How to set a a vision and commit to it with BOL Foods founder Paul Brown
“I don’t think there’s anything more important than getting your vision and purpose right and then I do believe that everything falls into place on way or another”
From snowboarder to CEO and Founder of BOL Foods, Paul Brown and Matt Rogan discuss maintaining purpose, scrapping against the big gun, hiring the right people and staying healthy. Take a listen below, or have a read through the transcript, and get in touch to let us know your thoughts.
Matt: How do you come to be where you are today?
Paul: I was a big fan of sports in the early days of my life. I became a professional snowboarder and was working out in California in racing boardercross. Following a fall, I had a really bad injury and spent the best of a year recovering in Los Angeles and ended up having to give up on the sports world. My next big passion was food. I tried to start off my own business but it didn’t get off the ground and I ended up joining a small business called Innocent Drinks. I stayed there for 14 years and left when it was sold to Coca Cola, and started BOL 6 years ago.
Matt: Was recuperating in LA a good thing for you?
Paul: My mum was very keen for me to come home to the UK but when I explained to her that I was out there in the hands of experts she warmed up to the idea of me staying. So there I was, 21 years old in a cast for 9 months… it gave me a lot of time to think by myself and allowed me to immerse myself in the Californian lifestyle which was a big sliding door moment for me.
Matt: What was it about that experience that was a touch fire moment to setting up BOL?
Paul: It was when I was in California that I saw people were living their life with lots of healthy eating and exercise, and it felt like a really good balance to have. But at the same time, most people didn't have time to meal prep.
My father ran bars and restaurants, and my mum was involved in catering so I was always close to people making food and drinks. I realised it was an opportunity to do things in a healthier way. Bear in mind this was 20 years ago so you would walk down the high street which had the likes of McDonalds and Greggs, but you didn’t have all of the other food to go places that you now have. My idea was to start a healthy Californian inspired business. It didn’t happen then but I always knew this was something I wanted to do.
It is when I saw the Innocent bottles that I knew it captured so much of the essence of that goodness and quality I’d fallen in love with in California.
Matt: So you joined Innocent?
Paul: Yes. I guess I thought I’d be there for a couple of years but ended up staying for 14. It was the most incredible business school and I learnt from the 3 founders and other incredible people there about how to create a business that has big ambition and vision, that is purpose driven with beliefs and values. I my heart, I knew it was a learning experience that would lead me to do my own thing. The key moment in a sense was when Coca Cola took over Innocent. I was looking after the food division and it left like unfinished business for me, so with their blessing I went on to set up BOL Foods.
Matt: What is BOL Foods’ purpose?
Paul: Our purpose is to inspire the world to eat more plants. Everything we do is about that and I just feel so fulfilled doing that – to get up each day and passionately work on something that I truly care about and a purpose that serves both myself and others is pretty rewarding.
The single biggest thing any individual can do to help reverse the impact of climate change is to adopt more principles of a plant based diet and my overarching dream for BOL is to become one of the leading naturally plant powered food brands on the planet – loved by meat eaters, not just vegans. There is no judgement in what we do.
Matt: BOL Foods did not start as a plant powered business. What made you go plant based?
Paul: You are right, our top selling products were mostly meat based ones so it was not a performance driven decision. I call it my ‘cowspiracy epiphany’. After watching Cowspiracy and reading more about environmental issues, I was blown away by the inefficiency of the industrialised food system. There is a level of destruction that has taken place over the last few decades with the industrialisation of the food system and so much of that is down to how we go around consuming as much meat, fish and dairy as we can. I realised I could be part of the solution and not the problem with one swift move. It was a very tough decision but fundamentally something inside of me had changed. I now knew what my purpose was, and that was to inspire the world to eat more plants.
Matt: Has BOL Foods’ growth impacted your style of leadership and management?
Paul: I’ve always had a ridiculous amount of focus on recruiting the right people. I started the business with a handful of incredible operators and people who I knew, a combination of friends and people who I had worked with in the past. As we’ve grown, every single person who has joined are people who share our vision. When we hire new people, I can naturally work out whether the chemistry is going to be there and whether they will have the right attitude and overall energy we’re going to need. We’ve now got a core team of 30 people here and I have to pinch myself everyday because they are an incredible group of people who truly believe in their own way that we are doing something special, and give their all every single way. There is an entrepreneurial spirit with a lot of agility and speed, as well as a shared mindset which is needed in order to keep going.
With teams growing, I am confident that most of the teams are functional experts in their areas and I guess my job is to set the vision to make sure the strategy we’re delivering is totally aligned to our purpose, that we can truly be pragmatic in the face of change, and if I need to intervene to help get us back on track then I will do, but for the most part I try to empower the team as much as possible.
I don’t think there is anything more enjoyable in business and in life than seeing people fly.