Ron Rudzin – President & CEO, The Saatva Company

Ron Rudzin, the entrepreneur behind the luxury mattress brand Saatva, spent most of his life investing and managing businesses in the home furnishings industry. In 2007, Ron had a simple idea: Make the most luxurious and comfortable mattress possible, make it in America, and sell it directly to the customer with no retail markups. Ron quickly realized this as a truly unique opportunity to combine old-fashioned customer service with the modern efficiencies of the e-commerce world, and Saatva was born in 2009.

Saatva has since grown to be the largest online-only luxury mattress company in the country. Today, Saatva has 15 American partnering factories building our proprietary product and 103 fulfillment centers delivering throughout the continental U.S. Saatva is the original online disrupter of the mattress industry, ranked as the “7th Fastest-Growing Online Retailer” by Inc. Magazine and named to Forbes “Top 100 Companies to Watch.”

During Saatva’s tremendous growth, Ron began to notice a big difference between memory foam and innerspring shoppers. Memory foam shoppers self-identified themselves and were looking for a very specific bedding experience. Ron put the leading memory foam brand in his sightline and spent a year and a half figuring out how to bring the Saatva model to the memory foam space. Loom & Leaf by Saatva was launched in February 2015.

What Ron has cultivated in both brands is a culture of transparency and happiness, where each customer gets a great product at a great price, and with great service. This is the secret to Ron’s ongoing success.

1. How do you define success?
I’m never defined by one characteristic, so I wouldn’t describe success as achieving any particular asset. Instead, I believe in total life success, from my career to my home. This means feeling positive about what I do, appreciating the important people in my life, and sleeping well with my accomplishments and how I accomplished them.

2. What is the key to success?
I’ve found success by doing the extras and paying attention to detail. I’m always in search of my next idea or the next thing to inspire me. I’ve found that the knowledge and information that has contributed to my success tends to manifest itself outside of my working hours, often through reading or thoughtful conversations with friends, family, and business associates.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I have always been confident in my ability to achieve success in all facets of my life because I have always been willing to work hard. I was aware of this from a very young age, so developing a strong work ethic has been an integral part of my roadmap from the beginning, particularly in its application to building a business.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
We all face adversity, both in professional and personal contexts. That’s inevitable. The key to overcoming adversity is being prepared and possessing an internal protocol. I try to maintain an even perspective, recognizing that hardships or hurdles will occur, but remaining calm and reorienting myself to create a new vision when that does happen.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
My father taught me to be very humble, and his advice has stayed with me. He would tell me, “if you’re great at something, everyone will know, and you don’t have to keep telling them.”

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love the beach, playing basketball and softball, reading a hardcopy newspaper, and laughing and enjoying life with my friends and family.

7. What makes a great leader?
The most effective leaders never rely on their titles or credentials to convince others to follow them. I strive to demonstrate my vision, so my colleagues look up to me because it’s smart and effective, and ultimately because they believe in what I’m doing.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Don’t think about money for the first two years. Instead, put your head down, work hard, and learn from everyone. Also, learn to be a productive team member and make impactful contributions to group collaborations.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Dawn Kelley – President & CEO, Barney & Co. California

As president & CEO of Barney & Co. California, maker of Barney Almond Butters and other California almond products, Dawn focuses on expanding Barney’s growth (both domestically and internationally) in the nut butter and almond products categories, while leading the company’s day-to-day business and manufacturing operations.

Dawn has adopted the three bottom line approach of Profit, People, and Purpose, and is using these filters in short-term and long-term planning and strategies. Through vertical integration of processes, Dawn is evolving Barney to consistently be the category leader and most conscientious, quality-focused, best-valued brand on the market. Dawn is simultaneously leading the way through a transition to an organic, fair-trade, sustainable ingredient profile and supply chain (where possible).

Innovation within the almond space is an on-going focus for Dawn and the promise to deliver peanut-free (no cross contamination) almond products to consumers everywhere is at the forefront of this innovation. Dawn joined Barney in 2010 as president & CEO after overseeing the sale of her previous company, United Tote, to Churchill Downs. Dawn served as president of United Tote, a technology company and subsidiary of YouBet.com, a publicly-traded e-commerce company, and previously held senior executive/leadership positions at Orbitz.com and Careerbuilder.com.

Dawn holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Kentucky and currently resides in Maine, where she lives with her husband, three stepchildren, and two dogs.

1. How do you define success?
Being true to your own values and sleeping well at night, with a clear conscience.

2. What is the key to success?
“80% of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen. And by showing up, I also mean not being led by fear, taking on challenges, as well as the day to day.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
When I was growing up, my mom was a successful, working, single mother. She was a good role model for believing, from an early age, I could do and be anything I want. I never thought otherwise. Having said, I’m also pretty conservative financially and have a bit of bag-lady syndrome. I think that keeps me on my toes.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
One of my favorite sayings is “there’s a solution for every problem,” and my mind usually doesn’t shut down until it’s been found. There are obviously situations where you just need to let go. Figuring out those times is key.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
If you mess up, fess up. If you are dealing with good people, it will build trust. Take accountability and own your decisions and actions.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Yoga, reading, hunting through antique and flea markets for special treasures, and doing home improvements. Working with my hands is my form of meditation.

7. What makes a great leader?
A good leader manages by influence vs. authority. Your authority leaves the room when you do; Your influence does not.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Let go of ego and look for opportunities to learn from the best. Then work harder, longer, and faster than you ever have before.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Chris Jones – Founder & President, Plant Therapy

Chris Jones is the president of Plant Therapy, the fastest-growing essential oils company in the nation. He founded the company in 2011 after identifying a need for high-quality, direct-to-consumer essential oils and aromatherapy products. The results have been astoundingly successful, and in 2015, Plant Therapy earned a spot on Inc. Magazine’s “Inc. 500” list as the 31st fastest-growing private company in America.

Yet, the essential oils industry is a far cry from where Chris once saw his life heading. As a young man, he was en route to pursuing a career as an airline pilot when his father became terminally ill. His college education cut short, Chris went home to care for his family and led his father’s fertilizer business.

Since that time, Chris has been a self-employed entrepreneur. He ran several businesses before buying a small beauty products company from his mother-in-law, an aromatherapist. Chris found it challenging to find quality, essential oils for use in the products. Many were overpriced or of low-quality, and most companies sold the oils through multi-level marketing.

Chris was certain there was an increasingly strong market for high-quality essential oils at affordable prices, and in 2011, he launched Plant Therapy. Under Chris’s stewardship, the company has experienced a three-year growth of nearly 8,000% and now has around 35 employees. Plant Therapy has outgrown four commercial spaces and is now planning to have a 40,000-square-foot facility by the end of 2015.

1. How do you define success?
There are lots of different kinds of successes, so such a broad question is hard. I think my ultimate goal is the same as most other people: To find joy. I don’t think success is a destination, but rather a journey. If I am finding true joy (or peace of mind) in my current situation, I would say I am being successful. For financial success, I would say when my passive (investment) income exceeds my living expenses, I am successful.

2. What is the key to success?
I think for both personal and professional success, most of the answers are the same: Treat others how you would like to be treated. Don’t cheat. If you screw up, fess up to it and learn from it. Play fair. Don’t quit just because it’s hard. Be honest. Don’t cut. Try your hardest. Be respectful. It’s okay to fail.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I actually never really thought about it. I never really had a “plan.” I have always just lived my life based on instinct and what was currently going on. When I went to college, I was never a very good student but planned to become an airline pilot (now I am so glad that didn’t pan out). While in school, my self-employed father got sick. We didn’t know what was wrong, but I was the only one that knew anything about his business. I moved home to help him run it while we figured it out. He died of cancer within a couple of months, and I did my best to keep his business afloat. I learned way more about business and life in the next year than I had in my previous 20+ years combined.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have 3 daughters (soon to be 4) and an incredible wife. They are really my motivation. I have a fear of failure, but it is more of a fear of letting them down, rather than a fear of judgment from others.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That it is okay to be me, flaws and all. I don’t have to try to impress others or live within their confines. As individuals, we have unlimited potential, and once we stop trying to please others all the time or try to keep up with others, life becomes much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
What spare time? Just kidding. My daughters are still young, so they get most of my off work time. We spend the nights and weekends as a family. We enjoy camping and swimming. We spend many winter evenings in the hot tub. I also enjoy golfing and boating, but don’t make as much time for it as I would like.

7. What makes a great leader?
Being able to inspire others. I think it is the leader’s responsibility to make his people feel good about themselves and also help them to find joy in their lives. The vast majority of lessons taught and learned are done strictly through example. People need to talk less and do more.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Be open-minded and teachable. I have owned multiple successful businesses, and every single one came as a result of different circumstances in life, not a conscious decision to get into that business. When I got into the essential oil business, it was because I was presented with the opportunity to purchase a very small beauty products company with a minimal investment. I saw an opportunity for growth and jumped on it. You can learn important life lessons from everyone. Don’t discount someone just because you don’t see them as successful.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Ralph Erenzo – Founder & Managing Member, Tuthilltown Spirits

Prior to starting Tuthilltown Spirits, New York’s first whiskey distillery since prohibition, Ralph’s business Extravertical Inc. provided technical production and event services to corporate and media clients such as ESPN, Ford and Danskin for projects that required technical skills developed over his 25-year rock climbing career. Ralph built and managed New York City’s first public climbing gyms, including The ExtraVertical Climbing Center on Broadway. His dream of a “climber’s ranch” near the largest rock climbing area in the east was set aside in favor of producing high-quality spirits. Ralph’s writing and commentary have been featured in national media including Op-Ed columns for The New York Times. His work at the state level resulted in the passage of the Farm Distillery Act in 2007, which permits New York farms to establish distilleries and sell their agricultural spirits on site. Tuthilltown Spirits is a founding member of the American Craft Spirits Association, for which Ralph sits on the board of directors, and is chairman of the legislative committee, which works at the federal level to support the craft distilling industry nationwide.

1. How do you define success?
A satisfactory outcome in one’s effort at some goal, which is not always the same as the specific goal a person starts with. Happiness with an outcome.

2. What is the key to success?
It’s a key ring: persistence, flexibility, gumption.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I always wanted to achieve success in something, but not always the same or one single thing.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Belief in a concept or goal, and the willingness to get up when knocked down and continue the struggle.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Changing a plan is not the same as giving up. Things change, plans change, but still have forward momentum. Quitting is an end.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time? Reading, driving.

7. What makes a great leader?
Again, “gumption” (the ability to see a need and the temerity to believe you can do something about it). Also, the willingness to sublimate personal, specific desires for the benefit of an overall goal of those being led.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Success, most often, takes time. Be alert to opportunity. Your education gave you a valuable framework upon which to build your future, but the world fills out and colors the final result. Expect change, use it, and never give up.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Luther Cifers – Founder & President, YakAttack LLC

Luther Cifers is the founder and president of YakAttack LLC; a paddlesports accessory manufacturing company focused primarily on the kayak fishing market. From 2009 to 2014, YakAttack has averaged 156% annual growth, with a 3-year growth of 902% from 2012 to 2014.

A self-described homeschool dropout, Luther started his career in manufacturing with an entry-level position of putting sheet pans into a belt oven that cured carbon brushes. He quickly climbed the ranks at the 3rd tier automotive component manufacturer, acquiring skills in manufacturing, engineering, programming, and management, spending most of his 20-year career designing products and automated manufacturing equipment.

In 2008, Luther took up the hobby of kayak fishing, and as a problem solver by nature, identified some opportunities for new products for outfitting kayaks. A classic “garage startup,” YakAttack was launched in 2009 with a few hundred dollars and has remained organically funded. An unwavering adherence to a set of core values including honesty, creating success for customers, creating opportunity for employees, and manufacturing exclusively in the U.S.A., has propelled YakAttack’s rapid growth and has made it one of the most popular and respected brands in the rapidly-growing kayak fishing market.

1. How do you define success?
I define success as the achievement of one’s goals. Success for individuals, groups, and companies can be very different since goals vary. When you achieve what you set out to accomplish, you’ve succeeded.

2. What is the key to success?
It might be more of a ring of keys to success. When I think of a key, I think of something needed to unlock a door. The path to success has many doors and requires more than one key. I’ll list what I view as the 5 most important ones:

Key #1: Know yourself. Success requires persistence, and too often people set out on impulsive journeys only to find when things get tough, they have embarked on a journey they don’t want to be on. If you don’t truly know yourself, it can be easy to set goals that seem attractive at first, but do not really suit you. Knowing yourself is a prerequisite to the second key: knowing your mission.

Key #2: Know your mission. Too often in business, the defined goal is simply “to make money.” While creating wealth is a worthwhile endeavor, it’s a means, not an end. What will making money help you achieve? What is the thing you really care about? Is it security for yourself or your family? Luxury? Power? Empowering others? Making the world a better place? Leaving a lasting mark on the world? There is intrinsic value in the mission because the act of farming is often greater than the fruit. The road to success is not an easy one, and the water of perseverance is drawn from the well of purpose. A shallow or misplaced purpose doesn’t give you much to draw from. Know what truly motivates you. Know your mission.

Key #3: Know your principles. Your principles should establish your moral and ethical boundaries. Every road has boundaries, and the road to success is no different. Along the way we are tempted by many things, and as the landscape changes, it may become difficult to remember what those boundaries used to look like. Defining your principles up front, and keeping them in your field of view, will keep you from being led astray, chasing results. By definition, to succeed is to achieve results, but if you have to violate your principles to achieve something, it’s not worthy of achieving. This appears, rightly so, to be a moral argument, but has strategic value as well. Short-term achievements gained by violating principles are often acquired at the expense of more substantial, long-term success. We can’t control everything in life, and our shortsightedness often produces unintended consequences. If your principles are well-founded, and you allow them to guide you, letting the chips of success fall where they may, more often than not, will have them falling in your favor.

Key #4: Know your limits. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious, get out of your comfort zone, or test your abilities. It means simply to acknowledge your weaknesses and failures. Weakness is a rock in the path. If you ignore it, you will most likely trip over it again and again. But if you’re willing to acknowledge it exists, you can remove it, find a way around it, or use it as a stepping stone. Failure is tripping over the rock. If you don’t know the weakness exists, failure is the thing that makes it evident to you. We all have inherent weaknesses, and we all fail. One of the primary things that differentiate successful people from unsuccessful people is their level of willingness to acknowledge the rocks in their path, and how they choose to deal with them.

Key #5: Surround yourself with people who have found or are seeking the first four keys. Even if you feel like you can do anything in your business, you cannot do everything. You need good people around you, and finding them is not always an easy task. Hire people who want to go where you are going, who share your mission, and who share the principles that guide you. The easiest and most common thing to do, as a manager, is to build a high maintenance workforce. Forcing people to do what you need them to do will produce mediocre results amid the chaos, but this is stressful and ultimately distracts you from your mission. Hire people who want to help you do what it is you are doing, and your capabilities multiply rather than being subtracted from.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
No. I attribute a lot of the drive early in my life that led me to discover I had the potential to succeed, to a perceived need to work as hard as possible just to be average. It was through this that I learned I had some unique skills and talents, and the journey of developing those skills and talents led to an understanding of what it takes to succeed.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Confidence. Adversity is and should be expected. But the mission doesn’t change just because there are barriers. The thing that enables me, to see adversity as something to be understood and dealt with rather than something that is preventing success, is a confidence that I can overcome whatever comes my way.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
This one is easy. Do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love to fish (mostly from a kayak), and besides working, most of my free time is spent with my family. I’m very close with my kids and share different interests with each one. As they grow older, I hope to have opportunities to combine the two things I enjoy most, my work, and my kids, to help them get their own businesses started.

7. What makes a great leader?
By definition, a leader is someone that others willingly follow. To me, a great leader can only be defined as someone who is able to bring out the greatness in others.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Specifically to college students, I would say to understand the laws of supply and demand. Our society has changed greatly in the last 50 years, and workers with college degrees are no longer in short supply. Knowledge gained by formal education, while important, is not superior to knowledge gained by any other means. Consider this in the information age, where knowledge on any topic is a click away. A person’s value in the marketplace is increasingly being determined not by credentials, but by an ability to achieve results. I expect this trend to continue as technology enables more and more unconventional methods of becoming educated, and the workforce becomes more and more saturated with college degrees. Start your career with determination, purpose, and humility. List your objectives and then describe, on paper and in detail, how you will go about earning each of them. Society owes nothing to any of us. Regardless of the job you have, always conduct yourself like you need to do a little more to deserve being there. This will keep you challenged, sharpen your skills, and will increase your value greatly to employers, particularly in an age of an increasingly entitlement-minded workforce. Value is relative, so create contrast between yourself and everyone else, not by pointing out their flaws or your strengths, but by simply being the one that is different in a positive, inspiring, and productive way. Do these things faithfully and opportunity will gravitate towards you.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.