Nick Desai of Snack it Forward: “Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Here at PeaTos, we always joke about the ’20-year overnight success story’. It often seems like brands are successful overnight, but I’ve never seen that actually happen. The public sees the top 10% floating above the water, but the other 90% of persistence, failure and work ethic that […]

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Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Here at PeaTos, we always joke about the ’20-year overnight success story’. It often seems like brands are successful overnight, but I’ve never seen that actually happen. The public sees the top 10% floating above the water, but the other 90% of persistence, failure and work ethic that all companies have gone through is sitting underneath the surface.

Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Nick Desai, Founder and CEO of PeaTos™/Snack it Forward. Prior to creating the breakthrough brand, Desai was an entertainment attorney before transitioning into investment banking. Leading the acquisition of a snack food manufacturer in 2011, he entered the food and consumer space and in 2016 led the acquisition of World Peas Brand. Assembling some of the brightest minds in snack manufacturing, Desai developed the wildly popular PeaTos™ by using proprietary technology and providing the sensory experience of popular “junk food” snacks without the junk. A sought-after industry disruptor, Desai and his products have captured the attention of Vogue, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, NBC’s TODAY show and more. A undergraduate of the University of California, Irvine, Desai earned his advanced JD/MBA degrees from Loyola Marymount University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Inmy past life before founding PeaTos and Snack it Forward, I was in the investment banking and private equity world. In 2011, I came across a snack food company that I thought would be a great fit for a concept I had been contemplating for a while. Inspired by my travels to India as a kid where peas and lentils are used as the bases for snacks, I wanted to reinvent the way we snack in the U.S. Why couldn’t we take the taste and texture of America’s favorite snacks, but use cleaner base like peas instead of corn and potatoes?

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned since launching PeaTos is that you really need to value marketing. I think in the beginning I underestimated its importance. You can’t just make a great product and expect people to find out about it, you have to heavily invest in your marketing efforts to raise awareness and communicate who you are. Consumers are often attracted to brands based on who they are, and not just what they are.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As a company, we really place an emphasis on culture. We have a fairly flat structure with an open-minded and curious startup vibe. Anyone can contribute to anything even if it’s out of their scope of work, and because everyone is given equity in the company, it helps foster an ownership mentality across the board. We are also consistently striving to do our best — whether through products, marketing or operations — and I think that shows externally in our products and mission as well.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on a few exciting things right now. Our new marketing campaign will be centered around really understanding how PeaTos are similar to what people love, but also a different and unique concept. It’s a very specific narrative, and it takes a deft hand to craft our messaging. We’re also developing a new product which will launch in Q4 of 2020, but I have to keep the details of that under wraps… for now.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Branding is who you are, and advertising is how you tell that story to others. Branding is knowing at your core what is your composition, what your makeup is, and staying consistent with that messaging. For us, the notion of “junk food taste made from peas” is our branding, but then how do we communicate that story? We use humor, we use facts and we use drama to tell that story. There are many ways to tell a story and advertising is all about how, when and where you choose to communicate that.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

A brand has to exude passion and energy, and this comes from the energy that the team puts into it. Going above and beyond paid marketing and advertising which anyone can buy, and being strategic, consistent and innovative with your voice. The intangible passion and energy become contagious and that is what propels special brands forward.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

These are the five strategies that I believe are key to building a trusted and believable brand:

  • Be genuine to who you are
  • Have something that’s unique and different
  • Stay consistent with your messaging
  • Don’t follow trends and fads
  • Always keep your consumer top of mind

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I look to resilient brands that have lasted through decades, product changes and tough transitions to guide my principles. Apple is a great example in the tech world. They have a lot of ingenuity in their products, but they keep the consumer first. They’ve had a very consistent approach to how they design their products and how they portray their brand, getting people to understand the “why” of their products and not just the “what”. They’ve really tapped into consumer engagement and know how to create excitement like no other brand I’ve seen. The loyalty of their consumer base is truly remarkable.

Disney is another great example of a company that has been around for almost a century, but still continues to innovate, stay relevant and advance their products. Even some of the brands that we call our “nemeses” like Cheetos and Doritos have done a really great job of providing a consistent product with a consistent message.

All of these companies are focusing on the product and product experience first, which is paramount. It seems a lot of newer companies have gotten caught up in the notion that your brand and your story are priority. Too many brands are focusing on storytelling, but the products themselves are not exciting. I think to truly sustain as an organization you need to have a great product and positive consumer experience and then weave in a great brand narrative.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

At PeaTos we generally focus our energy on measuring sales. I think if you’re focused on building a business, at the end of the day it has to translate to sales and revenue. You can’t say you have a great brand, but no one is willing to spend their money on it. What defines success as a brand is consumer loyalty and their willingness to spend money on your products or services — often at a premium price point.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media is a direct line to consumers, and using the platforms properly is a huge driver of brand awareness. It’s also great because you can control your own narrative. However, there are challenges with how fragmented it is, and whether it actually has ROI. We’re still understanding how we can actually convert social media spend into actionable sales. We’re in the early stages of figuring that out, but there’s no way you can ignore the importance of it. I think a lot of brands haven’t figured out the secret sauce, but are throwing money at it. We’re determined to try and figure out the best way to engage with consumers in an authentic way.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Here at PeaTos, we always joke about the ’20-year overnight success story’. It often seems like brands are successful overnight, but I’ve never seen that actually happen. The public sees the top 10% floating above the water, but the other 90% of persistence, failure and work ethic that all companies have gone through is sitting underneath the surface. Every entrepreneur is going to have moments where they question themselves and their business success. I’ve done it many times, however, having tenacity, grit and belief in yourself is absolutely necessary.

You also can’t underestimate how important spending time with friends and family is, and engaging in hobbies outside of your work. It’s needed for balance.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

We’re working to create a movement here at PeaTos. We want to get 90% of people to eat 10% better. Snacking isn’t going anywhere, and we want to make it as enjoyable as possible, but in a more nutritional manner. We want it to be broadly appealing and accessible for everyone and not something that’s niche.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote from Winston Churchill that I often refer to is “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” I think that sums up entrepreneurship really well. I use that one in my life daily. You will inevitably hit highs and lows when you run a business, and viewing it like this puts everything into perspective.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m always fascinated with business leaders who have created really innovative concepts and ideas, and have moved the world through them. People like Elon Musk and Bill Gates come to mind. Warren Buffet is also a great example of someone who has had so much success and longevity in their career. It’s very inspiring.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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