Nick Saltarelli of Mid-Day Squares: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
Going after hard concepts is actually an easier way to succeed. We were able to garner a huge audience because people were so interested in the insanity of us trying to break into one of the most competitive and saturated markets, in the most competitive area of the grocery store. This interest increased even more when we took on the insane task of building a manufacturing plant. That insanity drove eyeballs, eyeballs drove revenue, revenue drove growth which allowed us to invest in telling the story further. Moral of the story: people were interested because it was difficult, and they went on the journey with us.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Saltarelli.
Nick Saltarelli always wanted to build a legacy as an entrepreneur, serving customers in a way that was unapologetically authentic and real. From the tender age of 14 until about 22 years old, Nick was mentored and worked for several high-growth companies in Canada, with the goal to one day be one. Going into his thirties Nick woke up and decided he wanted to compete at the highest level of entrepreneurship and put his love for chocolate and entrepreneurial passion to the test and with that Mid-Day Squares was born.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and grow something that I love, and I also love chocolate. So once the idea was presented to me, there was an immediate curiosity of “what would happen if I did this?” I had the experience under my belt at a young age, thanks to a mentor, and I’ve always been singularly focused and obsessive, which can be a blessing and a curse. In this case, putting that personality trait to work has been what set me on the path of growing Mid-Day Squares.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My dad passed away when I was 10, and life has been an uphill climb since. The most important takeaway from that experience is that I am driven by fear; anytime I fear something it brings me down and puts me in a negative state. I’ll go through wonky periods where I toss and turn knowing that my only solution is to face the fear. Once I accept that I have no choice but to face it, that’s where I succeed. With every new beginning, personally or professionally, I have felt this moment where I reach clarity when I finally stop worrying about what might go wrong and I just go for it!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Mid-Day Squares has been a constant battle of having to solve big problems. How do you scale out of doing production by hand in a condo to a 90,000 bars per day automated facility? How do you deal with the death of a team member at a company retreat? I can go on and on about the deep pains we have gone through. The drive comes from within. To accept the journey of life for both the good and the bad. To literally view it as your unique imprint. My belief is that your one job in life is to survive while remaining positively stimulated. Really hard journeys allow me to achieve those two things and that’s what gets me through the hard times. This is a process I choose to put myself through.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I’m starting to reach a point in my life where the destination doesn’t matter. I’m wholeheartedly dedicated to the journey. Things with Mid-Day Squares are going to go how they’re going to go and building up grit and resilience is all that matters. To me, those are the only skills you need to be an entrepreneur. So many insanely capable people that should be some of the best entrepreneurs often can’t be, because they’re missing that level of grit. Media so falsely portrays the journey of building up a company, that’s why we try to show an authentic view of what it’s like.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My most comical mistake happened when I was 18 years old and trying to create a business for a group of people that I had ZERO relatability or connection to. Therefore, I had NO internal compass to create intuition on where to take the company. Looking back, it seems like a big joke that we even attempted to go for it. But from that experience, I learned not to try impacting something that you yourself have no connection to.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mid-Day Squares stands out because our industry often sells the same cookie-cutter story over and over, and we chose to take a radically different approach. We want to show our experience through a very transparent camera, both figurative and literally, by sharing the highs and lows of what it takes to make Mid-Day Squares. We like to be relatable, plus the fact that we create the product AND manufacture it ourselves is EXACTLY what makes us stand out. We’ve also taken extra steps to be transparent with our customers about the production of the bars, even when it seems like it goes against our interest. We had a batch of bars end up with burnt coconut, and instead of sweeping it under the rug, we shared the whole issue with our consumers on social media. This went against the advice we had received, but it resulted in building further trust with customers because they can now rely on us to be transparent.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The best way to thrive is to always ask yourself before a decision: “am I making an unaverage decision, or is this a choice that the average person would make?” If something feels like the obvious or easy call, go back and reconsider the road less traveled. I can assure you, that by optimizing for making unaverage decisions, you are setting yourself up for a greater chance of unaverage outcomes, both good and bad. As for not “burning out”, I’ve found the way to avoid it is to do something you are truly proud of, something that stimulates you. If you’re excited about what you’re doing, the energy that goes into it feels a lot more sustainable. While that takes care of the majority of burnout scenarios, getting a good night’s sleep covers the rest.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Rory Olson, who was a father figure to me after my dad passed away. He basically spent a decade of my life teaching me how to be the best entrepreneur ever. From the ages 14–22 I worked for several high-growth companies in Canada and kept my ear to the ground on everything that Rory did. He really taught me everything I know and let me in the room for meetings with million-dollar enterprise transactions. His belief in me and my potential was such a gift, and it turned me into the machine I am now.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That’s a tough question…I’ve tried to motivate a lot of people to become entrepreneurs, as I truly believe that capitalism works. If a lot of good people empower themselves to win, then those good people will also solve a lot of troubling problems using capitalism. Bill Gates is a great example of what philanthropy on a major scale looks like, which is not possible without capitalism. I try to take what we’ve learned with this business and apply that thinking to solving big problems and hopefully I can follow in Bill’s steps one day.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- 80% of your development skills should go towards communication, behavioral psychology, and learning how to manage people. Humans are drastically complex creatures, it’s a superpower to lead large groups, especially in a work setting. In scaling a business, your sink or swim moments will come in how well you are able to gather and/or resolve conflict amongst your team.
- Going after hard concepts is actually an easier way to succeed. We were able to garner a huge audience because people were so interested in the insanity of us trying to break into one of the most competitive and saturated markets, in the most competitive area of the grocery store. This interest increased even more when we took on the insane task of building a manufacturing plant. That insanity drove eyeballs, eyeballs drove revenue, revenue drove growth which allowed us to invest in telling the story further. Moral of the story: people were interested because it was difficult, and they went on the journey with us.
- Keeping your company’s finances organized should be #1 from the day you start. To me, it’s super simple: the more organized you are, the easier it is going to be to raise capital needed to pursue your growth. Organized financials lead to smooth scaling up, which can help to avoid growing pains.
- Be in love with your own product, in love with your own problem that you’re trying to solve. I’ve dreamt of owning a chocolate factory since I was a child, I just f***ing love chocolate, so building a functional chocolate bar company is my realization of that dream. It makes everything so much easier when you genuinely love the brand or product or company. I’ve been in places working on something I didn’t love, which just amplified the pains. Every job is going to have tough spots but having love for what you’re doing is a painkiller for the bad moments.
- Listening to others is drastically overrated — take my word for it, no pun intended ;)
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In software education, they teach you the idea of hierarchy amongst things which helps you organize structured data. A person could be more than just a person; a person could be a boy or a girl, old or young, white or black. But if you follow that hierarchy all the way to the top, you will get to a place where there would be no other way to describe a person than Homo-Sapiens. Over time we’ve developed the idea of borders, cultural differentiation, and a lot of other things that make it seem as though we don’t share the planet Earth. Although those constructs are true, it’s also indisputable that if you zoom out, you cannot deny we are all people on the planet Earth. By thinking through that lens, you will conduct yourself very differently in the world. I want to always challenge people to remember that, and act/think as a human on this shared planet first and then whatever else you identify with.
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