Almost exactly 10 years ago, Honest Tea received an offer from Coca-Cola's Venturing & Emerging Brands unit to buy 40 percent of our business. As part of the offer, Coke would acquire the option to buy the rest of the enterprise three years later.
For Honest Tea shareholders, some of whom had invested in Honest Tea 10 years prior, it was an opportunity to realize a significant return on their investment -- more than 20 times for our founding investors. So I was a bit surprised when I heard opposition to the deal from one of our founding investors.
And I was even more surprised that the investor was my dad.
Aside from my co-founder Barry Nalebuff, my dad, Marshall Goldman, was our first and most consistently supportive investor. Even though he had a long and distinguished career as an economics professor, professors don't normally make enough money to be angel investors. But he participated in every financing round we had, and was usually the first money in -- frequently in advance of a formal round, providing the quick cash I needed to help cover payroll or keep us current (enough) with our suppliers.
But then again, my dad wasn't the normal professor. In addition to his teaching duties at Wellesley College, where he was chair of the economics department, and his duties as associate director of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian Studies, he played active leadership or board roles with several other entities, including Boston Baroque, Greater Boston Hillel, Century Bank, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. In addition to all those activities, and the more than a dozen books he wrote, he created and managed a family real estate portfolio that helped pay for my three siblings and I go to college and graduate school.
Though his official career was in academia, he was my inspiration as an entrepreneur -- a creative multi-tasker who sought to reshape the world more to his liking through force of will and lots of hard work. He loved the idea of launching a new academic conference or seminar series to discuss the Soviet Union, gathering Jewish faculty at Harvard together for a monthly luncheon or bringing people together to enjoy a musical performance that was always accompanied by his fundraising pitch.
And he was Honest Tea's biggest cheerleader. Before we managed to find a distributor in Boston, he would drop off cases at some of the local Harvard Square stores on his drive to work. Once he handed off his route to a professional distributor, he was often spotted rummaging around in coolers to protect our shelf space. And he always sported an Honest Tea cap to accompany his J. Press coat and tie.
Over the course of my dad's career, corporate and political leaders had turned to him for insights on the Soviet economy, and the leaders of both Coke and Pepsi were no exception. So he wasn't ideologically opposed to us working with Coke or Pepsi.
But he opposed us taking in an investment from Coke because he was concerned that I would lose the opportunity to continue to be an entrepreneur. I remember him saying, "I see you so deeply engaged in your work, so passionate about what you are doing, and so alive with the excitement of your impact, and I don't want you to lose that."
I eventually got him to go along with the rest of the shareholders by convincing him that Coke's minority investment would not change the way we operate. And three years later when Coke exercised its option to buy the rest of Honest Tea, he saw that I was still engaged and passionate about building the enterprise. So he and my mom (who was equally supportive but not quite as vocal) joined us in Bethesda to celebrate the final acquisition, and then promptly donated most of their proceeds to the universities they loved.
My dad died this past August at the age of 87. By the time he reached 82, his spark had faded but his eyes would still light up when I updated him on Honest Tea's continued growth, and he even got to hear about our plans to launch Honest Kids at McDonald's.
My dad wasn't opposed to the idea of getting a good return. He was just trying to ensure that I had what he had -- a career so satisfying that he described it as "getting paid to do what you would pay to do."