Author Archive for Andrew Graber


The #1 iced tea choice in America did not start out as tea at all. John Ferolito and Don Vultaggio, founders of AriZona Tea, started out trying to sell beer out of the back of their VW bus. Their pair of malt liquors, Midnight Dragon and Crazy Horse, were struggling to make an impact in the alcohol market. Ferolito and Vultaggio were getting fed up with the regulations on alcohol and were jealous of the quick success that Snapple was having with their drinks. In a quick pivot, the two young men shifted their business to the non-alcoholic market.

The first attempt to make it in the new arena met with little success. They started producing a 16 oz. canned line of tea called Wesley & Spencer, named after Vultaggio’s two young sons. This line failed to differentiate itself from the competition and was largely unsuccessful.arizona-1

Pivoting again, they decided to try a new line, using the 23.5 oz. big boy beer cans which they knew from the malt liquor business. They dubbed the new line “AriZona”, inspired by Vultaggio’s wife who had just returned from a trip to the state of Arizona. She was inspired by the natural beauty there, and it proved to be great branding inspiration for the new line. They decided this time to hire a designer for the art on the cans. This woman, Jean Pettine, has acted as their one-woman virtual design department ever since that time. Over the years she has given Arizona Tea its picturesque can-art, for which it is famous.

arizona-2Ferolito and Vultaggio have continued to run the business and have now been in partnership together for over twenty years. They have made a name for themselves by pushing the status quo in their industry. Together, they have shown the value of being willing to pivot ideas when things aren’t going as planned. Their continual search for the perfect product eventually paid off and brought tremendous success.

Bikes and Bars

In 1990 a strong, young man set out on a journey. His appetite for adventure had him continually searching for the next great feat to accomplish. On this particular day, the goal was a one-day, 175-mile bicycle ride with his buddy. Halfway through the ride he pulled out yet another unappetizing, sticky, hard-to-stomach energy bar, his fifth of the day. He took one look at the grungy protein and stashed it back into his pocket. Cruising down a mountain at 30 mph he yelled over to his friend, “I can make a bar better than this!” He was right.

Gary Erickson went on to create one of the most esteemed energy bars on the market, CLIF Bar. Erickson spent two months in the kitchen with his mom, honing the recipe for his new bars. He used wholesome, energy-sustaining ingredients. In 1992 CLIF Bar was officially launched, named after Gary’s father, Clifford, the man who taught him to love adventure and to follow his dreams.

BusinessCardsOver the next eight years the company grew tremendously. CLIF Bar became one of the top bars on the market. Suddenly, however, most of their competitors began to be bought up by huge, multinational food companies. This put a lot of pressure on Erickson to sell CLIF Bar. He was offered $120 million for the company, and was faced with a tough decision.

Ultimately, he made the bold move to continue with CLIF Bar. Now, fifteen years later, this proves to be a wise decision as CLIF Bar has continued to grow and is still one of the most popular bars around. Erickson has established a unique business model that pushes the boundaries of conventional wisdom.cliffbar-2 He believes in the need for his employees to live holistic lives. CLIF Bar offers many benefits for their employees, including: an onsite fitness center, personal trainers, flexible workweek, paid volunteer service, onsite childcare and concierge services such as haircuts and organic produce delivery.

Adventure, risk taking, and dedication have proven to be guiding forces for Erickson. His story shows the potential for a small idea to take root and have tremendous impact on an entire market.

Chips and Entrepreneurship

Herr’s Potato Chips, one of the most popular snack food providers in business, was not always the household name that it is today. It all started in 1946, when the 21-year-old James Stauffer Herr herrs-shedpurchased a small potato chip company for a meager $1,750. Nestled in the middle of “Amish Country” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Herr moved the company into a vacated tobacco shed on the Herr family farm. At its start, the business was bringing in around $30 in weekly sales, a modest beginning for a company that today sells over $250 million annually.

The business grew quickly and within a few years moved into an old bakery facility. Disaster struck a few years later, however, when a fire devastated the entire facility. Herr quickly set about rebuilding, purchasing a new piece of land on which he constructed a 4,500 square foot plant.

herrs-chips-download-1Over the next fifteen years the company grew tremendously, adding over 65,000 square feet. The company was officially incorporated and became Herr’s Potato Chips, Inc. Jim Herr’s prestige as a successful businessman was beginning to grow and in 1969 he was named Pennsylvania’s Small Businessman of the Year.

In 1983, he again demonstrated his entrepreneurial creativity when trying to solve the issue of production waste from the factory, particularly potato skins. Herr came up with the idea to use the extra land around the plant to start raising steers, and soon the Herr Angus Farm was set in motion. The potato skins were mixed with regular feed to nourish the steers. They also began reusing the waste water from the plant. First, the starch was removed from the water, which herrs-cows-on-farmwas sold for fine paper manufacturing, then the rest of the water was used for irrigating the crops which were used to feed the angus cows.

Herr’s Potato Chips has continued to grow, expanding to many states across the US and internationally. In 2005 James S. Herr handed over the Chairmanship of the company to his son. James Stauffer Herr has modeled for many the incredible business opportunity that exists in this country. His story is an inspiration to pursue entrepreneurship, creativity, hard work, and dedication.

Defying the odds in the Steel Industry

Confidence, perseverance and an entrepreneurial spirit. These were necessities for Keith Busse in 1993 when he set out to do something that had never been achieved in the United States for over a century. He set out to start a steel producing business, without any corporate banking. Not to mention, in an industry that was a shell of what it had been in the recent past.

Keith Busse and two of his colleagues, Mark Millet and Richard Teets, Jr. had gained valuable experience working for the steel giant, Nucor Steel. The three men collaborated on the possibility of starting their own steel mill. Having all worked in prominent roles with Nucor, they were supremely confident in their ability to run an even more efficient mill of their own. The only problem was the funding. It was unthinkable for any bank to invest in them without any preexisting financial credentials.

They began to lay out the plans for their future plant, adding up the costs to build the mammoth facility. They decided they would need approximately $300 million to begin construction. Amazingly, they were able to raise the money through private investors and investment firms and by fall of 1994 they were under construction.steel-dynamics-3


Steel Dynamics Inc., as they dubbed the newly minted company, was in commercial operation by January 1996. They suffered expected losses during the first 6 months, totaling around $14 million. But incredibly, by August of the same year they posted $1.75 million in net income, and $2.45 million in September.

Today Steel Dynamics is the 5th largest steel producer in the United States. As they’ve grown Busse and his team have continued to innovate and challenge the status quo. They have set up a complex payment structure of bonuses for all employees, allowing them to earn up to 40% more than their base salary if production goals are met. The impact of this is clearly seen as they are now the most efficient steel company in the country, producing at a rate of .25 man-hours per ton of


The company has continued to grow and boasts an annual revenue of $10 billion. They own six steel mills, eight steel processing facilities, two iron production facilities, over 90 metals recycling locations and six steel fabrication plants. It is amazing to see what is possible from a man who seamlessly combined his talents, experience, and entrepreneurial to create something spectacular. Even in the midst of a fading industry, Keith Busse and Steel Dynamics have defied the odds, proving the limitlessness of opportunity.

Airbed’s and Floor Space

An air mattress and some extra floor space. That was the start of the now $63 billion company. The idea was conceived in 2007, a mere 9 years ago. Who are the men behind this amazing story? Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, 2005 graduates of Rhode Island School of Design.

In 2009, Gebbia and his roommate, Brian Chesky quit their jobs to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. However, they quickly found themselves unable to pay the rent for their San Francisco apartment. They shifted their focus from starting a business to digging themselves out of their immediate predicament.

Soon they came up with a “quick cash” idea to bring in some extra money. They knew about a huge design conference that was in the city, and decided to rent out their living space. They found a few extra spaces on the floor and got air mattresses for their potential guests. They decided to go the extra mile and offer breakfast along with the accommodations for an extra incentive. Within 24 hours they had a website created and were busy marketing it to all the people in the design industry that they knew. And thus the first version of AirBed and Breakfast was born!

Gebbia and Chesky ended up having three people stay with them through the site during the conference and made over $1000, enough to pay their rent for the month. But more importantly, these people gave them valuable advice and encouragement regarding the future of such a business plan.

The two men soon decided to expand their website to allow others to use it to do the same thing. After a successful run in Austin, Texas during anotheairbnb-1r conference, they decided to expand the business model. Feedback from users showed that people would make use of this amazing service for much more than the occasional conference trip. So the company shifted again and now it became a way for hosts to list any type of sleeping accommodation, from a couch in the living room to an entire upscale apartment in Manhattan.


The most recent updates show that Airbnb, as the company is now called, has 100 million users. They also have an amazing 640airbnb-4,000 hosts, 2.3 million listings, and an average of 500,000 stays per night. The company continues to grow and it is estimated that by the year 2020 they will have an annual revenue of $10 billion. It is amazing to see the success of a company that simply started with an attempt to solve an immediate problem. It begs the question; how many new ideas are there all around us waiting to be discovered?

Opportunity in Technology

The rise of technology has afforded a new avenue for ambitious young people in third world countries. An opportunity to change their fortunes for a lifetime. One young man in particular, Mubarak Muyika has taken full advantage of this opportunity. He’s gone from being an 11 year old orphan in Kenya to appearing on the cover of the June 2015 issue of Forbes Africa Magazine as one of “Tomorrow’s Billionaires”.

Kakamega, Kenya

Mabarak was born in May, 1994 in Kakamega, Kenya. After becoming an orphan at the age of eleven, he moved in with his aunt, who owned a small book publishing and distribution company. He observed the many inefficiencies of the current website the company was using and endeavored to find a better solution. In a few months Mubarak taught himself how to code and build a website, using online training resources. Soon he delivered a complete, working e-commerce site for the small business. Seeing the need in this market, he quickly founded his own company, Hypercentury Technologies & Investments Limited, which focused on website creating and webhosting. In 2012, at the age of 18, he sold this company to a group of pan-African investors in a deal that was worth six figures.

With the proceeds from this sale, Muyika started another company, Zagace Limited, which builds software for companies to manage accounting, HR, finances, and marketing. This company has since moved from Nairobi, Kenya to San Jose, California where it continues to grow. Mubarak Muyika truly is an inspiring example of the potential of young entrepreneurs in our day. Even though he grew up as an orphan in an impoverished country, the world of technology afforded Mubarak a tremendous opportunity to succeed.mubarak-muyika-bizna