Successful serial entrepreneur Sheryl O’loughlin is CEO of REBBL super herb beverages. She’s served as CEO of Clif Bar and Co-Founder/CEO of Plum Organics. She wrote Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart to share her lessons.
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Living Maxwell – Sheryl’s small business resource
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3 Value Bombs
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2) Set your priorities and build your lifestyle around those.
3) Sometimes you are going to be the consumer of your own products.
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[01:38] – “The reason why most businesses fail is because it’s really hard”
[02:16] – Her area of expertise is starting and growing social-mission based businesses
[03:02] –Rebbl gives 2.5% of their net sales to nonprofits
[04:16] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Sheryl went to her co-founder at Plum to say goodbye to the company they both co-created. She was completely burnt out from the startup experience, plus her investment in her husband’s startup blew up their finances. It took her 8 years to completely pay off everything after they almost went bankrupt. Simultaneously, Sheryl developed anorexia.
[05:53] – If Sheryl could go back to that moment, she’d tell herself that if she built the company right, it would live on without her
[06:25] – You can have a better entrepreneurial experience if you know your priorities
[07:05] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: When Sheryl was at Clif Bar, they launched Luna, the nutrition bar for women. At that time, the whole category for energy bars were for men only. Sheryl felt like that wasn’t fair, so together with the other women in her team, they created one for women. Luna became a $70M business in just 3 years, and it became the trendsetter in that category
[09:23] – Creating Luna was very different than what Sheryl was used to because in this particular case, she was the consumer
[10:15] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I have to say, it’s got to be what I’m working on now with Rebbl – it’s on freakin’ fire!”
[14:00]– The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “I had not found the right person to do it with”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Not to lose sight of yourself and all of the feedback and the advice that you get from other people”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “It’s my morning workout routine”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Living Maxwell
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Thank You For Being Late – “it’s a super insightful book regarding the future that we’re facing regarding our companies”
[16:41] – Regardless of whether your business is in an upstate or downstate, never create your value with the value of your company
[18:00] – Email Sheryl at [email protected] and receive a FREE copy of her book, Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head without Losing Your Heart and get a coupon for a FREE Bottle of Rebbl – FIRST 50 PEOPLE ONLY
Sheryl O’Loughlin: You better believe it!
John Lee Dumas: Yes! Successful serial entrepreneur, Sheryl is CEO of REBBL super herb beverages. She’s served as CEO of Clif Bar and cofounder and CEO of Plum Organics. She wrote Killing It: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart to share her lessons with others.
Sheryl, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Well, in terms of gaps, one of the things that inspired this book was in between Plum and working at REBBL, I actually went to run the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and I had tons of entrepreneurs coming to me and talking about they had dollar signs in their eyes, all these great companies they’re going to build, and for sure they’re gonna be successful and make millions of dollars.
And in those moments, I just wanted to hold them and say, “You gotta understand. This is really hard. The reason why most businesses fail is it’s really hard. It’s hard on your personal life, it’s hard on your health, and you need to understand that those are gonna have to be priorities in this journey.” And it struck me, time and time again, how hard it was for people to understand that.
So, that was really the reason why I wrote this book in the first place was to be able to give that advice to many more entrepreneurs.
John Lee Dumas: Well, Sheryl, you’ve done a lot over the years, you’ve accomplished a lot over the years, and you have a lot left to accomplish, but today, right now, what would you say is your area of expertise?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: I think it’s starting and growing social-mission-based businesses. So, throughout my career, I’ve focused on the principle that humanity and the natural world have vital interconnections, and I believe that as businesses, we have a responsibility to take those into account in the way we build our companies.
I’ll give you an example as to what I mean by that. So, REBBL, the company I’m at now, was actually founded by a nonprofit called Not For Sale, whose goal is to end human trafficking, which is the fastest growing illegal industry in the world, and that is at the core, that’s our heart of what we do. So, to this day, we give away 2.5 percent of our net sales – net sales, not profits – net sales of every bottle to Not For Sale, our nonprofit partner to do their great work in supporting victims of trafficking. And then, we also work, which is so important, with our growers who make our ingredients to ensure that their livelihood is good so that they are never vulnerable to trafficking in the first place.
That is the core of why I’m doing this and why I’ve done every business that I have. That’s what drives me.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you have to find what drives you. It’s so obvious, hearing the passion, the excitement, the enthusiasm in Sheryl’s voice, what drives her. Do you have that in your business, in your life, in your vision? If not, find that. Get there.
Now, Sheryl, looking at your resume, you’ve been CEO of three incredible companies, if not more. You have a lot that’s going right in your entrepreneurial journey, but let’s be honest. You’ve had some tough times as well. I know it because I’ve interviewed 1,880 successful entrepreneurs, and not one has gone through life without some struggles and some failures. So, take us, Sheryl, to your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Tell us that story.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: I have to say I really appreciate you saying that, John, because that’s the thing where I advise other entrepreneurs on. Everyone has a story. No matter how perfect things look on the outside, everyone has a story. And I’m very, very open about my hardships that I went through in my book.
And, yeah, I remember one that was pretty hard. It was a defining and a huge life lesson, and it was when I walked into my cofounder of Plum, Neil’s, office to say goodbye to the company that we co-created. I was completely burned out from the startup experience, but combining that with a company my husband started and I supported that blew up and took all of our finances with it, and more. It took us eight years to pay off the last of our debt, and we almost went bankrupt. And given all that and how out of control it felt, I’m gonna jump right in to the core of your question.
I actually developed anorexia, and I knew for my health, the health of my family, and the health of Plum that I needed to walk away, and it was like a punch in the gut to realize that and walk away from my company, my company baby.
John Lee Dumas: Looking back at that, Sheryl, you obviously have some lessons that you personally learned from that experience. What can you pass forward to Fire Nation? What lessons do you want to make sure we, as entrepreneurs, get from that really difficult time in your journey?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: A number of thoughts come to mind. In some ways, if I could go back to that moment and tell myself something that I knew in the future, was that if you build a company right, it will go on long into the future without you. And what I didn’t know then was how much it would teach me about myself as a person, that moment, in terms of what’s really important, and using that, now, to come to the greatest startup experience of my life, which is REBBL. But it’s knowing these priorities, knowing how a startup fits in your life and how to nurture your entire life, that’s what’s making this experience that much better.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you’re gonna experience these bumps. You’re gonna experience these struggles. Use them as building blocks, not holding you back but propelling you forward. And look where Sheryl is now with REBBL. That’s the inspiration.
So, Sheryl, we’re gonna shift into another story. This one’s gonna be a little funner for you to share, I’m sure, because it’s one of your greatest ideas to date. You’ve had a lot of good ideas. You’ve had some really bad ideas. But take us to one of those aha-moment ideas that you had. Tell us that story.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Well, one of them, but this is a quick one, is marrying my husband. That was a good idea. He’s a pretty good guy and has allowed all of this to happen.
One of the greatest ideas that I always think of, it came to life with a team of amazing people while I was at Clif Bar, and we had launched LUNA – this was in 1999 – the whole nutrition bar for women. At the time, the whole category back then was used only by men. It was about men, it was about muscle, and the conventional wisdom was women don’t use energy bars. And I felt like, and I talked to the other women at Clif Bar, and we were like, “That’s bull. We wanna bar, but there’s just not a bar that’s right for us.”
So, we saw a big opportunity to create a bar that really met the needs of women and spoke to them from a brand perspective in a way that was meaningful to them. And we launched LUNA Bar at the time we had nearly no money to support it, and it became a $70 million business in just three years. And what is so cool now is to see this category which has exploded of energy bars, which is very much equal between men and women. So, it really changed the face of the whole category.
John Lee Dumas: Sheryl, let’s talk about lessons learned with this scenario, with this story. What was something that you learned from that experience with LUNA and that aha moment that really, you think, Fire Nation, our listeners, could take away?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: It’s funny because I had come from multinational companies where, at the time, really marketing and thinking about brands was all about distancing yourself from the consumer and studying the consumer from afar. And, god forbid, you actually were the consumer? That would get in your way and cloud your judgment.
And so, here, I came to Clif Bar, where I had the joy of working with Gary Erickson, who’s the founder and owner of Clif Bar, and the energy bar, Clif Bar, came out of his passion for sports. And he really encouraged me to dig deep and think about what was important to me, and it was so different from what I was used to in terms of bringing my whole person to everything I did, and that’s what inspired the idea. I didn’t have a bar that I wanted. So, that’s where it came from. It came purely from my heart and talking to other people who had the same experience.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, what’s that niche, what’s that void in your life? And by the way, there’s probably a few, and you shouldn’t do all of them at once because you need to focus. You need to really make sure that you’re mapping out a good path. But what’s that one that just really bugs you that you also maybe have a lot of curiosity about, maybe you can build some excitement and passion around, too? Maybe that could be something to explore.
And with you, Sheryl, you have a lot of passions, you have a lot of things that excite you, but what’s the one thing, when you wake up in the morning, that you think you’re most fired up about in the business sense?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Well, I have to say it’s the company that I’m running now, REBBL. It’s on freaking fire. It’s so exciting, not only from a growth standpoint, but I am working with truly one of the greatest teams I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. But more importantly than that, I am doing it in a healthy way now, knowing its relative place in my life, and I truly believe I’m doing a better job as CEO of this company because I know that now. It’s changed completely my approach.
And I talk about, when you’ve been through it before, is approaching the business with a sense of urgent but calm. And it’s really easy in a startup to get thrown all over the place by the ups and downs that happen 20 times a day, but it’s the worst thing that it can do because it gets in the way of your judgment. At the same time, you have to have a sense of urgency around it. So, urgent calm is so important, and I finally learned how to do that.
John Lee Dumas: Urgent calm, Fire Nation. That should become your mantra. I love it. Sheryl loves it. And she’s been dropping value bombs, by the way, for, oh, the past 12 minutes or so, and if you think those are stopping, you’re wrong because we have the Lightning Round coming up as soon as we get back from thanking our sponsors.
Sheryl, are you ready to rock the Lightning Round?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Oh, yeah!
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: It was really, as a person who thrives in a collaborative environment, I had not found the right person to do it with. I hadn’t found my muse. Some people like to do it solo. That was me. When I finally found Neil Grimmer, and we had this amazing chemistry, and I felt like I could have my best ideas with him, that was when I was all in.
John Lee Dumas: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: It’s actually from my love of my life, my husband, Patrick, who told me not to lose sight of yourself in all of the feedback and the advice that you get from other people. And my natural tendency is, actually, to overweight people’s point of view, discounting my own, and that advice taught me to be a better leader, as to how to be collaborative but, at the end of the day, making very clear decisions so everyone can move forward.
John Lee Dumas: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: I have to say it’s my morning workout routine because it’s the time where I just go on a run by myself, and I can be Zen in my head, and lots of ideas come to me, and then I’m – talk about fired up – I’m fired up, ready to go, ready to start the day, but I need that clearing time in order to get there.
John Lee Dumas: Recommend one Internet resource.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Living Maxwell is what it’s called. LivingMaxwell.com is a must-read for natural industry CEOs. Max provides just the best insights in all my experience I’ve ever seen on the industry in a way that is really true to the core of what organics stand for.
John Lee Dumas: So, Sheryl, to join your book, Killing It: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart, that’s on our bookshelves – we’re gonna make that happen – what’s another book you’d recommend and why?
Sheryl O’Loughlin: A really eye-opening book is by Thomas Friedman. It’s called Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. It’s a super-insightful book regarding the future that we’re facing with our companies and to help us to think about what we need to do to take control of that future and take our companies to be ready to go to heights in all the changes that are happening.
John Lee Dumas: Sheryl, let’s end today on fire with you giving us a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: As an entrepreneur, this is so important. This is what my book is about, is regardless of whether or not your company is in an upstage or a downstage, and regardless of its traditional definition of success or failure, never, ever create your value, your self-worth with the value of a company. Your life will exist far beyond your time with your company, and you need to be grounded in what’s important to you at the core of your soul.
So, I think about it as an adventure, and like any adventure, whether you’re climbing Mount Everest, or doing a marathon, or whatever it is, it’s just doing that’s important. And everyone, everyone out in this audience that is going for it, good for freaking you for doing it and being brave enough to do it. That’s what’s important.
So, the best way to connect is you can find REBBL at REBBL, R-E-B-B-L – it stands for roots, extracts, berries, barks, and leaves -- .co, or you can find me at SherylOLoughlin.com, S-H-E-R-Y-L-O-L-O-U-G-H-L-I-N.com, or look for REBBL in your local natural food market because it is so freaking good. I promise. It’s so healthy. It’s so good. You have to find it.
And also, I’d like to give an offer for something for your listeners, so for the first 50 people that email us at [email protected], not .com, .co. Actually, I apologize. It is .com on that one. [email protected] will receive a free copy of my book, Killing It, and a coupon to get a free bottle of REBBL. So, again, it’s [email protected]
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, I hope you are quick on the trigger because that’s a killer, killer offer. And you, Fire Nation, are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and, oh, let’s see, you’ve been hanging out with SOL and JLD today. So, keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. Just type “Sheryl” – that’s S-H-E-R-Y-L – in the search bar, and her Show Notes page is gonna pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz – timestamps, links galore.
And of course, definitely check out her amazing book, Killing It: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart, REBBL.co, and email [email protected] First 50, getting the book, getting a drink, making things happen.
And, Sheryl, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Sheryl O’Loughlin: Thank you so much. It was such an honor. I really appreciate it.
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