After Selling to Campbell’s for $249 Million, He’s Doing Things Differently With Startup No. 2

By Lindsay Blakely Los Angeles bureau chief, Inc.com on April 5, 2107

 

If you’re local to the Los Angeles area, join me April 6 for an in-depth conversation with Grimmer as part of the Moonshot speaker series co-produced by Inc. and Team One, a division of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.

Neil Grimmer, the CEO and founder of kids foodmaker Plum Organics, had a wildly successful first ride as an entrepreneur. He founded Plum in 2007 in Emeryville, Calif. The company took off when it decided to package unexpected combinations of pureed fruits and vegetables in squeezable pouches that even babies knew how to use. Babies R’ Us and grocery stores quickly scooped them up. When Grimmer sold the company to Campbell’s in 2013 for $249 million, Plum’s annual revenue had reached $80 million.

Initially, the 45-year-old founder looked forward to a slightly slower pace of life at his new corporate parent. He quickly changed his mind. “After six months I got the itch again. This is just the speed at which I operate,” he says.

The itch coincided with Grimmer’s project to reboot his health. After seven years running a startup, the former Iron Man triathlete was tired and above his usual weight. With the help of doctors and a battery of DNA and blood tests, he says he changed his diet to meet his body’s unique nutritional needs, lost some excess weight, and regained the energy he once had.

He also realized he had the makings of a new startup idea: a meal delivery service that’s personalized to your DNA. The company, which launched a closed beta in the Bay Area in January, is called Habit. For $299, you get a home test kit and a nutrition plan that aims to give you the ideal ratio of protein, carbs, and fats based on your results. Habit-prepared meals cost extra.

This time around, Grimmer is older and wiser. And he’s also got more money at his disposal–whereas he raised only $1.5 million for Plum, Habit raised a $32 million A round from Campbell’s. Here are three things the serial entrepreneur is doing differently with his second venture.

1. Be less reactive. “When I was first a CEO, everything had a bigger amplitude,” Grimmer says. At the time, his mentor, Drugstore.com founder Jed Smith, told him to be careful not to ride the roller coaster of entrepreneurship because while the highs are great, the lows can drag you down very low. “Although he said it, I rode it and loved it–we had more highs than lows, fortunately, but it was both intoxicating and devastating,” Grimmer says. With Habit, he’s trying to be more intentional about staying even and measured. So far, that means keeping his expectations in check as the company works out the kinks in the early days and say, being okay with a minimum viable product initially that might not have all the features he’d like.

2. Stack the talent deck in your favor as soon as possible. With its focus on nutrition science and fresh food preparation, Habit is an entirely different beast from Plum. “I had dabbled in the life sciences as a triathlete and as a guy leading a baby food company,” but Grimmer admits he’s no science expert–he’s a design guy. So the first thing he did was build out a strong leadership bench with the tech and science skills he didn’t have himself. Only then did Habit begin to work on the product itself.

3. Hire slow and fire fast. “We said this back at Plum, but I’m not sure we always did it,” Grimmer says. Habit’s team is now around 50 people and Grimmer plans to meet everyone personally for as long as it’s practical. Hiring for culture is as important as hiring for talent. “We want to build a lifestyle brand so it’s crucial that everyone is walking the talk of what we do every day in every role.” As such, Habit is chock full of hardcore cross-fitters, yogis, and self-improvement junkies.

Grimmer asks everyone his go-to interview question: What is your spirit animal? “I ask in a smart ass-kind of way. You need a ridiculous interview question. This one is amazing because people wind up describing their personality, strengths, and weaknesses inadvertently,” he says. One of the most memorable answers so far? One applicant cited a beaver–because they’re small, mighty, and determined. “I mean, you can’t contest that,” he says, laughing.