The value of learning on someone else’s nickel. So manyentrepreneurs want to quit their good-paying job that has great benefits to take the plunge. While I definitely think that there is a time to do that, why not make your mistakes, learn your lessons while you’re earning a nice salary. Once you take the plunge you are now renting time and essentially on the clock because you likely have a burn rate that will one day run out. The closer that your burn rate gets to zero the more stress that it will create for you and your family.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Church, a highly successful entrepreneur and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of the new “better-for-you” energy drink: Rowdy Energy. However, over the past 25 years as CEO of seven companies, Jeff has led all aspects of acquiring and/or starting each uniquely disruptive company while fully managing investment capital raises. Some of those companies include: Suja Juice, NIKA Water Company, Lynx Professional Grills and Aztec Concrete Accessories.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in high school and college I didn’t want to fail so I took a pretty basic, low-risk approach to pushing my limits. As I got older I began to realize that I was more afraid of mediocrity than I was of failure so I began to want to take the entrepreneurial plunge and take a shot at building or buying a company. I was having a hard time taking the entrepreneurial plunge until late one night I watched an interview of a group of senior citizens who were being asked what they each wished that they had done differently in their careers and every single person said that they wished that they had taken more risk in their careers. They felt like they had unique skill sets and that they could have reached for the stars a bit more. That was my watershed event and it enabled me to take the jump. I was lucky enough to get some really great general management experience at a young age and that combined with having an accounting and finance background positioned me to take the shot when the opportunity arose. Once I did my first acquisition I got the bug and that led me to want to do more. After my first win, I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke and I worked really hard to get the second win under my belt.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Recognizing that failure can happen as an entrepreneur and having enough of a thick skin to get back up once you’ve been knocked down, dust yourself off and take another swing of the bat. Babe Ruth said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up!”
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Most things worth their while are hard in life. Were all on this planet for such a short time so as long as you can have the balance in life and do the important things such as love your family and treat your body with respect and love, why not work hard with the gifts that you’ve been given?
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Perseverance is a disruptive element. It’s hard to beat someone that keeps getting up over and over again. I believe strongly that “opportunity” is the meeting of “preparation” and “luck”. You can actually reverse those however you want. For example, “luck” is the meeting of “preparation” and “opportunity”. I believe that we get opportunities along the way and if we’re lucky at least one with every milestone that we have, i.e., in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. By the time that you hit your 50’s human nature tends to make you a bit more risk-averse and/or our prior successes or failures tend to make it easier or harder when we’re in our 50’s. I think it’s important to take a shot at least in your 30’s when you can recover from a failure without impacting the later stages of your life.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Rowdy Energy is dedicated to bringing healthier, better for you tasting functional energy drinks to a very large group of people who have for a long time been drinking products with a lot of artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives and other ingredients that trick your body into thinking it’s doing something when it’s really not. Just last week we received a letter from the wife of a man who unfortunately had recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer. They have been going through aggressive Chemo and radiation and his energy has been zapped. Along the way, they discovered Rowdy Energy and she thanked us for creating not only a great tasting drink but one that gave them all-natural, clean energy. These are the emails that make all of the difference and make all the long hours worth it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
A few different ways that I’ve dealt with burnout:
- Recognize that its 100% normal to get burnout if you’ve been intensely working on something for an extended period of time.
- Surround yourself with people that you love, admire and enjoy spending time with.
- Exercise — when you can get the endorphins working for you it tends to open your mind.
- Get creative and passionate about something else in your life. There’s nothing better than a new goal or passion to help you move on from your current malaise.
- Take a break and unplug. Definitely harder than it sounds but worth it. If you can incorporate travel into the break, even better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Definitely my parents. They are my role models and I can see both of their personalities in me. My Mom had really incredible emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize and put herself in someone else’s shoes. My Dad had an insatiable work ethic and always put his children ahead of everything else. Towards the end of my Dad’s life, I had the opportunity to work with him which gave me great joy and satisfaction. I even got to have him be on the board of the first company that I acquired when I had just taken the entrepreneurial plunge.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My wife and I and now our four kids have always been very giving and practiced a Jewish concept called “Tikkun olam” which means to repair the world and help others beyond yourself. When our kids were in middle school we wanted them to understand how fortunate that they were to live in such an amazing country with all of the privileges that we have so we took them to Ethiopia and Kenya for a summer and we helped build schools and dig water wells. When we got back to the US my kids said “Dad, you’re an entrepreneur, why don’t we create a business that gives back to help those less fortunate. We then created a business called Nika Water that sold bottled water in the US and donated the profits to bring clean water, schools and microfinance to people in need. Over a five-year period we brought clean water and education to more than 31,000 people in the developing world. In addition, my wife and I got to teach our kids about social entrepreneurship and today they’ve all become entrepreneurs in their own right. It was one of the most meaningful things that I’ve done in my life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Find opportunities that have something disruptive about them. I’ve started or acquired 8 businesses and all but 2 have been successful. About ten years ago I did a deep dive on what was different about the two that weren’t successful versus the six that were. What I discovered was that the two that weren’t successful were more commodity-type businesses with nothing unique about them. The six that were successful all had something that was disruptive about them. It might have been a route to market that was unique or disruptive innovation or an amazing team but there was something that was clearly different about them. As I continue to find new opportunities I now always search for disruption or I won’t pursue the opportunity.
- The importance of having “necessary” conversations. Often times as young managers we tend to be a bit more conflict-avoidant and shy away from having those tough conversations. What I’ve learned over the years is that by not having those conversations or sweeping it under the rug we think we’re taking the high road but in fact, oftentimes we’re unintentionally building toxicity into the organization.
- The secret to a successful 40-hour workweek is to work 60 hours a week. I realize that with millennials this may not be a popular statement however based on my experience there’s no way around doing the heavy lifting in order to be successful. Malcom Gladwell talks about how it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something and I think he’s dead-on right. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure out how to shortcut the situation but I’m my world there’s no way around doing the hard stuff.
- The importance of building great teams. My Dad was a successful CFO and business owner. He was smart but not brilliant. What he did do amazingly well was surround himself with people stronger and smarter than him. I’ve tried to use that playbook page myself and it always is successful. I’ve also always really wanted to work with people whom I enjoy having a beer with after work and where ever possible incorporating into my family. Creating a strong emotional tie with your team is so important in my mind as that’s what gets people to care and be willing to do whatever it takes to win.
- The value of learning on someone else’s nickel. So manyentrepreneurs want to quit their good-paying job that has great benefits to take the plunge. While I definitely think that there is a time to do that, why not make your mistakes, learn your lessons while you’re earning a nice salary. Once you take the plunge you are now renting time and essentially on the clock because you likely have a burn rate that will one day run out. The closer that your burn rate gets to zero the more stress that it will create for you and your family.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Prior to Rowdy Energy, I started Suja Juice in 2012. We were lucky enough to sell 50% to Coca-Cola in 2015 and today the business does $170 million in revenue and is extremely profitable. That’s definitely a “high”, however, what most people don’t know is that we looked over the edge into the abyss more than once and almost lost the company. As an entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with starring at that uncertainty from time to time. I think it’s critical to strive to keep your head in the clouds aspirationally reaching for the stars while keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground in terms of being practical and rational. So many people are on one end of the spectrum or the other and lose sight that doing both is critical for an entrepreneur.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Incorporate your family into your business. I do it a number of different ways:
- Cul-de-sac innovation. When I’ve been in consumer products I always bring innovation samples home and have family members try the product and give me their feedback. I don’t always implement what they suggest but I definitely consider their data points as I draw an imaginary line graph in my mind.
- WYSIWYG. It’s an acronym for “What You See Is What You Get” and I use it all the time to help people understand that if you can be the same person at work as you are at home you will always be able to be true to yourself. I know so many people that try to be one thing at work and a different thing at home and they’re oftentimes not being true to themselves. For me, it’s given me a great degree of calmness in my life.
- Incorporating your employees and customers into your personal life. Thankfully my wife has always been supportive of this and when you are able to do it the results can be amazing. When Coca-Cola was looking at investing into Suja we had their management team over to our house for dinner. My wife made challah bread in the form of Coke’s logo and Suja’s logo, they went nuts for the attention to detail that she made. It really does make a difference.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!