Tips From The Top: One On One With Mike Kirban

I spoke to Mike Kirban. founder and CEO of of Vita Coco, about his journey and best advice

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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? 

Mike: My go to “fun fact” is that I grew up with a hot tub in my dining room, instead of a dining room table. I lived with my Dad, and we figured that would get more use. But given that I’m short, bald, and not the most attractive guy in the world, I think the most surprising thing about me is probably that I was hired for a few modeling gigs when I was 20.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth? 

Mike: Growing up as a kid with learning disabilities, I was often told by teachers that I wouldn’t amount to much, that I was probably going to fail. I like to think that this encouraged me to actually embrace failure, because I didn’t have the expectation that everything I did would be a massive success. Failures, big and small, are inevitable when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting your own business. You have to be able to learn from them and keep charging forward.

Adam: How did you build your brand? What are your best tips around brand building? 

Mike: Slowly, in the right places for the right consumers. In the early days of Vita Coco, our focus was to get the product in people’s hands, to have them try it firsthand. We were creating an entirely new category for the general market, so education and trial was key. We identified the stores that we wanted to be in, and built up our availability and visibility. We had a consistent message and image, and a brand that stood out instead of trying to fit in. It didn’t happen overnight, and we didn’t try to be everything to everyone.

Adam: What are your best tips on how to compete with much larger companies? 

Mike: Move fast. Speed to market is key. Trust your gut, you know your brand better than anyone. And, no amount of resources or money can make up for a lack of hustle or passion, so use that to your advantage. 

Adam: More broadly speaking, what are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders? 

Mike: First, I would tell them something that my dad used to say to me: “Never listen to the Whatare’ya, nuts?! People”. Second, always surround yourself with people who are smarter, and more experienced than you. Third, find your balance. Work hard, but create a good work life balance because it will make you better at your job. 

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? 

Mike: In my opinion, the most effective leaders have the ability to make quick, but educated, decisions, and stick with them. Showing decisiveness and having conviction in your vision is really important, so your team feels a sense of direction and purpose. Don’t underestimate the importance of having really strong interpersonal skills – being able to relate to others, to identify and build the right team, being able to motivate and empower your people so they feel accountable for the results.  

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Mike: Apart from the advice my dad gave me, to “Never listen to the Whatare’ya, nuts?! people,” I’d say to hire slowly, fire quickly. Having the right people around you is key. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you? 

Mike: When I was younger I spent a lot of time traveling, visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. If I didn’t have that exposure, I wouldn’t have seen firsthand how massive coconut water was in Brazil, and Vita Coco probably wouldn’t be a thing! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I spend a lot more of my time staying physically and mentally fit. I go to the gym and meditate every day, and try to get enough sleep. I’ve found it helps me find a balance, think more clearly, make better decisions, and be generally more productive during the day. 

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