“If you hold a high level of detail about your business, you should be able to counter and get to higher ground before the crisis turns into a casualty.” — Andrew Beltran
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Beltran.
Andrew Beltran is a United States Marine Corps veteran and co-founder of two San Diego-based start-up companies, Original Grain watches and Art of Enso Superfoods. Andrew also serves as a mentor for Active Valor, a San Diego non-profit created to help transitioning veterans continue their service by connecting with children of the nation’s fallen heroes. Andrew’s approach to life and business is to follow his passions and to provide value to people around him. To-date, Andrew and his teams have planted over 500,000 trees and use sustainable supply chains to grow their businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Born in the Pacific Northwest, I have always been inspired by my environment and contributing to my small town in Oregon or the big city in San Diego. My brother Ryan (who’s also my business partner) and I grew up taking on small jobs and working together to make ends meet to help out our single mother to five kids. We would mow lawns and paint houses in the summer months and eventually both started working together at a golf course. Given all of our experiences working together while growing up, we were used to getting our hands dirty and working collaboratively to find systems to get the job done more efficiently. We also played sports throughout high school, which taught us many valuable lessons about working together effectively, with a mutual goal in mind.
After high school, I enrolled into the United States Marine Corps and Ryan attended the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. After graduation, Ryan moved to China, and him and I reconnected there, while I was on a three-day R&R trip during my deployment. It was during this time that we decided to go into business together.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
My brother Ryan and I have developed a certified organic blend of superfoods designed to support the body in many ways, including improving natural energy, immunity, digestion, gut health, focus and endurance, and relaxation at the end of the day. We started our superfoods company, Art of Enso Superfoods, with a mission to help people improve their overall health and quality of life through the power of plants and superfoods. Handmade in San Diego, California, our team works with farmers all around the world to source ingredients to make our superfood products including matcha from Japan, mushrooms from California, maca root from Peru, spirulina from Costa Rica, to name a few.
The idea for Art of Enso Superfoods was born as a result of me battling with years of PTSD and physical and mental rehabilitation from injuries that I experienced while serving in the Marine Corps and maintaining an active lifestyle. I tried traditional western treatment and prescriptions, but they did not help. I started to learn that a healthy lifestyle was more than just taking superfoods, but about living life with intention, balance, and acknowledging that diet is a focal point for overall better health. Notably, the biggest change that I noticed with my health was when I started to eat a plant-based diet, it impacted how my body felt and performed on a daily basis.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I am a United States Marine SGT E-5. During my service, I was attached to the ninth communication battalion and later selected to the Marine Expeditionary Force — 11 MEU. During my deployment, I conducted as 0621-Field Communicator often attached to the Commanding Officer, EOD, HQ and received a Naval Achievement Medal (NAM) for my leadership during my deployment. I did one WestPac deployment throughout the Middle East, spending six months conducting operations throughout Somalia, Yemen, Syria, while providing a military presence in the Straits of Hormuz. We then spent the later half of deployment training our foreign allies, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Malaysia, Singapore, to name a few, on our fighting techniques while also studying their culture. In 2011, I was honorably discharged to pursue a business venture with my brother.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
There is so much to unpack. However, my biggest takeaway was appreciating where I come from and having the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I felt blessed and grateful that I was born into a system that supported growth. Many of the countries that I spent time in during my deployment did not allow their residents to travel, explore their passions or start their own businesses. In Africa, people lived in caves. Being deployed and travelling to many different countries around the world gave me a new perspective that I never had before going into the service and made me really appreciate everything that I was able to do and create at home, in the United States. I was grateful to return home after my discharge and be able to pursue a business venture with my brother and have the freedom to bring my dream and passion to life.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Someone that I view as a hero and am inspired by is a man named Kyle Carpenter, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan. Kyle jumped on a live grenade to protect his fellow Marines, risking his own life.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is someone who doesn’t back down in the face of adversity and someone who is willing to take the lead and set an example for others to emulate even, if self-sacrifice is a possible outcome.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain
Yes, absolutely! The Marine Corps daily grind sticks with me the most. The ability to wake up everyday and be determined is half the battle when starting out as an entrepreneur. Putting in the long hours has never been hard for me. As I develop more business acumen, I’ve seen advantages in my operational mindset, planning for future deadlines, outlining areas where we are overleveraged or underleveraged. Additionally, my time in the service taught me how to be comfortable leading a team. I’ve always taken the approach that the strength of my company will come from the strength of my team and their ability to perform and work collaboratively towards the company vision. Lastly, being in the service has taught me to be able to ride out the ups and downs and know that better days will come.
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 learned all my radio skills from Sergeant Brown. This guy could build an antenna out of anything. He challenged me everyday to create the best communication possible, end to end. When we found ourselves in different frequency ranges and ways to improve communications, he created an antenna out of chairs, extra poles to find a better connection. He was my mentor during my time in the service and helped me grow tremendously.
The person I owe my success in business to the most is my brother, Ryan Beltran. Our ability to work together and figure out business without any background was an incredible journey. I will never forget our come up as entrepreneurs starting our first company, Original Grain watches, the struggle and the courage to test things out that we weren’t sure about. We grew Original Grain over the past five years and are now working to create more balance in our life with our newest company, Art of Enso Superfoods, which was launched with the mission to help people achieve better health and a more balanced life.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis happens when there is a threat or a current event that could tank your current business. A crisis would mean we cannot continue to do the same thing that we do today and be here tomorrow. A crisis calls for a fast and strategic course correction. The most relevant example of a crisis that I have experienced as a business owner is COVID-19. We had to make drastic changes within weeks to make sure we could maintain a business during a crisis. Some of the changes we made include cutting down our marketing spend by 50 percent, scaling back expenses and non-revenue generating channels, and becoming hyper-focused in our efforts to drive profitable conversions. We increased our lifetime value of customers by 40 percent helping us drive traffic from our current base through email and social media.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Before a crisis strikes, it’s important to be prepared and have a solid grasp on your business expenses and forecasts. If you hold a high level of detail about your business, you should be able to counter and get to higher ground before the crisis turns into a casualty.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
- Ask yourself the question, are you injured or just grazed? You must find the leak, where you are hemorrhaging. If you know your business well, you’ll find where you can scale back expenses and non-revenue generating channels. You don’t have to jump the pistol and be a hero to retain business. Hold your ground and slow the bleeding, patch it up and use your resources and team to find coverage. Shoot, move, communicate.
- There are many ways a crisis can be countered. What I’ve found from experience is setting the expectation amongst your partners and developing a game plan around an updated forecast works. We’ve been able to scale back 70 percent of our expenses year over year and remain profitable. If you can manage a profitable business that can scale back to the top-line revenue while unforeseen events occur, the more ready you’ll always be.
- Through challenges, opportunities present. We are currently leveraging the fact that many people are slowing down and have extra time in their days to connect with them. We’ve taken the opportunity to grow our lifetime value of customers and retain them through more personalized messaging and direct and real-time communication including going on Instagram Live to do live Q&As to connect with our community and work on creating more connected and authentic relationships with our current and potential customers.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Balance, courage and experience.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Kobe Bryant. His drive to be the best at what he did and have the ability to re-write how the public portrayed him while improving his craft, as well as creating a new career in content production. He was always re-defining who he was and was able to reinvent himself multiple times throughout his life, leaving behind a legendary legacy.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
When I was 15, I got into a lot of trouble frequently. Break-ins, fights, not listening. I got arrested at school one day and when I saw the look on my family’s face and how they perceived me in that moment, that experience changed my outlook on life. I didn’t want to be that guy who the people closest to me couldn’t trust or count on. From that point on, this experience changed the way I approached life.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Balance — When COVID-19 struck there was a lot to balance. Our staff and their worries, working from home, managing expectations with our customer base, juggling the entirety of the situation, while also knowing that we needed to reduce our expenses immediately and adjust our forecasts. We had to rework our business model to one that worked in a time of crisis and work backwards from there. Ryan and I asked ourselves the question, “Where else could we save?” We connected with our industry partners requesting discounts and free months. We took the approach that each small saving we could get was a win that protected our business and our staff. It was critical that we balanced our operating costs for shipping, back end apps, and advertising efforts and looked at the full scope of the business. When I was deployed, we were expected to balance relationships, political agendas, teamwork, and countless other encrypted information and suppliers. We had to carry out our duties with the thought that a potential crisis was always around the corner and the more we could balance the more we would be prepared for a crisis when it hit.
- Clear Communication — Being able to put out a confident plan of action that’s communicated clearly to your team provides stability and trust amongst employees. When COVID-19 started to impact our community, our normal became a lot different than we were used to, but putting out a clear agenda allowed our team to adjust. When a crisis or a situation strikes, it’s important to adjust and provide clear communication to all of the key stakeholders, which can be the difference in life or death of a business.
- Level Head — Things change quickly but the world keeps going. When a crisis strikes, a level head will allow you to make sound and impactful business decisions. Bills are due, employees are expecting to be paid, uncertainty and fear starts to creep into every conversation, and in general, a lot of responsibility and pressure falls on the leadership team. By staying level-headed in times of crisis and not letting emotions get the best of you, can make the difference between your business staying open or closing its doors.
- Self Sacrifice — Sacrifice may be necessary to get through a crisis. Many medals have been received for sacrifices made in the line of duty, some paying the ultimate sacrifice for their team. During my service, I saw many Marines make sacrifices, big and small, so the platoon was successful in their efforts. As a leader in a company, sacrifice can come in the form of taking a pay cut, picking up extra duties, working extra hours, and making various other necessary sacrifices for the benefit of the greater team. A leader must be willing to plan for a short-term sacrifice knowing that there is an executable plan in place to get through a crisis.
- Wellness — When our mental or physical wellness is not in a good place, it can be challenging to make sound decisions and feel good throughout the day. Take time to connect with yourself, find balance in your diet, make time for healthy daily activities and find a routine that works best for you, in order to operate at your peak level of performance. Our health is a focal point in our overall wellness, which is a big reason why my brother Ryan and I decided to launch our second company, Art of Enso Superfoods, with a mission to help people achieve better health and a more balanced life.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement, I would create a mass movement that would end world hunger and malnutrition. No kids or adults should ever go hungry with the resources our world has. We started Art of Enso Superfoods with the goal of incorporating this vision into our company’s overall mission to help people achieve better health. With each product purchased, Enso gives back to Save The Children, an organization that’s dedicated to giving back to malnourished children.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s ability to digest a business model and spit out facts, consumer connection and scalability is unprecedented. His message lands massively with me. Gary reminds me of a corporal I had while in the service, that had a similar way of being about him. I love that Gary is constantly giving away knowledge and supporting millions of people with his message.
How can our readers follow you online?