Kevin Gelfand is co-founder and president of Shake Smart. During his junior year at San Diego State University, Kevin and his business partner, Martin Reiman, came up with the idea for Shake Smart, which started as a way to just learn how to start a business. Six years later, the company has 130 employees, eight locations stretching from California to Texas, and large expansion plans for 2018.
Kevin enjoys living an active and healthy lifestyle and thrives off competition, problem solving, and innovating. He is married to his wife, Jazmine, who has supported him with Shake Smart since the inception. Throughout his time as president of Shake Smart, he has received valuable mentoring throughout the community, and is determined to pay it forward to aspiring, career-driven individuals. He serves as a mentor to the Lavin Entrepreneur Program at SDSU, and spends significant time mentoring some of his leadership team to further enhance their skills as leaders and young professionals.
Tell me about your early career.
Well, I am not too deep into my career, as I started Shake Smart when I was a junior at San Diego State University. Prior to that, I was a waiter since I was fifteen years old. Before I started Shake Smart, I did have a few business ideas that never came to fruition, which I think all lead me to Shake Smart. I wanted to start a hybrid taxi service company, which failed because I didn’t have the capital required to start it (and I’m glad because Uber would’ve crushed me). Then I wanted to start an alcohol delivery service so people wouldn’t drink and drive. I quickly learned that you can’t start an alcohol business when you’re not of the legal age to drink. My last idea before Shake Smart was to start a discounted package deal where you get one of each major sporting event ticket from the city you are located in (i.e. Lakers, Dodgers, Chargers, and Kings) which would be a great gift for a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, brother, or daughter. This idea failed because I couldn’t get a buy-in from the Lakers.
How did the concept for Shake Smart come about?
I was a student at San Diego State University, and an avid gym-goer. I had moved further from the campus, but still wanted to exercise at the campus facility. It’s important to get protein within 30 minutes of finishing a workout and I realized by the time I finished by workout, got to my car, drove home, and made a shake, it was outside of this 30-minute window. That was when the “Aha!” moment came, to combine the customization and convenience of the blended drink industry with the innovative benefits of the nutrition industry.
How was the first year in business?
A big learning experience! I was working 80 hours a week in the store, while also going to school full-time. My partner and I would tag each other in-and-out for class every day. We didn’t even know what we were doing, so it was tough to have staff there alone when we had nothing to train them off of. Year one was the “figure it the f*ck out year.” Every year has been a different emphasis for us.
What was your marketing strategy?
Convenience and affordability. It was important for us to be located right outside the gym so that it was convenient for people to purchase, and around the same price for them to do it themselves. If we can align those two components, why would anyone get their post-workout nutrition anywhere else? We spent almost nothing on marketing and still don’t, to date.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
After the first six months, Shake Smart quickly became one of the most popular options on campus. After the first year, it went from being a way for us to learn how to start a business, to a business we could actually grow. Our second year was dedicated to systematizing everything for growth. Our third year, we opened three locations in three months and spent a lot of time fine-tuning the system, learning from different customer types, figuring out our exact growth strategy, etc. By the start of year four, we were confident we had a fine-tuned, well-branded company that was ready for a much larger expansion.
How do you define success?
Trick word. I don’t think I am successful yet and won’t ever think I am successful. I believe the word success aligns with stagnation. We are always reaching to be successful. If you ever actually grab it, then what motivates you next?
What is the key to success?
The key to success is to always be trying to get to that point, and to always try and get to that point, you must be always enhancing. The earth moves at a rapid rate (literally and physically). Everything around us is improving and enhancing and if we don’t do the same, we will get left behind. Never settling, that is the key to success.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Hard to pinpoint one. I have learned (and am still learning this) to understand what is in my control and what is not. You can only control what you can control, so stressing about the other things will only drive you crazy. I have learned that surrounding yourself with the right people from an employee standpoint and an advisor standpoint is the only way you will truly achieve greatness. I have also learned that being a truly good and genuine person is always going to take you farther, whether that is on a business level or on a personal level, with how you look back and see how you achieved what you achieved.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Luck is when preparation and opportunity collide.” – Seneca
“Enjoy the journey.”
“Think different.” – Steve Jobs
“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
For one of our newest locations, I hired a contractor who I thought was an honest person and who would do the job the right way. Out of good faith, I gave him the last installment early as he “needed it” to order final supplies. After I paid him, he bailed on the project and left me with a half-finished store that was supposed to open in seven days. I spent almost an entire week of sleepless nights trying to get it finished. I also spent $50,000 over budget because of the things the contractor did/didn’t do, and I felt I let down the campus that we had partnered with because they knew of all the issues that came up. Once I got through the fire, I realized a few things. It was a great learning experience (an expensive one) on how to better vet partners and follow standard procedure, and I felt my relationship with the university actually got stronger from it all because they saw how committed we were to staying on schedule and not letting such a terrible thing stop us from moving forward.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Accomplishment. I love the feeling of problem solving, so I think about that feeling when I am in the weeds to help drive me to get out.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Determination, think differently, and always, always enhance.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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