Rob Paladino of Sol-ti: “You likely are your own worst critic”

You likely are your own worst critic. And when confronted with criticisms from investors, partners, or clients, remember that they have a stake in your success too. They have picked you to steer the relationship you share to success. Keep the image of success in your forethoughts. Imagine the feeling of ‘delivering the goods.’ Remember, […]

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You likely are your own worst critic. And when confronted with criticisms from investors, partners, or clients, remember that they have a stake in your success too. They have picked you to steer the relationship you share to success. Keep the image of success in your forethoughts. Imagine the feeling of ‘delivering the goods.’ Remember, it is your role to ideate solutions, so take time to ideate and don’t get in the weeds when you should be trimming them.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Paladino.

Following a successful corporate career with PepsiCo and Coors Brewing Company, Rob Paladino shifted his gaze in the new millennium to the pursuit of professional fulfillment by guiding fast-growing, high credential, privately held, emerging consumer brands.

Since 2000, Paladino has invested in entrepreneurial ventures from raw, to troubled, to exceptional, start-ups. First building and exiting a distribution business, then resurrecting a children’s beverages & housewares venture, then branded financial services. There, he steered a small sales fleet into a proactive team of 200+ enthusiastic sales and marketing reps with unparalleled commitment to precision merchandising. These endeavors were followed with the guidance of entrepreneurial ventures in the fields of Children’s Natural Juices, Unbiased Online Hotel Reviews, Balance & Dizziness Physical Therapy and Lithium-Ion Batteries. From 2014 to 2016 he served as CEO of emerging brand WTRMLN WTR and achieved triple-digit year-over-year expansion into 15,000 retail outlets through 2016.

Today, after serving as an advisor to Sol-ti Living Beverages for several years, Paladino holds the position of President since the summer of 2019. He guides all elements to ensure successful long-term growth including building a world class team, developing retailer relationships, expanding distribution in new channels, and overseeing production, sales, finance, operations, marketing, and legal matters. Sol-ti is one of Paladino’s ‘exceptional start-ups’ with which to advise and support — with an intelligent, driven, and collaborative Founder. The past 18 months have yielded 300% year over year growth, achieving the usually elusive goal for emerging brands, positive cash flow.

When not strategizing his latest venture, Paladino is a private, turbine-rated aviator, and enjoys golf, fitness and aquaponic farming — the cultivation of organic fruits and vegetables nutrified by the simultaneous cultivation of tilapia.

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 corporate upbringing instilled the rigor of sales, marketing, process, and human initiatives. I found it fulfilling after 18 years corporately to insert my experience and talents in the businesses of entrepreneurs with excellent vision, but perhaps not the systems and processes to realize those visions.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The first and most humbling learning experience presented itself in my first entrepreneurship following the corporate environment. My business was in distribution of construction supplies to owners and builders of repeating projects across the US. At any point in time, multiple containers of custom goods were inbound to the US from Europe and the Pacific Rim, when 9/11 interrupted the progress of our client businesses. As our containers arrived with no releases to the projects and inventory costs mounted, with receivables delayed, we tripped our bank covenants. We did not give up or in, but worked personally and professionally with our bank partner to restore our cash positions within covenants over a six-month plan. Through this, the motivation was retention of staff and continued support of the households dependent on our small business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

It was easy to learn a LOT about the importance of communication in business and client relationships. I once ordered a container of Flush Mount devices from a Chinese provider. Upon arrival in the US, we discovered they were marked “Sucking” not Flush. We had 24 hours to relabel 7500 pieces.

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

Today I serve as partner and President in the rapidly emerging company, Sol-ti. Sol-ti stands out by living the mission of providing liquids of vitality, while also preserving our planet with the use of sustainable glass packaging. The fact that the founder pivoted from 100% juice to SuperFood SuperAde and SuperShot lines is testimony to the fleet footedness that makes Sol-ti, Sol-ti.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You likely are your own worst critic. And when confronted with criticisms from investors, partners, or clients, remember that they have a stake in your success too. They have picked you to steer the relationship you share to success. Keep the image of success in your forethoughts. Imagine the feeling of ‘delivering the goods.’ Remember, it is your role to ideate solutions, so take time to ideate and don’t get in the weeds when you should be trimming them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There is a soul mate who believed in me. Regardless of those matters that stressed or were joyful, I had someone with whom to share the moment, in whom to confide and with whom to commiserate or celebrate. After all, we work to live.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Three attributes define a great company — extraordinary controls of processes, excellent people and an exceptional product consumers need and want. I have seen average products with great execution by great people be great products — and outperform amazing inventions with poor execution.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Improvements to Human Resources
  • Mapping and redesigning operational processes
  • Honest assessment of product attributes and consumer acceptance
  • Financial stability and understanding how businesses graduate across financing sources
  • Faith, confidence, and trust in yourself as a leader — projecting conviction and stabilizing the environment.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

We at Sol-ti strongly believe in the mission of removing single use plastic from the waste-stream. And we don’t just talk, we walk the talk. We package in glass for purity, people, and the planet. In 2021, we are removing plastic closures and retrofitting our very advanced bottle filling equipment to aluminum closures. Without question, our commitment is a contributing factor to social media acceptance, and to consumer purchase behavior when comparing and contrasting our product to other products in the set.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

At the risk of repeating a cliché, to fail to plan is to plan to fail. Every business leader can measure, assess, and read the consumer acceptance. The recruitment of new loyals or the depletion of loyals MUST be measured. And the failure to plan is the failure to see new consumer desires. Like advice not to ride a stock emotionally, business leaders must see when to abandon a product in low or no growth mode and redirect attention to advancement and growth.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

In consumables, as opposed to service or durables businesses, overcoming challenging economic resistance is a factor of appealing to consumerism. And in food and beverage consumables, elasticity of demand is associated with price, volume, functionality, taste, and fashion. All these instruments in our symphony help us to withstand turbulent times.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Without question, listening. Leaders who believe they must have the answers, rather than elicit them, are the obstacle and they don’t know it. At Sol-ti, when motivated to overcome the challenge of removing our plastic caps from the waste-stream and converting rolled on pilfer proof aluminum, I had strong opinions on how to position this with consumers from experience. It was not my inclination however to ‘tell’ the team, but to listen. And I am certain our positioning, when launched in March 2021, will be the product of collaboration and group intuition.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Listening. Yep. Provided your product or service truly performs in addressing the needs and wants of a prospective buyer, your best tactic is to ask questions for clarity, listen to the answers, not hear them, and form your product or service into a solution.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Continuity of mission and consistency of product quality.

Mission: When consumerism includes badging (identifying one’s self by the consumption of your product) you wear a mantle of trust. That your brand standing, and actions will continue, without fail to deliver the identity the consumer feels is their own. Sol-ti is Best in Glass® for Purity, People, and the Planet. We know our consumers expect and deserve our highest quality glass bottled beverages.

Quality: Even mediocre product quality consistency outweighs wide ranging variability, or worse, failure to meet expectations — in goods or services. Strive for excellent quality, achieving it and repetitively delivering it is the base of a trusted or beloved brand.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Knowingness and lagniappe. Anticipate at every step of your customer experience the sensation from the customer’s eyes. Is that email brief but rich in information? Is that eCommerce packaging ‘on brand?’ And did you add something extra or unexpected to the experience that will compel your customer to tell others?

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

‘Social Media’ is a broad brush. It is advantageous for the brand and for consumers to connect, but it is not ‘make or break’ in scaling a CPG company at retail. The many specific platforms, each have their own potential benefits and perils. Generally, some but not all available platforms are necessary for the brands I have led. Executing in store, winning at retail, is still where the ‘war’ is won. But battles are fought on Instagram as an excellent portal for a vibrant brand hero story and on Facebook as a place to promote consumption.

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?

Leaders should always be leading, not doing. And they should be leading humans of great potential and capacity. Leaders starting out may accept shortcomings from their people because they have not the time or money (so they think) to top-grade. Avoiding this error means finding the time and energy to be recruiting as much as 30% of your time.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. 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. 🙂

Perhaps my background is a testament. I strongly view food and beverage as the greatest source of wellness. What we consume for fuel and refreshment should be well balanced, functional, and delicious. This is a true passion.

How can our readers further follow you online?

@drinksolti (where you will find my email)

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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