“Learn To Differentiate Between Useful And Useless Criticism”, Words of Wisdom with Daryn Kuipers, CEO of Boxed Water

“I have learned however that disagreement within your organization is different. You need to listen carefully. I once needed to enforce a rule that was put in place for good reasons, but it was going to impact a high performer that everyone liked. If I let the person slide, it may have never been discovered and could have easily been swept under the rug. However, it is not about doing what you want or you think they want, it’s about doing what’s right. In the end, the individual knew they were wrong and actually appreciated the correction and continued to contribute. It sent a message to everyone that they are all treated equal.”
I had the pleasure to interview Daryn Kuipers, the CEO of Boxed Water. Part sustainable water company, part philanthropic project Boxed Water focuses on providing the purest water in the most sustainable way. They are not satisfied with the status quo — our planet doesn’t need more plastic bottles. They constantly try to find new ways to make a positive impact for our planet.

What is your “backstory”?

My passion has always been to work with entrepreneurs and big ideas. Throughout college, I participated in the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) Club and continue my involvement to this day. Throughout my career, I’ve found myself most interested in working with entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level. I was an original member of Iserv Technology Group and served as Executive Director for ArtPrize Grand Rapids (http://www.artprize.org), one of the largest art awards with $500,000 in total prizes. I also co-founded a company called Spout, an online film community. During my time at Spout, a mutual connection introduced me to Ben Gott, the founder of Boxed Water, and I became one of the original members of the management team.

Hearing Ben’s alternative to plastic bottles reminded me of when I first became aware of the plastic problem. In the 6th grade, we were told to cut all of our plastic 6 pack soda holders so WHEN they get in the ocean, they would not get stuck around the beaks of birds. Then again in college, we went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and saw trash on the beaches and ocean floor. After seeing the negative effects of plastic on our planet, I was proud to have the opportunity to be a part of a solution and serve as the CEO of Boxed Water, the first sustainable company to offer an alternative to plastic water bottles.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I was running the nonprofit “ArtPrize Grand Rapids,” which is one of the most attended art events in the world with one of the largest art prizes. We were nearing yearend, and it seemed prudent to do a physical inventory on all assets. We were not a manufacturer, so this idea was foreign to the mostly creative group. After many sideways and confused looks, I learned it had never been done before. I let them all know that I did not want the auditor asking me questions at the board meeting and that this would be a fun afternoon project. There was again some push back, “Do we really need to count every little thing?” to which I was persistent, “Yes.” I kept asking myself, how hard can it be to count 500 t-shirts, posters and other pieces of swag. Turns out they knew more than I did. I showed up the next morning and could sense the tone was a little different. People were not looking at me. The usual morning pleasantries were quiet. As I rounded the corner to my desk, I saw it. An orange mountain of wristbands covered my desk. I don’t recall the number, but I would guess 50,000. A massive order two-years prior seemed like a smart idea at the time to get the “buIk rate.” I was late to a meeting but couldn’t help but laugh as I pulled a Scrooge McDuck and reached in the center of the pile to grab the folder I needed. Late that day, we ordered lunch and all sat around laughing and counting. We ended up estimating based on weight and volume, resorting to a snow shovel to scoop them all up.

Are you working on any meaningful non profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe that by doing the right thing and being thoughtful in each decision, you will see success. That’s the message I share with the team at Boxed Water. We try to be thoughtful in our decisions because we’re more than a product; we are trying to reduce the plastic dependence on this planet.

Boxed Water is a member of 1% For The Planet. 2017 marks the third year of the #ReTree campaign, in which the brand has already pledged to plant more than 612,000 trees in partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Through #ReTree, Boxed Water empowers consumers to take an active role in bettering our planet.

I try to share this message of giving back with young leaders as well. I joined the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization when I was attending college and continue my involvement to this day. During my time with the organization, I led a project that raised a $100,000 endowment fund at the university. With the interest earned, we founded the “Idea Pitch,” which gives money to the best business idea from students. Today the concept has gained traction and has expanded to other chapters and universities.

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

I am proud to say that the work we do at Boxed Water has an impact on everyone. The fact that we have planted more than 612,000 trees in our National Forests means that we are replenishing the forests affected by wildfire, disease, and other natural threats. Trees that are planted help stabilize the watersheds that provide millions of Americans with clean water. Planting helps restore forest cover and offers vital wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species. Trees sequester carbon dioxide, fighting the effects of our warming climate.

On a more personal level, the $100,000 endowment fund has helped young entrepreneurs develop and grow their business ideas. The first year’s winner used the funds to start a real estate rental company, which he grew and still runs to this day. Another student was simply curious about the program and used the connections we built to start a business importing and selling vanilla beans. Again, his business is still running and is a leading spice company. These entrepreneurs combined the endowment program and its connections with their own ideas, initiative, and hard work. They built successful companies from a small start. To this day, we still keep in touch, and I celebrate their successes with them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. If it looks too good to be true, it is (probably).

You may see what appears to be an easy route to achieve something you want, but don’t expect it to fall into your lap. You need to put in the effort to go get it. You know in your gut if it is too good to be true. I once bought a house for a dollar. Figured it would be a couple quick phone calls. Buy a piece of property, have someone pour cement walls, set the house down and pocket some cash. Nope… don’t do it!

2. Trust your gut.

There is a 40–70 rule that I have heard quoted by many great military leaders. Act on a decision if you have between 40 and 70 percent of the information you need. Tomorrow the intel will be different, and you will spend too much time getting new data. If you have less than 40% of the intel, you are guessing. Nothing is perfect, we make mistakes. When (not if) you do, admit it and move on. I like to say I have not made mistakes, rather learned some hard and, at times, expensive lessons. If you are not willing to trust your gut and fail, you will never move forward.

3. Learn to differentiate between useful and useless criticism

Social media comments make for a dark hole. You can get lost in something that means nothing. Haters are going to hate, and they are a small percent of the population. On top of that, they are not a customer, so press on! Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in that dark hole. If you get stuck in that vortex, pull your recent sales and look at your growing list of customers and press on.

I have learned however that disagreement within your organization is different. You need to listen carefully. I once needed to enforce a rule that was put in place for good reasons, but it was going to impact a high performer that everyone liked. If I let the person slide, it may have never been discovered and could have easily been swept under the rug. However, it is not about doing what you want or you think they want, it’s about doing what’s right. In the end, the individual knew they were wrong and actually appreciated the correction and continued to contribute. It sent a message to everyone that they are all treated equal.

4. You will never be prepared enough

No matter how much you plan, you will always miss something. Return on Effort is a real thing. Looking back on school, I followed this principle subconsciously. If I didn’t study, I may get a 50%. An hour of study time got me 70%, 2 hours got me 85% 3 hours got me 90%, and 4 hours got me 93%. You get the idea. Was it really worth 20 hours to get a perfect 100%? I was okay with a 90% and the balance of my time to work on other projects, ideas, or for minimum wage to pay for school. Do your best and focus on what you know; you cannot know it all. The sooner you realize this and surround yourself with talent, the sooner you will be successful.

5. Kids grow up fast. Enjoy the busy time. (They told me, but I didn’t believe them.)

You hear it all the time, “They grow up so fast;” I wish I had listened sooner. Embrace the tears, cherish the hugs, and make memories. Some days may be long (if you have ever traveled with three little kids, you know what I am talking about!), but the years do fly by. I recall flying to Florida with all the carry-on bags on my shoulder or in tow. My wife had one kid strapped on and two others held tightly by the hand. We were running through the airport to make a flight. I heard someone say, “That sucks!” and yet another person whispered to their travel buddy, “I don’t miss those days.” We finally got to Florida and spent one day “relaxing” followed by an ER visit and drops for a double ear infection. We had a few normal days in the sun, but had issues with our return flight. We had to rent a car and drive 10 hours with three kids. Oh yeah, and the rental car company didn’t have any more car seats, so we had to swing by Target and BUY three. Best Trip Ever. BUT, we talk about that trip more than any other. The moment might suck, but the memory is forever. Make the best of it.

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 see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

Howard Schultz. The size, scale and penetration of Starbucks is nothing but impressive. Schultz had a vision and the persistence to make that vision a reality. I believe I share these traits and do what is required to meet our goal. Schultz saw people’s desire to feel a connection to their consumption. We are changing the world by giving people a choice to help the planet in their daily lives. I would ask him when he thinks Boxed Water will replace Ethos Water, allowing Starbucks to continue giving clean water but not needing to produce so much plastic to do so.

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