CHANGING THE GAME: Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of KIND Snacks, Shares his Ingredient for Purposeful Success
"Changing the Game" is a series featuring prominent Latino changemakers and their stories of success, innovation, and vision.
Among the super successful, there is a common characteristic that distinguishes them from the mere mortals: they are obsessed. Obsessed with success, obsessed with beating the competition, obsessed with the process. But, what happens when one of the elite has a different obsession -- an obsession with kindness?
Daniel Lubetzky is CEO and Founder of KIND Snacks, the fastest growing U.S. snack company. Last year, KIND's 10-year anniversary marked over 1 billion bars sold and triple-digit growth -- 10x faster growth than that of his competition.
A Mexican-American of Jewish descent, his inspiration began with his father, a Holocaust survivor who attributed his survival to the kindness of strangers. Lubetzky is changing the snack food market by weaving kindness into his company's DNA and proving his 'not-only-for-profit' model can result in making a difference and a profit. His KIND Movement -- the company's social mission to make the world a little kinder one act a time -- has already inspired more than a million good deeds worldwide, and is reinforced in its motto: "Do the KIND Thing for your body, your taste buds and your world."
The impact of his company's 'AND' philosophy -- choosing AND where others would say OR -- has had a ripple effect that organically helps grow the brand. The products taste good AND are good for you AND help make the world a better place. A win-win-win.
A pioneer of social entrepreneurship, his resume includes being named among Bloomberg BusinessWeek Magazine "America's Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs" and TIME Magazine's "25 Responsibility Pioneers" of social innovation. The World Economic Forum has on two occasions recognized him as a Global Leader, and Fast Company Magazine selected him as one of "43 Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the World."
He is currently on the New York Times Best Seller list with his first book, "Do the Kind Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately," published by Ballantine Books. In keeping with the KIND philosophy, 100 percent of the proceeds from the book will go towards furthering individuals' acts of kindness in communities across the country.
We met Daniel at KIND headquarters in midtown Manhattan where he agreed to speak with LatinPost.com.
Patricia Sierra Sampson: Your journey is an evolution since what brought you here was also the founding of three other companies; one of which is a not for profit, the One Voice Movement, and two others are "not-ONLY-for-profit" PeaceWorks, Inc. and Maiyet, the apparel company. Can you give our audience a little bit of a background or maybe a snapshot of those companies and how they presented to be the building blocks for what brought you here today?
Daniel Lubetzky: I think the common thread in all of the stuff I do is I try to find creative ways to build bridges between people and help human beings discover each other's humanity. I was born in Mexico but my father was a Holocaust survivor and he was in a concentration camp as a kid. I learned about what he went through and I think that my commitment to prevent what happened to him from happening again to other human beings, is what has always driven me to try to find different ways to get people to discover that we have more that brings us together than should separate us.
PeaceWorks was the first company I started right after law school that used business as a force for getting neighbors in conflict regions to work together to make food products through cooperative ventures. Our flagship ventures in the Middle East involved between Israelis, Turks, Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, and Jewish citizens of Israel as well.
Maiyet, a company I co-founded with Paul van Zyl and Kristy Caylor, is trying to elevate the skillsets of craftsmen in areas like India, Pakistan, Liberia, and trying to also bring people together by creating beautiful apparel.
One Voice is a not-for-profit organization trying to empower the moderate voices against extremism.
KIND to some degree is a product of a lot of those lessons. It's a company that tries to make delicious products that are made with nutritionally rich ingredients but stand for more than that. We also want to do the KIND thing for our world by inspiring people to connect with one another, get outside of their comfort zone, and be kind towards strangers and to do kind acts even when people are not expecting it.
PSS: This is basically also the mission -- your company mission. You are also the founder of the KIND Movement. The label of 'social entrepreneur' is something that for you is not something trendy or something that just came about. This has been your life's mission. Can you tell us what planted this seed in you to be inspired to think this way not only as a rationale for business but also to make sure there was a social purpose?
DL: I guess this shows how old I am. When I started, that term didn't exist, and that term is relatively new, but I do think I like it. It applies well to what I aspire to do, build creative ways to make a small contribution towards society in addition to a sustainable scalable way using market forces to not just make money but also to tackle things in society. For me, it wasn't like I had such a structured thought. I was very passionate about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wanted to get Arabs and Israelis to work together and to end the conflict. I saw initially just the idea to consult others about getting an American business to be a catalyst to these joint ventures between Arabs and Israelis. When no one wanted to be consulted and they were like, "Leave us alone and stop bugging us you confused Mexican Jewish lawyer!" (laughter) I decided to try it myself, and create a company called PeaceWorks that brought people together. Looking back, after I learned from a lot of failures -- 10-11 years of mistakes in running PeaceWorks and also some successes -- one thing that gave me a lot of meaning was discovering how you could advance two things at once. This gave the genesis for the AND philosophy where you don't have to do this or that but find creative ways to do both. To say AND rather than OR. A company that can be economically sustainable AND socially impactful.
PSS: At the end of the day, it is such an idealistic notion ... most people would label it that, but you actually put it to practice and connected it to a business rationale. Your background is essentially a lawyer but at some point even when things on the entrepreneurial side may not have been going well, you chose to forge ahead. You could have fallen back on the safer law career. Tell me what motivated you to take the harder path and not follow the safer route.
DL: I think to some degree it was that I was so in love with what I was doing and so excited about it. To some degree it was I didn't know what I was doing and didn't know how hard I had it. While I was in the midst of it I so believed in my mission that nothing stopped me. I didn't wonder if I was about to fail. When I was young and had all this energy, I just kept going and going. Looking back. I would get up at 7 a.m. and start at 122th Street in Broadway, walk up and down by 7 p.m. I was at Wall Street ... cross the following day and then deliver the product in my beat-up Cougar with my trunk covered with duct tape. If I wasn't really fast delivering the product, I would get a parking ticket and it would erase all my profits for the day. Next day I had to write the invoices and collect so it was a one person operation. A lot of people would of thought, 'Yeah being a lawyer was a safer thing' but I'm lucky I didn't know what I was doing (laugh). I was just having fun believing in my dream and believing in something that was giving me meaning. I felt it was so cool to get people to work together; get neighbors to shatter their stereotypes and cement relationships with one another. That is what drove me. I made a ton of mistakes but I kept learning from those mistakes and asking questions.
PSS: You find inspiration from a mentor - your father - who has a very inspirational story that definitely resonated with you. Can you share a little bit of his story that made you care so much to make this your life's mission?
DL: I am not sure which story you mean because there are so many stories; I can talk non-stop about my dad. He was the kindest person. He came to Mexico after the war, he only had a 3rd grade education. After 3rd grade, he was sent to a ghetto and concentration camp. The way he educated himself when he arrived in Mexico -- he didn't speak Spanish or English -- the way he learned was by buying used encyclopedias and then he would read them cover to cover. He really saw life as a gift, as a blessing, since a lot of people around him had not survived the camp. He saw his life mission was to try to be kind to others. He felt he had survived the war and the concentration camp thanks to the kindness of other people. If someone was having a bad day, and was moody -- a flight attendant, a waiter-- that he could not get to smile, he would not relent and would tell enough jokes to crack a smile in them. He was here to give light to the world and he inspired me in many ways.
PSS: I find that with all entrepreneurs it all starts with an idea. But, many fall by the wayside because, as you mentioned earlier, it is a very difficult path to be on. After reading your book, I realized that you talk a lot about the 'idea' and moving it beyond that and the commitment it takes. Can you address entrepreneurship and everyone wanting to be an entrepreneur? It is not really for the faint of heart.
DL: I think an entrepreneur has to have the creativity but also has to have the execution part to turn that creativity into a reality. A lot of what I talk about in the book, "Do the KIND Thing," is about being an actionist, what does it mean, and what does it take to be committed to bring the idea to a reality. You also need to separate between the ideation phase and the execution phase. During the ideation phase you are in the creative process. Once you have your idea you need to have a critical evaluation process, the skeptic phase when you ask yourself the toughest of questions. You make sure you got what it takes in terms of personality and financial resources, the staying power necessary to try your idea, that the idea makes sense, that the consumers and the community will appreciate your idea. You need to be very intellectually honest with yourself and very self-critical. You need to understand who your competition is, how are you going to win, and be comfortable walking away if during that skeptic phase you realize this is not a sustainable or achievable idea. But, if you do go through that process and thoroughly check it and think you got what it takes, then at some point you need to flip a switch. And turn yourself from the skeptic to the evangelist ... from the person that is just doing a lot of thinking to the person that will start acting and doing. That person is a very different person. That person will just go for it, nobody will stop them, nothing can turn them down or make them give up on their idea. They have to have the staying power to execute it.
KIND was born at one of the toughest years of my life. If I had given up just one year, one month too early, I may not have seen it. I am lucky and blessed that I just kept going but it is very very important when you have conviction that something is worth doing that you don't give up too early.
PSS: Congratulations on being on The New York Times Best Seller List with "Do The KIND Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately" -- great tenets of not only business, but a philosophy of life. You put together a core team that has been with you through your growth. That must be very difficult because your brand is much more than just a great business model, it has such a strong social significance. What do you look for, how do you put together a core team that will walk the walk, stay the course and be a champion for your mission?
DL: I think the most important thing is to look at the essence of that person, look at the values. I was talking, joking with my board and sharing we really don't have any jerks here (laughter) and everyone is really nice. And my board member turned to me and said, "That's because you're the jerk!" (laughter) I really think the most important thing is to look for people that at the essence of who they are, they have loyalty, integrity, they are good human beings, hard workers. If you have that at the essence, everything else works itself out. If you have people that are introspective, and they are self-critical and willing to question themselves; they are going to grow and figure things out. I look for people that have those values. When you have challenges when you have successes, how you address them how you live those days how you act in diversity as well as in success will define your culture, your future, who you attract. Now that we are growing and finding more specialized people, I discuss in the book the evolution that we need at each phase, but what is constant are those values.
PSS: Our site LatinPost.com reaches the Latino millennials that research tells us are very entrepreneurial or strive to be. Over 48 percent actually have identified that they would like this to be their life purpose. Is there some advice for a young person thinking of starting a business? And if, for instance, you at this age could speak to the millennial Daniel, what advice would you give yourself?
DL: I think the most important thing is to talk to yourself to understand yourself well. I talk a lot in the book the importance of in today's day and age when we are so busy with our iPhones and our constant communication, we don't take enough time to just let our brains connect with us and understand who we are and what makes us tick. If you do not understand what is important for you, how are you going to pursue that which is important to you. You need to really have that conversation sometimes a very tough conversation. The most essential thing is to understand what gives you meaning and purpose. If you figure that out, everything else will sort itself out.