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Brian Larsen: “Take care of yourself”

Take care of yourself. I was the poster child of burning the candle at both ends for many years, and my health suffered tremendously because of it. I had five surgeries in a period of three years! Once I realized that I was much more useful and effective after having gotten some rest and spending […]

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Take care of yourself. I was the poster child of burning the candle at both ends for many years, and my health suffered tremendously because of it. I had five surgeries in a period of three years! Once I realized that I was much more useful and effective after having gotten some rest and spending time with my family, I became a much more effective entrepreneur and CEO.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing CEO of RestoraPet Brian Larsen.

As the Founder and CEO of RestoraPet, Brian Larsen is dedicated to improving the lives of pets worldwide — and the people who love them.

After receiving three science degrees, including a bachelor’s of science from the University of Maryland, Brian went on to invent Vitalitrol®, a carbon-based antioxidant that works at the cellular level to replace and rejuvenate dying cells. The creation of this “super antioxidant,” after 10 years of dedicated experimentation, led Brian to launch RestoraPet in 2014.

The restorative supplement for dogs, cats and horses, which includes an original and RestoraPet Hemp product line, exceeded $2.2 million in sales in 2019.

Brian is also a recent MBA graduate of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where he learned to capitalize on his fast-growing company’s enormous success and potential.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Being an entrepreneur has always been in my blood. I started writing music from an extremely young age and released a number of really rudimentary (and, in retrospect, awful!) albums of music before I was a teen. I wanted to develop a tangible product, something I could release into the world. After my Siberian Husky, Bandit, suffered through the final years of her life, eventually losing her battle with cancer, I made it my life’s mission to try and find or create a supplement that would help pets through the aging process. From that point forward, this goal guided every job I took and decision I made, and eventually led to the creation of RestoraPet.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

My journey hasn’t been easy by any means, but I believe wholeheartedly that it all contributes to the greater whole. Losing my mentor and business partner Kenny Kramm to an untimely death was devastating. Kenny attended my wedding in 2016 and it was the last time I ever saw him. Just a few days later, he died suddenly of a blood infection. There was no warning. Kenny was one of the individuals most responsible for my success. He taught me so much about being an entrepreneur and pushed me to strive to be and do more in life.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I wanted to honor Kenny for all he had invested in me and RestoraPet, and this further fueled my desire to make this work. I knew that I would eventually have to focus on RestoraPet full-time if I wanted things to really take off. Splitting my focus between the business and my day job as a Director of Nursing became unsustainable at some point. For five years, I worked more than 80 hours a week. In 2017, my Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and between her illness and eventual death as well as Kenny’s the year before, I realized that every day is precious. Though I loved my day job, I knew that my true calling was with RestoraPet, so I decided to devote all my time to it and went back to school and got an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, where I graduated in May.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

RestoraPet is doing incredibly well. We are still holding to our 2020 projections of $10M in revenue (a 500% year over year growth for three consecutive years). We are moving into a bigger facility to ramp up production and we will be adding some new product lines by the end of the year that will continue to build RestoraPet as the best all-natural pet supplement line in the world.

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?

In the early days of RestoraPet, I was doing nearly everything, and that includes answering the phone. When I couldn’t be at the office, I had the phone line forwarding to my cell phone because I felt compelled to be “on call” 24/7. Unfortunately, it didn’t signal to me that an after-hours call was being routed from RestoraPet to my cell. There was definitely one occasion where I answered the phone with a “Scary Movie” style “WHAT’S UP?!” thinking it was a friend calling my personal phone. It only took that one time before I found a service that prompted me that the line was being forwarded from RestoraPet. There’s probably a deeper lesson here, though: set some boundaries and limits. I’m not sure why I believed it was necessary in the earliest days of the company for me to answer the phone at 2am on a Wednesday. It’s critical to give your all, but nobody can work all the time.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

An overwhelming majority of pet parents consider their pet a part of the family and would do anything to make sure they are safe and healthy. Unlike our competition, owing to our exhaustive research and unique products, RestoraPet improves quality of life in a way that pet parents can visibly see, which leads to a remarkable loyalty to our brand. We love our customers.

I knew early in my career that being in the pet space was going to be a good place for me. When I was working at a pharmacy a woman came in to pick up a prescription for herself and her dog. Her prescription had a $10 copay, but her dog’s prescription was something like $60. She paused for a moment, said “I can go without my blood pressure pill this month, but my dog needs her meds, so I’ll just take my dog’s prescription for now.” I realized that people will sacrifice their own comfort, but not that of their pet.

As an aside, I was able to get that customer a $10 gift card that paid for her prescription (and everybody got their treatment that day), but the situation always stuck with me.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The most important lesson for an entrepreneur to learn is to define their “ikigai,” a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “a reason for being,” encompassing joy, a sense of purpose and meaning, and a feeling of well-being. Your Ikigai is what gets you up in the morning and moves you throughout the day. As an animal lover, my Ikigai is the desire to help pets and the people who care for them. I am blessed to have been able to translate that into something impactful and tangible. Every day, I receive letters from pet owners telling me how my products have changed their pets’ lives, and the feeling of knowing I’ve made a difference hasn’t gotten old — not even after almost seven years. I encourage all budding entrepreneurs to take a step back and think about the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, then find a way to monetize that.

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’ve spoken at length in the media about how Kenny was an influence on me, but there other people who have profoundly shaped my life as well. One of my earliest mentors was an English teacher named Kathy Jepsen. Ms. Jepsen was incredible: dynamic, fun, and inspiring, and I formed a particular bond with her. I was a creative and deeply passionate kid, but I didn’t really believe in myself. I’d had a somewhat challenging childhood and needed to hear — from a really parental and nurturing adult — that I had something special to offer the world. Ms. Jepsen always supported me fully and really changed the course of my life. More than 20 years later, I still keep in touch with her. In fact, a few years ago, I was honored that she did a reading at my wedding.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Earlier this year, with COVID-19 ravaging the nursing home population throughout the country and particularly in Maryland, RestoraPet began producing hand sanitizer for donation to nursing homes. I spoke with many of the nursing and Administrators that I used to work with and heard time and again that they couldn’t get any hand sanitizer. Knowing how vulnerable that population is, I found a way to source the ingredients to make hand sanitizer on RestoraPet’s manufacturing equipment and within five days of thinking up the idea, we were producing thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer for donation throughout the state. I think it’s critical to give back whenever you have a chance to do so.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why.

Be lean. Once you’ve found your ikigai, think about how you can monetize it in a way that is profitable. There are lots of great ideas in this world that turn into failed businesses, and a bit of analysis on the front end would’ve shown that the idea could never have been profitable.

Do it yourself. If you’re interested in a product-based business, do everything in your power to produce your product in-house. In doing so, you’ll control the IP, you’ll cut out the middle-people, and you’ll have total oversight of the process from beginning to end. I constantly talk to entrepreneurs who want to start drop-shipping companies. While there are ways to make money doing this, you’ll never become wildly successful selling someone else’s goods.

Build a personal Board of Directors. Bring together five people who will guide you toward success. Firstly, find someone who will ask lots of questions and ask the right ones. Then find someone who can help you make new connections. Thirdly, find someone who will challenge everything you’re doing to push you to be your best. Next, find your “Yoda,” the wise person who will help you leverage your entrepreneurial lessons to grow from them. Lastly, find a “reverse mentor” who will offer different perspectives on what you’re doing. This is the perfect mix of support and challenge.

Build your own business plan. These days, a lot of businesses never develop a formal business plan, but I think it should be the first thing you do when launching a new business. Write it yourself. Dig deep into the finances of your business. Build a great pro forma. Think in detail about where your business is going to go in the next 12, 24, and 36 months. Once you understand inside and out where you want to go, you’ll be ready to launch your business. Then be prepared for everything to change, but your exercise of creating a great business plan will help you understand your pivot points in order to decide what to do next.

Take care of yourself. I was the poster child of burning the candle at both ends for many years, and my health suffered tremendously because of it. I had five surgeries in a period of three years! Once I realized that I was much more useful and effective after having gotten some rest and spending time with my family, I became a much more effective entrepreneur and CEO.

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. 🙂

I would start a fund to provide angel funding gaming house to young, socially-conscious entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas meant to improve living conditions and quality of life around the globe. This is something my wife and I are working on launching in the near future. I think we need to do more to support driven young entrepreneurs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-larsen-49419653/

Facebook — www.facebook.com/restorapet

Instagram — www.instagram.com/restorapet

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