Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Cole: In some ways, I got here by trying everything else. I spent years in a firm as an auditor but wanted to add value and create in a way that the firm environment couldn’t offer. When I landed a role in venture capital, I loved the interaction with founders and creators, eagerly observing every big move up and setback, but knew I wanted to create something of my own. After that, there were a few false starts in exploring everything from 3D computer hardware, commodity trading, and even electric trucks until I finally found something that ignited my passion to make a positive impact in the world surrounded by equally amazing people.
Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Cole: I took an interesting path here that started with building a recycled materials business before university through a professional services tenure, consulting and into a venture capital role in the food and agri-business industry. That is the reason I am here – it was so inspiring to be front row to companies transforming the food system and ignited my passion for this space. I have literally worked in and around hundreds of businesses and entrepreneurs in good times and bad, like through the 2008 financial crisis. I once heard a joke – it takes $10 million to train both an astronaut and venture capitalist. Mistakes are very expensive, but essential to knowing how to execute at a high level and stay alive the next time. I saw some spectacular failures and bad management decisions along the way, and those were the most educational experiences to learn from. I have also made my fair share of those too, but again, those are the experiences that have helped my growth and survival mindset evolve. Observe everything, make mistakes, absorb the lessons, apply them to the next challenge/opportunity and repeat.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Cole: Trust, listening to employees, supporting their development and success in respective roles, and building a culture that revolves around those principals. Leaders should always be learning and building up others to feel confident in what they are doing.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
- Be tenacious, learn how to detect BS.
- Ruthlessly protect your time and say “no” more often – less is more.
- Be kind, maybe more appropriate for certain civic leaders.
Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?
Cole: Recognizing remarkable talent is crucial to giving the company the best chance at out-performing early when it counts the most. Even above average doesn’t cut it, find exceptional talent that can grow early on. Passion is another one, figure out if someone can get excited about something, anything, their dog, a band, a hobby, whatever. If they believe in the cause, that passion can be channeled into going the extra mile when it is needed. For managing larger teams, the formula is simple – set expectations, trust the team to execute, and create time to download and step in to problem solve if needed – listen!
Adam: What are your best sales and marketing tips? What advice in particular on building your brand when you are still relatively unknown and on selling to large retail chains?
Cole: Fake it until you make it. Remember that these chains desperately want to see new and fresh products and ideas but often there is a fear of approaching retailers that are “too big”. We didn’t even have a website when we got our first meeting with the biggest company in the world. We took a chance and it worked out!
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Cole: Make your haters your motivators. Most of the commitment I needed to overcome the entrepreneurial challenges I’ve faced comes from insisting on proving people wrong who doubted me, including myself.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Cole: Random acts of kindness in any way, anything from buying coffee for someone to bringing food to someone on the street who may be hungry. Small acts can add up and make a big difference in someone’s life.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Cole: Music, especially live music, has given me a passion for travel, culture and strangers. Playing an instrument has taught me the virtue of patience and that there’s absolutely no substitute for putting in the time if you want to master something or to create something beautiful.