Join us in this week’s episode as Paul speaks to Phil Masiello the founder and CEO of Crunch Growth Revenue Acceleration Agency. Phil shares his background in the specialty food business and retail, including the lessons learned from both successes and setbacks. Discover how he aims to positively impact humanity and fosters fearless innovation within his team.
Tune in now for invaluable insights and inspiration!
Topics covered in this Episode:
- Phil’s story of launching a razor business with a PR stunt
- Effective leadership and intrapreneurship to drive innovation and growth.
- Fearless creativity and a willingness to explore new ideas are the key factors in driving innovation
Book Empires and Entrepreneurs
His latest book is Empires and Entrepreneurs: How Business Shaped the World: Stories of Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Throughout History Phil Masiello, the founder and CEO of Crunchgrowth Revenue Acceleration Agency, has a long history of success in the business world. With experience in Ecommerce, mobile application marketing, Amazon Seller marketing and more, Mr. Masiello has been a leader in disruptive business models since his first startup at the age of 25. His latest book is Empires and Entrepreneurs: How Business Shaped the World: Stories of Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Throughout History Mr. Masiello’s previous ventures include 800razors.com, an Ecommerce company selling high quality American made razors and shaving products for men and women; Raw Beauty, Inc., which developed and marketed Raw Essentials Skin Care through its website, on the shopping channels and retailers internationally; Metro Marketing, an agency focused on developing the online, retail and TV Shopping sales channels for emerging natural and organic brands; and The Daily Market, a Washington DC based grab-and-go meal chain that was sold to a major supermarket chain.
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Timestamped summary of this episode:
[1:00] Welcome to the Business Legacy Podcast.
I have a very unique and special guest today, the founder and CEO of Crunch Growth Revenue Acceleration Agency, Phil Messiello.
Hi, thanks for having me.
So Phil, tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey, but the things that the audience would like to know about yourself right now.
[3:23] My entrepreneurial journey? Yeah. Yeah.
So my journey started when I was 27 years old, I built my first business, and it was a disaster, total disaster, and a terrible leader, terrible manager of process, I thought I knew everything, I was young, I grew up in the food business, I thought my family owned restaurants and things like that. And I thought that that was my path. But when I went to college, I worked in restaurants and hotels down in Miami, and I realized that’s not what I wanted to do for a lot of different reasons. But I still knew, I had a great knowledge of food. So I built a food retail store, specialty food retail store. And it was just, it was terrible. I was I at the end of three years, I could have at the end of three years, I could have worked for somebody else and.
[4:28] Made more money. I think that you know, but I sold a business and I realized and recognized that I was at flaw. So I took the money and then I went to graduate school at the University of Maryland. And I got involved with a small specialty food retailer in Washington, DC that I invested a little bit of money into. And I went to work for them. So while I was in graduate school, I was working full time as the vice president’s company. And I did a lot of entrepreneurial work there. The two stores, we grew it to 12 plus we made an acquisition.
So we wound up growing the total company to about 22 stores in a four-year period.
But I did a lot of entrepreneurial things, opening up new channels of business and.
[5:16] Doing pop-up stores before that was even a popular term. And one of the things I did was I developed this small store concept, 2,000, 3,000 square foot stores that could penetrate the urban areas, because most of the other stores were bigger, like the size of a Whole Foods.
And I like that model. I thought to me that was the rollout model. It was very similar to a Panera Bread today or something like that, or Pret-Manger in New York. And they didn’t agree with me.
So I left because I didn’t like the direction that the new owners were taking. So I started a company called The Daily Market, and I tried to buy the small stores from them because they They didn’t want them.
We couldn’t come to terms, so I just built my own.
I started building stores.
[6:04] And this was late 90s and we got revenue, we got investment capital from a private equity firm in the south.
And we were trying to grow the business, trying to get stores.
And we also started one of the first food e-commerce sites in 1998.
There wasn’t any around at that time.
And yeah, this is the beginning. And it was really difficult because there was the shipping.
[6:38] Was not built out the way it is today. FedEx and UPS were not able to handle that type of product like they can handle today. So it was very difficult. But nonetheless, we were able to scale the business a bit, we sold it. And then I founded a skincare line with a model named Carol Ault. And it’s funny because everybody says, well, you went from food to skincare, but the, beauty of the skincare line was it was based on Carol’s raw lifestyle. So Carol was a raw foodist and she had written books on raw food. And so, we just, the premise of raw foodism and, the raw lifestyle was really about as natural as it can be in its primary state. So, it really was, it wasn’t that far away from food. The key to it was us developing a, you know, the, the, was developing all the recipes and all the products. We wound up launching that brand on, Home Shopping Network. And we were also one of the first brands not in books or music.
[8:02] To go on Amazon. So back in 2006, there was no… The marketplace wasn’t built out like it is today.
And so we did that for a number of years. We were on the shopping channels in the United States, in Canada, on Amazon. We were on our website. So we just, we were traveling around doing shows on the shopping channels. And it was very enjoyable. It was a very enjoyable period of time. I mean, I really enjoyed that business. Certainly hanging around with models never, never, is never difficult. So it was a lot of fun building it. And then while we had that business, we had the idea to do razors. This was before Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s or anybody else.
And so we started working on a razor business. The intent originally was to sort of build it into the skincare business, focusing on women’s razors and skincare, pre-shape, post-shape. But we looked at it, it was much bigger. And we partnered with one of the biggest razor companies, in the world, second largest in the world, and we got an exclusive razor.
And so we launched 800 Razors and then wound up selling Raw Beauty to a division with ties to Johnson & Johnson and then.
Launching the razor business with a PR stunt
[9:24] We did Razors for a while and then we had John Scully was an investor in that company.
[9:30] He’s the guy who supposedly fired Steve Jobs, if you ever watched the movie. Yeah.
He’s the CEO of Apple. And David Scully, his brother, who was the president of Heinz, Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, was involved in the company. And we did that for a number of years. And I’ll tell you a really funny story if you’re interested about that, about launching that business. Because when we first launched it, we were struggling. We were struggling with trying to get people to the website to buy. We were struggling with just getting the brand out there. Advertising was not clicking as well as it should. So we were looking for a PR stunt type thing to do, something to get out there. I mean, again, this was before everybody else.
And you can still look at it today. It’s on, it’s still online. But what happened was I’m a sports fan and I like, I love baseball. And there was a pitcher in San Francisco, played a pitch for the Giants, San Francisco Giants.
His name was Brian Wilson, and he had this, just this epic beard.
It was, it was incredible.
And he had, he was a great pitcher and he had, he had injured his arm and, and gotten Tommy John surgery and they traded him to the Dodgers.
And this was the first time he was going to pitch in a year.
And I saw it in the sports section and they just had this picture of him with this beard.
[10:59] So I said, you know, wouldn’t it be great if we could get Brian Wilson to shave his beard off with our razor?
Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Let’s offer him a million dollars to do it. Oh, wow.
So we called our PR agency and we said, this is what we want to do.
[11:22] And we made the offer to his people. And all we really needed was for them to say, we’ll run it by Brian, because then we can legally say we’re in discussions with Brian Wilson to shave his beard with our razor, which they did.
And so our PR firm took that and just ran with it. We were in Sports Illustrated.
We were on every single sports channel. That’s so fun.
People were outraged that we would offer this guy who was already a millionaire a million dollars to shave with our razor. on social media, which pretty much was Facebook at that time.
They people were sending us pictures of body parts saying, I’ll shave this for $10,000.
Controversial Razor Launch Leads to Explosive Publicity
[12:07] It just, it exploded. And we were getting yelled at people were outraged that we would do this.
People were just disgusted with us. But we started getting orders and the website just exploded.
And it went on for about a week. We were getting interviewed by, you know, every every major publication. And then what happened about a week later, it sort of died down and TMZ caught Brian Wilson coming out of a gym in LA and they said, are you going to shave your beard with this razor?
He’s like, I’m not shaving my beard off for anybody or any amount of money. And people were pissed again and the whole thing just started exploding because then they were mad that he would turned down a million dollars. And it was the funniest thing. It went on for about two or three weeks. We got a lot of traction out of it and that’s pretty much what launched us. So after that, we were able to start building off of that and building sales. So it was kind of great.
That is such a great story. Thank you for sharing it. As you think about all the ventures that you’ve gone through thus far, if you were to go back to a day or a time, where would it be along that journey and why?
Reflecting on a Memorable Day in One’s Career
[13:30] Where would it be to do? Yeah, if you were to take a time machine, go back to a specific day in your career and say, okay, this is the day I would relive again, what day would that be and why would it be important to you?
I think it would have to say that.
The importance of starting with Raw Beauty on shopping channels
[13:50] I think I would have to say that the day that we started with Raw Beauty on the shopping channels, I think I would go back to that date. And there were a lot of adjustments I would make.
And you know, but it was important because it was just such a great medium.
You know, the shopping channel was such a great medium for getting the brand exposed and getting out there.
And Carol was such a great spokesperson for it because it was authentic.
She wasn’t a paid spokesperson, she was actually a partner in the business and it was based on her lifestyle.
But there were a lot of things I think we could have done in the beginning that we didn’t understand about how to really promote that shopping channel that we could have exploded a lot bigger than we were.
And I think that’d be the day I would go back to.
Yeah, great, great. If you were to map out one of the best business decisions you’ve made thus far, what would it be? You may have already told it, but what would be the best business decision?
Mike Alfred Best business decision I ever made was shutting down my first business and selling it and taking the money and going to graduate school.
[15:06] Not that I think graduate school turned me into a better entrepreneur or a better business person, But I think what I learned was, I think that combination of going to graduate school and working for some place turned me into a better leader and a better manager of process.
Those are the two traits I think that I severely lacked. And I think.
[15:33] When you look back on, when I look back on my career, the places I’ve been successful was when I was a good leader and a good manager of the process, right? You don’t really manage people, you lead people, but you manage process.
And I think, yeah, my first business, like I said, I was just awful.
It was an awful experience for me. What would you say is the worst business decision you made?
Worst business decision: starting the first business
[15:58] I think that was the worst business decision I ever made was starting that first business.
I think it was pretty mature for me.
I thought I knew everything about the world and the business.
I wouldn’t say it was costly in terms of outright dollars, but it certainly was costly in terms of my life for three years because I, like I said, I could have worked for somebody else and made more money.
I didn’t really make any money for three years.
Talk to us about the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur.
I like the word intrapreneur, but the subtle differences and the pros and cons about being, one versus the other.
[16:46] You know, entrepreneur, it’s all about you. You’re the driving force of what’s happening.
And you know, it’s your business. You’ve got the idea, you’ve got the concept, you have to do everything yourself.
Entrepreneurship, which I think we could use more of in this world, because there are a lot of people that I mentor that are frustrated in their jobs and they want to jump out and become entrepreneurs.
Well, I always say to them, same thing, you know, all the place I work in, there’s so many things that can happen.
Okay, write a business plan, present it to the president of the company and see what says because you know he’s probably looking for ideas too. So entrepreneurship is really about taking the business that you’re in, the company you work for or whatever and coming up with ideas that are going to help grow that business. So for example, I’ll give you an example.
When I was at Suntan Place, we were again specialty food stores, we were selling you know $50 bottles of olive oil, canned goods, etc. We had a lot of perishables.
From Specialty Food Stores to Mall Pop-Up Stores
[17:53] So it’s things that you see today that we take for granted in the grocery store that didn’t exist, except in specialty food stores. And we were in the Washington DC market, international clientele.
We have all the embassies. So everybody knew what those products were. We were flying cheeses in from France that I still can’t pronounce, all kinds of things like that. But I understood that the business had to grow. Now, you know, I was a key decision maker in the company, but still.
I was at a mall one day, and Tyson’s Corner is actually, it’s a big mall in Northern Virginia, and I’m coming down the escalator, and there’s an empty store right at the bottom of the escalator.
And this mall was packed all the time. It was a very busy mall. And I thought to myself, why is that store empty? And then I realized there used to be a jewelry store and two jewelers merged. And so they were cutting down like some of the stores. So I went and I knocked on the mall manager’s door because it was September. And I said, Hey, you know, what do you do at the holidays with these empty stores? Nobody wants an empty store and that’s a prime location.
What do you do? And he said, well, actually, I’d love to be able to do something with it because.
[19:07] We at the end of the year, we get bonused if we’re at a hundred percent occupancy.
So I said, I told him who I was. He gave me a little mall map, show him where the store was. I went back to the office and I grabbed the president and the CFO.
And I said, hey, why don’t we open up a store in the mall just for the holidays?
We’ll sell gift baskets, we’ll sell food as gifts, because we were doing gift baskets and that type of stuff anyway.
[19:31] And they both were saying, oh, they’re going to stick you down the alley, some empty store, there’s not going to be any foot traffic, we’ll lose.
And so I opened up the thing and I said, it’s right here. It’s in Tyson’s.
It’s right here at the bottom of the escalator. And they both, their eyes popped out. They said, really?
I said, yeah. And I said, and the guy doesn’t want any rent. He wants a percentage of sales. He doesn’t care so much about the rent. So we went in there, we took it from the 1st of November until December 31st, essentially. And it turned into a good business for us that every holiday.
Streamlining and Expanding the Gift Business
[20:09] We were putting these pop-up stores in big malls. And not just in physical stores, but sometimes in the middle and all selling food as gifts and gift baskets. And it was a great business. And from there, I really streamlined because I saw how big gifts were for food.
So I streamlined that side of the business and I started a gift business. So we built a catalog.
I got allocated some money. I built a catalog, set up the ordering system, set up the fulfillment system in the warehouse that we had, and turned that into a long-term business. So that was a 12-month out of the year business. And so I did things like that. Like I said, I came up with a small start concept. So to me, you become valuable when you have ideas.
And even if your ideas don’t always work, because I did have some duds in there that I was doing and that, you know, but as long as they’re not majorly costly, but it shows.
[21:05] It shows that you’re thinking about the business it shows that you understand the business you understand the customer so intrapreneurship i think we need more of because sometimes when you look at companies today.
They get stayed, they don’t innovate.
And the innovation comes from outside. They wind up acquiring somebody from the outside that innovated because everybody says you can’t innovate.
My thesis is not that you can’t innovate some in those companies.
People are afraid to innovate. People are afraid to step out.
People are afraid to write a business plan presented to senior management.
And maybe it’s not always gonna work. Maybe you have a company that doesn’t wanna hear about it and just wants to stay the course. But I think that entrepreneurship can be valuable.
But entrepreneurship, certainly, it’s all you. You’re 100% out there.
You’ve got to figure out the financing.
You’ve got to figure out the business plan. You’ve got to hire the right people.
You’ve got to put everything in place. So they’re different in the fact that entrepreneurship, you sort of have this infrastructure to build off of.
[22:08] Great, great. What do you enjoy the most about what you do now?
[22:13] What’s the most fulfilling?
Um, I think the, I have some really good, we’re an agency and we do, um, we have a division, uh, Crunch Growth Development Corp that builds websites, host websites, managers, websites, uh, build apps, et cetera.
We do social media.
We do, um, advertising, uh, digital advertising online. We do Amazon management, Amazon seller management for brands.
We only work with predominantly brands in the consumer product space.
That’s our sweet spot because we understand consumers really well.
[22:52] But I think the thing that I love about it is I have all these people that work for me, all these young folks, especially on the social media side, that just have these creative ideas and they’ll come to me and say, you know, I was thinking about this client and I was thinking about, you know, blah, blah, blah.
I always say, you know, look, let’s present it. Let’s see if we can get them to give it a try.
If we give it a try and it works, it works.
I don’t know what the answer is. You’re asking me if I think it’d be good or bad. I don’t know.
The only way I know is to try something and see if it works.
And we’ve done some nutty stuff and it’s worked.
And so I love the creativity that some of the people that I have in this company or come up with.
They’re not afraid to try things and I love that.
[23:44] So if you were to, if I were to interview all the people that you’ve worked with along the way, what do you think they would say about yourself? Like, what would be your, how would they describe you?
High-strung and Risk-Taking in Business
[23:58] They would say, uh, I, I would, I would say that they would say that I was a little, um, high strung, but not in a negative way.
Like I’m not a yeller and a screamer. I’m just high strung in the fact that I’m always going.
Sometimes I don’t even know what day it is. Sometimes I’m working on a Saturday and I remember it’s a Saturday. I don’t, you know, I just, I like what I do, but I’ve always been that way. So I think they would say that, you know, he’s high strung and takes a lot of risks and doesn’t, he, he, he will do anything if he thinks that it will get him over the hump.
So, and I will. You can come up with the wackiest idea and if I think it could work, as long as it’s not going to damage the brand, as long as it’s still a positive thing, I’ll give it a shot. I don’t care.
That’s great. That’s great. Thinking long-term, when you think of legacy, what do you think of and then how do you want to be remembered personally?
This is an excellent question. It’s an excellent question.
And the reason is, is because, you know, I mentor a lot of young entrepreneurs in some of the, in University of Maryland School of Entrepreneurship, but also in some of the incubators and all.
And I think that’s great.
And I love doing that. And I love young entrepreneurs. I love their enthusiasm.
[25:21] But I feel like, and I was just having this conversation with my wife, I feel like I’m single focused or single channel because it’s business, business, business.
And what I’m trying to figure out now, I wanna do something.
That benefits humanity in some way, in my own world. Baltimore gets a bum rap for the press and talking about crime and this and that, but there are all reasons, right? There are always reasons. Kids growing up don’t have hope that they’ve broken families. I mean, you look at some of the neighborhoods and there’s got to be something. So I can’t tell you how I figured that, if I figured that out yet, because I haven’t.
But ask me that in a couple of years because I’m trying to figure out how I want to be remembered and what I want to do with my life. That’s over and above business.
I want to do something that impacts humanity in some way, even if it’s local.
But I haven’t figured it out yet. I just started thinking about it.
I love it, Phil. So where can we find more about you and what you’re up to?
[26:29] Well, there’s, you can always look at philmassiello.com. That’s my personal site.
I just, I wrote another book, which, which came out, which is just, again, it’s on entrepreneurship as entrepreneurs through history and how they’ve impacted economies and society, which is, you know, which was fun to write.
You know, but yeah, you look at that, I’ve always got something going on, look at philmassiello.com.
There’s young entrepreneurs that reach out to me on that site and we can schedule times to mentor. I don’t mind doing that. I love to listen to people talk about their businesses and what they’re thinking.
I’ll do whatever I can to help people and yeah. So it’s always a good thing.
I’ve got a free business planning book on that site that you can download and you can fill it in online. It’s a great little tool so yeah.
Well thanks Phil.