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Company Origin Stories: Some of Our Favorites

In Leadership Resources, Strategy Resources by Brandt A. HandleyLeave a Comment

On ROI’s Into the Corner Office podcast, we have interviewed over 200 leading middle-market CEOs from companies across industries, and the advice and wisdom they have shared with us is unparalleled. We are excited to share some of these insights with you in a new form!

Many of our guests are entrepreneurs, and hearing companies’ origin stories is one of the most interesting parts of hosting ROI’s Into the Corner Office Podcast! There is always more behind the scenes than the met need or the innovative product, however, and that’s why we love to hear the story behind the business on the Into the Corner Office podcast.

All of our entrepreneurial guests built their businesses with hard work and their own two hands–sometimes very literally! Here are some of our favorites.

A Founding Story That Reads Like A Movie Script

When TJ Jiang and his partner Kai Gong started AvePoint, they saw a need and knew they could meet it. At the time, Microsoft was updating its SharePoint CDs, but failed to make a way for first version users to migrate all their data to the second version. It was difficult for businesses to scale, and hard for IT managers to keep up. 

So, even though at that time AvePoint “didn’t have a product to solve this problem, we knew we could do it. I stood in the room,” TJ says, “and I raised my hand, said ‘Hey we can migrate you, come to our booth!’ and then right away I printed these flyers, posted them all over the conference in Orlando’s convention center and everybody came over.”

Naturally, the next step was to actually build the product because Microsoft showed interest but, as TJ noted, “They have to see something before they can recommend us.”

What happened next? “Over the weekend, we coded the product.” Shortly after, Kai jumped on the cheapest flight he could find to Seattle to show what they’d built to Microsoft. Because they’d been working on this company (although not this specific product) for a couple of years, money was tight. “He didn’t have a laptop, so he carried his desktop towers with him and he [had to] plug in a monitor” to show it to the team.” Long story short, they loved the product and AvePoint was off and running.

Born at the Kitchen Table

One of my favorite founding stories came from Chelsea Milling Company CEO Howdy Holmes. Chelsea Milling is the parent company of Jiffy Mix, the first baking mix on the market. Howdy’s grandmother thought of the idea quite literally at the kitchen table. Howdy is a wonderful storyteller, and his words here are the best. “My grandmother had identical twins–I refer to them as ‘The Boys’ and when they were teenagers being raised here in Chelsea, The Boys had a friend who was actually being raised by a single parent, and it was the father. Keep in mind, this is around 1920–pretty unusual.”

The Boys invited their friend over for lunch, and he was reluctant to come because his father had packed him a bag lunch. Howdy’s grandmother was understandably curious about what a single father might be packing his son for lunch in those days, and inside was a biscuit that she “referred to as more like a white hockey puck…But the interesting thing is she had this moment of tremendous compassion for this young man’s father because, in those days, baking from scratch meant literally baking from scratch–a little flour, a little salt, a pinch of this, a handful of that, a spoonful of this.” She knew how much effort it took to make biscuits and thought how great it would be to invent a mix that would save people time in the kitchen and be so easy anyone could do it.

“Five or six years later, she did, along with her husband, and they introduced the first retail prepared mix ever. All-Purpose Jiffy Baking Mix was introduced in April of 1930 and spawned an industry.”

A Twist of Fate

One of the most impactful interviews I have ever done was with Anne Beiler, founder of the beloved Auntie Anne’s® Pretzels. Auntie Anne’s was actually born to fund a dream completely separate from pretzels. After the devastating loss of their young daughter and subsequent ongoing abuse by a church pastor who she turned to for help, Anne and Jonas found healing through marriage counseling. This planted a dream in Anne’s husband to provide a solution for people in their community who had experienced trauma or just needed help. He became a certified counselor and set out to provide free counseling. To help make this possible, Anne said, “I had better get a job and go back to work. So I went to a farmer’s market and learned how to make pretzels. We went from one to two stores that first year. The next year we did 12 stores, the next year 35.” By the time the business was sold 20 years later, Auntie Anne’s had 900 stores in the US and abroad.

Through Auntie Anne’s, Anne and her husband were able to provide free counseling to their community, and then with the proceeds from the sale, they built a community center with counselors, doctors, a cafe, a daycare, chiropractors, and more. Anne also travels and speaks about her story, the power of confession, and her wisdom for a successful business and life.

If you are an entrepreneur whose business is growing and you need help building a quality team that you can trust, ROI’s Four Step Solution can help!

We highly recommend listening to these interviews in their entirety because these short snippets simply do not do them justice. You can find the full archive of Into the Corner Office podcast episodes here

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