From Shark Tank Failure to Making Kitu Super Coffee a $100 Million Dollar Brand with the DeCicco Brothers! – What Got You There with Sean DeLaney

Check out the What Got You There with Sean DeLaney Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • To move a mountain, you start by moving small stones
  • Building a brand is like roadwork – you’re never done
  • Chase lions, not field mice
    • Always be prioritizing your time to get the most significant return on your investment
  • Structure sets you free – work smarter, not harder
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to other entrepreneurs/brands with questions, especially those who’ve fought similar battles to the ones you’re facing
    • And remember – you DON’T need to know somebody to reach out to them
  • The way you do anything is the way you do everything
  • In regards to exercise, do what you can – anything is better than nothing

Books Mentioned

Intro

The Origin Story

  • As a freshman basketball player at Philadelphia University, Jordan couldn’t find what he needed in terms of bottled coffee to take on the go
    • “Everything was loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. I decided I could probably just make something better myself.”
      • A lot of trial and error later, along with concocting protein/coffee mixes in his dorm room, Jordan linked up with his brothers to start KITU
  • Jordan ended up dropping out of school
    • “We said, ‘This is all or nothing. Let’s put ourselves against the wall here and see what we have.'” 
      • When you make a decision like this, you have no choice but to make things work

Did the brothers have any fear of failure?

  • As natural-born competitors, they’re always willing to bet on themselves
    • That being said, of course they did (everyone does!)
      • “That’s what kept us up at night early on, that we could go out of business”
  • “Fear of failure was a significant motivator for us early on, and it still is”
    • “That’s what makes great competitors and business people great; in the back of their minds, their greatest fear is failing or losing their success”
  • At the same time, they knew they’d only fail if they didn’t put in the work 
  • “To move a mountain, you start by moving small stones. That’s what it’s been every single day.”

Goals Evolve Over Time

  • One of the brother’s early goals was to create a $100 million company (and they did), but they’re just getting started
    • “There’s just so much more out there and so much more to do. It goes back to that initial dream; it wasn’t a destination of monetary value and success, but it was making healthy coffee more accessible. Until we’re in every store… we really haven’t got there.”
  • “Building a brand is like roadwork, you’re never done”

How do the brothers manage the heavy workload?

  • Jim has told Sean in the past – “I could literally sit here for 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I wouldn’t be able to accomplish every single thing we need to get done.”
  • It comes down to time-management and prioritization
    • “There are a LOT of fires we let burn. There are tons of little tasks that we let go, or we can’t always get to, and that’s okay. You need to be cool with that.”
    • The key: prioritizing your time and effort to get the most significant return
    • There’s a famous quote – “A lion has the ability to kill a mouse, but if a lion spent all his time killing mice he would die”
  • EVERYONE is prone to burnout 
    • You have to have to take care of yourself

Hey, note readers! Maybe you’d like to watch this interview? Here you go!

Business Growth

  • Shortly after their episode on Shark Tank, the brothers had just seven employees
    • They now have ~150 in total (51 full-time and 100 part-time)

If the brothers were to launch a new company today, what would they do differently?

  • Jake jokes – “Protect equity more”
  • “Putting your team first is everything. We’ve done that but not to the full extent we could have or should have from day one”
    • “We could have built the brand faster and overcame some early struggles quicker if we focused on bringing in talent and investing more in people rather than working 20 hours a day ourselves”
  • “Structure sets you free”
    • As the business has evolved, the brothers have learned to work smarter, not harder

Extracting Lessons from Entrepreneurs

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to other entrepreneurs/brands with questions, especially those who’ve fought similar battles to the ones you’re facing
    • And remember – you DON’T need to know somebody to reach out to them
  • Leverage your network 
    • Your network is NOT just your alumni circle or your LinkedIn Connections, it’s the industry you’re in
  • Books are also super important
    • One Jordan highly recommends – Principles by Ray Dalio
      • “The reason Principles is such a great book is because it teaches you how to identify and overcome your weaknesses”
  • Remember – You ALWAYS have something to learn

Skill Acquisition | Having no prior experience in the beverage industry, how did the brothers learn so quickly?

  • Test & learn, trial by fire, and control what you can
    • Business is a lot like sports, it’s all about repetition
  • And lastly, do the job to the best of your ability
    • Jesse Itzler has said – “The way you do anything is the way you do everything”
  • Get customer feedback & improve

Listener Questions

Are there any books the brothers recommend?

  • Jordan: Principles by Ray Dalio
    • “It provides a great framework for learning and continuous improvement”
  • Jake: Shoe Dog by Phil Night
    • “It’s a great narrative, a great read, and it gives you the mindset of an entrepreneur”

How do the brothers manage to stay in such great shape when they’re so busy?

  • DO WHAT YOU CAN (anything is better than nothing)
  • High-intensity circuit workouts are a favorite (cycling through 12 exercises for 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off)
  • High-intensity interval taring (HIIT) is great when crunched for time
    • Example – Tabata workouts (45 seconds all out, 15 seconds off)
  • Stay consistent
    • Everyone has an excuse not to hit the gym, but push through it and make the time

Any new flavors or products on the horizon?

  • Be on the lookout for a sweet cream super creamer and cold brew cans
  • “We might have some plant-based options coming very, very soon as well”

What does KITU look for when hiring new employees?

  • Jim tells a story: When he was in the process of hiring one of their earliest employees, he had candidate meet him in the woods at 6 AM on a Saturday morning for a run
    • “My whole thing was, is he going to quit? Is he going to stop? Is he going to complain? He didn’t, and that’s what we’re looking for. This is REALLY hard and it’s not for everybody. If you think you want it, you have to show us.”
  • The brothers now tell each new hire:
    • “This is the hardest you’re ever going to work in your life, but it’s also the most fulfilling and most fun you’re going to have.”

The Entrepreneurs the Brothers Look Up To

Favorite Sharks on Shark Tank?

What’s next for Super Coffee and the brothers?

  • There’s a lot more to be done – they’re only available in 10% of targeted U.S. accounts
    • They want the coffee accessible to ALL Americans, especially on college campuses
  • They’ve budgeted to bring the number of full-time employees from 50 to 65 by the end of 2019 (and 100 by the close of 2020)
  • “In 2020, we plan to become a national brand… We want to really blow the doors off this thing”

Additional Notes

  • Ages – Jordan is 24, Jake is 25, Jim is 26
  • KITU offers unlimited paid time off
  • The brothers were named to the Forbes 30 Under 30
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