Ryan Black: Founder & CEO of SAMBAZON

Episode 364

Ryan Black, Founder and CEO of SAMBAZON, started the company with his brother Jeremy and friend Edmund “Skanda” Nichols in 2000. The industry leader and pioneer in Açai, SAMBAZON was the first brand to bring the Brazilian superfruit from the Amazon to the United States. After experiencing his first Açai bowl on a surf trip to Brazil, Ryan saw an opportunity to create and share delicious and nutritious, Açai-based products with people around the world while pioneering a socially and environmentally conscious business model.
Ryan has taken an idea that he was passionate about and turned it into an excellent business with products that are awesome. You are going to love hearing about his journey and I am certain all of the great insights and lessons too. This episode is filled with so much inspiration and takeaways you won’t want to miss! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So

your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time, can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so excited to have my next guest here, my friend, Ryan Black, who is the awesome founder and CEO of SAMBAZON. And SAMBAZON, if for those of you who might not be familiar with the product is the industry leader and pioneer and ossai. And the first brand to bring the Brazilian super fruit from the Amazon to the US, Ryan actually started the company with his brother, Jeremy, and also friend Edmund, and in 2000. So right in that in that great turn of the century, he brought this fruit over, which is super, super cool, I want to get him to share a little bit of the story around that famous surf trip to Brazil. So that’ll be really, really cool to hear that. But I think more than anything, I have such a huge appreciation for the fact that he not only started a company, and has grown a company, but has also started really a new category, which is really freaking hard. So that that’s like a next level for entrepreneurs that until you have been in it, maybe you don’t exactly have an appreciation and sort of the length of time that it typically takes. But he’s also really pioneered, you know, this whole concept of socially and environmentally conscious business model, too. So he’s taken an idea that, as I mentioned, has scaled significantly over the years. And plus, he’s just a really good guy. So really, really excited to have you here. Ryan, thank you so much. It’s, it’s great to be here, we’ve got a long relationship of mutual respect, and super excited to talk to you today.

Super cool. So before we get into hearing about SAMBAZON and your journey in building it, I’d love to hear more about your early years. I mean, we know you have a brother, but did you ever think that you’d become an entrepreneur? What did you think you were going to be doing?

Ryan Black 3:00
That’s funny. Well, you know, like, I’d say, as, as a lot of kids, I dreamed of being professional athletes, I never really thought about being an astronaut or anything like that, but I love the game of football, you know, growing up with a single mom, in Southern California with an older brother, you know, we were always sort of entrepreneurial, you know, here’s a few bucks, go find yourself something to eat, go. You know, I remember, you know, selling candy at school, or sometimes the kid to make some extra pocket change or anything. So,

also, you know, not that I grew up with him, but my, my father was an entrepreneur. So I guess you could say I have it in my genes. And being an athlete, being an entrepreneur, you know, you learn a lot of discipline and from from sports, you know, you learned discipline, you learn teamwork, you learn how to make decisions under pressure, and how to probably most importantly, for an entrepreneur, get knocked on your butt and then get up again, you know, and keep going. So I think the sports background really helped me and not surprising being an entrepreneur, being a Sagittarius, who likes to travel who likes to explore an adventure. I think those all have have shaped who I am. In business.

Kara Goldin 4:25
Definitely. Well, I think that your analogy on being an athlete, I think that it’s, it’s also, I think, so many entrepreneurs that I know have had some sort of experience with being an athlete, I was a gymnast, and, you know, I was never the best gymnast I was decent. But I was okay with with competition, right and always trying to figure out like, how do I get better, which is what I think all great entrepreneurs do. Are you Never, you’re never done. Right, you have to keep working at it. So that’s a, that’s a great example for sure. So Sam was on. So I heard that there’s some big surf trip that in Brazil, it sounds like a boondoggle. When you think back on on those years, obviously, you grew up in Southern California, you you love to surf. So tell me about Brazil. And I bet you did not think that you were coming back with this idea.

Ryan Black 5:32
I definitely did not. You know, there’s a little bit of lore to the story. But you know, at the turn of the millennium, I had, I was at a Brazilian girlfriend, and I was with my buddy. And I thought, let’s go to Brazil, to experience her culture. I knew it was beautiful. I heard great things about it. Yes, we surfed while we were there. And, but we were really there to experience the country and the culture of Brazil. And after one of those days that we served, I was on the beach with some friends. Somebody handed me an ice bowl and said, this is cool, this is the new thing, you got to have it. And I was you know, I was I was excited. I was blown away. Number one, you know, when you’re in a foreign land, you know, and you get something that you can eat that you really like that’s new, you gravitate towards that a little bit. So I wanted to have it again and again, over the coming, you know, two weeks, we’re there. And I kind of was, you know, not only did I enjoy the flavor, because I say he tastes really good, right. And it’s and it’s beautiful. It has this purple color with, you know, bananas, and strawberries and granola. And so it’s it’s visually very appealing. So it’s, it’s, it’s delicious. And it’s beautiful. I also learned a little bit not that day, of course, but learned a little bit over the coming months about how I say he had a pretty amazing chemical composition, you know, it was a fruit with no sugar, number one, and it had Omega fatty acids in it sort of like olive oil, or fish or something like that. So it’s like a fruit with fat, it had fiber, and tons of antioxidants. So it could be something that you can consume, it builds up your body, remember as an athlete and builds up your body and at the same time is cleansing. And then the third sort of leg of the stool that we found out was that, you know, Greenpeace had kind of come out and said that I Saw ye because it was wild harvested in the Amazon rainforest by locals, it represented the number one non timber forest product in terms of money for the whole Amazon Basin. And when I saw that online, I was like, wow, this stuff is not only is it beautiful, and tasty, and it’s nutritious. But it could be if we did it the right way, it could be an example of sustainable development in the Amazon rainforest, you know, using our site as a vehicle to promote it right in front of us. So, you know, that’s kind of the trifecta that we started with and created a brand soon thereafter, called Sambazon, which is actually kind of an an acronym for sustainable management of the Brazilian Amazon, right? Easy peasy, right? And we had, you know, dreams that we could create a what’s now referred to as an omni channel business where you can walk into a store and have it like, you know, at a Starbucks or, you know, Chipotle or something. And at the same time, you could buy it in the supermarket to make it home with your friends, your family. Easy, easy, easy plan, right? The only problems were no one had ever heard of it. Number two, and no one could really pronounce it, you know, I actually on saw on the news about a month ago that, you know, they had the most mispronounced most mispronounced words in the entire you know, United States and us it was like number one, you know, um, so you couldn’t pronounce it. Nobody had ever heard of it. And you had to climb, you know, 40 foot palm tree to harvest a tiny little berry that had a very small amount of yield. So those were sort of the that was like the the original sort of aha moment, if you will, and the inspiration behind it. And some of the challenges that we knew that we were going to have to face on our journey.

Kara Goldin 9:47
So you had found this fruit and you were going to be importing it to the US right? Because you’re thinking, you know, it’s not there, but at the Paris Trouble item, I mean that there’s so many aspects of this when I was doing a little bit more research that I was just like, oh, my gosh, and you had never been in this industry. I mean, that’s it’s a lie. Right? Like, how did you even start?

Ryan Black 10:15
Well, I joke that, you know, my first job was a busboy at a Mexican restaurant in high school, so I have got some food service experience. And, and then I worked in the frozen section of these of a supermarket when I was in college, the graveyard shift. And so I have some super, some supermarket experience. Now, it’s, it’s a joke, but, but true. But um, you know, interestingly, and that this really was a light bulb, we had traveled. Within the week of when we first tried our sci fi in the north of Brazil, we traveled to an island, off the coast of Brazil, that’s it’s, it’s, it’s called for an energy in their own. Yeah. And it’s, it’s an hour by plane. So it’s, it’s out there, right. It’s not like, you know, just take a boat or something, it’s an hour by plane. So it’s out there, and it’s kind of Brazil’s Hawaii. And when we were there, there was a, you know, it’s a nature reserve, and they only allowed, you know, several 100 people to visit there a day. And we stayed there for a whole week. And I remember going to the little ice bowl spot and talking to the guy and saying how many, you know, how many people are on this island, there’s, you know, 300 How many, how many I say ballsy sound selling every day, I’m selling 300 I was like, wow, like everybody loves this, okay. And then I sort of realized, like, wait a minute, if I say you can travel to this island, it can kind of travel to our islands, right. And what I realized is that it was a frozen product, right? So if this would have been a perishable product, like a banana, or you know, something that you have to pick, and then you have to travel, to make it to the grocery store or something like that, that would have never happened, you know, so it was a little bit easier than a perishable item. It is highly perishable. And so what we do is, we work with the communities who harvest the berries off the tree. And then it gets processed in our factories within 24 hours and quick frozen. And once it’s frozen, you know, you’ve got, you know, a couple years of shelf life. So it was daunting to think about in the beginning. But once we realized that it was a frozen product, it made life a little bit easier.

Kara Goldin 12:28
So when you brought it back, like what was your first product that you put out into the

Ryan Black 12:34
product was was what? So that was my so I’ll get to that in a second. So So I had this experience and said, Wow, this is great. I went back to America right now, you know, with this idea, like, Oh, this is I think could be great. I was still a football player. So I went and played one more season of football in Europe, in a you know, kind of like a semi pro league. You know, we always joke and I did play a little bit in the NFL prior to that. But I always joke in my story that the NFL stands for not for long. So that was like a very quick experience. But I did get to go play over in Europe, which was awesome. And also as again, as an explorer as an entrepreneur. You know, 15 years later, when I started trying to take my product to Europe, I had some, you know, understanding and awareness. You know, I lived there twice for six months at a time, once in Italy, and once in France. So I had a little experience there. So anyways, at the end of that six months, you sort of period, which would have put us in July of 2000, I went back to Brazil. And this time me and Edmond went to the Amazon, the previously we’re just kind of at the beach, we went to the Amazon. And what we found was there was a cottage industry that had just sprung up over the previous decade, that even 10 years prior to us being there. I say it was only known in the Amazon, it wasn’t even known in the rest of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, or Sao Paulo or wherever, you know, 200 million people live in Brazil. So it was it was a brand new thing, even to the south of Brazil, and what was being produced by that cottage industry where the small packs of us say these 100 gram packs, three and a half ounces of sight. And so that’s what we could source. So that’s and that’s the only thing we could really source. So our first product, you know, almost a year later, when we imported our first container of frozen ice from Brazil was in these little 100 gram frozen packs. And those 100 gram frozen packs are still being sold not only in your supermarkets, but in juice bars, you know, all over the United States and frankly, all over the world. They’re pretty inconvenient to make stuff with and we’re we’re working on that. But it’s still sort of the purest, simplest form of essay that you can get your hands on.

Kara Goldin 14:57
Interesting so that was it. You’re in you know You’re, I guess you were fighting for the frozen case. What was your first store, then?

Ryan Black 15:05
Yeah. Okay. So first and foremost, remember, I had this dream that we were going to go into retail. So I wanted to go open stores and compete with Jamba Juice or something like that, because I thought to myself, you know, I’m I went to college in Boulder, Colorado, I was sort of, you know, part hippie, part jock football player. And so I had this sort of 10. So I had my eye on the natural foods market. But, but but in retail as well. And so I, somebody smart kind of said to me, you can either go into the restaurant business, and as you know, 19 90% of restaurants fail in the first year, blah, blah, blah. And if you, if you put it in, if you open a restaurant to do ice balls, and it doesn’t work, like you’re done, you’re you fail, you’re like you’re done, or you can go into the wholesale business, and you can start supplying all these juice bars with us a, and, and introducing it to their customers, and then and go in that direction. And I and I knew that I had to build a supply chain. Because it because again, it was a cottage industry in Brazil. And we had to do all kinds of work. So I said, Okay, we’re gonna go into the food service business. And I’ll never forget that somebody told me sell pics to miners, right? It’s like this, this, this thought of, you know, you don’t have to go into the mining business, sell the pics to the miners, you know that I say he’s going to be successful, go help all these juice bars sell it. And so I promised myself that once there was awareness of OSI in the United States, I would go back and I would start opening the retail stores, right. And if you would have asked the young Ryan Black at that time, how long that was going to take, I would have told you three to five years because I say you so great. And as soon as it hits the stores, people are gonna go crazy for it. And then everybody’s gonna love it right? Well, it didn’t quite happen like that. So what we still we focused on the wholesale business, we focused on food service first, juice bars, and coffee bars and cafes and restaurants. And, you know, went from where we lived in Newport Beach, California, we went from the San Diego border to San Francisco. And we started driving around in our car with a frozen cooler in the back with frozen ice packs, going door to door to juice bars and trying to convince the juice bar owners to buy our little packs for like $1. And, and supercharge your smoothie, add them to your smoothie to your strawberry banana smoothie. And then you’d have an ice smoothie, or an ice bowl. You know, smoothies were much more interesting than bowls in the big air popular than bowls in the beginning because people didn’t know what a bowl was, or a smoothie bowl or ice bowl, but people were smoothies, drinking smoothies. So that’s what we did. And I actually in from there, you know, within, you know, the next year or whatever, we started going to key cities in the United States and doing the same thing. And actually joke these days, it’s true, I would show up in a city, rent a car like San Francisco, I remember this, I would go and steal a phonebook from a phone booth or something like that. And I would have a map with me and I would go with the phonebook in the map and my ass ie in the back. And I would go and find the juice bars, you know, and literally went and did this with a team of guys and girls around America for a few years. It wasn’t very efficient, but it did the job, Hawaii, Miami, New York City, Chicago, you know, these these different markets. And after a couple of years, people started, you know, really liking it and saying, hey, I want to eat this every day. But I don’t want to go, I like this, I want to eat it for breakfast, but I don’t want to have to go to the juice bar to do it. So that’s when in 2003 2004 years, you know, sort of two years after we had started or three years after we had started, we went and started going into our first natural food stores. And it was you know, mother’s market in Southern California and some of these places and then eventually we got, you know, Whole Foods Southern Pacific region and Michael was on Send to take a chance on us and to allow us to go into Whole Foods.

Kara Goldin 19:35
So what was the point when you actually created a drink? Like you know, in a drinkable version?

Ryan Black 19:43
Yeah, that was probably two years later. And that’s when somebody said, Hey, we really like your product. But I don’t want to have to use a blender and go through all this stuff. Can you make a bottled smoothie out of it a bottled drink? So we did that 2005 We bottled our 2004 2005, we started bottling smoothies with CO Packer had some run ins with Trader Joe’s with Naked Juice, none of that really worked. Then we ended up creating our own and, and those were short shelf life products. Those were like 30 day. Remember the old, like, Odwalla bottles, they were very short. But we didn’t have a DSD distribution system, we weren’t manufacturing the product. So in 2006, we found a, an aseptic bottler in Southern California, and started making a product that had an extended shelf life like, you know, 100 150 days of shelf life. And then from that point on, we were able to start going into, you know, bigger supermarket chains. And that’s what that was sort of the first wave of us IE and I say beverage or smoothie awareness in the United States. 2006 2007 2008 is when we really started entering into supermarkets. And it’s interesting because things change, right? So by 2012 80% of our business was, you know, beverages, you know, smoothies, and today, like 30% of our business is smoothies and beverages. So we completely changed, you know, over the coming decade, from being into all juices and beverages, it finally came back around to us, I eat bowls, and frozen product.

Kara Goldin 21:36
So interesting. You know, you were first to market. How long did it take before you started to see competition?

Ryan Black 21:45
Not that long. Honestly, as soon as we got into the beverage part of it, we started seeing some competitors. And it was interesting, because the, the juice market at that time you had, you know, palm wonderful with with the pomegranate juice, just, you know, kicking butt and you had naked in Walla and Bolthouse. And we were like, you know, The Little Engine That Could against these huge brands. And, and then we started seeing competition come in, even from some of those bigger players. And but by like 2011 2012, the juice business started to slow down as a whole. And it’s really because sugar started, you know, becoming kind of a dirty word. And I mean, even you know, Coca Cola took their own wallet business, that was what was it, you know, two $300 million dollars and just like cut, it just completely, just just turned it off from one day to the next, you know, and you had some of these. And so it’s funny, because around 2010 or 11, you probably had around the world 10 companies that were making us ie juice beverage of sorts, right? By 2015. I think you had one us, right? Like, that’s it. And if we were only in that part of the business, we probably wouldn’t be around anymore. And because we had started in food service. And we used to have a great food service guy named Matt Lauer. And he used to say, the bowl is the goal, you know, and even though we had a juice business, he was always like the bowl is the goal, you know, and and what happened is as that juice business started to sort of level off, I mean, even even decline, the outside bowl business started to really pick up in the throat, the frozen business is what I’m referring to. And what was interesting at that point in time is we had a whole new group of competitors that came in, in the frozen space. But they were all startups, let’s just say. And we were because of our juice business, we were already a 40 $50 million business at that point in time. So we had this interesting sort of competitive advantage plus, we had relationships already with major supermarkets. And so we would go to them and say, Yeah, we and, you know, in your use case, or we’ve been, you know, hopefully still in your use case and not out of your juice case, because that started to happen too. But we’re we’ve been in your produce department for all these years, you know us as a company. Now we want to present our frozen products to you and even though it was a different buyer, we had some reputation already. Right. I think that’s really what solidified us over the years as you know, I don’t know it’s the Kleenex of SAE or something like that right as the market leader. So yeah, twists and turns at every direction. And just to finish that, you know, finish that off. When we hit the 10 year mark. We opened the store we opened retail store, just open it up, right. And of course, it did phenomenal because people love ice balls. And people have opened up us a bowl shops all across the United States and all across the world now, it did really well. And we started learning that business. And then when we got to the 20 year mark, in 2020, we launched a retail hospitality team and hired a separate management team to start going after retail stores. And, um, you know, I’m proud to say that, you know, now, what’s, you know, what’s coming in the future here is you’re gonna start seeing, you know, Sam was gonna say, bull shops, at your airport, in your universities, and locally on your street that’s starting to happen now.

Kara Goldin 25:49
That’s amazing. That is so great. Well, I just got back from Bali, and I had never been there before. And I was at this beach town called Kengo. And it was, I mean, every other door was off a bowls. And I was thinking about you, because we were going to be having this interview. And it was, anyway, it was amazing to see how much it’s taken off. But to your point, it takes time. I mean, it’s I had Greg Renfrew from beauty counter on, and we were joking. No, she said that, whenever she talks to an entrepreneur, and they say, you know, here’s the plan, and I’m gonna flip it in three years, and, you know, maybe five, you know, it’s just like, especially if you’re starting something really new, and there’s a lot of education and, you know, you’re it, doesn’t it, even if you had experience, it’s like, These things take a lot longer. Right. And, and I think, another piece that you referenced is that, you know, sometimes it just takes staying alive, right? I mean, we’ve seen so many of the same companies, you know, come and go, I, I think of purple, right was one that was to remember that one that was around, you know, and they had so much cash, and they were throwing all over the place, and then they weren’t around anymore. I mean, and so, you know, I say to entrepreneurs, like you got to figure out, you got to stay the course, you gotta keep trying new things and diversify, and you’re just such a great example of that.

Ryan Black 27:31
Thank you. It’s so true. It’s like, you know, again, going back to the, what we were talking about earlier about being an athlete, it’s, you know, persistence, and consistency. And, you know, you got to build your competitive advantage, and then just hold the line, you know, and it takes time. I mean, you know, I won’t mention any names, but I’ve been trying to get into one distributor for four years, you know, and, and, and I just keep knocking on the door, waiting for the right, you know, and sometimes the buyers change, or sometimes, you know, somebody wakes up on the right side of the bed for a check, who knows, you know, but yeah, being an entrepreneur is all about persistence. I mean, sales in general is about persistence, of course, and, you know, preparedness and, but you’re right, staying power, survival, staying alive, there’s so many, there’s so many things, not just your business, but your, your financing, your investment, your all of those things, it’s, it’s a bit of a minefield. And yeah, there’s, there’s no you know, there’s no substitution for just being on it all the time. You know, you don’t, you don’t really take a break from it. And, you know, some, I remember, in the early days, I met a guy who was trying to do ice cream in south in San Francisco with a bunch of the different Amazon fruits. And I met him and, and one of them was sad, you know, and, and I was like, you know, why are you doing, you know, why are you doing these ice creams like this? How can we not just focused on say, you know, one of them or I say, or whatever it is, he goes, Man, that’s like a 20 year. That’s like, a 20 year mission. And I was in like, my third year, and I was like, No way, you know, no way. Like that’s, and whatever. And now, I tried to look smart and say that I’ve had a now that I’m in my 23rd year, I tried to say that I’ve had the original vision, you know, and I’m still on that track. And it’s like a 30 year business plan. And I just happened to be at, you know, the 23rd year year of it right now, with, you know, eyes on the prize of the 30 year vision that that I had, you know, in in 2000. So, anyways, thanks a lot of luck. A lot of perseverance and a lot of a lot of scar tissue as Yeah, be an entrepreneur No,

Kara Goldin 30:06
definitely and, and lots of different angles that, that you’re just trying to figure out these, you know, different verticals, I mean, they’re, even though, you know, being in a retailer location may seem similar to being in a food service, they really are very, very different. And it’s, it’s just so interesting what you’ve done. So, so many people who enter the natural food industry, it’s like, it’s, they get the bug, right, they don’t leave, they go and do a bunch of things, what do you what would you say is like the good, and the challenging of the natural food industry, for people who are thinking about, you know, entering it?

Ryan Black 30:53
Yeah, it’s interesting. I remember being in a room full of people in from the natural foods community and talking about this, and what I, what I said was the following, you know, when I left, sports, you know, sports was something that these words like, determination, and poise and discipline and commitment, and all of these things, they meant so much, to me, as an athlete, you know, and stepping into the natural foods community. Those words actually mean a lot as well, because people in the natural foods, organic food world are really, on a mission, they’re social entrepreneurs, right, they’re dedicated to making the world a better place, using their business to do it, right. And that’s important, you know, that’s not just a job, that’s not just a paycheck, there’s none of that none of those things, it really is being an entrepreneur in the natural foods industry, or even just working in the natural foods industry, you don’t have to be the one that starts a company, you know, you can be the one we talked about sometimes, like, you know, when you’re building a house, you know, somebody shows up, and they, they, you know, bulldoze stuff, or they lay a foundation or what it might be, and then another group comes, and they, they put up the walls, and you know, drywall and the plumbing, and then other people come later on, and they, they do the landscaping, and they put in the you know, the fixtures are so you have this ability doesn’t matter, if you’re the one that starts the company, you have this ability to join a mission and be a part of something that’s really meaningful, right. On the negative side, you know, I don’t know if there is really a negative side, you know, people I think human beings, we have work in our culture, you know, in our, in our, in our existence as humans. So you got, you know, you got to feed your family, you got to go out, you got to put your efforts into something. And as long as what you’re putting it in, you believe in, and if you can feel like you are on a mission, then you know, I always joke that like I don’t, you know, haven’t worked day in my life a little bit, you know, if you’re, if you’re on the mission, even, you know, I know, that’s being a little bit, you know, cute, but as long as you’re, you know, working towards building something, you know, you can avoid feeling like you just have to get up and go to work. No,

Kara Goldin 33:23
yeah, no, totally, and believing, I think in what you’re doing. And I think that, that is something that I see consistent way and, and the natural food industry. You know, they’ve definitely, there’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of people whose commitment, and people want to, you know, get people healthier and change, I would say, I would add that the, you know, I don’t know if it’s negative or challenging is that there’s definitely gatekeepers, right? Getting into, you know, whether it’s Whole Foods or Erawan, or, you know, it’s hard, it’s really, and when that day happens, you got to celebrate it, and it’s, and then, you know, you’ve got to, you know, applaud and then keep going and figuring out because you got to stay in there, you’ve got to, you know, continue to build on that. And it’s, you know, it’s it’s a constant challenge, right, you’re never done. So it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Yeah,

Ryan Black 34:26
I think, you know, like getting getting on the shelf at Whole Foods that’s actually like, or one of the retail getting on the shelf period. That’s like the starting line. Right. But but, I mean, there’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of work to get there. But that’s not the finish line, right? That’s, that’s like now you get to get out there and start competing on the field, you know. And, yeah, it requires a lot of persistence and, and belief and, and hard work.

Kara Goldin 34:56
Yeah, totally. It’s interesting when I started When I started hint, I don’t know if you know the story, but my dad had started a brand called Healthy Choice years ago. And he, anyway, he started at armour food company, and they were acquired by ConAgra. And you know, it’s still alive today and one of the most successful products. But when I was starting Ken, I said, Hey, how do I get hints on the shelf of Safeway? He’s like, I have no idea. Because he had, he basically developed a product within a large company. So they did all the negotiation. And then he had to negotiate internally, to get the frozen space. But he was like, I mean, if you’re going, you’re not only going in and trying to get your product on the shelf, when you don’t have lots of slotting fees to spend. And, you know, you’ve got to beg borrow, and hopefully not steal in order to get it on the shelf. But also, you know, you’re, you’re doing something that is an entirely new category, too. So it’s like, I mean, it’s just, it’s super hard. So he, he was, he was no help. Right? And in that sense, because he was like, you know, I have no idea. It’s so different. And, you know, I think that you have to be a little bit glutton for punishment, insane to actually be an entrepreneur, that is, because they don’t typically come, at least the most successful ones don’t typically come from, you know, the big guys, right? Because they would never do what you do every day. Like, yeah, it’s hard.

Ryan Black 36:47
Yeah. And I think it’s funny now that now that I get to hire amazing executives in the business that come from well trained, they, that come well trained for some of these larger companies, you know, they’re always like, I would never, I’d never do what you do what you did, right, sort of thing. And it’s funny, because, you know, at the time, you know, starting the company, 25 years old, I didn’t have anything to lose, really, I mean, I guess time, I could lose time, you know, yeah, I could use other people’s money, I guess, in some of my own. But yeah, I didn’t really never really thought about all those risks, you know, and I can also say, if I was, you know, married my sweetheart out of college, or whatever it is, and was married and had kids, or, you know, those sorts of things at that time, I might have thought about it a lot differently. Because now I do have a lot to risk, like, I need a constant paycheck, I can’t risk on that. So yeah, the, the entrepreneurial world is, is. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s also very rewarding. And, you know, it’s also, you know, the natural foods industry is inspiring, because it came from, you know, the, like, like, we we, you know, Sam was on and hence and, you know, some of these other company quite key, you know, we’re kind of like the second generation of natural foods companies, there’s now the third and even coming into the fourth, but the generation ahead of us, was, you know, these inspiring, frankly, mainly hippies, you know, that then, you know, like, like, the guy who started you in FY was like, you know, filling up his truck with like, rice, organic rice to drive it down to the market to sell it, or, you know, Steve Deimos, it’s soy, soy milk, you know, learn how to make tofu on a trip to India in the 60s, and then they came back and started making soy products in the United States. And they did it to like, you know, fight the man a little bit, you know, and like, and really do something that they were inspired to, to change the world with. So we have a very wonderful industry that we get to work in, because of some of these early pioneers, whole, you know, Whole Foods and horizon organic milk and Stonyfield Farms, yogurt, these these great entrepreneurs that kind of went out there and, and later great, you know, created an industry that we’ve got to be able to come in and be entrepreneurial. And so that’s a nice place to, to work, and to be.

Kara Goldin 39:22
You mentioned, like the third and fourth generations, who would you say is like, you know, some, like two or three of the hot brands that are out there right now that you think are kind of interesting.

Ryan Black 39:34
I love what M Lukasz is doing. They’ve got a plant based Cerrito product that they just came out with. They’ve been doing superfoods for a number of years. Yeah, but you know, Tucker and Phil Matt over it in the cache, you’ve done just a great job with their new products and that’s starting to get out there. Me think what else? Do I really like out there that I’ve been consuming? Lately, let’s see what else is out there. Some of the new Well, some of the second generation brands like gwai ki that are coming out with new products are just, you know, growing their distribution. So people are trying it for the first time. Let me see who else is now we have Expo is coming up next week. So I’m really excited to see sort of the new innovation that’s out there.

Kara Goldin 40:33
Who of you very, very, you know, it’s interesting. I have not really, I have not seen a whole lot of great innovation that I’ve been blown away by. I’ve what I’ve been interested in is watching people kind of go back to simplicity, and the basic so you know, Seth Goldman, for example, going back and starting, I mean, he’s, he’s gone back to his roots of where honest was, you know, and starting that product, you know, kind of the original, so I’m excited about I think sometimes innovation just creates complications, right. And obviously, when they get acquired by bigger companies and stuff, so I’m excited, I feel like there’s some nostalgic products that are going to start to come back. You know, I’ve I’ve also really been looking at the beauty industry, we had launched a sunscreen, and also deodorant, really focusing on the health aspects of, you know, the deodorant with no aluminum and, and really looking at sort of not just what we ingest, but also what we put on our skin, because I think that that has a lot of aspects to it that sometimes people don’t really pay attention to. And I feel like simple and less ingredients are really, I’m seeing that trend and, and beauty as well. But I think the more education you need to give to consumers about why they should actually have something, or, you know, put it on their skin or whatever, you lose them, right, people don’t want to read people don’t want to, like have tons and tons and they want to feel better, they want to taste a great product. You know, and they like hearing the benefits and understanding why but, but that’s really what I’m seeing more and more of. So it’ll be interesting to sort of see what comes out of Expo for sure. But it’s it’s interesting, I think that there’s also things that are changing as well, too. I mean, you know, you’re not in the coconut business. But but there’s a you know, there’s a lot of people in the beauty industry that are shifting away from coconut was huge a couple years ago. And there’s a lot of people that would argue that it’s not so great for you know, the environment. And that it’s so I think that there’s there’s a lot more information that’s coming out and around, you know, rain forests and things that are going on that I think are super interesting to pay attention to, to so. So anyway, I think there’s a lot of super interesting stuff. I have one, maybe two more quick questions. So building a board, that’s always something that is, you know, kind of the big question of the hour. I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t even build the board until they go out and raise money. Then all of a sudden, they’re in React mode. Oh my god, I gotta build a board. And so do you have any like suggestions on how people what you should look for when you’re building a board is there I had actually really interesting interview Chip Wilson from Lululemon. Definitely one to listen to, he talks about, you should have nine people on your board. He like goes through like, exactly. So it’s fascinating to me, because I think there’s no right answer, but I knowing what you know, now, like what would you want on your board?

Ryan Black 44:23
Yeah, great question. Couple of things. So one, especially when you start raising money, you know, with an outside investors and things like that, they typically want to show up and want to bring their partners or associates or whatever it is. And then next thing you know, you have an observer and my point is, my strong recommendation is keep the board small. Okay. Yes, if you’re a public company, nine members is probably right about the right size. But you know, we’re talking about like entrepreneurial companies. It’s a lot easier to have a Conversation with four or five people around the table than it is with nine or 10. Or, you know, I remember having certain meetings at San Verizon, where there’s 14 people 15 people in the room, it’s a total nightmare, right? So just don’t do that. Even if you had seven bought in, and we only we’ve never had more than seven board members at our at our company, but like I said, somebody brings somebody somebody brings another you next thing you know, you know, you got that many people. So number one, keep it small. Number two, especially if you’re, if you’re, if you’re smaller, and you’re starting out, like, you know, fine, it’s like building a basketball team or something like find, find, if you’re a really good shooter, don’t go find a good shooter, like if you’d like, put it more in business terms. If you’re like a great salesperson. Don’t go, you know, fill your board up with great salespeople, like go filled your board up with finance people, if you’re an accountant, and you’re you got the books, and you’re on that, you don’t need that. So so the board can be an extension of your management team, as well, if you want to go into new areas, like I mentioned earlier, that Sam was on is looking at, you know, retail stores, right? So I went out and tried to bring some board members onto the tape to the table who had franchise experience as an example. So you kind of want to create, like a mirror of your team. And I guess the last thing I’d say is financial, you know, you as you as you take on money, you’re gonna have financial investors on your board, make sure you find time and space for operators, people who have been entrepreneurs, people who have expertise working in the companies, and you don’t just end up with a bunch of finance people on your board. That’s not a great bow. You know, you want balance. You don’t want finance people on your board. You just want balance.

Kara Goldin 46:59
Yeah. Now, I think that that is absolutely critical. For sure. And, and it’s something that I think, if you don’t build it out, initially, before you’re being asked to build it out, you sort of start to run into building with the wrong people on it. And then it’s always hard to sort of redo that. More than anything. Okay, so last question. So, best advice you ever received?

Ryan Black 47:28
I think you have to trust your gut. You know, at the end of the day, you are the decision maker. And I guess the best advice I ever got was a mentor of mine that I had told me that you know, you don’t have experience, you don’t you know, you haven’t done this before, you’re not a pro in the industry, right? So you have to surround yourselves with pros, you know, that I remember him saying there’s one wild card in this business, and it’s you. Everybody else has to bring this experience to the table. And, you know, I guess from the beginning, I personally, you know, I had a big dream, let’s just say, and I knew that I didn’t know very much at all about you know, I wasn’t experienced in the industry. I think that the more you go on, you realize, like the less you know, but in the beginning, you know, I just tried to stay humble, and be humble and know that it’s gonna require really smart people around the table. Like I used to say, I want Coca Cola management, I didn’t mean like, anything negative or around that I met, like, well trained professionals, they’re going to help sort of like, pull you across the finish line. Because they’ve already been there, you know, sort of thing. And that’s always been you know, surrounding yourselves, your management team, your board of directors, with people who have who have crossed the finish line and can pull you across a little bit was good advice.

Kara Goldin 49:14
Totally. Well, that is such such great advice. And SAMBAZON is such a great company and so lucky to have you. So everyone needs to go out and get some samples on and go find your your stores that are starting to crop up and really excited. We’ll have all the information in the show notes too. But thank you so much for your time, Ryan And thanks, everybody. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Golden and if you want to hear more about my journey I hope you will have a listen. Or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening