Who is Marc Brodeur and the key takeaways in this episode?
With technology at its peak, you’d probably think that there are no more opportunities left to be discovered or invented. But this witty and brilliant man, Marc Brodeur, whose passion for creating products that he couldn’t find to fill a niche, has definitely found a gap in the market that has enabled him to come up with a product called Brode Electrolyte Vitamin.
So if you want to be energized, be sure to stick around and listen to the full interview as we discussed:
- Who exactly Marc Brodeur is and what made Brode so phenomenal
- How he came up with the idea and actually worked on that idea to fruition
- Why the “turnaround factor” is critical in building a business
- What you should keep in mind when thinking of getting a business partner on board
 My listeners want to know, how did you come up with the idea of Brode? Where did it come from?
Answer: I know it’s trendy now, but when you grow up, entrepreneurship is the most risky thing you could do and it’s still risky. But I never even considered starting something until I had already graduated college. It seemed crazy to me. But one thing I have always been able to do is amuse myself by creating products that fill a niche that I couldn’t find. So, I’d see a hole in the market and I would make some little doohickey that I think would be useful and nobody apparently was selling yet. So what happened is I’m mid-20s, maybe I was 24-25, I was using both Gatorade and Pedialyte as electrolyte drinks just for hydration either when playing sports or I was going out and drinking and just trying to stay hydrated. And I thought, “Well, you know, these drinks have these electrolytes in them. I know how the nutrition works. Nutrition is not that complicated. Why don’t they just make these electrolyte drinks into a vitamin that I can take with any drink and keep it in my pocket?” And I poked around for some stuff like this and if it was out there, it wasn’t easy to find. So I bought a capsule machine, a little one, and I bought a bunch of bulk vitamins and a little chemistry scale, whipped out some of my high school chemistry, had to do a little bit of molar equation, not too bad, and I basically deconstructed Pedialyte into a vitamin and filled it into a capsule.
 How do you want to grow? What’s your vision? What are you like 24 months from now?
Answer: The two things right now that I have on the horizon, one is this is a very big PR play, that’s the way this product gets built. So this product gets built on through a combination of PR and word of mouth so that’s why I’m taking a lot of the extra resources I have right now and working with the PR team. I try to grow it that way. People come to new products when they get recommendations and those recommendations are either going to be via some sort of a media outlet or through their friends. So as far as what to do with the sales that I’ve gotten and if I do get any additional capital, that’s going right back into PR promotion. It has to. And then, the next step, is that while online is a really incredible way to sell to people because you get an opportunity to talk to them at a little bit more length, but ultimately this product has to go to retail and that’s a whole other step. But that would be, when we’re talking 12-24 months, it could be potentially be ready for retail in that step. And that would require, again, more capital investment, but what I’m hoping to do is have the sales record online to be able to back that up.
 How important is it as an entrepreneur to be able to pivot?
Answer: So, pivoting is both underrated and overrated in my experience. You don’t want to pivot away from whatever your goal is. So with Brode Electrolyte Vitamin, my goal is to get this style of a product to all the people who it will help and who want it. So around that goal, there are tons of pivots that can be made. It can be positioned as a premium product; it can be positioned as a budget product. It can be done in open-multi packs or single packs. It can go retail online, in vending machines. So there are all these pivots around that and as someone working on a project or a business, you have to always remember, “What do I actually want to be the result of this?” And for me, it’s about getting this product out there. And if the business strategy has to be pivoted, then you have to be flexible to do that. And one thing I’ve tried to do is to set up all of my business operations projects to be as flexible as possible. And because of the cost structure that it has right now, it can operate indefinitely until it gets that home run, tipping point, push and that’s what I want.
Culture According to Marc Brodeur:
In its simplest form, company culture is just the collection of habits of people in a group, but it’s something that can be very self-sustaining in its own way or self-perpetuating. So I’ve been at a couple different organizations and you can have a culture of people who will be very social, you can have cultures of people who will work together a lot during the day but then they all kind of go their separate ways. But this collection of habits can have a lot of impact on what the expectations are for new people when they come in. So it’s almost like this: I want to use the word ‘biological’ but like a biological network that has these pieces, these people moving in and out, and almost sustains itself. And it’s a lot more powerful than some people give it credit for. I know culture’s becoming a bit more trendy and I think that’s a really incredible thing because it’s really powerful.
Go To Quote for Inspiration
- ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman
- ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath
- ‘Seven Effective Habits’ by Stephen Covey
What Marc Brodeur Wants His Company Culture to BE:
- BE Empathetic
- BE Flexible
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:
Where to Find Marc Brodeur:
Connect with John on
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
John: Marc, welcome to BE Culture Radio.
Marc: All right. Thanks John, good to be here.
John: How you doing this morning? Okay?
Marc: Good, good. Yeah, I got my water. I got my coffee.
John: There we go. And you know what. I think springtime is finally happening in the Northeast, I can see the ground.
Marc: A little bit, yes, I’m in New York so all the snow, more or less, has melted. We’ve got some nice little showers on the horizon, so exciting; plants are turning green again.
John: Yes, and the great Metropolitan people will begin to smile again.
Marc: Right. People are pretty tired of it, honestly. It’s time. Baseball’s starting; I’m excited. So…
John: Yankee fan or Met fan?
Marc: Phillies fan, I grew up in Philly.
Marc: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]
John: That’s not going to work out too well, I’m just saying.
Marc: Yeah, you know, you deal with it.
John: I’m not judging, I’m just saying.
John: Anyway, before we jump in here, could you give our listeners a little background about who you are, and how you arrived to where you are today?
Marc: Yeah, so I went to school in New York at NYU. I did Economics and Math and after that, I got into a non-profit engineering firm that did building efficiency and I kind of ran the business side with one of their engineering teams and did that for a few years. It was a small team. I’m sure some of your listeners know when you work on a small team you just end up doing everything. So it was me on the business side with another woman and a team of engineers, about 10 of them. So you end up learning how to write proposals, you learn how to keep track of things, you learn how to do marketing, you teach yourself some Photoshop, you teach yourself some fairly sophisticated Excel for casting. When you work on a small team, no one’s telling you what to do, which can be unnerving and you don’t always have a good example to follow, but you do kind of get thrown in the fire in a way where you can figure this stuff out. So I worked with them for a couple of years and then I went to another organization, an education center, and I ran their operations for about a year and a half. And kind of in the middle of some of this was where I developed my product, the Brode Electrolyte Vitamin. So the genesis of that was in 2010 and then I was kind of kicking around that project for a while, trying different prototypes, and the current iteration of the product, of the company started a little more than a year ago, kind of in January of 2013. So the company as it is now is about a year and a few months old but the project, I’ve been trying to work on for 4-ish years.
John: Wow, Now, Marc, let me drill down just a little bit so that our listeners can have a better understanding of who you are. Marc Brodeur, who are you? What shaped you before you got to NYU? What even drove you to come to NYU? I talk about how everybody has a tribe and we come from somewhere.
Marc: Yeah, so I wanted to be in the city. I always felt like I grew up a little fast, you might say, just in the sense that I always felt very independent. I felt a little bit like a grown-up and I wanted to go to the city. So I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I have a lot of friends who went to Penn State, a lot of friends who stayed in the broad area. And when I kind of compared the experience of going to the city with the experience of going to kind of a very classic college experience, I wanted to try going to the city. It turned out really great. The tribe is an interesting question because I always have my family. I have one younger brother, my parents, and especially my mom, who comes from a family of three sisters, and I’ve got a bunch of cousins and they’ve always been really supportive. But the tribe also evolves a little bit. I’ve been able to stay in touch with my high school friends in a really incredible way. High school friends, they’re mostly either in New York or San Francisco, it turns out that way when you’re in your late 20s-early 30s, but they’ve always been really supportive. Still, though, I’m sure you’ve heard this from other interviewees, when you’re doing your own thing in an entrepreneurship way, it can be isolating too, and that’s something that you have to work extra hard on because there’s always going to be times where you feel like you’re very alone. [Laughs] That’s not to sound down, I don’t mean it to sound down, it’s just something that you have to pay attention to and when you do have those moments, you have to say, “Okay, who can I give a call to? Who can I set up coffee or lunch with to kind of right the ship, so to speak, at least for this moment?”
John: You know, I’ve got to say, Marc. I’ll share this with you and all of our listeners. You bring up a phenomenal point and that is that loneliness and that feeling of isolation, I don’t think, as you progress, for me, it ever changes and it never goes away. It’s something you battle with. When I worked in Corporate America, as you progress, the saying goes is, “The higher you go, the better you eat, but you eat alone.” As you go through and build your own business, it is a flight of a lot of time spent with your own thoughts and your own being. That’s what entrepreneurs do.
Marc: It’s a little bit of the nature of the role, yeah.
John: Yeah, and I think you bring a good point up because if we don’t recognize it and we don’t address it, I believe it can have a real negative effect on your ability to succeed.
Marc: Oh, absolutely. So, I left my day job around January of 2013, kind of when I was really getting Brode Electrolyte Vitamin going for real. And you know, at the beginning, cash flow is tighter so I did a lot of work out of my apartment and that can just exacerbate the whole effect of spending a lot of time by yourself. You do whatever you can to get out but you don’t see a lot of people during the day, so it’s just a very literal feel of isolation. So one thing I was able to do towards the end of last year and I was very excited when I was able to do it is I joined a co-working space here in [inaudible 06:26] in Queens and that just makes such a difference and it’s not that I’m working directly with the other members here but now, you really feel like you have a group of peers, a group of friends, who are at least somewhat in the same boat. Some people here are working in small teams of 3-5. Some people are working by themselves here but with remote people, but everybody has a level of independence and a level of understanding of each other where they’re very supportive, they’re very open to chatting, talking through issues and one of the things that I love, people who know me will know this, is that I love talking about problems and solutions in a very constructive way. I get very engaged with that, so I love hearing what other people are working on, and talking through it, and thinking about ways to make stuff even better, even if it has nothing to do with what I’m working on. It’s a fun thing to do and a co-working space is a great place for that.
John: Marc, let me jump in there for a minute. My listeners want to know, how did you came up with the idea of Brode? Where did it come from?
Marc: I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs obviously over the time and a lot of them have this story where when they were 6, they got their first paper route and when they were 8, they were trading baseball cards, and when they were 13, they started copying their notes and selling them, and when they went to college, they were selling slices of pizza on the dorm floor. These people were on the track to be hustling and starting a company since they were 7. And my story is actually really different from that. So, my parents are fantastic at what they do, but neither of them has done entrepreneurship. So my dad does some computer and database stuff for the state and my mom has actually done some hustle jobs earlier but now she works as a clinical therapist manager. So I never had firsthand examples that starting a business was actually a real job to do. And I know it’s trendy now, but when you grow up, entrepreneurship is the most risky thing you could do and it’s still risky. But I never even considered starting something until I had already graduated college. It seemed crazy to me. But one thing I have always been able to do is amuse myself by creating products that fill a niche that I couldn’t find. So, I’d see a hole in the market and I would make some little doohickey that I think would be useful and nobody apparently was selling yet. So what happened is I’m mid-20s, maybe I was 24-25, I was using both Gatorade and Pedialyte as electrolyte drinks just for hydration either when playing sports or I was going out and drinking and just trying to stay hydrated. And I thought, “Well, you know, these drinks have these electrolytes in them. I know how the nutrition works. Nutrition is not that complicated. Why don’t they just make these electrolyte drinks into a vitamin that I can take with any drink and keep it in my pocket?” And I poked around for some stuff like this and if it was out there, it wasn’t easy to find. So I bought a capsule machine, a little one, and I bought a bunch of bulk vitamins and a little chemistry scale, whipped out some of my high school chemistry, had to do a little bit of molar equation, not too bad, and I basically deconstructed Pedialyte into a vitamin and filled it into a capsule.
John: Wow. How did you do that?
Marc: So, the nice thing about all food products is that they’re labeled. And you can see what the nutrition is on the back and there’s no secret formula to a vitamin. There’s no special sauce like there would be in Coca-Cola. So I looked at the label, and I looked at a couple others, I had to compare them and I got all of the different minerals. So it’s got sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, a few extra B vitamins that I borrowed from a different formula and I just put them all together into one vitamin. So a capsule filling machine works – it looks kind of like a tray, and the tray has a big lattice of little, tiny holes and you put half the capsule in these holes, and then you spread the vitamin powder into the capsules and then you put the other half of the capsule on top and then you just kind of, like a little clam shell, you press them together. So, I did that for a while, making all these little prototype capsules and sharing them with my friends to see whether anybody actually cared about it. And people liked it so that’s where I got the first ankling of you know, “This seems like this can actually be a big deal. I should keep taking baby steps in this direction and see where it takes me.” Because again, I’ve always been pretty fiscally conservative and I understand how risky financially starting a business can be. But I also have always been very independent and always wanted to do my own thing so putting those two together can be very powerful but the financial side was saying, “Be careful.” and the independence side is saying, “This is cool. Keep doing it.”
John: So you had a little guy on each shoulder, one telling you a different thing, and hey, you know what, Marc, you bring a good point up. So for most entrepreneurs they all started businesses with the old saying, “The number 1 rule is starting a business; number 2 is staying in business.”
Marc: Right. So, for me, it wasn’t that I always wanted to hustle. For me, it was very much about the product. And I found something that I didn’t see anyone else doing, and I wanted to make it happen, I wanted this product to exist. And, I’m sure that people say this too, but once you start on this road, you get bitten by the bug and now I have a whole little notebook of products that aren’t there that I want to do next. But the next evolution was turning this product into a business that has marketing, it’s got customers, it’s got contracting out manufacturers, it has all these elements to it to take something that people like, and get them to buy it. That right there actually, is kind of the most important thing if I had to pick one thing. So people will try something, people will tell you they like it, but what does it take to get them to turn around and buy it? That is a critical point and that’s the piece that so many people who get encouragement from their friends have to realize, that it really doesn’t matter if people say that it’s a great idea and if they like it. What does it take to have them turn around and purchase it later or at some point? That’s what turns a product into a business and that’s the hardest part and anyone will probably tell you the same thing.
John: That’s the brittle part of staying in business. We, as entrepreneurs, like the shiny objects; we like to chase our ideas and develop our ideas. As it has been said many times, you have to be sure that somebody wants what you’re making because if you don’t, you have a problem. Now, Marc, let me ask you something, what was the tipping point for you? Because a lot of entrepreneurs start on this path and they leave their job and they have the jumping off point and I don’t think they’re realistic and they don’t understand, “I was making X, now I’m going to make X minus minus minus of my upside, it’s huge, but the pain I’m going to go through.” I don’t think anybody prepares them for that. So what your tipping point?
Marc: So, if in the most recent history, the thing I’d have to pick is in September, Brode got posted on Buzzfeed in a really great article called ’17 Cool New Startups You Can’t Miss’ or something like that, which was just the perfect place to put it. It was a big deal. So, again, I had been plugging along with this project throughout the summer, wasn’t getting a lot of traction, wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. I had enough inventory to last me through the following year. And I was trying to figure out what the next step was and I was pretty much ready to close up at the end of the year if I wasn’t able to get any traction. And then, again, Buzzfeed drives a tremendous amount of traffic. So it got posted in this very flattering article. The author wrote a great a two-cents about it, saying it was a great product. So that drove a lot of sales to the site, more than pretty much the rest of the year previous to that. That’s how many people Buzzfeed will drive to your site. And then the thing that was really encouraging, so the second step after that happened, then you get emails all trickling from people telling you how great the product helped them out and you get people who bought just a single come back and buy ten more. And repeat customers are what really do it for you. It’s incredible. It’s like, you sell somebody this product, and they come back and say, “Wow! That was great. I want more.” And that’s to me is what tells you that you’re doing something right, that you just need to find the right formula to get it in front of people but if you find the right people, something that can really be a success. So if I had to pick a tipping point, it would be that one. And then, it’s been better after that. I’m hiring a PR team to work with right now; I’m very excited about that. Last September, I got that post. I didn’t have anything to do with it, honestly.
John: That’s pretty cool.
Marc: Yeah. I did some promotions prior to that with Box of the Month Clubs and I’m almost sure the author found out about it through one of those promotions. The way I look at it is, everyday you roll the dice, and you see what happens. But you have control over weighting those dice and you just keep putting out good vibes and eventually, something really great will happen.
John: I agree with you. I think that happens more times than not. If you’re doing the right things, karma is a wonderful thing or karma can be a horrible thing. It all depends on what you put out there.
Marc: Yeah. So the better your actions are, the more likely good things are to happen. The chance might go from 1 out of 1000 to 1 out of 500 but that’s double the chance. You just have to keep trying.
John: That’s pretty cool. Now, tell me something, how do you define company culture?
Marc: So, in its simplest form, company culture is just the collection of habits of people in a group but it’s something that can be very self-sustaining in its own way or self-perpetuating. So I’ve been at a couple different organizations and you can have a culture of people who will be very social, you can have cultures of people who will work together a lot during the day but then they all kind of go their separate ways. But this collection of habits can have a lot of impact on what the expectations are for new people when they come in. So it’s almost like this: I want to use the word ‘biological’ but like a biological network that has these pieces, these people moving in and out, and almost sustains itself. And it’s a lot more powerful than some people give it credit for. I know culture’s becoming a bit more trendy and I think that’s a really incredible thing because it’s really powerful.
John: Marc, can you share a story with us where you’ve seen a company where the culture has accelerated their growth?
Marc: Culture accelerated growth… To be honest, well, I’m trying to think if I have a personal experience with one. Some of the companies I’ve worked with, the one that I worked for after college actually has since gone under and they had some issues with the culture that they weren’t able to deal with. As far as ones…
John: You can tell us that story.
Marc: You know what, that story, that’s a good story.
John: I mean, we can learn as much from that as the other side of it, right, Marc?
Marc: It’s interesting, right? In the sense that, right out of college, I was working in an environment that had a lot of workplace issues and a lot of my views on culture now are basically, “What do I need to do to avoid the issues that that company dealt with?” So one thing that that company had a lot of trouble with is that it was not clear on what the goals of the company were. So it was a non-profit organization, but it also had arms within the company that essentially competed with for-profit engineering firms and it created a really strange dynamic within the company. It wasn’t clear. Were we operating as a non-profit? Or were we operating as a for-profit? Some of the parts were clearly non-profit, and some of them really needed to operate as a for-profit company to compete in that market but the culture was very convoluted in that sense. It created this indecision and this inability to make commitments in a business sense just because there was this culture of wanting to do it all, right? Even Google can’t do it all, right? Google+ famously has been a disaster. So, as a company, a smaller company, under 100 employees, trying to do it all is really a difficult task. So the first thing was that there was this idea that we wanted to do it all and we didn’t really know who we were because of that. The second was, this again stems a little bit of the non-profit culture, but there wasn’t as much of a culture of accountability that there should’ve been. When people see people who are not held accountable or when things go wrong and it’s not dealt with, that really seeps out and it creates this idea that, “Oh. It always happens that way around here.” People would literally tell me that. I would have an idea that I thought was a good idea, a way to make things better, and people would say, literally, “Oh, that would never work here.” And I said, “Geez, what kind of a mentality is that?” So, that really comes from the top and the people, whoever are running the show, need to set the tone that people need to be held accountable. And it’s not necessarily easy, these can be tough conversations but you have to do it if you’re the one that’s setting the tone. So, this murky idea of what the heck we were doing plus the culture of accountability just led to a lot of business as usual, kind of like chickens running around with their heads cut off, all these things that weren’t conducive to really good performance.
John: Let me ask you about the other side of that, because we talked about the emotional side, we talked the human side. Let’s talk about the physical side now, the environment that created the office design. I’m sure in your travels, you’ve seen offices that match the culture and you’ve seen this. How, in your opinion, does it help create retention of staff and hiring of sharp people? Because we know the millennials, they’re not going to live in a cubicle form.
Marc: I think it has to go hand-in-hand somewhat. At my previous job, I ran Operations at this education center and I was in charge of rearranging the office at one point and we went from a layout that had higher intra-desk, closer to what you call a cubicle farm, to lower ones. Part of this was we needed to accommodate some more people, which was good, but it was interesting in a sense that the open office layout has some tremendous advantages and also some things that you need to be wary of. So just in the same way that you want to encourage interpersonal interactions and all these serendipitous moments, as business buzz articles might call them, you also need to allow people to focus on what they’re doing. When people felt too close or too distracted to other people, they would comment that it was a little bit harder to get stuff done. Now also, this is going to be a little bit of just people complaining whenever there’s a change but it’s also something that we modified a little bit. So the way that an office layout can enhance culture, it has to go along with the culture at the same time. So, if you have a group of lawyers and they’re all used to having their own box and all of a sudden you throw them into an office layout you’re pushing the office beyond what the culture is capable of. So the two things have to go together. You can use each of them to nudge the other. You can nudge the culture to be a little bit more transparent, and at the same time, you can use the office layout to try to foster some of that same direction. So neither one can get too far ahead of the other. Certainly the office can put a crimp on the culture if you have all of these isolated boxes and you’re trying to be a lot more transparent, ‘tear down silos’, so to speak. You’re going to have to address that people literally don’t see each other that often but at the same time, you can’t just throw everyone in a big open space and expect everything to be peachy if what people are used to, if their accumulated habits, are working without seeing anybody.
John: You know, Marc, you’re right on target because yesterday, we had a guest who is the Vice-Chancellor of Student Success from the University of Arkansas, Dr. Robertson. In her role, she’s talking about the physical environment for the students and staff, and moving, and so if they’re going to do it in an educational standpoint, you better be prepared on a business standpoint because that’s what’s they’re going to expect coming out of college.
John: So I think you’re right on target there. Hey, I want to ask you something, as you move forward, because I’m going to change subjects a little bit. I’m moving to you developing Brode and going forward. it’s a little cool product, so my listeners will get a chance to check it out, but you know, Marc, as you go forward, I would imagine you’re going to go down the investment trail like a lot of our folks too. So, let’s talk about that for a moment. What do you want to do with your capital investments? How do you want to grow? What’s your vision? What are you like 24 months from now?
Marc: Yeah, well, time will tell. But the two things right now that I have on the horizon, one is this is a very big PR play, that’s the way this product gets built. So this product gets built on through a combination of PR and word of mouth so that’s why I’m taking a lot of the extra resources I have right now and working with the PR team. I try to grow it that way. People come to new products when they get recommendations and those recommendations are either going to be via some sort of a media outlet or through their friends. So as far as what to do with the sales that I’ve gotten and if I do get any additional capital, that’s going right back into PR promotion. It has to. And then, the next step, is that while online is a really incredible way to sell to people because you get an opportunity to talk to them at a little bit more length, but ultimately this product has to go to retail and that’s a whole other step. But that would be, when we’re talking 12-24 months, it could be potentially be ready for retail in that step. And that would require, again, more capital investment, but what I’m hoping to do is have the sales record online to be able to back that up.
John: That’s pretty cool.
Marc: So the goal is to, right now, I treat the business almost as if it were a stock investment so it has cash flow, it has profits coming out, and I reinvest those. I don’t take a salary from it. I treat it more of an entity and the idea is to have those sales and reinvestments have enough of a track record so I could get good terms on a strategic partner or something like that.
John: Sounds like you got it pretty well planned out.
Marc: I hope where it can go, yeah.
John: I see it all. I’m fortunate enough that one of the things I do on a regular basis is for the last 12 years I’ve been the General Manager of Men’s Basketball Organization for…
Marc: Oh, that’s cool.
John: But it’s 14,15, 16, 17-year old inter-city kids, that we get them off to college. We’ve had 34 NBA players. The program’s been around for 40 years.
Marc: Okay, yeah.
John: It’s the oldest program in New Jersey. It’s called the New Jersey Roadrunners and I’ve been fortunate enough to be associated with them and the point behind all this is that when I see the kids in the gym, and I watch what they’re drinking, if one of them drinks a certain brand, they all drink it.
John: It’s like they all gravitate to one brand and we’ve had people come in to me and say, “We’d like to do this sponsorship with you.” and I’m like, “If the kids don’t like it, I can’t promise you they’re going to drink it if the kids don’t like it.”
Marc: Right, yeah.
John: I had one sponsor come in. I gave it to the kids and they’re like, “Hey John, this is horrible.”
John: “Who would drink this?” And I had to tell the guy, So listen, we’re pretty authentic. if it’s not real and we can’t be correct with you, we’re not going to do the sponsorship because it’s not who we are. And the guy, he was amazed that we wouldn’t let him sponsor us, but the kids, it didn’t resonate with them.
Marc: Right. right. To be honest, that’s a good lesson for the kids actually. Just because someone’s waving some money at you doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
John: We’ve run this program and we don’t do sneaker contracts because of what happens in doing that, so our entire program for 40 years has been privately funded and self-funded. All the other programs have all the big sneaker contracts. We don’t do that. And it’s a lesson we teach our kids, if you want to be a better person, be a better student and get to college, or do you want shiny shoes? But you can’t have both.
Marc: Yeah, and at least, kind of postponing that decision until later. [Laughs]
John: It comes later.
Marc: Yeah, yeah. And another thing that I thought of when you brought that anecdote up is that another thing that was very important. So you’re trying to get the gentleman trying to get your players to use a certain drink, one thing for me, on my end, is that I can do the operation side, I’ve got it down pat. Doing the promotions side is a lot less natural for me. So one thing that you have to be aware of as an entrepreneur, really anybody, but especially as that, what is much better to do to win partnership with someone else? What skills do you need to have someone else brought to the table? Because if I, we, were to neglect bringing on someone to dedicate specifically to marketing promotion, I would be doing a disservice to the brand, to the product whereas on the same side, the very, very promotion and marketing-oriented people will be doing a disservice if they didn’t have someone who can run a tight ship on the operations side. So getting to the point where you understand what you can do really well and get other people to handle things that they can do really well, is such an important thing. The nice thing about where I’ve gotten the project is that I can now bring someone on out of existing cash flow to take care of that and it’s all self-sustainable. I’m very excited.
John: Marc, you do have a great point. It’s a phenomenal point. And I’ve said this for years, it’s not what I know, it’s what I’m aware of that I don’t know that makes me successful or fail. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you’re in trouble.
Marc: Yeah. There are so many great quotes out there around that exact point. If you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s going to blindside you and even worse, if you think that you know it but you don’t, then, you’re just going to go down the wrong path forever.
John: Well, that is a sure path to ruin. I’m thinking, you know, I wake up every morning and realize how little I know.
John: And just surround yourself with smarter people that will help you realize, “Be humble. Everybody matters. Everybody’s point of view is valid.” As I say to people a lot of times around our firm, “Just because I said it, doesn’t make it right. It just makes it my opinion.”
John: And they look at me like, “Well, you own the place.” I’m like, “Yeah, so what?”
Marc: Right, and being able to have – it sounds like the culture that you guys have working there is a place where everybody feels valid and has a way to contribute, and that’s very important to high performance. Just as in anything, whether it’s a basketball team or work environment, everybody needs to feel like they’re valid and they can contribute and it’s important.
John: Yeah, I think you have to create an environment if you want to build a culture that’s going to survive and create a company that’s going to grow organically, everybody’s got to be on the same page going in the same direction.
Marc: And with regards to, sorry…
John: No, no, go ahead.
Marc: Just with regards to not knowing, one of the biggest mistakes I see other small time or startup entrepreneurs make is this idea that they already know what the customer wants and they already know the right way to do it. Especially these days, with some of the lean startup philosophy that’s out there. There are so many incredible ways to test your idea using methods that we could never have done before, by using especially the Internet, and you don’t need a lot of money to do this. You can do this in the hundreds of dollars. You can get really good test data on what people want. And certainly the biggest mistakes that I ever made are when I invested before I was 110% sure of what I needed to do and this idea that either one, that you already know what you need, or two, that you need half a million dollars to figure it out. That’s the kind of the same issue. I’ve seen plenty of young people who say, ” Oh yeah, we’re going to raise a million dollars and figure out this great idea.” It’s like, “No, no. You’re going to spend a weekend with your buddy who knows how to code, you’re going to throw up a homepage, and you’re going to see if anybody actually signs up.
John: Exactly. Now, do you think that’s the biggest mistake, the biggest pitfall that you see when entrepreneurs are starting to hire and build their businesses and create these great cultures and teams?
Marc: I think so. Yeah, it’s this idea that you’re going to invest ahead of sales, or you’re going to invest ahead of your customer. You want to really make sure that you have your customers first and then you can scale to grow as they grow, so if you have a potential customer, I’m talking about customers like a whole customer group, you almost never need to build out some huge capacity ahead of time. There are certain ways to test things in a way that it can make your investment much more secure. So here’s a good anecdote that I read in one book. Do you know the soap dispenser, soft soap that goes in the bathroom…
Marc: All right. So, that was invented, I don’t know, 30 or 40 years ago, I forgot. But it was a brand new thing at that time. Everybody used to use bar soap. And when they were testing it, they only sold it in this little town in Minnesota, something like that. It was a huge hit. And they tried it one more time and it was a huge hit again. What that did, is it allowed them the confidence to invest in a big production of these hand-pumped dispensers, which at that time, nobody used them. So by doing those tiny tests, it gave them the confidence to do this huge investment later and it ended up being a fantastic success. On the other hand, you’ll read about companies that should know better, like Samsung and Amazon, building millions of these phones and then they just sit around. Or Microsoft. How many Microsoft products have been huge flops?
Marc: And you know, figuring out how to test these things is just so important.
John: And what’s the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs making? Do you see a certain thing that happens again and again and again?
Marc: Also, people who think they need money to really test an idea and start a project; there are ways to do it. In fact, when I first started Brode, one thing that I knew that I had to do is get it professionally manufactured. To do vitamins, they need to be professionally manufactured in a facility that’s FDA-registered and insured and all that. So I could not make them legally in my apartment if I was going to sell them. And because I had some savings from my previous job and I got a little bit of money from my parents, not a lot, I was able to get a minimum order in a local factory here in the New York area. It was still expensive, but again, I did this before I really had my customer down so pretty much the whole thing ended up being a waste and it was a huge setback for the project. And two things were really problems with that, one is that I hadn’t done my customer research ahead of time; I hadn’t gotten to the point where people were just emailing 24/7 to get their hands on this. I hadn’t spread the word like that yet. And two, almost having a little bit of money around can be a crutch. I wasn’t a creative as I should have been. There were a lot of other things that I could have done first; I could have done leaner, I could have done more cost-effectively, but because I had this option to spend some money, I thought that that had to be the right option. And I see other people make this mistake all the time, they think that the right option is the one that’s the expensive option and it’s not true.
John: You know, as I’ve gone through life I’ve noticed that whatever is the least expensive is probably not the right answer, and whatever is the most expensive is probably not the right answer.
Marc: Yeah. [Laughs]
John: It’s that middle ground, except when it’s time to make a decision, as my father always said, “Stand in the middle of the road, you get a 100% chance that you’re getting run over.”
John: Pick a side and then use your common sense. And I think we get so caught up in chasing the shiny objects. We forget our intuition and our gut. That is common sense. What is your gut telling you? What is your intuition telling you?
Marc: But even beyond the gut and intuition, we have such an opportunity to test things and get numbers too.
Marc: We see this all the time in web stuff usually where they do the AB testing. You test this wording and this color and this wording and this color. And it’s incredible how often people who thought they knew what they were doing get it wrong. It’s not that these people aren’t talented, they’re very talented, it’s just getting back to that point where you know that you don’t know, you got to test it.
John: And, Marc, let me ask you, how important is it as an entrepreneur to be able to pivot?
Marc: So, pivoting is both underrated and overrated in my experience. You don’t want to pivot away from whatever your goal is. So with Brode Electrolyte Vitamin, my goal is to get this style of a product to all the people who it will help and who want it. So around that goal, there are tons of pivots that can be made. It can be positioned as a premium product; it can be positioned as a budget product. It can be done in open-multi packs or single packs. It can go retail online, in vending machines. So there are all these pivots around that and as someone working on a project or a business, you have to always remember, “What do I actually want to be the result of this?” And for me, it’s about getting this product out there. And if the business strategy has to be pivoted, then you have to be flexible to do that. And one thing I’ve tried to do is to set up all of my business operations projects to be as flexible as possible. And because of the cost structure that it has right now, it can operate indefinitely until it gets that home run, tipping point, push and that’s what I want.
John: I think it’s going to be sooner than later. Hey, let me take you into the lightning round because you’ve been really generous with your time, and I don’t want to overstay my welcome with you.
Marc: No, I’ve enjoyed it.
John: Is there a book that changed your life?
Marc: Okay, this is a good one. So I went to NYU, I did Math and Economics, so when you come out of school, you’re 22. I was pretty good at that point, I simultaneously thought I knew everything but I knew that that couldn’t possibly be true and I was trying to figure out why. So when my boss at that time gave me this book by Chip and Dan Heath called ‘Made to Stick’. This book is about crafting memorable stories and it’s great for anybody. But at that time, we were working on marketing. We were working on promoting what we were doing and this book, first off, it’s highly self-referential because it’s a story about crafting memorable stories, which was entertaining, but it showed me that there’s this incredible world of things out there that I didn’t know and I could learn. As I was reading it, there were all these things that were brand new to me and it was just a moment where I said, “Aha! It now clicks.” I knew I didn’t know everything and this has made it real at an emotional level. It was very exciting. So ‘Made to Stick’ was the first, I call it business book, that I was given. And that was a couple of years after college. Other than that, I know this one’s cliche and is a classic, but ‘Seven Effective Habits’, the Stephen Covey book, it’s incredible. And I have waited for it for a little bit of time just because I saw it everywhere. But at a certain point, if you see it everywhere, it’s a little bit of a reflection how good it was.
Marc: That one’s really good, and then if I could recommend one other one, I know you only asked for one, but there’s a book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and it’s just an incredible read on how people think and a lot of irrationalities of people’s thoughts and it’s really good; it won a bunch of Business Book of the Year Awards.
John: And what quote do you go to for inspiration? Do you have one?
Marc: Yeah. So it’s actually maybe the most famous advertising slogan of all time, “Just do it.” And I started doing that just personally in college because again, in college, there are so many distractions, there are so many things going on, and when getting done the things that I wanted to do, I would just tell myself, “Just do it. Don’t turn on the TV; just do your homework. Don’t get yourself distracted here, just make yourself a nice dinner.” Whatever it happened to be, it really helped me personally overcome, for the lack of a better term, just the general ADD-ness of getting distracted in all kinds of ways. So that, that one.
John: All right. And do you have a company that you admire as it relates to culture?
Marc: Yeah, I mean some of my favorite companies or favorite brands, there’s one company actually that I really admire for always doing a slightly different path: there’s a financial company called Motley Fool, they’re based out of Northern Virginia. It was founded at the very beginning of the internet age, mid-90s, two brothers, and they’ve just gone down an incredibly different path compared to all of the other financial services or education companies. It’s very, very consumer and investor-focused, very transparent, talking at people’s levels, not talking over them, creating a community around it. They have really incredible message boards and all this. It’s just so different than Merrill Lynch or Fidelity, or any of that. I’ve always really admired what they set out to do and what they’ve been able to accomplish.
John: It’s a good company. I follow them. Now, why would someone coming out from school want to work for Brode?
Marc: The opportunity to be incredibly flexible and have a lot of autonomy to do something really great. One of the things that I really emphasize with this is the fact that because it runs so lean, it can go in so many directions and so quickly and you can have an impact in that way. That’s what I would say.
John: All right, big question, we’re going to finish. And you’ll have to humor me because if you answer this question, you have to start it with ‘BE” as in BE Culture Radio.
Marc: Okay, we can do that.
John: If you had to describe the culture in three words that would describe you and the company you’re building, what would it be?
Marc: Okay. I would say be empathetic.
Marc: You never know the whole story. You never know what everyone else is going through. You can do your best to put yourself in other people’s shoes and you have to and if you can’t do that, you’re never going to be really in touch with your customers, your colleagues, all that. So empathy. Be flexible. It goes a little bit with empathy. And I know I’ve mentioned that before. But things change and it’s difficult to accept that but you have to, so understanding that and being flexible when things change. And, be, I’m trying to think of the version of this word, integrous, having integrity, standing up for what you really want to do and what you believe in. So if you can be empathetic to other people and trying to really understand what they’re feeling and what they want and if you can be flexible, as well as having integrity for what you stand, what you believe in and what you want to get accomplished, I think that’s a great start.
John: Those are phenomenal pillars to build a company on. And I want to thank you for spending time with us today. How can our listeners connect with you, Marc?
Marc: Oh, sure. So, and again, thank you, John for inviting me on. So you can connect with Brode Electrolyte Vitamin, it’s just at brode.co. And you can certainly reach out to me on Twitter, I am @brodezor. Feel free to send me a LinkedIn connection, Marc Brodeur.
John: Any big rollouts we should know about?
Marc: Big rollouts…
Marc: The next exciting thing I have on the horizon is I’m doing a promotion with a website here, Urban Daddy. They did a nightlife website and going out, we’re going to do a cool promotion coming up in April.
John: Just so some of our listeners know, if you go out at night, you might need the Electrolyte Vitamin in the morning to make you feel better. Just a thought.
Marc: Even in the evening…
John: I think you have to take it before you go out, right, Marc?
Marc: Usually, yeah, when you’re going out, some people take it in the morning, some people take it with their sports. It’s really all about hydration, it’s about giving people new ways to be their best.
John: Perfect. I can’t thank you enough. I never end an episode without sharing with my guest my favorite quote, which is from Maya Angelou, which is, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Marc: Oh, that’s so good.
John: And we hope we made you feel valid and important and part of our tribe today, Marc.
Marc: Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much John. I’ll keep listening to the other podcasts.
John: Please do. And as you travel around and you meet other entrepreneurs you think would enjoy this, send them my way please.
John: So thank you so much. I wish you the best of luck. You’ll come back in 6 months and see us again, I hope?
Marc: Will do, all right.
John: Thank you, my friend. Be well.
Marc: Take care, John. Bye-bye.