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5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food with Dinos Stamoulis

Clear vision and flexibility to adapt to change. You have to believe so strongly in what you’re doing that you don’t get distracted by shiny objects and fad trends that people rush in on. 9 out of 10 times executing your vision takes time. Consistent and deliberate execution drives you closer to the end goal […]

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Clear vision and flexibility to adapt to change. You have to believe so strongly in what you’re doing that you don’t get distracted by shiny objects and fad trends that people rush in on. 9 out of 10 times executing your vision takes time. Consistent and deliberate execution drives you closer to the end goal but it’s the ability to change your mind when you think something no longer works that keeps you out of trouble. Sometimes you have to step back and ask yourself if it’s time to cancel a system, process or person you once believed in so much at one point in time. A business is always changing and nothing remains the same if you’re constantly seeking growth opportunities for the betterment of the organization as a whole.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dinos Stamoulis.

With an insatiable appetite for creating better-for-you products, Dinos Stamoulis is an entrepreneur and former professional hockey player whose passion for health and fitness led him to Co-founding Paleonola — a grain free snack brand manufacturer that went from zero to over seven figures in sales in a very unconventional way. As the Chief of Awesomeness at Paleonola, he helps lead the strategy behind the brands national presence in a category that was once very inundated and tired — granola.

His passion for health stemmed from a very early age where he fell in love with both fitness and sports. In elementary school, he was awarded the top backwards jump roper for time and refused to stop when all the other jumpers had broken. Shortly after he discovered a burning passion for the game of hockey and eventually turned that passion into a 4 year Division I college career and amassed over 250 professional games in both the ECHL and American Hockey League over the course of just 3 years after school.

Having the experience of taking Paleonola from a startup to a national brand, Dinos has remained relentless in his pursuit of knowledge and expertise from those around him and considers himself the forever student. His passion for the pinnacle of health led him to test several diet and training methodologies over the years which uncovered the eventual discovery of Paleo from a friend over 12 years ago where he saw instantaneous results that were too good to ignore.

Since that moment he’s been refining and tweaking his own personal framework in an effort to consistently push the barrier of what peak performance is in both health and business. As an advocate for time restricted feeding, he’s hopeful that through Paleonola he can inspire and continue to impact the lives of many more people through smarter nutritional choices and adoption of grain free living. His curiosity allows him to constantly ask better questions and not settle for the initial answers while at the same time pushing the people around him to create the best version of themselves.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Sure, my childhood backstory is fairly vanilla, meaning I grew up on Long Island in New York and played almost every sport as a kid. I also did what a lot of kids do, rode bikes, ate pizza all the time and procrastinated anything that related to school. Around the age of eight, I started playing roller hockey and fell in love with the game of hockey instantly. It was a quick transition into ice hockey shortly after and then I spent the next 15 years focused on doing anything I could to play college hockey and eventually being fortunate enough to have played 3 seasons professionally.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

There was more than just an ah moment. There was that moment of pure frustration first during my days on the road playing professional hockey. I remember being on the bus traveling from city to city thinking that every rest stop had the absolute worst selection of food. The snacks provided at time were considered “healthy-ish” then but by our standards today would be considered glorified candy bars and sugar bombs.

The problem of finding higher quality snacks that were actually real food became increasingly more difficult when I switched to a Paleo/Grain Free diet during the last year of my career playing. Imagine operating every day in the land of “Pasta” and then figuring out what was to eat. During that summer training in the offseason, we had experimented with a lot of different plain snacks that were straightforward and grain free but it wasn’t until that first combination of nuts and seeds was crafted that the taste was too good to ignore and you couldn’t buy that sort of thing anywhere.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if there’s a funny mistake that stands out per se. When we were starting out we made all kinds of mistakes, most of them centered around who to talk to and also listening to other peoples one-way thinking because the industry has a lot of habits that are old school. We tried moving our first ever pallet with a bobcat machine which was definitely a mistake but we were willing to try anything because at the time there was no truck height dock!

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Honestly, the most common mistake a lot of people make starting out is their delusion around going “national.” They think they’ve got the next best product out there and think they can go national overnight. It just doesn’t work that way, sure there are unicorns that come along every once and a while but it takes a lot of work and also you might not want to go that big out of the gate because if you don’t intimately know your product or how good it really is, you set yourself up to make the biggest mistake right out of the gate before learning what could be critical to your businesses survival.

To avoid this, think big but test locally first. That’s the other biggest mistake I see a lot of people make. They raise a bunch of money, get all the fancy packaging and website design, and think they can flip a light switch on and get sales. On top of that, the product is mediocre at best or tastes horrible but they haven’t tested it enough to gain critical feedback. Don’t do that — prove your concept first in a real life setting that doesn’t include friends or family. Get your feelings hurt by real feedback and improve every step of the way.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The first step I would recommend is to write down the idea on a piece of paper and then underneath it write the following WHY WOULD ANYONE CARE. What problem are you solving? If you can get past that exercise then make the product and give it away to a few people to get some initial feedback.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Ever since the first time Gary Vaynerchuk uttered that phrase “ideas are shit, execution is the game” I think a lot of people realized an idea is just that — nothing until you put in the time and effort to execute your vision. I would encourage those who struggle to first examine their idea. If it doesn’t excite you, keep you up at night or make you look forward to leaving your current profession every single moment of the day, trash the idea and start over. If you really have a great idea and you’re passionate about it, it can feel like where do I even start — spend 30 minutes on your idea every day for 30 days straight. Move the needle forward and start with the smallest thing possible. Don’t get caught up in stuff that doesn’t matter right now, focus on what’s most important right now while keeping those things in your mind for later. Ask simple questions in the beginning — who’s it for and why should anyone care? From there you can figure out how to serve those people. Make sure you are very clear on these things.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I think it depends on the person. For someone that’s completely in the dark but just wants help getting the idea protected I would recommend a consultant but with the abundance of information online today you could literally learn everything you would ever need to know if you put in the time. When you pay a consultant you pay for that time it took for them to gain their expertise in that particular field so just remember that. I also think being a lone wolf is difficult so striking out completely on your own can be challenging.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Personally, you’ll be better off and learn a hell of a lot more by bootstrapping at least in the beginning. This also depends on where you are in your process too. You may have proof of concept, incredible short term growth and a need to hit the accelerator with VC funding. I think you also have to look at what your long term plan is because Venture money has a time horizon tied to it and more than likely you’ll have an exit plan with Venture funding.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

  • Definitely, while I haven’t filed any patents (they really don’t exist on food products) I have filed trademark applications. All the information on how to do that without any issues can be found on the USPTO website.
  • Finding a good manufacturer is something we decided was fairly tricky early on so that’s why we decided to make everything ourselves and become a manufacturer. We started small and continued to grow adding machinery and people as it became necessary. Being a manufacturer is not an easy route but you learn a lot and understand the products you make so much more than if you were just a brand that outsourced that part of the business. Sourcing good raw materials is always going to be an ongoing project. Building out your supply chain is like gardening, you have to constantly be examining where you are relative to the market, who produces the best material for the specification you’re looking for and what constraints you may hit once your volumes get large enough where that becomes an issue.
  • The retailer / distributor discussion is like the chicken and the egg debate, what comes first? Again this depends on where you are in your business. It’s best to sell retail locations on your product and figure out the distribution piece later. For a while, you may be shipping products or delivering products directly until you have enough sales to justify bringing on a distributor.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There are many different facets that make up success but here are five off the top of my head that I can share with you.

A great product — you definitely need something that is great beyond just your opinion. Find the people who absolutely love it then go serve that audience with everything you have. With Paleonola we knew we were onto something by accident. It was when people asked us to make more of something that wasn’t even for sale that we thought this might be a viable avenue to pursue.

Great people — No one can have a successful anything alone. You need to assemble the right people that believe in your vision and have the ability to see things from different angles than you do. As a manufacturer, we have a team of people from all different walks of life and each person brings with them their unique voice/self. Having that ability to see things differently allows people to grow a lot faster than if everyone circles the group think wagon. There’s a difference between a clear vision around a common goal and groupthink and if you’re not careful it’s easy to blur those lines when your team isn’t diverse enough in all aspects of your process. I tell people all the time, I don’t care what level of education they have, if they’re willing to learn and share the truth about things honestly then there’s a place for them here. Additionally, great people go beyond your four walls — your retailers, distributors, merchandising teams, truck driver, mentors etc. The whole mix makes up how successful one can become.

A Great brand reason for existence — if you don’t have a clear ‘why’ around your existence then you’ll burn out or lose passion once you get rejected 50 times in a row. There will be plenty of rough, challenging days where you ask yourself what it is all for. That reason should be clear enough on those days to give you the strength to push through any short term difficulties. We’ve had some tough days at Paleonola but know it’s all worth it because even when things absolutely suck some days, we know who we’re here to serve and that what we do makes their world better, easier and more delicious.

Constant feedback — looking for what’s true helps you admit your mistakes, learn and then, in turn, grow faster. The legendary Ray Dailo calls it radical transparency. There’s no other way to look at things. We’ve made mistakes along the way and the only reason we’ve been able to get through them is because we’ve confronted those things and been truthful about it all. Sometimes we can lose a lot of product and a lot of money but it’s worth it, in the end, to learn and to keep the products quality and consistency where it needs to be. We’ve worked an entire day walking away with no product and just this lesson alone. This ties back into great people who can help you make better decisions for the group as a whole.

Clear vision and flexibility to adapt to change. You have to believe so strongly in what you’re doing that you don’t get distracted by shiny objects and fad trends that people rush in on. 9 out of 10 times executing your vision takes time. Consistent and deliberate execution drives you closer to the end goal but it’s the ability to change your mind when you think something no longer works that keeps you out of trouble. Sometimes you have to step back and ask yourself if it’s time to cancel a system, process or person you once believed in so much at one point in time. A business is always changing and nothing remains the same if you’re constantly seeking growth opportunities for the betterment of the organization as a whole.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Products don’t just appear out of thin air. There’s always got to be a significant enough reason behind it. If you want to create a product people will go crazy over trying to find an area you think is boring or tired and make it interesting. The granola category was 70 different versions of the same thing until we flipped it inside out. When we told people about Paleonola not having grains they looked confused. This was still during the older dogma times that people believed oats were great for you and didn’t see granola any other way. Additionally, start small. Find a very small audience who is diehard for your products and continue to serve that audience as it continues to grow. Lastly, you should be crazy about it yourself. At Paleonola, I’m constantly amazed by the reaction I have after all these years trying product for quality control reasons. Even though it happens every day I still really enjoy all the differences between the products offered.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Great question. I think these days everyone who gets tripped up in the bigger picture of saving the world has some of the stumbling blocks you had asked about above. It may seem redundant but at Paleonola we focus on changing the lives of one individual in need. We make the world better one bag or bar at a time. We seek to serve those looking for higher quality food products that are grain free. We want the people who are gluten free to depend on us and see us as an extension of their daily routines. Our success has allowed us to reach more people year after year. There’s plenty of people we still want to reach and help take the guesswork out snacking. A world where they don’t have to read the label or question every ingredient because they trust us to know we only use REAL FOOD.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

Another great question that I feel like we’re scratching the surface on. By offering the products we do we’re trying to make clean eating a little easier and feel a lot less restrictive. The movement we’re seeking to inspire through all of this is a way of life where clean eating becomes the norm for everyone. It’s no secret with obesity rates hovering around 40% in the US that there’s a clear problem here. The challenge is that people don’t know where to begin and who to listen to. Taking an evolutionary perspective on health and doing some research on your own is a great place to begin. We want people to ask what’s in their food, it’s the essence around why Paleonola was born.

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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Damn, what a tough question. There are just so many great thought leaders out there. Much of whom I owe a lot of what I like to call “distance mentorship” which is just a fancy term for me devouring the content and information they put out daily in an effort to constantly push myself and continue to grow.

Here are 5 quick ones but the list is crazy long

1. Tom Bilyeu — because this man’s passion is so transparent and he’s done what we’re seeking to do

2. Tony Robbins — an original student who’s impacted a countless amount of lives and has such clarity of thought.

3. Gary Vaynerchuk — whose energy is contagious. Again, the orthogonal way of thinking would be amazing to have lunch with and bounce crazy ideas off of.

4. Ray Dalio and John Paul Dejoria — because the experience between the two is crazy long and there’s something fascinating about people who’ve managed to replicate success beyond even the highest levels.

5. James Altucher — because the brutal honesty and humility are constantly refreshing. There’s a humbleness to all of the success he’s had and it’s admirable.

6. Sarah Blakely, Arriana Huffinton or Marie Forleo — all of which I’ve studied pieces of or read books/interviews about and have contributed a different vantage point of success.

Ok, that’s more than 5 but again — I would love to sit and have a conversation with any one of these people because I believe there’s so much more to what we’ve seen either online, in a book or podcast that they may have done. I also believe that in today’s day we’re very fortunate to have people like the above share their experiences and insights so freely.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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