78. Manny L: Being a corporate exec and entrepreneur

Sue Stockdale talks to Manny L, a health food entrepreneur, senior leader at a Fortune 500 company and an advisory board member of a process improvement think tank. Manny explains how uses his corporate knowledge of technology and efficiency in the health food start-up, Heavens Pantry he runs with two friends.

Manny L is a master of time management, balancing a demanding corporate career with a startup. A passionate changemaker, developer of talent, and leader – his passion is leveraging technology and processes to make society a better place.

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Manny L Transcription

Sue: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the access to inspiration podcast. The show where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike you. We hope their experiences and insights cause you to reflect on your own perspectives of the world and to make you think. Thanks very much for the positive comments that you’ve been sharing with us about all the episodes that you’ve been enjoying in the series. We do love to hear from you. So keep letting us know what your favorite episodes are. Well, my guest today is Manny L. He is a health food entrepreneur, a senior leader at a fortune 500 company and an advisory board member of a process improvement think tank. Manny talks to me about how he uses his corporate knowledge of technology and efficiency in the health, food startup, Heavens Pantry that he runs with his two friends. Welcome to the podcast. Manny, it’s great to speak to you

Manny: today. It’s absolutely, great to speak to you as well.

Sue: Manny, I know you describe yourself as a health food entrepreneur, and you’re also a senior leader in a fortune 500 company. Do you ever sleep?

Manny: I actually think sleep is very important. I got eight hours of sleep last night, and I think sleep is absolutely imperative for high function as an entrepreneur and also a corporate leader as well. Early on my career, I had this mindset that I had to grind everything out. And as I progressed, as I got further, I realized that we all have the same amount of hours every day. And it’s not about how hard you can work and don’t get me wrong. I definitely work very hard. This is not an excuse to slack off. What I’m saying is that out of your limited hours that you have every day, I have learned over time to be hyper efficient. And I think efficiency is name of the game. Cultures where you’re measured based on how many hours you’re on the clock are absolutely toxic. That’s not the kind of culture that I try to promote.

I think a culture where you’re measured based on the results and the impact that you achieve is a much healthier culture. And I view my job both in corporate America, that world of entrepreneurship as well. I view both my jobs as making a series of correct high impact decisions that allow me to do more with less. And I am all about doing more and less.

Sue: Well, that’s good. And I’m glad you’re not bleary eyed in our conversation today. Manny, you’re looking quite chipper there, which is fantastic. And we will get into more about that efficiency mindset that you described there. I do want to start off though, with this startup, heavens pantry that you launched with some friends, because giving birth to any new idea is such an exciting time. And it’s always really fascinating to get the backstory behind that, into how that idea came into being, how [00:03:00] did heaven’s pantry begin?

Manny: So heaven’s pantry started off with three friends, including myself and the formulation of the recipe was very interesting. I used to work at a top four consulting firm and I will say one thing that working at the firm has taught me was how to manage my time really well, and also how to survive and thrive in high pressure environment. So it was simply a pressure cooker kind of environment that wasn’t for that kind of environment heaven’s pantry probably would not have been born. So one of the perks of the job was that you would get free coffee.

I’m a huge coffee connosieur and I discovered nitro cold brew because during the busy seasons, they would give us free coffee being the most junior guy on the team, I always volunteered to make the coffee runs. And one of my supervisors told me, Hey, you are the first guy ever, who does not complain about being made to do coffee runs. And I told her, let me tell you something. This coffee run allows me to get out of the office, breathe some fresh air. I’m the only guy on the team who’s actually getting fresh air right now. Why would I be complaining about that? No, if anything, I should be thanking you for the opportunity to, to get outta the office.

So I would have one of those in the mornings. I was waking up like seven or eight o’clock and by the time I got to my client, it was like nine. And by the time I got home, it was probably around 12 o’clock. So I wouldn’t see daylight during like the, during the peak seasons, but because the caffeine content in nitro cold brew was so high, I would take one the morning I would get really, really amped up.

Now the problem with caffeine is that caffeine is not sustainable energy. Caffeine leads to a crash midday. So I will have a coffee. Half of my day goes by, I will have another coffee. And then by the time I got home, I was struggling to go to sleep. I realized that this is not healthy. Something had to be done.

So we came up with the formulation of the chocolate Excalibar. The chocolate Excalibar contains six natural ingredients. So they consist of almonds, cashews dates, cocoa powder, coconut oil and sea salts. All high quality ingredients meant to give you a sustainable sort of energy that doesn’t lead to that dreaded midday crash.

After I switched over from a excessive caffeine consumption to exscalibar consumption, I was able to power my way through the day without actually crashing. And this actually goes back. The kinds of foods that my parents would feed me when I was younger. When I was a little kid, academics were stressed very, very heavily in my household. And I really thank my parents for instilling the work ethic that I had today. I have very reasonable parents, too. My parents always told me to do [00:06:00]whatever you want with your life. Just make sure you get what you’re supposed to do done first before you do the stuff that you want to do. And that has always, always stuck with me.

My, before I started my homework, my parents would make me a bowl with fruits and nuts. And I was supposed to finish that bowl before I, I did my homework and I asked my parents, Hey, what’s the whole point of that? When I was like a little bit older and then said, oh, it’s actually because of the nutritional value of the nuts, the nuts provide cognitive enhancing capabilities and the fruits keep you energized. So that’s also why fruits and nuts.

Sue: So there you were drinking a lot of coffee, having those crashes in the day when you need to have sustainable energy. And I can imagine many people might be complaining to their friends of a similar reality. And they do nothing about it. They don’t take the action to set up a business. So I think what wasn’t it was Justin and Rob, your friends, you went from needing to find that sustainable energy to actually doing something about it. So what made the three of you believe that it could become a business?

Manny: So I have always been a very, very entrepreneurial person during my early twenties. I actually led another startup that did not exactly succeed, but that gave me the battle scars necessary to get my foot in the door. And the reason why we believed that we could make this reality is because I did also have prior managerial experience running a failed startup. I’ve also naturally been a numbers guy for pretty much since I started my career, I had this gift where I’m have the ability to connect with people and have the ability to connect with numbers as well. My friend Rob is very highly organized. I certainly am not the most organized person, but Rob is a very orderly, very procedure based person. My friend Justin is also like that too. And I think all three of our personalities we mesh very well and we cover for each other’s weaknesses. I have this saying that one man is no man. And I know I’m saying the word, man, but, but I really mean, you know, mankind in general, not one particular gender because entrepreneurship doesn’t care about your gender. It actually cares more about your capabilities and your ideas. So we cover for each other’s weaknesses very well. And that’s why I think this business definitely had legs to stand on.

Sue: So there you were the three of you seeing that you’ve got differing strengths that you can bring together to combine into potentially a successful startup. And you’ve got a responsible job in corporate America as well. Manny, where you able to bring any of your experience and knowledge and insights from corporate America into scaling up your business?

Manny: Ah, I definitely think that my experience in corporate America. Absolutely critical for scaling of my business. After my stint in consulting, I switched to the consumer and package goods industry, and I learned process automation. I learned process redesign, [00:09:00] and I also became an expert on a series of tools called robotic process automation, which is a tool that imitates what a human worker is capable of doing. So we have a term called a digital worker.

A digital worker is what we program to perform the kind of work that a human worker would be doing. And today my current company, I advise senior executives how to implement robotic process automation and what these tools are capable of and how to generate ROI on robotic process automation. And I’m certainly generating ROI with robotic process automation for my personal business as well. And the whole concept of the digital worker. I love that concept. I’m a lean startup. We’re just three normal guys. We don’t have a multimillion dollar budget to hire tons and tons of workers. So we got a little bit creative and I’ve always been the crazy mad scientist in our group of three. Well, my other two partners keep me grounded in reality.

I’ve always been the crazy mad scientists brainstorming new ideas implementing them. And coming up with solutions to whatever problems and curve balls that, that are thrown our way. So we were definitely constrained by budget and instead of hiring physical workers, I realized, Hey, the same way that in my job in corporate America, People are using digital workers to augment the capabilities of, of certain departments when they’re running low on capacity, when they have certain deadlines to hit and they don’t have time to hire a new wave of people, a light bulb went on my head and I was like, wait, why do I build and train these digital workers?

And then I wrote some scripts that can go onto certain websites and actually pull potential customer leads onto a spreadsheet. And these leads we then call up one by one. We pitch them our product. The reason why I think this digital worker was so game changing is because in the past we just call up whatever leads we found.

This digital worker actually allows us to segment each lead by industry and keyword. I know that people hate getting their time wasted by sales people who pitch it, irrelevant product. And I think that’s good. Sales needs to be a win-win situation, a bad salesman, shoves a product down your face that you’re not interested in a good salesperson screens to make sure there’s a potential that you might be solving a business need.

Number one, and the number two, a good salesperson. Educates the customer on the value of the product and lets them make the decision instead of pushing them to make a decision. That’s how I do sales and that’s how my digital worker is able to help me better target relevant leads. So it’s really useful.

Sue: I can see you’ve got additional employees in your business because you’re using the digital capability to augment the three of you. There you are with your six ingredients. How does it that get transformed into these exscalibars and then get packaged and shipped out to your customers? Because there’s that kind of productivity element that you’ve not mentioned [00:12:00] yet.

Manny: I like to think of the Excalibar as a brownie in a wrapper. That’s how we market it. And it’s absolutely true because it tastes absolutely like a brownie. So. That’s our main marketing angle, the wholesome guilt-free brownie as to how we actually manufacture and how we ship it to our customers. Back in the day when I was still working and consulting, these bars were cut up by hand. It was in, it was made in Rob’s kitchen and it was a very mom and pop operation. Our commercial kitchen actually closed down. Partially due to COVID partially because they were facing financial issues that forced us to just grow up really, really fast. And then we eventually rented out a manufacturing facility and we started pressing bars in higher quantities.

So that really forced us to adapt really, really quickly. And I think that the manufacturing facility worked out in the long run because it allowed us for more professional packaging. We always designed our packaging to retain the small time feel that we always had when we were coming up. So that’s how the production works.

We rent out a factory and we actually store the inventory at a Amazon warehouse. And because we have three partners in three different geographical locations, we actually split up our inventory and we placed it in each person’s residence. And that makes it a lot easier for us to fulfill orders. So I own the Southeast region. My partner Rob owns the Northeast region. And my partner Justin owns the west coast region. He based in California, having three partners makes this game a whole lot easier.

Sue: And if you’re enjoying this episode, you may also like to try out episode 14. Amelia Lin was our guest then and her parents were also keen on education and it led her to launching a startup as. Or you can go to episode 28. Vinay Chandra talks also about the relentless optimism of the entrepreneur. Don’t forget. We have over 70 episodes in our back catalog and you can listen to them all at accesstoinspiration.org. The sense I got when I first connected with you, Manny, was that it was about making a difference as well as making money.

Manny: It absolutely is.

Sue: And that’s what we are all about with access to inspiration is helping listeners to get a connection to somebody’s bigger purpose very often. So what is that bigger purpose in addition to satisfying somebody’s hunger needs during the day?

Manny: That is the question that I’ve been dying to answer for this whole time. I’ve been told by many people that you have a good career. Why do you spend so much time on something that may or may not work out? The first thing I tell them is it is not about the money. If I cared about money only, I’d just spend more time in my corporate job, which I also really, really enjoy. I’d spend more time in my corporate job, less time on this. That would probably be more profitable. But no I’m doing this [00:15:00] because I care about providing healthy, high quality food to busy people all across the world. There’s actually a huge economic cost on obesity, obesity costs there society, billions of dollars every year in terms of medical costs, lost productivity. Decreased of happiness and, you know, it’s really hard to put a price in happiness. I think happiness is almost priceless, but economists like to put a dollar value on everything. And let’s just say that loss of happiness, they’re very, very big economic value tacked onto that. So. I see that a lot of busy professionals because they’re crunched for time, they make unhealthy lifestyle choices, and I am providing the foods that allow people to nourish and sustain themselves at a pretty reasonable price.

Number one, number two, I wanna make healthy food, more accessible to people. If by doing this, I allow just a few people to kick their bad habits and transition to healthier habits that allow ’em to stay productive, stay happier and live a better, longer lifespan that makes me really fulfill the end of the day. And just like how I’m a technology evangelist in my organization, educating senior executives and what cool pieces of tech can do to transform the organizations. I like to consider myself a health, food evangelist as well.

Sue: It’s really interesting listening to you speak Manny. I get the sense that efficiency, efficient actions very much are at the heart of what enables you to function effectively. As you say, we all have the same amount of time in the day, and it’s what you can do in that time. So I’m wondering. If you can give the listener a sense of how you do manage your day, what are some of the approaches, some of the techniques that you adopt yourself in terms of how you efficiently manage your time in a day?

Manny: I definitely mentioned that I was not the most organized and to this day, I still think my scattered brain nature is actually the source of where my creativity and my ideas come. That part of me, that scattered brain, you know, mad scientist thinking like the people who were, who are saying, Hey, I’m a nut job. I should change that. I never change that. But I was able to tame and control that I dedicate like maybe two hours a day of like, Creative time where I, I let the ideas just run wild and I jot all that down on notepad. And the next day I review it, but running a business actually forced me to grow up really quick.

And let’s just say that today I’m a lot more organized in my day to day execution of my tasks. So I am a huge fan of creating systems. Okay. I think systems and processes. Is what makes or break routines and it’s what makes or breaks businesses. So every day when I get up, I look at my to-do list in an app called todoist.

And no I’m not getting paid a single dime from them for saying this [00:18:00] todoist has enhanced my productivity, fivefold. That is not an exaggeration. Whenever I have a takeaway, I add that to my todoist queue and then. I prioritize it accordingly. I like to think that 80% of your results come from 20% of your tasks.

We have a lot of tasks that people push on us that really don’t add value. And it’s your job as an entrepreneur and as a business leader to push back on those tasks, and there’s a lot of tasks that are non-value added and don’t have to be done. You, you simply say, Hey, I don’t think doing this is gonna add any value to the organisation so you push back on it. If it’s a task that you think has to be done, but there’s other people who can do it better than you and have a competitive advantage, then you actually delegate that task and then you outsource it. And when I rank my priorities, I definitely take that into accounts. Also, the other thing I wanted to point out was. I like to bucket tasks and I like to do them in batches. Like for example, rote repetitive admin work that I can’t get out of. I’ll I’ll dedicate one hour a day to do that. Because if I do everything in batches, I’m a lot more efficient. The human mind is actually notoriously bad at multitasking. So carving out dedicated time for series of tasks. That’s also another big secret as well. So those are my tips for making sure I stay productive.

Sue: Well, it’s really a useful thing to remind listeners of constructing one’s day, according to also the efficiency and where one gets their energy from. So are they a morning person? Are they an evening person given that you have so many activities in your day, Manny? Where are you most productive? Are you a get up early sort of guy that, you know, has got everything done by 9:00 AM? Or are you working till two in the morning? And that’s your peak time?

Manny: How about both is both the acceptable answer. because I think it definitely varies. And this is something that you learn through introspection, you know, Despite me coming off as energetic, I’m actually a highly introverted person and I had people at work. Ask me, wait, you’re introverted. You seem so extroverted. So passionate, so full of energy. And I always tell them I am full of energy because I. Only pick jobs where I’m passionate about. It’s not fair to my employer. It’s not fair to my stakeholders and it’s not fair to myself. If I take a position that I don’t truly believe I’ll be able to, to deliver on because I’m a very introspective person and an introverted person as well, I’m able to do the deep self-reflection necessary to identify what times of the day are optimal for me during the morning times, it is the most optimal for me to get the routine repetitive tasks done. So. During the morning I crank out reports. I crank out deliverables during the evening. That’s my creative time. The evenings, my creative time. 2:00 AM. Sometimes I wake up at 2:00 AM and I think, oh, I think there’s a better way to do this. Jot that down before I go to sleep and sometimes I have trouble going back to sleep because I’m thinking, Hey, how can I best implement it once? 7:00 [00:21:00] AM rolls.

Sue: So even the simple thing like having a notepad by your bed is sounds like it’s a useful thing to have.

Manny: Absolutely. And ideas are best written down. People place so much value on just ideas. And I think ideas alone don’t really have value. It’s being able to capture ideas. It’s being able to build that action plan. Everyone has an idea. If you want ideas, read science fiction, everyone wants to build a star, destroy destroyer. Everyone wants inter stellar travel. I want all those things. One day, I want to be the guy who’s funding those activities. That’s actually my long term goal. Once heaven’s pantry is successful, I want to divert capital to progress our society and, and further the scientific knowledge of our species.

But once again the devil is in the details. And the devil is in the execution. You’re not special for having these ideas, but you are special if you can implement them. So that’s why, whenever I have an idea, such as tweaking a process, automating a task, first thing I do, I write it down. And then when I have spare time in my carved out focus time, I revisit that and I say, Hey, how much value can this idea actually have? Even though you might think of me as a person with great ideas, but for every good idea, I have, I probably have like three bad ideas that I absolutely can’t implement and have to cross out

Sue: what I get the sense of in our conversation today. Manny is whilst we started off talking about heaven’s pantry and your exscalibar the value I’ve been taking away from what you’ve been talking about is how to critically evaluate our creativity and then optimize and become more efficient in how we take ideas forward. And that you’ve got the combination of both of those things. You’ve demonstrated us that creative side of yourself, and also the taking that creativity and productizing it, making it more efficient, making sure it actually can be delivered in the longer. If you were looking to give one piece of advice for our listener, who may have their entrepreneurial idea for a venture that they would like to start up, what would be that one piece of advice you would offer to them to take it from an idea and make it happen?

Manny: The first piece of advice I would give them is please do not enter a business because you’re in it for the money. If you do something, be for the sole intention of making money. You will not be satisfied. You are going to burn out. You will not have that drive to go the extra mile. The thing about being an entrepreneur is that it’s gonna be years and years until you see money. Okay. And then secondly, even in your corporate job as well, obviously you gotta make a living.

Obviously you deserve to be paid fair wages for your work. And I’ve always been an advocate of people getting paid fair wages for their work but you have to find passion in what you do, because if you don’t find passion in what you do, there’s someone out there who has passion for your field, and they’re going to [00:24:00] just run laps all over you. But don’t just find something that you’re passionate about because there’s lots of things that passionate about that cannot solve a societal need. So number one, find out, Hey, is what I’m passionate about? Is that something that other people. Are interested in, is that an area that can solve problems of everyday ordinary people all across the world. If you’re passionate and you can help people doing something, then now you have a winning strategy and only venture you go forward with an idea.

Sue: Brilliant. If people want to find out more about heaven’s pantry, how might they be able to do that?

Manny: Absolutely. So you can follow us on our Instagram at heaven’s pantry. That’s our number one, social media. Our website is heaven’s pantry, llc.com. It has a list of our distributors and where you can find the product. You can buy a product in Amazon. And if you’re interested, we have a special discount. HP friend 10, it’s a lifetime 10% off of all. Orders is actually the same discount code that I give to friends and family. Because if you’re listening to the show, we can now be friends.

Sue: brilliant. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Manny, I’ve really enjoyed speaking to you, learning about your entrepreneurial venture, your wonderful creativity and the passion that you exude in, how you speak about everything. So thank you for your time.

Manny: Thank you. And I look forward to the time our paths cross again.

Sue: Well, I hope you enjoyed listening to Manny and his enthusiasm for his startup venture with his friends. Maybe it gave you some inspiration to focus on a startup of your own. Remember, you can keep connected to us on social media. We on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Just search for access to inspiration. I’ll be back again next week with the final guest for this series. And I’ll be talking to Daylin Matthews. Who’s a Hollywood stunt performer. I hope you can join me then.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)