Integrity: Make sure everyone you’re working with can stand behind what you’ve created.
The right team: You want people who will put more in than just hours. Who will contribute to the brand’s success beyond the profits?
The right partners: You can’t do it all under one roof — so you need partners you can trust to create your product at the standard you expect.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Persofsky.
Jonathan Persofsky is the co-founder and CEO of Green Gruff, an all-natural, sustainably-made pet supplement brand designed to address common canine ailments. Green Gruff works closely with veterinary experts to offer the most compatible and effective supplements for canines so they can live their best day, every day. Prior to founding Green Gruff, Jon was the co-founder and Operator of Barque Smokehouse, Toronto’s top BBQ restaurant.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Prior to Green Gruff, I was a restaurateur operating several Barque Smokehouse locations. In building Barque’s acclaimed BBQ, I designed the restaurant from a customer perspective, based on what I’d want my experience to be eating out. What I really love about hospitality is the ability to control every element of a person’s experience and constantly refine it to be the optimal one.
Giving my customers the best experience possible, whether it’s BBQ or dog supplements, has always been my top priority; when I was presented with the opportunity to dive into CBD for canines in early 2019, I knew I had to create the best possible product for dogs.
CBD was only just starting to become mainstream for humans, and there were small studies being published on the efficacy of the cannabinoid on canines. The available products for dogs were really lousy. Companies were trying to capitalize on the growing trend without offering much value to the pets themselves. That’s when I realized that there was a real opportunity for me to create a company that was entirely pet focused.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Taking vitamins and supplements is common practice and even encouraged; but we just assume that our pets get everything they need from their packaged foods — wet or dry — and don’t need any supplements themselves. When I made the connection between human wellbeing and pet wellbeing, I realized that my dog’s nutrition wasn’t as simple as if my dog seems good, he’s fine and if he’s sick then I’ll take him to the vet. There was a way to give my dog, and other dogs, a better life, and that became my purpose in creating Green Gruff.
My own experience with dogs showed me that problems like joint pain and anxiety are quite common, and a lot of owners see those issues as inevitable. I was able to give my second dog, Nala, some of our first batches of Green Gruff chews to relieve the pain in her hips and joints, and I noted the remarkable difference in her attitude and energy. I wish that I would have been able to give my family dog, Rusty, who lived to twenty, the help he needed those last few years to move easier and have less anxiety.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My mom is a serial entrepreneur. She’s started about 30 businesses to date! So, I grew up in a household where that’s what we talked about at the dinner table: looking at the world and seeing gaps in consumer needs that we could fill by bringing a product to market or creating a new experience.
My mother introduced me to cricket protein and canine CBD through investor decks that were presented to her. When I looked at the research and realized that I could create a product that would greatly improve a dog’s wellbeing sustainably, I knew it was the perfect combination.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Aside from the sustainable production, full-spectrum CBD and products and manufacturing features that are unique to Green Gruff, what really makes us stand out is that we have a really strong reason why we’re here. Everyone on our team believes that caring for our pets is one of our top priorities; and because we love dogs so much, we want them to have the best lives possible.
Even on the manufacturing side, the reason we make everything with solar power, use upcycled plastics for our packaging and cricket protein in our chews is because we know dogs and their consumption have a significant impact on the planet.
I think being a dog-focused company allows us to be different from other canine treats or CBD brands on the market. We’re always thinking about what the future could look like for dogs — not just in regard to their health, but in the world they inhabit.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I wouldn’t say we’ve reached the peak of our success just yet, because we’re still in the early stages of our journey; but I would say that we’re enabling people to think differently about the wellbeing of their pets and extending their own health priorities and goals to include their dogs.
I truly think we should be doing everything we can to help our dogs. We can’t read their minds, but we can be proactive about taking care of their health to help ease whatever ailments they may experience before they are really suffering. They are the ultimate comfort and, even when they’re not feeling their best, they’re doing what they can to cheer us up and keep us company. I feel like we owe it to our dogs.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Never waver from delivering the best. My first job was in the software industry, where I was representing products that, while more affordable, weren’t the best in class. From then on, I really understood that I needed to be able to stand behind whatever it was that I was doing or selling.
- Be open to learning new things. If I had the choice of being the best at one thing or really good at everything, I would choose the latter. I don’t need to be #1 in everything. I have this desire to learn and grow which has allowed me to jump across industries multiple times and see each jump as an opportunity.
- Take the time to think, understand and process. Sometimes, people will go down a certain path because that’s what first came to them, instead of letting things settle before making a decision. I’ve found that often in conversations it’s the silence that gives space for new dialogue — both in business negotiations and everyday conversations.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
As someone who believes that things happen for a reason, I don’t wish to change any of my past business decisions — although I’ve certainly learned valuable lessons from listening to people’s advice. You don’t learn from things you do right because they turn out the way they’re supposed to. I think every past mistake was instrumental to the work ethos and purpose with Green Gruff now.
The worst business advice I ever received was when I was working as a project manager for a software company. I was taught that it was my responsibility as a Project Manager to manage everyone else’s work; but, if you’re micromanaging everyone and not doing any work yourself, it builds up animosity and resentment amongst the team. I think the notion that needs to be twisted is that the best way to help people working for you is to enable them to achieve their goals instead of taking over and doing the work for them. In my own businesses, I’ve taken this bad advice as a reminder to uplift my team while getting my hands dirty as well.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest thing about starting a new business is the inability to work on things in a sequential manner. You have to do everything at the same time, while not having all the answers you need to move things forward. You’re simultaneously learning about packaging, brand design, resonant core messaging, distributors, marketing channels and so much more when you first start out.
I knew nothing about pet supplements (or the industry in general) when I had the idea to start Green Gruff; but, in many ways, that was an advantage for me. I was a blank slate, ready to learn everything I had to accomplish my dream of helping dogs everywhere live better lives.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
My strongest drive is knowing the impact that Green Gruff supplements are having on dogs’ lives. All of the stories we hear and read from Green Gruff customers about the noticeable improvement in their dogs’ health are incredibly motivating.
When faced with challenges, I just focus on the things we can do to move the business forward at that moment. I don’t spend my time worrying about what happens if we don’t do a certain thing. Eighty percent of your problems never happen. You can spend your whole life worrying about those things happening, but chances are they won’t. As with anything in life, there are inherent risks in operating a business, but you must keep moving past them. Accept that those problems are real but unlikely to happen. Otherwise, you’d never sleep! Do the best you can, and don’t sweat the outcome.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
I think of being an entrepreneur like performing an adrenaline sport such as mountain biking or kayaking. You’re in control of the challenge, the speed and the route but there are still a lot of unknown variables and obstacles.
Remember to enjoy every part of the journey. Learn and pick up new skills along the way. If you focus on enjoying yourself, that’s going to get you through the good and the challenging times.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
It’s really about where you are in your business process. It’s about what you’re trying to achieve.
You shouldn’t raise venture capital until you know where you want to be and you have the foundational work necessary to make your vision a reality once you’re financed. If you’re bringing in money, make sure it’s strategic and that you have the right partners.
Bootstrap as long as you can, and then look for the right VC to help you achieve your objectives. At the end of the day, it’s the people you associate with that help you drive the business forward.
It’s not that you can’t get there on your own, it just might take longer and require more sacrifices along the way.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- A strong purpose: If you don’t understand your why, you don’t have a foundation for building a successful company.
- Meaningful differentiators: What sets you apart from the competition should go beyond branding. What additional value are you providing to consumers that would lead them to choose you over other players in the space?
- Integrity: Make sure everyone you’re working with can stand behind what you’ve created.
- The right team: You want people who will put more in than just hours. Who will contribute to the brand’s success beyond the profits?
- The right partners: You can’t do it all under one roof — so you need partners you can trust to create your product at the standard you expect.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A lot of CEOs are of the mindset that ideas sell themselves and can make the company an instant success if the idea or product is good enough. But they have to remember that even if you have the best product on the market, running a business is still a grind. You have to fight for every piece of ground you have if you’re going to make it.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Both in my hospitality business and now with Green Gruff, I’ve found that you really can’t do it all yourself. I’ve always had great business partners, and they’ve been people who can help carry things forward and share the burden. Being a CEO can be lonely because you can’t share everything with your employees or your spouse. You need a place and a person to do that with, someone who can help you solve problems and focus on the long-term goals of the company. You can read a million things about getting enough sleep and exercising — because your personal health is certainly important if you’re going to look after your company — but you also need to prioritize your mental health beyond self-reflection and find a way to relieve the burden you carry.
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’d love to help people develop a greater connection to their home and surrounding environment — whether they live in a bustling city or in a secluded town close to nature. I think there’s an opportunity to connect individual wellbeing to sustainability and find ways to bring that mindfulness to the spaces you inhabit rather than dissociating yourself in the whirlwind of work, life and family.
We are blessed that some very prominent 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.
My wife without the kids. It’s hard to get some quiet time for just the two of us.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathan-persofsky-9bb9881/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!