Seth Goldman is a co-founder Eat the Change.

Seth Goldman is one of the original social entrepreneurs. He co-founded Honest Tea in 1998, helping to create the market for low-sugar alternative drinks. He sold the company in 2011, and operated it as a division of Coca-Cola. He was executive chairman of Beyond Meat from 2013 to 2020, which made him a fortune when the company went public.

Now, with little fanfare, he’s on to another venture.

He’s listed as a co-founder of PLNT Burger, a Silver Spring, Md., restaurant, along with five others, including global investor Margarita Herdocia, and Chef Spike Medelsohn, and Goldman’s wife, Julie Farkas, and son, Jonah Goldman.

And, he’s leading Eat the Change, which according to its web site is “a platform to inform and empower consumers to make dietary choices consistent with their concerns around climate change.” It makes grants to nonprofits working to raise awareness around climate-friendly diets. Eat the Change will also produce a broad line of similar, plant-based food to sell across the country, according to a Washington Post article.

I interviewed Goldman in 2015, when he offered these ideas for social entrepreneurs who want to use business to lead and be part of movements. One of the themes that came through in the interview was Goldman’s ability to navigate partnerships – that’s a key if you’re a social entrepreneur. Much of your impact will come, not from your ability to control your company, but from your ability to influence people outside it. He left Coca-Cola shortly after this.

1. Define success broadly.

All entrepreneurs are passionate, but the definition of success is different for social entrepreneurs, Goldman said. “In the natural foods world, there’s a mission element that’s bigger than the business. A buyout is one milestone of success. But the impact, scale and permanence of (a social change) is a much bigger one.”

In fact, that’s why he remains involved in the company. Many entrepreneurs bow out a year or two after a buyout, and Coke’s buyout of Honest Tea would have made that possible for Goldman, too — he reportedly made “tens of millions” from the deal, and other employees, who had equity, made out well — some with payouts of more than $1 million. But most of Goldman’s equity is still in the company, which is jointly owned by Goldman and Coca-Cola. “Its value is determined and adjusted monthly by a formula we developed and agreed upon,” he said.

2. If you are in a partnership, try to make sure it’s a complementary one.

In “Mission in a Bottle,” the book written with Honest Tea co-founder Barry Nalebuff describes what make his partnership with Goldman complementary. He identified himself as the conceptualizer — logical, analytical, fact-based; Goldman is the protector — dutiful, meticulous and supportive. Nalebuff is organized, practical and outgoing, while Goldman is optimistic, enthusiastic and values-driven, he wrote. Nalebuff bowed out of a role in the company, but he and Goldman remain good friends, Goldman said.

But good partnerships require difficult conversations, too, such as the one that Goldman said he had with executives at Coke, who wanted Honest Tea to remove the “no high-fructose corn syrup” statement from its labels. Goldman flew down to Atlanta to explain why the tag needed to stay. “To their credit, they said, ‘A deal’s a deal,’” he said.

The relationship hasn’t always been easy. Goldman cited a failed negotiation with Nestlé, in which Nalebuff acted without consulting him. But, ever the optimist, Goldman said the failure enabled the duo to realize what they wanted out of a deal, a knowledge they took into negotiations with Coke.

3. Focus on sales.

The company’s relentless focus on sales comes through — a prominent feature of its office is a chalkboard that shows distributors’ orders for the day. Each salesperson has his or her own profit-and-loss statement, Goldman said, and in the book, salespeople are drawn by graphic artist Sungyoon Choi as superheroes.

Goldman identifies his focus on sales as a key factor that has enabled him to operate fairly independently from Coca-Cola. “The fact that we’ve grown gives us our license to do the right thing,” he said. “You have to deliver on the business plan.”

4. Learn to ‘fight off your back.’

To be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to be rejected — a lot. Goldman learned that resilience partly by being a wrestler in high school, he said. “I was terrible. My first year, I was 1 and 10 — someone didn’t show up, so I got the forfeit,” he said. “It was particularly humiliating. But for me it was such a great thing for my character.”

“But it showed me what failure is, and it showed me this is how you fight off your back.”

He compares that to marketing Honest Tea, which he sees as selling against evolution.

The company has had to discontinue various products over the years, and Goldman said its first efforts to sell completely unsweetened teas were a flop. This year, the company is introducing two new teas — Ginger Oasis and Cinnamon Sunrise — with no added sugar at all. Consumers weren’t ready for no-sugar drinks a decade and a half ago, but they might be now, Goldman said. (The teas are still available in 2020 — Ed.)

5. See time as an ally for social good.

When Goldman was traveling in China’s Anhui Province to source ingredients, he had to cross a river by raft to reach a tea garden. “I asked, ‘Have you thought about building a bridge?’” The gardeners gave him four reasons why they didn’t have a bridge: the high cost, the potential for flooding that would destroy it, and their worries that the equipment necessary would damage their garden.

Finally, “If there’s a bridge, there’s going to be a road and all this development,’” Goldman recounted. “Most Westerners would say, ‘Put in a road, get the commerce, and worry about the consequences later.’ This community had a different perspective.”

This problem, not having a bridge, was a solution that enabled them to protect the garden for now until a better solution that would enable both development and protection came about later. “What we’re trying to do is add that perspective in a lot of our practices,” he said.

6. Don’t delegate in the beginning.

Of course, as an entrepreneur, Goldman said, you need to develop a vision, a big picture, and get the right people recruited and hired and make sure you have the resources. It’s easy to focus on those elements and delegate if you can afford to. But the lessons you learn from being hands-on are important, too.

“It’s always been important to be engaged in understanding every aspect of the business,” Goldman said. “I’m not the best accounting person. I’m not the best operations person, for instance. But I feel like I’m familiar with all of it.”

7. The business plan comes first.

He’s also a realist. He gestures around the office, whose exposed brick walls and reclaimed office furniture give it the character of an independent company and none of the feeling of the corporate giant that now owns it. But the company’s relentless focus on sales also comes through — a prominent feature of its office is a chalkboard that shows distributors’ orders for the day.

Goldman identifies his focus on sales as a key factor that has enabled him to operate fairly independently from Coca-Cola. “The fact that we’ve grown gives us our license to do the right thing,” he said. “You have to deliver on the business plan.”

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