by Rob Marsh
Seth Goldman’s road to entrepreneurship runs through Harvard University, Yale School of Management, China, Russia, the U.S. Congress (he was deputy press secretary for Senator Lloyd Bentsen) and socially responsible investment company, Calvert Group. In 1998, Seth co-founded Honest Tea, a brand of low-sugar, flavored drinks made from organic ingredients. Ten years later, Coca-Cola purchased a 40% stake in the business, with an option to buy the rest of the business later.
Since then Mr. Goldman has been involved in numerous other green initiatives and founded Bethesda Green. Honest Tea has been names one of the “7 Top Green Corporations in 2010” by PlanetGreen, one of “8 Revolutionary Socially Responsible Companies” by The Huffington Post, and one of the “10 best companies based on their overall social and environmental records” by The Better World Shopping Guide.
Along the way, Mr. Goldman has had a lot to say about social responsibility, entrepreneurship, and believing in your mission. Here are a few of the things he’s said that will inspire other small business owners:
“When we look at how change happens in the business world, it usually comes from two different kinds of business: Those, usually smaller, companies that take big risks and, when they succeed, inspire others to follow. Or the larger companies that gain inspiration from the smaller pioneering changemakers and through their scale make even more change happen.”
“I went to business school with the mindset of being an activist. I wanted to get more skills to lead a nonprofit. And I [sometimes joke] that I did lead a nonprofit for the first five years of Honest Tea. But you can really have a public agenda while pursuing a business. It’s a vehicle for change.”
“When you go into our office in Bethesda, on the wall there is a Chinese proverb that says: ‘Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it.’ So clearly for us, that’s how we live.”
“Believe in what you’re doing. This isn’t about money, this isn’t about ego—this is about believing in something. You have to have a passion for it. It’s way too hard to succeed if you’re just looking for a payday.”
“Once you’ve developed your annual projection, cut your sales by 40% and raise your expenses by 50%, and make sure you’ve got the cash to weather that scenario.”
On the stress of the first year: “…I crack[ed] a tooth, [went] to the dentist, and he [said], ‘You’re gnashing your teeth at night. are you living with any stress?’ And I said, ‘I guess you can say that.’ He [said], ‘Well, you either need to find a way to reduce your stress, or I can tell you about a mouth guard.’ I said, ‘You better tell me about the mouth guard.’”
“People who start as interns need to believe that they’ll one day have the opportunity to run entire divisions. It’s a great way to organically develop your internal leadership, and it’s also very satisfying. You shouldn’t only produce great products. Produce great people.”
“Often, our really bad decisions can be traced back to moving away from our core task. Sticking to values will help you survive. When you stick to what you do best, you are much more likely to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Nonessential endeavors will only distract you. Run on belief, and that will help you overcome a lot of other challenges.”
“When you start a company, you’re basically jumping off a cliff. You don’t have any sense of where you’re going to land, what to do when you land—or what you should be doing in midair. It’s very, very scary. But it’s much easier when you have somebody to commiserate with who knows what you’re going through, and who you know will always be on your side.”
—Seth Goldman, Co-founder Honest Tea