myself as a student of the “game” and that is what helps me build a winning mindset for pressure situations.
Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?
Auto-racing has always been my most prominent passion. My habit of consuming energy drinks followed me as I moved from California to North Carolina to climb the ranks to NASCAR. There was a lot of pressure as a teenager to be well-polished on and off the track to appeal to potential sponsors and NASCAR race teams. I absolutely loved the challenge of not only having to perform on the track but off the track in an effort to make my childhood dream of becoming a NASCAR star come true. This meant long hours on the road traveling to race tracks across the country, late nights preparing and setting up the race car, normal school work and school days, and preparing business plans and sponsorship pitches for the Fortune 500 companies I was targeting for a partnership. In order to accomplish these tasks I often relied on my unhealthy energy drink habit. Filled with artificial caffeine, sugar and the hope and dream of making it to the “big leagues”, I took on the near impossible challenge of trying to earn an opportunity in a sport that demands close to $25 million a year to compete at the highest level.
Even though I was having success and winning against the likes of Chase Elliot, Ryan Blaney, Ty and Austin Dillion, Daniel Hemric and many others that eventually made it to top level of NASCAR, I was never able to catch the big break from a top team or secure the sponsorship dollars necessary to keep moving up the ladder.
I was fortunate to be able to chase a dream and passion that was deeply rooted inside of me but it was time to start planning the next move in my career. I traded turning left and racing inches away from other drivers at high-banked race tracks going 160+ MPH for engineering classrooms at North Carolina State University. Like any adrenaline junky and risk taker, I still kept a few of my habits intact. This included my daily energy drink.
The “ah ha” moment came in 2013. I was a junior in college studying for an exam in the library at 1AM, and I habitually cracked open my second RedBull of the night. Ironically, the exam I was preparing for covered food and beverage topics from a food science elective I was enrolled in that semester. The course discussed harmful ingredients used to flavor, sweeten and provide function to carbonated beverages. I was quite shocked after comparing the nutrition label of the RedBull I had just opened to the list of harmful ingredients I was reading about.
I began my search for a healthier alternative right after I finished my exam the next day. After visiting my local Whole Foods Market and studying the “healthy” energy drink options over the next month, I hit a dead end. The alternatives were still filled with unnecessary amounts of sugar, came with a $4–5 price tag, tasted too “healthy” and were nothing more than glorified tea-based beverages flavored with juice.
The dream for the industry-disrupting product, Angry Angel Mind Body Soul FUEL, was born. I have developed a drink that is innovative and of a quality never seen before in functional beverages. With zero sugar, zero calories and zero artificial ingredients, Angry Angel is not only disrupting the market today, but has the staying power for years to come. Our combination and ingredient sourcing of Yerba Mate, CoQ10, Organic Monk Fruit, B-Vitamins and Vitamin C is so unique and great tasting. We are proudly Non-GMO Project Verified and value ingredient transparency above all else. There are a number of other innovative and differentiating factors that make it an game-changing product that you can read more about at www.angry-angel.com.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
Angry Angel is launching in the Whole Foods Market locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana March of this year. My team and I are extremely excited about the expansion and the opportunity to share our products and story with new customers. A lot goes into planning a launch into a set of grocery stores but this is a whole new geographic region for the Angry Angel brand. There are a lot of moving parts between our distributors, setting up promotions and putting a ground team in place to support the launch.
I will personally be heading to Texas in March to build relationships with the leadership and employees at every Whole Foods Market location. Going the extra mile to share our story and show our commitment to building a partnership at a store level has been a large part of our initial success. Interestingly we have found a direct correlation in the level of positive energy among employees in a store and our sales in that specific store.
In addition to our expansion, we are always working on new delicious flavors and life-enhancing product lines. By the end of the year we hope to have added a couple more innovative and healthy new items for our customers.
Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about what you mean?
I believe that many entrepreneurs and athletes are born with the skills necessary to be successful in either path. Being a successful race car driver helped me prove to myself that I could actually use those skills to achieve what seemed to be impossible goals.
One of the greatest skills that I have had to use in both phases of my life is to be comfortable taking extreme risks. Going 180 miles per hour in a race car with dozens of other competitors around me takes a lot of trust knowing that things can go wrong in an instant and my life could be in danger. Thankfully the risks that many entrepreneurs take are not life or death. By including that thought in my mindset as an entrepreneur it has allowed me to push past the constructed mental and physical boundaries that I originally set for myself. Fears of failure, money and acceptance will only slow your journey and inhibit your ability to use your creativity. Success becomes inevitable once you have accepted that your greatest fears will only become true if you stay with the current status quo.
Ok. Here is the main question of our interview. Entrepreneurs and professional athletes share a common “hustle culture”. Can you share your “5 Work Ethic Lessons That Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Win the day — Whether you are first to market with an innovative idea or immediately challenge an established competitor you will have to bring your “A Game” every day.
As an entrepreneur or aspiring athlete, the odds of reaching the top are stacked against you. Setting small, obtainable daily goals is important as you work to establish momentum. As an athlete, a winning culture develops from months and years of consistency; it is no different in entrepreneurship.
Not having a major distribution partner in the early years with Angry Angel was extremely challenging. Even though we were having success with our sales and growth at the store level, large distributors require an immense amount of sales history and established accounts before they consider a beverage brand for their network. It becomes a “chicken or the egg” argument very quickly where we are capped at what retailers we can get into because we do not have a distribution partner and a distribution partner will not take us on because we do not have enough retail partners. It is another way for the Goliaths of the industry to put up a barrier to entry and keep the little brands out. So for the better part of two years, I rolled up my sleeves and set up an internal regional distribution network that serviced our accounts on a daily basis. I would personally deliver to stores across the southeast: Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, etc. I believe that through consistency and daily commitment to building the brand with the mindset that nothing will stop me has led to much of our current success.
2) Be Fearless — As an athlete or business owner you are faced with obstacles that seem too challenging to overcome. I attribute that perception to the fact that a lot of times as an athlete trying to reach the highest level or an entrepreneur getting a new business off the ground you are doing something you have never experienced before. It is normal to be fearful of the unknown and terrifying feeling like there is nothing to catch you if you fall. I can promise that going into a situation fearless will give you a higher rate of success than being paralyzed by fear.
If I had not been fearless in my transitions from a race car driver to an engineer and then to an entrepreneur I would be at square one with my career and years in progress behind where I am now. Time is something that you cannot buy but fear is something that you can overcome. Now I would be lying if I said that I did not have moments of fear during those transitions. When I look back at my biggest accomplishments at each point in my career they have all followed the riskiest decisions I have made. Whether that was a last lap pass while carrying 10MPH more speed into the final corner than any lap before or putting my entire life savings on the line for our first production run of Angry Angel Mind Body Soul FUEL, the reward is there to show for it.
3) 10X Rule — Do not settle on your first iteration or “good enough”. As an athlete and entrepreneur we tend to model ourselves against a person that we idolize for their success, style or mission statement. I would argue that all of them had to re-invent themselves along the way to become a role model and transcend their profession. I found that as an athlete or entrepreneur if you establish your work ethic, level of success and goals at their level and reach to be ten times better the results will speak for themselves.
As a brand, especially in food and beverage, you have to constantly evolve as consumer trends change rapidly. This includes specific ingredient desires and, as we have seen the past year with the evolution of contactless shopping, the mode in which people purchase products. What I failed to recognize in the infant stages of the Angry Angel is that “healthier” or “less than” is not enough. Instead of having less sugar and a few clean ingredients in our products, we went back to the drawing board to set the bar for the entire industry. Using unique ingredients such as Organic Monk Fruit, Yerba Mate and CoQ10 and building trust with our customers with third-party ingredient verification through the Non-GMO Project has been a game changer. Our sales have jumped over 100% since launching our updated Mind Body
Soul FUEL product line this year.
4) Teamwork Wins Championships — When it comes to the “greatest player” debate it is almost automatic that their individual stats are backed up team championships. As a leader you have to share your passion, identify role players and empower them to make contributions that will ultimately help the entire team. The “greatest” and the “great” are separated by their ability to fully tap into their talent but also let wisdom guide their actions.
It is easy to think that because you are a solo-entrepreneur or competitive athlete you have to have all the answers and “win the game” on your own. There have been times in my career where I credit a race win on the hard work and wisdom of my crew chief than on my actual driving ability. To the contrary, I have had moments with the beverage company that because of the extra effort I took to follow-up with a retailer or customer I have overcome situations that could have been unfavorable. I credit a lot of the success of Angry Angel and my racing career to the support and wisdom of those around me. Reaching out for help or adding a business partner with strengths that fill a personal weakness is key to winning in business and ultimately being recognized as the “greatest” in your industry.
5) Play with Passion — The journey will be hard but rewarding. You have to believe in your athletic dream or business idea to its core. Being an entrepreneur or athlete is not just a job, it is a lifestyle that you must be willing to embrace with no excuses or hesitation. It will show no mercy.
As a race car driver and entrepreneur there were plenty of moments that it would have been easy to give up and take the beaten path instead. Using passion as my guiding light I focused on what it would take to succeed and never considered what it would like to fail. To me, there would be nothing more devastating than to let down the family and friends that sacrificed things in their life to support me, this is my “why”. Establishing my “why” helped to provide fuel for my passion. Where I am head over heels in passion is risk-taking, building opportunities for others, health and wellness, improving people’s lives and challenging the status-quo of an industry dominated by Goliaths. There will be moments where it feels like your entire idea or business hinges on a single decision. You should do your best to relish in those decision making moments and always revert back to your mission statement and passion that guided you to start. I always make sure to stay true to the passion and standards that I set forth from an early point in the business. Angry Angel Mind Body Soul FUEL is positioned to challenge billion dollar brands by standing on health, quality, transparency and the relentless nature of the people behind the brand to bring it to every household in America.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
All gas no brakes! Go all in and experience as many things as you can until you find something that you are willing to work 24/7 for little to no money. Fail quickly and get back up. It is easier to be fearless and live a happier life while working towards something that you are passionate about. As you start to positively affect others and become a trendsetter, the money will come.
You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Something that I am most proud of is that I am building a brand that inspires people to live a healthier life and educates them about an industry that a majority of people tend to overlook and trust too much.
Also, I hope that I can continue to inspire, offer people the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship and bring their ideas to life. As my company grows I would love to hire more people in order to give them the opportunity to be successful and not just feel, but know that they are contributing to something meaningful. I tend to believe that having the freedom to create and make a living by providing to this world rather than just consuming is one of the most rewarding things a person can undertake.
You are a person of enormous 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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would highly suggest reforming the early education system to replace meaningless classes with instruction on topics such as investing, business fundamentals, networking, public speaking and the basics of technology automation. I believe that the current system fails much of our youth and teaches them how to be a servant in society. It pushes people into a box that they feel they must conform to or else they will fail. I do not want people to think that being a servant in life is a bad thing but everyone should have the opportunity to think for themselves and have the basic tools necessary to do so. If we are able to offer early education on applicable real-life skill sets I believe that people will be able to have a stronger moral compass and ability to make wise career decisions on their own and at an earlier age.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.” — Elon Musk
While I think it is important to be realistic, I believe that in order for someone to transcend their sport as an athlete, as an entrepreneur or leader in their industry you have to challenge the status quo and not stop until you have reset the boundaries. I walk through life trying to see the best in everything and everyone. The most important element of this quote that I try to abide by is to also accept when you are wrong but not let that cloud your judgement and take away enthusiasm for future opportunities.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Without a doubt, Aaron Rodgers. His commitment to his craft, ability to stay calm and focus in what seem to be high pressure situations on and off the field, longevity and innate ability to make those around him elevate their game is unparalleled. He also seems to be just a cool freaking dude. I am willing to bet that his success on the field will only be surpassed by his future success off the field. I tend to believe that he has the mindset and grit to be an extraordinary entrepreneur if he decides to go that path. Go Pack Go!