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North Star Leaders Podcast

Robbie Cape

Season 1 Episode 6 14 Nov 2023

Transcript

Robbie Cape:

With businesses, you're impacting the lives largely of your customers. In this business, in some ways, your employees are as much part of your base of impact. You need large sets, large groups of talent to work on your business.

Lindsay Pedersen:

The world needs what only your business can bring. And as a leader, it's your job to deliver but where do you focus? Where do you direct your time, your team, your budget and your emotional energy? We are learning this together on the North Star Leaders Podcast. I'll be talking to purpose-driven leaders about the choices they make to create audacious economic value while also realizing their distinctive purpose. I'm Lindsay Petersen, brand strategist, author of Forging An Ironclad Brand and host of the North Star Leaders Podcast. Let's get to it. Today I am so delighted to be joined by my guest, Robbie Cape. Robbie is Co-founder and CEO of Mt. Joy and in the past he's also been CEO and Co-founder of 98.6 and CEO and Co-founder of Cozi. Robbie, welcome to the show.

Robbie Cape:

Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Robbie, I hope you can start by sharing with our listeners a little bit about Mt. Joy and maybe also what inspired you to start Mt. Joy.

Robbie Cape:

Absolutely, Lindsay. It's a pleasure to get to share this with your listeners, so thank you for giving me the opportunity. Mt. Joy is a mission oriented restaurant. I like to refer to it as a mission first restaurant that is dedicated to showing the world that you can build a restaurant that makes a lot of money while also doing good for all of the players in the supply chain.

Starting with the first player is the planet Earth and the ground from which our food at least normally comes all the way to that retail worker who's at work at that quick service restaurant, fast casual restaurant, fast food restaurant that so many Americans eat at. That's the long and short of it. We're trying to show that you can build a restaurant at scale serving amazing food, while treating people, animals and the climate with a great deal of respect and joy.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes. For listeners who haven't had the opportunity to enjoy Mt. Joy, I encourage them to do so. It will change the way that you think about eating chicken. In my case, it was a chicken sandwich, out of this world. And Robbie, when you and I first talked about Mt. Joy and it wasn't even named Mt. Joy at the time, you had recently watched a documentary that kind of changed your life and got some of the wheels turning on what now is Mt. Joy. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what it was inside of you that grabbed onto this?

Robbie Cape:

Yeah. So it was two pieces of content that were each published by very independent organizations. The first was Kiss the Ground, which was published by the Kiss the Ground Foundation. It provided the simplest sort of education around what regenerative agriculture was. And when I first watched this film, my brain was on fire. I was learning for the first time about regenerative.

I didn't know that the way we farmed today was serious depleting and problematic for the environment and I also didn't know that there was a way to farm that was actually good for the environment. I had no idea, no idea. And in fact, what I very quickly recognized was that no one knows or a very, very small percentage of people know. So I watched this film and I got very excited about regenerative agriculture. It got me to start meeting a bunch of farmers.

Ultimately, I ended up talking to this one farmer who farms livestock regeneratively, and it was through the discussion with him and other pointers from people that I ended up a couple of months later reading a book that sealed the deal for me, which was Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. These two pieces of content for anyone who wants to learn about regenerative and wants to potentially have the same epiphany that I had that sent me down this path, I highly recommend them.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wonderful. In the show notes, we'll have links so that listeners can explore both of those. So you watch this documentary and you read this book and something's lit up in you, but why a business? Connect the dots between that and then what became the concept for Mt. Joy?

Robbie Cape:

It really starts with my goal in beginning this research. When I started the research, I had already decided that I wanted to build a business that checks two boxes. In fact, it was a decision I made coming out of Cozi. Cozi and Microsoft Money that I worked on for years at Microsoft, these were two businesses that have what I call a bolt on mission. Business is A, but they figure out a way to bolt on a mission to that business A and call that B. And it clearly is not the core, it's not the center, it's bolt on.

But in those two businesses, I found myself most energized by the mission that was bolt on. And so coming out of Cozi, I made the decision that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to building businesses that were mission first. In other words, companies that check two boxes. Number one, they have an opportunity to be multi-billion dollar businesses. In other words, businesses that can be big and when the business gets to that scale, which is obviously wonderful for investors, the business also has the ability to repair the world in a meaningful way.

That concept of repairing the world basically means that you're on some mission that is going to make the world a better place significantly. Well, when I came out of Cozi, the two areas I was particularly interested in were healthcare and the environment. Just so happens that my co-founder was very interested in healthcare, too, and so we started down the healthcare road and that's what led to 98.6.

When I came out of 98.6, literally within 24 hours, I remember looking at my wife Bonnie and saying, "Bonnie, I guess it's time for me to take on the environment." And so all my research started from a place of where is there commercial opportunity to have a positive impact on the environment?

Lindsay Pedersen:

And then somewhere in this moment or this set of moments, you watched Kiss the Ground, you read Michael Pollan's Masterpiece, Omnivore's Dilemma, and it came to you that it was regenerative farming.

Robbie Cape:

That's correct, yeah. What sealed the deal for me, I still remember ... By the way, unlike a lot of other businesses where you go to talk to people who are in their business, it's like, "Oh my God, yeah, this business is great." It's amazing, every single person in the restaurant business who I talked to told me to stay away. It was sort of like with healthcare. Everyone who talked about healthcare was also like, "Robbie, don't do it. Don't do it."

It turns out that these areas that have this great opportunity to repair the world also happen to be very, very, very, very hard. And what people don't realize is that telling me how hard a business is, that's like rolling out a red carpet for me. The harder it is, the more exciting it is to me. The harder it is, the less likely other technology trained people are to come into it. Those are the kind of businesses that I love.

But the key around choosing to do this even in light of how hard the restaurant businesses or the CPG businesses because we also have vision around CPG, here was the number of lives that we could impact. With businesses, you're impacting the lives largely of your customers. In this business business, in some ways, your employees are as much part of your base of impact. You need large sets, large groups of talent to work on your business and I believe that the lives of those folks can be dramatically impacted by our vision.

In our case, we also think about all the farmers, we think about all of the workers in the supply chain. We think about all of it. And when I thought, I'm like, there aren't that many businesses where there is that much opportunity for impact. And it turns out that the underlying values of regenerative, even though regenerative is usually applied to agriculture, that values of regenerative can be applied to each one of the pieces of the supply chain. That was very exciting to me.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Say more about that. How does other parts of the supply chain other than the soil?

Robbie Cape:

So regenerative agriculture is a form of agriculture that leaves the soil in a state that is better than when you found it. Down to its basics, that's what it's about. And then now they go into a whole lot more detail. Hopefully when your listeners watch the movie, they'll see that it turns out that when you bring fertility to your soil, which is what you do in order to leave it better than it was before, you bring fertility to it.

When you bring fertility to your soil, the soil is capable of capturing more carbon out of the atmosphere. It ends up being sort of ... It's called carbon sequestration. You're pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and as the movie entails at scale, this can reverse the impacts of climate change. This is what the professionals will explain. Now, I need to remind folks, I am not a climate alarmist, absolutely not. And I believe that you can not be a climate alarmist and still believe that it is our job to leave the resources that we use better than when we found them.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow, I love that distinction.

Robbie Cape:

Yes. So the concept is applied regenerative, you're regenerating. Call it whatever you want, you're regenerating fertility. I like to say you're regenerating joy. You're regenerating happiness. You're regenerating comfort. It turns out this concept of regeneration can be applied to all elements. Let's look at employees, talent. There are some jobs that people have that sap their energy all day, every day.

Their relationship with their employer, the job they're doing, whatever it happens to be, the customers who they're talking to, energy sapping. There are other jobs that are energy generating that give people energy, that make people better and stronger and more excited every day, where at the end of the day of working at a given job, you're actually feeling better than you were at the beginning or at the end of the month, okay. There are jobs like that out there. That's what my work has always been like.

It turns out that for many workers in retail, that is not what their job is like, which is why you see at least in the quick serve restaurant industry, QSR, which is fast food, fast casual, you've seen these.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Sure.

Robbie Cape:

You know one, when you're in one.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Robbie Cape:

You'll see turnover rates of 400% in this industry, 400%. That means on average you're turning over your entire workforce once every three months. That is common and there are a lot of employers in the industry who point to the employees as the source of the issue.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes.

Robbie Cape:

I happen to think that the employer needs to take some degree, if not most, of the responsibility. But the concept of regenerative is these people who work for you, think about leaving them at the end of each day for them to feel better, Feel better about themselves, feel better about their lives. So the [inaudible 00:13:13] applies there.

The same goes for the employee in the processing plant, the farmer. You speak to some of these farmers and people can find all sorts of documentaries out there that begin to point out the issues with our food supply chain, probably the one that, I think, is one of the best. I don't like the approach of supersize me. I'm not a fan.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Agreed, yeah.

Robbie Cape:

On the other hand, Food, Inc. Does a pretty good job. It's somewhat horrifying, but it's educational and you learn what's happening at all different segments of the supply chain. It's not just what's happening in the processing plan, it's what's happening on the farm, it's what's happening at the retail units. It's what's happening everywhere from what we'd like to call from the field to the mouth.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, I love it. I love it. It's so elemental.

Robbie Cape:

Actually, I want to back up on that. We cover all of the steps, all of the constituents from field to face. The food starts there and it ends up in your face, hopefully.

Lindsay Pedersen:

From field to face. I love it. It's interesting how the idea of regenerative can be macro and it can be very micro. I mean, I'm even thinking, through the conversation that you and I have been having so far, I feel regenerated. You can think like a cup empties and then it fills and it empties and then it fills and there are certain things that one does during one's day, during one's life, that fill that cup and certain things that deplete that cup.

And you're using this kind of doorway in of Mt. Joy to allow people, human beings and the earth, all along that chain to allow for it to be accretive to the cup rather than depletive to the cup. And I can feel that just even talking to you about it. I feel my energy increase and my kind of desire to be part of the solution increase and that's just in this conversation. I think that that word is so powerful not only at a strategic mission level, but at a very micro executional level.

Robbie Cape:

Yeah. And by the way, you could say most importantly, it applies to the animals.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes.

Robbie Cape:

The animals are making the ultimate sacrifice in the end. They're making the ultimate sacrifice and everyone is appreciative of that. Everyone enjoys the food they eat, they love it. They might not connect with it, but people understand that animals are making a sacrifice.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Robbie Cape:

People get that, everyone. Now, what many people don't think about is, how we are going to treat those animals in between when we bring them into existence until the point in time where they make the ultimate sacrifice. So our perspective is that during that time, we can regenerate joy. We can bring joy to their lives, too. We can treat them in a way that allows them to enjoy that life, to have a good life. You could say it is a singular responsibility of ours given that we are forcing them to make the ultimate sacrifice.

And it's so interesting, at Mt. Joy, we've had these pop-ups. We've had people come through the pop-ups. We have this wonderful vegetarian option, which is this whole Portobello mushroom that we coat and treat just like we do with the chicken and we put it on a sandwich and it is absolutely astounding. I can't say that it's the best vegetarian sandwich out there because I don't eat a lot of vegetarian sandwiches, but people who do have told us that it is the best vegetarian sandwich that they've had.

We've also had people come in who are vegetarian and vegan when they hear about how we treat our animals and the amount of transparency that we provide to the treatment of the animals from the beginning of their lives all the way to the end. We have folks who [inaudible 00:17:17] and say, "I will eat this meat."

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow.

Robbie Cape:

So it all depends on what ended up motivating someone to become vegan or become vegetarian. If someone was motivated to become vegetarian or vegan because of the knowledge that the vast majority of animal protein that comes through the supply chain are from mistreated animals, then this meat is perfectly acceptable to them.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Right. Before we push record, you and I were talking a little bit about this paradox of being a leader of a company that's mission oriented, but it's still seeking economic growth. Take me to a moment or an example of when the idea of regeneration even at the animal level has filtered a decision for you, like how you negotiate. We could make more money if we said yes to X, Y, Z.

Robbie Cape:

In this case, it's very, very easy. It turns out that animal protein that has grown the industrial way is cheaper than the protein that is grown the way we believe it should be grown. What your listeners will learn when they read Michael Pollan, is that meat was never meant to be that cheap.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Robbie Cape:

This is a great example of government stepping in. Government has made meat in the United States too cheap. That's not the case in other countries. And that is what has led to our situation right now. Michael Pollan's point is that meat is too cheap because corn is subsidized, meat is too cheap and therefore we have to continue to take steps to make meat even cheaper, so we end up in this situation where we have to basically mistreat our animals in order to deliver meat at the levels that is being required by consumers.

The average consumer in the United States eats meat with three meals a day. Unheard of, [inaudible 00:19:17] of in any other country. Every other country, you can count the number of times per week, low single digits that people eat, not the number of times per day. So we had this challenge, what do we do? We're going to be buying more expensive meat, however we need to make this work commercially. And there's all sorts of guidelines in the restaurant business around what kind of margins you need to have, a food cost to the consumer cost.

We had to make the decision, even though we would love to set our price for a sandwich at a level that absolutely anyone can afford, which would have us setting it lower. If we were exclusively focused on our mission, we wouldn't worry about making the right level of margin on that sandwich. We'd set the price as low as we could to generate as much volume as we could and there we'd get more regenerative agriculture and that would be the mission. That'd be great, check.

But our objective is ... I'm a big believer that the way you make real change in the world is by attaching commercial viability to that change. Otherwise, it's a 501c3 and it's an entity that, yes, can have huge impact but the impact is still going to be limited. When you can make it commercially viable, all of a sudden, you have an influx of capital to drive the outcome. We saw this with electrification of vehicles and we all have our opinion these days of Elon Musk. Let's just set those aside for the moment.

What he did with Tesla, showing that you can build an amazing, amazing car. The best car on the road some people thought and you could do it at a unit level profitably. This is what lit the EV market on fire. The moment someone showed that you can do good and do it commercially, viably, all of a sudden people are bending. People are re-examining, which is what happened at every other auto company around the world when he did what he did.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes.

Robbie Cape:

It wasn't because of the government incentives, all of that. I don't believe that that was the main motivation. I think that made it worthwhile. It made it easier for the GMs and the Fords and the Mercedes to make the decision they made. The reason they really made it was because they looked at Elon. They're like, "Oh my God, this guy's going to eat our lunch."

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. I get this vision in my head of another source of gravity. You harness capitalism to bring to bear the power of capital markets. Because of that commerce, you get so much more scale and therefore you get so much more impact because of it. So by not bringing in that power, that gravity, that gravitational pull, you just limit your reach. You limit the impact. And he did that with EVs and you're showing that you can do that with food.

Robbie Cape:

That's what we're setting out to achieve.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah.

Robbie Cape:

And that forced us to make this trade off. We had to set the price of higher than we would've otherwise wanted to set it in order to build a business that would be profitable. Of course, there's all sorts of hard decisions that you have to make along the way. Being in the restaurant business ... And remember, I'm new at this. I've learned an enormous amount and I thank goodness that Ethan and his team have taught me almost everything that I know. One of the lessons you learn is that this is a business of detail.

There's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of little details that you have to get exactly right and most of those details have an economic factor. They just do. Even the trade-offs we've had to make coming into it, if we were just mission oriented, we would've gone in and we would've brought everything that we sold out of the gate would be sourced from regenerative. It would've been cost prohibitive to do it. It would've been almost impossible to actually pull it off in a reasonable amount of time.

We decided, we said, "No, listen, you have to crawl before you walk, before you run." The way we solve this issue with respect to the brand that we're building is we add transparency. We'll just be very, very clear what we're doing and what we're not doing. That's where the concept of transparency for us really started. It was a way for us to get the license from the consumer to proceed with a promise that we're making, even as we are making our way towards that ultimate promise in a stepwise fashion.

That approach in and of itself is a capitalist approach. You can't be too focused on the final point in the perfection and the capitalist approach. You got to kind of start and take steps and you'll get there slowly. That's the approach we took. Our website at mtjoy.com, you can see we tell our guests where every single ingredient down to the paprika. We can't source it locally and we can't source it regeneratively. So you could say two strikes against us, but we're transparent about it.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. It allows you to not get paralyzed, to not let perfect be the enemy of the good, while still creating trust with the customer. The idea of transparency as part of the North Star, how does it inform other decisions that you make that maybe the customer doesn't even see. As you run the company, how does transparency show up for employees, for example?

Robbie Cape:

All of these values that we have, whether it be values related to regenerative, that also, there are elements of transparency that are in there. We are big believers that your in and you're out, have to match. They absolutely have to match. And so we 100% apply in each direction. When we talk about transparency to our employees, we talk about access. We talk about them being able to ask us any question that they might have about any topic that they want to know about in almost all cases.

So long as it is humane for us to do so, we have to respect privacy sometimes. But generally speaking, we will err on the side of being transparent. Being transparent about everything, so when our employees ask us what our sales were on a given day, we're going to tell them, We have nothing to hide. We have absolutely nothing to hide. And as you make your way through this, there's always stuff that comes up where the corporate norm ends up being some degree of opacity, which means, as a company that's trying to grow to scale, you need to work hard to deliver on transparency.

And that's something that I've been committed to that in my career, in general, and so it's very natural for me at Mt. Joy. Unfortunately, a lot of the people that we hire come from companies where it is not the norm and so we have to sort of introduce this and explain why it's a good thing to the people who we bring into the company who become the leaders, right? Because they've worked at companies that are largely opaque. Interestingly enough, people embrace this because it's way easier and more humane to be transparent.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes, right. It's so liberating to not have to think about, "What am I supposed to be hiding versus what can I reveal?" Because the rule is, we don't hide things, therefore, you don't have to discern one from the other.

Robbie Cape:

That's exactly right.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Which is back to regenerative, that fills their cup. That's energy begetting for employees. Wow, I feel like I could go on for another hour talking to you about Mt. Joy and I have to let you go. But before I do that, I have a few kind of rapid fire questions I wanted to throw at you. So are you ready for some rapid fire questions?

Robbie Cape:

I'll try.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. Are you a dog person or a cat person?

Robbie Cape:

I'm a dog person.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What's your pet peeve?

Robbie Cape:

Inattention to detail?

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes. What do you love to do on a Sunday afternoon?

Robbie Cape:

Take a nap. I rarely get to do it, but when I get to do it, it's the best.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It's so decadent. I love it. Your last Netflix binge?

Robbie Cape:

Rough Diamonds. We literally just [inaudible 00:28:32] it last night. It was relatively short.

Lindsay Pedersen:

You just finished the binge? So you need a new binge now. Okay and then final rapid fire. What is the book that you've recommended most?

Robbie Cape:

Well, this is a bit of a mixed question. So if it's just the most, it's going to be, The Omnivore's Dilemma, because I recommend it to literally every single person I talk to about Mt. Joy. It's not really fair because it's a business oriented ... It's a recommendation that is in line with-

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's okay. Give me a second one, then.

Robbie Cape:

I'll give you a second one. It's down as my sort of all time favorite book, Sapiens.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, yeah.

Robbie Cape:

By Harari. I want to say a word or two about this book. I recommended this book to a few people who've read it and they're like, "Oh my God, I hated that book." And it's because we were focused on completely different things. The book is so rich. There are so many theses in there that depending on which thesis you decide to sort of focus on, I can see why some of his theses would be troubling to some people. The thesis of his that, I think, could potentially prevent war forever in the world is this concept of narratives.

Understanding that your narrative is your narrative and that everything about your world pretty much is constructed around these narratives that are complete figments of your and your communities, depending on how you defined it, imagination. It's all made up. It's all made up. And when you look at the world in that way, it gives you, at least it gave me a new way of judging. Or in this case, not judging people whose narratives are so completely-

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, wow. Yeah.

Robbie Cape:

Especially given some of the stuff here in the United States of America, where we have a lot of that going on. We would all do better by recognizing that our world, as we see it, is all made up.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It's so liberating. It allows you to give grace to others and to yourself, too, just because there's so much arbitrariness that led you to the frame that you're now considering this through.

Robbie Cape:

Yeah. And the concept of right and wrong, it has no place in that construct of stuff being made up because the values that we operate on that create these concepts of right and wrong are also made up.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wow. My mind is kind of blown because I read Sapiens and I love Sapiens. I think that I've read it twice. I think I read it when it came out and then I read it again a couple of years later. But I think I need to read it a third time because of what you just said. Because that lack of, that ability to dispel judgmentalness, it kind of went right past me just because like you said, there are so many kind of disruptive ways that it changed my thinking. Oh, my gosh. Mind blown. Robbie Cape, thank you for that. Thank you for this whole conversation. For our listeners to learn more about Mt. Joy or to follow you, where would you direct them?

Robbie Cape:

I direct them to mtjoy.com or on Instagram Eat Mt. Joy. We'd love to hear from you. There's a bunch of contact email addresses on mtjoy.com. We're always learning, so if there's something that any of your listeners has that they'd like to teach us, we're learning and growing and trying to get better every day.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Wonderful. And I encourage listeners to try Mt. Joy. It is life-changing. Thank you so much for all of this, Robbie. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

Robbie Cape:

Okay. Take care. Bye-bye.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Thanks for listening to this episode of North Star Leaders. Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast app. For show notes, transcripts and newsletter signup, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com. Please join us again for another episode of North Star Leaders.

Lindsay speaking

About Lindsay

Lindsay Pedersen is a bestselling author and brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar, and IMDb.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for the executive’s charge: increasing the company’s value. There, she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita. In each case, she was solely responsible for increasing the business’s value.

Thanks to this executive perspective, Lindsay demands that brands be hard-working, disciplined and rigorous in growing a business. Her brand strategies are tested in the crucible of her proprietary Ironclad Method. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy to guide choices as they grow.