On the latest episode of 20 Minute Playbook, we interview Bill Moses, Founder & CEO of Kevita and Flying Embers.
On the latest episode of 20 Minute Playbook, we interview Bill Moses, Founder & CEO of Kevita and Flying Embers. We decode what he’s mastered and learned along the way—from his biggest lessons learned as a serial entrepreneur to his favorite books, his superpowers, the advice he’d give his younger self, and more—all in 20 minutes.
Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Daniel Scrivner (00:00):
Bill, I'm thrilled to have you on 20 Minute Playbook. Thank you so much for coming on and for making time today.
Bill Moses (00:04):
Great to be here, Daniel.
Daniel Scrivner (00:05):
Where I would love to start is with a little bit of an interesting question around your daily routine. The question is, if people listening could shadow you for a day, from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed, as creepy as that might be, what would they see and what would they be most surprised by in your day?
Bill Moses (00:22):
I don't know what they'd be most surprised by, but I'll give you a day in the life. So I get up, let's say, 4:45, 5:00 AM. I initially go and make some tea. I'll get a workout in, for sure, early in the morning. I'll then most likely hit my cold plunge. I usually do a cold plunge four or five times a week after my workout to get that experience. I get back up and I got two teenage boys. So I'm working with their mother to get breakfast ready and I shake them loose, and I take one or both of them to school. They go to different schools, and then work my way to the office. When I get to the office, the first thing I do is go through my day, look at my agenda, go through my emails. I usually don't book any appointments until 10:00 AM.
The reason I do that is because I don't want to jump into the day with a lot of busyness. I want to gather, I call my list of to-dos every morning and re-sort them by priority 'cause priorities change every day and go through meetings. I would say that at lunchtime, I always bring my lunch, usually a healthy meal, whatever, vegetables. Today I got vegetables and I got an avocado. Yesterday I had some fish, so I always try and keep it light. Then I get in my hyperbaric chamber for about 45 minutes after a 15-minute lunch. I'll go in there, again, with my phone or my laptop and spend some time there recharging, come out of that feeling totally renewed and then plow into my afternoon. Probably around 4:30 or so, we do a tasting, and then I'm on my way home. Usually when I get home I'm active with my kids. That's a day in the life.
Daniel Scrivner (02:30):
Okay. There's a bunch of fascinating things in there I want to ask follow-up questions to. It's super interesting that you do a cold plunge four to five times per week. It sounds like you do this hyperbaric chamber. Is this daily, I'm guessing as well too?
Bill Moses (02:42):
Yeah, three or four times a week. It depends, if I'm busy at midday, I have working lunches, in which case I don't get in it.
Daniel Scrivner (02:48):
Yeah. With both of those, I'm curious, were they difficult for you to adopt and was there some impetus, whether it was somebody encouraging you or you trying it at somebody else's house? What was the impetus to get these?
Bill Moses (02:59):
Yes, certainly. I think with regard to the hyperbaric chamber, coming out of COVID, I had severe COVID and pneumonia and I was not in great shape. I had some scar tissue in my lungs, so I got in. I did a lot of research and bought one and what could I say? It really helped me recover from long COVID. But more than that, I got to say when I come out of it with the hyperoxygenation, it really feels like I slept two, three hours. It's really quite invigorating. A lot of clinical research that's been out on that that I've been reading about and advocating to my friends, that didn't take very hard, there was some adjustment to a little bit of the claustrophobic fit situation and-
Daniel Scrivner (03:40):
'Cause it's effectively just for people that maybe can't visualize a hyperbaric chamber. It's coffin like, except it's round and it's made of glass and metal, but you can effectively see out, but it is very small.
Bill Moses (03:53):
Yeah, totally. Really, what it does is it takes oxygen and pressurizes it and it goes into your cells, into your mitochondria and it really was initially invented for Navy SEALs for the bends when they would come out and now they're used at burn centers, et cetera. It really accelerates healing and it's really a wonderful piece of equipment. But really the cold plunge was really the toughest to get into. I followed David Asprey and was fortunate enough to be on one of his pods and before prepping for it, we started talking about the cold plunge and Wim Hofs and what's happening there. I got to say, there is definitely the single most impactful activity that I've ever done for my health and wellness by far.
I would say that with regard to any inflammation, any issues around energy, et cetera, it really shifts it really quickly. What is most profound about it is I'm type A high cortisol human being. I thrive on adrenaline for good or for bad. But when I get out of the cold plunge, I'm in there for 45 minutes, it's 42, 43 degrees and it took me some time. The first couple times I got in it was really challenging. It was like 10 seconds. But I got to say when I get out of that, I have such clarity of thought, such equanimity, such balance. My overall capability of communicating, processing, thinking, any emotional edge I have is completely gone. I can't recommend it more for entrepreneurs that are grinding hard and have a lot of pressure on them because it is a monumental reset.
Daniel Scrivner (05:47):
To your point, all founders that I've met tend to be type A adrenaline-driven individuals. So it seems almost like it's a great way to balance out that natural tendency to be able to get rid of some of the stress of the day. I want to change and talk a little bit about values and standards. The way I typically ask this question, you talk about how you prep for the day, you talk about how you lay out your day. There's a lot of intentionality there. I'm curious, what's important to you about the way that you show up and the values and standards that you bring to the office, to work, to working with your team every single day?
Bill Moses (06:17):
Yeah. This is something that I've developed over my career path, this I think, behavior. The behavior is, the impulse is, to enter into a meeting or a conversation with your peers or your subordinates with a hypercritical view on what's not being optimized so that we could perform better. It's just the natural orientation, I think of, an entrepreneur, "How do I do it better, faster or cheaper?" But what I've really come to what adopt is realizing that every one of them is doing everything they can to optimize and to enter the conversation with an acknowledgement of what they've done. When I go into, let's just say, a constructively critical mode, it's really oriented towards, "What can we do together and how can I support you to achieve the objective that we've set forth that might not be realized as of yet?" So really getting that temperament and really showing up with acknowledgement and secondly, support is really the most, I think, critical learning and behavior change I've developed over the years to foster a healthy culture in the midst of highly competitive, high-stress, highly- driven individuals.
Daniel Scrivner (07:45):
Yeah, that's very well said. I'd love to ask a very different question around KeVita. We're going to talk about a number of different companies that you've built as you've been a part of building, but one of them is the sparkling probiotic drink maker KeVita. One of the questions I wanted to ask is just what you've learned about what it takes to build a successful food and beverage company, because I do quite a bit of venture capital. One of the things that is very clearly different obviously than a lot of technology businesses is food and beverage businesses. So I'm just curious for your take, what does it take to create both a great product and a great business within that space?
Bill Moses (08:16):
Yeah. So I've always been a product person, really developed the product first, and that's really the beginning part. But I think the thing that really I and the company needed to overcome in that business with that product or suite of products was really understanding how to create a product that was compliant in an otherwise medium non-compliant format, that being a fermented beverage and maintaining that rigor of oversight on compliance while experiencing a tremendous amount of quality challenges that would've normally, I think, made most people quit and abandoned ship.
Over the course of the five-and-a-half years, there were many times when we, I, absolutely had gotten to a point where there was no hope and there were product poles, and there were challenges that would normally make those that didn't really understand and know what it means to pitch a tent to walk away. So I think the thing that I've learned and taken away is that you continue to show up every day and you continue to resource energy ideas so until such time that they shut the doors on you and you don't shut the doors on yourself. So I think that level of fortitude and agility was what I walked away with as the biggest, I think, experience to really overcome the challenges and win.
Daniel Scrivner (10:09):
Yeah. One of the ways I've heard that said that I really like is, to your point, it feels like so much of how we're influenced throughout the day is just emotionally. If you're doing ambitious things that are very difficult, you're going to confront a lot of pretty not so awesome, just the blockers milestones, moments. So just this idea of don't give into hope, also don't give into fear and just try to show up every single day, give your best self and try to take one step forward is the challenge.
Bill Moses (10:37):
Totally. The fear piece is really interesting 'cause I think even the most stoic of us warriors, there are moments where if you don't acknowledge fear, you're not I don't think facing some of the realities of a startup. So really getting through that, I think, is a real good shout.
Daniel Scrivner (11:01):
Yeah. I just want to ask one clarifying question. I'm guessing what you're talking about there is in terms of just some of the challenges at KeVita was you were creating a shelf stable fermented product, and this was in the very early days of fermented products, and just the challenges of doing that, actually getting it to the shelf and something that people are going to enjoy, that's actually good for them and not.
Bill Moses (11:22):
KeVita actually, just rewind a little bit, isn't shelf stable, Flying Embers is. But what happens is because it wasn't shelf stable and it had bacteria in it and some sugar, unless there was impeccable GMPs, you were going to find yourself with an explosive Molotov cocktail on the shelf or something growing in it that otherwise might be a health concern. So yeah, that was definitely it.
Daniel Scrivner (11:54):
Got it. That makes sense. I want to shift, and one of my favorite things to talk about on this show is just great books. So I'm curious, I want to ask the question just what books come to mind that have had an outsized impact or just a large impact on you? This can be the way you work, the way you approach life, the way you see the world, what books have had the biggest impact on your life and maybe your business?
Bill Moses (12:17):
There's a book by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap. The Big Leap really was a book that really made a difference for me in my life. It really talked about your upper limits, and what are your upper limits, and how do you face your upper limits, and how do you move beyond your upper limits? That book has had an impact on me in my personal life and in my professional life that really has made a difference for me. So we all have our limitations that we should be aware of, and overcoming them and understanding how to overcome them was an important part of my personal and professional growth.
Daniel Scrivner (12:58):
Yeah, that's a fascinating book. No one's brought that up. I love the idea and the topic of focusing on upper limits, understanding your upper limits and trying to push your upper limits because it does feel like, I think again, one of the things I've noticed, just anyone that has enough ambition, you're going to explore your upper limits. So you're going to have some painful experiences confronting and hitting the wall with your upper limits. So it's cool that there's a book that can help you think about that. I want to ask about areas where you have an edge or a superpower. The way I typically think about this is, if you were to zoom out and think about yourself, what do you think of as your edges or your superpowers and how do those show up day to day?
Bill Moses (13:37):
I think first having insights on trends, understanding where trends are and how a given consumer package good might fit into that trend. I think that's really the first piece of my superpower. I think the second piece is to understand when you look at a company or a product, really identifying what the points of difference or differentiations are so that you know that have a competitive advantage when you go to market. Great ideas are important, great products are important, but without having any way of differentiating yourself from the competitive set, you've got no way of working through the clutter. I think then ruling that all into and framing it up into a value proposition where you could present to investors the opportunity clearly and be ultimately a promoter, entrepreneurs need to be great promoters or they're not going to get people internal or external to believe in them. So framing that up and articulating that in a way that's quickly digestible by the investor or even the senior leader that you're trying to track into the new venture is going to be really important.
I think framing up an exit, at least in my line of work, I build, I sell, and so I'm attracting people that want to participate in that journey. So really getting really clear on, and giving some visibility on how it happens, how you build it and how you sell it is really also an important part of, I think, attracting great talent and a great investor base. Look, I think I do have a superpower in detail. I think that superpower is also probably my weakness. I oftentimes go so deep into executional detail of let's say, winning at shelf, or executional detail of go-to-market, or when it comes to details around QA, GMP, I have penchant for just getting into the weeds. Then I think what that does oftentimes is that unlocks certain, let's say, challenges that require deeper thinking, but what it also does is it disrupts the continuity sometimes of your particular department or team.
So one of the ongoing learnings and sensitivity that I need to have and continue to have is that when I see that we have a challenge and in digital marketing and I want to jump in, or I think we have a challenge with execution at shelf or distributor management, wholesale management, I just need to thoughtfully really request an invitation to have a seat at the table. Actually, I wrote an email late last night to a couple of team members about something, and I said, "Look, I really think I can bring some value. I would like to have a seat at the table as we think through our TPR strategy and feature programming." It really translated in a better way than saying, "I really want to be involved 'cause I think we want to do this differently." So that level of detail, I think, is a superpower, but it's also been, I think, I'm not such a great asset at times over the years and reaching in and reaching too deeply.
Daniel Scrivner (17:28):
Yeah. I love how thoughtful you are about that and just even reflecting for a second, imagining being a member on your team, I clearly work for you. Yet, you see something that you're interested in and rather than saying, "Hey, in the companies I've been a part of, by and large the default is show ... " it's some demand or request, but it's not phrased as, "Can I join? I'd love to have a seat at the table." It's just an amazing way I think of reframing it and making sure that they feel like they have the power to basically say yes or no. So I love that. I want to ask a couple of follow-up questions on trends and differentiation.
One of the questions I want to ask on differentiation is, may just be my perspective when I go to say, Whole Foods and look at items on the shelf, it often feels like there's differentiation, but it's almost like micro differentiation. Whereas, the consumer, you have to be very thoughtfully tuning in and paying a lot of attention to really know what the difference is. So one of the questions I wanted to ask you is it feels like with differentiation there is major points where you're significantly different, where you don't have these ingredients, you don't have these things and there's micro variations of differentiation. How do you think about the differentiation that matters and the differentiation that counts in the eyes of the consumer?
Bill Moses (18:39):
Yeah. Well, let me start with one of the companies I got involved with really early. I'm a board member and a investor shareholder, Koya. So Chris Hunter came to me, we looked at it. He was in and I looked at this protein drink, and the first thing that is the most important point of difference is quality of taste. So I think that even within any competitive set, the first place you have to win is that, quality, texture, a texture of mouthfeel et cetera, if it's a beverage. Then you go into the specific flavorings. Again, in CPG and food and beverage, it's really flavor first. That really is the point of difference and what on trend lead ingredients one's employing makes the difference. So making sure your team or the team you're investing in has insights and a superpower there is absolutely important. I think the other next level don on point of difference really does come with macro attributes. What what's really driving this particular category's growth? I think quality of ingredients is really the next place and how you really communicate quality of ingredients as you think of a premium position product.
So therein lies either no artificial this or that, farm-to-table, certified organic, biodynamic, regenerative farming, all these buzzwords, I think, really matter to a growing consumer base that's really looking for better for you. Then finally, I think going down to the next tier is really this piece around sugar and carbs. Really fundamentally, in beverages and in foods, unless it's an indulgent experience, which we have and we enjoy sugar, there really is a massive trend towards not eating or drinking your calories in particular and really staying away from the sugar and to some extent. The carbs. So that's really the next place. Then finally, if I could go one step further, then it really gets into the adaptogens or the micronutrients or all those other, I would say, functional ingredients that really make one say, "Oh, I'm going to go after this because I want that,: but if you don't have everything above it lined up, you're not going to get the momentum you need to be a leader in the category. So that's how I view it.
Daniel Scrivner (21:30):
Yeah, I think that's a great framework. I love that it starts with taste because I think that one point of view I've had, it sounds like you believe as well too, is that even if you're developing a product that's better for somebody, if you're losing on taste, but you're winning on being better for someone, you're just not going to find that many customers and consumers that going to be interested.
Bill Moses (21:50):
It's not going to be sustainable.
Daniel Scrivner (21:51):
Yeah, which seems obvious, but I encounter I think many, many companies that I think don't quite understand that. I want to ask one more question on trends, and I'm going to make a little bit of a weird comparison analogy, but in investing, so I interview founders, interview investors as well. In investing, there's this fascinating phenomenon that you have some investors that pay attention to macroeconomics and just, it's a place that they spend a lot of time thinking, even though mostly to inform the investment decisions that they make. It seems like in your world following trends, understanding trends is almost like understanding some of the macro of how the world's changing and evolving that can then influence the decisions you make at your company. So I guess the questions I wanted to ask is for someone listening who doesn't believe that trends are important or doesn't believe that trends are powerful, what would you say to them about why trends matter? Then can you just talk a little bit about how you follow trends and how that maybe trickles down into some of your decision making?
Bill Moses (22:43):
Sure. Well, trends are important because when trends are in on an incline and there is growth, trend is growth. There's a phrase that is really tried and true in business that arising tide lifts all ships. So I'll give you an example. So when we launched a hard seltzer and we launched a hard seltzer that really was zero sugar, zero carbs, organic, really tasted great real color, real amazing. We launched it at the peak of a trend, hard seltzer trend. The first year we've got great adoption, but when the trend started falling materially and it became a commodity of sorts, there's no declining trend that you could offset with any attribute.
Because when the retailers are saying, "We have enough," I don't care how good it is, and Costco's backed up six months and all of a sudden you lose your Costco rotation or your Trader Joe's or whatever it might be because the trend has changed, then you find yourself in a situation where no matter how good the product or the branding or the marketing, you're not going to get what you need in order to sustain growth. So that's a firsthand experience with me and this brand's portfolio.
Daniel Scrivner (24:04):
Yeah, no, it's very well said. Hard seltzer is fascinating because it did feel like there was this moment where it was taking off and you started seeing everybody creating a hard seltzer and entering the market. Of course, it was clearly going to play out the way it played out, but I think it disappointed a lot of people, a lot of founders that maybe weren't as prepared.
Bill Moses (24:21):
It did get to four-and-a-half billion or so category, they grew pretty aggressively. But then as fast as they go up, they come down.
Daniel Scrivner (24:30):
Yeah, and it's difficult to fight, obviously or impossible to try to fight. Okay, I want to ask two more questions. You've been an incredibly successful founder and entrepreneur. You've backed a number of other successful entrepreneurs at companies like Wilde Brands, ICONIC Protein. You talked about Koya. What have you learned about the skills and attributes that it takes to build an important company? So I guess what I'm asking here is you're as an investor advisor, I'm sure you're clearly looking for something in the product itself. I'm sure you're also looking for something in the founder. So what have you found about the best founders that you work with?
Bill Moses (25:00):
Yeah. So there's a company I advised and invested in called Vive Organics. And the CEO's name was Wyatt and they just recently transacted to Soja and Paine Schwartz. I got to tell you, the characteristic that Wyatt exhibits is a penchant for attention to detail that is ad nauseum. The depth of thought and consideration on every detail across every touchpoint in his company was fully exhausted and looked at. I got to tell you, that attention to detail, and it's an inexhaustible thing, it's just like someone that just always wants to get it right and translate the learnings from these details in the new company behaviors that really will alter the trajectory of the company. I will say that is something that I really respect in founders, and I find specifically in Wyatt that I think really helped facilitate that brand so quickly to a quick exit. Yeah, that's probably the one thing.
Daniel Scrivner (26:18):
Yeah, that's a great one. Okay, finally, if you could go back to the start of your career and whisper a few words in your ear, maybe a reminder, is there anything you would tell yourself, just whether it's to keep something in mind, whether it's to orient yourself around what sorts of things you are pursuing, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Bill Moses (26:37):
I would probably be a little bit more discriminating when it comes to founder capabilities. The second thing is there's a CPG, there's a company that I invested in that it's a better for you dishwasher and laundry soap company. I relied on a very smart and credible friend to go into the deal. Besides that, I was somewhat concerned about the leadership and the coordination between the board and the healthiness between the board of directors, the stakeholders, and the CEO. I got to tell you, and I've lost a lot of money where in retrospect, if I had been a little bit more thoughtful or critical around the board or investor base and the CEO and that health or lack of health, I would've probably have saved myself a lot of money investing in a few deals where that wasn't aligned and that really hurt me.
So I think in retrospect, all of us that are investors or entrepreneurs need to make sure that the investor base you get in, do take the time and do your due diligence to make sure your core values are aligned, your business objectives and outcomes are aligned, and that ultimately, there is a connection between you and those individuals and leaders 'cause when times get tough, and they do, you want to be able to work through it constructively and not have something that can ultimately, hurt the company.
Daniel Scrivner (28:28):
Yeah. Yeah, it's a great reminder. It's a great note. No one else has also raised that on the podcast, which I always like. Perfect spot to end on. Thank you so much for coming on, Bill. I really appreciate it.
Bill Moses (28:37):
Appreciate it, Daniel. Have a great day. Thank you.