An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You have to learn how to fail before you can truly succeed. If you never fail you learn nothing and if you do fail you just learned a huge lesson and you won’t fear failure next time. We always talk about how to avoid failure and that is a huge mistake. It’s why so many CEOs cannot get themselves out of trouble when the company slides because they haven’t experienced failure previously. They were taught to avoid failure.
Asa part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Smith.
After more than 35 years in strategic sales, branding, and marketing Jeremy’s senior management and graphic arts resume are a salute to the country’s most iconic brands. Think Apple, Chobani, Krave Jerky, Bob’s Red Mill, and popchips. Prior to Launchpad, as co-founder of Level One, his relationships with buyers, marketers, strategists, venture capital firms, and designers, presents enviable connections in the food industry. Jeremy was named to Forbes and Circle Up’s 2017 Top Catalysts Dealmakers and Influencers in the Consumer Industry. Jeremy can be found online at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremy-smith-8aa3281/.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iwas born in Manhattan but we moved to Weston Connecticut when I was five years old. My two brothers and I were close but I was especially close with my Brother Jonathan, we are just 16 months apart which gave us a lot of time together growing up. My mother was more of the entrepreneurial big dreamer hippie type, nothing is impossible. Which is why she made the prefect entrepreneur when she entered the concert business decades later in SoCal. She was the first and only female concert promoter at that time. My father was liberal but very disciplined. Integrity and honesty were the two principals that guided his life. He taught me that you only have one reputation in life. Once you damage it, usually by sacrificing your principles, your reputation would be questionable and most of the time unrepairable. Worse, it opens you to a world where you will sacrifice everything to win and that is dangerously unhealthy. It can lead you to becoming a corrupt and immoral person very quickly.
Education was paramount to being a productive and successful human being in our parents’ eyes. In our household everyone read. At the age of 10 I had read Catcher in the Rye, Portnoy’s’ Complaint and Goodbye Columbus and some of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, but it was Joseph Heller’s books that I fell in love with. I had become obsessed with meteorology and regularly worked on coming up with my own weather forecasts. I taught myself how to read the weather bars and barometric readings in the New York Times so I could produce my own weather forecasts. I was very competitive and wanted to be a better weatherman than the forecaster on our local news channel. I always spent my Sunday mornings reading the New York Times and still continue that today. Back then I would read the entire sports and business section of the New York Times. I would breakdown all the Yankees and Mets batting averages and try to forecast how they would hit for that week. Then I would take the Times business section and match the current stock prices against my own homemade watchlist of companies that I followed and see how if I could beat the stock analysts in the paper which I often did. The New York Times was my bible of information that also taught me basic math skills as well as learning how to research and invest in companies.
We didn’t have Google back then which meant I spent a lot time in the library doing research. This really taught me how to do research and hone my critical thinking skills. Today’s youth don’t know how to research things as well as did back then because the use Google but they don’t understand Google only provides you with information they and their advertisers want you to while a library provides you the World to search from. I also learned very quickly that stock analysts were not as smart as the average person thought they were. You don’t really need investment advisors they are just sales people and not very good ones at that. But it was 1969 and you could not purchase stocks without a broker. I was also really in to music and it’s played an important role in my life both professionally and personally.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two quotes that have guided me through life which is why they are on our company web site as well. The first one is a quote from novelist, screenwriter, playwright and actor Truman Capote. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” I have never learned much from my success. At least not as much as I have learned from my failures. Without failure you learn nothing. Failure is the great teacher of life. If you build the potential for failure in to your business model you will always be prepared for it and how to handle failure or avoid it. If you ignore the possibility of it, or are afraid of failing you will find yourself unprepared for the pitfalls that lie ahead. The second one is from Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia Founder and CEO. “You climb to the summit, and then there is nothing there. It’s how you get there that is the important part. If you compromise the process and you’re an asshole when you start out. Then you’re an asshole when you return.”
Nothing is more important than understanding if you live the life of the asshole you will always an asshole. People have long memories for how you treat them. Elon Musk doesn’t understand this because he’s’ not a well-rounded person but Steve Jobs understood this ─ and when Jobs came back to Apple for his second stint he had become a changed man.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My favorite business books is Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops. I have learned more from Sacred Hoops about how to manage employees than any other book. And it’s helped me understand how to better deal with superstar sales people who can be extremely difficult to manage because you cannot manage them like other people on your sales team. You must allow these high performers to be who they are. Too many companies don’t understand this. Many refuse to embrace different strategies in dealing with them so they have mediocre sales teams that make the boss happy but don’t deliver the same result. You need a sales team with varied personalities and styles just like your clients are all different with a unique set of skills and personalities. The difference in a company that can deal with superstars is if you lose your biggest account you can weather the storm because the superstar will make up the losses because he or she lives for always hitting the long ball. As far as podcasts I am huge fan and have my own now. I believe the best single podcast out there is Marc Maron’s podcast WTF. The interviews are real and the conversation is authentic. There is no other podcast like this one because it cuts right to the bone of what’s really happening and the people who come on his podcast know they are going to have be real or Maron will call them out. For listeners you get the unvarnished experiences of the people who appear on his podcast.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Some people are really good at coming up with good ideas but that doesn’t mean the person has the ability to lead a company. You must figure out first if you are capable of translating your ideas in to a process and can you scale it. Most people cannot do this so you are better off in seeking a partner who can cover the areas you are weakest in. For example I started a company with my Brother Jonathan. He is more like my Dad and is very disciplined. I am not very disciplined and my brother had the skillset that I did not have. Plus, I am very direct and he is not. But he hated sales and I love sales and we get along most of the time, but together we were unstoppable. Had I started the company on my own it would have failed and I knew that. I was also excellent at marketing and creative and so together we worked well together. Over time I learned to overcome my weaknesses, adjust some of the ways I approach business and now I have my own company. By the way you are correct in saying that there is no shortage of good ideas. What there is a shortage of is great leaders to run the companies. I also look past the idea and focus on the ability of the people involved with the venture to take the idea and make in to a successful business. This is where we are today. Many people can take an idea and make it in to a small company under $10M in sales but getting over a $100M or a billion in sales requires a completely different set of skills. So, I focus on the teams and I can usually tell in 15 minutes if they have what it takes.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Steve Jobs said Apple takes what is already out there and makes it better. That’s very important because it’s why he was so successful. He could see what was missing from the marketplace. Not everyone can do that and I think that’s why people get caught in the trap of believing their ideas have to be original when they don’t need to be. What they must be is better than what’s out there currently. My company, Launchpad, is not a new idea. But, how we market and run the company is very different from our competition. That and including our messaging sets us apart. We are focused on our messaging and getting entrepreneurs to understand that we get them. Our competitors focus on talking about their accomplishments which doesn’t do much for the entrepreneur. They cannot connect with them on the same level as we do.
We all have doubts at times but for some people this is the deep fear inside themselves; a lack of confidence. They have to sit with that for a while and figure whether or not the thought is ultimately logical or some insecure doubt inside themselves. But they must address this issue before starting the company. Sometimes it takes speaking with people you trust. You need to talk with people who will give their honest feedback. At the same time if you truly believe in what you want to do you must go down your path and head out on your journey. Always remember that much of the advice and doubts that others might have about your business has a lot to do with their own fears, so you must be careful with putting much too weight on their opinions. I have always believed that knowledge is not power. What you do with knowledge determines whether or not the information is valuable.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
First you have focus on clearly understanding your business. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who started a company and they can’t even tell me what their business really is. But assuming you have done that, you have to start thinking about who your consumer is. I firmly believe Steve Job was right that focus groups are a waste of money because the consumer doesn’t know what they want until you show them. When you are talking with a consumer you are already behind the ball because consumers look backwards and usually can only share their experiences with you based on the life they are living at that moment. Steve Jobs said to me that if he had asked consumers what would they like in an iPhone from Apple they would have told him all about the Blackberry and what they loved about the Blackberry. He would have learned nothing and he was 100% right. So, with that said you still have to understand your consumer and you have to understand the market.
What is the competitive landscape like and what might it look like five years from now ─ because it might take you that long to start your business. When it comes to manufacturing you need to make sure your idea can be made at the right price and that someone can make the product. You need high margins; if you can’t get the right margins you will never make enough profits to sustain the company. You then have to figure out what the value of the company and the brand are and you should do this before you go to a design firm and select packaging design. The packaging design must reflect all of your company values. Finding retailers can be done on your own or through a sales brokerage organization; like what we do at my company Launchpad. We help food and beverage brands get in to Costco.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
I don’t believe that “5 Things” can direct someone to lead a company. No person can prepare you for the path you are headed down. Of course people can provide you with advice along the way, but sometimes you are better off learning the hard way and if you are lucky you might fail which is a good thing. You have to learn how to fail before you can truly succeed. If you never fail you learn nothing and if you do fail you just learned a huge lesson and you won’t fear failure next time. We always talk about how to avoid failure and that is a huge mistake. It’s why so many CEOs cannot get themselves out of trouble when the company slides because they haven’t experienced failure previously. They were taught to avoid failure.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I believe I answered this already. But I will add one more point. All CEO’s should spend more time learning about the design and creative process. Once you have experiences with how the design process works you see the World differently and too many CEO’s don’t understand the importance of great creative. They rely on others to provide them with the experience. It’s what separated Steve Jobs from the rest and while he will always be the best, well above Musk and Bezos and Gates. I know that it’s made me a much better leader because having this perspective allows me to express our vision in ways other executives cannot. And most creative work is what the consumer sees and yet business schools and college really don’t teach anything about the creative process to business people.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
There is much work to be done before you even need a consultant. I would wait a while before seeking their advice and make sure they come highly recommended from people you trust because most of them don’t know half of what they claim to know.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
There is no best one way. There is only the way that works for you, but I believe boot strapping is the way to start your company and don’t take outside money unless you absolutely have to in order to scale. But the juice must be worth the squeeze because once venture capitalists have their fangs in to you it’s tough to get them out.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We have been very supportive of organizations that are seeking to win the battle for racial injustice and climate change. We all have a responsibility to leave the planet and human race better off than when it was handed to us. I have a podcast with a good friend of mine and we use that to speak out against the many injustices that continue today.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger?
We have to come up with a system to close the wage gap between the C-Suite and the front-line worker. It’s immoral for a CEO to make $100M while his or her front-line employees earn $15 an hour or less. We could start with requiring all companies that launch an IPO to include an amount of shares equal to that of the C-Suite to all front line employees. That would help make sure that we close the wage gap over a period of time and it would be much more fair and equitable than what we have in place today. Think for a minute how the people who do much of the heavy lifting at a company feel when they see the entire C-Suite become millionaires overnight and they receive nothing in return for their work?
We are very blessed that 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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
The one person I really wanted to meet was Steve Jobs and I made that happen. I would love to spend time with former President Obama. Now let’s see if you can make that happen.