Have a sense of humor. If you are going to create a successful start-up and survive it, you must have a sense of humor. You want to be able to laugh at yourself and laugh at the situations that arise because someday those moments will be the war stories of your success.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and even bigger 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 Michelle McBride.
GoodSport Nutrition, a Chicago-based start-up founded by a working mom, Michelle McBride, aims to shake up the sports drink landscape with breakthrough innovation the category hasn’t seen in decades. GoodSportTM is a first-of-its-kind natural sports drink made from the goodness of milk that delivers superior hydration backed by science with a delicious thirst-quenching taste.
Michelle conceived the concept after being frustrated with the category options. She didn’t want her son to drink the sports drinks filled with artificial ingredients that were being offered to him at his baseball games, so she gave him chocolate milk as a healthier alternative after his workouts and it provided the inspiration to look at milk as a source of hydration during physical activity.
To bring her idea to life, McBride engaged recognized experts in sports nutrition and dairy. Dr. Bob Murray, PhD FACSM, Co-founder and former Director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute was enlisted to oversee the formulation along with Kimberlee (KJ) Burrington, CFS, from the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin. Andy Friedman, Founder and former CEO of SkinnyPop Popcorn, also joined McBride as the company’s Founding Partner.
Scientific studies have shown milk hydrates better than traditional sports drinks and water. However, milk’s consistency and protein content, which is slow to digest, were barriers for athletes before and during exercise. GoodSport’s patent-pending formula and process cracked the code on how to provide milk’s hydration benefits in a clear and refreshing beverage. A scientific study published in the Journal Nutrients, demonstrated that GoodSport continues hydrating two hours after it is consumed.
Delivering three times the electrolytes and made with 33% less sugar than traditional sports drinks, GoodSport’s ingredients are all derived from natural sources, and the beverage is a good source of calcium, excellent source of B vitamins, is lactose free and shelf stable. “GoodSport is the next-level sports drink athletes have been waiting for,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN, sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs.
GoodSportTM sources its main ingredient sustainably. Dairy companies often ultrafilter milk to make products like cheese and are unable to use the nutrient-rich part of the milk needed to create GoodSportTM. GoodSportTM rescues and upcycles the unused portion of the milk contributing to a more sustainable food chain.
GoodSportTM is available on Amazon.com and goodsport.com in 12 packs of 16.9-ounce bottles in four refreshing flavors: Lemon Lime, Fruit Punch, Wild Berry and Citrus.
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?
My son was playing baseball competitively and I didn’t want him to drink the sports drinks that were being offered to him at his games because they are filled with artificial ingredients and too much sugar. I knew hydration was important but was disappointed by the options and recognized that athletes of all levels faced the same predicament. They had to settle for sports drinks that were either filled with artificial ingredients or ones that didn’t provide any level of hydration beyond that of plain water.
I had read about athletes who drank chocolate milk to recover and brought it for my son as a healthier alternative after his workouts, and it provided the inspiration to look at milk as a source of hydration during physical activity.
With a little research, I learned that milk is packed with the essential electrolytes needed for optimal hydration and that studies have shown milk is far more hydrating than traditional sports drinks and water. So, I set out to make a sports drink from milk that would provide truly effective hydration.
I also recognized that we could use the brand as a platform for real impact. Our mission is to provide highly effective sports nutrition products powered by natural ingredients that are backed by science and to build a brand guided by the belief that greatness starts with goodness.
We keep GOOD at the core of everything we do. Good for You– we create healthy sports nutrition products to help athletes stay safe and perform better. Good for the Planet– we source our main ingredient sustainably by upcycling a component of milk and ensure our business practices are consistent with supporting a healthy planet (the most important playing field of all). Good for Sport– we are committed to inspiring a more positive sports culture aimed at getting more people in the game. GoodSport™ is not just a sports drink. It is a call to action and I’m thrilled we are leading the charge.
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?
Yes, two people helped launch my journey. The first was my partner, Andy Friedman (Founder and former CEO of SkinnyPop popcorn). Andy is a good friend. I told him about the idea of creating a sports drink from milk and he looked at me and said, “I get pitched about 10 ideas a week and I will tell you, that’s not an idea, that’s a really big idea. I think you should go for it.” Soon after, he joined me as the Founding Partner of GoodSport Nutrition. He has also provided invaluable advice and counsel, and his confidence in the idea (and then in me), kept me going when times got tough.
The other person was my husband. You know we talk about equality for women in the workplace but I’ll tell you, if we don’t get equality at home, we stand no chance. My husband has not only supported the idea since day one, and is my number one sounding board and cheerleader, he has done everything he can to share in the responsibilities at home so that I can have the time needed to launch a start-up. From taking the kids to the dentist to grocery shopping and making dinner some nights, he has shared in it all. The impact is significant- it gives me the time I need to dedicate to the business and the bandwidth to enjoy the time with my family. When women have a true partnership at home, they will more easily be able to flourish at work.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We’ve had a few significant “Aha” moments. The first was when I ran a quick google search and learned that milk is packed with electrolytes and that studies have shown milk is more hydrating than traditional sports drinks and water. As soon as I read it, I knew the idea of turning milk into a sports drink was worth pursuing. The second “Aha moment” came when I first met with our Chief Hydration Officer, Dr. Bob Murray, PhD, FACSM (Founder and former director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute) who confirmed that the science on milk was accurate and looked me in the eye and said, “I just can’t believe no one has done this before.” And the third happened when we worked with the lab at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin and learned that we could ultrafilter milk to harness its electrolytes, vitamins and carbs to create a clear beverage with the refreshing mouthfeel consumers would expect from a sports drink. That “Aha” moment that sealed the deal. There was no stopping us at that point.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Two things make our company stand out. First, our product represents true innovation in two very large categories- sports drinks and dairy. We offer a sports drink made from natural sources that provides superior hydration efficacy backed by science with an upcycled main ingredient. There’s just no other sports drink like it. And, GoodSport™ creates a whole new usage occasion for dairy — thirst and hydration. Second, we are a purpose-driven brand dedicated to a marketing platform that’s specifically aimed at creating a more positive sports culture. It’s a different approach from what you see in the sports drink category now.
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?
Tenacity: There were so many times along my journey that I was told “no,” or “you can’t do that” and I just stayed steadfast in my commitment to figuring things out. When our drink needed to be adjusted, I worked with teams of scientists to reformulate. When a supplier wouldn’t work with us, I found another one. When COVID hit, we pivoted so that we could wait it out. Quitting just wasn’t an option.
Grit: Great ideas are exciting but to succeed, you have to be willing to do the dirty work. You remember the jingle, “No job’s too big, no job’s too small”? That has to be your attitude. In the pursuit of my startup idea, I have worked with some of the world’s foremost scientists on sports nutrition and dairy applications, CEOs of multi-billion dollar businesses and leaders of national organizations. But I have also driven hours through dairy fields to haul out a dairy byproduct, cleaned a milk tanker and even shoveled the snow in front of our co-man to make sure the milk tanker wouldn’t have difficulty getting in. It may go hand in hand with tenacity but there was just nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure we had the best odds possible for success.
Honesty: Honesty and integrity must rule. You certainly need to be able to market and sell your idea but do so with facts and data. I feel it’s important to be honest with everyone you deal with — investors, customers, vendors, etc. Honesty builds trust and trust builds stronger relationships.
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”?
The highs and lows of entrepreneurship are extreme. Success comes from figuring out how to survive the lows. To survive the lows you have to start by putting things in perspective so you can keep your wits about you. Inevitably, no matter what industry you are working in, you will hit a big roadblock. The key is not to panic. You can’t think at your best when you are scared. Make yourself take several deep breaths, remind yourself that there are no lives on the line- it’s business, you are playing a game of strategy. Then take your time to figure out a solution.
After we spent years developing our drink, creating a supply chain for our main ingredient and just a month before we were going to go into production, our co-manufacturer called to inform me that they would require such an inordinately complicated and expensive delivery mechanism that it was just simply infeasible. My heart sank, my stomach tied in knots and my face turned beet red. But I refused to panic. I calmly told the individual who had the unpleasant task of delivering the information to me that, “This is very disappointing to hear but I am not prepared to respond to you right now. I am going to need a day and then I will call you to set up a meeting with your team so we can find a solution that meets both of our needs.” When I hung up the phone, I allowed myself to be disappointed but not to panic. I took a walk, cleared my head, then started making phone call after phone call to figure out an alternate solution. The following day, I called back, set up that meeting and was able to propose a solution that worked for both sides. If I had wasted the day complaining or panicking, we wouldn’t have gotten it done.
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?
The decision to bootstrap or seek venture capital has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. If you have the ability to bootstrap without causing financial hardship to you or your family, initially bootstrapping is a great way to go. It gives you flexibility and you maintain more control of your company. However, if you are putting yourself or your family in a risky financial situation by bootstrapping, it will ultimately create out-sized risk for your business because you will wind up making business decisions based on the financial implication to your family and not what is in the best interest of the company.
Seed funding from family and friends is another way to help make sure you have the working capital to run your business and keep the most flexibility for future capital needs. You can often make enough progress with seed funding to get to a better point to bring in institutional capital when you are ready to scale.
When it comes to Venture Capital, the right partner(s) will provide growth capital AND strategic value. Not all money is equal. If you can work with a VC who provides a level of expertise or connections your company doesn’t have, their money can bring greater value and so institutional funding may be the better option at any point you have that fit.
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
- Start with a great idea. Really- it has to be a great one. Don’t just take someone else’s great idea and paint it another color. Your idea should be something that is truly differentiated from everything else in the category or that creates a new category altogether. Do your research so you know the competition and ensure that your product/service is differentiated in a material way that consumers will care about. Consider interviewing potential customers for their objective feedback and to confirm the marketplace will have interest in your idea.
- Secure adequate funding. Having adequate operating capital is essential. Do your research to learn what it will cost to launch and run a business of your type, in your industry. As an indicator, find out how much capital other successful entrepreneurs in your space have raised. And I’d suggest, don’t say to yourself, “I can get it done for less.” That’s most likely not going to be the case and isn’t the best way to set yourself up for success.
- Hire a great team. First, hire people with experience that compliments, not duplicates your strengths and skill set. You don’t want everyone going to all of the same meetings — that defeats the purpose of having a team. Second, hire people who truly want to work at a start-up and/or have prior experience in a start-up environment. The pace, the resources and the expectations are wildly different in a start-up vs. an established business. Finally, hire people you like. You are going to spend a lot of time together, so you should enjoy the company of the people on your team and it will help create the corporate culture you want.
- Be continuously learning. Books, newspapers, podcasts, conferences, panels. You want to know everything you can about your industry, business, leadership, consumer trends, etc. The learning never stops.
- Have a sense of humor. If you are going to create a successful start-up and survive it, you must have a sense of humor. You want to be able to laugh at yourself and laugh at the situations that arise because someday those moments will be the war stories of your success.
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?
They get so caught up in their idea that they don’t listen to others with more experience. A great idea is just the first part of the puzzle. Then you have to know general business practices and all about the industry you are working in. It’s naïve to think you aren’t going to experience some of the pitfalls that other entrepreneurs and leaders in your industry have faced. You can avoid making common errors by listening and staying informed and survive the pitfalls by being prepared for them. Devour information- read, listen, learn. Take the lessons of others’ successes and failures and apply them to your business.
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?
Almost every book, interview and/or podcast about entrepreneurship talks about the importance of self-care. You know what? It’s as important as they say.
If you decide you are going to start a company, you should commit to a self-care plan as much as you do to your business plan. For me, I made a schedule for my workouts which are as important to my mental wellbeing as physical. I plan my weekly calendar around my workouts, not the other way around so I know I will always have time to fit them in. I also go for walks several times throughout the business day. I may take a call while I walk or just get out for 5 minutes. There is science that shows that getting out in nature and fresh air helps keep you mindful. When times are particularly stressful I also recommit to my meditation practice. Meditation doesn’t take long to learn or to get back on the horse if it’s been a while. Once you get in the habit, you can get away with a 3 minute meditation break and feel like you have gas to get you through the rest of the day. I also find it helpful for “re-entry” at home. I let everyone know I’m home but that I need 15 mins to meditate so that I can clear my head and then I am much more present for my family and find the interaction much more enjoyable.
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?
GoodSport is a call to action. It’s a movement to create a more positive sports culture so more people reap the benefits of participation. We are going to reset not just how sports drinks are done but how we support athletes and how the game is played. We need to move away from the “win at all costs” mentality that is pervasive in sports today and instead prioritize and celebrate sportsmanship, character, grit and determination.
Sports teaches teamwork, leadership, humility, and has a direct correlation to things like higher high school graduation rates and lower drug use. But parents and coaches — we are taking the fun out of sports, causing our kids to drop out at record numbers. Kids shouldn’t be “retiring” from sports because of “all the stress” or because their bodies have worn out from overuse. We have to prioritize fun again- and not at the expense of a great competition by the way- because a great competition is great fun!
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.
I love sports industry people who see the bigger picture around the impact sports can have on people’s lives. I’m always interested in meeting athletes who have demonstrated an excellence of character that is equal to the excellence they have demonstrated in their sport. It’s hard to name just one person I’d like to meet but my list definitely includes Candace Parker, Simone Biles, Julie Foudy, Steph Curry, and Magic Johnson.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!