“…I am an optimist. I see the possibility in this great challenge, and we have the chance to make sustainable change. My encouragement is directed to white men — spend time learning about your incredible advantage and use that advantage to advantage others. Become a powerful ally to support women, minorities, and people of color. My partners and I are actively working to create more access for black executives to attain board seats. We believe change starts at the top and bottom. We’ve seen great grassroots movements; we now need to transform the board rooms of corporate America to create a new structural model where equity and justice prevail.”
As a part of our series about “Social Impact Investors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Replogle.
John Replogle is a leader in the conscious consumer and mission-driven brand movement, with extensive experience leading fast growth, high performing businesses including Seventh Generation and Burt’s Bees. John is a Founding Partner of One Better Ventures, a Real Leader 100 social impact firm that advises and invests in mission driven consumer goods companies. He also serves on the Boards of Seventh Generation, Dartmouth, Leesa Sleep, Cree, Melissa & Doug, Beautycounter and BEST NC. He and his wife Kristin live in Raleigh, NC and they are proud to have raised four smart, strong daughters with big hearts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us John! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For me, it started with a spear in the chest moment when I was President of Guinness. I had been working on my mission statement and spent the morning with my coach. I did a quick hand-off with my wife taking the kids and hopped in the car. As I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the young, innocent eyes of my daughters looking back at me, I realized that I was on the wrong path. I needed to find my calling and align work with my purpose. From there I moved to Unilever, then Burt’s Bees and ultimately to Seventh Generation before co-founding One Better Ventures with my partners.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
We chased quite a few companies and we were hungry to do a deal and “fell in love” with the team and idea. We were overjoyed when one of the companies loved us back. We were in business! Unfortunately, the lesson learned was that you have to balance the head with the heart and do the proper diligence to ensure the business model is differentiated and sustainable.
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?
The greatest tipping point in my career was at Burt’s Bees. It’s when I came to truly understand the power of business as a force for good. Collectively, it is powerful. We had a brand that was differentiated and resonanted with consumers. We pushed the limits on natural and sustainable and we built a “love” brand. Moreover, our purpose was compelling and allowed us to build a “love” culture. It was a heady combination that allowed us to attract great talent and great capital for great performance!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person or mentor to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have so many and without them I would never have realized my potential. I am grateful to Shaun Holliday, Gary Matthews, Steve Nelson and Bill Munn. They all pushed me to believe in myself, take the big risk, lead with EQ and serve a higher purpose. Increasingly, I spend my time sharing the lessons they shared with me with others. Nothing lights me up more than connecting with a young professional and helping the light come on for each of them!
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but are afraid of the prospect of failure?
The greatest failure is fear. If you give up on fear, you’ll be able to fulfill your dreams by taking big risks, testing, learning and pursuing your passions. What is success? If it is money alone, you will likely be fearful to lose. If it is about growth and impact, then you’ll have the courage to go for it! Go for it!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?
You could not be more correct, and yet, I am an optimist. I see the possibility in this great challenge, and we have the chance to make sustainable change. My encouragement is directed to white men — spend time learning about your incredible advantage and use that advantage to advantage others. Become a powerful ally to support women, minorities, and people of color. My partners and I are actively working to create more access for black executives to attain board seats. We believe change starts at the top and bottom. We’ve seen great grassroots movements; we now need to transform the board rooms of corporate America to create a new structural model where equity and justice prevail.
You are a VC who is focused on investments that are making a positive social impact. Can you share with us a bit about the projects and companies you have focused on, and look to focus on in the future?
We only invest in companies that believe in and use the power of business for good. We love B Corps and use this as a screen for investment. One of our favorites is Leesa Sleep. Until recently Leesa was the only B Corp in the sleep industry! Leesa has a mission to eradicate childhood bedlessness. About 20% of American kids live in poverty and nearly 4 million kids do not have a bed to sleep on each night. Leesa wants to change that and believes that the American dream starts with a great night’s sleep. To this end, Leesa has a 1:10 program where for every 10 mattresses purchased, Leesa donates a mattress to a kid or family in need. To date, Leesa has donated 40,000 mattresses providing over 1MM better nights of sleep each month.
What you are doing is not very common. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to focus on social impact investing? Can you share the story with us?
My perspective was formed by my experience at Burt’s Bees and Seventh Generation. The simple truth is that B Corps, or purpose led companies, have outperformed the average company on every metric. In short, impact investing is good business. I am inspired to do both well and good and it fuels us One Better Ventures as we grow.
Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC investment? Or an investment that you are most proud of? What was its lesson?
I am most proud of Seventh Generation. The company is a true pioneer making a positive impact for social and environmental justice. Seventh Generation is transforming the home cleaning industry and setting a higher standard for the “goliaths” to follow (P&G, SC Johnson, etc). In the process, the company has quadrupled in sales in the past 8 years, expanded globally and has helped millions of consumers choose cleaner, safer home care products. Seventh Generation believes that you can’t live a healthy life on a sick planet and, to care for people, we must be conscious leaders and care for the planet. The lesson is that when you do what is right, the consumer will recognize your commitment and commit to your success!
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?
The failures we have had were in pursuing companies and CEOs that only paid lip service to their mission and having a positive impact. This is not an easy dimension to assess but it is essential. If the CEO does not have the conviction to make an impact, move on!
Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?
Yes, early on the first investment we reviewed was Daily Harvest. We had a split vote and we were not fully clear on how we would make an investment decision. We opted not to pursue the investment. Well, wouldn’t you know that Daily Harvest is now 10x the size in the past 4 years and is becoming a defining platform in fresh frozen foods. Personally, I learned to trust my gut. I had a great feeling about the company, but we didn’t have the metrics and approach formalized to truly assess the investment.
Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC investment” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Passion and conviction of the CEO
- A differentiated brand and positioning
- An unmet consumer need that is met by the company
- A measurable social/environmental impact that defines the company’s purpose
- A financial model that can scale and deliver long-range returns
You are a person of enormous influence. 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. 🙂
I think we have several crises we face as a shared humanity. For me, however, number one is related to environmental sustainability. All human life depends on caring for our planet. We have a finite set of resources we are quickly exhausting, we are eradicating biodiversity, our climate is rapidly deteriorating, and we suffer acute shortages in the future around clean water, clean air and clean soil. So the movement I would love to inspire is for each company to think not just about their internal costs, but also consider and take ownership of their external costs — pollution, waste, carbon, etc. If every company took this approach and “adopted” their hometown, we would change the world. Business is the most powerful force on earth and when we use it as a force for good every human being and living being will benefit!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
My parent’s generation and my generation screwed up and screwed you. I’m sorry, but it’s your future and your turn. Turn a blind eye or follow our approach and we, as a species, will suffer. And in the worst case, perish. Several models show that we only have until 2050. If you are 24 then you will be my age in 2050. You must act now to secure your future! It is said that your calling is where your great strength meets the worlds great need. The world has many great needs — discover your great strength and go out and change the world. Listen to and find your calling!
We are very blessed that a lot of amazing founders and social impact organizations read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
I’ve been really blessed to be influenced by so many leaders who came before me. To them, I am really grateful for the lessons and the path they blazed. I’ve had the good fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants. However, if I could spend time with one giant, I would chose to have breakfast with Larry Fink. Hey Larry, I’ll buy!
How can our readers follow you online?
I am best followed on my LinkedIn page (John Replogle) or you can visit our website at www.1bv.co
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!