“[We] have always been inspired by nature. Some of our most creative ideas ever have come to us when we are deep in the woods camping or hiking, so we definitely look to animals for inspiration and try to take lessons from them” when it comes to running and growing a business, EPIC Provisions co-founder Taylor Collins said during a webinar hosted by New Hope May 18 in which he and co-founder Katie Forrest shared four strategies to grow a new business.
The first lesson they shared comes from watching Bison – a key ingredient in many of their wildly successful meat bars – and how the herd reacts to “really, bad, violent storms with lots of lightning and thunder,” Collins said.
“Bison are really interesting in that when they see a storm on the horizon … they will actually face the storm and charge into the storm as fast as it can,” to minimize their exposure to danger and shorten the overall amount of stress they have to endure, he explained
“For a company, this means operating without fear,” and being open to the possibility that there is not one solid path to success, Forrest said. “We encourage people to look for the less obvious solution to problems and to face their fears head on.”
For EPIC this also means not saying no to an opportunity just because the founders were nervous or scared, Collins said. For example, he pointed to how the duo showed up at Expo West in 2013 with little more than an idea and by the end of the show had hundreds of retailers wanting their product as soon as possible.
“We told every single customer we absolutely will get you a product on your shelf even though we hadn’t figured out packaging, we hadn’t figured out final formulation,” Collins said, adding, “it was really that serious attitude based on that idea of running right into it.”
The strategy paid off when the Austin, Texas-based firm tripled revenues to $6.8 million in 2014 and again to $20 million in 2015 before it agreed to be acquired by General Mills in January 2016.
Follow your instincts
Their second lesson learned comes from wolves and it is to trust your gut and follow your instincts
“Animals in the wild operate almost exclusively on instinct … and when you start listening to your body and trusting yourself there is real value. I would rather trust myself and my gut and my team listen to their instincts than listen to industry experts or seasoned entrepreneurs,” Collins said.
If Collins and Forrest hadn’t followed their instinct that meat bars would be a success, the entire company might not have been created because advisors and buyers who the duo approached early in the product’s creation were adamantly against the idea.
Forrest explained that when a buyer told her early on the meat bars were “the worst idea ever,” she cried for three days and then thought, “I can’t pass it up. We’re going to find a way to get through this and prove them wrong.”
And they did.
Pivot when needed
Another lesson the duo learned from bison is to pivot when needed, Collins said, explaining that despite their bulk, bison can turn a full 360 degrees “in less than a second and they can do it pretty much on a dime.”
For business this means recognizing when to shift and to do it as quickly as possible, Forrest said.
“We’ve had to shift our lifestyle several times. We went from being vegans to carnivores pretty much overnight,” and the duo had to recognize when it needed to let go of its first vegan food company so that it could focus entirely on EPIC, which “was the real winner,” she said.
Remember the true value of business
Their final piece of advice comes from nature at large and that is to remember to focus on creating a net-positive return for the Earth rather than just a net-positive return for investors and the company, Collins said.
EBITDA, returns and business strategy should not be the focus of a company, but rather a means to doing good for the planet, people and animals that the business touches, he said.
“Our revenue and our growth is important. It's important for the health of the business,” Collins acknowledged, but he added the way EPIC sees those goals is “if we don't hit those numbers we're not executing on our opportunity to positively impact the planet” or help communities.
That same philosophy has propelled the duo forward following General Mills’ acquisition of EPIC in January. They explain that they hope the partnership between the two companies is an experiment that other large companies can learn from to improve the food system, communities and the planet.
Collins explained: “What I mean by that is how fantastic would it be big business invested in mission-driven entrepreneurs – people who are committed to positively impacting the world and investing in those entrepreneurs and companies rather than investing is four new flavors” of a product that no one needs or cares about.