Jeff Seder is the founder and CEO of EQB, a consulting firm which advises thoroughbred racehorse owners. He utilizes proprietary big data analytics to predict the success of racehorses, most notably the 2015 triple crown winner American Pharoah.  He has his undergraduate, law and business degrees all from Harvard and he currently resides on a farm in Pennsylvania.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he used utilized big data to predict the success of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
  • Success is all about hard work: “It took 35 years and $7 million to become an overnight success.”
  • On why competitors haven’t replicated his methods: “I can give someone a violin and an instruction manual but they’re not going to play a symphony right away.”
  • On following your passion: “My Harvard professor asked me what I was passionate about and I said ‘horses.’”
  • Learn how he used a slow motion camera to study the U.S. Olympic bobsled team and help them turn the tide and start winning medals for the first time.
  • “Excellence is learning your instrument and then forgetting it all and just wailing.”

 

 

 

 

 

Jon was the Founder and CEO of Krave Pure Foods, a gourmet jerky company.  The company became one of the fastest growing food brands in the country and was acquired by The Hershey Company for around $220 million in 2015. Today he is the CEO of Sonoma Brands, an investor and incubator for new branded food startups. Jon lives in Sonoma, California.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he reinvented the entire jerky category and broadened its appeal.
  • The most important litmus test as to whether a new product will succeed is simply whether it makes sense to you. If it’s a problem you can personally relate to, that’s a good start.
  • The lean startup method isn’t just for technology companies but consumer packaged goods businesses as well.
  • Learn how he brought a new product to the market for just $10,000.
  • His experience in the ultra-competitive wine industry gave him a “PhD” in branding.
  • While serendipity plays a role, there is a playbook that allows new brands to come to life.
  • Excellence is an aspiration that you never quite reach. It’s a mindset.

 

 

Seth Goldman is the Co-founder of Honest Tea, a company he started in 1998 and has grown to over $200 million in revenue.  Today, Honest Tea is the nation’s top selling ready-to-drink organic bottled tea. The Honest Tea brands are available in over 130,000 outlets across the United States.  The company was acquired by Coca Cola in 2011.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he reinvented the entire bottled tea industry.
  • Being a relentless optimist helped get him through the tough times.
  • The company wasn’t just about a better tasting drink but about an expression of his personal values (health, the environment, working conditions in developing countries).
  • To successfully launch a startup, start with a very strong vision of the brand and then everything else will fall into place.
  • The best way to learn is simply by doing. Market research will only get you so far and doing too much of it could become a hindrance.
  • Excellence is having a vision and being able to execute on that vision without compromise.

Dave Perkins is the Founder and former CEO of High West Distillery, a craft whiskey producer.  He sold the company in 2016 after 12 years to Constellation Brands for $160 million.  He had a successful career in biotech marketing prior to that.  He lives in Park City, Utah.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

 

  • Learn how his biotech background prepared him for building a whiskey business from scratch.
  • He moved to Utah to start the company despite the state’s tight liquor laws.
  • He chose to become a distiller, not just a blender, despite the much larger investment and longer waiting period.
  • Learn how good contingency planning can help mitigate risk in a startup.
  • In addition to hard work, good planning and a distinctive product, serendipity played a key role in his success.
  • Excellence is taking pride in your work and giving it your best.

Rich Wilson is the fastest American skipper to race solo around the world.  He completed the Vendee Globe 27,000 mile solo round-the-world yacht race this year in 107 days.  At 66 years old, he was also the oldest skipper to complete the race.  Rich is the founder of the SitesAlive Foundation, a non-profit platform to connect K12 classrooms to adventures and expeditions around the world.  He has a degree in mathematics and an MBA from Harvard and a Masters in interdisciplinary science from MIT.   He currently resides in the Boston area.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how his lifelong battle with asthma has provided the motivation to persevere both on and off the water.
  • 80% of success on the water is done prior to the start of the race.
  • Ironically, even in a solo racing voyage, the team is the most critical element of success.
  • Learn how he had not just one but two incredible strokes of luck which helped save his life when his boat capsized during one of his races.
  • Learn how he educated hundreds of thousands of kids around the world through the experiential learning platform of his sailing expeditions.
  • Excellence is knowing you put out your best effort on whatever axes are part of the equation.
  • “Most people will have a dream about what you should do but find what you dream to do and go do that one.”

Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer.  He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world.  He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States.  He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • A 3 time All American football standout in college, at 6’3” and 290 pounds, he was deemed too small to make it in the NFL.
  • Learn why he quit the corporate world cold turkey to pursue a singing career.
  • If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
  • Learn how football helped prepare him for a career in the opera.
  • Talent is important but it’s not everything. You have to be willing to make sacrifices, work hard and apply yourself to achieve something great.
  • “If you have a dream, you have a right to go after it.”
  • “If you give your best at whatever you do, the product will be excellence.”

 

To some, Morris Robinson can be an intimidating presence.  He’s a big and powerful looking guy. Remember Popeye’s powerful nemesis Bluto?  Sort of like him.  There is also no pretense about Morris.  When he showed up for our interview, he was wearing workout shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  If I told you that he’s an ex 3 time all American collegiate football player, that probably wouldn’t be much a surprise.  But if I then told you he’s now one of the great bass opera singers of our generation, you’d probably do a double take.  And Morris would have it no other way.

Morris has always relished the dichotomy of his existence – a 6’3”, 290 pound aggressive offensive lineman on the one hand and a talented performance artist on the other.  Those two seemingly contrasting personas have been a part of his identity throughout his life.  Even today with his football playing days well behind him, he certainly doesn’t “look” or “act” the part of a world-renowned opera singer (not that I personally know any of them).  An image of a polished, clean-shaven and formally dressed sophisticate driving a Mercedes may come to mind but certainly not a casually dressed, scruffy-looking former athlete driving around town in a Hummer.  That’s one of the things I love about Morris Robinson – he is who he is and he makes no apologies.

So what do you do when you finally come to the realization that your lifelong dream of playing football in the NFL isn’t in the cards?  Like most of us, you do what you feel you have to do to make your way in the world.  That is, you settle.  For Morris, that meant getting a job in corporate sales for a technology company.  That is what he did for seven tedious years until he woke up one day and felt empty inside.  Despite his success at it, the passion just wasn’t there.  He knew deep inside that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to spend the rest of his days toiling away in corporate America.

His wife Denise also noticed that the spark was missing which is why, unbeknownst to Morris, she had secretly set up an interview for him at the prestigious Choral Arts Society of Washington.  The Director fell in love with his beautiful voice upon the very first note.  And that’s all it took for Morris to embark upon a new journey to rediscover this remarkable gift he had always had but which had laid dormant for many years.  It wasn’t so obvious at first how he could leverage his vocal talent into a career but that was beside the point.  Corporate sales had become a grind and he needed some excitement in his life.  With singing, he got just that.

With a voice as naturally sweet and powerful as his, it didn’t take long for Morris to get discovered.  But the road from salesman to opera star wasn’t an easy one. Talent notwithstanding, becoming an opera singer meant going back to school, both literally and figuratively.  He had to relearn how to sing operatically.  He had to learn how to act.  He had to learn multiple foreign languages (most operas are in Italian and German).  And he had to learn how to take critique. And lots of it.  While he had the advantage of a beautiful voice, singing opera is not something you just do.  It would be years of hard work and sacrifice and swallowing his pride to learn this difficult craft and make it as a professional opera singer.

So why did he do it?  Why did he decide to take this risk and essentially start over when he was already well ensconced in his corporate career?  Because according to Morris, “If you have a dream, you have the right to go after it.”  And he believed in himself.  His attitude from day one was that if someone else could do it, then he could do it too.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that if he wanted something badly enough and was willing to truly devote himself to it, he could accomplish anything.  No goal would be beyond his reach, even if that goal were as bold and audacious as becoming a world-renowned bass opera singer.

Doug Ammons is a scientific editor and researcher, a business owner, an accomplished author and filmmaker and a classical guitarist. But what he’s most known for is being an extreme kayaker.  He’s run several first descents in the US and overseas and soloed multiple challenging class v runs that most people would never touch, most famously the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  Because of his many incredible kayaking accomplishments, Outside Magazine has named him one of the ten greatest adventurists over the last century. He has degrees in mathematics and physics and has a PhD in Psychology.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Kayaking extreme waters safely requires relaxation but also hyper awareness.
  • Learn why it’s important to have a “beginners mind”.
  • Water is the ultimate metaphor for life.
  • Why he takes extraordinary risks by soloing class v rapids.
  • The “Red Bullying” of America is bad for the sport.
  • If you could control everything in your life, life would be pretty boring.

 

Hearing Doug Ammons opine about water being the ultimate metaphor for life, you’d think you’re listening to a philosophy professor, not one of the most distinguished adventure athletes over the last century. Then again, this is no ordinary adventure athlete.  This kayaker, who holds dozens of first descents on treacherous Class V rivers, also holds a PhD in psychology and double degrees in math and physics.

At first blush, Doug may appear to be a study in contrasts.  His thirst for running incredibly dangerous rapids that could crush you juxtaposed with his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge and meaning.  But that’s not how Doug sees it.  To him, it’s all a continuum.  He is a classically trained guitarist and likes to use music as a metaphor.  He speaks of the fusion of the power, the complexity and the raw emotion of the water with the music that he loves. Kayaking is much more akin to music or even poetry for Doug than it is a thrill-seeking, adrenaline-fueled sport.

But don’t be fooled. While Doug may like to wax poetic about being on the river, elite-level kayaking is an extremely demanding and potentially catastrophic adventure sport.  Any single wrong move while navigating through explosive whitewater can have fatal consequences. And he knows this reality firsthand.  Doug has lost way too many friends on the water, friends who were highly skilled, experienced and even cautious kayakers.  Doug will be the first to admit the role that serendipity plays in one’s fate on the water.  The difference between life and death can be a matter of inches.  He has had his share of near-death experiences himself.  Even with the best training and most thoughtful planning, you can only control so much.  The river has a mind of its own and cannot ever be tamed.

So what exactly does it take to kayak at the elite level? Years and years of training for starters. Of course, that goes without saying.  But what’s really critical is that you have a “beginner’s mind”, according to Doug.  That is, an openness and readiness to learn something new with each run.  No two rivers are the same and for that matter, no one river ever looks the same with each run.  Running rivers over and over will increase one’s confidence for sure but if that confidence ever turns into cockiness, it’s a recipe for disaster.

The other critical ingredient for success on the water is the ability to be both incredibly relaxed yet hyper aware at the same time.  If you’re too tense, you’re sure to make mistakes.  But you still need to be very focused and able to react without hesitation to whatever the river throws your way.  If there’s one thing that’s predictable about the water, it’s its unpredictability.  That’s what makes it so appealing but so dangerous.

While Doug’s reflective, philosophical nature pushes him far away from the adventure athlete stereotype, there’s a very good reason Outside Magazine named him one of the ten greatest adventurists over the 1900’s.  One could easily make the argument that he has done as much for the sport of kayaking as any athlete has done for any other sport on this planet.  The unexplored runs he conquered and the way he went about them – being the first and being alone – will forever brand Doug Ammons as a pioneer in kayaking and a pioneer in the world of extreme sports.

Kevin Gillespie is a chef, author and media celebrity.  He owns two of Georgia’s hottest restaurants: Gunshow and Revival.  Gunshow has been on GQ’s list of “12 Most Outstanding Restaurants”.  In 2015 he was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast award.  He was also a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award.  He is the author of two cookbooks: Fire in my Belly and Pure Pork Awesomeness.  He was a finalist on the sixth season of Bravo’s Top Chef cooking show and was voted the Fan Favorite for the season.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He got accepted to MIT but turned it down to pursue his passion.
  • How his appearance on Top Chef turned his restaurant and his career around.
  • Life opens doors for us all the time but we frequently walk right past them.
  • How fame has been a mixed blessing.
  • Learn how he reinvented the entire dining experience with Gunshow.
  • Hear about his plan B if money weren’t an issue and he could do anything in the world.
  • If you make great food and put smiles on customer’s faces, that’s success.

 

Some kids watch cartoons on TV.  Others watch sports.  But on most days you could find the young Kevin Gillespie glued to the TV watching any number of cooking shows.  There was something mesmerizing watching the chefs work their magic in the kitchen.  His passion for cooking only grew more intense through the years to the point where he recognized that this was more than just a passion – it was a calling.  A calling so strong that he was able to turn down one of the most prestigious universities in the world – M.I.T.  Had he listened to his parents or his friends or his teachers, he’d probably be a nuclear engineer today.  But fortunately he had the good sense to turn inward and listen to his heart.  And that’s how he knew that the only engineering he’d be doing in the future was in the kitchen.

The restaurant Kevin Gillespie was running at the time – Woodfire Grill – was struggling to fill seats and had only a month’s worth of cash left in the bank when he got that auspicious call from one of the producers of Top Chef.  He wasn’t really seeking the spotlight but he decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.  His well-received appearance on the 6th season of Top Chef would turn his restaurant, his career and his life around.

Kevin was voted the fan favorite on the show from that season which soon translated into his being a fan favorite in Atlanta’s restaurant scene.  Woodfire Grill went from having half empty dining rooms to being booked solid months in advance.  Without a doubt, his celebrity status helped fill seats but the show did something for Kevin which was much more impactful.  Without the use of cookbooks or any lifelines, he had to rely entirely on his gut instincts to create recipes on the fly.  He learned how to cook with passion for the very first time in his career which allowed his true personality to surface in his unique culinary inventions.

Gunshow is a restaurant unlike any other.  Describing it as a Brazilian churrascaria-style steakhouse meets Chinese dim sum isn’t quite doing it justice.   In fact, it’s just about impossible to pin down its menu since there is no menu. The food options change on a daily basis and are entirely up to the whims of the chefs.  Whatever they feel inspired by is what you’ll find on the plate that evening.  This novel concept doesn’t just make the dining experience more fun and spontaneous for the guests but for the chefs as well.

Beyond the ever changing menu, Kevin has also completely flipped the service model on its head.  The chefs themselves break down that “invisible wall” to the kitchen and come pitch their inspirations directly to the guests.  After all, who better to explain the vision behind the dish than the very person who invented it.  So the chefs not only make their dishes, they explain their dishes and then they serve their dishes.  It’s a complicated system but they’ve somehow figured out a way to make it work seamlessly.

Kevin’s the most down to earth “celebrity” you’ll ever meet.  He’s finally gotten used to the lack of anonymity that comes with stardom but it’s taken a while.  He was never after fame but is incredibly grateful for the good fortune that has come as a result of it.  He doesn’t take any of his success for granted, recognizing that you’re only as good as your last meal.  And how does he measure success?  It’s not the dollars and cents or the 5 star Yelp reviews one would expect.  It’s much more simple.  If at the end of the day you feel like you gave it your all and had guests leave with huge smiles on their faces, for Kevin Gillespie, that is the definition of success.