Meet the Moguls: 5 Takeaways from Chris Gronkowski, Barbara Corcoran, and Andrew Bialecki’s Clubhouse Conversation

meet the moguls chris gronkowski ice shaker

Editor’s note: Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What happens when a professional athlete decides to become an entrepreneur? 

I’d normally say, “Just ask former National Football League fullback Chris Gronkowski.” But Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and star of ABC’s Shark Tank, and Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo, already did on the latest Meet the Moguls Clubhouse conversation.

As the founder behind insulated protein shaker brand Ice Shaker, Chris had plenty to say about what it takes to start and grow your own business, while Barbara and Andrew shared some of their top tips as well. 

If you missed the live show and are looking for a recap, keep reading for five takeaways from the discussion. 

And save the date—on the next installment of Meet the Moguls, Barbara Corcoran and Andrew Bialecki will join Pamela J. Booker to talk about founding Koils by Nature, a vegan natural hair care brand Thursday, June 3rd. 

 

1 | Learn to adapt when the unexpected happens

Many entrepreneurs can relate to the challenge of creating your first product prototype—and all that can go wrong with it. 

In fact, Chris shared that one of his first large orders for Ice Shaker didn’t pan out exactly as expected, and he had to quickly adapt to the situation

“We probably ran about 20 prototypes before I ordered my first big order of 10,000 Ice Shaker bottles. That first shipment came in, and we never had this issue in all the previous prototypes, but out of those 10,000 bottles, about half of them leaked if you turned them upside down,” said Chris.

“The top of them was made incorrectly—which we’d never had an issue with in the previous samples—and it was made in sets of two, so every other one wouldn’t seal properly. I sat upstairs in my attic and I changed out every single lid. That was the start of the business,” he added.

Andrew and Barbara echoed that these situations are unavoidable as an entrepreneur—for Andrew, it meant deleting countless lines of software code. But learning to adapt is all part of the entrepreneur’s journey. And Chris added that having a passion for your business doesn’t hurt, either.

“I tell a lot of people, ‘You better have passion for what you’re doing or you’re going to give up really quick.’ If I didn’t love what I was doing, I would’ve given up right then,” he said.

"I tell a lot of people, ‘You better have passion for what you're doing or you're going to give up really quick.’ If I didn't love what I was doing, I would've given up right then."

Chris Gronkowski, founder, Ice Shaker

2 | Talk to your customers to find out what resonates with them

Before Ice Shaker became the booming business it is today, Chris was finding every opportunity he could to grow awareness of his business and gather feedback on his product, which means he spent a lot of his time attending trade shows and bodybuilding events.

He used these experiences as a way to get his product into people’s hands and show them the difference between the Ice Shaker and a typical plastic bottle, which helped drive some of his first sales and reviews, as well as invaluable feedback.

“I would fill up the Ice Shaker with ice and I’d fill up a plastic cup with ice as well, and I would hand it to people as they walked by. The first thing they would say to me was, ‘There’s no ice in this one. You filled it up with rocks. There’s no way that’s actually ice in it.’ Then they would open it and they’d be so shocked that there’s actually ice in it that they would end up buying it right away,” said Chris. 

Chris found that people’s first reaction to the Ice Shaker was so powerful that he wanted to recreate the in-person shows for an online audience and it inspired him to create digital content from the events.

“How could I make people get that image in their mind or get that feeling that they normally couldn’t get unless they hold it? We ended up making videos that captured those moments for our customers that couldn’t be there in person,” he added.  

Andrew agreed that talking to your customer is critical for entrepreneurs, especially when you’re just starting out. In fact, he said that a customer-first approach to business is critical when you’re first starting out and trying to find your product-market fit.

“A lot of companies get it backwards where they focus so much on sales just right out of the gate, but the best companies start by getting close to their customers,” said Andrew.

"A lot of companies get it backwards where they focus so much on sales just right out of the gate, but the best companies start by getting close to their customers."

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder, Klaviyo

3 | Prioritize a direct relationship with your customers

While Chris began his business on Amazon and even acquired many of his first customers through the online marketplace, he noted that it’s important for business owners to prioritize a direct relationship with their customers.

“Leading up to my appearance on Shark Tank, I talked to a lot of people who cautioned against using Amazon. You want to start building your own database. You want to start actually knowing who your customer is, and you can’t do that from Amazon. You can’t get customer data from them, especially now—they won’t even tell you customers’ addresses,” said Chris.

“Before we aired on Shark Tank, we pulled everything off Amazon. We actually put our old stock only on Amazon. The game plan from that point forward was to build an email list and just get as much data as we could,” he added.

Similarly, Chris’ wife had a store on Etsy that was unexpectedly shut down, which gravely impacted her sales and once again proved the importance of having a direct relationship with your customers.

“Her revenue went to zero for over a week. That’s when I realized that we have to control our own customer base. We have to take control because, at any time, Amazon or Etsy can shut you down, and if they do you have nothing left. So you have to figure out a way to be able to control your own destiny,” said Chris.

"That's when I realized that we have to control our own customer base. We have to take control because, at any time, Amazon or Etsy can shut you down, and if they do you have nothing left. So you have to figure out a way to be able to control your own destiny."

Chris Gronkowski, founder, Ice Shaker

And while Andrew acknowledged that it can be intimidating to set up a direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience rather than relying on the convenience of Amazon, he pointed out that there are more ways than ever for business owners to create an accessible customer experience for consumers without Amazon’s help.

“The wholesale model made a lot of sense a couple decades ago when logistics were really hard. But I think there’s just so many companies out there now that help you get physical products to customers and organize your distribution chain,” he said. 

 

4 | Embrace curiosity

There’s much to learn when you’re first starting a business, which is why Andrew explained that finding a support system that you can learn from is essential to your success as an entrepreneur.

“There was a lot of trial and error learning before we got going, so we went and learned from others who were really good at what they do. I picked a couple of startups to work at with people that I thought were really smart. And so even if they were successful or they failed, I was just going to learn from them, and that paid off—those folks all became really good mentors and advisors when Klaviyo got going,” he said.

But just showing up isn’t enough. Andrew emphasized that preparation, preparedness, and plenty of curiosity are critical skills.

“Always ask really good questions. A lot of people want to help somebody that has clearly done their homework. If we were prepared, we found a lot of times they would want to help us out just because they just liked the way we were thinking of things,” said Andrew.

“Being generally curious is something I talk about a lot. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be very curious—that’s what it takes, and I think some people shy away from that,” said Andrew.

"Being generally curious is something I talk about a lot. If you're an entrepreneur, you have to be very curious—that's what it takes, and I think some people shy away from that."

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder, Klaviyo

Chris’s experience with entrepreneurship has been similar, and he said he learned countless skills that he wouldn’t have if he didn’t start his own business.

“I know so much about things I never thought I would know—video editing, Photoshop, laser engraving. You learn so many things as an entrepreneur that you’d never thought you would. The good ones learn to figure it out,” said Chris.

 

5 | Delegation is key to growth

In the question and answer portion of the event, someone asked the panelists about the best piece of advice they’ve ever received on starting a business. Chris shared a story that his dad passed down to him after running a fitness equipment company for over 32 years.

Chris shared that his dad met with the CEO of Life Fitness, and during their conversation, the CEO suggested that his dad’s business couldn’t continue to grow at its current rate.

“My dad was fired up. He was on his seventh store at that point and he had plans to open more, but the guy simply said back to him, ‘You’re not delegating any responsibilities. You have way too much on your plate. How are you going to grow when you’re doing everything yourself?’ At that point, my dad said, ‘He’s right. If I want to grow, I have to build a team so I can delegate responsibilities and continue to work on growing my business,’” said Chris. 

“My dad told me this story at least 10 times before I really started listening to him because when he was telling me it, I was doing everything at Ice Shaker—the marketing, fulfillment, laser engraving, sourcing product, and answering customer service. But you’re never going to grow every single day that way. You’re locked down and you don’t even know what’s going on half of the time. You can’t focus on the things that are important,” he added.

Chris advised that entrepreneurs hire as soon as they can do so, build their teams, and then focus on doing whatever is most important to grow the business.

“I take on the responsibility that I think is going to help me grow my business the most. Then I master it. Then I find someone to take that responsibility off of my plate so that I can go after the next biggest thing. That’s how I build my business,” said Chris.

"I take on the responsibility that I think is going to help me grow my business the most. Then I master it. Then I find someone to take that responsibility off of my plate so that I can go after the next biggest thing. That's how I build my business"

Chris Gronkowski, founder, Ice Shaker

For more stories of entrepreneurs who embody this spirit, the Meet the Moguls Clubhouse series continues. Tune in to hear more DTC influencers and ecommerce experts who will share the same passion for their brands as Chris has for Ice Shaker.

Next on Meet the Moguls, Barbara Corcoran and Andrew Bialecki will chat with Pamela J. Booker of Koils by Nature on Thursday, June 3rd at 7:00 PM ET. Download Clubhouse and save the date.

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