Starting a business can be equal parts scary and exciting. For Bill Keith, Founder and CEO of Perfect Bar, his experience has fallen into the latter category with his 12 siblings by his side. At the helm of the growing family business, and knowing a thing or two about what it takes to grow your entrepreneurial idea into a reality, we sat down with Bill to pick his brain and to share his wisdom.
Q: When you were just starting out, how did you maintain definitive roles for each sibling?
“When you’re starting up, there’s no ‘I’ll take this position, you take this.’ It’s really divide and conquer! So with each one of my brothers and sisters, we just filled the need. My sister went to finance, my brother went to operations and all of us together figured out what that role required of us. And through Google or research or anyway that we could, to figure out how to be professional. Really, we grew into our roles over time.”
Q: At what point were you convinced that you were really onto something with Perfect Bar?
“I was 13 or 14 and hand-rolling these bars with my brothers and sisters. We were taking out the mixer, putting them on a form and cutting them up. And back then, we could not make the bars by hand fast enough to just meet our friends demand. Well fast forward all the way to today, it’s been 15 – 20 years now, and we’re still in that position where we can’t make bars fast enough. That growth has been a sign to stay motivated, and keep the whole family together working on growing this business and sharing our dad’s recipe with as many people as we can!6 of the Keith siblings circa 2006
Q: When you first started Perfect Bar, did you have a certain location in mind for where the bars would be placed in store?
“You know, every entrepreneur, including myself, should get excited just to be on the shelf. Then we started to figure out, okay, let’s let data tell the story of where we need to be targeted throughout the store. For us, it was grab and go.
It goes back to the story of my first big account, Whole Foods Berkley in Northern California. We had an opportunity to get on the shelf and I demoed that store personally for 30 days! I literally slept in my car, showered at 24-hour fitness so I was clean and did whatever I could do to show that the story behind the numbers and push the brand (and retailer) to expand. And with that hard work and the family providing the bars, we were able to show a success story and leverage that among more stores across the country.”
Q: How did you decide to keep your focus on just one product – The Original Refrigerated Protein Bar?
“In today’s society, we tend to get distracted pretty easily, right. It’s important as a young entrepreneur that you take a look at what you’re passionate about and what separates yourself from your competitors. Pick that and zero in on that with hardcore clarity then make exact steps on how you’re going to build that out. Stay focused, that’s the key.”
Q: How did you know when to go ‘all-in’ on Perfect Bar?
“Thinking back, it really came to the point to where we were successful in a region of Whole Foods and I saw sign posts along the way. I tell every young entrepreneur, look for those sign posts that show that you’re heading in the right direction; and if you don’t see those posts, choose another way. For us, we saw very clear sign posts saying “this is the best bar I’ve ever had,” and with each new store we’d hear similar things like: “This product is exceptional!” or “This product is changing my life!” Those sign posts are what tell you, you need to go all in, you need to keep going. That’s what really drove us to pursue it full board.
Q: You say your were “bootstrapped” for 10 years, what does that mean?
“So bootstrapping literally means you took all the finances you had as a family and you went all-in without any help from an outside source, no private equity funding, no venture capitalist. It was all internal funds – the family’s pot that we put together; that’s bootstrapping. The problem of course with bootstrapping is you take all the risk. The reward is that you have all the equity in the company and you get to make all the decisions, which plays out to be very valuable down the road.
Q: When did you know it was time to bring on a partner?
“We had reached that critical growth where we had an inflection point to where if we didn’t bring on a partner who could provide the resources and the pull to attract some of the best talent in the country, we would be making a big mistake. We potentially were going to be caught up and have competitors clean up on our inefficiencies. So every young entrepreneur needs to be aware of those inflection points; that’s what really determines the timing of when to bring on a partner. For us, by doing so, we end up getting some of the best VP’s in the country running the different departments. It couldn’t have been better for us.
Q: How does Perfect Bar stay competitive in an industry that is so impacted and a market that seems flooded with protein bars?”
“Our greatest differentiator is that Perfect Bar is found in the fridge. We cold-press our bars, they’re all organic, high-protein, non-gmo and gluten-free. Our product tastes great and we give consumers an opportunity to try the bars right in store. We actually set up these demo tables across the country right next to where we are located in the store so we can educate the consumers on our health facts, as well as provide the bar directly to them. It’s something we’ve done from the start, and has really helped us set ourselves apart.”
Q: You mentioned you’ve been doing this since you were just a teenager, what keeps you motivated to continue doing this every day?
“I love getting up in the morning by reading some of the emails we get from our customers saying: “this is the best bar I’ve ever had,” “this product is literally helped me go through different treatments.” They share stories of how this product is a staple in their life. For me I always say, we’re a 13-year overnight success story! I feel rejuvenated every single day to get up and do the best possible work I can do to further this journey. Because this is an unbelievable story! I encourage all you young entrepreneurs out there to look at your life like a story and figure out what you want to accomplish and make that story beautiful.”
Have an entrepreneurial question? Bill is always looking to pay it forward with upcoming brands and go-getters, send us your question, and our team will do our best to get it to Bill and back to you.
Learn more about the Keith’s nutty story.