“Analysis Often Leads to Paralysis, So Just Do It” 5 Wisdom Nuggets with Sarah Pool, CEO at Canvas
“We upcycle spent grain from the beer brewing process into convenient, plant-based, fiber- and protein-rich beverages.”
I had the pleasure to interview Sarah Pool, Co-Founder & CEO at Canvas: Entrepreneur. Development and expansion stage CEO with food and disruptive products expertise. Current President at organic, superfood snack Company. Previously held a variety of executive roles at large companies, including Director of Finance & Administration for international organization. Sarah has spoken to audiences around the country, including TEDx, the OEN Entrepreneurial Summit, CBS’ MyWindow, the National Honor Society, and more. Her commitment to social entrepreneurship — utilizing business to propel social and environmental benefit — fuels her inspiring leadership. She is the founder of multiple successful businesses and runs a weekly leadership program called “Chase Your Sunrise.”
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I attended high school in a small town of ~10,000 people (Central Point, OR), but earned a college basketball scholarship to UC-Berkeley. Growing up in a small town, I realized the value of hard work and the importance of living in a close-knit community. At Berkeley, I learned the scale of impact individuals and impassioned groups of individuals could have on the world.
The biggest question on my mind throughout my time in college was not if but how to contribute in some way to creating a better world. Through a combination of continuing to compete athletically post-graduation as well as being surrounded by people that were tirelessly dedicated to creating a better life for others, I became convinced that our food system needed disrupting and that the most economical and beneficial solution was expanding access to plant-based food.
I launched an organic snack food company (a Certified B Corporation), offering products that contained nothing but real food (no preservatives, no flavors, no colors, no gums — just whole food, minimal ingredients). Our company was acquired by a global natural foods brand, Made In Nature, which hacks snacking like no other — setting the standard for whole, real, good-for-you, good-for-the-planet snacks. The snacks also happen to be incredibly delicious, real food actually tastes better than manufactured-to-taste-good food.
Over the last year, I’ve partnered with a phenomenal team of dreamers at ZX Ventures and Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), who saw an opportunity to do what hasn’t been done before: find a way to safely and economically upcycle spent grain (from beer brewing) into fiber- and protein-rich food and beverage products. There are over eight billion pounds of spent grain produced annually and the opportunity for impact is enormous, the simple question was: how and where do we get started? Canvas is the first evolution of ‘saving grain’, and we’re aiming to solve a tremendous problem in the U.S. and global diet, which is that dietary fiber is absolutely essential to not only our digestive health but overall well-being, yet only ~3% of the population meets the daily recommended intake. With health issues continuing to rise, related to poor nutrition (which is preventable), we see our role as a tremendous one.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I am excited by the fact that we could actually save spent grain, we believed the first renditions of the product we created were great. Then we sent it out to some top chefs and industry experts, and they thought it was horrible — inedible, actually. They refused to finish a bottle. It was phenomenal that we could upcycle this beautiful grain, but we had to go back to the drawing board and continue refining, to the point where we pivoted the concept all-together. Because of that feedback, we’ve been able to create something like nothing else out there. We’re in love with what Canvas is today, and believe we’ll just keep getting better from here.
Yitzi: So what exactly does your company do?
We upcycle spent grain from the beer brewing process into convenient, plant-based, fiber- and protein-rich beverages. Our mission is to upcycle as much spent grain as possible and find as many ways as possible to bring better, plant-based nourishment to the world. This is just the tip of the iceberg of helping solve issues of malnourishment (from both underfeeding and overfeeding).
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
“Success” and “goodness” are relative, but I do believe there is benefit in increasing transparency in our food system and expanding access to plant-based food (both in terms of the impact on individual health and the long-term sustainability of the planet). All of our collective efforts in these areas, are creating a beautiful shift systemically. My hope is that with Canvas, we can continue to tip the scales in favor of a healthier world now and for future generations.
Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
1. Resourcefulness + Urgency: People often believe they have to have all of the tools or knowledge in some area in order to get started — some deep pedigree on paper — but the biggest distinguishing factors in my experience are a deep hunger to find a way (resourcefulness) and a sense of urgency to get it done.
2. Analysis often leads to paralysis, so just do it: The more we analyze things, the more reason we find reason not to do something. I often say had we known how much we didn’t know when we started the snack company, we wouldn’t have done it. But it’s one of the greatest decisions we’ve ever made. I tend to lean towards taking big risks, because it’s the only way we find out what we are really capable of — and we all are capable of so much more than we know. The biggest risk is losing it all, but we all start with nothing and can always rebuild.
3. Learn how to surf: I don’t mean this literally, but it’s a great analogy. In entrepreneurship, you’re always riding a wave. It goes up, it goes down, it’s often unpredictable, and it’s rarely ‘perfect’, it takes crashing or slipping or falling thousands of times to learn balance and control, it’s often cold and lonely. But it’s all part of the journey. The better you learn to ride the wave, the more you understand the challenges and failures are an essential part of the process and the quicker you are able to navigate them as they come.
4. You don’t need a perfect 10 to launch or to compete: When first launching, getting to a perfect ten on the product side takes time. The product needs to get to market quickly, fail quickly and re-formulate quickly, so you can learn how to make it a 10. You don’t need a perfect ten to launch or to compete. What you do need ten out of ten on is your belief in what you’re doing and your commitment to the customer. These are everything in the short and long run.
5. Build a team of people who are seeking more than a job: Build a team of people who feel a deep calling to do something worthwhile, something bigger than themselves, something more than a paycheck and comfortable living. At every level of the company, every position — work to find those people. The speed at which you can grow is 10x that of people who are even 80% in.
Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with Phil Knight. There’s something mystical about his Oregon roots, his connection with Prefontaine and Coach Bowerman, the waffle iron sole, the story of growing something from nothing into the most well-known shoe brand in the world, the unbelievable challenges and struggles he’s faced to accomplish that, and the impact he continues to have on so many people’s lives on and off the field. He turned a globe into ‘athletes’, and I think his story also shows that anyone, anywhere can be an entrepreneur.