There are serial entrepreneurs, and there are successful serial entrepreneurs. It’s arguably easy to start a bunch of companies that fail. But it’s difficult to start more than one company, nurture it into growth and success – and then do that again.
Neil Grimmer falls squarely into the latter category. The CEO of a startup called Habit, a “personalized-nutrition” e-commerce play, he is making a success of his new company just a few years after Grimmer sold his first company, Plum Organics, to Campbell Soup. In fact, Campbell has invested $32 million and is the main stakeholder in Habit, just four years after buying the baby- and toddler-food brand that Grimmer and colleagues had built for a reported $249 million.
Grimmer is based in Silicon Valley, an increasingly common starting point for food and beverage companies that have been disrupting the traditional CPG industry for several years. Tapping into the area’s foodie ethos and digital expertise has been a great leg up for companies like Grimmer’s that are crumbling the dominance of food-and-beverage giants that controlled the industry for nearly a century.
He’s a creator by nature – former punk-rock musician and artist who also was a product designer at IDEO before co-founding Plum Organics. Grimmer built Plum into an $80-million enterprise, and under Campbell it has remained the fastest-growing organic-baby food brand in the country.
“Everyone feels a deep commitment to the Habit consumers they serve, and that’s the ‘X’ factor in a company.”
After that, Grimmer founded Habit, which has thousands of customers who are using a service that employs individualized DNA testing to provide “personalized nutrition blueprints,” nutrition coaching sessions. He is now considering how to roll out Habit-designed meals around the plan after conducting a 2017 test in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“There’s such huge interest in both the idea of personalized nutrition and also the possibility that it holds for us in terms of our overall health and wellbeing,” Grimmer told Chief Executive. “We’re converging with the right idea at the right time.”
How does Grimmer come up with consecutive “right ideas” and build them into consecutive successful companies? Here are 4 key strategies.
1. Plan a sequel. For Grimmer, one successful element of Habit has been that the foundational assumptions he made for building the company are the same ones he made in growing Plum Organics – including the idea that Americans are more and more interested in eating healthier in ways that are more effective than traditional weight-based diet plans. “You can read the tea leaves,” he said. “The movie plays itself out in a similar way.”
2. Avoid repeating mistakes. While garnering lessons from success the first time around, Grimmer said he’s avoided simply transferring his entire game plan from one company to the next.
“We’ve been able to avoid some mistakes that we made in the early days at Plum by having that core experience,” he said. “We’ve got a grounded, seasoned, experienced team that knows how to execute. We’re hyper-focused on building the best company we can, and we know how to do it from prior experience.”
3. Keep the team together. To the extent possible, Grimmer has brought into Habit members of the Plum-building team. Habit’s chief innovation officer, for example, Heather Cutter, was the key innovation executive at Plum, “and one of our rock-star brand managers at Plum is leading” a Habit business unit, he said.
4. Make it mission-driven. One reason all these factors work, Grimmer said, is that Habit is, at its epicenter, “a mission-driven company. At Plum, we were in service to young parents and their kids. At Habit, we’re similarly on a mission.”
Many Habit employees, he said, are “on their own health journey. Everyone feels a deep commitment to the Habit consumers they serve, and that’s the ‘X’ factor in a company. People don’t punch in and punch out. This is as much a lifestyle and a way of life [as mere employment] for people who work here. And it was the same at Plum.”