Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
In developing countries that have to contend with hunger, malnutrition and poverty, iron deficiency is something that affects about 2 billion people around the world. Iron deficiency anemia can cause, pain and fatigue, pregnancy complications and even an increased likelihood of premature death in children.
Four years ago, Gavin Armstrong started Lucky Iron Fish in an effort to change this. The B-Corp makes cast iron fish that can be placed into boiling water to augment a meal with much-needed iron. Using the fish can meet 90 percent of a family's daily iron intake for up to five years.
Initially tested in Cambodia in 2012, a country with a high iron deficiency rate, and officially launched in 2014, the company started out slowly, selling about 100 fish a month. But thanks to the company's "buy one, get one" program, along with attention and demand, Lucky Iron Fish is now selling 100 fish an hour. Since its inception, 70,000 fish have been sold, and in turn 70,000 are in the process of being donated to people in need.
Because of his mission and the impact the company has had on families, Lucky Iron Fish was recently recognized in the top 10 percentile of all B-Corp companies, landing the “Best for the World” class.
We caught up with the world-changing entrepreneur for our 20 Questions series to find out what motivates him and makes him tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I open my phone and look at my emails to make sure nothing jumps out as urgent or an emergency. Our company is global and operating in different time zones means a lot can happen when you sleep.
2. How do you end your day?I used to end my day looking at my email, but I don’t do that anymore because it would impact my sleep. I find something insightful to read to distract myself from the job aspects. I'm currently reading Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. He’s one of my favorite writers.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business Book by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia. It raises interesting questions about how the private sector should be spending their money and how they should be earning their money. It all depends on the age and stage of your company and what commitment and obligation you should have to giving back.Because we started from day one with the objective to have a social impact embedded throughout our supply chain, we were able to weave that into all of our actions and our entire process. And as we grow, that culture and value grows with us.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
I recommend Conscious Capital because if you're an entrepreneur, I think that you can’t only have one point of view. That book lets you explore the concept within different frameworks and how it would work for you. It uses relevant, current issues and examples. Even if you don’t agree with the opinions, you are given enough information to make your own decision.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
You have to prioritize. I cannot stand it when mole hills get turned into mountains. You only have so much energy and there are only so many minutes in a day.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little, I did want to be an entrepreneur. My uncle started his own company when I was in elementary school, and I always admired him for that. His company sold plumbing and washroom equipment. I went into work with him all the time; I swept the floors for nothing just to be in the office, loved the atmosphere and felt proud by association.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
People who are bullies act that way because they are insecure about something else. They are very demeaning and not appreciative.
You want to be very respectful of people working with you. Remember they work with you, not for you. Be complimentary of their work, because they are putting a lot of time and effort into it.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Paul Polman the CEO of Unilever. He's been such an inspiration as far as leading a multinational company with a social impact. He put an ambitious socially-thinking strategy in place, because he felt it was the right thing to do, and he did it by going against the traditional approach.
He had to convince shareholders to eliminate quarterly thinking and focus on long-term success. He believes companies should embed value throughout the supply chain, which I believe is the future. And it’s paying off. Their sustainable living brands have increased in performance. He cares and shows his care through his work.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
My first time really leaving North America was for a seminar course in my first year of college. We went to Botswana.
I wanted to be a banker; it seemed like such a lucrative, affluent lifestyle. That trip was the first time experiencing abject poverty. After leaving Botswana, I realized I was on a selfish trajectory. Instead of just doing my undergraduate degree and getting out as fast as possible, I ended up staying 10 years at the university and earning three degrees, and then starting my own company.
10. What inspires you?
Making change and empowering people. I'm a big believer in the power of one, that one person, one action, can have a ripple effect that can make a difference.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
My first business idea was to have a remote lock for your locker, like the ones for cars. I was in seventh or eighth grade, and I actually called a bunch of patent lawyers. They gave me the process, but I didn't have any money. My parents thought it was a stupid idea, so that was that.
12. What is an early job that taught you something useful?
My first job was picking up garbage under the deck of a convenience store. Kids actually used to come and spit on me. I learned to stick it out. It was a miserable working environment, but I needed experience to get a better job, so I worked through it. I got thicker skin, and it made me stronger.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Learn from your failures. If you don't learn from your failures, then it was for nothing. It makes failures have some worth. That was from Richard Branson.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Stay within the mold. The advice came from a senior person at a bank [where I was working]. They said that if you don't look the part of the traditional banker, you won't be a traditional banker. That you should just fall in line [and conform].
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Lists. Prioritizing what needs to be done now, what's on the medium horizon and what can be shelved. I don't leave the office until I do the core jobs that need to be done.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I use Withings to monitor my blood pressure and my weight and have a new Withings lamp that helps regulate sleep patterns. Before using tech I walked less and overslept more.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
For me it is an ideal that I'll have one day. I think it’s important to make time for yourself, because it is very easy to burn out. I always try my best to make time for my friends even if we’re in different places.They keep me grounded and keep me sane. It can be difficult, but I’m trying to do a better job of staying engaged and making time for them. It’s as simple as sending silly photos and jokes back and forth just to laugh. I think it's important to laugh everyday.
Related: The Truth About Work-Life Balance
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I'm a huge dog person. I have friends with dogs, so I help with them, go on dog trails and explore with them. To de-stress I love to cook at home. I get so caught up in the meal prep, all the other stuff washes away.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Talking to people. I think if you are stuck, you have put walls up around and gotten too deep into it. Talking to someone else, helps you get their perspective and illuminates it in a way you haven't thought about.
20. What are you learning now?
I'm learning to balance long-term objectives with short-term needs. It is really easy to get caught up in short term objectives -- sales, numbers, meeting quotas, managing your inbox. But you have to take some time to plan to achieve your long-term goals and figure out how to get there.
This article was edited for brevity and clarity.