How to Build a Wellness Brand with Kurt Seidensticker

March 8, 2022
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Peter Drucker

Welcome back to Win the Day! If this is your first time here, we sit down with some of the world’s true changemakers to give you all the tips, tools, and strategies to win the day EVERY day.

The quote for this episode comes from management expert Peter Drucker and says: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

And our guest today did a hell of a job at creating a future that has now completely transformed the health industry. 

Kurt Seidensticker is Founder / CEO of collagen-based wellness company, Vital Proteins®. In addition to being a former NASA Aerospace Engineer, Kurt has more than two decades of experience as an entrepreneur and has successfully grown a number of digital-first companies.

As a passionate runner, Kurt had a huge lightbulb moment when knee discomfort threatened to put him on the sidelines. Kurt vowed to find a solution, and his research led him to understand the benefits of ingestible collagen that has been linked to healthy hair, skin, nails and joints.

Since 2013, Vital Proteins has been empowering others to find wellness, and recently enlisted Jennifer Aniston as its Chief Creative Officer.

Kurt’s passion for health and fitness – and his ambition to help others live fuller, more vibrant lives – became the core of the Vital Proteins brand, and ultimately, the company’s mission.

Long story short, we’re lucky to have him here!

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kurt Seidensticker does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more?

In this episode, we’re going to talk with Kurt about:

  • How his aerospace engineering background taught him to solve complex problems
  • The most important steps that gave his company massive traction from day one
  • What he did to recruit personalities like Jennifer Aniston to the brand; and
  • How he built Vital Proteins into a billion-dollar company within six years.

Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Kurt Seidensticker!

James Whittaker:
Kurt, great to see you! Thanks for coming on the Win the Day show.

Kurt Seidensticker:
James, thanks for having me.

You've had such an incredible journey, and there's so many lessons to dive into. To kick things off, what was the mindset around entrepreneurship in your household growing up?

My parents were not entrepreneurs. My dad had spent his entire life working for the same company. He was at University of Chicago Argonne National Labs, and he spent 50 years at the same job. He worked in nuclear reactor design. 

I kind of saw that routine, and even at an early age, at age five, I was this entrepreneur, this creative person trying to come up with ideas, business after business, hard working, and just thinking through and through. 

I wore my parents out by taking apart things and ideas, and trying to do this and trying to do that, but it's interesting to figure out where it comes from. My family was not entrepreneurial, but it just was within me from the day I was born.

Yeah, your ability to solve problems is great. And with what's happened with COVID the last two years, the one thing that the world is not going to be short of is problems that need solving!

Correct! And I knew that all along. As I was growing up, my dad was an engineer, so that problem-solving thing was probably part of my innate nature. 

I do remember dissembling vacuum cleaners, dissembling toasters, dissembling every single machine my parents owned, and getting bored after I disassembled it and not putting it back together. And so that engineer in me – about solving problems and trying to figure out how things worked – was something I pretty much spent all my free time on.

And after high school, you went and studied aerospace engineering at university. What was it that attracted you to that field in particular?

I grew up in the '70s, and that was like the space race, trying to get to the moon, and develop the space shuttle program. And several things happened during that time.

One was in high school. I was playing with model rockets, and I'd build these pre-made kits, and then I'd build something bigger, and then I'd buy something bigger. And then pretty soon, I ran out of what you could actually buy legally!

So I went to the university in our town, and read some research on how to build rockets and how to build solid rocket motor fuel. And one afternoon, I decided at my house, in the kitchen...  I was 16 years old. I decided to try to make rocket fuel in the kitchen, in the oven.

I was 16 years old. I decided to try to make rocket fuel in the kitchen, in the oven.

And I happened to do it right at 6:00 PM when my dad got home, and my dad exploded. The rocket fuel didn't. My mom and dad decided, "Let's take him to see a space shuttle launch." 

They took me down to Florida. It was the fifth space shuttle flight. I was mesmerized by it. I came back, talked to my physics professor, told him this is what I want to do. He got me enrolled into a college class in astrophysics ahead of going to school. 

So I kind of set out on this course to be an astronaut, to learn how to fly the space shuttle. But I also knew underlying I had this entrepreneurial drive, and I knew if I went into this field choosing probably one of the most challenging engineering degrees that it would give me the basis for solving problems in the future, so eventually I could get back to this entrepreneurial lifestyle.

So cool. And the difference then in doing the research is that you’re going to the library and finding physical books. Very different to what people can access with their phones these days.

Yeah, you didn't have anything. Back then, we didn't have the internet. We had to research things and work the librarian. She's like, "Why do you want to read about petro chloride for rocket fuel!?"

I can imagine people don't ask for these books very often!

Yeah, yeah.

You went on to work at NASA doing some very cool things like teaching astronauts how to fly a space shuttle. What was the most interesting thing that you learned from all your work in aerospace engineering?

It was a very cool experience. Since I was this problem solver, even NASA recognized that, they put me on special projects. And they're having a challenge with one of the ways that they flew the space shuttle, so I got turned loose in the space shuttle. 

It took me two years for training to learn how to fly it, and then my goal was to figure out new ways to fly it and teach the astronauts how to fly it. So that new creative thought process of what we could do differently and stuff.

I remember one night being with a chief astronaut. We're in the flight simulator. It was Saturday night, around midnight, and I'm 26 years old. I know this stuff like the back of my hand. I'm walking him through how to fly it. I show him on how to fly it. 

I said, "Okay, you do that," and he's flying it. And this is a guy that's on the Apollo space program, and he's flying. I'm like, "Oh, you're too heavy on the stick. You're going to run out of fuel." And he looks at me and he goes, "Who are you to tell me how to fly this thing?" And then halfway through it, the alarms are going off. We're out of fuel. And I go, "Okay, see? So let's try it my way." 

But just having that experience to be creative in that environment, and in such a rigid environment at NASA where it's so procedurally-oriented that I had the opportunity to be kind of a pioneer and create new ways to fly the space shuttle really put me on that track of being an innovator.

What a unique experience. These flight simulators, they're designed to obviously simulate all the things that can go wrong, but that is only as good as the people who are programming these things to begin with, right!?

Yeah. So what you end up doing is... You're in a full mock-up of the space shuttle. You're climbing into the cockpit. You've got simulators outside the windows to make it look like it's real. 

What would happen is then the astronauts would go fly the mission, and then post-mission, we'd all get back together and we'd say, "Hey, the software didn't quite really work very well. It didn't simulate exactly what happened," and we'd work with another company and update the simulator to match it. 

The astronauts would come back. We'd fly it again, and "Okay, that's how it happened." So it's this constant iterative process of getting it just a little bit right a little bit more.

Yeah, sounds like starting a business.

Exactly like a business.

Did your concentration in aerospace engineering give you a method to solve complex problems that you were then able to take to other areas like your work in entrepreneurship?

Yeah. So engineering gives you that problem-solving ability. NASA gives you the process. And  one thing that I learned at NASA was peer review. You're doing your problem, show it to someone else. And I do this a lot at Vital Proteins. I socialize. So go socialize what you think. Go show it to other people. 

Then also just double-checking, going through and... I am a perfectionist. NASA even reinforces the perfectionism. And so it's just going through and just reassuring what you're doing is correct, and constantly validating and stuff like that, but maybe we'll get into it a little later. I've kind of shifted that paradigm a little bit and I have a different way of running Vital.

How do you feel about the work that Elon Musk is doing with companies like SpaceX and Tesla and Starlink, given you've got similar interests?

Yeah, that's why I left NASA. We had the space shuttle program, but I wanted to do bigger things. I really wanted to take that risk and explore space, and get out there and do things.

We had the space shuttle program, but I wanted to do bigger things.

I didn't see NASA at that point in time having the, say, character or DNA to actually go do that. There was too much politics involved. There was too much stuff. So I said, "I'm going to follow my entrepreneurial passion. Maybe I'll end up being a billionaire and start my own space program." And so that's kind of what I did.

Yeah, governments run things way too fat. To have Elon Musk do things at 10 cents on the dollar was huge.

Yeah. I had the opportunity to do a private tour at SpaceX with Kimbal Musk [brother of Elon Musk], and it was incredible to see what they've built there. Really, this was in my mind 30 years ago. This is how it needs to be done. You need to be able to really create a modern day space program and do things the way that the rest of the world is doing things. So yeah, very inspirational.

Was there a particular book that has contributed most to the mindset you have today?

No, a lot of it's just been my own creative thought process. You mentioned Peter Drucker in the beginning. I did aerospace engineering, but I also did marketing, and I also did MPA work and legal work as well.

But Peter Drucker was a big influence on the early days. Also, just learning constantly, reading, and constantly following things. I basically made it up as I went along, what was in my mind and what should be done.

You've had failures along the way as every great entrepreneur has had. Was there a single sense of purpose that carried you along that journey right up until you created Vital Proteins?

The journey is the entrepreneurial journey. You talk to my kids, you talk to anyone who knows me, I have an idea, I'll pursue it, kind of create it out of nothing. And then if it doesn't work out, that's not the end of it. It's either you keep going on that idea, or you have another idea.

There's been probably 10, 15 businesses I've started. Probably three of them have been successful. Vital, of course, massively successful. One or two of them supported myself and my family, but the idea is never giving up. 

That's the key: never giving up and always coming up with ideas.

That's the key: never giving up and always coming up with ideas. But that's always my passion, and not letting failure get you down and say, "Okay, I'm not cut out for this."

When it came to Vital Proteins, what was the problem that you wanted to solve with that? And why did it fall on your shoulders to do it?

I was just finishing up one business idea that had sold, and then was looking at my next business venture, and just really focused on running. Vital was not in the plan at that point in time. I was working on another business idea. 

And as I'm running, I'm like, "Oh gosh." I'd do a long run, maybe 10 kilometers, and I'd come back and my joints were just killing me, like someone was shoving a knife into them. And that was new for me. I had never experienced pain from running and I really don't ever have any injuries. 

Talking to my daughter at the time, she was in medical school, I said, "What's going on here?" Because her and I used to always run together. And she goes, "Well, you're probably just getting bone-on-bone rubbing."

And it's like, "Wait a minute. What?"

That doesn't sound good. It's like, "Well, why is that?" She goes, "You probably just wore down your cartilage and stuff." And that thought process like, "Okay, I wore it down. How do I build it back up?" And you can't. It's gone. No, I want to build it back up. 

So taking on that challenge of what is not traditional knowledge, and saying, "How can we do things differently?" I can always see things a little bit differently than most people. 

I said, "Okay, let's look at a study of how we can build back joints." And we pull out this paper of glycine's essential role in collagen synthesis. She knew, I didn't, that joints were made out of collagen.

And how do we make collagen grow? And glycine's the key amino acid to stimulate collagen growth, and about the richest source of glycine is collagen. It's simple today, but back then it was like, "Oh, that's great," and didn't know that.

Once you looked at how much glycine you needed, you could calculate how much collagen you needed, and it didn't exist. You needed basically 10 grams of glycine a day, which is roughly 40-60 grams of collagen a day. And at the time, there were tablets in the market, you calculate, "Okay, I need 100-120 tablets a day." And I'm like, "I can't even take one pill a day!"

Yeah, you’ll be taking a pill every five minutes for the entire day!

That was the thing. I was taking protein shakes at the time, whey protein, and I wanted to get into more of a paleo diet to get off dairy, and I didn't like the plant proteins. And I'm like, "This is a perfect opportunity to kind of put these together and create a new category of a powder." 

Immediately when I read this paper, I go, "Wow, that's a vital protein." And I'm like, "I have an idea. I'm going to create a whole new category." This all happened in 20 minutes. "I'm going to create a brand new category of protein that separates plant protein and dairy protein, and create this collagen powder that's a functional protein that provides all these health and wellness benefits to it."

How'd you thank your daughter for the insight!?

She had some stock in the company, so that's her thank you! She went through medical school and her residency, and she's an assistant professor teaching anesthesiology at Stanford now.

Immediately when I read this paper, I go, "Wow, that's a vital protein." And I'm like, "I have an idea. I'm going to create a whole new category." This all happened in 20 minutes.

She's asked a few times, "Can I come work with you?" And it's like, "Nope, you can't! You have such a great career. You're not going to do it." But that's my thank you to her too.

What was the moment when you realized that, "Wow, this simple idea is actually going to completely change the face of health and nutrition"?

It was right then and there, when I read that paper and recognized that the amount of collagen your body needed was on that 20, 40, 60 grams per day dose. I saw that as a functional protein category that didn't exist before. I think it was September of 2012 when I recognized that this is a whole new category that can be created, that isn't really existing today.

And then one of the biggest challenges is educating every single one of those customers around the benefits and why that's important. How did you go about that educational piece?

Yeah, that was the key. So initially, I had launched the business. It took me about a year to develop the product and the company. 

Right when I had the idea, I went and built my own factory to start creating it, but then once I launched the business, getting the word out there on a brand new category was the challenge. And I didn't know how to do it. 

I thought about Google AdWords, but you’ve only got 150 characters, or something like that, so you can’t really educate someone. And I was just standing in line at Whole Foods, and I was seeing this magazine, Paleo Magazine, which was advertising this trade show, Paleo f(x) in April of 2014. This was two weeks before the show.

I thought to myself, "Oh, I'm going to go there. I'm going to set up a trade show booth, and I'm just going to talk to people." And I went there, and it turned out to be transformative.

People say trade shows are dead. They're not. What's great about them is back then, you would go out there and start conversing with people and educating people face to face. And that turned out to be the pivotal point for Vital, because the very first person I talked to was Melissa Hartwig from Whole30. Her and I talked for hours on end. I talked to the Wellness Mama, Mark Sisson, and a few other people. And just spent four days, 12 hours a day, at the trade show.

I talked to hundreds of people, and told them my story and my idea. They then became advocates for everyone out there. They had the voice. They had the platform. The company started taking off, and I said, "Okay, I'm going to start doing this more often."

In 2014, I did 30 of those events in one year. And then the next year I did 50, and then next year 100.

In 2014, I did 30 of those events in one year. And then the next year I did 50, and then next year 100. I was just constantly being out there. And so I was on the road all the time the first few years. 

And then we eventually scaled it. In 2019, pre-pandemic, we did 10,000 events. And it was this face to face, authentic relationship with the consumer and with advocates for the brand too.

How did your product or brand change as a result of those conversations you had with people at a grassroots level early on?

Once people knew who the brand was, I was hearing more and more about what their issues were. Originally, I had gone in there thinking this was like a recovery product, like in the protein category. And then what I was learning from consumers, they were telling me why they loved it. They were telling me this was helping... They could have had rosacea, or they could have had digestive issues. And suddenly, I was realizing that this product was more wellness-focused than just one specific purpose. 

That kind of changed our marketing strategy to be more of a wellness platform versus just a specific product for recovery. And then also just getting feedback. People come to you and say, "You know what you should do? Do this," or, "This helps me with this." And so that constant interaction and feedback, which you cannot get from a consumer study group. You can get people who may or may not have heard... You don't get that in-depth knowledge.

Especially for me as a CEO, being out there every single day talking to people, and talking to hundreds of people or thousands of people in a week, I can culminate a set of information that I can set the organization on a direction of what needs to get done, because I hear the voice of the consumer.

When did the distinctive packaging you have today first come in?

In 2015, I realized two things. One is that I had done the graphics design work originally, and it was time for a refresh. Because the first two shows I did were Paleo f(x) and then Ancestral Health. And those two were very about long-term nostalgia. And if you look at the way I created the brand, some of the brand idea was I wanted a modern look to it, but I wanted also a nostalgia look to it.

I didn't know anything about consumer packaging. And a lot of people say early in the days, "Your stuff isn't following the standards." I know, this is just what's in my mind. And so what I did is I refreshed it to be more colorful, because it was white with blue, and then I came up with these platforms of color to indicate the different product positioning. 

That was kind of transformative too, because you look at the dietary supplement aisle, it was all white. It was all yellows. It was all greens. It was all really browns, and nothing was there. So Vital really came out with these very poppy colors. 

I will give some credit to Apple. They influenced me a little bit on the design aspect, to come up with something very modern and then hold back that nostalgia that people were wanting for familiarity.

What about the role of being in an industry, like CrossFit, where tribalism was important? How important was that in your early success, rather than trying to target everyone?

Yeah, I didn't try to target everyone. The CrossFit community was great because they are tribal. And this actually solved the perfect plan for them, because they're trying to be paleo. They're trying to be off of dairy. And this solved their really intense workout schedules that they had, or workout routines, where they're really beating up their bodies, and this helps the repair, helps them get the protein that they wanted. 

they became very loyal advocates for the brand as well. Over time, we got a little bit lost. When we realized a lot of our consumers were women, they were taking it for beauty benefits, we kind of leaned in that direction a little too far, and then we lost the CrossFit community for a period of time.

You can't forget your roots, and you have to be true to that.

And we went back in 2019 and 2020, and they were like, "Well, I thought you guys were just a beauty brand." It's like, "No, we were here five, six years ago!" You can't forget your roots, and you have to be true to that. 

When we leaned into beauty, our growth slowed. And then when we got back to our normal path for wellness and reattaching to that overall broad pillars of wellness, the growth came back too.

In Episode 67, our mutual friend, Brett Thomas (founder, CAVU Ventures) gave you a big shout out for your insight to establish a strong manufacturing base early on. That must have been a massive risk for you at the time. 

Even though it enabled you to have better margins, how risky did that decision feel to have your own manufacturing base so early on?

So there's many aspects to that perspective. Yeah, it was a big risk. A funny note is it probably ended up in my divorce, because my wife at the time was thinking, "What the hell are you doing building a factory on a company that isn't even proven to be successful yet!?"

I had a good moment in Expo West in 2012 when I was looking at creating a brand. I was working on another brand, and I talked to this guy at the Hilton hotel there, as you do at trade shows. And he mentioned his business, and he said, "I had this fabulous business, a great brand. I had a contract manufacturer that was building it, and these distributors that were distributing it. And I had retail brick-and-mortar stores that were going to sell it for me."

And he goes, "I was bankrupt in eight months. The contract manufacturers were charged 20% on your overall operating expenses. The distributors wanted money, and you're responsible for moving your product on the shelves, not the retailers. The retailers will position it for sale." 

I heard that advice. I'm surprised I heard that advice, but I used that as my pillar when I started Vital. I said, "You know what? I remember that guy. I'm going to build and manufacture myself." And I didn't have a lot of capital either at the time, and if you go to a contract manufacturer, it's a big purchase order, and it's a big risk.

Here, if I just built this factory or whatever, I could produce three units, or I could produce 1,000 units, or 2000 units. I could fluctuate what I needed on a daily demand, based on where the business went. I did that intentionally so that I would have marketing dollars. I'd have that additional 20% of operating expenses that I could now apply towards marketing, and really get the word out there about the brand. 

It probably ended up in my divorce, because my wife at the time was thinking, "What the hell are you doing building a factory on a company that isn't even proven to be successful yet!?"

Like what Brett said, that was critical to our success, because we had better gross margins. We had more marketing and spreading the word out there. And because I was focused on the marketing ahead of time – we didn't go into retail until 2017 – we spent the first four years just direct to consumer.

And we got so much product awareness and brand awareness and fanatic consumers that when we did our first launch in Whole Foods, Whole Foods said we're the best product they've ever launched, because it just flew off the shelf, because we already had built that consumer base. And we did direct store distribution with them. We didn't go through a distributor.

All those things together, vertically integrating with everything that we did, was probably key to our success, for profitability, and for growth.

From a mindset perspective, was having your own manufacturing facility like a manifestation of the burning the ship scenario, like "I'm all in on this. There's no turning back now" or were you already 110% committed to that journey?

I was committed to Vital, but I've done other businesses where I invested so much up front to make the perfect system and the perfect technology or perfect resources for the company, and they didn't work out. My philosophy was always: Vital had to earn every dollar it needed. I kind of starved it, almost like starving a fire of oxygen. 

And I invested in that first facility, but I built the most small... I built basically a 3,400 square foot facility. We probably needed five times larger than that. But then, you know what? Probably 12 months later, we'd outgrown it, but we had enough cash to go into a 15,000 square foot facility. But that wasn't big enough, but it lasted for 15 months. And then we went into a 40,000 square foot, then 80. Now, we're in close to half a million square feet. So I kind of starved the company of its resources. I probably should have over-invested a little bit at that point in time, but I still was in that mentality of "It's got to earn every dime it needs."

When I interviewed Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, she said to me that money earned the hard way is money you don’t lose so fast. So it sounds like that was actually a big asset for your company at the time, like it was for Apple when they were a startup competing against the big dogs?

Yeah, if I did it again, I would do it the same way. The company has to earn every dime. Maybe I'd over-invest in people ahead of the curve, and under-invest on the infrastructure behind the curve.

You recently brought Jennifer Aniston on board as Chief Creative Officer, which is an amazing win. How did you establish that partnership to begin with, and what are the things you're hoping she brings to the table?

Yeah, it's kind of a longstanding partnership with Jennifer. Actually, I had met her years ago and didn't really have an interaction with her about the brand. 

In 2014, at one of the health and wellness shows I went to,  I was talking to doctors and educating them. One of her doctors was there and learned about it, and told her about the product in 2014, and so she started taking the product then. 

This is a side note, real quick. I made an investment. I said, "Okay, time to invest in people." It was just me up to 2016, and my nephews and nieces who were working for the company. "I'm going to hire 16 people who are really focused on this strategy of getting out in the field and talking to people."
I said, "Well, this better work within the next 18 months, or we'll be out of cash." Six weeks after bringing these 16 people on, Jennifer Aniston talks about Vital Proteins in a Well+Good article, then in People magazine. It lit the company on fire, and she was doing this just authentically.

Jennifer Aniston talks about Vital Proteins in a Well+Good article, then in People magazine. It lit the company on fire, and she was doing this just authentically.

I reached out to her and her manager, and I said, "Hey, what about doing a partnership here," and we worked together. I think her mom had died the day I was going to present it, and so we kind of put that on the back burner. And I re-approached it in 2018 with them, and talked a little bit more, and then got serious about it in 2019. 

In July of 2019, "Let's do this. Let's actually go ahead and create this partnership." And so just meeting with them for three or four months to really craft out what we're going to do together.

So much of success seems to be about being able to make your individual mission a shared mission with as many people as possible. So you're not inviting Jennifer into your mission, you're inviting her into her mission that you've got together. It's cool.

Yeah, she's on such a wellness journey herself, and she's a great ambassador for the brand, because  she embodies wellness throughout her entire life, and just haring in that journey with her. And she resonates so well with just about every demographic globally, and so it was a great partnership.

What's next for the brand that you're most excited about?

Global expansion. We've gotten full store distribution here in the United States over the past two years, and it's really increasing household penetration in the United States and then expanding globally. 

We've spent last year expanding into about 35 different countries, getting regulatory approval, getting products, getting manufacturing set up there. And we had a really good year last year internationally. This year is going to be phenomenal, because now we have full capabilities in these 35 countries. So I'm really excited about bringing wellness to the world there.

So is the plan to manufacture all around the world?

Yeah, depending on how we do it. Right now we're manufacturing the US for Asia, we're manufacturing in Europe for Europe, and we're doing some co-manufacturing down in South America.

Is there a particularly dark day that stands out for you on this journey that you've had?

Yeah. There was a time, in 2018. Remember, I was under-investing in infrastructure, so we didn't have an ERP system. We didn't have an inventory or financial system. Everything was done in Google Sheets. 

And I became, and some of our finance people became, experts in linking sheets together and trying to keep up with what we really had. And we had our supply chain team, one person on there who's not with the company anymore, but there's no checks and balances. 

We were growing probably 2 to 4% week over week. We were growing 250% year over year, and at a $40 or $80 million a year CLIP rate. And so growing at that rate, this is where my aerospace engineering skills were great. I could do predictive analytics. I could do really good predictions on where we needed to, but as the company scaled, I no longer had any time to do all that.

I used to do it every Sunday night, plan out our manufacturing schedule, plan out our purchasing. And suddenly, I had no more bandwidth in my time as CEO, and so I had hired someone to do that. Probably months into that, without proper supervision on our team's part, way over-ordered inventory. And we probably had $30, $40 million in cash at the time. 

We were in dire straits and within weeks of going bankrupt.

Suddenly, what happened is we found ourselves with $80 million in inventory, no cash left, probably $60 million in debt, pretty much near insolvency on a company with huge gross margins, fast growth. We were in dire straits and within weeks of going bankrupt. We were able to put additional financing in place to kind of get through that. 

Hindsight is going into the pandemic, we had so much inventory that we never ran out of stock. And so we were able to really... And our business doubled. I'm trying to think. We're about four times larger today than we were at the start of the pandemic. But because we had all that inventory, we had no issues with international, because we manufacture a lot down in South America, and everything just worked out well.

And there's been huge challenges for manufacturing in pretty much every industry with the pandemic?

Yeah, which was beneficial that we had our own manufacturing. It was just by luck that we were way, way overstocked on our inventory, and then we had our own manufacturing when the pandemic hit. 

I look at that time where we almost ran out of cash as a very high risk point that we didn't know if we could get through it without doing another raise or doing something. But it actually turned out for our benefit, because we had so much stock and inventory going into 2020.

Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kurt Seidensticker does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more?

Speaking of the pandemic, two and a half years into this journey, what have you learned about yourself personally in this time?

For me, it's more focused on wellness. Everyone has looked at their wellness and their longevity and thinking how important that is. So for me, it's really maintaining that as always top of mind, health and wellness. 

We built the new corporate headquarters in Chicago. Pre-pandemic, my office was kind of that central hub of people coming and going, and five-minute meetings here and there, and really me making almost every single decision of the company. 

So what I've realized during the pandemic is that as we've all dispersed and we're not working out of the office, that we're doing these Zoom calls. And so the dynamics and the culture has changed a little bit, but really empowering my leaders to be more leaders and not being dependent on my tactical decision-making, and them being more tactically empowered, and me being more strategic.

If you were working with a solopreneur or someone who was thinking about starting their own business, what are the things that you would take them through so they could start that journey of business growth?

Yeah, a few things. Over my career, but also with Vital, I've kind of created these entrepreneurial mantras that I've taught everyone at the company, and you go anywhere inside of Vital and everyone can recite them, and they know them by heart.

But they're things I've learned how to be successful, and some of them are like "Progress over perfection." I mentioned when I worked for NASA, it's all about perfectionism. But you don't make any progress. That was my challenge at NASA. I wanted to do more things. The 80-20 rule, right? The idea is that you can be successful and move quickly. 

I always teach the company: Move very quickly. Progress over perfection. And a lot of people want to do so well with their work, and they want to be really good, but you miss the market opportunity, because you don't get a product to market. You're spending so much time analyzing, you don't get it there. So that's one of my biggest things. 

I talked to one person this week, and it's like, “Progress over perfection. We want to wait until this is perfect.” And we said, “Remember it’s progress over perfection. Let's get it out there. We can always improve upon it, because you're going to learn things that you didn't even know, that you weren't even considering by getting it out to market or getting it out there and socializing it.”

Failure is probably the biggest element of success.

The other one is part of that progress over perfection, is "Fail early, fail often," meaning failure is probably the biggest element of success. If you're afraid of failure, you're afraid of success, because you're not out there actually learning from your mistakes. You're not actually out there improving what you're building. And so the idea is don't be afraid of failure, because that leads you to perfectionism, and that leads you to not making progress in stuff.

A thing we talk about on the Win the Day podcast a lot is how you respond to adversity when it inevitably strikes is what separates ordinary people from extraordinary achievers. 

It sounds like that attitude of failure has been a big springboard for you as you bounced between different careers and industries?

Yeah, absolutely. And just having started other businesses and realizing what I did wrong in those, and taking that with me to do it right this time. 

The other thing is just always having a calm demeanor. You're basically creating something from nothing when you're starting a business. There's not an infrastructure, and you got to hire the right people who understand that. But just maintaining that calm demeanor and confidence gives people, "Okay, we can do this." 

And suddenly, what ended up happening, people said, "What brings the culture of a company?" And it's pride, because you have all this going on and you're trying to do this stuff, and you have this little micro success, or another success, and another success, and it builds this confidence, but also builds this pride that you did this and you were able to do that. And the whole company then just rises up like, "We can do this." And you'll find that pervasive at Vital.

How often do you define and redefine what success is to you personally and professionally? Have you got a goal-setting process?

Yeah. I'm in that journey right now, so I'm trying to discover that out. At Vital, as you know, I had done a partial sale to Nestle, and now I'm trying to figure out what's next in my life, and really trying to set that goal. I feel like Vital was that goal that younger me had set out to accomplish, and now I've got to really reflect on what's next in my life.

You've already put a big tick next to that one!

I put a tick there, yeah!

On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard to show yourself on your worst day?

Wow, that's a great question. I would say, "Keep moving forward," because it's good for both good days and bad days. Because on a good day, you feel like you're making progress. On a bad day, it's coaching you.

Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?

Sleep. I make sure I get the sleep to start the day fresh.

Sleep is becoming more and more of a common answer on this show! So if you're not sleeping well, make sure you get some more sleep.

If you don't sleep, you don't eat well. And then if you don't eat well, you don't work out well, and then you don't think well. It's the key to everything.

Kurt, what a fantastic time having you on the show. Thanks for being here.

Great being here. I enjoyed our conversation, so thanks, James.

I hope you enjoyed that interview with Kurt!

As you heard, our guests love to hear positive feedback, no matter where they’re at in their careers. Share a comment on the YouTube version of this episode with your favorite takeaway so our guests know they made a difference in your life today.

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Finally, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one out there who needs to hear this episode – or could use some help to Win the Day – share it with them right now. 

That’s all for this episode! Get out there and win the day.

Until next time…

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

Resources / links mentioned:

⚡ Vital Proteins website.

🚀 Vital Proteins collagen.

📷 Vital Proteins Instagram.

📷 Kurt Seidensticker Instagram.

📕 The Attributes by Rich Diviney.

📗 Grit by Angela Duckworth.

📘 Rising Strong by Brene Brown.

🎬 Subscribe to the Win the Day YouTube channel.

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