About this episode

This week I welcome Zack Swire, founder and CEO of Good Grains to the show. Good Grains delivers better cereal, better coffee, and better gear for a happier and healthier day. As you’ve heard in this podcast from numerous founders, there are some aspects of their journey that are similar. And yet, there are others unique to their story. For Zack, his entrepreneurial mindset started at a young age. In fact, by the time he was 16, he already had his second business. Zack’s story is one underlined by familial motivations and aspirations.

In today’s episode, you will hear how early childhood can pave the way for what is to come. You will also learn, firsthand from Zack, the importance of choosing your own path despite the hardships and obstacles you may face. Finally, you will understand how the impact of those that surround you, family, friends, and associates can help make or break your journey. This is Zack Swire’s startup story.

In this episode you’ll hear

  • How early childhood laid the foundation for his entrepreneurial journey and why it was so important to him to forge a different path than that of his family
  • How his brother made a huge impact on his life
  • About his college years, his love for marketing, and what he wanted to do after he graduated
  • His experience as a sales and marketing manager for a new startup, right out of college
  • Realizing when you are not fitting in and knowing when it’s time to pivot
  • About his first agency, Swire, and how with one ultrasound his entire world shifted
  • His hopes, dreams, and motivations as a father first and an entrepreneur second
  • The importance of not putting all your eggs into one basket
  • The spawn of his next business, which had some very highs and some very low in terms of his business life
  • How Good Grains was born, taking it from an idea to an actual company, how the original focus shifted to what it is today and Zack’s hope for the future

“In the startup life you never know if it’s ‘going to happen’ until it does; it’s so volatile.”
—Zack Swire, GoodGrains.com

Resources from this episode

Connect with Zack on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/swire/
Good Grains website: https://goodgrains.com/

Share the podcast

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First, the most powerful way you can support this podcast is by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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With your support, we hope to further our reach in encouraging and inspiring the founders of today and tomorrow. Thank you!

Full Episode Transcript

Special Guest: Zack Swire.

Sponsored By:

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Zack Swire

Zack Swire: Hi. This is Zack Swire, founder of Good Grains, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

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[01:05]
James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on iTunes by Bill from Washington DC area, who gave The Startup Story a five star rating and wrote, "I really enjoyed the interview with Jason McCann. The podcast was very well done and enjoyable to listen to. James did an excellent job of moderating and allowing Jason to carry us along his entrepreneurial journey. Totally authentic and down to earth interview that kept me interested the entire way." Well, thank you so much Bill, for the review. Even more so, thank you for listening. These stories shared by our founders are stories that need to be told.

Our hope in telling these stories is that everyone listening will get the real, authentic side of entrepreneurship and be better equipped as they continue to build their business or as they start their new venture. So for all listeners, I would love your support. If you have found any value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I'll continue to read one each week so plug your brand in the review as well. The reviews really do matter when it comes to being discovered in all the various podcast platforms, and giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review.

Now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Zack Swire, founder of Good Grains. Good Grains is an e-commerce company that is seeking to improve the quality of everyone's breakfast options. Their food is healthy and unbelievably tasty. I have two kids, ages 13 and 11, and they love the Good Grains granola options. You really do need to check out GoodGrains.com. Now, in this episode we're not going to be discussing grains or breakfast nutrition. We're going to be discussing Zack's entrepreneurial journey. I've known Zack for a few years, through various business events. In fact, Zack was building a technology startup at the same time I was venturing to do the same. He reached much higher heights than I did with the tech startup, but both of our startups had the same ending, and that was failure. There are quite a few things you are going to learn in this startup story episode.

But what I want you to focus on is how Zack endured during some dark and trying times, and what it was that kept him going. I want you to pay attention to the support of his family and the role that played in his ability to keep moving forward during those challenging times, and then I hope you'll make note of how he was building goodgrains.com differently because of what he learned from his past experiences. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know that we always start in the early days of our founders because our upbringing plays a huge role in our entrepreneurial journey. But for Zack, his childhood was a bit disruptive, and for that reason his entrepreneurial journey began at a very young age.

[03:36]
Zack Swire: My first business was probably mowing lawns and I walked around mowing lawns all around the neighborhood trying to make some money. I think that I always had that. By the time I was 16, I had Zack's Auto Detailing, that was my second business. I had a viper on my cards and walk around to all the neighbors, whether it was a boat, a car, whatever, I'd wash anything and I'd detail it better than anybody. They would call me back because I did a great job. From there, I decided I was going to work. I wanted to get my family in a different place than where we were, and I knew some of the roots of the family, and I thought I'm going to take a different path. We had struggled a bit and my parents loved us a ton, but there were things in life that weren't super easy, sickness and other things. So I wanted a different path and that meant going to school. When I went to Cal State Fullerton, I paid my way through school. I worked two jobs, worked nights, sometimes three jobs just to make it through.

[04:23]
James McKinney: So you said you wanted a different path. Are you an only child?

[04:26]
Zack Swire: No.

[04:27]
James McKinney: So you have siblings. How many siblings?

[04:30]
Zack Swire: I have an older brother who's about 10 years older, and I have two sisters.

[4:34]
James McKinney: So you're one of four.

[04:35]
Zack Swire: Yeah.

[04:36]
James McKinney: One of four. So what are you the second child of that four?

[04:39]
Zack Swire: Actually, the third. My older sister is just like year older so we were always very close.

[04:44]
James McKinney: I ask that question because it's interesting to see the common thread among the roles that children play based upon their birth order. So being that third, my assumption is you had a little bit more freedom than your older siblings, because parents tend to be a little bit harder on the older ones because they've given up hope come third or fourth. So did that freedom have an impact on your starting up Zack's Detailing and all the other entrepreneurial endeavors?

[05:11]
Zack Swire: I think my brother had a big impact on that. My brother Brian, life at home was a bit unstable. We had moved a lot. We were now in Colorado. I had moved there, finishing two years in high school. Great high school, had a lot of fun, but my parents were moving again or my mom was. My parents had divorced when I was young. At that time, I was like, "I can't do this again." My brother said, "Hey, I've got a cell phone business. It's called Cell Phone Paging in Brea. Come on out for the summer and work for me." I'm like, "Sure, that sounds great." I was 15 at the time. So I came out, and when I came to California, I was like whoa, what is this magical place as a kid. So I was like, "I'm staying." I loved my friends in Colorado, but I'd only been there two years and I was having so much fun with him. I got to know him more because he was 10 years older, and he was an entrepreneur. He had few different businesses and his little cell phone paging company was growing at the time. Pagers were huge at the time.

[06:01]
James McKinney: What year is that? For those listening that have no idea what a pager is. I'm 41 so I'm well aware of what it is.

[06:06]
Zack Swire: That was '95.

[06:09]
James McKinney: Oh yeah. The sideways pager with the landscape text, those were big deals back then.

[06:12]
Zack Swire: Yeah, totally. He first started installing the old car phones, the old kits and everything. So he eventually grew that to like five locations and kept growing it. So I kind of got a bug there for business as well, seeing what he did and enjoyed that, and ended up staying out here in California.

[06:27]
James McKinney: So at 15 you said?

[06:28]
Zack Swire: 15.

[06:30]
James McKinney: 15 when you came out here, stayed here. Your mom was in Colorado, so you finished your high school years living with your brother?

[06:36]
Zack Swire: I did. I finished my senior year here, and then my dad was back in England later.

[06:41]
James McKinney: It sounds like a bit of a disruptive childhood which plays into the entrepreneurial journey, because entrepreneurship can be a bit disruptive to family upbringing.

[06:49]
Zack Swire: Yeah.

[06:51]
James McKinney: So you're living with your brother. You get a taste for entrepreneurship and your own startups, as well as working with cell phone and paging that your brother had. So now, you're finishing up high school, going into college. What did you think your path was?

[07:06]
Zack Swire: Yeah. That was tricky. I think at that point, he was an older brother not a dad. You know, he did a great job and he was awesome letting me stay with him, but that's probably where I could have used a little more guidance. I ended up trying to figure that out. I went to Fullerton JC for one year. I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay for school. It was a little bit of a rough path at first. Finally, had some good advice from some family friends after a couple years kind of messing around, like, "Hey, get your act together." It was great, because I had always been that type of super in control and wanted to follow that path, but it got loose. I think that's part of the journey, is there's ups and downs. I remember that time, it was a down and yet all the sudden I made the decision to stop acting on fear and I signed up and went to school. Went to Cal State Fullerton and it was great. It was the best thing I ever did. I loved going there. Had a great experience there. Got really involved. Worked hard to make it happen, worked nightshift at Rain Bird which is a company here in Glendora. I worked at the bank, I worked at Starbucks. I'd work any job I could just to pay the bills and keep it going. I met my awesome wife there as well at the time. Got married pretty young. I was still in college. I think I was 22 or something when I got married, so pretty crazy. That was the start of a good path for me and kind of getting out of some uneasy times leading from that period of high school on.

[08:22]
James McKinney: So now you're in college. You met your wife, you got married while you were still in school. You are no longer able to make decisions without consideration of another at this point. So what were you going to school for and what did you end up doing out of college?

[08:41]
Zack Swire: I went through school pretty quickly. I took a class, because you had to take some different electives. Marketing was one of those where I was like this sounds interesting. So I took this marketing class with this professor named Tom Boyd who I think eventually went on to be at Kaplan in Florida or something, a dean there. Super great professor who got me so excited about marketing. I remember my first marketing plan was on a VW micro bus. I wrote this massive report and I know we had a team, but I kind of took control. I was like, "This is amazing, I love doing this." I can be creative and yet I can have all these ideas, and I can be visual, all the different things I love about advertising and marketing, and bringing things together for a better solution. I loved it. He loved it. I got like an A+ on the report, like man this is awesome.

At that point I chose marketing as my path and just dug in. I ended up, had another friend, James Barry, who was president of the AMA and got me involved there. So I got involved in the American Marketing Association on campus. At first, it was tough because I was dating Gwen, my wife, and working all these jobs. But what was cool was she was a little bit older so she was getting her speech pathology degree, and finishing her master's. So at that time, she actually went to work and then I was able to stop that last year and really plug in on campus, work on campus, and get really involved. That was a pretty awesome time, started making some great connections, and really let me kind of get involved in school in a different way.

[10:03]
James McKinney: That's awesome. So marketing is the degree you're going for. I would assume that through the college journey, the marketing major is positioned as one to be plugged into an organization, not from an entrepreneurial perspective. So am I safe to assume that as you're wrapping up college, your thought was where am I going to work?

[10:26]
Zack Swire: Yeah, totally. I had worked a number of jobs, so I thought where could I go? I had a family mentor kind of friend of mine, through my wife, this guy Wolf who near the end of school just kind of one day called me and he's like, "Hey, I've got this trade show going on. Can you meet me down here?" And I'm like, "All right." I didn't know what was going on, but I remember he's like, "Dress nice and come." So I put on a suit and I went down to this trade show. Didn't really know… I knew what a trade show was kind of, but you're in school and you're trying to figure all this out. So I showed up and he introduced me to a guy he was investing in, Jan Song, who had invented this like scalpel blade changer device for some company he was investing in, some sort of new OSHA regulated thing. He's like, "You know, I could use some help here." So I said, "Okay." Well, he offered me a job.

I'm like I haven't even finished school. I haven't started looking, but it was like well great, I guess I have a job. So I asked him, "What's your title?" Well, you can figure that out, so I became sales and marketing manager for this new startup that he was investing in. they were in the unique challenges of getting something launched, so it was really that first experience of okay, well, very entrepreneurial job was let's take this small startup and see what we can do with it. I could go on about that story, but a year and a half, it was great experience. Went out, sold like 400 of these units across the country, set up distributors. I knew what I was doing I guess enough, but it was pretty much just go have fun.

[11:47]
James McKinney: The Wild West.

[11:49]
Zack Swire: Yeah. So I went out and did a lot of things well, actually. I look back and I'm like I didn't even know what I was doing, but I found the right channels, I got them set up, and got it going.

[11:57]
James McKinney: So your first gig out of college was with a startup.

[11:59]
Zack Swire: Yeah.

[12:01]
James McKinney: So in just our short time, in hearing your story with your entrepreneurial childhood, the independence of living with your brother versus a parent, your college journey in marketing, your first gig being a startup. It's almost as if entrepreneurship was a foregone conclusion for what your life's journey was going to be, but at that time did you have any inkling that was going to be the case?

[12:28]
Zack Swire: I don't know. I think there's always things that kind of pull on you and things where you feel more comfortable. I'd also done a lot of service business, waited tables. I wanted to do things where I could optimize my time and make money, and be able to get back and enjoy life, and try to balance work and life. It's always been kind of a face to face life which has drawn me towards entrepreneurship. I think as I got into that, I immediately saw a love for it. So when I was there, I was like, "Wow, this is amazing. I can solve a problem. They have a problem." That was me. I always grew up always with the solution. Somebody would have a problem, it was sometimes hard on your marriage and my wife knows me now, so now I know when to bite my tongue like, "All right, I don't have to solve this one." But it's great for business where a lot of people just don't dig deeper.

I think the older I get and the more I look at problems in life, or the way companies handle things, a lot of times it's just there because one, it's either hard to solve, or they haven't really tried, or they're just sitting on it because we're so busy with all the stuff that we do, we're afraid to get in and actually find a solution for something. Later on, as we get into the story and I tell you about the agency I ran, that was actually our mantra was "We solve problems." Because I found pretty quickly it's what I love doing.

[13:35]

James McKinney: That's awesome. So what was your next step after the startup? What happened to the startup, and then what was your next step?

[13:41]
Zack Swire: So that was an interesting dynamic and culture. That was a culture I didn't fit in. I thought I did, but very nice guy.

[13:48]
James McKinney: Why didn't you fit in?

[13:49]
Zack Swire: He was a Chinese scholar and had his PhD. I didn't have respect because I didn't have my master's. I was actually in school to get my master's at the time. I went back to Cal State Fullerton. At that time, I realized I'd met a mentor who was actually a mentor for our AMA who said, "Hey, I've got an agency in Costa Mesa. Would you consider working there?" So I ended up moving over to that agency and became a director of marketing, which for me I'm thinking I just got out of school. Sales and marketing manager, now I'm a director of marketing, this is pretty sweet. I moved down there.

[14:21]
James McKinney: This is why people go to college.

[14:23]
Zack Swire: Yeah. And everything was going up. It looked great. So I moved over there. Great, small team, did really great work. Was there for about a year and a half and it wasn't long. Now a year and a half goes by so fast, but I was moving fast at that age. I was like I've got to grow, I've got to get something done. It was like I just have to get this done, I have to move. I talked to him while I was driving three or four hours a day.

[14:44]
James McKinney: Why were you driving three hours each day?

[14:46]
Zack Swire: So I was driving three to four hours each day because I live in a town called Glendora which is way across from Costa Mesa. So it doesn't look that far on a map, but traffic is just nuts.

[14:55]
James McKinney: Oh, it's forever. Forever.

[14:56]
Zack Swire: Sometimes, it would be four hours. I did the math in my head, just driving everybody nuts calling because I couldn't stand sitting in the car for four hours a day.

[15:05]
James McKinney: For those listeners that don't understand what LA traffic is like, think about the road trips you go on, whether it be yourself, with a loved one, or the family. You go about two or three hours away and that's a road trip, that's a vacation. That's what a southern California commuter goes through all the time, where we begin to think about where could I have gone now that I'm on my third hour of traffic.

[15:24]
Zack Swire: Totally. Yeah or my buddy who was working at UCLA and lives here in Glendora. We calculated and it was like well, you're actually driving like an extra six weeks a year worth of paid time.

[15:34]
James McKinney: It's so painful.

[15:36]
Zack Swire: Yeah. You do the math, you're like this is dumb. So that's part of the thing, too. Talking with the guy who owned that company, he had been burned from some past partners. He didn't want a partner and I can't blame him, so we decided to part ways. I decided at that point hey, we're young. I didn't have kids yet. I'm going to do my own agency.

[15:56]
James McKinney: So how old were you at this time?

[15:57]
Zack Swire: In my early twenties, somewhere in there.

[15:59]
James McKinney: So you're early twenties, four years out of college between the startup and this firm, and you're jumping into your own thing.

[16:08]
Zack Swire: Yeah. It was… what was cool about that was, again, I think at that age you don't realize what you don't know yet. I was able to just dive in and within the first six months, I remember picking up this great project with a couple different companies. One was a cable system out in Bakersfield, Bright House. I ended up doing this whole holiday campaign for them. Wrote the scripts, the radio, did the direct mail. Took on everything, because I was going to make it better.

[16:32]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[16:33]
Zack Swire: And I did. You know, I was proud of myself. It was me and some freelancers in a bedroom. It was where I used to make homebrew at home. It was our homebrew bedroom which we were in our first house, no kids, so we had that luxury of you do whatever you want with these spare rooms. Which then became the office for the start of Swire Marketing which is what we called it at first, later just became Swire and that was our agency. But in that first stretch, it was just me and freelancers.

I had goals of I've got to grow this or we'll see what happens, and that went for about a year and a half. But the next stage of life is where the kids come in. it's now 2007 January. My wife and I had been trying to have kids for four years. The stress from that, you've been in a relationship where that's hard, that lays on just an incredible stress. Where every party you go to, every other woman is now pregnant and your wife is just falling apart because … it's really stressful. Then all of the sudden in January of 2007, we find out my wife's pregnant. Then at the end of the month, we go for our appointment and at that point, I'm at the same time I'm looking at spaces and I'm thinking, "Well, it's time to grow this thing out of a bedroom. Maybe I should look at an office and actually hire some people. I'm doing pretty good. I'm now actually starting to pay myself."

I think one thing entrepreneurs don't realize is you've got to pay the bills first. I know sometimes they say, "You've got to pay yourself first." Well, yeah if the business makes money enough to do that. And in getting it going, I didn't pay myself that much the first year. I think it was like $35,000 which was a huge drop from what I was making as a director of marketing before. But I thought well, I'm going to give this time, we'll see what happens. I've got to build up and I wanted to reinvest in the company, so I was putting more back into it. I remember the time, even just costs like buying a server or buying Macs, because I love Macs. I remember our first one was $11,000 and that money I was making, that was one computer for one graphic artist.

[18:22]
James McKinney: I love that listeners right now, some young business school listeners are hearing $11,000 Mac, they're like wait what?

[18:27]
Zack Swire: One Terabyte drive, and that was amazing at the time.

[18:31]
James McKinney: Oh, it is amazing how commoditized storage is now.

[18:33]
Zack Swire: Yeah, it's nuts. So this is the start of what was the agency going from am I going to close the doors and go get a job, or am I going to really hone in and make this happen. Well, we go to the appointment for my wife's follow up.

[18:47]
James McKinney: January two years after you started the agency.

[18:49]
Zack Swire: It's around January 30th, 2007. And they do the little scan, I forget what you call that thing. They scan and-

[18:56]
James McKinney: Ultrasound.

[18:57]
Zack Swire: Ultrasound, there you go, thank you. Then looking at the monitor and I'm counting, and I'm looking and I see one dot, two dots, three dots. So I look at the nurse and I'm like, "One, two, three. What is that?" She's like, "Are you kidding?" Kind of snotty. She's like, "You're having three." I'm like…

[19:13]
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

[19:14]
Zack Swire: It didn't register and I look at my wife, and all of the sudden I think it clicked for her first because all the sudden I saw tears starting to roll down her face, and then she says, "You're having triplets." Oh wow. The world just shifted. So at that point, it was like go home, figure out what you're actually doing for work, and at the time I don't know. I've got an amazing wife. She was like okay with the idea of let's see if this business will really fly. We moved into an office and I also talked again to our mentor friend, who we're still working with today, and got great advice there and support from him. It enabled us to open this first office in a little retail center. We hired within the first year, I think we're up to seven employees. Started growing from there. I could go on and on about all the businesses.

There's not enough time in this conversation, but what was cool is over the next few years, it was just steady growth up. We kept doing the right things. We kept growing in that market, owning our space. It was fun. That eventually grew to have a couple different offices and we had about 33 employees, across the country in different offices. Doing great work and we were this kind of art and science approach to marketing, because we had to be to solve problems. It wasn't just about great creative. But we came in with our teams to really solve the problems. We wanted to prove that our marketing worked better than anybody else's. If you're doing direct mail, we were better.

We were one of the first small agencies in the country. We did the first Cox Corporate campaign for all their locations across the country, when they had like 23 locations before they started consolidating. We did some great campaigns. With did stuff with HBO and Showtime, where we watched fight nights in Vegas. We made cool stuff that plugged into early Facebook that would then drive those users over, so we could capture their email so eventually what did happen, when you lost all those contacts and you didn't own them, they actually did because we were thinking about that ahead of time.

So we were doing really cool things we didn't even know we were going to add value, because we were really thinking about their business and how to solve their major problems, which is they were competing against Direct TV and these bigger players. We had to get smarter, so we worked a lot in communications in that agency. We did some other things in education. That was all great, and it was great up until about 2011 or 2012.

[21:19]
James McKinney: Let me pause there real quick. So Swire Marketing is not your current venture, just a spoiler alert for the listeners. So Swire Marketing existed for four or five years?

[21:29]
Zack Swire: It actually started 2005 and it went until about 2012.

[21:33]
James McKinney: Okay, so about seven years then. Within the seven years, a lot happened. You had triplets, which I would assume is a magnitude greater of complexity than just having a kid. So with that, what was that entrepreneurial journey like for you the moment you found out you had three and your wife was super supportive, but for you what was that mental thought process like for you, where you're thinking I can go get a high paying job somewhere and take care of my family well. I just finally am breaking $35,000 a year in this venture. But you just told us also that at the end of your first year, you had seven employees, so something switched for you mentally on drive, focus. What happened that year for you?

[22:22]
Zack Swire: You're going to be a dad. I had three more lives to think about. At that point, it was like okay, you've really got to… and it's not that I wasn't serious before, but I don't think when you're young that you realize how much time you actually do have in the day, especially as you get older and you really seriously don't have any time. How much time I actually wasted probably when I was younger. It's not all wasted. I do believe in that balance, but something kicked in. I think it was that drive just to know I've got to take care of my family, or I do have to do something else. But I had already seen the taste of LA and had seen the taste of a job where I could be commuting three to four hours a day, and I'm also a very plugged in dad so I didn't want to be that dad that's not around, that couldn't be with my kids, that couldn't go to their games, that couldn't coach soccer as I've done for years. I wanted to be that and I though you know what, being an entrepreneur will allow me to do that.

Of course, the downside is all the other stuff that comes on with it. It never ends. You take it home every day, the stress with your family, the ups and the downs. I don't think I could trade it. I'm just wired for it. Not that I wouldn't go get a job if I had to. I'll take care of my family first, but I do love it, and it's something that drives me. So I guess in that first year, it was something did click. It was more of a time sensitivity to know, "OH yeah, I've got to make this happen now." So instead of being like, "We should do this when…" It became, "Let's just get this going now." Things like, "Well, we've got to get this client." Well, how do you get that client? I don't know, pick up the phone. I've seen so many people ask about, "How do I get this business? I've been emailing and I setup these campaigns, and I did all this stuff." I don't know, did you call them? Did you walk in the door? Did you ask somebody? Sometimes it's really not that hard, but we're all so afraid of actually just that personal communication and trying to get in there and make it happen. That first year was year, "Okay, we're making this happen."


[24:05]
James McKinney: That is awesome. I love that. So 2012 comes along. What happened in 2012?

[24:10]
Zack Swire: Yeah, so in 2012, it was a strange journey from the agency kind of getting out of what we did best, and starting to do some different things. One of those was a project with an advisor who had worked with some folks in Hawaii. So he came up with this concept of a show called Passport Hawaii. So we flew to Hawaii. We even met with people at the government there. We needed a host for the show, so I thought of a friend that was kind of more of an acquaintance at the time, Brian Clay, who had won the gold medal in the decathlon and the silver prior to that. I thought, "Well, he'd be a good host. He's a good looking guy." He was from Hawaii, and at the time we had some other connections and picked up like an old Miss America or something like that.

So we start putting together this show and then we found out in Hawaii that if you're not from Hawaii, they don't really like working with you. So we're like, all right. Then we established an office there so we could actually be from Hawaii. That also didn't go so well, and they kind of took over production control. It was one of the guys there had worked on the local news. They put together the first episode and it looked like some bad remake of Saved By The Bell intro or something. A few hundred thousand dollars in and a few trips to Hawaii later, we were like oh man, what are we doing? This is a wreck. It was a big train wreck. We backed out of the project at that time.

[25:26]
James McKinney: What was the purpose of the show, though, because you were a marketing advertising firm, so how did that concept even come into your focus?

[25:33]
Zack Swire: I think as an agency, we were exploring how do we further diversify into other fun ideas. Because at the time, things were going well, so we were like all right, this is cool. Let's not just put all our eggs in the basket of doing marketing communications and plans, and all the stuff we were doing. We were doing TV spots. We were doing everything by then. At the time, I thought let's explore a little deeper, we'll launch this show. So we found some people who were interested and we put it together.

It was kind of a pet project. But there in Hawaii, I woke up one morning kind of realizing, I don't know I had some dreams about this crazy concept and went on a run. Came back and wrote down these ideas, which then spawned the next business, which was E-Good. That's a tough one. Some very high highs, and some very low lows in terms of my business life. Also, the reason that we shut down the agency.

[26:17]
James McKinney: Let's talk about that. What was E-Good? What was its growth and why did it ultimately lead to you shutting down Swire?

[26:23]
Zack Swire: So I came back from Hawaii and we jumped right into business as usual with the agency, and at that time things were going great. We had our 30 plus employees, we had a tiny little office on Madison. We had our analytics team in Washington. We had now launched this thing in Hawaii. We're now trying to figure out how to close it down. But then the spark of an idea was there. So I hired an intern and put her on the pet project in the back office, and said, "Here. Just start exploring this concept," and it was the idea of how do we integrate something that matters into our business. I was tired of just selling, teaching people how to use a DVR versus HTV at the time. I was like I've got to do more. I want to do something that matters. My kids are getting older and I thought well, what am I going to lend versus just selling more cable subscriptions?

So we started looking into this concept of how can we transactionally tie in support to nonprofits that we care about or groups in our community that need support and awareness? We thought, well, we could do that. We could do that through technology. Plus, we also saw service being this kind of seam of how do we do better customer service, or how do we take care of our customers better. We thought well, we can provide the tools for that. So we started mapping out this concept of how can we connect our shoppers and community with businesses that actually care about causes with those causes, and kind of this real time environment. So we were all about connecting communities, companies, and causes for this greater good. We thought let's build kind of this platform that would do that. Not just a simple solution, but one that actually fully solved it, which was partly a good idea, partly a really bad idea because building a huge platform right out the gate versus some sort of MVP product that we could attest to a piece of it probably would have been a better approach in hindsight. But we took on the investment and went after the big idea.

Pretty quickly, turned our backroom into an area where we had 12 developers and we were going gung ho on getting this thing launched. We started building out the technology behind it, and almost a Facebook type system with social profiles and app integration. Very deep, and real time payments. Again, we took on the world. I was young, I thought I can do this, build whatever I want. And we did. It was pretty cool. So when we first launched it, it was an iPad app in say your local coffee shop, and it would say, "This business is supporting this local cause," for instance the Glendora ED Foundation and every time you make a purchase, this amount goes back to the group. So instead of just being loyalty for loyalty's sake, you would check in, a purchase would give back, you would get notified on your app how much was given.

It even had like leader boards you could see all the difference that you're making, invite people to join you. You'd see that support. And we found hey, it worked. If people didn't want to check in, we then second tier that or phase of that, we ended up rolling in the actual loyalty tracking. On the backside, if you're the cashier, we made a great iPad app that then brought up your face, your likes, your favorite drinks, all the in that you could give better customer service. You could greet them by name when they walked in. They walked in and their app was on, it'd pop up in a queue on the screen so you could see who was in your shop.

So we were thinking of all the problems that we could solve. We wanted to make sure that barista could know your favorite drink, remember who you are, have those cues, and then also we did more of a Tony Shay style of loyalty which was this surprise moment. Where instead of having to make people to remember to bring a punch card, we made it all digital. We got to surprise you when you were due, whether you remembered or not. So we really made that kind of a fun process in thinking through that whole transaction relationship, tying in support, but helping the business grow. Better data on their customers, the actual experience of standing there with the customer was how they could solve that. I could go on and on. There were a lot of things that we were trying to do really well, which also meant a lot of budget, a lot of time, a lot of investment.

But we took our first pass at that to Tech Crunch in San Francisco, and we though well, let's see. Let's see what people think. We had a few businesses going. We were working with Golden Spoon trying to roll it out in locations. We were starting to expand it. We were getting great results. We were seeing a Golden Spoon location who said, "We hardly get people to do punch cards anymore." We came in and had like 80% of customers would actually check in on our system, because they know it supported a local cause. We did a little three tier approach, where once they said no, well it does actually help to sign up for your loyalty so we track that for you, and they say yes. Or if they didn't, well we'll give you free toppings. They could get 80% of people to check in every time.

[30:31]
James McKinney: That's incredible.

[30:32]
Zack Swire: That was incredible, so we were like we can scale this thing, let's get this going. So we took it to Tech Crunch. We had our little pitch booth. It was partners Finn and I, and we sat up there among 300 other startups. We pitched all day long until we could barely talk anymore. I won't forget when all the sudden, somebody comes up and taps me on the shoulder, and it was one of the lead guys there who said, "Hey, you guys got audience choice." Sweet, so we won audience choice. We didn't know what that meant necessarily, but he's like, "Come on with me." He's like, "Okay, you've got half an hour and you're going to be on stage."

So unfortunately it was half an hour, we had no thought that we would actually be up there so we had a deck, but I played the deck for the guy and he's like… He's some former senior guy from AOL or whatever, and he's like, "Zack, just tell your story. Don't read the deck," and that was good advice. It also caused us to fumble a little bit when we got up there, but we had a lot of fun. We got to go up and share our story. After that, we got a lot of attention. It was maybe a little too early because the product wasn't fully dialed in at the time, but it was good that we got to talk to other VC's. at that point, we were looking at how do we raise more money.

With kids at home and a business that we really needed to be in, the focus was now just on kind of travelling around, going to New York, going to San Diego, pitching trying to raise more funds versus actually just honing in on the product. In retrospect, I should have just sat and made sure that product was completely dialed in. we should have just kept growing it, getting more and more customers versus getting caught up in this hype of, "Let's go raise more funds, let's go get more awareness." No, we had a great product. I ended up shutting it down because we ended up burning through all the funds, and then I spent another year and a half of my life working for free for the company and trying to make it work, and burning through our personal savings trying to make that work, because I believed in it so much.

[32:20]
James McKinney: How long did you work on E-Good?

[32:23]
Zack Swire: Four years.

[32:24]
James McKinney: So in a four year span, though, you essentially lost two companies.

[32:28]
Zack Swire: Yeah. Early on when E-Good was really looking to take off, we talked to VC's who said you can't be an owner of this and owner of that. You can't be so divided. You need to have your attention here if you're going to go after this. It was an interesting time, because I think a lot of things were shifting. Economy was not in a good place. Even the cable systems were doing weird things where all of the sudden, like with Cox 23 different cable systems became like 8 they were consolidating services and printing. So we were losing some of the things that we had, and kind of naturally came together. So we decided to shut that down. We held onto a couple clients, even under E-Good that were kind of old agency clients, and did the work for about another year and a half.

[33:07]
James McKinney: Do you now, looking back, agree with that VC who said you can't do both?

[33:10]
Zack Swire: No, not necessarily.

[33:12]
James McKinney: And I ask that because there are listeners that are probably thinking that, thinking that why can't you do both, I can do both.

[33:17]
Zack Swire: It depends on the person and really I think if you could actually launch something where you really truly focus in on the MVP and you actually test it out and you get traction, and you do it the right way, then yeah I think you could. The problem was we were trying to in full speed ahead with all this investment, and I couldn't because at that point, I needed to be 24/7 on this new product, this new company because we were. We would come in and work until 2 in the morning and we had a team of people. I remember going to Costco and buying tons of snacks, laying them out on the table. We've got pictures of the whole team up at 2 in the morning, celebrating because we'd launched something new. It was a fun time and just it was impossible. So they were right from that stand point.

[33:58]
James McKinney: From an outside perspective, your agency was really a great complement to your startup in the aspect that your job was to solve problems and acquire customers, getting branding and messaging. So it really, from the outside perspective feels like a good fit.

[34:16]
Zack Swire: Yeah, I think it could have worked. Probably one of those things that I just got a little too excited about what we were currently doing. At the same time, yeah. Money hasn't been at the forefront or the reason why I do things. For that, it was really I wanted to do something that mattered. But I also wanted to find more of that financial security too. Obviously, coming from a background and kind of the ups and downs of our childhood and how that went, I wanted to make sure I set a different path. So that was also exciting, seeing that hey this thing could actually take off, and we could be creating something pretty huge. I wanted to put everything I had into it. Not for the money, but to make it work. To really give it every chance it could.

[34:51]
James McKinney: So before we talk about the closing of E-Good, I do believe we have listeners out there that have a tremendous amount of drive and enthusiasm to build their dream multiple businesses, different revenue streams, income streams for themselves. We're three years removed from E-Good, what do you say to younger Zack in 2011 as you're contemplating E-Good and all the success that Swire is having? What do you say to younger Zack?

[35:21]
Zack Swire: I would tell younger Zack there's some great ideas in there. Make one of them stick and work on a small scale. Get a number of businesses using it really well, keep doing what you're doing as your fulltime job. Run this on the side until it's got enough traction and really can take over. Then start scaling it as it gets that. Because there were some pieces that even today, I still think are fantastic and way better than what most people are doing. But we tried a little too hard, too fast and we had met with the guy who was on our advisory board who had told us… he was an investor in Facebook and Living Social. He's just like, "Zack, you probably need like $50 million to start scaling this."

At that point, I've been on the road and I'm doing all this stuff, away from kids, and I'm like I don't want to go on pitches to go raise this much money. My heart was starting to fall out of it at that time. We had so many kind of stumbling points. I was like, "You know what, maybe we just went about this all wrong." I think the same thing can be done without having to go to VC's and raising money. I think when you build a good business with a good product, the hard part is you get ahead of yourself because I'm a guy that wants to solve the problem now, I want to solve it fast. That's been one of the challenges with where we're at today. But I'm learning from that and I can say I think I've done some things better this time around. In that transition times, so you said well what happened after E-Good was done.

[36:37]
James McKinney: It's been three years.

[36:38]
Zack Swire: Right.

[36:39]
James McKinney: So what was the first year like?

[36:40]
Zack Swire: I'll never forget the first moment when you paste that page up that then replaces your website of we're gone, we're shutting down. It's such a devastating moment. You can just feel it, just thinking about it because it's all that energy, heart, blood, sweat and tears that you put into creating something that you think will be great for people, great for your customers, great for community. All the reasons why we did this.

[37:02]
James McKinney: Great for your family.

[37:03]
Zack Swire: For my family. So tough. It actually took me a little while. There were a few months there where after, I was just kind of at a loss. I was like what do I do? How do I go from here? What do I do next? I thought well, I can consult. At the same time, you know we're always looking at ideas. We took our old ad agency office which was a cool two story building, used to be this small tool company from the fifties in Glendora. It's an old two story gray building. We turned it into coworking, so we called it Kicks on 66 because we're on Route 66. I looked at a map, and it was pretty simple. I'm like well there's coworking here, there's coworking here, but there's this huge circle in the LA region, within like a 40 or 50 mile radius with like no coworking.

Even still today, a lot of people know what coworking is, but I'm like come on, there's got to be Google who are interested, and we launched it and in a few months we were nearly full. I looked at that being another business and though well, I'm not a real estate guy. I'm not into construction. There were a lot of things that I knew I didn't know. So we talked to our investor friend who knew a guy who was doing coworking, and Union Cowork ended up coming in and buying the building, and put in a great location there. So they're continuing to expand. They're doing great things.

I decided let me consult. Let me at least kind of find where I want to be and in that coworking space, we met some folks from a group called Heavenly Treasures. I just loved their mission and what they were doing. It was kind of a small family run nonprofit. They were committed that everything they sold, 100% was going back to these artisans. So they fundraised and would figure out how to do their operations locally so that they could help people in 20 countries around the world, thousands of artisans. I thought I've got to see how this works.

So they actually took me on a trip to Africa with a friend of mine, and he ended up doing the videography for the trip. It was just a really life changing, amazing experience. We all see the stories. We created E-Good because we wanted to help groups that were supporting third world conditions whether it's water or any sort of any nonprofit to support others local or global. That's why we created E-Good, because there were a lot that needed awareness and support. But actually getting in it yourself and walking the streets, and going through the slums, and going to help people personally as such a life changing moment.

I got to go there, spend a week with them. Got the tour. Just some of the worst conditions I've ever seen, and see people who are living in ditches and filth. It's heartbreaking. The hard part was seeing that some people were just satisfied with that because it was better than where they were before. What was so cool to see with this group is they understood that every single person there had to have some sort of personal hope for something greater for that to change. But sometimes, that support that we give and we just throw dollars at, or just throw food their way isn't actually helping. That it had to be that personal relationship of coming in and saying, "No, I believe in you. There's actually a greater hope here that you can do something for you and your family."

That's what spawns the change. It's not just throwing… of course they need the resources and the money, but there's people who won't even go take that because they've just given up. Sitting in a room that's barely as big as this table with a lady who is doing sewing for this group, who this was her whole house. Then right in front of her house was a ditch with where waste from all the other slum houses were. Can you imagine? Just the conditions were just so horrible. That kind of sat with me for a few months as I came back and thought, "Well shoot, what do I do with this now?"

[40:28]
James McKinney: How long after shutting down E-Good was that trip?

[40:30]
Zack Swire: It was within that first six months I'd say after.

[40:34]
James McKinney: You shut down E-Good. Obviously, there's a conversation to be had with your wife, but I don't know if she knew the state of things prior to shutting down E-Good. I don't know if that was, if it was a shock to her when you mentioned closing it down. What was the conversation with your wife in those six months, and then how did your trip shift your perspective from the two weeks before you were on that trip?

[41:02]
Zack Swire: There was so much going on at the time. It was such a crazy time in life. Obviously, the kids are getting older. I'm always the type, because like I said being personally there and also for the business, so whether it was coaching soccer, being on the board of the local ed foundation, being on the board at Cal State Fullerton, I had to start backing out of some things because I was doing so much, that I was trying to now make this work. Part of that discussion was she was home for seven years with the kids, and we were able to do that, which was great, and southern California is not an easy task. That was a huge blessing for our family that we were able to have her home when the kids, especially triplets.

So part of that was her going back to work, that if we were going to make this go and we were going to invest and try to not just take investor dollars but continue to invest ourselves and our dollars and time, and energy into growing this. And she was behind it. She believed in it too, so she was there every step of the way, all the way to the end. We're always very open on business and life. I know people who are like, "Oh, you don't tell your wife about your finances," that's crazy. I don't know what they're talking about.

[41:59]
James McKinney: Absolutely.

[42:00]
Zack Swire: We're partners in this and we share everything. I can't even imagine not going there or being there or having her part of that discussion and decision. Yeah, that's absolutely critical to me. I think it's completely insane to do anything otherwise and disrespectful.

[42:13]
James McKinney: Yeah, agreed. So obviously, there's a healing process in those six months though. So did that trip play a role in your healing?

[42:20]
Zack Swire: You know, it really did. I think because it opened my eyes up to just something so much greater that I'd never set out to just do this for myself or my family, but I wanted to know that I was doing it for a greater purpose. So that time, it really started to make me think what am I doing? Also at the same time, we were involved in a church that was having trouble and kind of going through this split. I had even backed out of being on a board there where I was helping out. So everything was kind of at a phase where I'm like maybe I just need to stop doing so much and try to hone in on a couple things. But then all the sudden the path shifted again, and it was like a few friends and this pastor were launching a new church. So then entrepreneurially, I got asked to come in and help them with that.

Then that became a thing, almost an extra 30 hours a week on top of consulting and other work I was doing for the next six months until we were doing well enough to hire a staff. Which is not the thing I would have taken on at the time, you know, when you're like I need to get more than just consulting with a few different companies, and get a fulltime job or start something up. Now I've got a wife at home who's now saying, "Maybe it's time that you're not doing your own thing anymore." So you also have that pressure coming in, saying I think you've got to hang up the hat on the entrepreneurial thing. You did well, you also didn't do so well in the last time, and I don't know if we can do this as a family again.

[43:31]
James McKinney: It's hard to argue with her at that point, right? The thought goes through your mind there might be some validity to what you're thinking.

[43:38]
Zack Swire: Absolutely. There's a lot of self doubt in that too, and it's really tough. I think that's the hardest part is waking up in the morning and being ready to turn that key when now you start to question yourself because before that, I would always solve the problem. I would work hard and I would get it done. And this was the first time in life where yeah, I wasn't solving the problem. But I wasn't giving it any less effort. Actually, I was giving it way more and it just wasn't working. There's no guarantee. I think that's one of the lessons is just because you put in the work and the effort doesn't mean it's going to work.

[44:06]
James McKinney: Yeah. You can't control both sides of the equation. You can control the input, you have zero control of the output.

[44:12]
Zack Swire: Absolutely. At that time, I ended up also consulting with another friend who asked me to come over and help. It was a company called Sevenly. I had been following them. They were really cool, out of Fullerton, and they did t-shirts and helped nonprofits, so it was very fitting with all the work we were doing. It's where I ended up meeting Luke who's in the office right here, and ended up bringing him on to join us with Good Grains because I met him over there. He was doing an amazing job, almost kind of running the show over there.

It was cool being a part of that company for a while. It was a short stint to come in and help them with some changes they needed to make. At that point, as I started going out of that consulting phase, it was a sit down with the guy who originally brought me on to my first job out of college, who is a family friend. He said, "Hey, seven or eight years ago in the agency, we were having a late night discussion one time about cereal, and talking about companies like Dollar Shave Club," who had just launched at the time, or Harry's. He's like, "Do you still like those ideas that you were sharing with me about getting this online? Nobody sells cereal online like this. What do you think? Would people buy it at home?" I said, "Well maybe." He also had some thoughts on some fundraising components, and being dads and coaching soccer and doing all that stuff we thought, yeah, well fundraising kind of sucks. Let's make it better.

At that time, he's like, "Why don't we give it a shot? Let's see. I've got a cereal company. Let's talk. Let's sit down. Why don't you come up with some ideas." So then I took the next month or two to really dig into that and decided, well, maybe there's something here.

[45:29]
James McKinney: That's the origin story of Good Grains.

[45:31]
Zack Swire: Yeah.

[45:32]
James McKinney: So for our listeners, what is Good Grains?

[45:35]
Zack Swire: Good Grains is an online cereal company at the start. That's kind of where we started with an online cereal company with a fundraising component. Today, that's shifted. We're all about starting your day better. What we found is selling cereal online is super tricky. One of the biggest things is Amazon and shipping. So I can go in depths about Amazon and shipping, and why that matters. But also I wanted to solve my own problem, which is I'm a busy dad, busy professional. If I can't get something healthier, not end up with diabetes because there are 30 million diabetics in the country and 60 million pre diabetics, and by another 20 years it's going to be way higher or even double because we're on a horrible track from the foods that we're eating. I thought well maybe I can be a part of that solution. That ties into social impact. We can do something better. We have a cereal company at our disposal. Let's get that going.

But the story is we started it kind of wrong. The way we started it wrong was there's an idea and there's a company to partner with, and one of the first meetings was let's go sit down in a board room and discuss what do we need to do. I came to the table with a bunch of ideas of these are the products, these are the things we need to kind of get this going. The response was, "Well, these are the products that we have, this is kind of what you get." In retrospect, I probably should have said you know, with my marketing and branding expertise, and kind of where I was at, I looked at them and I thought, "Whoa, I would not buy that off the $0.99 store shelf. That looks horrible." And I told them so, but they had some good thoughts in terms of fundraising and the product packaging and stuff doesn't matter as much. Why don't we hone in and focus there first, and you can run with that and see how it goes.

So as a type to solve problems, I took on the challenge, which was really a downfall for me because I can solve any challenge, so I thought let me just take what they have, even though I know it's not right, and I went out for the next six months saying let's launch the fundraising arm of Good Grains and we'll focus there and get to the retail side later. So we started there, basically made a fundraising flyer. Drove all over California going to PTA meetings and I thought I'm going to roll up my sleeves, I'm not going to go ask for a ton of money. I'm not going to invest crazy. I'm going to do it the other way this time. I just got in the car and went.

And I went everywhere. I set up tables and I loaded the car, did it all myself. This is coming from a place where I kind of got a little bit used to going into my office, which was upstairs, and looking out and being able to call team members. I had account directors and account managers, and interns. I'd go talk at schools about how to set up these great teams. Oh no, this is Zack doing it all. It was a complete mind shift, getting back to the start of Good Grains again, because it was a reality set that I was always the type that'd take the trash out. I was never afraid of that. But it's a lot different story when you're doing everything again and you've now started over this entrepreneurial journey.

[48:15]
James McKinney: Thinking back to that moment, do you remember reflecting back on Swire and E-Good, thinking I am going to do this different, or was it just now engrained in you and a part of you, all the learnings from your past experiences that it was a new Zack starting a new venture?

[48:34]
Zack Swire: Both. I think some of that, I would never do again because it was so painful. Then some of that I really, and we still today, we do our daily meeting stand-ups in the morning and some things that we've carried across from the agency before that we just know that work. So we have our five minute standup. We have our KPI docs in our meetings. Some of those things that we know that drive the business forward are now in there. The ones that we found that were a waste of time are definitely not there. But then some of the harder ones are more of how you make decisions or those bigger decisions and how fast we move, or who we partner with, or will we take the risk to invest in this, those are the harder ones that are a little softer so we really have to think back about what happened the last time I tried something like that.

So after a few months of being on the road and trying to get this going, what was great was everybody loved it. I had the best looking, cute little booth with like the craft table cloth and boxes and packing. I even realized quickly, you know what, although I can't change their packaging I made these cool little craft Good Grains bags that look like kind of a farm to table kind of look. Everything looked great. I thought I'm just going to re-bag them in these to look better, and it did, and it looked great. It wasn't where it's at today, but it was good enough.

Now all the sudden I felt like okay, I got something. Every mom, every PTA leader, was like this thing is awesome. This is great. We've been needing a healthier fundraiser. Occasionally, you have people go, "I don't want any of that healthy junk," and you're like okay, whatever. But by the vast majority, we would leave shows and people would tell us, "You had more people at your booth than any other table here." Because they're needed. There isn't anything healthy in the fundraising industry. It's cakes and cookies and chocolate bars, all this stuff. There's fun runs, but there's no product there. Fun runs are great, but also it's kind of cool to be able to actually give somebody something when they donate money, and we had a good valuable product.

So we thought we have some legs here with this. Looking back, we weren't able to get an y initial traction with it. It was hard because all the signs were pointing that we should, but then the follow up was how long does it take, how many meetings do you have to go through. You have to understand the structure of how that sale goes, which is now all right, well now it's going out to events and meeting tons of people, following up with them, getting into their board meetings. Sometimes providing materials and samples and resources for their board meetings. Following up again. Sometimes you missed a board meeting, going another month. Following up multiple more times, then us deciding well maybe we need to hire reps so we can actually stay on top of all these leads that we're getting, because we had so many leads. We had thousands of leads.

So you get yourself in this circle of oh my gosh, this thing should have already taken off by now. So again, I'm making these huge mistakes and I'm like what is going on? I'm questioning myself and I'm doing all the right things, I've got all the right tools. We had tied in hub spot, we had our CRM. Just because you have software and you have things, it doesn't mean it's doing the job. I didn't care if it was written on a scratch piece of paper if the job was done. But I was upset with myself because we were getting further down the road and we weren't getting traction there. That's where we actually did a podcast with the group that was interviewing fundraising companies at one of these events, and a guy from Boosterthon, which is this really cool fundraising company that has like 3.000 schools across the country, really great team in Atlanta. We met with them, they heard us on this podcast. We thought cereal, schools, fun runs, let's partner. We put together a great partnership program, and you know what, it just didn't work out. You never know why sometimes.

They introduced it for the groups already running a fundraiser. They were trying to do this tie in with free product. People would get their free stuff but wouldn't order anything else. So it was kind of all beneficial for them and the people, didn't really benefit us much. So we tried it. But what happened to us is that now strings our company along for another six months to a year, thinking this could be the thing. And yet, because we're a small team, we couldn't have too many concurrent fronts going. We did, we had a few other things we were testing like putting too much money in some other marketing channels. We tried Dave Ramsey or some other things that we thought might be a targeted audience where it just was too expensive and really didn't pan out.

So as we go into 2017, 2018, it was a decision of let's go into the e-commerce side of things. We've got this cereal. At that time, we were now working with the cereal company and saying, "Guys, let's make some cereals. Let's get this a little more tightened up." So we changed our packaging. Got it to kind of where we wanted it. Still not necessarily the whole mix of things that we wanted. There's still better, healthier products or things that you get at Sprouts or Whole Foods, but it wasn't like a game changer cereal. It wasn't something where we knew okay, every single item in this product is perfect where we want it. We still defend. I still love the cereals that we have, they're great, they just aren't to the level that we really wanted to go which was all organic, all non GMO, all the best ingredients. But then the problem there is you have to also think price, how much are people willing to pay.

So this is where we get to November or December of last year. I think at kind of a low point I think for me in life. It was things were going well at home. Home great, kids great. They're now 11, they're in their activities and doing theater and all sorts of fun stuff. My wife's great, other than the guilt that I have that she's now working full time and we're both stressed and tired all the time, which hadn't been a reality for us. We've put that stress on ourselves because we're now trying another startup and we have to invest all this into it. So it came about in November that we're like okay, is this thing really going to work? We've right now given it almost a couple years. We've had some kind of higher points where things are looking good. But ultimately, we weren't really finding kind of that magic ingredient.

The good part is we've known what it is from the start, we just weren't there yet. So in having our KPI meetings and metrics, we look every week. That's the foundation. If you're setting up a business where you don't have a good model and you don't know what success actually means, well you haven't even started right. We could go into a whole other topic about how to do that, but you've got to start there. We did at least I know we had a good model. We had things that could work, but we were also carving new territory. Nobody had ever sold cereal online. It's kind of like before Harry's started. Who sold razors online to ship to homes? So we tried these various sample packs. We tried all different ways to kind of get it to the home and get people to reorder. But we couldn't figure out how to get our cost for acquisition lower than say $70 on average.

[54:40]
James McKinney: Wow.

[54:42]
Zack Swire: So we're like this isn't going to work. Our lifetime value is kind of up in the air, we've tried different things. So yeah, maybe or maybe not. Nobody's going to buy customers and introduce this through advertising when you're paying $70 to get a new customer. At that time, I think we had met some guys actually at a Cal State Fullerton networking event who were doing some honors marketing program at an agency called Client Boost out of Orange County. I had actually talked to them a year prior, but our board we decided not to go with them because it was too expensive and we didn't have the budget, although we spent a lot more on other things. Retrospect, we should have.

I thought before we close it, let's give them a month. The cool thing with them, they had recently changed so instead of being the agency that's like, "Well,, you have to sign for 3, 6 months or a year, we know our stuff's good. We'll start you on a startup basis, and if it works we'll grow together." So we said, "Guys, there's no reason not to sign the dotted line with you, let's go." Within a month, we already started seeing things start to spin. Within the second month, it was like 500% growth, and things started to tick.

[55:45]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[55:46]
Zack Swire: By December that time, I had actually a few people now offering me jobs which made it even harder, and I had to now look do I want to take this job? Some of those had to do with moving and being in a different location. As a kid, you heard my story, I was all over the place. I did not want to do that to my kids, so I said you know what, let's just give it another month and see how it goes. I actually had to turn down the jobs, still not knowing if this was really going to take off or not. But by January, more and more signs were coming in. We kept growing and we started to find the trigger that would actually get the price per acquisition down. We got it down from $70 to $25.

[56:19]
James McKinney: That's incredible.

[56:20]
Zack Swire: Just in the last month, we've actually got campaigns less than $8, sometimes $5 on campaigns.

[56:26]
James McKinney: Wow.

[56:27]
Zack Swire: To get new customers. So we now understand our model. We understand kind of what resonates and what's really helping people. We worked on products and really positioning them correctly to the right targets. There as a lot of little learnings and how we're doing that through e-commerce. Then learning on simple things like how do we optimize shipping and fulfillment, all the stuff we've had to do internally which eats up your day, but we had to stop trying to do all the other stuff and really just hone in on the basics. The model has to work. We have to have a CPA that works. We have to have a lifetime value that works. And ultimately, we have to have happy customers.

So we really always honed in on customer service. We take care of every customer. We want to make sure they're all happy. We'll see a comment on a Facebook ad, we'll message them privately, completely refund them, send them an extra box of goodies, and say, "We're really sorry but we hope you love us still and share this stuff with your friends and neighbors." Everybody's always shocked, but that's the type of company that we are and we want to be.

[57:22]
James McKinney: I love hearing about this success, especially how recent it is and how you were contemplating do we even go for it at the end of last year. But coming off of the other trials in your journey, this sounds like it has some potential to, but are you completely over, have you brushed off the past completely and it doesn't cross your mind? Or does it occasionally perk up and just start questioning can I actually do this?

[57:48]
Zack Swire: I can tell you how many nights I laid in bed at 1 in the morning, scrolling down LinkedIn jobs, saying, "Is it time?" I mean, that's really personal. I haven't shared that with hardly anybody.

[57:59]
James McKinney: It's real.

[58:00]
Zack Swire: It's so real. It hits me hard right now just thinking about it because it's still reality. In the startup life, you never know until it's finally there. I remember in the agency thinking one day yeah, this is dialed in now. Because I remember I left and I was on a vacation with the family, and I came back, and then I was working for a couple of months. I looked and I'm like, "Wait, who made this TV spot? It's really cool." Our team was like, "Oh yeah, we made it. We did that last month." I'm like… because when you first start, you're in everything. At that point I remember thinking I didn't even touch that. I wasn't even around. I didn't even know they did it. They filmed a whole TV spot and it was amazing. I'm like how cool is that?

That's when you realize that you set that up, the foundation is something that can grow beyond you. Yeah, I would have loved for Good Grains to take off faster. I think it's a great concept. I think we have a great heart for what we're doing. We want to bring health and happiness to our communities. We only want to work with companies that really believe and care about their products, and really are trying harder to make better products because there's so many really just crappy products out there. They're not good for you, and they are causing all sorts of health problems. So we want to put ourselves to the point of, "Let's make that better. Let's become a solution, not just somebody trying to hock more products online." So I love being able to have a chance to do that, and I hope we can make it work. That's where we're at.

[59:16]
James McKinney: That's awesome. Two questions that I ask all of my founders. The first one is about gratitude of the journey, because I do believe that if we forget all the people that contributed to where we are today, we begin to think we did it by ourselves, and therefore we will inevitably lead to our failure as we ride solo. So when you look back at your journey, who do you look back with just immense gratitude for the role they have played in your story?

[59:41]
Zack Swire: The first thing for the record is my faith. I have leaned on that throughout this whole journey. God covering my path and seeing the signs in the right time, and the right place, and being able to trust that has been number one. Number two is my wife and the support of my family, and that they've been there every step of the way. She's been such a support, even through the hardest of times. She knows that we're doing this because we want to do something that matters more, and not just show up, and we're not doing it for great wealth. We're doing it because we want to do something that matters. We want to show that support for our kids too.

Third is our business relationships. My mentor who runs the cereal company and has been there every step of the way for our family. His family, who was at our house almost every week taking care of our kids when we had the triplets. Can't be more grateful for that. They are so incredible. Our team. Just this is always a team effort. It's not about the owner. It's like without a great team, culture is so much fun to build. I love doing that, and it's just done because we just enjoy doing what we do and we work with cool people who also enjoy doing what they do, and they all put in really great effort. Even though we're a small team, we got really great people and I hope that continues to build.

I've seen that in the past with previous companies. It's so much fun when you get that right. So I'm so grateful for them and all the hard work that they've done. None of this would have been possible. I didn't code any of E-Good. It was an idea. I loved coming up with the ideas. I loved having walls covered with all the pages and how we were going to make that happen, and I still love the idea of it. Just, we never made it work. But the developers who spent so many countless hours writing hundreds of thousands of lines of code, taking on challenges to make things happen that I would just be like, "Yeah, you can do this." "That's not possible." And we would figure it out. It was the team who did all that.

The same here, in shipping out the boxes every day, making sure our customers are happy. I'm not on the phone, Ellen is. Ellen is the one answering the phone every day and making sure everybody's super happy. She's super sweet. I'm so grateful for them, that they believe in this journey enough to say, "Let's make it happen." I think when you take care of your team, you take care of your partners, you take care of those people that are all there to make that happen, and if you have faith and you lean on that, it's going to be good. The lesson I've learned as I got older, and now over 40 which I don't know how happened, I felt like I was 30 yesterday, is it's okay to be in the journey. It's okay. It's going to be up, it's going to be down, and it's going to be that way your whole life. If every time that you're down, all you're doing is stressed and worried about being up again, you're going to lose out on more than half your life. Because those up points are fewer than… I mean, some people are just funny. They just always seem to be up. That was probably not the case.

I think we live in a society where we look at everybody else and their best view on Facebook and social media. You just see the good. But that's not where you learn. Those low moments are sometimes where you learn the biggest lessons, and through that I've had to learn to keep the priorities straight, to be with the family, to work hard when I'm working, to not waste time when I'm here doing what really matters. Ultimately, if we keep doing the right things, it's going to pan out one way or the other, and if it doesn't you know what, maybe there's something else. But right now, this is where I'm at and I'm going to give it everything I have because I'm excited about what we're doing, and I see it going. I can see the path.

We have a few more things to dial in. We could turn this up right now. We have already told our board that hey, we hit this metric and this is where we turn up the advertising and really get it running. So this could be a company 20 times the size it is today, but I'm not going to make the same mistake I made with the last company and ask for funding when we weren't ready. Now, we have a fulfillment center, 3,000 square feet. We ship out boxes ordered by 12 o'clock, on time, every single day. If there's any problem, we take care of it right away. So we're not going to launch a company where you're stuck trying to call customer service and they won't answer the phone. We have everything dialed in now, and we're ready to scale this, and we see that lifetime value count go for our customers to where we know, hey, spending $20 to get a new customer totally makes business sense. I think it already does. I'm just giving a little bit more time. I just want to make sure. And if it does, we're going to be cranking this up pretty soon. Then we can invest more.

We already have awesome plans for some cool new products that are in the works. I can't say anything about, but I'm super excited about some of those, because those are products we've really been wanting to launch for the last two years. But we're doing the R&D now. We're getting things together that we know are going to be more beneficial for people, and help them have a better day.

We want to find more companies to work with that have that same mission. Like Mirror. Mirror's a mug company so they brand the mugs that we sell online, and they're incredible mugs, and they give back. For every single one, there's a give back code. I originally found it in REI and had this camp cup, and was like, "This is my favorite mug I ever had." So what we did is we took our favorite mug and said, "Let's brand it, this is the one we're going to offer you." So that's the type of stuff that we do, is we want to find the best quality product, at the best price, that actually works the best, and then we're going to offer that to you. So we can make that model work, that's what we're doing.

[64:27]
James McKinney: So as your last question, this entire podcast, it's mentorship. It's time to hear the story of someone who's farther down the road, who's been through some ups and some downs, and come through on the backside of that. You have a mentor in your life, so you understand the power of mentorship. While we've been talking to the masses, for this next two minutes, I'd like you to talk to just one listener specifically. Again, whether that's the listener who's been punched in the gut, that listener who is the mix of it and is just really frustrated, whoever it is you want to talk to. I just want to give you a minute or two to just speak some hope into that one person.

[65:06]
Zack Swire: I'd like to talk to the business owner who has felt punched in the gut, who has tried everything but lately just doesn't seem to be working. It's not you. I think you've got to get out of your own head for a second, and one of the best things that you can do is take a step back. Also talk to your friends and other people around you to really get a sense of what you're doing. Is it truly adding value? Do you really have a good solution? And don't just get caught up in what you're trying to do, but really hone in on that core concept. I think for us, it's been a shift for us in the last few months that I think if you can look at your business and understand does it really matter, is it really making a difference, do people really care. And can you understand that within the matter of a few seconds? Because people make decisions pretty quickly. Then you might have something.

But also come to the reality I think where we were at, which is maybe you don't. I've been through both of those scenarios, and it's super hard to acknowledge when you don't. But it's so freeing as well, because when I finally did shut down E-Good and it was time, oh my gosh the weight that came off my shoulders at that time. Even though it felt a failure, I've had to take that as a learning lesson. I think if you look at your business and you can make a decision, just don't get stuck out of fear. Don't let that fear just stop you in your tracks because that's the worst thing you can do. You can just sit there and you can just spin, and spin, and spin. Or you'll keep trying different things to solve the problem.

If it's not working, it's not working. If you tried everything and it's not working, maybe it's time. But stop for a minute, talk to some other people. Truly listen because a lot of times I think we as entrepreneurs, we got all the answers. So sometimes we always have a good comeback, but do we really? Is it really there and do you really have something? Then you've got to choose. Is this entrepreneurial path really right for you or is it not? I think a lot of times it is. Maybe you haven't found it quite right yet. Maybe you need to hone in on what it is. If you're doing it for the wrong reasons and you're doing it just to make more money, it's probably never going to work out. I've never really seen that work that well, but when I see people who are so passionate about what they do, that seems to always work some way or the other. Or at least it gets them to the right place and the right path.

[67:17]
James McKinney: Now that you've heard Zack's startup story, I hope you can understand why I'm such a fan of Zack. I hope for tremendous success for him and for the Good Grains team. During his journey, he shared with us how volatile the entrepreneurial journey is. He laid it out there how important family support is, and he shared with us how critical it is to be incredibly honest with yourself about your ideas and your venture. More importantly, he shared with us that we must detach our identity and personal value from our business.

I hope you find tremendous value in hearing Zack's startup story, and I hope you will show up in a huge way for Zack and Good Grains. There are a few ways you can do this. First, visit goodgrains.com and give some of their products a try. I can tell you again, my family loves their granola, especially my kids. If you have anyone in your family that's diabetic, they have an entire cereal line tailored for diabetics, so visit goodgrains.com to try something new.

The second way you can support Zack and Good Grains is to follow their social media accounts. Awareness is the number one challenge for startups because there's so much noise out there. On Facebook, you can find Good Grains @GoodGrainsClub. On Instagram, it's just @GoodGrains. We will have all their links in our show notes, so please follow them on the social channels and visit goodgrains.com to support Zack and the Good Grains team. I say it time and time again because I believe it, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's support Zack and the entire Good Grains team.

And now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.

Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.

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May 28 2019
Zack Swire, founder of Good Grains

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