Origin Stories: Joel Clark, KODIAK CAKES, CEO - from Shark Tank to Fastest Growing Pancake Mix [Episode 17]
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Welcome to DAMN GOOD BRANDS Origin Stories! A new series dedicated to uncovering the entrepreneurial journeys behind some of today’s most successful brands straight from the founders themselves.
Today we’re talking to Joel Clark, the co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Cakes. In addition to being a client, Kodiak Cakes is an all natural food company based in Utah that specializes in pancake mix. Their product also includes other healthy snacks like bars, oatmeal and more.
The story behind Kodiak Cakes is very inspiring since the company struggled for over a decade before becoming a huge success.
Kodiak Cakes started when Joel sold his family recipe pancake mix door to door in a little red wagon as a child. He basically kept on going until the brand became a success. There may be a little more to the story than that, so I’ll let Joel tell it. The story behind the brand is a long road of struggles that end in glory as the brand is the fastest-growing pancake mix brand in the US, growing 80% year-on-year and approaching $100 million in revenue.
The critical moment for Kodiak Cakes was with the introduction of Power Cakes; a super healthy, super hearty pancake mix that included protein powder. Power Cakes really enabled the brand to break through in the market place and the story behind it’s inception is a real lesson in pivoting and product innovation, and even to a degree, a Blue Ocean Strategy.
You may have seen Power Cakes on Shark Tank where, despite receiving offers, Joel walked away empty handed. The resulting coverage from the appearance, however, gave Kodiak Cakes a significant boost in sales, and today the brand is on the fast track to becoming a household name.
We talked to Joel about the grueling path to success, major leadership lessons, and tips to boost your resilience in the face of the inevitable adversity that comes with entrepreneurship. All this and so much more on today’s episode of Damn Good Brands.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Joel Clark.
- Get experience selling door to door (or at least making cold calls). Joel began Kodiak Cakes by selling the recipe door to door as a child. This may seem like a cute story but it instilled in him some very important skills. A number of notable entrepreneurs & business leaders have a background in door to door sales including Paul Mitchell and Patrón founder, John Paul Dejoria, who used to sell encyclopedias. The nature of semi-confrontational sales tactics like selling door to door and cold calls forces you to master a number of skills that will tremendously serve you as an entrepreneur; it forces you to learn to build instant rapport, have a tight and compelling elevator pitch, and embrace discomfort. Perhaps most importantly, these sales tactics also instill a sense of resilience, as salesmen have to take a lot of rejection, as do entrepreneurs.
- Set goals. With something as daunting as launching a national brand, it’s very instinctual for most people to get overwhelmed by the largeness of the task and either give up or be driven to analysis paralysis. As Reverend Desmond Tutu said, 'the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time,' meaning that even the most daunting tasks in life can be accomplished gradually by taking one step at a time. As he was building Kodiak Cakes, Joel would set six month goals for himself and depending on whether he hit them, he’d decide whether or not to move forward with the business. Of course, he kept hitting them, and the incremental progress launched Kodiak Cakes into a very successful place.
- Focus on the little wins. During the many difficulties and dark nights of the soul that come with launching a successful brand, Joel would focus on the fan mail he’d receive from happy customers instead of his inbox of unread emails and bills - these seemingly little things had a major effect on his level of motivation and inspired him to push forward despite the difficulties. In the scheme of it all, little things like glowing customer reviews aren’t little at all because they can be tremendously motivating when the going gets tough. So try to focus on the good where you can get it because often your psychology needs it to push forward.
- Create your brand organically. Kodiak as a brand very naturally conveys a rustic and adventurous image of the outdoors, hiking, and even bears - all of which was what Joel and his family grew up with. The brand pillars of Kodiak are entirely authentic because they’re outgrowths of who Joel is and where he comes from. This instills a very strong sense of authenticity into his brand which is what a lot of consumers are very attracted to. Many products attempt to reverse engineer a compelling brand based on focus groups and market research - both of which are important but there’s an undeniable level of authenticity that occurs when a brand's identity is based on genuine elements of the founders identity and passion.
- Built to Last by Jim Collins
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