There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Justin Gold, the founder and co-CEO of Justin’s, a natural foods company that produces organic and all-natural nut butters and peanut butter cups. From humble beginnings at local farmers’ markets to launching a national brand, Justin’s is now one of the country’s fastest-growing natural foods companies.
Justin, a lover of outdoor activities, moved to Boulder, Colorado, in his 20s. In order to fuel his long bike rides, he undertook a mission to create new varieties of nut butter that not only had plenty of protein, but also tasted great. He kept creating nut butters for his own use, but he had a houseful of hungry roommates who kept eating his food. To hang on to his handmade foods, Justin started writing his name on the jars, “Justin’s.”
In 2004, after two years of experimenting with nuts and a simple food processor in his home kitchen, Gold prepared his first business plan and launched Justin’s. He raised angel and institutional capital and built a first-class management team to help him execute his vision and make his palate-pleasing nut butters accessible to everyone.
While working to get Justin’s off the ground, Justin took a job at outdoor-gear retailer REI, where, after seeing all of the squeezable energy boosts sold at the retailer, he came up with the idea for nut butter squeeze packs.
Justin’s has received numerous local and national accolades and ranked in the Top 15 on the Inc. 500/5000 Fastest Growing Companies list in the food and beverage category two years in a row. Gold also was recognized as the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Mountain Desert Region.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Justin Gold: Growing up, I didn’t have a lemonade stand or any other small business, and I never really considered learning about business until it became a necessity. I hadn’t given it much thought as to what I wanted to do as a career, but I knew that I wanted to spend it doing something that I was passionate about. I went to a small college, Dickinson, where I was heavily influenced by environmental ethics. Originally, I wanted to become an environmental lawyer, thinking that policy was the best way to implement change. As a senior preparing for my LSATs, I interned for an environmental law firm, really didn’t enjoy the work or the lifestyle and quickly decided that law wasn’t the best path for me. After graduating, I moved out west for the mountains and to find a new path.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Gold: My business was started out of personal necessity. As an active vegetarian, I was relying on nut butters as a large source of my protein. At the time, I was working in restaurants waiting tables and knew how easy it was to make nut butters, so I started crafting my own recipes in a food processor, and would put my creations in the cupboard. When my roommates started eating them all, I realized I needed to put my name on the jars. That’s when I decided this could be a really fun business. At the time there were only a few nut butter options on the market, and they didn’t taste very good—so I knew I could do something about it.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Gold: I’ve had several defining moments, but my biggest came after launching the company at the Boulder Farmers’ Market selling nut butter jars. While on a mountain bike ride eating a sugary gel pack for energy, I realized all I really wanted was protein. This simple craving led to the category-disrupting idea for on-the-go nut butter squeeze packs.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Gold: The best advice I’ve received is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you—in your business and in your life. It can be intimidating at times, but will push you to grow as both a professional and as a person.
My favorite piece of advice to give entrepreneurs is to start. That’s it. If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never end up anywhere. Just by starting, you set in motion the opportunity for either success or failure. Great entrepreneurs will contemplate their failures, create solutions and succeed. One of my heroes started a company with the foundation of tofu. After 25 years of tofu, they had the idea for soymilk. SILK is now one of the most recognized names in the natural foods industry. I started with jars of nut butter, but my big breakthrough was the squeeze pack, which would have never had a chance to develop if I hadn’t started by making jars.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Gold: Be curious. Question everything. How are things made? Why are they made that way? Why can’t that be done a better or more efficient way? The second best practice is to always stay positive and cheerful. A positive attitude will get you through the tough times, which are inevitable, and will attract the people and ideas that will lead to successful breakthroughs.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?
Gold: Big food companies can’t innovate. They don’t know how to solve problems in the market; they only know how to grow market share of existing brands. Look for more and more food companies started by passionate people who are solving a problem. It’s an exciting time to start a business.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Gold: Business: Good to Great by Jim Collins; Personal growth: The Secret; Fun: science fiction—I love reading far-out interpretations of what our future could look like!
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Gold: “Do or do not, there is no try.”—Yoda
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