057: Leading a For-Profit Business as a Vehicle for Change | with Barry Nalebuff

by Joe Sherwood on October 3, 2013

Mission in a BottleOne of Jesse’s favorite topics is how business can be a force for good in our world. That’s why this episode focuses on the amazing story of a startup business in what some would call an oversaturated market … bottled ice tea. This is the story of Honest Tea, the company that took on Snapple and other big players because they had a vision of making a difference in people’s lives. Now 13 years later, they are still living out their original mission despite being owned by a megacorporation. In this episode, we’re going to find out how Barry Nalebuff, Seth Goldman, and the team at Honest Tea have succeeded in leading a for-profit business as a vehicle for change.

Barry Nalebuff is the Milton Steinbach Professor at the Yale School of Management and author of Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently — and Succeeding. His partner Seth started out in the nonprofit and government sectors, because he wanted to change the world. They discovered that business can be an even more powerful tool for change, and you don’t have to sacrifice your ideals to succeed. Of course, if the business doesn’t thrive, you won’t have any impact.

In many ways, this is a story about creating a new brand. That means more than a snappy label. A great brand has to stand for something. What did Honest Tea originally stand for, and how has that developed over time? Jesse and Barry discuss:

  • Overall Story: Big-picture economic principles that helped guide decisions and avoid mistakes, plus passion for the mission of using business to make people’s lives better.
  • Brand: A product or service has to be radically different or better, and able to succeed even after competitors try to copy it.
  • Reputational Capital: Invest in your reputation. If you’ve built a reputation, it can buy you a second chance.
  • People: How have you managed to inspire the kind of dedication that you get from your team? This is a startup where unlike a dotcom you aren’t really holding out the opportunity to become a multimillionaire … the company struggled financially for the first 10 years.

Jesse and Barry also answer a question from our community:
Josep asks: Now that it seems like you are being copied by other tea brands (Brisk, Lipton, Arizona, Tazo, etc.), how are you able to keep growing?

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