As the co-founder of two wildly successful startups, Adam Lowry has had to address virtually every difficult issue that growing businesses face.
Lowry is the co-founder and co-CEO of pea-protein dairy alternative maker Ripple Foods, which he launched with Neil Renninger in 2015. Prior to Ripple, he partnered with Eric Ryan to found Method, a household cleaning product company that sold to Belgian manufacturer Ecover in 2012 for an undisclosed price.
At Inc.'s Fast Growth Tour in Chicago last week, Lowry passed on some of his hard-won wisdom in an onstage conversation with Mansueto Ventures CEO Eric Schurenberg. Among other topics, he offered the audience advice on how to pick a business partner, assess potential buyers and investors, and overcome your mistakes.
1. How to select the perfect co-founder
Lowry suggested that entrepreneurs who are weighing whether they want a co-founder, or deciding whom to pick, should think of the relationship as a marriage. "I spent as much time with [Eric and Neil] as I have with my wife," he said.
When you're considering partnering with someone, make sure you have complementary abilities. For example, Lowry said, he was the scientist at Method, while Ryan handled the marketing needs. In the company's early days, he related, Ryan was out with a client and called him to make sure Method's toilet bowl cleaner was safe to drink--only after having taken a swig to prove it was superior to other companies' products. Ryan was fine, and Method ultimately built a reputation on selling nontoxic cleaners.
"If you're going to do something meaningful, you need to find people you can surround yourself with who have skills you don't have," Lowry said. "That's what I'm always looking for, whether it's a co-founder or just an executive team."
2. How to find the right buyer or investor
For entrepreneurs thinking of selling their businesses, Lowry suggested looking at a prospective buyer's long-term vision to determine whether it aligns with the company's. Secondly, explore how the acquiring company would react when "shit hits the fan, because it's going to--it happened at Method and at Ripple," Lowry said. "How are they going to navigate through the ups and downs?"
Lastly, he advised entrepreneurs to look at the would-be buyer's mindset. For example, is the company focused on helping your startup or your investors? "There's no secret recipe for how you figure it out," Lowry said. "It's really about the types of questions you ask."
3. How to recover from mistakes or failures
While Lowry built two successful companies, it didn't come without some failures along the way. In his remarks, he didn't hide those moments and said he believes other founders should celebrate what they've learned from their own difficulties.
For example, around 2007, Method faced what Lowry called a self-inflicted wound: As a result of management missteps, he had to shrink the company by 30 percent, which meant laying off a third of the 80-person staff at the height of the recession. "It was the worst moment of my career," he said. "I had to lay off one of my best friends, a groomsman in my wedding."
Still, he added, entrepreneurs shouldn't focus on trying to avoid making mistakes--because they are going to happen regardless--but rather should work on not repeating them. "If you fall flat on your face, you've learned something incredibly valuable that you can take to your next venture," he said. "It's not a black mark; a business failure is an asset on your résumé."