Mark Rampolla, CEO of ZICO Coconut Water, exhibits and delivers vim and vigor.
By Dick Kuiper
Mark Rampolla, Founder and CEO of ZICO Pure Premium Coconut Water, demonstrates the all-natural vitality his products represent.
“Early on, I knew I wanted to be in a position to put all the pieces of a company together, rather than be in one functional silo within a bigger company,” Rampolla said. “I also realized that could take years to achieve working in the U.S. with a large conglomerate. So my plan was to go overseas where I could run a whole business, even if a smaller division, to get a grip on all the elements that make up a company. Getting experience as an ‘intrapreneur’ definitely helped prepare me to become an entrepreneur.”
On the advice of a mentor at International Paper, Rampolla agreed to run one of the company’s beverage packaging plants in El Salvador. Rampolla and his wife made the move to Central America, where he ran a $10-million unit.
Rampolla enjoyed working in a setting in which the focus was not on competition among peers but rather on the business itself.
“If you can find an opportunity that no one else wants,” he said, “you have an excellent environment to prepare yourself for bigger challenges.”
Rampolla embraced his new home as well, having done a stint in the Peace Corps in the region. It was during that time of service that he discovered coconut water, a staple for locals, known and loved for all natural hydration and replenishment.
“It did not take long for me to realize that this would be my mission, and I began to envision and pursue the dream of bringing the healthy, natural benefits of coconut water to consumers around the globe.”
“Staying balanced and having a great family life are as much a part of success to me as ZICO becoming a $1B brand.”
Having gained the semi-entrepreneurial know-how he needed with the packaging business, Rampolla took a leap of faith and started ZICO. He raised capital from friends, family and angels and launched in New York in the summer of 2004, selling from his van while determining the right product positioning and target audience.
“We knew ZICO could function well as a sports drink, but rather than try to go head-to-head with Gatorade we took a different approach and positioned ZICO as the all-natural, post workout replenishment beverage for natural athletes and those that believed in living a “Naturally Powered” lifestyle. .”
Rampolla chose the Bikram yoga community for his first market foray. He and his small team went deep with this audience in New York City, selling to yoga studios from his van and handing out free post-workout samples whenever and wherever they could.
“Naturally Powered” in Action
Now Rampolla’s typical day begins at 5:00 a.m., spending an hour and a half doing yoga or working out. This regimen allows him to relax and stay in shape, so that he has the energy to run and manage his business.“
Besides being physically active, Rampolla encourages all ZICO team members to be active in the workplace and their communities.
“I try to promote an atmosphere where people value achievement, feel ownership of the mission of bringing coconut water to the masses and having fun. Direct, honest, and open communication is essential. I encourage my team to tell me whatever is on their mind, positive or negative. If I make a questionable decision, I get a dozen emails and calls about it. I don’t always listen, but the entire ZICO team knows they’re contributing to our success. And it works!”
Rampolla chalks ZICO’s success up to recruiting the right people, to “thought time,” and to work-life balance.
On recruiting: “I really value personal networks, love to bring in referrals and get many people involved in the recruitment process. This is so important that I don’t even trust myself to do the full interview process anymore. I get multiple opinions about a person being considered to feel confident they are a solid fit with the culture.”
On thought time: “’Thought time’ is when I shut off all electronics, communication devices, and just think: think about what I want to accomplish, company strategy, creative concepts and the like. Most of my greatest ideas have come from this, and it was over the course of these ‘thought times’ that the idea for ZICO was born. I encourage my team to do the same, whatever their role, as I believe it will help us win.”
And on work-life balance: “I do work very hard but I’m not a workaholic. I love my family more than anything, so I make it a point to be home and spend time with them as much as possible. When I’m in town, I have dinner with them at 6:30 or 7 most nights. Sundays are off limits as far as my job is concerned, unless there’s a fun ZICO event and I’ll take my wife and kids. Staying balanced and having a great family life are as much a part of success to me as ZICO becoming a $1B brand.”
Dick Kuiper is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash.
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