Go Celsius! From Humble Beginnings….

The line-up.

Wall Street is giddy over a local stock that has been on a tear of late.

Celsius, born in Delray and based in Boca, is a beverage company that is delighting consumers, investors and those of us who love a good story of a small company slaying the giants.

When Celsius (CELH on Nasdaq) released record results last week, the stock soared continuing a run up in price that has caught the attention of CNBC’s Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” fame and lucky investors who remembered a time, not too long ago, when the stock traded under a dollar Over the Counter.

While the results reported were stupendous, nearly $37 million for the quarter an 80 percent increase over last year’s results, Celsius is far from an overnight success story. The team, both past and present, has been hard at work building a brand for more than a decade.

Celsius is a tale of belief, commitment, hard work, love, passion, sweat, a few tears and a whole lot of investment— especially from a local entrepreneurial legend who discovered the drink while dining on Atlantic Avenue.

I would venture to say that if you look closely at most successful brands you will find a familiar tale of perseverance. Each company is unique in their journey but there are commonalities including a bedrock belief that you have something special.

In Celsius’ case, there was a unique selling proposition. The energy drink burned calories—up to 100 per can. The claim was clinically proven by more than a half dozen university studies.

That’s pretty unique.

But the beverage business is brutal and capital intensive. The competition includes huge conglomerates and hundreds if not thousands of upstarts all vying for our taste buds.

But my friend and business partner Carl DeSantis knows a little something about picking winners.

He built Rexall Sundown into the world’s largest vitamin company launching hit product after hit product from its headquarters in Boca.

After selling the company for $1.8 billion in 2000 he went back into business running a vast array of enterprises ranging from hotels and restaurants to clothing companies and an up and coming hot sauce company called Tabanero. Keep your eye on Tabanero; friends it’s the next big hit.

My friend Carl has what you might call an eye for what will work and what won’t. He believed in Celsius and never wavered in his conviction that the  healthy energy drink, with the clean label (no sugar, low sodium, vitamin infused and delicious) would be a winner. It just took a while.

Successful brands are built  brick by brick, sometimes you take two steps forward and three back but you keep going because you believe and failure is not an option.

Carl recruited me to be Celsius’ COO in 2008. I was a year removed from being mayor of Delray and while I knew of Carl, I didn’t know him personally. But he saw something in me and we became friendly.

Carl is kind, generous, gentle and sensitive. There’s also more than a bit of magic in his personality.

He has a sixth sense about products, people and places. His instincts tend to prove true. So all of us who work with Carl listen closely when he has a feeling about something.

I’ve seen him predict hurricanes,  whether businesses will work and he even assured me I would survive COVID.

Over the years, Celsius hit more than its fair share of rough patches. As I’ve noted, the beverage business is brutal. Even Coca Cola failed when it released a calorie burner beverage a few years back.

But when you deploy a great team behind a great product you will break through–eventually.

Celsius has been blessed with a tremendous array of sales, marketing, management and board talent currently led by CEO John Fieldly who is a terrific young leader. He had a terrific predecessor in a gentleman named Gerry David.

Gerry and I sit on the board of Hyperponic, a promising startup which provides technology to the cannabis industry. Keep an eye on that company too. We are doing some groundbreaking work in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Still, the business world is a tough place.

Entrepreneurship can be thrilling and terrifying sometimes all in the same day.

All of us associated with Celsius have enjoyed watching this company grow.

There’s a thrill when you walk into Publix and see an end cap. It’s fun to see someone at the gym drink a Celsius and yes it’s very cool to see a company you care about listed on a major league stock exchange and sold at 74,000 stores domestically and across the world.

Those of us who know the story know that none of this would have been possible without Carl’s foresight and fortitude; without his good natured belief in a little beverage brand that occupied a small warehouse space on Fourth Avenue near the tracks in downtown Delray.

Back then, we were excited to see the cans on the shelf at the local gas station. Today, we have a market value of over $2.3 billion and are loved by thousands of consumers who enjoy a healthy energy drink with no corn syrup, preservatives or aspartame.

The Celsius story story is truly inspiring. It’s about the power of belief, commitment, vision and hard work. That’s what it takes to succeed in any endeavor.

Thanks Carl. Your belief in this amazing company has touched a lot of lives.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

 

 

Playing The Infinite Game

Simon Sinek’s newest book is terrific.

The best things in life take time.

Relationships deepen over time— if we tend to them.

Gardens thrive with constant vigilance.

The same holds true for businesses, organizations and communities.

We have to play the long game. We have to avoid the day traders.

I recently finished a book by Simon Sinek entitled “The Infinite Game”—which implores us to take the long view.

In case study after case study Mr. Sinek shows us how businesses focused on the endless/infinite horizon succeed where those with finite or zero sum mindsets fail. Oh they may have initial success—a day trader hits every now and then—but they always peter out because the game never ends. We must always plan for the future beyond us.

This sounds logical but in a world that values the next quarter or the next election or the next big game it’s often challenging to think infinitely.

But we must. Or we will fail.

This past week, I read stories about how the insurance market in California is unable to underwrite the risk posed by wildfires.

I shared on my social media, a heartfelt video made by my daughter’s college friend who lives in wildfire ravaged Australia which has been consumed by flames that have killed perhaps a billion creatures.

Science tells us climate change is either causing or exacerbating these and other situations including sea level rise which Delray Beach City Commission candidates discussed in a forum last week.

It will never be opportune to address these issues, but it will be necessary. Chances are any investment made today won’t “solve” or “end” the issue; those tasked with voting to spend the money likely won’t be around to declare victory. It’s also likely that victory will never be declared, we will have to continually tend to Mother Earth. It’s an infinite game.

Some of you may know that I have been involved with and rooting for a local beverage company called Celsius for about 10 years now. I’ve worked directly for Celsius and now for a large investor in the brand.

We believe in the company and that’s important because it is hard to build an international brand in a crowded space.

Many entrepreneurs get into the beverage space because if you make it, the rewards can be great.

Vitamin Water sold for a few billion dollars.

But if you scratch just below the headlines of big sales, successful IPO’s etc. you’ll find that most successes were long struggles, with hits and misses, successes and setbacks. You’ll find that the best brand builders don’t start companies to flip them—they start something because they want to change the world and that passion burns deep in their souls.

They don’t cut corners, they don’t hold back, they don’t source inferior ingredients or build shoddy products.

They dare to dream, are often told they are crazy and spend lots of time wandering the desert wondering if their toil will ever pan out but also sure that their vision is spot on.

It’s a weird dichotomy.

At Celsius, we learned that success wasn’t about running one magical ad, creating a “viral video” or hiring a celebrity spokesman (we did all three) it was about building a brand brick by brick through sampling events, distribution, consumer engagement, listening to retailers and getting close to your fans and your detractors because both can teach you things you need to know.

Obviously, there’s a lot more but the mindset has to be infinite and long term.

This is especially critical in building cities and communities.

I’m an idealist, so watching politics at any level is a painful experience for me.

How can I phrase this?
The field attracts a lot of….never mind… that’s not nice.

Let’s just say, I see a lot of hacks dressed up as “leaders.”

They shout to win the day’s scrum, go to sleep and repeat.

They are day traders and they get nothing done.

We can’t afford day traders.

There’s work to be done.

We need to play the infinite game and we need big thinkers willing to do what it takes to move the big rocks.

 

 

 

 

Passion & Belief

“You need more to eyes to see, more brains to think, and more legs to act in order to accelerate. You need additional people with their own particular windows on the world and with their additional good working relationships with others, in order to truly innovate. More people need to be able to have the latitude to initiate—not just carry out someone else’s directives.”—John P. Kotter

Want to build a great team?

You need passion and you need to believe in the mission.

Passion and belief are what move people.

Always have, always will.

And moving people is what organizational success is all about.

I’ve been thinking a lot about culture these days.

Workplace culture, community culture and national culture.

I’m not talking about music or art, but culture in the sense of what it feels like to be part of a company, an organization, a neighborhood, a city, a state and a nation.

There’s a saying that culture eats strategy for lunch and I believe it.

Heck, I’ve seen it.

But if you marry the two—a good culture with a sound strategy—you’ve got magic.

I’ve seen that too.

Culture trumps good fortune, it overcomes money issues and it will get you over just about any obstacle.

I’ve been thinking about these things in the context of a recent panel discussion I attended at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus in which CEOs and executives from four local companies Celsius, MDVIP, Vitacost/Kroger and Body Details talked about the importance of engagement, culture, flexibility and pleasant work environments and how those things grow business by attracting and keeping talent.

Of course, they also talked about Artificial Intelligence, growth strategies and automation, but the executives—representing a beverage company, a laser hair removal company, an e-commerce platform and a health care company– all talked about the importance of the human touch—of developing a brand and value proposition that cares about people.

I can speak with a bit of knowledge about Celsius, which is one of the companies in our portfolio where I work.

We are proud of the company and the team and have invested heavily—both emotionally and financially– in Celsius because we believe in the brand’s mission which is to provide products (beverages, powders and coming soon—drum roll please…. protein bars) to help people “live fit.”

It has been a long and winding road to NASDAQ and to widespread international and national distribution with more than its share of peaks and valleys. But when you believe in the mission and the team—and we always have—you don’t give up and you will find success. It may take some time, you will suffer setbacks but you will make progress and we have.

Celsius CEO John Fieldly is a young guy and I often think about the pressures that are on him as the leader of a publicly held company that does business across the globe and with some of the world’s largest retailers.

As an insider/outsider at Celsius I’ve glimpsed their culture and the team is tight-knit and passionate about the mission. You have to be because the beverage biz is incredibly competitive and crowded too. Celsius has always been able to punch above its weight because the team is bought in to the mission which is creating products that help people live healthier lives.

Vitacost has a similar mission and Marketing VP Guy Burgstahler says the company has benefitted greatly by relocating to attractive space at BRIC.

Body Details CEO Claudio Sorrentino understands that social media is ubiquitous these days so he doesn’t sweat his employees indulging as long as the work gets done. The company also has Champagne Tuesdays where for the cost of a bottle of bubbly they celebrate things large and small. It helps to build camaraderie.

Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer for MDVIP, says her company lets people work from home one day a week which has boosted morale and retention. The company was started to improve the experience patients have with their doctors—and as an MDVIP client I can personally attest that it would be hard to go back to a “regular” practice once you’ve experienced the VIP experience.

I have long believed that cities have cultures and values and if they are frayed or violated you pay a heavy price.

The new city manager in Delray—George Gretsas—has a wonderful opportunity to rebuild the culture at City Hall. Employees need to be empowered, staff needs to be feel valued and the community as a whole has to feel like it’s working on building a better city if that is to occur.

You have to stop majoring in the minor for good things to happen. The community has to come first and you have to be willing to think about doing what’s right versus doing the expedient. And you have to create a culture where it feels safe for people to invest their hearts, minds, time and emotion.

Is it easy?
No.

But it’s not impossible either and this is one area of life where trying scores you points.

Make it safe to fail. Make it safe to have an idea and say it out loud.

Celebrate success. Share credit. Give credit.

Be thankful. Be kind. The little stuff matters—a whole lot.

Creating and protecting a great culture makes all the difference.

Passion and belief are what move people.

Always have, always will.

Things We Loved In September

Stephanie Immelman is the new CEO of the Delray Chamber.

Things We Loved In September

Bahamian Relief efforts. It was great to see the community response to Hurricane Dorian. The efforts were heartfelt and needed.
Boynton Beach will hereafter be known as the city of romance.
Elitesingles.com has named six South Florida cities to its most romantic cities list.
Boynton Beach tops the list with Boca landing at number 6 well ahead of number 17 West Palm Beach. No sign of Delray in the rankings….sigh.
The rankings are based on data compiled by more than 150,000 people who use the website.
Tech Power
South Florida Business Journal’s 2019 Tech Power List includes a bunch of local names. Here they are:
Joe Russo, who spearheads Palm Beach Tech and the 1909 incubator which has a location in Delray, Felecia Hatcher of Code Fever, Gregory Van Horn of Launch Potato, ShipMonk CEO Jan Bednar who went to FAU and got his start at FAU’s Tech Runway, Dan Cane of Boca’s Modernizing Medicine, Rob Flippo of Boca based Mobile Help, Boca’s Adam Rogers of Ultimate Software, Sam Zietz of Touchsuite and  Rhys Williams of Tech Runway were on the elite list. Very cool.
Food and Beverage
Vino Wine Bar in Boca.
Magnificent wine list, wonderful pastas and great apps.
Don’t miss the chicken piccata and the gnocchi.
The Tropical Salad at Papas Tapas…try it. You’ll love it.
I adore Five Spice. Just great tasting food.
Grand Luxe is always a fun time. Best fried pickles around.
Pizza Craft in Fort Lauderdale was a fun outing for me and my buddy Chuck Halberg. Great calamari, good thin pizza and very nice servers.
We are big fans of Baciami in Boynton Beach which is owned by the Pellegrini family who live in Delray. They also own Il Bacio and Prime.
If you venture north to their beautiful restaurant don’t miss the chicken rollatini, eggplant and if you really want to indulge they have the best NY style cheesecake which is homemade.
Interesting to see the legendary Tom’s Place BBQ open a store in the Boynton Beach Mall.
Beer Trade Company in Delray is underrated. It’s a relaxing hangout with good food and a vast array of beer choices. Some good ciders too.
Heartland Rock
We had a chance to catch the legendary BoDeans when they played the Broward Performing Arts Center last month.
The band, well known in the 80s and 90s, still sounds great.
They should have been bigger.
Check them out on Spotify. We recommend “Idaho”, “Still the Night”, “Stay On” and “Closer to Free” as a primer. If you love rock, this Wisconsin based band will hook you.
Enjoyed The Spy on Netflix.
The true story of Israeli spy Eli Cohen was riveting and featured a great performance by Sacha Baron Cohen in a very different role for him.
My dad had a book on Eli Cohen when I was a kid and I often found myself picking it up and delving into the story and photos. Don’t miss it.
Really pleased to see Boca based fitness drink Celsius take off.
It was an eventful month for the Nasdaq traded company. The company purchased Finland based Func Foods for $25mm and also introduced a BCAA line of drinks that will be out soon and available on Amazon and at fine retailers.
The company that I work for is the largest shareholder in Celsius and I’m a former COO of the company. We are very proud of their growth and their talented team. The future is very bright.
Congrats to The Arts Garage for their fine work and for being recognized by the School District for their art education efforts. Marjorie Waldo is a rock star.
This from the Delray Parks and Recreation Department:
“Sending a big congratulations to our one and only Senovain Stephens. Delray Beach born and raised, from living in Frog Alley to graduating from Atlantic High School, he knows Delray like the back of his hand. He started with us in 1993 and worked his way up the ladder earning him a promotion from Assistant Parks Superintendent to THE Parks Superintendent!  Congratulations Senovain!!”
Rock Star Energy Drink founder Russell Weiner is selling his Delray Beach home and it can be yours for only $36.5 million.
Sounds like a bargain.
The mansion does have six bedrooms, a 12 car garage, a tennis court and a pool with a water slide.
Weiner purchased the home for $11.6 million in 2009.
Now that’s appreciation.
Finally,
The Delray Chamber of Commerce announced that Stephanie Immelman has taken the permanent position of CEO.
Stephanie said, “I’m proud of what this new team and I have already accomplished the past four months. Our new hires, Angelica Vasquez and Kristopher Fisher, are already making waves, membership has increased dramatically, and the Chamber has re-engaged in a big way with the Delray community. We can’t wait to do more,”.
The selection of Ms. Immelman caps a search process focused on selecting a results-driven leader to drive change management, mission fulfillment, and operational outcomes to maximize the value the Chamber provides to its membership. The choice was made after the search committee considered the qualifications and experience of over 240 qualified applicants.
“After an extensive search for a new CEO of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, we are pleased to have selected Stephanie Immelman,” said Bill Branning, Chairman. “Stephanie has an energetic leadership style. This combined with experience in non-profit and for-profit management positions makes Stephanie uniquely qualified to lead the Delray Chamber.”
You may know Stephanie Immelman as the former Executive Director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative but she has extensive business experience at Fortune 500 companies both in the US and Europe. She has held senior marketing positions at Continental Airlines and AT&T and worked in the corporate finance department of Global Crossing focusing on international mergers and acquisitions.
We wish her well.
Have a great October.

The Magic Of BRIC

Boca Economic Development Director Jessica Del Vecchio, Body Details CEO Claudio Sorrentino and Celsius CEO John Fieldly talk business at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

 

It had been many years since I had visited the old IBM campus in Boca Raton.

I had forgotten how big it was and what a large role it had played in the economic life of Southern Palm Beach County.

At its height, more than 10,000 IBMers worked on the picturesque campus and down Congress Avenue in Delray in the Arbors buildings.
It was a remarkable era.

Those memories came flooding back when I attended an event last week at the site which is now known as BRIC for Boca Raton Innovation Campus.
Crocker Partners has poured millions of dollars into the campus and it looks magnificent.
The effort has been hugely successful attracting a slew of companies to the campus including Modernizing Medicine and Vitacost which is now owned by Kroger.
It’s impressive.

I was at BRIC to root for my friend John Fieldly, the CEO of Celsius, a company that my company is heavily invested in. John was on a panel of health care entrepreneurs which included the chief Medical Officer of MDVIP, the chief marketing officer of Vitacost and the CEO of Body Details, a high growth laser hair and skin rejuvenation company.

The panel discussion was moderated by Boca Economic Development Director Jessica Del Vecchio and she led a fascinating discussion on workplace culture, marketing, growth and where the health space is going.

Jessica is a rock star, truly a next level economic developer. Boca is very lucky to have her. Her small office gets big results. She knows how to sell Boca.

At the networking breakfast before the panel, I had a chance to catch up with another friend Pete Martinez, the former IBM site executive, who is now involved in several promising artificial intelligence companies.
Pete reminded me of the site’s legacy. Boca is where the PC was invented but it’s also the birthplace of tech that launched robotics, data analytics, AI and so much more. Boca IP can be found in cellphones, ATM’s and so many more pieces of our daily lives. It’s quite a legacy and it was cool to hear Pete’s pride in the legacy of the location.

It’s also cool to see BRIC and Crocker Partners extend that legacy.

Boca is remarkable when you think about it.
Sure you hear the knocks, but the city aspires, there’s a lot of business happening there, a lot of technology, education, finance and cutting edge medicine too.
The Boca Raton Innovation Campus and its event series is a welcome and needed addition to our local economy.
I can’t wait to go back. And I urge you to visit if you have a chance.

In Pursuit of the Breakthrough Brand

Sound advice...from a wise post it note.

Sound advice…from a wise post it note.

I haven’t had a soda for over 300 days.
Prior to my streak I would drink 2-3 Diet Cokes a day. I did this for at least 25 years and prior to that it was Diet Pepsi during my newsroom days.
No more.
No more aspartame. No more high fructose corn syrup. No more sugary soft drinks.
For me, it’s Celsius, Diet Snapple, Bai and water.  (And the occasional happy hour indulgence).
Celsius is a Delray born and now Boca based beverage that I have been involved with for several years. I’m a proud shareholder and work for a firm that has a major stake and emotional investment in the brand.
We believe in Celsius and have for years.
Why?
Because the brand is right on trend: a healthy fitness drink that has no sugar, aspartame or corn syrup.
It’s also clinically proven to burn calories and fat and provides a nice burst of energy without a crash or jitters.
I’m proud of the company and the progress the team have made over the years.
It’s hard to build a brand. Very hard. But that’s where the value is…you want to be a brand not a low cost commodity. (Same for cities). Breaking through in a noisy world is a colossal challenge.

And the beverage business is ultra competitive, capital intensive and complex.
But then you see the headline…and you remember just how cool the business can be.
Bai–one of my favorite brands–was  snapped up by Doctor Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG) for $1.7 billion last week. Breathtaking..
DPSG– along with Coke and Pepsi –are on the hunt for companies offering healthy options. Sales for their legacy brands are flat (pun intended) and while volumes are huge, there is little to no growth and consumers are moving away dramatically from calorie laden and sugary beverages.
This shift is not a fad, but a trend. I don’t think it will go back.
And so our bet on this local company may prove prescient after all.
We have always believed. And that’s important in the world of entrepreneurship because there will be ups and there will be downs.
The Bai deals gives you hope. But…while the money is nice and how you keep score in business, for those who are entrepreneurs there’s always more. In our case, it’s a belief in the brand and what it does for people. It helps them “live fit” as we say.
Over the years, I’ve heard from many people who have made Celsius a part of their lives. They enjoy it and it’s helped them achieve health and fitness goals–which is the point of a “functional” beverage.
We often read about “disruption” in the world of technology. But it’s happening in food and beverages too.
Healthy products— clinically proven– is a great place to be these days.

And there are several other local brands that are making it happen too. I met with a great one last week–Fro Pro, a delicious and healthy bar/meal replacement run by two very cool and very passionate people. I’ll share their story in a future post.
We have high hopes that our pioneering brand will be the next breakthrough. (And we have a few more in the pipeline too).
Until then, it’s back to the daily grind/joy of building something you believe in.

 

Random Thoughts…

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

This is the time of year that the Dare 2 Be Great board pours over applications for scholarships.
It’s a humbling experience to read through the resumes and essays of these incredible young men and women.
Many of the essays are inspirational and more than a few are heartbreaking.
The common thread seems to be resilience. It just seems that some people are built by adversity. They succeed regardless of life’s circumstances and overcome hurdles. It’s almost as if they succeed because they are determined to live better lives.
These kids inspire me. I wish we could help them all. It breaks my heart that we can’t. We’ll keep you posted on the Class of ’16.

It’s a Miracle
Congratulations to the Miracle League of Palm Beach County which pulled off its first successful dinner on the diamond last week.
Julia and Jeff Kadel and their team of volunteers have done a remarkable job bringing the great game of baseball to kids who might not otherwise have an ability to play.
So good to see this wonderful non-profit grow and thrive. And I’m pleased to see Celsius, a company I’m involved with, step up and sponsor.

An Affair to Remember

We hope you’ll visit the Delray Affair this weekend.
The 54th annual event is a great chance to see friends and to adopt a rescue pet.
That’s right.
We’ve adopted two pets at the Affair over the years: Randy and Sophie.
Both little dogs enriched our families beyond words. We also hope the city doesn’t “fee” this event to death.

It’s Delray’s signature event, a tradition and helps our Chamber of Commerce stay healthy and more than ever this city needs a healthy chamber.

Hello Rhys, Goodbye Kim
We wish Tech Runway’s founding director Kim Gramm well on her new job in Texas.
Kim did a lot to put FAU’s ambitious project on the map.
She will be missed.

We are excited to see our Leadership Florida friend Rhys Williams step into the role of leading Tech Runway.

Thanks, Alyona

We’ll also miss Alyona Ushe well as she departs Delray’s innovative Arts Garage.
Alyona won’t be far away as she will continue to work her magic in Pompano Beach.
It’s not easy to start something and make it relevant. Alyona put the Arts Garage on the cultural map in South Florida creating buzz and staging lots of memorable shows and performances.
She made an impact.