Have a purpose and give back. At Chopt it is creating healthier lifestyles by serving healthful craveable food. Our charitable partner is Wellness in the Schools which works to provide healthy food for kids in underserved public schools. At FREE RAIN, we seek to empower those seeking more, and we partner with 1% for the Planet to help support environmental causes.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Colin McCabe, Founder of FREE RAIN & Chopt.
FREE RAIN is founded by father, athlete, outdoor enthusiast, and entrepreneur, Colin McCabe. It is a venture in his pursuit of ‘more’ in every day — more health, more balance, more presence. As co-Founder of the pioneering, salad-focused restaurant chain, Chopt, Colin has shared this philosophy with millions over the course of nearly two decades. Now, he’s also trying to reach people through what they drink.
Colin noticed a gap in the market when looking for delicious, convenient, and functionally beneficial beverages. Turning to an unending source of inspiration, he found in nature the surprising power of adaptogens. Fusing these ingredients with just the right amount of all natural flavor led to the creation of Free Rain: a refreshing sparkling water that actively enhances mental and physical function.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been in the food industry since opening Chopt in 2001. We opened after we saw a hole in the marketplace for fast casual salads. Our goal then, as it is now, is to create healthier lifestyles by making healthy food delicious. I have the same mission at FREE RAIN. I created FREE RAIN because I wanted a healthier alternative to sparkling water that has actual health benefits and tastes better than what is currently in the market.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was basically just a kid and we didn’t really know what we were doing when we started our restaurant concept. We were busy and had long lines so we hired like crazy. We were overstaffed and losing money and our bookkeeper told us as much. I remember one night I had to let go of someone in the kitchen. He was probably in his late fifties, had a family and this job was all he had. And here I was, in my early twenties, with responsibilities that paled in comparison. He cried when I did it and I will never forget the lesson. Never ever hire unless you need to, and act as if that person will be at your company forever. Firing is 10x harder than hiring and can bring unintended material and emotional consequences. I cried that night myself.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
There really is no tipping point, but maybe an idea that you are just further away from failure. There is always a seemingly existential fear one feels as an entrepreneur and success is never final. At the end of the day, you have to rely on your team and strive for excellence in the product you sell.
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?
Mistakes are only funny when you get away with them! I’ve made many mistakes, but in many ways business is mistake mitigation and the ability to have a sense of humor about your mistakes in order to learn and move forward is key. You can run a company without a sense of humor, but it won’t be any fun.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
FREE RAIN just launched this past July, so I’ve been spending a lot of time growing that. Launching during a pandemic was certainly challenging and given that, the plan changed a bit and there have been a few curveballs. I’m very focused now on bringing the product to retail and later this week FREE RAIN will be available at all Chopt METRO NY locations so that in addition to our salads and bowls, people will be able to grab an all natural adaptogen powered FREE RAIN.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Founded My Company”? Please share a story or example for each.
There are valuable lessons for a Founder to learn that I wish someone told me before I started Chopt and FREE RAIN.
- Know what you don’t know. If you don’t, you will surely learn in your first board meeting.
- Never compromise on the quality of your product. Once you raise real outside money, most likely there will be pressure to do so. Resist it like your job depends on it.
- Have a purpose and give back. At Chopt it is creating healthier lifestyles by serving healthful craveable food. Our charitable partner is Wellness in the Schools which works to provide healthy food for kids in underserved public schools. At FREE RAIN, we seek to empower those seeking more, and we partner with 1% for the Planet to help support environmental causes.
- You are only as strong as your team. This is obvious, but critical. Pick your partners and employees with extreme care. The road is littered with companies that have failed due to partnerships gone awry.
- Check your ego at the door. Admittedly, harder in practice than theory, but ego ruins relationships and leads to bad business decisions.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I see this all the time, and from people much smarter than myself. If you are not taking time to care for yourself and other responsibilities, you are not doing yourself any favors. Aside from family obligations, the one non-negotiable I have is exercise. I have to carve time out to spend time in nature in different activities and I encourage and support my team to do the same. If we don’t take this time for ourselves, everything else falls apart.
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?
My wife, Rebekah. She is extremely accomplished in her own right and has a preternatural calm that helps me when I need it the most. She finds calm in talking through issues, when I normally wouldn’t — and it always works. As an advisor to FREE RAIN, she compliments all of my weaknesses and always seems to see the path forward.
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!
FREE RAIN’s goal is to harness the power of nature so that we can find more in our lives. The intent with this product is to lead consumers to a better appreciation for the environment and an understanding that nature is the source for what we put in our bodies. My goal is to leverage the FREE RAIN platform to start a movement for people to spend more time outdoors. We all need some time in the elements, moving our bodies, breathing fresh air and appreciating nature.
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