“Our company’s success is built on people, and while we prioritize efficiency and productivity, I never want it to be at the expense of our people’s happiness. We try and prioritize and encourage balance of work and play, and keeping the perspective that no matter how critical a decision may be in the moment it is still just selling energy bars. You just can’t take yourself too seriously. I feel like providing this type of environment for our people has a positive effect on the world.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes King, owner and CEO of Tahoe Trail Bar. The outdoor enthusiast fell in love with the energy bars after trying them in Lake Tahoe, and has revamped the company since taking over in 2010. King is passionate about sharing this healthy and tasty snack with the world to better help them explore the great outdoors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My name is Wes King and I am the owner and CEO of the Tahoe Trail Bar. I am from Nashville, Tennessee, and I found my way to Reno via a ten year ski bum vacation in Lake Tahoe. I am a serial entrepreneur who enjoys creating my own opportunities through providing incredible tasting, plant based energy bars to the world! I have a wonderful wife, Nicole, and a three year old son named Cohen, and a daughter on the way.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
I had been running my company for two years, burning the candle at both ends with no real strategy or understanding of operational or financial efficiency. Shooting from the hip, I call it. I like to joke that my world headquarters was the hatchback of my Subaru Outback. One day, the “world headquarters” started to have a pretty mean clunking sound with a little whiny grind thrown in. I took it over to my mechanic and he threw it up on the lift. He looked around for four to five minutes and then said, “Um, Wes? How much weight are you hauling with this thing?” I told him I wasn’t totally sure but that I was bringing 2,500 bars over Spooner Pass twice a week to keep up with the summer demand. He shined the flash light at my rear axle and holds up a tape measure. “You see Wes, an axle is supposed to be straight across, yours bends about two and a half inches here in the middle. Your drivetrain is completely blown.” That was my first lesson in investing in proper equipment.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think the Tahoe Trail Bar stands out for a few reasons from a product standpoint. We have best in class taste while also being plant based, gluten free and Non GMO. We prioritize the “Wow” when you sink your teeth into our product. We believe food should first taste amazing, and we want our packaging to show those features and tell that story on its own. Beyond that, from a more philosophical perspective, we want to be your connection to the outdoors. How can our product make your experience in the outdoors a little more enjoyable, take you a little farther, let you stay out a little longer? Or how can we be a little respite from the rigors of your day to day? We are big believers in disconnecting to get reconnected, and we want the Tahoe Trail Bar to be your vegan connection to the adventure and reprieve in your life.
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?
One of my biggest mentors is a man named Rick Shaff. Rick believed I had a business that could go somewhere long before I did. I remember one day after we had been working together for over two years, he called a meeting with me at our local co-working space in Reno. He sat me down and said, “Wes, I am not going to help you anymore. Not unless you start believing what I already believe. You and I are going to sit here, and we aren’t leaving until we have a 10x growth plan in place. It’s up to you whether you use it, but it’s the last help I’ll give you unless you take this leap.” What he was basically saying was the time is now. We had built a half million dollar company on one flavor, and it was long overdue for us to add more flavors. I had been dragging my feet because I couldn’t see how we would pay for it. That day he helped me build forecasting and operational models that showed me how to sensibly leverage capital and see the path to success. His mentorship is the reason we took the leap into an intensive, top down redesign of our entire line of products, our brand proposition, and our way of doing business. Without him showing me how to wrap my head around this opportunity we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are, but I can’t talk too much about them! I can tell you one thing, they will taste fantastic.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our company’s success is built on people, and while we prioritize efficiency and productivity, I never want it to be at the expense of our people’s happiness. We try and prioritize and encourage balance of work and play, and keeping the perspective that no matter how critical a decision may be in the moment it is still just selling energy bars. You just can’t take yourself too seriously. I feel like providing this type of environment for our people has a positive effect on the world.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
The book I have read most recently that was a great reminder is called “The Slight Edge” by Greg Olsen. It is a beautiful reminder to continually do the small, every day processes well. The net compounding effect of consistent positive action creates a magnificent impact on both my own life and the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
– Know and defend your gross margin. Compare your gross margin with both industry leading players as well as companies just ahead of you in top line revenue. I remember early in my career I went to a trade show and snuck into this pricing seminar with Bob Burke, who is in my mind the most respected Consumer Packaged Goods consultant in the industry. He showed us that you cannot operate your company on what you think your gross margin will be once you get to scale. From the beginning you have to price your product to make at least some money.
– Don’t kid yourself thinking you are profitable if you aren’t paying yourself a livable wage. For the longest time I thought I ran such a great business, but failed to realize that I really should have kept my two day jobs tuning skis and doing mountain marketing for the local ski resort. I really backed myself into a corner “playing business” without really understanding the power of solid, realistic financial models. If you can’t find a way to pay yourself a living wage within two years you really only have a hobby, not a business. Hire for attitude, train for aptitude.
– Look sales people in the eye when you hire them. If you see any hint of pain or doubt, do not hire them no matter their resume. A corollary to that, run your own sales team, you can hire people to work the day to day but you have to steer the ship on the value proposition and USP.
-Love the process. This, right here, for you, for me, this is it. This moment, working in my business, writing this response, working on the opportunities for improvement of the day, this is the stuff of life. Would it be great to sell for a massive multiple? Sure. But what would I miss? This. The daily process of progress and finding new solutions. For me, progress and love of the process is true happiness as an entrepreneur. That and digging holes with my son. 🙂
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Walter Robb. I have so much respect for the way he helped build Whole Foods Market as a company with both purpose and impact. His leadership and business philosophy inspire me daily, and Whole Foods Market is one of the entities responsible for the food and health revolution currently underway in the United States. Well done, Mr. Robb!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com