Talent Entrepreneur Brand Strategy

Bodyarmor founder Mike Repole: ‘if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough’


By Kenneth Hein, US Editor

October 11, 2021 | 6 min read

The Drum’s 3 Actionable Insights series asks top industry leaders to share their thoughts about the actions our readers should take immediately. Bodyarmor founder and chief executive Mike Repole is responsible for two of the biggest beverage success stories of the past 20 years: Vitaminwater (sold to Coke for $4.1 billion) and now Bodyarmor (which Coke owns a minority interest in and has until the end of this year to decide whether to complete the purchase.) Repole tells us why failing is the most important thing an entrepreneur can do.

Mike Repole, Bodyarmor

Bodyarmor's Repole says 'fail often or you'll never succeed'

1. Fail often and fail forward.

Nobody gets it right first time. There is no way that the concept of what brand you think you’re going to build isn’t going to change. You can’t stay too set in your vision or stay too stubborn in what you're trying to accomplish. You’ve got to make mistakes and fail before you get it right. The first Vitaminwater was Super-C Acerola and it tasted as bad as it sounded. Eventually we decided to go with Power-C Dragon Fruit, Revive Fruit Punch and Kiwi Strawberry Focus. It's about learning from your mistakes and failing forward. Because if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough. You're not pushing the envelope. You're playing it too conservative and you're never going to build a massive brand or reach your own personal maximum potential. There's so many people that don’t take any chances so they don't win. Then there are people who curl up after they make a mistake and say well ‘this is not for me.’ I actually like to fail. It is motivational because now I’ve got to make up for that mistake. I’ve got to do something even better, even greater. And I’ve got to work even harder and push myself even more.

2. Hire sore losers.

I have a saying it's attitude over skills. But I want to be very clear it's not attitude have no skills, it's just attitude over skills. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. That’s why when I interview people I ask, ‘are you a sore loser?’ Sometimes people think it's a trick question. But show me someone who likes to lose and I'm going to show you a loser. I want people that are willing to run through a brick wall to get a win. People who aren’t going to stop until they get the job done. Hiring highly competitive people who actually hate to lose more than they love to win, that's a key ingredient to success… I always preach about being better today than I was yesterday. And I'm going to be better tomorrow than I am today. That’s the goal that you need to have for yourself. You have to be willing to take the chance on being better and never think great is good enough.

3. Focus on learning over earning at the beginning of your career and always outwork everyone.

You’ve got to be prepared to outwork everyone to beat the odds. There 100 different brands who tried to compete with Gatorade and they've all been knocked out within two years. They've been humbled. They've lost a lot of money, and they probably lost some friends on the way. It’s about being passionate about building something that was historic and that nobody's ever done before. Knowing it was going to be a marathon not a sprint. And it was knowing that we have to outwork everybody. Actually, it’s not even a marathon. It’s a triathlon. That’s why you need that passion and dedication. Because if you love what you do, it's not work. It's just life.

I encourage all young entrepreneurs, all young marketers to outwork everyone. If you can’t get it done in 11 hours then work 12. Also be less risk averse. The 20- to 30-year-old group seems more afraid of failing these days. Maybe it’s social media and the fact that everyone knows when you make a mistake. But your ‘20s and ‘30s, those are the years you can roll the dice. The earlier years aren’t the ones that you worry about ‘I need a title and a salary.’ Treat your first five years out of college as a paid internship. Take the job that teaches you the most. Take learning over earning and you’ll be far better set up for success when you’re in your ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

No matter what, just go out there and be yourself. Be proud. Be happy. The one thing you'll never be is perfect and be okay with that. As long as you try to keep being better every day, then you're going to meet your expectations.

For more about Coke's acquisition of BodyArmor, read Inside BodyArmor, Coke's new $5.6 billion brand.

You can check out more of our 3 Actionable Insights series here, and don’t forget to sign up for The Drum’s daily US email here.

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