As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Glaser.
Bill Glaser, CEO and co-founder of Outstanding Foods, is an entrepreneur, financier and investor who has raised over $250 Million, taken several companies public, and has been involved with 2 companies that had 9 figure exits. Glaser’s current venture, Outstanding Foods, is a plant-based foods company that creates tasty as hell products that everyone can love.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since I was a kid. Back in the day, I would sell things I had so I could get money to buy toys! In my post-childhood career, I founded a variety of companies and have had some successful exits and outcomes. I’ve personally been plant-based for over 31 years and have wanted to start a company that could make a meaningful impact by making it easy for anyone to easily incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet without making a sacrifice. To pull that off, I needed someone to be able to create delicious food products that anyone can love. When I had the chance to partner with renowned Chef Dave Anderson who previously led R&D at Beyond Meat, I jumped at it and Outstanding Foods was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There have been so many, especially with so many celebrity investors, but a funny story is that when we were raising our first round of capital, my cofounder Dave and I went to New York City to meet with investors. For one investor who lived in Philadelphia and came to New York City to meet us, we needed a kitchen to do a demo. We found a hotel in Time Square that had a kitchenette with a hot plate in the room, so Dave and I checked in along with the investor and took suitcases that were full of pots, pans and food to the room to do our presentation and demo. In the past, rooms in Times Square used to have people checking in for only an hour at a time (and not to cook food for investors). So when we left and checked out after about an hour and went to the front desk, they looked at us dumbfounded. We could see them wondering why these 3 men with suitcases were only there for an hour…
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Right after Snoop Dogg became an investor with us, we did a Facebook Live to announce it. The scene opened with me opening a bottle of gin and pouring it into a glass of juice. I was pretending that I didn’t know the camera was filming and then took a big swig before I “noticed” the camera. It seemed that I had a very heavy pour of gin as that swig was a strong one so I had to do a double-take before speaking. The lesson for that, as in anything in business, is to always prepare and have a good idea about what you want to do. The other lesson is to adapt as things usually don’t go according to plan, especially when you’re drinking “Gin & Juice”.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was very intentional to raise capital from those who could also add value to our company, whether as a celebrity to help promote our products or with contacts with business wisdom. Our early lead investor was Rob Dyrdek, who was very involved and valuable in helping to shape our branding. Rob also became a confidante of mine and was a sounding board for all kinds of challenges we had. Early on, we had a manufacturing challenge, and by sharing the issues with Rob, he was able to help guide me through some tough decision-making, pivot from our first product and then race to get our second product to market. I’m very grateful for Rob and for our investors who added so much more value than money.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
While the U.S. is typically an inspiration to the world for its freedoms, it also has a dark past of racism and gender discrimination which have been institutionalized and continue to this day. There have been times in the country’s history where awareness of these issues has risen and has resulted in some changes. However, when those same issues that caused the awareness passed, the changes have never been enough to eliminate the institutionalized and societal biases. The recent history has been a time where many of us feel there’s an opportunity to finally bring about more meaningful changes and not let the awareness die down this time. We can’t rely on the government to make those changes so they must begin with each of us individually to do our part wherever we can. Companies must also view this moment in time as a reckoning and take responsibility in our hiring practices and create opportunity and equality for those who need more plentiful opportunities.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I believe that all companies these days aren’t just sellers of products but are platforms that have a voice. All business leaders have a choice of how we use our platforms. For me, I’m motivated for Outstanding Foods to have a responsibility to use our platform to inspire change. The core of our business which is creating delicious plant-based foods can make a positive impact on people’s health, the environment and animal welfare. We consciously try to use our platform to bring about other positive changes as well. In our first year of sales, we donated $35,000 to the Equal Justice Initiative and to Snoop Dogg’s charity that helps inner-city youth. We hope to grow the number of our charitable donations each year in business and expand the organizations we can support. We’ve also donated many thousands of bags of our food products to people in need and have partnered with several non-profit organizations to bring healthy food to those who either don’t have access or can’t afford it. As a business, we have a diverse team as we are mindful to have equitable hiring practices. I’ve also personally been mentoring some entrepreneurs of color and providing access to contacts, relationships and resources to help foster more entrepreneurs of color.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
A CEO’s role changes as the size of the company grows. In the early stages, a founder and CEO are doing just about everything. When we started, I hired, did business development, raised capital, posted on social media, recruited consultants, wrote copy, created our branding and packaging and wore countless other hats. As the company grew and continues to grow, I have taken more of those things off of my plate as we’ve hired a team and have become more of a delegator and leader. A CEO is always driving culture and how a brand and products are positioned. A CEO is also always involved in raising capital, business development and building their team. Overall, a good CEO is someone who is great at developing and growing relationships at every level internally and externally to the company and inspiring those internally and externally.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think many believe that once you’ve “made it” to the top-level that things are cushy and easier. The reality is that at any level of someone’s career, there are always opportunities and challenges. To me, the most important skill at any level — one that often propels someone to a leadership position — is to embrace challenges. Do not view challenges as negative but instead as necessary pathways to growth. The magnitude and frequency of challenges usually increase at the CEO level, but if you have a growth mindset and are optimistic, you’ll be able to meet all challenges.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I don’t consider what I do to be a job. A job is usually something people are happy to clock out from — I’ve had my share of those in the past. Now, I’m doing something that I’m truly passionate about and is authentic to who I am. I feel that Outstanding Foods can make a massive impact and I’m driven to make that happen. In the past, I was driven to make money and wouldn’t have been able to relate to living my passion in my career. So the biggest difference for me is to not count the amount of money I can make but to count how many people we can impact and how that can positively affect people’s health, the environment and animals. I’m personally driven to inspire over 100 million people to live healthier and happier lifestyles.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Definitely not. Being an executive means that in addition to the core work that a person does, they are also leading a team internally and representing the company as a leader externally. Being a leader doesn’t mean being a boss and telling people what to do. A leader should inspire their team to learn, grow and evolve and ultimately let them figure things out. A true leader helps to create other leaders. A leader should also enroll people outside of the company to want to work for the company, do business with the company and be a customer of the company. People who tend to be control freaks often do not make great leaders as it’s hard for them to delegate, inspire and lead because they’re too busy trying to control everything and everyone.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
When most companies think of growth, it’s related to their sales. The way we think of growth is about everything but it starts with the individual. To be able to serve our customers and their communities as well as we can, we need to be the best we can be. Best means to encourage personal growth and mindful communication. At Outstanding Foods, we have an Executive Coach who focuses on mindset and communication. All of our leadership and our team have regular meetings with our executive coach to help us be more effective communicators which then helps foster personal growth and connection. It’s natural for there to be conflicts on teams and in all personal interactions. It’s when conflict can be resolved and mutual understanding happens that brings about connection. And when individuals and teams are truly connected, they enjoy being with each other which is positive for culture. As a company we also promote community involvement though our Do Outstanding program and offer PTO for charitable time donations. Helping others as a team also creates bonding and a positive work culture.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
It’s easy to donate money to causes that bring about positive change. Outstanding Foods as well as myself, are committed to making regular charitable donations. Beyond donations, I am using our business as a platform to bring about change — individually by encouraging personal growth, via our products that inspire healthy living and support a healthier environment with less suffering by reducing plastic. Outstanding Foods is a certified plastic neutral company, meaning we are not a net adder of plastic to the environment. We want to be at the forefront of using biodegradable packaging and be a steward to our environment and our customers and their communities; and to inspire people to be more Outstanding. For us being Outstanding means being happy with who you are but always striving to learn and grow. Inspiring others to be their best and uplift them when they need it, have tons of fun and laugh a lot, don’t judge others and to eat healthy but never boring.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I live with no regrets and am open to learning from experiences. I’m grateful for all the experiences that led to lessons and growth. Nonetheless, here are those 5 things that someone else’s wisdom could have shortcutted my learning experiences:
- Done is better than perfect. This has become a big part of our company ethos. We’ve updated products, messaging, branding and many other things by being open to and processing feedback. When we started, we were trying to perfect everything we did. That was part of the initial lengthy timeframe of our first product. Once we embraced a “done is better than perfect” philosophy, we moved faster and became more nimble and adaptive to making changes. “Done is better than perfect” doesn’t mean putting out a crappy product. It means not trying to overthink everything which can create minutia and stagnation. Being insecure of what others will think is a symptom of perfectionism. When you can shift your mindset to embrace feedback as a way to be better and not as criticism to what may not be perfect, you actually get more aligned at delivering solutions for your customers.
- Create products with readily available ingredients and manufacturing equipment. We consider all of our products to be innovative and paradigm shifting, but our first product had massive challenges as we were using a food ingredient that had never been used in a mass produced food product and manufacturing equipment had to be modified to accommodate that ingredient. As a result, it was a very expensive product to produce and bring to market. We ultimately made the decision to not be a company that had to raise a massive amount of capital just to keep the lights on and pivoted to creating products in which we didn’t have to create a supply chain or use equipment that wasn’t already in existence. The first product before we changed our philosophy took almost 3 years to bring to market whereas our next one only took 4 months.
- Don’t be consumed by social media. Every brand should have a social media strategy, but in today’s world it’s common for people who are anonymous behind a screen to say things they would never say in person. We were falsely lumped into a post that went viral on Instagram in which they made a judgement about one of our minority investors and assumed every company he invested in shared his personal political views which was entirely inaccurate. I ended up contacting friends who knew some celebrities who shared the post and I contacted the person who made the post and ended up having a thoughtful conversation with her and she ultimately deleted the post and apologized. So every brand has their share of trolls and false info that can get spread. Instead of being consumed by such negativity and falseness, simply hide, delete or block when appropriate and focus on the positivity.
- How to hire in a virtual environment when not meeting candidates in person. The pandemic created many challenges and for me, hiring was one of them. Interview questions virtually can be the same as in person but everything else is different. Only seeing someone’s head and shoulders, you don’t get a chance to read body language and pick up on vibes or make true connections. You also don’t know if people have notes or even scripted answers near them when they’re behind a screen. As a result, I made some hires that we’re the right fit and some who weren’t good for our culture. I learned a better way to interview and go deeper as a result and even though the pandemic has waned and will eventually be behind us, remote workers are becoming more popular so interviewing virtually will be more common.
- Network with as many people as possible within your industry. While I was a seasoned and successful entrepreneur, Outstanding Foods was my first food CPG company. I consider networking and relationship building among my strengths, but I was often finding new relationships from scratch as my network didn’t include people in the food business. Whether for manufacturers, distributors, sales reps, consultants, hiring, etc, I often researched and found people and then vetted them to decide whether to engage with them or not. But then, I found several industry trade associations and Slack or WhatsApp groups for CPG food companies that could have helped me find and vet the right people faster.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m already living that dream now! To be able to offer delicious and nutritious foods that people love and that happen to be plant-based, we are helping people live healthier and help reduce their contribution to environmental damage which animal agriculture is a big contributor of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Live your life like you’re going to die tomorrow but learn and take care of your body like you’re going to live forever. For me, that philosophy has led to great health and people always thinking I’m at least 10 years younger than I am. I’m also always interested in learning and growing but have a sense of urgency to make shit happen NOW!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Why limit it to just one person when I could have breakfast with the Dalai Lama and lunch with Richard Branson?! The Dalai Lama as he and his people have suffered greatly but you’d never know it with him as he’s happy no matter what and allows himself to always have a childlike nature. I love Richard Branson’s constant thirst to take new risks and adventures while always giving back. Me, The Dalai Lama, Richard Branson and friends on Necker Island for a week. Let’s make that happen Authority Magazine!