Real Talk is an ongoing, co-branded article series in partnership with AccelFoods that aims to highlight workplace and brand building topics that often go undiscussed. The goal of the series is to not only shed light on these topics but to ultimately open up the conversation and spark a meaningful dialogue about it with industry influencers and beyond.
Max Baumann turned 30 this month and has already established himself as a talented and ambitious serial entrepreneur. He currently serves as the Founder and CEO of keto-friendly meal shakes BEAR POWERFOODS, but he’s no stranger to building award-winning businesses. At 21 years old, he launched his first business, The Chill Group, Inc., the world’s first functional beverage designed to help reduce stress and improve focus.
While his entrepreneurial spirit led him to launch other successful ventures in the last decade, he didn’t set out with the intention to build innovative brands. He set his sights instead on professional surfing — a profession he soon realized wouldn’t prove lucrative in the long run. But there were more challenging waves to catch after giving up his surfing dream — it was being able to prove his business abilities without having any prior experience.
In this Real Talk article, we caught up with Baumann to learn more about how he navigated building credibility in his 20s. Who did he lean on? What outlet proved most valuable for demonstrating his authenticity and abilities as a young entrepreneur?
Read on as we ‘real talk’ with Baumann.
Q: You have a very entrepreneurial background — what were some of the initial concerns you had forgoing the traditional career trajectory of attending a four-year university and then entering the workforce to pursue your business ambitions instead?
A: My focus on success and willingness to take an unconventional path to get there began in high school. I was determined to be a professional surfer and tried everything in my power to align myself with that goal, including changing over to an independent study program in 10th grade to allow myself more time to master my craft. The unknown benefit of independent study was that it shaped my ability to teach myself how to do things on my own. I ended up graduating in the top 4 percent of my high school class. I threw away my acceptance letter from UC Santa Barbara and took a trip to Australia to follow my dream, sleeping in a friend’s guest room for free. I quickly found that surfing wasn’t going to be a lucrative profession. When I re-applied to UCSB, I was told that I needed to wait a year to begin. I attended their sister community college and became co-captain of the UCSB surf team, leading us to our 13th national title. During my “waiting year,” I started my first company with some fellow students. We sold cans of Just Chill out of the back of my Toyota pickup truck. I fell in love with building the business and officially dropped out to pursue Just Chill.
Q: Tell us about your current venture, BEAR POWERFOODS. What excites you most about it? And what lessons from your previous ventures have best prepared you for its success?
A: BEAR is a keto meal replacement shake that focuses on high quality ingredients and convenience — you just add water and go. I saw a gap in the performance food and beverage landscape for something truly nutritious, low carb, convenient, and delicious and knew I could build a brand that provided those core functions and more. To me, the most exciting component of building BEAR is the opportunity to apply the biggest business lesson of all: resource vs. impact. I am moving from an expensive retail launch model [for Just Chill] where marketing attribution is extremely difficult to measure to a direct to consumer (DTC) business where I can calculate exactly how much it costs me to acquire a consumer. This go-to-market strategy allows me to be nimble and impactful with investor dollars while seeing significant results more quickly.
Q: You launched your first business, The Chill Group, Inc., at 21 years old — how do you build credibility with other industry veterans at such a young age?
A: Before I focused on credibility, I focused on likability. The common theme that I found when networking with more seasoned business professionals is that they wanted to help if they liked you. If they didn’t, then good luck getting your email returned! To help find common ground, I really dove into deep conversations with everyone; learning about their hobbies, favorite sports teams, workout routines, business philosophies, accomplishments, etc. Once I had built that initial relationship they would be more receptive to my ideas. My credibility grew with some success like landing a mention in The Wall Street Journal, the homepage of Yahoo!, Oprah Magazine, The Ellen Show, among others. I found press was an amazing way to overcome age for credibility. It’s social proof. “If these major articles are talking about the brand and this kid, he must be legit right?”
Q: What skills most prepared you to start multiple businesses?
A: I believe both my natural inclination and passion for connecting with others and my learned ability to lead through influence have prepared me best. Early on in my entrepreneurial career, I committed to a thorough study of influence and persuasion. I immersed myself in seminars like POP’s Influence at Work, trainings like Dale Carnegie Sales Training course, and even used salesmanship and the press to be able to get into Wharton’s Executive Education program as the youngest-ever fellow. At Wharton, I was able to study Strategic Persuasion under Richard Shell, my all-time favorite professor. The ability to motivate others is one of my strengths and I was lucky enough to fine-tune that skill by learning from some of the best.
Q: What are some benefits of launching a business in your 20s?
A: Amongst other things, you learn all the hard lessons early. I’m turning 30 on January 15, and I’ve already set up a solid financial foundation for myself to live a good life. I employ more than 55 ambitious, hard-working individuals, and have more than a decade of experience to pull from as I navigate my 30s and further accelerate my career.
Q: The food and beverage industries are thriving with new brands from young entrepreneurs emerging each month – how has this movement of millennial innovators influenced your success?
A: I definitely thrive in a competitive environment. When I see other young entrepreneurs achieving, my inner competitive spirit comes out and says, “Wait a minute! I can do that, too. Let get after it!” I also believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. The health and wellness community in LA and beyond has been consistently inspiring to me and is a great peer group through each stage of my journey.
Q: Have you had any mentors who’ve inspired you and helped you most in your career?
A: I’ve had so many great mentors but two instantly come to mind: An De Vooght (former CFO of Red Bull and Beats by Dre) and Dr. Mike Gervais (high-performance psychologist to the Seattle Seahawks, Olympic gold medalists, and fortune 100 CEOs). An taught me advanced managerial reporting techniques that I still use to this day. Mike opened my eyes to the power of the mind. He showed me how to build a deep level of confidence in myself and my teammates. He has a great podcast called Finding Mastery. I was invited on for an episode if anyone wants to check it out.
Q: If you could go back and do anything differently with the companies you’ve built, what would you change?
A: Nothing. If you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs. Everything brought me to the exact point I’m at. I’ve made all the mistakes you can make already: I’ve overspent money, formed partnerships that came back to bite me, gave away too much equity too early, didn’t set up proper legal paperwork in agreements, overlooked discounts, returns, and allowances leading to lower gross margins, hired the wrong people… EVERYTHING! But those hard lessons have led to a lot of the business success I’m experiencing today with my company Basemakers (50+ full-time team members with consistent four-digit year-over-year growth) and have set me up to what I believe will be a major exit in the future in BEAR POWERFOODS.
Q: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs looking to forgo the traditional education and career path to launch a company?
A: I would tell young entrepreneurs to be very focused on their goals, to learn to lean into their strengths and hire for their weaknesses, and to be very open to feedback from more seasoned partners, investors, and customers.