Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Wan, the founder and CEO of the sports nutrition start-up, Momentous. Matt grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he developed a passion for sports, including running and skiing. His fascination in nutrition and training started at a young age when the San Francisco 49ers Strength Coach Dave Scholz took Matt under his wing in the 6th grade. Dave, now an advisor to Momentous and the Head Strength and Conditioning coach at Texas Tech, systematically introduced Matt to the world of performance training and nutrition, and Matt’s obsession grew from there. Matt founded Momentous and dropped out of Harvard the next year to pursue the business full time. Momentous is now working with dietitians and strength coaches from all four major leagues, selling directly to over 100 professional and collegiate teams, and supporting athletes from a variety of sports. Their roster includes filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chin, Free soloist Alex Honnold, Olympic Triathlete Sarah True, and NFL tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas an extremely picky and unhealthy eater growing up. My diet consisted mostly of chicken nuggets, Eggo waffles, and fruit snacks. As high school neared I became increasingly competitive in my sports and my training, so I owe the change in my diet to the influence of my strength coach and now business partner Dave Scholz. Dave drew a firm and clear connection between how I ate and how I felt, and I owe the relationship I’ve since built with food to this early intervention. Eating healthy and training consistently is almost like a game to me now — it feels like I’m racking up points — and like any sport I want to score early and often. I’ve also found that keeping competitions on my schedule like running races help me stay accountable to a certain level of balance in my habits, because they force me to take mental and physical rest very seriously. In short, I think I was extremely lucky to get the right information and develop these habits at such a young age, and I found this path in business because I believed there would be an audience for the resources that had made such a positive impact on my life. I think healthier people are happier, more productive people.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I was 18 when I started this business. My plan was to lay the groundwork, hire a CEO for the business, then go to college and remain on the Board as a free resource for the company in my spare time.
We hired a CEO in the fall of my freshman year. It was my first time hiring someone I didn’t already know personally, and I completely whiffed. He left the company within a few months. I felt like I had invested so much time in recruiting this person and placed so much faith in them, and it was one of only a few moments where I really thought the business might not make it. It really stung.
One obvious lesson from this is how incredibly difficult it is to hire a CEO, but the more important lesson is the value of a short memory. This was a challenge that felt existential for the business, but in practice, it hasn’t had a single lasting effect on our day-to-day. It wasn’t even two years ago but it may as well have been a different lifetime. We pride ourselves as a team on our ability to “turn the page.”
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
We chose a category that we knew very well and that we were uniquely qualified to attack. Our team had a phenomenal network in sports and performance, so we had to be shameless in leveraging our competitive advantages — we are here to build a business, not our egos.
We also placed a huge premium on hiring employees who bought into the culture of performance and self-improvement. Although my mentors had stressed this to me, I didn’t realize at the time how impactful this would be. I can’t imagine our employees working as hard as they do without a true passion for the vision. I think it’s still very much a stretch to call us a success, and I think that attitude of “something to prove” has served us well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- It can be a very lonely job. Oftentimes I think the CEO’s job is to take the blame and share the praise. You are responsible for everything that happens at the business and when it comes time to make the tough calls, all the counsel in the world won’t make the decision for you. You have to own your decisions and their consequences entirely, and thrive off that opportunity. It’s empowering and terrifying at the same time.
- Being smart isn’t enough. Being right isn’t enough either. Anyone with an opinion can make decisions, but the success of the company hinges on my ability to rally people around those decisions. I really wished I had worked on my communication skills more in high school.
- Perceptions matter. A lot. I learn pretty well by listening so if someone says something I’ll generally remember it. I didn’t really take notes in school and I carried that habit into business. When I was 18, before the business had even been incorporated, I met with a potential investor for coffee and they immediately called me out for not having a notepad. Their perception was that it made them feel like I didn’t value what they had to say, and this person really let me have it. The volume of their voice was drawing looks from others in the coffee shop, but I at least had enough awareness to know this wasn’t a typical angel investor interaction. Tough as that morning may have been, I haven’t forgotten my notepad since, regardless of whether I expect to need it or not.
- You can’t make everyone happy. There’s an old saying that if you want to make everyone happy — don’t be a leader, sell ice cream. Except even that’s not true anymore because someone will be upset about the dairy. Whenever possible, I try to give my people all the time of day to set me straight, but at the end of the day I have to make a decision and I can’t be worried about whether or not everyone will agree with it. I like my team, so sometimes that sucks.
- It’s supposed to feel this hard. Or at least I think it is. There will never be enough time in the day. It will always cost more money than you think. It will always go off the rails at some point. Based on any traditional measures, being a startup CEO is objectively not a good job, but if you want to learn to get the most out of yourself and the people around you, then I highly recommend it.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In any startup it’s pretty easy to write a to-do list as if the day is 36 hours long, but it’s just not. For my colleagues specifically, we need to set the right example for each other. Our job as much as anything is to live the brand, and if we as a company believe that a balanced schedule and taking time for yourself is part of a healthy lifestyle, then we need to live up to our own message. Those emails will still be there in the morning.
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?
I could name a hundred people here but the most obvious one is my dad. He is probably my harshest critic but definitely my biggest advocate.
One story that comes to mind is from before right before I started the company. He basically sat me down and framed the options for me: I could start small, write a business plan that didn’t require much capital, and have a fun project to work on while I went to school. Or I could write a business plan for what I believed was the most compelling opportunity and the most likely to succeed, which would almost certainly require me to raise outside capital.
There was obviously plenty of ground in between those options, but he framed it this way to make a point that if I took other people’s money, I’d be playing with live ammo. Taking other people’s money (investors) meant I couldn’t half-ass it, I couldn’t quit, and I knew he wouldn’t have given me this option if he didn’t believe in me. I’m very grateful for that.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Too many to name here I’m afraid. In short, I want to spend the rest of my life creating products, services and organizations that make the world a better place, but along the way I also want to complete an ultramarathon and an Ironman, surf an overhead barrel, visit every continent, get married, and make enough money that I can afford to give at least half of it away.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope I will leave the planet significantly better than I found it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Thank you… I suppose “great influence” is a relative term.
Not sure I have a great answer for this one but I would love to see American’s take responsibility for their health. I love the concept of trying a new healthy habit every month. It can be as simple as running a mile a day or not drinking soda for a month. Not every habit will stick, but I think any positive habit has the potential to create a domino effect of change. It’s the health equivalent of making your bed in the morning. It makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you feel productive, and it can be addicting. One good run can really change your life. I want America to take pride in its health and fitness.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@_matt.wan on instagram for myself
@livemomentous for the company