“Maintain Enoughness” Words Of Wisdom With Inc. 500 Entrepreneur Jordan French
I had the pleasure of interviewing Inc. 500 and Fast 50 entrepreneur Jordan French, now a multimedia journalist who serves on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and is an active columnist at a number of other publications from CIO.com to Entrepreneur.
Jordan French’s start was as an academic and engineer. A biomedical engineering graduate of Vanderbilt, French started his professional career working on a NASA funded Mars Gravity Biosatellite program, a collaborative effort meant to spearhead future efforts to explore Mars. His experience is what later led French to co-found BeeHex as chief marketing officer, another program that originated with NASA funding. BeeHex is one of French’s most notable works: a 3D food printing business that created the world’s first 3D pizza printer. Now a military contractor, the company is pioneering personalized nutrition. Prior to BeeHex, French was most notable for co-founding Wiki-PR, a business he started that later evolved into “Olivia Pope of the Internet,” Status Labs. He served as CEO and COO of Status Labs, which grew under his tenure to an Inc. 500 and Fast 50-ranked business until he was betrayed by his business partners. French has detailed his experiences, including his multimillion-dollar lawsuit over his ownership in Status Labs, in his upcoming book, The Gritty Entrepreneur.
A recent project has been Lisbon Farms, a cage-free egg farm he co-founded. The demand for cage-free and ethical foods is growing, and French has been excited to see what type of growth Lisbon Farms will see in the coming years.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your NASA “backstory” in engineering?
Back in 2004 I started working for NASA’s Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program, and following that I began founding and co-founding startups like BeeHex, BNB Shield, Status Labs, and Notability Partners. I was really starting to get a lot of connections, and that caught the eye of Anjan Contractor, the man who landed a contract to build a 3D food printer for NASA.
Anjan, two other cofounders and I launched BeeHex with the goal of creating a viable 3D food printer that uses minimal resources while also create edible food. We decide to take it a step further and made pizza that not only beats out the current foods available to astronauts, but rivals pizza chains. In fact, the owner of a big pizza chain invested in BeeHex.
In a lot of ways, BeeHex was sort of the culmination of my working life — it combined my NASA experience with my entrepreneurial experience. It’s crazy to think that after I left a Mars NASA project to start my own businesses, I ended up pretty much right back where I started. I’m incredibly fortunate to be involved in BeeHex and to have met so many of the people that I’ve worked with along the way.
Since I’ve moved on from BeeHex, I’ve really gotten back to some of my original passions — wiring, journalism and editing. I’ve made these a focus for my future, and along with getting named an editor at TheStreet.com, I also have a new book coming out, The Gritty Entrepreneur.
I’ve also recently co-founded Lisbon Farms, a family business and something that I can’t talk enough about. There’s a huge shift going on in the food market not only toward sustainability but also ethical food production.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company.
The funniest thing that’s happened to me is just being at events and seeing an entrepreneur or influencer that I recognize and want to meet, and then when I go to introduce myself they already know who I am! It’s pretty crazy how quickly names spread through networking. For example, I got paparazzo’d at CES this year; at the same time no matter who you are, ego is the enemy. We’re all just humans and for the most part trying to help others.
Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Lisbon Farms stands out because it’s something you don’t really see — a family-owned business that focuses on the ethical treatment of animals and production of food. When we started, I honestly wondered if people would pay more for cage-free eggs. But the demand is there, which is great to see.
Yitzi: 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?
There are three main influences that I think have helped me a lot. The first is Jon Fisher, CEO of CrowdOptic. Getting his perspective on tech and entrepreneurship has been more than valuable, and he’s truly an incredible individual and his team’s track record speaks for itself.
Equally, Walter O’Brien founder of Scorpion and inspiration behind the hit TV show Scorpion is one of the brightest people in the world, and everyone should take time to listen to him.
Last is Gerard Adams, the Millennial Mentor. Successful from starting The Elite Daily, Gerard is all about fostering entrepreneurship in younger generations. This is a message that I wish more entrepreneurs would spread since there are so many great ideas coming from millennials. You have to comfortable with yourself to be authentic. And a lot of people struggle with that. We all do because we all have insecurities.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Lisbon Farms is all about ethical farming, something that’s (fortunately) getting a lot more attention. I’m a firm believer that consumers should be more conscious of where their products are coming from. Ethics is an important part of business.
I’ve also been a “student” of the women in tech movement. There is one hell of a funding gap between men and women-founded startups, a byproduct of the dominance of men in the private equity and venture capital space. That’s changing. I think for men, you have to actually take a more active role and further that initiative if for nothing else than to add to GDP. Biases are an economic detriment to all of us. On my end specifically I’ve had the opportunity to help SheWorx and SheWorx CEO Lisa Wang more and more, and listen, in person if I’m lucky enough, to perspectives from Recode’s Kara Swisher and CNN’s Laurie Segall. We do have “two ears and one mouth” after all. We should listen twice as much as we speak.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why.
1. It’s all about relationships in business. Pick the right people, but always understand that betrayal can happen and some people are willing to put a price on their relationship with you.
2. The idea that “everyone has a number.” Goal setting is critical for this business, but you also need to be able to set measurable goals for yourself and others.
3. Grit. I can’t speak enough on grit. Nobody can prepare you for entrepreneurship, running a business, trying to get funding, betrayal, huge setbacks, the extreme highs and lows…it all can wear down on you. The only way to make it is through grit, the ability to grind through and keep your eye on the prize. As Gary Vaynerchuk says “you get punched in the face and just get back up again.” Failure comes when you give up.
4. Maintain enoughness, which means being enough. But this translates beyond just entrepreneurship — this needs to be applied to your entire life. It’s easy to fall into a trap of always feeling like there’s always more — more to earn, do, win, achieve. Enoughness is the ability to take a step back and be grateful for the journey. It’s understanding that external success doesn’t equate to internal enoughness.
5. Servant-leadership, or knowing that “sh*t rolls downhill,” is critical. Organizations aren’t an upright pyramid. They’re the reverse. As a CEO or in the c-suite, you’re at the bottom and there to lift others up.
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 see this. :-)
I still feel that one of the least appreciated entrepreneurs alive today is Jessica Alba. The Honest Company is not only a crazy big success, but it’s also completely ethical and helps a lot of people. She is also a huge supporter of charities, something that I admire. I understand that I’m fortunate to have the success I’ve achieved, and I try to give back however I can — but she’s on a different level with that. And on top of all of that she’s a woman and a millennial, so there were definitely forces working against her that she overcame. With her experience as an entrepreneur and activist, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to have a conversation with her.
In an interview with actress Sophia Bush I found her to be down to earth, humble and curious about technology. It says a lot to see that “cross over” from the arts: film, television, music and also sports. We’re seeing a lot of interest in technology from other industries and that’s a trend that we’ll certainly see continue.