The Way I Work: Daniel Lubetzky of Kind
Daniel Lubetzky started his first company with an ambitious goal: to bring peace to the Middle East through profit-making businesses. The son of a Holocaust survivor, Lubetzky, 42, grew up in Mexico and moved to the U.S. when he was 16. In 1994, at the age of 25, he founded PeaceWorks, a Boston-based business that manufactures Mediterranean food through the cooperation of Israeli and Arab vendors. Lubetzky figured that if Israelis and Palestinians could do business together, they might eventually start to get along.
Lubetzky, who is still chairman of PeaceWorks, now primarily runs Kind, a New York City–based maker of snack bars. The company, which Lubetzky founded in 2004, now has close to $30 million in annual revenue and 55 full-time employees. The snacks, made of fruit and nuts, are sold at retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods. When Lubetzky isn't taste testing his products and coming up with quirky marketing campaigns, he spends his time raising money for and managing OneVoice, a nonprofit group that promotes moderate political views in the Middle East.
For me, work is both a hobby and a passion. And sometimes an obsession. But ever since Romy, my 2-year-old son, was born, there's been something that trumps work.
I usually wake up around 6:30 in the morning -- it depends on when Romy wakes up. My wife, Michelle, is a nephrologist -- a kidney doctor. She and I take turns taking care of him in the morning. One of us will take a shower and get dressed while the other plays with him, and then we'll switch.
When it's my turn to shower, I get in and think, OK, which problem am I going to tackle today? Showers last only 10 minutes, but you can't do anything else in there but think. The shower is probably the main place I come up with ideas. That's where I came up with the concept for OneVoice, my nonprofit organization.
I have a whole section of a filing cabinet in my office full of ideas. Some are ideas for books or articles I want to write. One is a romantic comedy; one's about my dad's life. I've also got ideas for books on moral relativism as well as democracy and human nature. There's also a really cool concept for a spy novel.
After our nanny arrives, I head to the office. I usually get in around 9 or 10 a.m. I spend my first hour checking in with the Kind team. I'll go from office to office. Sometimes I'll need to discuss issues we're having in our factories in Australia and Pennsylvania. Kind bars are very hard to manufacture. Unlike our competitors, who smash all their ingredients into a uniform paste, we use whole nuts and dried fruit. Nuts vary in size, so each bar has a different weight. We end up having to give away more product than we list on the label, because we can't get each bar to be a perfect 40 grams. We have a lot of discussions about those issues. Recently, we considered removing the Brazil nuts, because they're so big, but we didn't want to compromise the quality.
After I check in with the Kind team, I typically meet with OneVoice, which is based in the same office as Kind. There are 10 people working for OneVoice in the office. Most Israelis and Palestinians don't realize that there are moderate majorities on each side. The goal of OneVoice is to get them together. We build chapters on college campuses, organize town hall meetings, moderate debates, and train about 4,000 youth leaders in public speaking and community organizing. I travel from time to time to help with fundraising.
We have a campaign called Imagine 2018 that asks Israelis and Palestinians to visualize what 2018 would look like if we were to establish a two-state solution to the conflict right now. We asked kids in schools to write essays about what that future might look like. When I was in Palestine, I shared some of the students' essays with the OneVoice team there. One woman stood up and said she'd basically lost hope, but hearing those stories helped her realize that it's up to her to bring about those visions.
OneVoice is extremely important to me. My dad, Roman, was a Holocaust survivor -- my son is named after him. I want to do whatever I can to help prevent what happened to my dad from happening again. He was 9 years old and living in Lithuania when the war started. He was sent to a ghetto and then to the Dachau concentration camp. At almost 16, he was liberated and went to live with his uncles in Mexico, where he was reunited with his father, mother, and brother, who also survived. Eventually my dad started a jewelry store. It grew and grew, and he partnered with four other Holocaust survivors to create a duty-free business. I grew up in Mexico until I was 16, and then we moved to San Antonio, because my dad's business was headquartered there.
After I meet with OneVoice, I go to my office and check my e-mail before my next meeting. My office is full of very unusual-looking old furniture -- it's all my dad's stuff, including his old desk. He passed away in 2003. It helps me feel his presence.
Every Monday, I meet with our president, John Leahy, who has 30 years of business experience. It takes two hours, and we go over everything -- finance, operations, sales, marketing, manufacturing. I hired him last February. In retrospect, I should have hired a president earlier. I'm not a terrible manager, but my problem is that I don't pace myself. There were times early on when I wanted to launch products fast, even if, say, the packaging design wasn't quite finalized.
John just instituted a process in which every six months we examine what worked, what didn't, what we accomplished, and where we fell short. It's so simple but effective. One program that didn't work was the Kind preferred partner program. We had the marketing team develop tools to help the sales team run promotions and events with retailers. But we were too didactic. It felt more like an imposition from headquarters, and not many people implemented it. So we decided to let the sales team choose which tools to use.
The majority of my time is spent on marketing. I'm obsessed with marketing through random acts of kindness. We're working on a contest called Do the Kind Thing. We created a website where people are encouraged to share and vote for the kind acts that are the most Kindtastic, that go above and beyond. As people do kind things, we give money to different causes. We've given $60,000 away so far, and we have $40,000 to go.
We've tried a couple different experiments with something called Kind cards. We have people passing them out on the street. The card asks you to do something nice for a stranger. For instance, I recently saw a woman trying to lug a big bag down to the subway, so I carried it for her. Then her subway card had run out, so I let her use mine. I gave her a Kind card and asked her to pass it on. One cool thing is, you can register online and see where the card has gone.
A few times a day, I take a break to do the Brill chicken. It's an exercise my physical therapist, Peggy Brill, taught me -- I have neck spasms, and my posture's not right. To do the exercise, you imagine you have a tennis ball in between your shoulder blades, and you're trying to crush it. You bring your arms back, pull the palms of your hands back, and tuck in your chin, all at the same time. It kind of looks as if you are pleading, "Please stop!" Everyone in the office knows what it is, but sometimes I have to explain it other people.
During the week, I spend a lot of time on product development. It's one of my favorite things to do. These days, we have a whole team that works only on product development, but when I founded Kind, it was just me and a couple of friends of mine who are food technologists in Australia. I had been traveling a lot for PeaceWorks, my first company, and I was frustrated with the food choices on the road. I was always eating things that were either healthy and tasted like cardboard or were tasty and too indulgent. That's how we came up with Kind. It was months and months of work. I knew we got it right when I couldn't stop eating it. We recently launched a new product called Kind minis. One big debate was whether we should make the minis 100 calories. It's a big trend. The 100-calorie snack packs are everywhere. Ultimately, we decided not to go with the fad, because the 100-calorie packs have become synonymous with empty calories.
Every Tuesday at noon, I try all the Kind bars from our latest batch. There are 19 different flavors. I think there's always room for improvement. There are 20 different characteristics we monitor. Our early version of the Nut Delight bar was a little hard, so we worked to make it softer. Some of our new flavors were a little too sweet, so we lessened the honey content. It's a great lunch. I look forward to it. I usually just eat two Kind bars for lunch, anyway -- unless I have a lunch meeting.
I try to leave the office around 6 or 6:30, so I can go home and see my son. I take the subway -- it's about 15 to 20 minutes. Then I have 45 minutes with Romy. We build blocks or play with cars. Then, I'll read him a couple stories and give him his bath. That's something I always do when I come home. Michelle and I dry him. It's like he's the king.
After we sing him a song, give him his milk, and put him to bed, Michelle and I have dinner. Michelle mostly cooks. If it's my turn to cook, the word cook doesn't really apply. After that, we spend maybe an hour or two talking about the future -- where we're going to live or where our son's going to go to school. Sometimes we watch a movie or work side by side.
After she goes to sleep at 10:30, I usually stay up and check e-mails until 1:30 in the morning. When I start dozing off while writing an e-mail, I'll realize that it might be time for bed.