From Harvard to $30M Entrepreneur

The true cost of freedom with Will Nitze, founder of IQBAR

From Harvard to $30M Entrepreneur

The true cost of freedom with Will Nitze, founder of IQBAR

How to not only play the game but redefine it?

A product-first mentality. 

Never, ever cut corners on quality, and never stop improving your product. 

A fitting segway to today’s interview, with none other than Will Nitze. Will is the Founder & CEO of IQBAR, a Boston-based brain and body nutrition company.

Armed with a psychology degree from Harvard, Will's fascination with the intricacies of the human brain became personal when he confronted chronic challenges, traceable to his high-carb diet in his mid-20s.

After failing to identify ready-to-eat products that matched his new health-conscious lifestyle, Will began tinkering in his apartment kitchen on a protein bar optimized for brain and body nutrition. 

While the product line has evolved over the years, Will’s mission of empowering “doers” through better nutrition has never wavered. 

IQBARs, now available in 7,000 US locations and major e-commerce platforms, are his contribution to overturning the harmful Standard American Diet and reshaping the nation's health narrative.

I’ve been connected with Will on LinkedIn for some time, and his refreshingly genuine approach to content (and callouts of B.S.) always picks me up on bad days. But beyond that, he's here not just to uplift spirits but to contribute to a better world. Will is much more than just another brand founder.

He's a force for positive change.

Now, we’re going on a journey into Will’s mind to see how he brought IQBAR to life, his core principles as an entrepreneur, and why he believes freedom is the goal, not money.

The Nitze Way

A young Will Nitze, lived a life far away from the lavish lands of luxury.

No entrepreneurs in the family, no rags to riches stories, no entrepreneurial legacy to lean on. 

The allure of becoming rich was an ongoing fantasy, and the dream of a mansion and the finer things in life danced in his mind, fuelled by glamorous portrayals in movies. 

"How do I get that mansion?" he often pondered, reflecting the universal desire we all share at some point in our lives (I certainly have anyway!).

The path seemed obvious – finance was the way to riches, with bankers and investment bankers perceived as the gatekeepers to opulence.

Then, fast forward to his college years of 2008 – 2010, the cultural tides shifted.

For Will, it was a match made in heaven.

With the rise of tech, the advent of social networks – suddenly, the concept of entrepreneurship emerged from the shadows.

"Entrepreneurship seemed so much cooler," he recalls. 

"You’re not wearing a suit – it’s more of a ‘f*ck you’ way to make it. You own your own destiny. I thought that was really cool."

The shift in mindset for Will was profound – the allure of shaping his own destiny took precedence over the traditional paths. He romanticized with the idea of entrepreneurship. 

He started tinkering with ideas, driven by a curiosity that spanned multiple interests.

Redirecting himself towards a path less conventional.

He didn't aim to be an expert in one thing; instead, he embraced the chaotic beauty of working on five, six, seven different things simultaneously.

"I always preferred to be good at 5 different things, not a complete expert in one thing. That just maps towards being an entrepreneur, where you get to work on so many micro-projects at once."

Post-college, reality hit, bills needed paying, and the professional world beckoned.

A stint in software, a detour into the conventional desk job with bosses, and boom, entrepreneurship looked even more appealing. 

The contrast between the two worlds was stark, and Will saw the light – the yearning for autonomy and freedom eclipsed the desire for mere financial success.

Reflecting on those early days, Will emphasizes the true prize isn't just about money. It's about seizing control of your own destiny.

It’s about freedom. The pursuit of autonomy. 

In his own words, "At some point, it has to switch to you wanting autonomy/freedom over the money. Control your own destiny – that’s the true prize."

And here we are, witnessing the transformation of a dreamer into a doer, an underdog into a giant. 

For Will, it was time to bring one of his craziest ideas to life.

The Origin of IQBAR - Revolutionizing Cognitive Health

Will’s entrepreneurial journey took flight in 2017 when he decided to translate his passion for brain health into a tangible product. Stemming from a relentless pursuit of a deeper connection between food and cognitive function. 

The idea began in the hallowed halls of academia, where he started to recognize the prevalence of brain fog, mental crashes, and the lack of focus in his own life.

As the pages turned, the discontentment matured into a quest, a relentless pursuit of a more profound connection between what we consume and the functioning of our most vital organ – the brain (hence the name IQBAR).

"Our existence centres on what happens in our brain. That needs to be operating properly" he reiterated to himself during those days, providing the compass guiding IQBAR's formulation and purpose.

His fascination with the intersection of food and brain health burgeoned as his interest in e-commerce grew, fuelled by a recognition of the scarcity of brain-centric products in the market.

Little did Will know, this was the start of something truly special. A quest that would require every last ounce of his mental and physical strength.

But it was born from being curious. Will is a master at letting his mind wander, connecting the dots. Thinking freely.

IQBAR was born from a yearning for a deeper meaning, a connection between what we ingest and the vitality of our minds.

The dissatisfaction of his job gave him the conviction that this was the right path. He could feel his soul being sucked away by the mundane 9-5.

"It was a combination of a number of elements. I always wanted to start my own thing and create something from scratch. I didn't love my job; I was just not very passionate about it. And brain food was this thing that had not been done before,"

But if you think for one minute his path was a walk in the park, you’re mistaken.

The journey wasn't without its challenges, and he candidly admits, "The toughest component of any start-up is just starting." 

It was a leap of faith into the unknown, driven by an insatiable desire to create something purposeful. Exactly what we’re all about at David to Goliath.

Taking a bet on yourself, following your heart amidst the polluted noise of the outside world.

IQBAR initially started as brain food, but the market demanded a broader spectrum—covering both brain and body.

Protein bars became the tools through which Will aimed to support sustained cognitive energy and overall well-being.

The early days of product development were a relentless game of trial and error. 

This is where Will’s strengths came to the forefront.

Constant iteration, recognizing that in business, the first attempt will likely not align with consumer expectations. 

IQBAR became the pursuit of perfection, with ingredients tweaked, formulations adjusted, and valuable feedback sought. Always listening to the customer.

"Assume that what you start with is not where you’re going to finish... Just pivot until it works," Will advises, encapsulating a powerful mantra for entrepreneurs. 

This mindset, an unwavering commitment to adaptability and continuous improvement, propelled the brand’s evolution. 

Every venture starts with one single decision.

To take that leap of faith - believing if you keep digging, you will hit gold. 

The beauty lies not in having all the answers but in the courage that you’ll figure it out along the way. Whatever it takes.

For Will, this is exactly what happened.

From Kickstarter Success to Market Growth

Will shared the origin of IQBAR’s first Kickstarter initiative, which was rooted in necessity rather than luxury. 

It wasn't just about financing; it was about creating sales momentum and proving the viability of his brain-centric nutrition concept.

"We did a Kickstarter because we didn't have any money. We needed to generate funds to establish a valuation of our company and raise enough money to really get started”. 

It provided credence to the idea that people desired brain-centric nutrition.

The unconventional tactics employed during the Kickstarter campaign stand out—personal and professional networks became the heartbeat of outreach. 

The campaign sparked a buzz, validated the product concept, and fostered a community of early supporters —a foundation for the brand's future success.

“The point is, thousands of people buy your thing”

“We sold $90,000 worth of product. We used this to raise £600k – on the back of Kickstarter. By this point we weren’t just a PowerPoint deck, an idea in the shower - we had sales.”

Transitioning from Kickstarter success to market growth, IQBAR encountered another pivotal endeavour — Amazon. 

The platform provided affirmation that the market hungered for brain-centric nutrition. 

Our interview then pivoted towards the art of hiring consultants and securing investment without falling prey to unfavourable terms. 

Will emphasized the importance of doing a consultant's job yourself, at least early on, to develop foundational know-how. 

"Optionality in all things – that’s one of my key pillars," he asserts, underscoring the importance of retaining flexibility in decision-making.

“There’s a couple of exceptions – accounting (I’m not going to become an accountant). 

For technical things – just hire a reputable person.

But for things like product – there’s no right answer. There’s 100 ways you can do it.”

“If development consultants were so good, they would be inventors — not consultants. Strike out on your own, and don’t take any one piece of advice as gospel.”

I bloody love that. Someone actually taking responsibility. Taking matters into their own hands but strategically knowing when to ask for help.

“Develop as much know-how as possible first. You may hit a ceiling, and to get that last 10% know-how, it would be unreasonable to do it yourself so call on a professional.”

That’s pure wisdom right there: straight from the trenches.

When it comes to securing investment, Will delves into the complexities of crowdfunding, 

acknowledging its true purpose as, again, a validation tool, not a get-rich-quick scheme.

If you’re in pursuit of crowdfunding, take a note from Will’s words of advice:

  1. Before venturing into crowdfunding, conduct basic market research on your product's form factor and value proposition. This initial groundwork ensures your product aligns with market needs and sets the stage for success.

  1. Connect with five experienced individuals who have successfully built businesses similar to your envisioned venture. Arrange calls or face-to-face meetings to glean insights on their journey, covering everything from fundraising to manufacturing. Their experiences will provide valuable guidance, creating a roadmap for your own venture.

Finally, we talked about unit economics. Will stressed the importance of obsessing over margins.

"Don’t make a product that never stands a chance. That’s the worst thing you could do," 

Volume becomes the key to problem-solving, with the need to opportunistically make moves while chipping away at all costs.

“I wasn’t super obsessed with margin at first. Generally 50% gross margin is excellent. In the food bar space, there is a level beyond which you can’t sell. 

It’s about cogs and labour, getting that as low as possible. But there’s a ceiling on price.”

It’s not hard to make a great product – it’s hard to make a great product with a great gross margin.

You can pour oats, honey, sea salt in a bowl, it will taste great. 

“Or you can use ultra-premium inputs and licence out patented ingredients. But if it has only a 10% gross margin, it’s never gonna work.”

How do we jack up volume as quickly as we can, then re-engineer the cogs? You can’t re-engineer the cogs if you have no volume.

This is exactly why most physical products never make it big. The economics matter.

Although even with the margins dialled in, Will hit the next big stumbling block: Manufacturing (at scale).

An Unexpected Hiccup 

In entrepreneurship, unexpected hiccups can hit you like a freight train, catching you off guard and testing the very essence of your resilience. 

Roughly 6 months into IQBAR’s existence, a deal with CVS had been struck, and the promise to deliver hundreds of thousands of bars was made. 

Yet, the intricacies of production hadn't been fully realized. In the chaos of first day production, a critical flaw emerged – the wrappers weren't sealing properly. 

A collective gasp echoed through the team as the realization set in: production had to grind to a halt.

Will and his team didn't succumb to despair. Instead, they chose action.

They reached out to every wrapper company across the nation, seeking a solution. 

The clock was ticking, and the fate of the deal hung in the balance.

"Success is not about avoiding failure, but how quickly you can recover from it." 

In the true underdog spirit – you must acknowledge setbacks but refuse to be defined by them.

These moments are the real tests. To see how badly you really want it. 

Against the odds, a vendor stepped up to the plate last minute, providing new wrappers in record time.

Reflecting on this experience, Will shared a lesson: 

"Stress-test every component of your supply chain and manufacturing process before making anything." 

In the face of adversity, the true character of an entrepreneur emerges.

Looking back, this test was a pivotal moment. Because the next step was going national. It was time to get IQBAR on the shelves of the biggest U.S. retail stores.

The question beckoned: Could Will and his team sustain the pressure?

Venturing into Retail – the Dynamics of Growth

IQBAR's presence in over 7,000 stores across the United States is a testament to the power of strategic expansion. 

As the conversation anchored to the importance of 'living your product' for success, Will offered a pragmatic perspective, debunking the myth that you have to ‘live’ your product. 

Instead, he advocates for falling in love with the space, the act of starting a business, and the journey of entrepreneurship. 

It's about tethering yourself to the love of the process, making the business more sustainable in the long run.

That said, you do have to know your product inside out, and make sure its features resonate across your audience. 

"There’s a lack of obsession over the product generally – most the noise is about CRO, CPA, all these D2C metrics. People aren’t talking about their actual product". 

He advocates for founders to develop institutional knowledge around their product early on, especially in the food industry, where becoming an ‘amateur food scientist’ can significantly accelerate progress and reduce costs.

He also acknowledges the necessity of being present in both online and brick-and-mortar spaces for scalable growth.

People are quick to forget 85% of sales in the U.S. alone still happen offline.

But in this, he shared insights on navigating retail complexities, emphasizing the importance of being selective about the chains you enter to avoid potential pitfalls.

Leveraging the power of e-commerce allowed IQBAR to reach a broad audience, test the market, and establish a solid foundation for growth.

“Online sales offer control and flexibility but come with challenges such as individual parcel shipping and advertising costs.”

"Going into retail is a lot harder than I think people realize... finding the right retail chains to go into is very important." 

The key, according to Will, is building an omni-channel brand. 

His advice: leverage e-commerce data to tell compelling stories to retail category managers, turning weaknesses into strengths and presenting the brand as the innovative next thing.

This delicate dance requires adaptability, a keen understanding of consumer behaviour, and a commitment to providing a seamless brand experience, whether in the aisles or online shopping carts.

The conversation touched on the surprising star of SMS in marketing, with personal touches and real interactions outshining automated responses. 

As you navigate the complex landscape of commerce, take a cue from Will’s playbook. 

Chart a course that maximizes the potential of both online and brick-and-mortar retail.

Blend the best of both worlds, embrace the opportunities each avenue presents.

One of the best ways to amplify this is to build your founder brand. And Will has done an exceptional job of this, whilst always staying true to his principles in a sea of ‘viral’ noise.

Personal Brand

Will accentuates the importance of understanding where and how to create content as a founder. 

He draws parallels to product-market fit, highlighting the need for ‘founder-message’ fit in the realm of personal branding. 

I remember one specific LinkedIn post of his:

It strikes a chord with the inherent truth that hype cycles have a fleeting presence, with social media amplifying this.

He points out the pattern of people hard pivoting their personas to align with the latest trend every 12 months, highlighting the futility of chasing trends that don't align with your genuine interests and expertise.

“It’s better if your content is not tethered to some mega trend.”

The risk of losing credibility quickly becomes apparent when individuals try to become instant experts in the latest hype, only to see the trend fade away, leaving them looking like opportunists.

His advice is refreshingly pragmatic: 

“Forget trends and focus on genuine interests. Becoming an expert in what you truly love and are interested in is a far better strategy for long-term success. Trends may come and go, but authentic expertise endures.”

It’s a long-term game.

The discussion became a nuanced exploration of content creation as a branding exercise.

But most importantly Will stood up for what he believed in. Not everyone agreed, and they never will.

Content is a filter. Although for the people who do agree with your strong opinions - they will ride with you to the end. This isn’t just customers:

  1. Investors

  2. New hires

  3. Manufacturers

  4. Software companies

  5. Strategic alliances

You just never know who’s listening.

For Will, putting himself out there authentically has led to connections with sharp minds who can offer valuable insights and assistance. 

The development of goodwill, often unforeseen, becomes an invaluable asset.

Over time, it compounds and compounds.

If you want to experience Will’s strong opinions about business and follow him on the front lines of building IQ bar check him out on LinkedIn here.

Although now Will has scaled IQBAR from idea to a multi 8 figure product sold online and thousands of locations across the U.S, what’s next?

What’s keeping him going?

The Road Ahead - Doubling Business and Beyond

The journey, for Will, is a dynamic search for possibilities, with the eventual goal of acquisition, while remaining open to the unexpected twists of the entrepreneurial path.

As IQBAR charts its course for the future, he outlines goals for the next 12 months, focusing on continuous growth, product line expansions, and adapting to market dynamics.

In his own words, "I take it year by year... Make a goal for the next 12 months, and if you double the business, good things are gonna happen." 

As the interview delved into the exit strategy, Will offered grounded insights, urging founders to focus on building a great business rather than fixating on exits. 

The pursuit of a 50 million sales target is the north star, with the understanding that creating a company of a certain profile naturally attracts potential buyers.

“You have to get to 50 million in sales before you have a large pool of companies that wanna buy you. Understand what your company looks like, compared to when it’s sellable.”

Will's perspective on what keeps him up at night unveils the reality of operational challenges that come with increasing demand. 

Yet, the commitment to operational excellence and continuous improvement shines through. 

"I wake up and keep marching to the same music," Will affirms, embodying the resilience and consistency required for sustained success.

“I would just say you need that juxtaposition to realise that everything kind of sucks in the start-up world. But it sucks much worse when you deal with bureaucracy and politics in an office job – being not free sucks less in the short term but far more in the long term. That’s the cost of freedom.”

Do whatever it takes to be free. 

Once you get free you can’t go back. 

My Top 5 Takeaways:

1) Follow Your Heart: Make the small decisions in life with your head but the big ones with your heart. If the universe keeps flashing that idea at you, listen. Life is too short to be left wondering “what if?”.

2) Iteration: Your big idea won’t hit first time. Go in with the mindset it will take tens if not hundreds of iterations to breakthrough. Keep digging, keep listening, keep iterating. Strive for perfection.

3) Economics: Math might have seemed boring at school but in business it’s a non-negotiable. If the margins don’t work at a small scale you will never make it big. It’s the unsexy work that brings the sexy outcomes to light.

4) Personal Brand: It’s better to have haters than not stand up for what you believe in. Over time, posting will draw an audience towards you which will include customers, investors and partnerships from people you never knew existed. Never sell your soul to the devil and become a trend.

5) Freedom: The true essence of an entrepreneur is someone that doesn’t have to bend over backwards and answer to a boss they hate. It’s the ability to think free and build a life on your own terms. The minute you let bureaucracy and red tape in the door is the minute you start losing - regardless of how big your bank balance is.

We keep linking back to purpose on David to Goliath, and that’s because once your purpose is cemented, everything else will fall in to place.

But purpose is unique to you.

Purpose is the breeding ground for a relentless mindset.

With purpose and mindset aligned, you truly are on the road to becoming an unstoppable force.

In the arena of purpose, hiccups are but a minor speed bump in your meteoric rise to the top.

Take a note from Will’s playbook. Stop thinking small. Life is too short for mediocrity. It’s time to dare and endure.

Jump into the unknown and conquer your self doubt knowing big things are waiting on the other side.

Keep dreaming like a giant.

But fight and believe in those dreams like a god damn underdog baby.

Yours truly,

-Nigel Thomas

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