“Know your subject matter better than anyone else”, Doss Cunningham and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Know your subject matter better than anyone else. So, if you are preparing for a big speech, a high stakes sales pitch or leading a team through difficult change, being extremely well versed in the subjects will allow you to have confidence and ultimately do your best work. As a part of our series about “Optimal […]

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Know your subject matter better than anyone else. So, if you are preparing for a big speech, a high stakes sales pitch or leading a team through difficult change, being extremely well versed in the subjects will allow you to have confidence and ultimately do your best work.

As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Doss Cunningham.

Doss Cunningham is currently the CEO of Nutrabolt, the largest independently owned sports nutrition platform in the world. Nutrabolt’s marquee brands, Cellucor, C4, and XTEND, are among the world’s leading sports nutrition and performance energy lines.

Within the broader nutrition space, Doss is the co-founder and chairman of FitJoy Nutrition, a brand positioned for explosive growth in the rapidly expanding better-for-you active nutrition category. He is also an active investor through LivWell Ventures, a boutique early stage investment office focused on better-for-you lifestyle brands across food, beverage and nutritional supplements.

Most recently, Doss and his wife Danielle founded the GiveJoy Foundation with a mission to provide disadvantaged youth with education and access to healthier nutritional options, physical fitness opportunities and impactful mentorship.

Doss received a B.A. in Accounting and a Master of Science in Finance from Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. Outside of his professional life, he is an avid golfer, sports and fitness enthusiast, proud father and husband.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Austin, Texas. My mother was an elementary school teacher who worked with special needs children, and my father was a small business owner. My parents worked really hard just to make ends meet. Despite the fact that my parents didn’t have a lot of money, I was born with a very healthy appetite for nicer things, which meant one thing… if I wanted something really nice (i.e. Jordan basketball shoes, new video games, etc.,) I had to find a way to come up with the cash. This prompted me to start my entrepreneurial journey at around 10 years old, when I created a neighborhood breakfast taco stand that eventually evolved into a more meaningful catering and delivery service. Throughout my childhood I launched a number of other businesses, including a large vegetable garden that I commercialized through a side-of-the-road vegetable stand, and in my early teens, a summer lawncare business that I started with a few friends. These jobs never scaled to be that big, but they all helped me make some extra money and take some of the pressure off my parents. Growing up, our family activities often revolved around sports. For much of my youth I played baseball, basketball and ran track in the summers. I also played golf for my high school team, winning a tournament my senior year. Out of all the sports I played, baseball was my passion and where I excelled the most, thriving as a pitcher and middle infielder. My mom was always my biggest fan, and it was her love for sports that really influenced me early on. My mother also instilled the importance of a good education and pushed me hard to perform at my very best in school. Unfortunately, my mother passed away when I was 15 years old due to an unsuccessful battle with cancer, and to this day, playing baseball with my mom in the stands cheering me on remains my most fond childhood memory.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

I drew inspiration from a combination of factors. As mentioned earlier, I learned how to make a dollar very early in my life to help buy some of the things that my parents couldn’t afford. The economic reality of growing up in a working-class family and having expensive taste was plenty of intrinsic motivation to create for myself. I also watched my father build his own business, so it didn’t seem so foreign to me. As far as leadership goes… I had the utmost admiration and respect for my grandfather, who was a headmaster at a boys prep school in Memphis, TN. My grandfather was very principled man who always lived up to the values of honesty, kindness, respect for others and putting other people first. My grandfather cared about people and made it his top priority to know every one of his students by name. I always found that to be very impressive considering the fact that more than 600 students attended his school.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My first mentor in business was a man named Poul Bodholt. Poul was the co-founder and first CEO of Nutrabolt. Poul was a true visionary and inspirational leader who took chances on young people who may not have always been the most qualified for a position. He did that with me, naming me to be the CFO/COO of Nutrabolt at the age of 24 years old. Poul believed in me and invested in building my confidence as a business leader from the very beginning. Poul also taught me to dream big and how to be effective in laying out a vision that people would want to follow.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

The best way to increase your probability of success is to establish strategic objectives and set goals, and not just any goals, but very clear and specific goals with well-defined milestones. I like to establish goals within a 5-year framework, during which I try and have a very clear set of objectives and identifiable strategies that I can deliver across a 3-year timeframe. I then give myself the opportunity to dream and be a bit more aspirational in years 4 & 5.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I really enjoyed reading Straight From The Gut by Jack Welch. What I took away from reading this book was how important proactive management was to delivering transformational results. Jack’s aggressive approach to managing talent and his workforce’s performance was critical in enabling GE’s tremendous success. Jack was also fiercely competitive and drove a winning culture that led to GE conquering multiple industries. He was also a realist and cut bait on a number of business units that he didn’t think he could succeed with, showing that despite his confidence, he could still be very disciplined.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Grow and Give Back” is my personal mantra, and Nutrabolt’s adopted mantra. This statement grounds me and the organization in a higher purpose. This mantra resonates with me so much because I believe that as people or organizations continue to grow and achieve, they have a great responsibility to give back and make a lasting impact on society.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Well, there are many…. Within Nutrabolt, we are embarking on a significant digital transformation that will position the company and its brands for even greater success. Within this transformation, we are really focusing on improving our connectivity and level of personalization to elevate the consumer experience. Additionally, my wife Danielle and I are working to try and scale the impact and reach of the GiveJoy Foundation. This charitable organization focuses on addressing struggles of disadvantaged youth in low socioeconomic communities within central Texas, by providing resources to address food scarcity, encourage movement/physical fitness in and out of the classroom, and better equip children with the knowledge to make better decisions regarding their health and wellness. In 2021, we aim to scale the efforts beyond Texas by creating an alliance network that carries the mission into many more zip codes across the United States.

As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

Stress management is different for everyone. For myself, I have never really consciously attempted to manage stress. But, as I reflect on the things I do that likely contribute to me being able to manage through the most difficult of situations or time periods, I think the following are large contributors to my success in this area:

1) Take care of the body. Staying physically fit and being committed to an overall healthier lifestyle gives me the physical and mental strength to deal with challenging situations. I love to exercise and think that the release of endorphins keeps my mind clear and my outlook generally more positive.

2) Instead of being overwhelmed with anxiety that often consumes most people when faced with new challenges, unplanned changes or uncertainties, I try to quickly identify what I can control and move into creative problem-solving mode. I don’t allow myself to be consumed by the emotion of failing or not meeting the challenge, but instead view these situations as a test of my abilities, and to that point, I obsess over finding the solution.

3) I try and compartmentalize work life from home life, and give myself an environment to be able to have 100% focus on each. Obviously, COVID and work-from-home has tested that for so many people, but even as those two worlds may be more physically the same, having a very intentional approach to keep them separate is very important.

4) I try and create approximately 30 minutes each day for myself to do some self-management. This includes looking at my To Do List and reprioritizing as needed, thinking about my progression towards my personal and professional goals, and sometimes just allowing myself time to quiet my mind and not think at all.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

1) Prime your body by getting enough rest, and also maybe a short intense workout that can get those endorphins going.

2) Know your subject matter better than anyone else. So, if you are preparing for a big speech, a high stakes sales pitch or leading a team through difficult change, being extremely well versed in the subjects will allow you to have confidence and ultimately do your best work.

3) Give yourself a reality check on where the “moment of stress” fits in contextually with your life. Said differently, don’t put so much pressure on yourself.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

I try and visualize success ahead of the moment of performance. Rehearsing a successful outcome in my mind’s eye has been very effective for me.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Isolating myself from people and other distractions. This historically is hiding out at a coffee shop or a restaurant in off hours. This isolation allows me to really focus and make great progress.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

1) Regularly set goals and identify milestones along the goal path

2) Carve out time to self-manage against tasks, goals, etc.

3) Establish accountability partners, whether that is a workout partner, a business mentor, or anyone else that can help hold you accountable to your goals and personal development.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Bad habits can be eliminated, but only after one appreciates the negative impact enough to want to change. This happens when the pain of staying the same exceeds the burden of making a change. When someone can no longer live with the consequences of their bad habits, they are much more likely to be able to successfully bring the bad habit to an end. But, because these bad habits have likely existed for some time, it is easy to fall back into the undesired behavior. It really helps to be intentional about environmental factors, and remove influences that are misaligned with you desired goals. To develop good habits, you have to first see those efforts as purposeful. You then need to create a supportive environment that can allow you to maintain efforts until they become habitual. Not only do you want to remove negative influences, you want to try and add positive influences that can deepen your conviction in the new behavior.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I think flow is a very real and often underappreciated state. While I won’t profess to fully understand flow and how it comes on, I think environment plays a huge role. Try listening to your favorite music, or starting a pre-game/pre-meeting routine… try and find ways to quiet the mind and devote all of the focus to the single most important thing you are trying to do. At the end of the day, flow is a rare type of confidence that we often get to witness in the sports world. Even for elite athletes, flow is not something that can usually be summoned on command.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I really struggle with the disparity between the privileged youth and underprivileged youth in this country. For starters, I believe that there needs to be a commitment to raising the minimum standards for education. With public schools getting their primary funding from property taxes, it creates a sustained gap for properly outfitting schools in poor neighborhoods with what they need to provide a good education. I believe that all Americans are deserving of a good education, and that it will be up to private citizens to help close the gap. I don’t have the solution, but I am going to make a lifetime commitment to doing what I can wherever I can to bring about structural change.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, 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.

I would love to meet Elon Musk. I think he is absolutely brilliant, and I really identify with how he is trying to impact society and build bridges for future generations through his focus on sustainability and transformative technological advances.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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