In this episode, James Oliver, founder, and CEO of Atlas Bar shares his exciting journey in starting his own CPG brand in nutrition.
It is a great story that combines his passion for nutrition, athletic background, and a genuine concern about the impact of food on both the body and the mind.
The Atlas Bar is a unique product because it’s the only one in its category that provides functional nutrition that supports both physical and mental health.
James also talks about how he drove Uber and sold knives to raise money, how he started advertising the product to different gyms, the risks, and processes involved with launching the company, and why entrepreneurs have to learn and develop persuasion.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here.
Ken: Welcome to The Physical Product Movement, a podcast by Fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most ambitious and exciting physical product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host, Ken Ojuka.
Taylor: Hey guys, it’s Taylor, how the Marketing Manager at Fiddle and excited to introduce today’s episode of The Physical Product Movement podcast. Today’s guest is James Oliver, and he is the CEO and Founder of Atlas Protein Bar, which is the first protein bar designed to help both your mind and body thrive. Throughout the episode, James shares different quotes and business philosophies that motivate and inspire him.
Taylor: He talks about the grueling schedule he followed when launching his brand, where he drove Uber in the morning and evenings and cold contacted gyms during the day to sample his bars and just side note on this one, you’re going to be blown away by the number of Uber rides this guy has under his belt. And speaking of gyms, he talks about why he intentionally ignored grocery stores in favor of gyms for sampling when he was first getting started.
Taylor: He also shares advice for finding a great co-packer why he eventually decided to raise capital. After bootstrapping for a couple of years. He talks about how introverts might have a secret edge as entrepreneurs. And I hope you enjoy this interview with Ken and James as much as I did.
Ken: All right, James. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. How are you doing this morning?
James: I’m doing pretty good, Ken, and appreciate you having me. Thanks for, thanks for the opportunity!
Ken: Well, yeah, thanks for making me wake up a little bit early. I get to see this sort of sunrise here in Utah. We’ve got the sun just from sort of cresting the top of Mount Timpanogos here, and I think it’s amazing. So where are you calling from?
James: I’m calling in from Manhattan.
Ken: Manhattan. Yeah. So, have you lived there for long or are you from the area or what?
James: No. So I actually, I just moved to Manhattan in August and prior to that, I had been born and raised in Boston for the prior 26 years of my life. So I’ve been in Boston my entire life up until two months ago when I lived in New-York.
Ken: Well, I love the east coast, especially this time of year. It’s late fall and I just think it’s beautiful. So well, we’d like to kick off this podcast with, with a quick quote, you know, something that’s impactful to you. Do you have anything in mind?
James: Yeah. Yeah, I absolutely do. And it’s, it’s funny because this is actually a difficult exercise for me, because I have, since the age of, I think, 16, I’ve been compiling a document of quotes that I’ve found impactful that I’ve come across either in reading or in conversations.
James: And currently that’s how that document for me is over 50 pages long. So I had a number of codes to choose from. But the one that really resonates with me, especially right now, is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. And it’s every artist was at first an amateur and the reason why that really resonates with me is because I think everyone, when you’re starting something, whether it’s business or a new skillset, whatever, you can feel, some kind of resistance that is a form of, I guess, hesitation about moving forward with it.
James: And you can feel like imposter syndrome or that you’re just not good at this. You don’t have a natural ability for it, whatever. And keeping in mind that everybody in history who has mastered some skill or has achieved competency and something started at the same place is, kind of calming and it gives you the confidence that, you know, this is how everyone starts out.
James: This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be easy when I’m starting this thing, but it’s a hobby or business and there’s a learning curve that everyone in history has to go through.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. And it kind of reminds me of his other quote, that’s really popular, you know, that which we persist in doing becomes easier to do. Not because the nature of the chain has changed, but because our power to do so has increased. Right. And there’s lots of different versions of that floating around.
Ken: But you know, in some ways it’s saying the same thing, but you really touched on it. I think pretty much every guest that’s been on this podcast has felt that imposter syndrome, you know, could you describe in your life a couple of times when maybe you felt that, and then you’ve charged ahead anyway.
James: Yeah, sure. I mean, I’ve probably most. Most recently I felt that in running a business because by virtue of running a seven-figure business, that I started on my own, bootstrapped it and have grown into what it is today. You have people reach out to you, people look up to you and ask you for advice.
James: And sometimes you’re just like, I’m not really sure. I know, much, much more than you did. But realizing that’s a very common feeling for people to have, and that to some degree, everyone is just figuring it out. And, no one really has a solid plan, I guess. So, yeah, I would say my current position has been where I’ve felt that, felt it the most in my life, but I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable with it as I’ve matured in the role.
Ken: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that because I’ve noticed myself, answering questions a lot differently, these days than maybe I used to in the past. And that I think when I was in my twenties, I would answer questions a lot more confidently, you know, like, oh yeah, this is the way to do it.
Ken: Or this is what I’d recommend. And then these days it’s sort of like, there’s just more nuance to it. I can answer it like. This is what I did, and this is what works. This is what I think might work, but just kind of realizing that, there’s a lot of areas where we just don’t know and you gotta just try it.
Ken: And, some things that worked in the past, maybe won’t work in 2021. But yeah, I dunno. I dunno. Resonates with you at all, but it’s just sort of the feeling of, I don’t think anybody has the answers and kind of seeing that within myself that means me too. Right. I don’t have all the answers, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t move forward, it doesn’t mean you can’t make progress.
James: Totally. And yeah, I think what you just mentioned is spot on, and it’s some variation of the quote of the more you learn, the more you realize that you don’t know, which I think leads to what you were describing, where you start to say things like, I think, or it seems where it appears as opposed to say.
James: As opposed to speaking in absolutes, as I think is more likely to happen with somebody that doesn’t necessarily have as much experience or has learned as much. So it’s funny how that happens because you would think it would be the opposite.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah, you really would. I actually started talking like that or recognizing that when I noticed that a lot of the people that I really look up to and, you know, you look at and maybe think that they have everything figured out.
Ken: That’s the way they talk, you know? And, I just think it comes from maturity of kind of knowing your limits and I think you can still find success. You could probably find it faster if you approach things this way and kind of look at things as an experiment. And we would try this and you’re looking for signs of success versus not, you know, so anyway, I think we mean you, one thing I’ve discovered in just, you know, the 10 minutes we’ve been talking is that we could probably talk about this forever.
Ken: And I think you have shared like three quotes with us already, and I’ve shared a couple. So, I love a good quote too. And, I’m a big fan of Ralph Waldo. But let’s jump into your past. Why don’t you tell us just a little bit of, you know, it sounds like you’re from the Boston Area, you know, what, what led up to where you are today?
James: Sure. Yeah. So I was raised in the Boston area, always very active growing up. I probably played every single sport that you can think of. I was in the Boy Scouts. I spent a lot of time outdoors, so I had a very active upbringing. I have four siblings. So a lot of time outdoors and my fascination with nutrition.
James: That really goes back to one of my earliest memories actually. And that was about four years old at the time. And I remember my parents telling me that eating carrots can improve eyesight and my four year old self took that very literally. And I found all the carrots that we had in our house and all of them thinking that doing Zillow would give me some version of supervision, which obviously is not quite how nutrition works, but the Colonel.
James: What’s kind of planted in my mind from that point on, and that undermines the principle that what we consume really can improve what our body and mind is capable of doing. That really stuck with me. And that laid the foundation, which I then developed, throughout my time in middle school, high school while I was pursuing.
James: Athletics more seriously and attention to nutrition. And I went to college and moved away from team sports and started doing more endurance sports. So I did a 70.3 Ironman. I did a few 24 hour races. And for a lot of those events, nutrition is obviously paramount because your body can only go as far as it has fuel in the tank.
James: Dove more into the world of nutrition, got my sports nutritionist certification. And the more I learned about nutrition, the more I realized how powerful of an effect. That it actually has on everything we do. And also how little we actually really understand about nutrition, which is kind of staggering considering the role that it plays in all of our lives and how it is.
James: It’s probably the single largest determinant of your overall health and wellbeing. So yeah, that’s kind of how I ended up with the fascination around nutrition that I had that I have today. And when I was doing all of those endurance sports I was obviously consuming a lot of different foods, including bars and.
James: Found that there was just going to be a white space that I wanted for myself. I’d been a huge bar consumer and had probably every single brand, over the prior decade and thought that there was a product that was not on the market. That should be on the market. And based on my own needs, kind of my market of one, I decided to develop this product, thinking that if I have this kind of itch, there’s probably somebody else out there that has it as well. And that’s the conviction that I had in order to really go forward with developing the business out, doing the research, laying out the business plan.
James: And I spent my senior year at Tufts University in Boston, going through all of those steps. And I used $5,000 that I had saved from driving Uber and selling knives and landscaping and I used the money to make a few thousand bars thinking that my worst case scenario is that I would not be able to sell any of them.
James: And I would be stuck eating a few thousand bars that I really liked. So I was fine with that outcome. And my initial plan was to basically go around all of the functional fitness gyms in the Boston Area. So hit up CrossFits and orange theories and sample the product there. I had zero money to fund any kind of advertising.
James: So I had to do that in order to drive trial and to drive awareness to the brand. So I basically did that for the first year or so and after doing that, just hitting the streets really hard, for a year was able to take that customer base that I built and transition it into a direct to consumer first brand, which is where we’ve really been building.
James: Alice over the past three years or so, both through our site and our Amazon presence. So a long-winded answer to your question, but that’s kind of the abbreviated version of how I, the Genesis story of my interest in nutrition all the way to where we’re at today.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Ken: And maybe you could just give us a little bit of an introduction to Atlas Bars and what makes you different? Just so the listener has more attention.
James: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a fantastic question because there’s probably no category. That’s more crowded than the bar category. If you go into any grocery store, I’m sure he’ll be overwhelmed with probably at least a hundred different brands to choose from.
James: And what makes Atlas in particular different is that it’s the only product in the category that provides functional nutrition, supports both physical and mental health. And what I mean by that is that the majority of nutrition is viewed as usually it’s just around calories in calories out provides energy.
James: But there’s this emerging, I guess, area of nutrition called functional nutrition and that’s nutrition that provides benefits on top of just the energy that you derive from consuming it. And so on the physical side of things, the bars are really high in protein and fiber. So there, most of our customers consume them as meal replacements because they’re so satiating, even though they’re only around 200 calories.
James: And I was actually just speaking with a customer earlier this week, who shared with me that she had lost 35 pounds by consuming out just bars. So, on the physical side, that’s the value proposition from Atlas. And then on the mental side, one of the, I guess one of the emerging health crises in the US is this mental health issue that has been exacerbated by COVID.
James: And there are a number of ways that you can obviously address it. And one of the ways is functional nutrition and we use an ingredient in the product called Ashwagandha. It’s a male fall and it took me a while to figure out how to pronounce it. Ashwagandha, it’s a super unique ingredient because there are many of these kinds of exotic sounding ingredients that you can find in dials at any health food store.
James: And what makes ashwagandha different is that there’s over 1200 modern scientific studies that have been done to actually validate the benefits that it claims and a majority of those benefits are around its very unique ability to reduce mental stress and promote feelings of wellbeing. So there were some studies that have been done very recently, gold standard studies, double blind placebo. And they showed that ashwagandha actually was able to help reduce feelings of mental stress and anxiety, which were levels on par with some pharmaceutical solutions. So pretty exciting stuff and that’s the other side of the value proposition of the product beyond the Physical..
Ken: All right. So let’s double click on what you had said a little bit earlier about driving Uber. Tell us a little bit about that experience and why, I mean, it takes, you know, you don’t just wake up in the morning saying that you want to drive Uber and try to get a bar company off the ground, you know, what was the motivation, you know, and, what kept you going in order to make a sacrifice like that?
James: Yeah, its a great question. So, I knew that I wanted to start a business. And the logic that I went through was if I’m going to try and start something, then right out of college is the most rational time to start it because the older I get, the more responsibility I’m going to have, whether it’s financial or familial. So right now, I’m 22 years old, I have no financial or family obligations. I don’t have any pets. It’s just me. So if I really want to go for it, then now’s the time to do so. I didn’t want to raise any money because honestly, I didn’t know anything about raising money and I didn’t know what I would do if I raised money. So instead of doing that, I decided, Hey, I think I can fund this just by driving Uber.
James: So, what I would do is I would get up at four in the morning. Drive Uber from the four to like nine or so, and then sell bars during the day and then drive Uber at night again, and use what I made from driving Uber to put back into the, put back into the company to, to help it grow. And that was a, it was a very, it was a great experience for me because Uber I did over 3000 rides in the Boston area. So I did a good amount of Uber and still can’t navigate around Boston by the way, around the streets, a lot and it was a great experience because you are able to talk with so many different people and I actually have put up a post about this earlier this week
James: and talks about how I was inspired by another Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, where he says that everybody you need is your superior in one way and in that way you can learn from them. So I read that quote around that time and it really inspired me to try and learn at least one thing from every single person who I gave a ride to.
James: And in doing so, I had a lot of very interesting conversations with a huge cross section of society with people that you would never speak with otherwise. And I do think that I learned more in that experience than I did in any classroom that I sat in, either in college or high school.
Ken: Yeah, that’s cool.
Ken: Yeah. And one of the things that I’ve learned kind of the older I get is just how similar we are to each other and how, you know, a lot of the problems in society today is just, it’s just because we don’t do exactly what you just did is just talk to people and get to know them, learn their story.
Ken: And, you know, it is amazing. We really can learn from each other.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Ken: Okay. So I understand that the Uber side and talking people’s ears off, let’s talk about the other parts. So after nine o’clock, you know, you try to sell bars, you know, what did that look like and what kind of activities were you doing?
James: I think a crucial part of it for me was having a plan. I think if I had just tried to launch something, but didn’t really have a strategic plan for how I was going to do it. I don’t think I would have been able to, I guess some of the confidence or the discipline to make myself do it everyday. But because I had a target list of places to hit, I had about 150 gyms in the Boston area that I knew I was going to, it made it very easy for me to just get out of the door and go every single day.
James: So, I would really just roll up to these gyms, drive to them, a walk in the front door, like very old school. Cold calling would walk in the front door and just ask to speak with whoever the manager was or the owner. Fortunately, for those types of gyms across the gyms, a lot of the times the owners are pretty heavily involved so the decision maker was right on site. And then I would just pitch the product and say, Hey, just looking to sample the product to your gym members. And if they like, it would love to have a conversation about you bringing the product in and offering it as an option to your gym members. And the reason that I thought that was a good strategy to pursue, to launch the brand was because like I was talking about earlier in a grocery store, there’s so much competition.
James: You’re probably next to 90, if not a hundred other brands in a gym, you’re maybe next to one other. So immediately you are able to get a lot more brand awareness out there and you just cut down the decisions that somebody has to make, dramatically. So I felt that made a lot more sense in terms of a launch strategy for this specific product.
Ken: And so what was the common reaction to the one of these gym owners that you’re talking to, you know, let’s say that they turned you down, right. Which is, I think the anxiety that somebody who is going to do this, you know, they’re thinking that in their head, what type of things would they say?
Ken: And, you know, were they appreciative that you came in or were they rude? Did you know, what were some of the reactions?
James: So, I don’t know if I ever actually got turned down because from their perspective and being able to put yourself into somebody else’s perspective is an extremely helpful skill if you’re trying to sell anything.
James: But from their perspective, there is no downside because I wasn’t asking to sell anything initially I was just asking if they would be open to me coming in and setting up a small table and just handing out samples of the product. And from their perspective, that’s actually a benefit because that’s just another benefit that you’re offering to your members.
James: You’re getting free products from these new local brands. And the reason why I pursued that strategy was because if I could sample the product and get the gym members on board, Then the owners would be much more likely to bring the product in and to buy it wholesale from us because they really care about what their gym members want.
James: If the gym members want it, then they’re going to do it. So most often I would just not get responses. If I reached out to people via phone or email or just left messages. I went by the gym and asked them to call me back, but I never really got turned down, to, to my face. Which is surprising.
James: But again, I think it’s because of the approach that I took. I think if I took the approach of just walking in and trying to sell them on the spot, I would’ve gotten a lot more rejection. And I think a lot of the owners, they saw a 22 year old kid who was hustling and they respected it. And I think they saw that.
James: There is maybe a resemblance of themselves in maybe because these people who own these gyms, they’re all small business owners themselves, and they know what the grind is like. So I think that was a way that I kind of developed a kinship with them as well, which definitely helped.
Ken: Yeah, and realizing that, that entrepreneur to entrepreneur connection and that it’s real, you know, somebody who’s on the grind themselves, they can recognize somebody else’s who’s grinding. You know, and so, I think it sounds scarier than it is. Did your experience that you mentioned that you sold nice for a little bit, do you think that helped you out?
James: Oh tremendously. Yeah. I sold times through Cutco, which if you’re on any college campus, probably recognize it. Cause they’re usually flyers all over the place, for kids to do it. So yeah, I mean, by nature, I’m definitely more of an introvert. I don’t feel especially comfortable just walking up to somebody and introducing myself.
James: So to go through what I had to go through with selling knives, where it’s, you’re not familiar, especially you have to cold call a list of dozens and dozens of people. You could call them. You essentially read them in scripts. And then you ask a very soon into the conversation if you can come to their house and
James: demonstrate for them knives for like an hour. So it’s a pretty tall task. If you’re calling somebody out of the blue and then you actually have to go to their house, you do this demonstration with people that you’ve most likely, never met before you do the demonstration with the knives and you walk through the whole process.
James: And then at the end you ask them if they’re willing to make a $1,200 purchase. That really doing that a few dozen times, if not a few hundred times, that really desensitized me to any kind of trepidation that I had around cold calling people or getting rejected because you realize that you might get rejected, but there’s always the next one.
James: It’s a numbers game. And three rejections in a row just means you’re that much closer to the next sale. So you just gotta keep moving.
Ken: Right. You know, Sales being the lifeblood of business, and, or good sales can mask a whole bunch of sins in a business. Right. What do you think, that sales experience and particularly, I mean selling knives, but then also, going door to door, essentially, selling your bars. How do you think that’s helped your business grow? And, you know, what would you say to other entrepreneurs that maybe don’t have a lot of sales skills? You know, maybe you can give them some suggestions on how to level up?
James: Yeah, I would say sales skills are, and I don’t even know if I would refer to them as sales skills because it’s really the ability to persuade people and whether or not you’re in sales, you do some version of this in pretty much any job that you have, whether you’re trying to persuade your teams to take a certain strategy or to persuade your boss, that you want to work from home two days as opposed to zero days out of the week.
James: Developing the skills of persuasion and understanding how to do that will immensely help you and really anything that you’re trying to do, but especially obviously entrepreneurship, because you’re selling yourself all the time. You’re either selling the product to prospective buyers. You either sell the product to customers, you’re selling it.
James: You’re selling yourself to potential investors, to employees who are considering working for you. And you’re selling the company to potential partners. So, yeah, persuasion, I think, is really one of the most essential skill sets that you can develop if you aspire to be an entrepreneur, but even outside of that, if you’re looking to be more effective in your current role.
Ken: And, any suggestions on how somebody would go about developing that persuasion muscle?
James: I think it goes back to what I said before. I think that the Cardinal rule that I try to follow is really put yourself in the other person’s shoes, because if you can completely put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their needs and their wants. Then the way that you’re going to approach them in the way they’re going to speak to them is going to be much more likely to lead to the outcome that you are looking for.
James: So it’s not like a magic bullet, not going to work every time, but if you can empathize and really connect with them, as opposed to trying to do a hard sell, or just shoving something down somebody’s throat, it’s going to be significantly more effective. And I’ve seen it work hundreds of times in my own experience.
James: So I’m really an advocate for a very strong emphasis on empathy and being able to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes.
Ken: And I think that might actually be one of the advantages of somebody that might be a little more introverted, you know, tend to have a little bit more empathy for the situational type stuff and, an ability to internalize it and learn quickly and that’s a huge, a huge generalization, but I don’t think that to be sort of persuasive, you need to be the classic outgoing, really loud, you know, sales type person.
Ken: I think you can persuade in your own way. And there’s lots of different flavors of leadership. There’s a lot of different flavors of salesmanship, and, You know, at least that’s what I’ve seen. And one of the apprehensions to this is, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs think they have to be a certain way.
Ken: And they’re just like, I’m just not that guy, you know, but you don’t have to be that guy. You just need to learn some skills.
James: Yeah. Completely agree. I think that thinking that certain roles can only be certain types of people is very limiting. And I think that. Very erroneous as well. Because if you look at any role, you will find an absolute cross-section of people in that role.
James: People who are very successful, somewhere on one side of the spectrum and some who are on the other, like one example that I can think of off the top of my head is the CEO and Founder of. Shopify, Toby, I think Luca is how you say his last name. And I think he wants a CEO or Entrepreneur of the year and then Canada.
James: And she has a reputation for being extremely measured, like thoughtful, kind of like mild-mannered and soft-spoken, which is it contrasts with a lot of the, I guess, stereotypical qualities that people think a CEO has somebody who’s like a hard charger very strong AI type, very different. And so I think somebody like him is just a great example of how you don’t need to be a certain way to be successful in a certain role.
Ken: Right. So , let’s fast forward a little bit. Actually, before we do, I want to just make sure to tell you a little bit about how you actually got your bars made initially, you know, and did you know anything about how to do that and how to find a manufacturer for your bars? You know, what was that process like?
James: Absolutely. Zero about manufacturing food. I did know. I knew two things. You can either manufacture food yourself, starting out in the commercial kitchen that has all the food certifications that will allow you to sell it. Or you can go try and find what’s called a co-packer who will take your recipe and take your ingredients and create the product on your behalf.
James: And I talked to and read from people who had gone before me in terms of which strategy made the most sense and from what I had learned, my impression was that if you go the commercial kitchen route, then there’s going to be a point where you have to transition to a co-packer and there could be a significant risks in doing so, because the processes are going to be different and the product could be different than what you initially use to launch the company.
James: And so I wanted to avoid that entirely undecided. I’m just going to start out with a co-packer so we can scale from day one and don’t have to worry about any product quality loss or anything like that. So I used my good friend Google to figure out some viable options and really just started researching, cold calling folks, understanding what their minimums were.
James: There are some co-packers that have minimums in the bar category for instance, of 1 million bars. So they won’t even talk to you unless you can produce a million bars in a single production. Obviously just starting out. It’s not really going to work. So you gotta find the folks who are willing to work with startups and who are willing to, produce just a few thousand bars.
James: My first run, I think, was 5,000 bars and, something else actually that’s important to note about that run is because manufacturing is so dependent upon scale. The costs are significantly higher if you’re doing smaller runs like that. So when I started out, I wasn’t really fixated on our margin because I knew I wasn’t making money on the bars that I was selling.
James: That wasn’t my goal. My goal was to get to a certain scale and sell enough bars so that we could bring our margin way up and get to a sustainable point for the business. So I knew that we had a path to get there. Coz I could see from the information that was shared to me by the co-packer that if I get to say a hundred thousand bars in a run, like this can be a sustainable business right now I’m at 5,000.
James: So I got to figure out a way to get from 5,000 to 100,000. And that means I got to sell.
Ken: Right, just, any tips on finding a good co-packer, you know, that path, you know, definitely has the benefits that you outlined, but it’s not without risks either. Right. And you know, there are trade offs that you need to be willing to make.
Ken: Any tips on making sure that you find a co-packer that’s gonna work for you?
James: Yeah, I think it’s something that I should have done more due diligence on early on. So we’ve worked with a number of co-packers at this point and starting out, I basically didn’t have the ability to choose.
James: So I just worked with whoever would be willing to work with me. And I think I should have been a little bit more picky. When making those decisions, a co-packer is the one who’s going to be making the product and the product is going to determine the viability of the business. The product is everything, especially for a company like us, or like some of the other guests you’ve had here where the brand is just a single product.
James: And if a product is not made well, or if there are deficiencies, if this recalls your company, it is gone. So what I’ve learned having done this a few times now is working with somebody who knows the landscape, finding an individual that has either done this before and can help you navigate through that world and knows which questions to ask.
James: That is of immense value and it may seem like an unnecessarily unnecessary cost, but I guarantee you that it’s going to save a lot of headaches and a lot of money in the long run to do it the right way the first time. And I’m saying this because we just did this. In the past 12 months, we did it, the quote unquote right way for the first time and involved this huge list of questions that we sent out to all these different co-packers.
James: There were probably 50 questions on it and we had all of the Mansour and then we could compare the answers right next to another. And then from there, we went on the interviews and then trials and all that, and that’s the way that it should be done. But prior to that, I just kind of, I had conversations and if it sounded good, then went forward with it.
James: But I would definitely recommend against doing that approach.
Ken: Right. Yeah. I think those are some good tips. So, earlier you mentioned that you didn’t want to raise money right away. But it looks like you were able to raise money a little bit earlier this year. You know, what changed in your mindset or, you know, probably a better question is why did you decide to raise some seed capital this year?
James: So we’ve raised a few different rounds of capital. The first round of capital that we raised was actually right before COVID came to stop the world in February of 2020, and my decision to raise capital really came down to kind of a fork in the road either. I realized I could run this business as more of a lifestyle business, something that I wanted to do long-term and I’m sure it would grow organically. But not necessarily at the rate, like an exponential rate of growth. Or you can make the decisions to take on other people’s money and try to really ramp things up. And that second approach just really resonated more with who I am and what I want to do and what I want to learn from this experience.
James: And I think that’s in order to get to where we really want to get the brands to. We need to take an infusion of capital to help do that. There are some brands that are able to grow. Without taking capital, they’re able to grow at an exponential rate. It’s very difficult, I think, to do that as I’m sure you know, and it’s very difficult to grow organically exponentially. I can be done, but it’s difficult to do and I think there’s some luck involved with that. So it really, it came down to. What my goals were, what my vision was for the brand and realizing that in order to achieve them, we needed some additional capital.
Ken: Okay. Yeah. And so you said that I’m just looking at my notes again, you raised, in February of 2020, it looks like early 2020. And then you, did you, have, you had subsequent fundraisers?
James: Yeah. So we raised in February of 2020, and then we’ve done two kinds of incremental raises this past year and are in the process of raising some additional capital over the next six months.
Ken: And I assume a lot of that’s going towards marketing and sales.
James: Yep. Marketing sales, innovation. If you’re going into retail, it requires a lot of resources to support dev, both on the inventory standpoint and some of the marketing. So you just, you need a lot of resources in order to, to go into, to brick and mortar retail, which is one of the reasons actually, why we’ve grown.
James: On e-commerce over the past three years because I wanted to kind of delay that as much as possible.
Ken: Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. So you mentioned you got to a fork in the road, you know, from sort of self-funding it to deciding that you needed it, for somebody out there who, let’s say that they’ve, they have a CPG product that’s off the ground, they’re making some sales, how do you know that you’re kind of coming to that fork in the road? Were there any sort of signs that, Hey, you know, we kind of needed to sign our path here?
James: I think there are a number of, I guess, signs that, should, could indicate that one is if you are just being worked into the ground and you just don’t have enough support and in order to get that support, you need to make hires, which require capital.
James: I realized that I was limiting the growth of the company in some regard, because I was still trying to do everything and lone wolves don’t scale. So I realized that I needed to put a team together if I want to tell him, scale his business and to do that, I need to raise capital. So that was probably the biggest sign for myself.
James: And another piece of advice that I would offer is just really knowing what you need that capital for. I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise money just for the sake of raising money. And I think. In the day and age we live in, it can be seen as very sexy to raise a few million dollars. And I think for a lot of people, the raises they’re actually the goals when they go home really should be to build the best brands and the best company and culture possible.
James: And I think it’s, it can be difficult to ignore that noise, but really. I would focus on understanding what the business strategy is and the resources that you need in order to execute that strategy and being very confident in that before raising money, because I think you can put the business and yourself in a compromising position, if you’re not sure about those things and you go out to raise money.
Ken: Right. And I think it also could be really hard to raise money if you can articulate that. Right. What are you going to use the money for? What’s the goal here? Cause, investors are very interested in that, obviously. Well, let’s just talk about, you know, going forward, you know, what’s on the horizon for free. You mentioned that you might have another fundraiser coming up. You guys are working on getting into any, you know, wholesale or retail locations, you know, what does the future hold, I guess the immediate future, you know, what are some of the things that you’re looking forward to?
James: Yeah. So we have a number of things coming down, the pipeline we just launched into stop and shop, which is a large retailer in the Northeast.
Ken: Hey congratulations!
James: So excited about that. We’re actually going to be launching into lifetime fitness nationwide in two weeks. So excited about that as well. A number of other chains have come online recently. We’re really focusing on it. Growing our retail footprint and then elsewhere, we have new innovation. That’s coming down the pipeline that we’re going to be launching in Q1 of next year, which we’re really excited about. Think it’s going to be something that’s going to make some waves.
James: So I’m very happy about that. And yeah, just continuing to grow the team, grow the brands online and offline. Those are really our main prerogatives over the next few quarters.
Ken: Yeah, very nice. Well, let’s, let’s wrap up here with the quick fire round. Just got four questions for you. Are you ready for him?
James: Let’s do it.
Ken: All right. What’s one tool or resource that has helped you the most in your current position.
James: I’ve gotten a physical journal, which is extremely helpful. I think it’s very easy to have digital documents in this day and age. But I mean, if physical journal’s write things down and meetings, remembering and follow-up has been crucial for me.
Ken: So I did that for a while and I just never went back and reviewed them. Do you kind of have a process to actually get back and look at your notes? Or how does that look like for you?
James: It’s less about reviewing the notes for me and more about the practice of writing them down. I think there’s actually some pretty good science to support this as well.
James: Just the process of writing something down, physically writing it. It actually encodes it into your brain. It’s better for your neurocircuitry than just listening to it. So that is, that’s like more than half the reason I do it. And then also obviously having the physical written record and also just the flexibility of being able to write, on paper, like word docs are great, but you obviously can’t like draw arrows and do all like circles and all of the things that you could do if you’re just writing on a, launching paper.
Ken: What’s one book that you could recommend to the audience?
James: Great questions. Well, since I haven’t seen it in front of me and since I just finished it and it also relates to what I was talking about before with the persuasion, I would say How to Win Friends & Influence People. It’s kind of the O G, a kind of self-improvement book. It’s been around since I think like the 1920s and it’s like 20 or 30 million copies, but it’s done that for a reason. And the idea that I was sharing before about how. The most important thing I think in persuasion is to be able to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes. That’s very heavily inspired by a lot of the writings in that book. That’s not an original idea for me by any means. I had that thought. So I’m just regurgitating knowledge of smarter people than myself.
Ken: Yeah, Dale Carnegie. That’s a great one. What is one piece of advice that you’d give your 21 year old self? So I guess that’s not too long ago.
James: I would tell my 21 year old self that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. And I know that’s kind of a cliche advice, but when you’re in a startup, And especially if you’re starting it yourself, there’s always something to do. Like you can literally be working every single minute of the day and still have more to do. And for me, somebody who’s very driven and likes to get stuff done.
James: You can kind of fall into that trap of just doing stuff, and, Just to feel like you’re not really making much progress because you’ve got so much stuff to do even after you’ve spent all that time doing it. So I’d say like protecting, time for doing other things outside of just launching the business, whether that’s developing hobbies, relationships, other interests, reading, et cetera, because all those things, even though it may seem like answering emails is a better use of your time.
James: Then reading a book or having social connections. Those other things are likely going to help more in the long run than answering 17 emails.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Stephen Covey, you know, used to talk about sharpening the saw, right? Taking the time to sharpen the saw and so, reading, taking care of your physical health and I say this as somebody who’s guilty of putting those things aside when business is going crazy. So that’s something I have to remind myself about. Who is a one person you know, a brand or, you know, somebody in the CPG space that you look up to and would love to take the lunch.
James: So my favorite book. My favorite of all time is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight of Nike and I just have such admiration for what he was able to do because, I mean, what he did was difficult and building Nike, but he did it during a time where venture capital was even a phrase. He did it during a time when I think like one out of every 10 Americans have been on an airplane and he was importing shoes from Japan.
James: So what he was able to build in the time that he was able to build it. And now what that brand stands for, just seeing the Nike symbol for a lot of folks that evokes inspiration and people want to do more with themselves. They want to push further. And the fact that this symbol that didn’t exist 50 years ago, the swoosh.
James: And that now evokes such a visceral response for billions of people is pretty incredible because it’s all due to the work that Phil Knight and his team did over the past few decades to build Nike into what it is today and what it represents.
Ken: Yeah, Phil Knight, very inspiring. That would be an awesome lunch.
James: So I’ll also actually go back to a previous point. He’s another person who I think he mentioned in his book, he’s an introvert. He’s somebody who’s very quiet, very, kind of, mellow and obviously one of the most successful Founders and CEOs of all time. So just another example.
Ken: Yup. Yup. And imposter syndrome and just kind of learning how to fly. He didn’t have all the answers, you know, like, yeah. Very relevant to our conversation today. So, let’s just, let’s kind of wrap things up, you know, so if somebody wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way to do that? What’s the best way to find your product? Just tell us a little bit about how to do that.
James: Sure. Yeah. The best way to reach out to me personally, would be over LinkedIn, which is just James Oliver and the guy that is the Founder, CEO of Atlas Bar. And then the best way to try our product is by going to our site, atlasbars.com. And you can try a sample pack there, which is all six flavors for just 10 bucks.
James: So we created that product specifically to allow people to try the product out without having to shell out 30 or $40 on something that you’re not yet sure about. So yeah.
Ken: Okay. And, just, you know, wrapping up here, you know, there are other entrepreneurs that are, they’re listening to this podcast. They’re in the food beverage space, mainly CPG brands. You know, what parting advice would you give them?
James: So I think this applies outside of just CPG entrepreneurs, but, one thing that’s, every person in history has had every successful person in history has had in common. The only thing that I know of is that they all just kept going. Anybody who gave up, obviously wasn’t successful. So there are going to be times when it feels like it’s helpless and it feels like the walls are closing in. And those are usually the times that you just gotta push through and keep going. And you’ll be out on the other side in no time. I’ve experienced a number of those myself. And I can tell you that’s how it goes. So I would just say keep going.
Ken: Right, James. That’s a great note to end on. I appreciate you being on the podcast. This has been awesome. We’ll talk a little bit later. Thank you.
James: Awesome. Thanks Ken. Appreciate it.
Ken: The Physical Product Movement podcast is brought to you by Fiddle to find out more about Fiddle and how our industry leading inventory ops platform is giving modern brands and manufacturers full visibility into their inventory and operations visit fiddle.io, and then make sure to search for Physical Product Movement in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else, podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe. So you don’t miss any future episodes on behalf of the team here at Fiddle. Thanks for listening.