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Rooted in Good: Ido Leffler and the Yes To™ Brand

Yes To™ co-founder Ido Leffler built his company on a solid ethical foundation: Its beauty and grooming products are 95 percent natural, all of its packaging is recyclable, and 1 percent of earnings is donated to the Yes To™ Seed Fund, whose mission is to plant gardens in the US and Africa in order to teach children about nutrition and healthy living. Having learned many lessons from the business of social good, Leffler (and his Yes To™ co-founder Lance Kalish) wrote the book Get Big Fast and Do More Good: Start Your Business, Make It Huge, and Change the World, available November 5. We were curious about the man behind the hugely successful brand, so we picked the entrepreneur's brain for lessons in finding inspiration, building an ethical organization, and how to stand out with your wardrobe (he paints his case for always wearing the color orange).

BB Man: Where do you find inspiration for new products?

Leffler: Over the years it’s been as varied as you can possibly imagine. Thankfully with Yes To™, it’s one big team effort, so you’ll get people walking into the office saying “I had this aha moment in the shower!”

Our top-selling product, the cucumber towelettes, came to us from my business partner who is a finance guy. Usually he comes up with a product idea and we throw it into the “Ignore” pile, but this one was so good. The motto is, “You’ve just got to say yes to the ideas that come in and see what happens.”

BB Man: 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?

Leffler: 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.

BB Man: What do you think consumers look for in a company?

Leffler: I think as human beings we love feeling special. When someone comes to Yes To™ and starts using the products, I want them to feel part of the family. Like the old school shopping experience: You walk into the store where they know your name. We want that way of thinking. 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.”

BB Man: You actually gave out your phone numbers?

Leffler: There are still about 8 VICs (we call them very important carrots) from back then. They have my cell phone number. And a few of them email me on a regular basis if they can’t find the products they’re looking for. One has invited me to their family events; they’ve become part of our family.

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

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

BB Man: Why?

Leffler: 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.

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

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

BB Man: Milk or dark?

Leffler: Australian Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. Not English. Not the South African. Not the Malaysian version. Definitely not the US version. The milk is different. It’s whole, not powdered like in some countries.... I have a piece every day, and it reminds me of home.

BB Man: Another habit of yours is that you wear orange every day. How do you keep it fresh?

Leffler: It’s a great color; it makes you stand out no matter what. You’ve got to create some form of a persona that people will recognize you for. No matter where in the world, if I’m there for a business meeting or a conference, people are going to be looking out for the man wearing orange. The great thing about it is that a lot of brands make products in orange because it pops in the store, but not many people buy it. So, I get a lot of stuff on the sale rack. It’s all about figuring out the best way to mix and match—wearing orange head to toe is not a good look. I have one pair of orange pants, and it’s the first and last time I’ll buy orange pants.

BB Man: What are some easy ways for people to give back on a daily basis?

Leffler: The simplest way is, if you’re going to be buying stuff for your day to day use, find a brand or product that has a “give back” component, like Warby Parker. Other low-cost, high-impact charities: Nothing But Nets, Charity Water, Pencils of Promise.

As my kids get older, I emphasize to them that there are three things you need to do in business and in life:

1. Have incredible people working with you
2. Make a great product
3. Have an awesome cause

If you can link all those three together you can build fantastic business and a fantastic life.

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