Editor's Note: The If I knew then series puts more-established entrepreneurs under the microscope -- asking them what they would do differently if they knew then, what they know now.
Daniel Lubetzky is the CEO and founder of KIND, a snack line that incorporates “holistic kindness” into its mission statement. Over the years, Lubetzky has been involved in various social entrepreneurship endeavors, including founding healthful food products PeaceWorks, Peaceworks Foundation, an organization focused on encouraging understanding between people in areas of conflict and luxury artisan fashion label Maiyet.
While Lubetzky has had successes as a serial-social entrepreneur, he has made his fair share of mistakes. We caught up with Lubetzky to discuss what lessons he learned during his entrepreneurial journey.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting up? How has this lesson helped your current business, KIND?
A: I keep quality sacrosanct. One of my first businesses was a company called PeaceWorks where I created a brand called MEDITALIA, which was a line of tapenades and spreads. When we first started, the product was well-received and sold so quickly we jumped to capitalize on demand. What in turn happened was we sacrificed the quality of our product by rushing to market new offerings that were not in line with our brand. We hurt our reputation with our consumers and subsequently our sales.
I was able to put these learnings to work with KIND, a brand of all natural foods made from ingredients you can see and pronounce. At KIND, we hired someone to focus solely on quality. Working together, we’ve set up specific criterion that each SKU is measured against to ensure it meets the attributes consumers have come to know. Additionally, we taste every batch of products to make sure everything we put on shelves will meet our high standards.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have hired a quality control expert to be a part of our MEDITALIA team, as quality is the cornerstone of any business and is worth investing in.
Q: What do you think would have happened if you had this knowledge then?
A:Given that I was able to act on my lessons learned from PeaceWorks when starting KIND, I feel that I have some evidence of what could have happened.
Since launching, KIND has become a leader in the healthy snacks category. A large part of that success is due to our commitment to only providing the highest quality products. At KIND, we avoid jumping to react to passing trends. Instead, we thoroughly evaluate whether or not new product concepts meet or exceed the expectations we’ve set. It is our belief that a brand is a promise and a great brand is a promise kept.
Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight?
A: It’s easy to jump on “hot” trends and feel like being first to market will be the sole driver of results in terms of brand awareness, sales and revenue. My hope is that in seeing my early mistakes, young entrepreneurs will learn to pause, focus on quality above all else and fully vet decisions to ensure that they always live up to their brand promise, as that will result in sustained success.
Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how might they realize these sorts of helpful pearls of wisdom sooner?
A: I do think taking extra time to think through and question every decision you make will help to limit preventable mistakes.
At KIND, we operate under what we’ve coined the “AND philosophy,” where we try to avoid false compromises by instead of saying "or" we say "and." We choose to be healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome economically sustainable and socially impactful.
Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now?
A: Starting a business and the challenge that entails is quite exciting, but I’m glad I didn’t know how truly hard things can be. Coming up with the ideas is easy but the realities of what it takes to make the idea take off sets in quickly. Every early decision is crucial and plays a role in the future success of your business. The sometimes harsh realities can stop people from pushing further to accomplish their goals.
Q: Best advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: Strive to not only create exciting, innovative products and services, but also look to see how you can help to make the world a better, kinder place. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to help build a better world in any way we can, as we have the voice and the resources to make a difference.
On strictly business level, always look to stretch beyond what you think is attainable and continually set more ambitious goals to reach for.
-This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known then? Let us know in the comments below.