Episode #12 - You Have Control Over Your Life Ft. Adam Kroener - Show Notes
Joel welcomes Adam Kroener, Cofounder of Carbliss, maker of hand crafted premium cocktails with NO carbs, NO sugar, and just 100 calories… Adam discusses the Carbliss origin story, the importance of asking good questions, the impact of Dale Carnegie on his life, what Adam wants his name associated with, and how embracing the control you have over your life can reduce stress and improve your perspective. Check it out now in our twelfth episode!
Tell us about your and your background,
Carbliss...the best way to describe it for someone who has not heard, is it is a ready-to-drink cocktail. Our cocktail takes the nutrition panel of seltzers, which is low carb, low sugar, and it combines that with a full-flavored ready drink cocktail. They're all gluten-free and all 5% ABV, so that's the general idea. How we got into it was the consumer that found the gap really in the market.
We go back to 2018, my wife and I were doing keto, we like to drink. We hadn't really been drinking cause there wasn't too much available. In 2018 is when the seltzers like really started taking off. Beginning of summer, somebody offers me a seltzer.I was like, yeah, that sounds great. Fits in with keto. Perfect. I took a sip. I just spit it out. So I then started mixing stuff with vodka, just realizing that it was a thing and it was marketable. So then we start my wife and I start discussing the idea of putting it in a can. You know, a few years later we're still here.
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you're sacrificing flavor or an experience. Would you mind giving us a background of what led you there?
I always look at what I've learned from an experience, and that experience ended up teaching me so much that was valuable to starting this business. So straight out of high school went to Iraq then shortly after went into a sales job, in 2009. There wasn't much for you if you were an inside salesperson, very difficult to make a living. Over the next 10, 11 years had worked my way up. Became an operator then became a production lead, then took a planning role left the company for a year actually to move back into sales, came back in 2015, they created a job as production improvement manager, where you and I started working together. Then my boss at that time had left got promoted to production manager, plant manager, and then director of manufacturing. The beauty of that, the path through manufacturing, one talking a ton about leadership, what I thought I was good at, I learned that I was horrible at, from an earlier time and then as I was growing in the business, taught me how to manage a very, very large. So now when I'm growing a business, all that stuff is totally applicable and the true benefit is now it's completely mine. So in those roles, I got a lot of autonomy, but it was never completely mine. And there was still somebody that could say no that person still exists. I married her but she's very collaborative.
How do you take the husband and wife equation and become business partners at the same time and not have that conflict?
We met the year that I left that cheese company. She was the VP of a company that I took a sales role in. So we had experienced working together and after we became a couple, I'd always said we should start a business together. She was like, no. Her role is to tell me what doesn't work, and we knowing that the end goal, it always works. And that's taken some time our relationship and business life we've learned to interact it. So it's always, it's always mixed. The biggest thing is just both of us accepting feedback from each other and getting used to giving each other feedback.
What's been maybe a thing that looking back you've come to a point where now you agree, but it was a contested topic along the way as?
So our team is freaking amazing. Our team right now is all sales team, except for one part-time. I would put our sales team up against anybody. And the challenge about my interviewing is I'm always looking for opportunities. So even though somebody may say something I'm in my head, I'm figuring out like, how do I make this work? I can make this work for this person, and Amanda is a lot more critical. The mix between the two, we have found that there was a particular individual that we went back and forth on and we decided Adam's going with his gut and it's the only one that we have had that hasn't worked. I've now just taken that experience, and when we're bantering, as soon as she starts challenging me more, I can tell if I challenge her back, if she's questioning it and if not, I've just learned that she views things completely differently. And I have to accept that, but it's usually for the better.
How has that learning been similar or different to the way you experienced collaborative leadership discussions in your former career?
It was, and that's one of the benefits of having responsibility indirectly of, you know, between 500 and 1200 people is everybody wants their opinion heard. To answer your question is it's something that was learned over the last 10 or 15 years, and it's something I'm correlating to this business in a relationship.
The thing I am good at is getting the people to share their opinions, putting it together in a roadmap to success. I do not know what I'm doing most of the time, but I know how to ask good questions, which honestly, watching your sales process, that I've seen a few times, that's exactly what you do, right? And it's just two very applicable things. We're asking questions to solve the problem. The whole Dale Carnegie premise is, to make the idea seem like it's theirs and then you win.
When you took those learnings from the manufacturing space, how has that skillset now translated into how you are hearing from your employees in the sales role?
I do all supply operations, we just brought on a part-time graphic designer to help me out. So those things I do to give you an example, though, we're bringing out two new products, but those two products, one was one person's idea, the other is the other person. I could have very easily, had too much pride and said, I created the brand, we're going to go with this. They gave their reasoning as to why, and that's what we're focusing on. So everything that we do from a business directionally is we trust that we've hired the best dang people out there. Tell us what we need to do to help you. Our entire premise is how do we keep pushing you up? We know we've got the right people, so that's the best way to make it successful.
What's something that you really want to hold on to with every ounce of strength?
Amanda and I had that discussion the other day talking about roles, but honestly, the connection with each person. Even as we scale, it becomes less and less because there's more things going on. I've made a very pointed effort that every person that's in the market, I go spend time with them. When we get to a point of, let's say, we've got 50 sales team, that means I'm gone every single weekend. That's the piece that I will continue to hold onto, it's just going to have to change.
As you look back on your history of learning from others, who have been the people who have influenced you the most?
The book turned into a person, which is kind of funny. So probably about 10 years ago, I read the book how to win friends and influence people. And my leadership style prior to that was very militant because I went to boot camp in high school. So what was a leader? A leader was a guy who yelled at you. So when I got my first promotion, that's exactly what I did not do the right way. When I read that book, that was my aha moment. Luckily I had enough personal confidence and lack of self-pride that I was like, everything I'm doing is wrong. And this book is gold. Five years later, I met a man named Steve, who was a Dale Carnegie certified trainer owned up on the business doing that out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That man has now turned into my pseudo mentor, talk to him probably once every couple of weeks in a different round table with him. And he embodies those examples to the point that he actually had me trained as a Dale Carnegie leadership training instructor as well. So then by learning that I've been able to really create what I would envision now, the hard part is that's not perfect for everybody. So the best bet is to really get to know your team. If you can really understand your team, then you can be the proper leader for them to keep them motivated, excited, and engaged.
Have you spent much time thinking about the legacy of Adam?
So that's funny because in Dale Carnegie, again, one of the sessions we do is, it's five to seven years down the line a newspaper comes out about you, what do you want the headline to say? the vision that I had was "Adam Kroener: Enough Said". There doesn't need to be a tagline because I've done such a good job of owning what I believe in and showing it to the people that there doesn't need to be words to describe it. You understand who I am just by seeing my name. I want to get to the point that when you see my name, you recognize that means community. It means lifting people up and it means everybody around me is better for some reason, because we've helped each other.
What has been one of the make-or-break points that would have changed the trajectory of who we are now? Is there a moment that pops out to you that stands out?
Yeah. We've had a couple of big operational challenges that have been pivotable. Those could have been horrible. I had a five-year plan to hit this revenue goal, this expense, this burn rate, and here's the pseudo detail of what I'm going to do. I'm going to add these team members, this is going to be the average amount of pallets we sell, and I had planned on bringing in a head of business development, head of chain accounts, something of that nature, middle of 2020. A gentleman by the name of Mike Dempsey reached out to me at end of May, month after I left my full-time job, and I looked at his resume. He worked for all these big guys that when you look at, the brand went off, in a good way. I was immediately impressed, got on a phone call with them. In my head, I'm thinking, we're going to bring this person on next year. I had my first 45-minute conversation with him on the phone. He lived in Minnesota, not far from where you lived. I talked to Amanda, we gotta get this guy in for an interview. We got him in about two weeks later. We had him here for about two or three hours, I'm very transparent, so shared everything about the business, all of the plans. 45 minutes into it, I take a quick restroom break and I have a text message from my wife that says, you need to figure out how to hire him. I had already been thinking that. We had a really great trajectory of the business, and it was going in a really great direction, what he started to build towards the end of last year and is now snowballing into record month, record month, record month, record month, he has built out a process, which I very much value for manufacturing. So now when we bring in team members, they have the ability to succeed based on process and not some whimsical thing that Adam brought up about how good the product is. I think that decision to pivot and bring that person on, but the compounding and the snowball that he has created by a duplicatable replicable process is going to pay dividends in years to come. Quite frankly, the thing that I didn't see at the time is from a culture and vision perspective, we're totally aligned.
What's the learning or leadership principle, how would you distill that experience down into a sentence or two?
You always need a plan and plans always change.
What's something that you believe, that if everyone else did too, would make the world a better place?
Assume nobody wakes up to suck. The entire premise of that is it becomes easier for us to assume somebody else's dumb rather than taking ownership of communication and understanding. If you go off of the idea that nobody wakes up to suck, when they do a bad job and you take ownership of that, that completely changes how you talk to them. If you assume they didn't want to suck and they didn't want to fail you then adjust what you're saying. It goes with the Carnegie principles seek to understand, but I don't know, one person that wakes up. Golly, gee, I'm going to suck today. I'm going to have a horrible day. Even the worst employee. There's going to be probably a lot that people all think they're not any good, but why? Well, likely they're not inspired. They're not motivated. Maybe it's not a good fit to be at that, that company, right. And if you decide to take ownership on yourself and assume nobody wants to [suck], honestly, your viewpoint becomes a lot more open and stress pretty much goes away.