Innovator-in-Chief: Ido Leffler of Yes To

As fun as it is playing with products, it’s even more fun hanging out with brand founders. Up at bat this month: Ido Leffler, co-founder of all-natural beauty and skincare line Yes To. A few minutes via Skype with Leffler and you finally understand the meaning of the phrase “boundless energy.” Whether talking about his polyglot family (he grew up in Australia with Israeli parents and now lives in San Francisco with his wife and their two children), his new book Get Big Fast and Do More Good, or Yes To’s commitment to giving back, Leffler exudes his trademark enthusiasm even across an ocean and a shoddy wifi connection. Read on to learn about his West Wing addiction, his social mission-focused brand crushes, and how many Yes To customers have him on direct dial.

Your Yes To Seed Fund uses school gardens across the United States and Africa to teach kids about nutrition and wellness. How did it come about?

We really wanted giving back to be part of our DNA from day one. We thought, We use these incredible fruits and vegetables in our products, so why not teach kids and communities where they come from and provide access to it? It’s amazing to see kids realize a carrot comes from the ground and a tomato you can just pluck off a plant. Then microfunds in Kenya and Tanzania not only teach the kids, but they become part of their meal of the day. We’re feeding 10,000 kids a day right now—that’s something that’s hard to put into words.

What are your favorite brands with built-in social missions?

It’s been really fun to watch brands like Method, Toms, Warby Parker, Lifeway Foods—these are all friends of ours. The movement of good people starting good companies is a fantastic trend. They have social good as a core part of their business because that is core to who they are as people.

Is it true that you give customers your personal number?

When we first started the company, we didn’t have the budget to do massive focus groups. So we said ok, let’s give them our phone numbers and get their ideas. You’ll notice on our Facebook page, we’ll ask who wants to come into the office and think about some products. We genuinely want them to feel a part of the company and be a part of our future. There are still about eight VICs (we call them Very Important Carrots) that have my cell phone number. And three to four of them email me on a regular basis. One has invited me to their family events.

What's the one thing you'd take to a desert island?

My family.

Ok, apart from humans?

Do I have wifi on this desert island?

I don’t think so. But imagine you have lots of battery power.

I would take my iPad with all 7 seasons of The West Wing. As my wife will tell you, I live and die by watching The West Wing. It’s the only program I’ve ever seen where I can’t multitask. To be a good business person, just watch that.

Why?

The way they communicate, their wit, the pace of the conversation, and the discussion points get you in a framework where you actually feel like you can do that too—you can run a country! It’s probably the only thing in the world I’m addicted to.

That’s a pretty mild addiction as far as addictions go.

I eat a piece of chocolate and watch an episode of The West Wing every day.

Milk or dark?

Now this is very important to write down exactly. Australian Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. Not English, not the South African or the Malaysian version, definitely not the US version.

What makes it different?

The milk is different—whole, not powdered like in some countries. It’s something I grew up with, it melts in your mouth, I have a piece every day, and it reminds me of home.

Do you bring it back when you visit Australia?

I’m in Australia now, and we’ll bring back at least half a suitcase of Cadbury.

What's a classic mistake that newbie entrepreneurs make?

Not letting things run their course, not having the patience to let things really grow. I’d almost say it’s important to test things out and then take the big bet. We see a lot of people taking the big bet and then closing a year later.

What’s your life philosophy?

You know you’ve succeeded in life when you can wake up in the morning and realize the life you lead is not a dream. That for me is success: waking up and going wow, this really is my life.

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