The Jay Kim Show #18: Tom Bilyeu (Transcript)
We have a very special guest on the show today. He is a personal favorite of my mine and his name is Tom Bilyeu. He is the co-founder of the power house food company, Quest Nutrition.
I love Quest products. I have no affiliation with the company, but as a fitness guy I’ve found their products to be hands down, the best tasting nutritional products that I’ve ever tried. This was long before I ever met Tom.
Tom’s one of the smartest entrepreneurs I have ever met. Him and his partners picked one of the hardest and most over saturated markets in the world, which is nutrition, to enter. They decided from the start that they would chase passion over money even if that ended in failure. In just six years he turned a startup in an overcrowded, declining market into a $1 billion unicorn company.
How did he manage to do this? Well, he shares a lot of his secrets to his success in this episode. Now Tom used to run a very successful podcast himself called Inside Quest. You’ve probably seen Tom recently online in a video of him interviewing author Simon Sinek, talking about millennials in the workplace. This video went viral, it did over 40 million views in just a matter of days.
For a quick update, this podcast that he ran, Inside Quest, has now been rebranded under a new name called Impact Theory. He talks about all of the exciting things that he’s going to do there this year. He’s a super cool dude. I know you’re going to enjoy this episode so let’s jump right in.
Jay: Welcome to the Entrepreneurship in Asia Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m very, very excited to have you on the show. I’m such a big fan.
Tom: Wow, thank you, man.
Jay: Yeah. This is a new podcast in Asia and we’re really excited because we have a lot of great guests so let’s just jump right in. For those of us in Asia, and I apologize for this, who don’t know you personally or follow you or what Quest Nutrition is all about, and I know you have a bunch of other stuff you’re working on at the moment, but please just infuse yourself to us and just tell us how you became such a successful entrepreneur.
Tom: Yeah, for sure, man. Quest Nutrition was a company that my partners and I founded back in 2010. It was really born of misery, and I’ll go into detail on exactly what I mean by that in a minute, but the company itself just had explosive growth. Founded in 2010 and 2014 we are named as the second fastest private growing company in North America. We built the company from nothing to being valued at over a billion dollars. Just an absolutely meteoric rise.
When I say that it was born out of misery, because it really was. My partners and I had worked on a company before that which was a technology company called Awareness Technologies. It really was about chasing money and it was about doing the classic entrepreneurs job of finding a niche in the market that’s underserved, building a product for that market and then really trying to develop that product out through clever marketing.
What we found was we really didn’t believe in the product. We didn’t have a lot of passion for it. It was fine, it was good, it met a need, but it wasn’t a need that was really core and central to who we were as human beings. So eight and a half years in to building that company and for all intents and purposes just chasing money, we realized that there had to be a better way to do things and so we decided that we were going to sell that company and build something that was entirely based on value creation. It was going to be something that we would believe in and have passion for whether we were winning or losing.
Changing that, framing in our mind and asking a new question and the new question very pointedly was what would we do and love even if we were failing? The answer to that question for, honestly, three very different reasons because there was three of us that founded the company, was nutrition. That was what we decided to do and we went all in and didn’t know if it was going to build a big business or if it was just going to be something that we were passionate about and that we loved. When you lead with asking the question of what delivers the most value to the customer, ironically especially in today’s hyper-connected, very social era that we live in, you really can build a massive business and Quest ended up making more in a single day than our previous technology company made annually.
Tom: Yeah, it’s just crazy, crazy transformation. To know that we did it by really thinking about the customer and focusing on delivering value and building a community and being really supportive of our users. Not just trying to employ traditional sales and marketing tactics, it really was what can we do to make their lives better? Just amazing that now in today’s world if you do it right that really can be a big business.
Jay: That’s unbelievable. There’s so many golden nuggets that you dropped there, but I think that yeah, you’re so right. I mean eventually if you don’t have the passion and you’re not serving other people, I think at some point there has to be a day of reckoning. I mean you may get lucky, you may make some money along the way but I just think that the entrepreneur’s life day-to-day grind like it’s impossible to sustain that unless you truly, truly believe in what you’re doing.
You mentioned that so when you first started up the tech company, was that sort of just you and a couple partners? Let’s get together and let’s make some money. Let’s brainstorm ideas? Or was there already an existing business that you joined?
Tom: Yeah. I was joining a business that was just getting off the ground. They didn’t have a product yet. It really was pretty fascinating. I met these two guys and they were serial entrepreneurs, really seasoned guys. They said, “Hey, you’re coming to the world with your hand out,” because I was pursuing a career in film. They said, “You’re coming to the world with your hand out. You need to stop doing that. You need to learn to be an entrepreneur. You need to learn to control your own destiny.” Their pitch was you need to get rich.
I thought that makes a lot of sense. As somebody who is artistically minded who wants to create these amazing things, but always did it with an eye towards it also being an industry that could generate real wealth, that made a lot of sense to me. They said we have a role as a copywriter if you want to come on and be a copywriter but don’t think of yourself as a copywriter. That’s just your job description. Really think of yourself as a partner in this company, look at the problems that we face and help us overcome those problems and ultimately you can have any job you want in the company, you just have to become the right person for the job.
I took them very seriously and really just went crazy acquiring new skills and trying to learn more and more valuable skills within the company so that I could rise. By the time we sold the company I had worked my way into 10% ownership and was the chief marketing officer.
Tom: It was just a grueling slog, because what you said, it wasn’t something that I was passionate about, didn’t believe in it. That is very hard to sustain. Ultimately, when we decided to found Quest, it was partly as a reaction to me after around the time I did that was probably about six years in. I just said, “Guys, I quit. I can’t do this anymore.” That was with ownership in the company and I said, “I give my ownership back. I don’t feel like I should get anything if I’m not crossing the finish line.”
Knowing what I was giving up I was just like I’m not willing to be unhappy and I want to build something that I really believe in. They felt the same way and it was a big enough moment that we all really stopped and took stock of our lives and said, “What are we doing this for? If it’s not about the money what is it about?” That’s when we began to really conceptualize not just of our own company as something bigger than the money but really thinking about entrepreneurship as something that was bigger than the money and the rest is history.
Jay: Wow, so it was actually you were actually the catalyst. You raised your hand and you were ready to walk away from everything.
Tom: Yeah, I’d be interested to see if my partners would say the same thing but certainly from my perspective that’s exactly what it was. They said the now famous words on that day that I walked in and quit, they said, “We could do this without you, but we don’t want to.” That’s what I needed to reconnect to them as people and to re-find that joy of the struggle and the building something.
Building something is amazing, man, and it’s one of the most beautiful gifts any entrepreneur can have is to really get your hands dirty, do something that matters and build something that’s going to last. It’s just an incredible feeling. For me, if I don’t feel connected to that team of people, if I don’t feel connected to the audience that’s out there buying that product then for me, again I’m speaking for myself, but for me it really felt empty.
What they said to me was, “Look, if we can’t hit certain revenue targets over the next six months then we’ll sell the company.” We didn’t hit the revenue targets and so we ended up selling the company. Yeah, I really do think that was the catalyst that ended up leading to some pretty big changes for all of us.
Jay: That’s amazing. Was there a point in that journey, that initial journey at the tech company where was there an inflection point where you were like, maybe you’ve made a little bit of money and so you weren’t as fearful about that or pursuing that as hard as before where there’s a shift in your mentality where it’s like maybe money isn’t the right solution, isn’t what I’m looking for here. I want to build something bigger. I want to connect deeper with my customers. Was there a point that you remember distinctly?
Tom: There wasn’t a point where I said I’ve made enough money now and I don’t have any fear of that, not at that time. I’ve since had that moment and I can walk you through what that felt like. Back at awareness, it really was realizing that all the money in the world isn’t worth hating your day-to-day life. It just it actually doesn’t make sense.
When you really think about I’m on this grand adventure, I want to make all this money, I have this vision of what I’m going to do with that money. That’s what drives people to garner those resources. They want to do something with it. Once it seemed like this money actually isn’t certain. I’m making more money than I’ve ever made but it’s not the kind of exit and now you never have to think about money and you can go and do all the amazing things you want to do with that capital.
It was just like my lifestyle was better. It certainly was a better lifestyle than I had ever had and I could do things that I hadn’t done before. It was success with no fulfillment. If you know Toni Robbins, he said, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” That’s how I felt. That wasn’t the kind of success that I’ve had since doing Quest but it was better than anything I’d ever experienced and it still felt so empty that it just left me asking the most fundamental question any human being can ask themselves which is why am I doing this? When your answer is, I don’t know anymore, that’s when you know you have got to change something.
I’m a real believer in the now, the present. All you have is this moment. For all you know, this is a I love this thought exercise, for all you know right before this call you were woken up out of the matrix. All of your memories of the past are actually fake and it is entirely an illusion. Your entire past up to this moment. If that’s true, how would that impact you moving forward?
For me, it made me realize that the only thing that truly exists is the moment that I’m living in and everything else, maybe it’s fake – I mean obviously I don’t actually think it’s fake, but if it were and hence at the malleability of all that that you could re-conceive of yourself that it’s really a jail of your own making. All this baggage that you carry with you, all these lessons that you’ve learned, but what if some of the lessons you’ve learned are holding you back and you really need to be learning a different lesson?
All of that was rolled up into that. I thought I was supposed to be pursuing money but that’s not feeling right. Really what I feel like I should be chasing is fulfillment. At the same time, I’m not interested in living like a monk. I want to garner real resources. I want to control massive amounts of capital because I have a vision for my life and what I want to do with my life at the extreme end, it’s going to be made infinitely easier by having access to capital.
I wanted to pursue both. I want capital and I want to be playing at the highest levels of business and be having just unimaginable success, but at the same time, that all has to be born out of pursuing something that delivers fulfillment.
Jay: Right, right. Man, that is so powerful. So you know my background is I used to be a banker and I’m still in finance. I’m still an investor but I used to work in the sales side for a big investment bank. I think that there is so many people out there that they won’t admit it, or they’re afraid, or maybe their life circumstances have gotten in the way now but are in that exact same position where they’ve gone into the business because of money.
I know I did 100%, I’ll be the first to say I got into the business for money. I chased it for a long time. After the financial crisis I realized what am I doing with my life? Right? It’s really sad to see a lot of people now that are still in that rat race, in that wheel just spinning because they don’t think they can make a move. They always say, “I have no other skills,” or “I have a family. I have a mortgage.” Blah, blah, blah and whatever excuse it is. They just can’t make the move.
I love how you’ve weaved The Matrix, because that’s one of my favorite movies as well, into all of your work. Such a great back story and I think that it’s really refreshing to hear that it’s not just people that jump into finance. They’re not just chasing money. People in all industries get into what they’re doing for the wrong reason a lot of times. Until you can actually find your why and your purpose, you’re going to go down the wrong path.
Thank you for sharing that. I want to switch gears and talk about Quest for a bit. I’m a huge fan. I’m in the fitness space as well, myself. I just discovered Quest maybe two years ago online. Now, only now, I’m starting to see them pop up in Asia, in different retailers. I was at the Arnold Classic recently which is first time he came to Asia this year and there was a booth there and I was so happy. I was like, “Yeah, Tom’s the man.”
You did an incredible, you guys did an incredible job, like you said. Six years, explosive growth. Now you guys a unicorn company. You’re all over the place. After you found Quest and you guys decided you’re going to go all in on this fitness thing in a declining market, overcrowded, what made you different? I mean there’s so many nutrition food companies, protein companies out there. How did you guys actually pull this off?
Tom: We really were the first to understand two different things that came together right at the right time. One, that there is an underserved niche in the market which is people that want convenient but non-compromising food. All of the protein bars that were on the market, even though there were like 1600, I mean just an absurd number, they all of them had sugar. What we didn’t understand was the reason they had sugar wasn’t because the makers of the bar were evil, or whatever. It was just because the equipment that you could make protein bars on had grown up in lock step with the use of high fructose corn syrup.
I’m sure many of them went to the contract manufacturers and said, “Hey, we want to make this bar that doesn’t use sugar,” and the contract manufacturers told them the same thing they told us because we never intended to make our own bars either, that you’re going to have to put some sort of liquid sugar into the bar. One, it makes it taste good. Two, it preserves it. Three, it’ll actually allow it to run through the equipment.
When every other company was told that, they did it. They may not have wanted to do it. Maybe they put as little in as they could possibly bear, but they did it. We took a different approach and we said, “That doesn’t make sense.” We told ourselves that we were going to do this right or we weren’t going to do it.
We decided to begin engineering our own equipment and become our own manufacturers. That’s the thing that I think Quest is never going to get enough credit for was our willingness to engineer our own equipment, become our own manufacturers and really bite off this absolutely massive challenge. That ended up being our differentiator.
Then on top of that, we understood that social media was going to be huge before other people did. This is back in 2009 when we first started talking about the company about doing it. I laid out a whole plan for how I thought social media was going to impact the space and what it was going to be like and that we should be going after our thousand true fans. This gave us a chance to do that all for free and build value and not try to market or sell to them but build a community and really deliver value to their lives.
In doing that, we built this incredibly supportive community that was very vocal on social. Really understood digital, really understood social media and how to connect by being authentic, by being transparent and then couple that with a product that hadn’t existed until that moment and it just blew up.
Jay: That’s unbelievable. Yeah, I mean you raise an interesting point. I mean social media right now, you guys were on the forefront. You guys went in early. It’s been very, very successful for you. I follow you, your channel and your stuff. We’ll talk about that a little bit later.
I just wanted to ask you what your thoughts were on sort of the explosion of content online right now. The noise. How does a company, or an entrepreneur, that’s trying to navigate in this sea of noise, how do they stand out from the thousands or tens of thousands of other channels and noise and social media outlets that are out there? How do you make your mark?
Tom: You make your mark, very simply, by adding value. We’ll talk more about how somebody adds value through the noise. First, I want everybody listening to this podcast to take a second and be so ecstatic to be living in this moment where what you have to do is figure out how to add more value to somebody to cut through that noise. Because it used to be you had to have such a massive marketing and advertising budget to compete with the people who controlled the airwaves. Because people’s attention was not democratized.
If you wanted someone’s attention, you had to pay for it, man. I’m talking pay for it in seven, eight, nine figures. Big, huge commitments. That’s why everything was consolidated. It seemed like just this impossible task to get on to the airwaves because you had to have access to real capital.
Now you’ve got to be creative. There’s no question. You’ve got to deliver real value more than anybody else if you’re going to cut through the noise. That is a very daunting task but that’s up to you. That’s up to how hard are you willing to work to develop the skill set you need to develop in order to deliver value to somebody, but that’s on you. You don’t have to pay for that.
There’s books, I mean, Jesus, these days you can get an Audible account for $25 a month and you can read, essentially, an infinite amount of books. Get in there, learn the things you need, engage with other people on social media. I am literally right now, I am literally trying to give away every secret I own. If you’re following me socially, dude, I’m trying to give it away. I want to know what happens when we uncover the next 1,000 Elon Musks, right? People who are willing to think really big and then execute.
Execution is what matters. People that aren’t willing to give away all their secrets, it’s because they don’t have any. They actually think that they can somehow give away a secret sauce. There’s not a secret sauce. The only thing there is is unending execution. Really following through and knowing how to make somebody’s life better. Somebody that you’ve never even met. You have to find a way to improve their life and they have to know it was you. Now you do that and you will cut through the clutter instantly.
Jay: Man, that’s awesome. Yeah, I mean for all of our listeners, Inside Quest, Tom, you do an unbelievable job. It’s such a high, high quality production and it makes sense because I guess you do have a film background. I should have known better. It’s so good. You definitely drop so much free knowledge.
Really reminds me of Gary Vaynerchuk. I know you were in his office recently because I saw the Daily V. We had him on the show a couple weeks back and you guys both do the same thing and it’s so awesome. Because you just give, give, give, give, give. The amount that, myself personally, I’ve learned from just watching your show and the guests on your show is unbelievable. Thank you for that.
For inspiring entrepreneurs out there, I know that you talk about hard work and grit and how that’s all on you. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. What sort of advice would you give to, let’s say, someone that’s stuck in The Matrix, or stuck in their job that they hate. What would you tell them? What’s the first thing they should do right now?
Tom: All right. This is going to be really counterintuitive advice and this is going to be something that a lot of people are going to take exception to. I will only ask you to do one thing and that is look at my track record. The reason I say that is because what I’m about to say is going to anger some people. I’m not saying that I’m glad it’s this way, I’m just saying it is this way.
What people have to do is understand, I love helping people. I love it, man. It makes me feel good. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s so awesome when other people help me and so many people have helped me get where I am and I am so grateful to all of them. At the end of the day, it comes down to that chip on your shoulder. It comes down to having something to prove to yourself whether it’s to you or to somebody else to be so desperate to do something with your life, to matter, to have fulfillment that you keep going long after it starts sucking. You keep going long after it’s boring because you have a vision of where you’re going and what you want to do and quite frankly, the person you want to become and you’re willing to pay an obscenely high price to become that person.
Until somebody wants it and the best story, it has been told time and time and time again, but people just don’t listen. It goes like this, I’ll give you the very truncated version. A guy is seeking a master teacher, a monk, if you will, and he finds him. That master is meant to teach him how to be successful. The master dunks his head underwater and just before he passes out he brings his head back up and the student gasps for air and then he dunks his head again and just before he passes out pulls him back up and he’s gasping for air. He says, “The moment you want success as badly as you want your next breath of air, you will be successful.”
Jay: So good.
Tom: It’s a great story. It’s been told time and time again. I have the chills just telling you now. What people miss is you’ve got to go beyond the chills. You’ve got to go beyond how good that story feels and you’ve got to get to the point where do you actually want it that badly?
Here’s the thing, if you don’t, that’s fine. Just own that and stop beating yourself up for not succeeding in the way that you want or being afraid, or whatever. I honestly think I am a terrible role model for the vast majority of the world. For the vast majority of the people listening to even this podcast, they should not take my advice.
The reason they shouldn’t take my advice is a large portion of my life is about gut-checking myself and asking myself, “Do I really even want it this bad? Am I really willing to go this hard for this long?” To give you an idea, the mantra I say to myself is “If I’m awake I’m either working out or working.”
Now, there are for sure times that I take time to be with my wife and be with my family so I don’t want to paint a delusional picture, but people need to understand like how often, though. It is true that I’m either working out or I’m working. When people get to that point they will see it requires a hunger. Now I can help them and hopefully save them the near decade that I spent chasing money is to chase something you believe in and make the demand that that makes you money.
You’ve got to make the demand that in your pursuit of wealth creation that it is in service of something beautiful, something that you believe in, something that serves people, something that has a mission. I’m telling you, especially now today, in a social economy where people want to know who you are, they want to connect with you and they will reward you by buying your products if you’re a person that brings value to their life. They will reward you for that. That you can build something extraordinary now through service.
That is it’s just it’s never happened before. It’s never been this easy ever before in human history because you didn’t have social media to allow people within seconds of an interaction with you to have a global audience to tell people that holy hell, that guy, that company, that girl, that whatever like they really just took care of me and I want everyone to know about it.
Jay: Yeah that’s so powerful. I mean it’s so great how you reframed my question because I was like it’s so daunting, there’s such a sea of social media. Well, no it’s not daunting it’s we’re lucky. Right? We’re lucky. Like you said, we’re in the best. It’s easier now to build a business than ever, ever before. Awesome, awesome. So good, so good.
I just want to … we have to wrap up soon so I know you’re transitioning out of your role as the president of Quest and just the founder role. I know you have something big in the pipeline, I know you can’t really talk about it. I think you said January 4th is when you’re going to-
Tom: January 4th, that’s the big day.
Jay: Is there any sort of hints, clues that you can drop? I mean this won’t come out for a while, but …
Tom: Yeah, man, I’ll tell you spiritually exactly what it’s about. I believe right now there is an entire generation of human beings that are frustrated, they believe the system is working against them, that it’s holding them down, that it’s corrupt and yet at the same time, those very same people they want to matter. They want to have impact.
If you look at the heroes that they worship, one of the most revealing is the obsession, at least here in the US, the obsession with Ironman who is the tale of a multi-billionaire eccentric genius who doesn’t ever need to work again. He could go retire on an island. He’s got all the money any human being could ever want and what does he do? He dresses up like a superhero, puts his life in jeopardy and fights crime. Why? Because people want to matter.
Now, this is what I’ve been talking about this whole interview, now is that magic moment for those people to learn how to build a business that can matter. The superhero armor that people need to be wearing today is that of the entrepreneur. Somebody who can build something. Somebody who can build something that matters. You’ve got to learn to do that shit.
People don’t know how to do it. The moment that they can accept that it’s not about whether you’re a born entrepreneur or not- I am not a born entrepreneur. I had to learn how to be an entrepreneur. It was a brutally difficult journey and oh, dear God, has it been worth every step of the way and I took myself from broke to fantastically wealthy.
Jay: I love it.
Tom: I did it once I finally figured out that what I needed to chase was getting really good at something. Like true excellence. That as long as the thing that you’re trying to become truly excellent at is the thing that you care most about in the world? You’ll be fine. I want to help that generation or any person who thinks like that, honestly, they don’t have to be a part of the millennial generation or Generation Z, or whatever you want to call it. They just need to want to change everything about their life. To learn, to grow, to empower themselves and then do all of that in service of helping other people. If they’ve got a mission, I want to facilitate that.
We’re putting together, this is where people get confused and I’ll try to make it nice and simple. We’re putting together a company that is going to develop the world’s largest library of empowering intellectual property. That comes in two forms. One, businesses. Think of us as Y combinbator for a new generation. Then the other is content. Think of us as the new Disney. If you look at what Walt Disney was and what Disney has become, it’s amazing. You had this dreamer, a guy who could see a world that didn’t exist and he was going to do it all through this creative medium of cartooning and he’s created some of the most culturally relevant and enduring characters ever.
Now they were aimed at kids but Disney now understanding that it’s really about that intellectual property. They’re buying up the most culturally relevant IP of today. They bought Marvel Studios, right? The Ironman that we were talking about, that’s now a Disney property. They bought Star Wars which has defined multiple generations.
Tom: That, because of my background, I understand how movies, books, TV shows, they inform culture. There’s a reason that America became a superpower in lock step with exporting media. I understand that power. I understand its power to shape people. By combining both traditional businesses with empowering content, we’re going to create something that’s never been seen before.
This is a call for anybody out there that has a business idea and they need help or they have content that they are creating that they believe in and they just don’t know how to get attention for it. That’s what the gap that we’re trying to fill.
Jay: Holy, wow. This is so exciting. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. Wow. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. Tom, it was so good to have you on the show. I’m mindful of your time. Where can people find you, follow you? Socially, social media and whatnot.
Tom: @TomBilyeu. My last name is spelled B as in Bravo, I-L-Y-E-U-. Find me. I’m all about delivering value to the community. I am on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Medium and just watch for the content that we’re going to be putting out. The new show drops in January. It’s going to be even better than Inside Quest. We’re so excited about what we’re putting together and can’t wait for people to come be a part of it.
We’re all about community so follow us, join the newsletter. Yeah, get on board. You won’t be sorry.
Jay: Awesome. Everyone listening, get on and follow Tom. January 4th, huge announcement. Thank you again, Tom. I really appreciate having you on and thanks a lot, again.
Tom: You got it, man. Thanks for having me on. It was a pleasure.
Jay: All right. Take care.
Tom: All right. You too. Bye.
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