This Successful Entrepreneur Was Turned Down By 50 VC Firms. Today, His Company Makes Millions.
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.
For Gunnar Lovelace, the word “no” wasn’t a deterrent to his dream; rather, it was a galvanizing force.
The founder and co-CEO of Thrive Market, a major ecommerce retailer of non-GMO, organic and natural groceries, was rejected by 50 venture capital firms before launching in 2013. But Lovelace and his team ended up raising more than $160 million by partnering with individuals who shared their vision.
Today, for $60 annual membership, Thrive Market customers can purchase to a variety of natural foods, home and beauty products at 30 to 50 percent of the retail price shipped to them for free. For every paid membership, the platform sponsors a free membership for a low-income family.
Lovelace says the inspiration for Thrive Market -- his fourth company after two tech companies and a jewelry business called Love Heals -- stemmed from what he learned from his own upbringing.
“It just comes from a very personal place,” he says. “Having grown up with a single mom and seeing how hard she worked to make healthy choices, it always seemed crazy to me that food with lots of chemicals and processing cost less food with no chemicals to process.”
In four years, the company has grown from one employee to a staff of over 500. By its second year in business, the company was bringing in $100 million in sales, and to date, the company has launched over 200 of its own Thrive Market Collection branded products with an additional 200 items in the works.
“When we help people access healthy food we're empowering them, we're dealing with major macroeconomic issues,” Lovelace explained about the company’s mission. “Conventional agriculture is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases, so it's incredibly impactful thing to shift from toxic, conventional food systems to organic and regenerative [ones].”
We caught up with Lovelace to ask him 20 questions and figure out what makes him tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I jump on my rowing machine and I take a cold shower. Getting regular exercise and taking a cold shower just kind of makes me feel very clear, clean and stable. And it works out the stress I may be carrying.
2. How do you end your day?
I spend a lot of time rolling on my back on an extra-firm roller. I like it, because we spend so much time sitting, so there's a lot of compression and rolling around my back relaxes me.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie. She has an interesting method for taking radical personal responsibility. I used to be a very judgmental person, so I really appreciate the way that she frames the opportunity of taking responsibility for our judgments and perceptions.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Stephen Covey is just a master at articulating the ability to have an optimized managerial experience. Again, just kind of back to the theme of radical personal responsibility and understanding how to build a positive team culture.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Staying positive and not dwelling on past regrets. It is really pretty simple.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pirate. I've always been attracted to that and the Robin Hood narratives, probably because I was conditioned from my parents, who both come from activist backgrounds.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I haven't really ever had a boss; I've always worked for myself. So, I learned from myself as my worst boss. I used to be a terrible micromanager in my first companies. We hopefully mature as we get older, and I wanted to be more successful, so it challenged me to look at why I wasn't succeeding the way I wanted to.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
It sounds cliché, but it's my mom. We immigrated here when I was 2, very poor Latino immigrants. She's just been incredibly courageous, creative and persistent in the face of very difficult challenges.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I drove on back roads from L.A. to New York and spent a lot of time interviewing people about what they're motivated by, what makes them happy and just seeing seeing commonality between people from all different places.
10. What inspires you?
I'm inspired by the power of our species. I think that's a double-edged sword. On one hand it's incredibly destructive. But on the other hand, it's just remarkable how we're able to dream, have a vision and then bring it to life.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
It was a pizza restaurant and cultural center in college that I raised $250,000 for in the annual student elections. It operated as a business and an educational center.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
My first job was when I started a desk-top publishing business when I was 15. It started my love of typography and graphics that would be essential in marketing and advertising successes [later on].
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Never accepting no. We were rejected by over 50 VC firms. We ended up raising our first $10 million from 150 mega-bloggers as a result. If we had accepted the no's, we would never have come as far as we have.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I feel like I give myself the worst advice and that's really just like personal insecurity and fear as opposed to classically interpreted bad advice.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
A simple Google sheet with each person that I am working with that I use to track the major threads of the projects and themes we're managing together.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I really like Wunderlist. I've used a lot of lists and to-do apps, and it's just super simple, lightweight. Also, it's stable and collaborative, so I can share. It's just a very effective way for me to keep myself organized.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I am working that one out. I think I've probably suffered tremendously under my intense ambition, and I'm not sure I believe in balance in a classical way, but more the idea of equilibrium.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Getting sleep, taking time for myself and being creative in nonlinear ways outside of the business.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I will do some conscious breathing and move my body.
20. What are you learning now?
Being more authentically me. I grew up in a hippie commune in very kind of alternative circumstances, with a lot of survival trauma early on in my life. As I went through my entrepreneurial career early on, I thought I had to hide that, because it wasn't normal. Now I am really experimenting with allowing my freak flag fly.