How a 9-Year-Old Taught This Super Successful Entrepreneur About Taking Risks
After receiving a letter from a young fan asking to invest in his multi-billion dollar company, the founder and CEO of KIND learned to always ask for what you want.
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 everything he does, Daniel Lubetzky is committed to doing things the KIND way: leading with integrity and authenticity.
That is one of the guiding principles behind KIND, a billion dollar snack company Lubetzky founded in in 2004.
The CEO’s mission is to make healthy snacks that help customers do what’s best for their well-being, while also inspiring them to make the world a better place.
Since its start 13 years ago with just eight bars, the New York-based company now offers over 77 different snack items, which are sold in more than 190,000 stores in 14 countries.
An integral part of the company -- which employs more than 600 people -- is a culture around giving back. The business has a philanthropic arm called The KIND Foundation.
Last fall, the foundation awarded six $100,000 prizes and one grand prize of $500,000 to seven people who are working to improve their communities. And every month, the foundation donates $10,000 to a cause voted for by KIND customers.
We caught up with Lubetzky to ask him 20 Questions and find out what makes him tick.
This article was edited for brevity and clarity.
1. How do you start your day?
My day usually starts with at least one of my four kids jumping into my bed and waking me up. I spend a portion of the morning with my family. My family keeps me grounded. Prior to getting married and having kids, I didn’t realize how unbalanced my life was. Now I am careful not to let my work consume me. Starting the day with my family reminds me of that.
2. How do you end your day?
I like to walk around the office and say goodnight to various team members. Our team continues to grow, and I do my best to stay connected to everyone. I leave the office by 6:15 every night, so I can spend the evening with my kids. After I put my kids to bed, I usually catch up on emails for a few hours. It’s not a habit I’m proud of, but I haven’t been able to find a better way to keep up with everything I have going on.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Seventh Sense by Joshua Ramo. It helped me appreciate how much more impactful networks are going to be in our lives in the coming years. Networks are having disruptive impact – from artificial intelligence and self-driving cars to social media and its exponential reach. Networks can be leveraged for good or for bad, and the bigger they grow, the more value and power they carry .
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It helps you appreciate how our minds work. Kahneman describes two systems of thought. "System 1" which is emotional and intuitive and "System 2" which is measured and logical. There are pros and cons to each. The book made me more aware of how I process different types of information and make decisions both at work and at home.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
As entrepreneurs, we tend to have a desire to create a lot of different things. When there are so many things that you want to do, it’s hard to say “no” to any of them. Instead, I try to say “not now.” Not now doesn’t mean not ever; it just means that we’ll get to it once we’re done accomplishing whatever we’re focused on today. Practicing what I preach is trickier. Luckily, I surround myself with an awesome team that helps me strike a balance.
Related: This Founder Shares Why In Order To Learn Fast, You Need to Fail Fast
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
In all seriousness, I wanted to be a magician with special powers that would cause enemies to become friends. I didn’t like to see people fighting.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I learned not to prejudge people, and not to be arrogant.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My dad. He treated everyone with respect and equality, and taught me the importance of looking in someone’s eyes and seeing them as a human being first. He was also incredibly hardworking. When he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp and immigrated to Mexico City, he had only a third-grade education.
He taught himself Spanish and English by watching movies and reading encyclopedias cover to cover. Eventually he spoke nine languages. His approach to life, which was rooted in optimism and kindness, coupled with his hard work ethic, had a lot to do with my desire to become an entrepreneur and try to improve our world. He has inspired not only my personal work style, but also the culture we strive to build at KIND.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
After law school, I was granted a year-long fellowship in Israel. While abroad, I discovered a delicious sundried tomato spread whose manufacturer was going out of business. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to apply my theory of building peace through economic cooperation. I created my first company, Peaceworks. We made the sundried tomato spread and other products using ingredients and supplies from a variety of countries in the Middle East. The hope was that, through a shared economic interest, these groups would shatter stereotypes and cement relations with one another. It was my first attempt at building a business with purpose, and from it, KIND was born.
10. What inspires you?
I love how the KIND family works together, with a commitment to each other and to excellence. There’s great energy across our team. You can feel it in the hallways of our office, and it inspires me to be better.
Related: The Entrepreneur Behind a $90 Million Company Shares How You Can Get Past the Naysayers to Build a Successful Business
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When I was six or seven, I started my first business organizing carnival games for my siblings and cousins. I would charge each kid a couple pesos to play a ring toss game, with a spicy Mexican candy called chamoy or a stick of gum as prizes.
When I was eight, I performed my first magic show as The Great HouDani. My friends and I did shows at birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, retirement homes, schools and hospitals. I still love magic today, and from time to time, I put on shows for friends or the KIND team.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
Doing magic taught me a lot about thinking outside the box, while also having discipline. And performing in front of so many people instilled confidence in me.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Two pieces of advice come to mind. First, whatever you do, do it to best of your ability. Second, treat all human beings as equals.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
To sell KIND, almost 10 years ago. Beyond the financial reasons, selling KIND would have prevented me from learning, growing and increasing my impact in society.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
When you delve into something, do it right and thoroughly the first time so that you don’t end up having to touch the issue multiple times or start over from scratch.
Related: Stitch Fix Founder Explains Why the Worst Piece of Advice She Ever Got Was to Raise A Lot of Money
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I create a lot of lists to track my thoughts. I use Evernote and have categories from “new product development” ideas to “lessons I want to share with my kids” at different age points. I also rely heavily on my calendar, not just with firm appointments but also with tentative ones -- marked with a T at the beginning. My calendar also reminds me of things to do or points to bring up on a particular day or with a certain group of people.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
To me, work-life balance means living each aspect of my identity to the fullest. I work hard to be a good dad and husband; honor my civic and philanthropic commitments; and fulfill my business obligations and responsibilities to the team. A lot of this has to do with being fully present in each situation. When I’m with my team, I try to give them my all. When I leave the office, I spend a few hours offline so that I can be with my kids.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I am energized by my work and driven by a deeper purpose, so it’s hard for me to burn out completely. In fact, I always feel like I should be doing more. Getting more sleep would probably help -- that is something I haven’t mastered yet.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
When faced with a creativity block, I try to step back, confront my underlying assumptions and uncover the objectives that might be in conflict. Once I’ve done this, I am better equipped to think creatively about ways to accomplish both objectives at once. It’s particularly effective for social entrepreneurs, who are constantly thinking about how to achieve business and social objectives in unison.
20. What are you learning now?
My chief of staff likes to say that I am a perpetual student of life. I am very inquisitive. My team will tell you that I am always asking questions and seeking to learn from anyone and everyone around me. My leadership team teaches me about balancing my entrepreneurial tendencies with focus and discipline. Other team members teach me about their different areas of expertise, whether it’s marketing or social media or human resources.
Recently, a 9-year-old kid named Alex Munoz wrote me a letter, stating that he wanted to invest in KIND. Alex taught me about taking risks and asking for what you want, even if you aren’t sure of the outcome. There are lessons to be learned everywhere.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.