The founding story of GT’s Living Foods, the leading maker of kombucha–that fizzy, vinegary beverage that’s become a fixture in the booming probiotic-foods space–involves a Buddhist nun, a luxury department store, a cancer scare, the fountain of youth, Gwyneth Paltrow, and one enterprising 17-year-old in tony Bel Air, California. Suffice it to say that GT Dave, the company’s founder, is not your typical entrepreneur.
No longer a precocious teen, he’s now the 41-year-old force behind a company that managed to create an entirely new product category, grow it into a mega-trend, and survive countless attempts by much larger companies to knock it off its throne. At Inc.‘s Fast Growth Tour event on June 6 in San Francisco, Dave will share the lessons from his experience and more.
Dave, who bootstrapped his company and still owns it outright, has blazed a trail that holds lessons for entrepreneurs in industries far beyond the health-food aisle. There were the grassroots marketing efforts that earned him early cult status, followed by savvy moves to grow his distribution nationally. There’s the way he’s recovered from a string of crises beginning when a rival’s products were found to be illegally high in alcohol and led to a nearly complete shutdown of the kombucha market in 2010. There’s his steadfast refusal to change his product formulation, despite competitive pressure. And, of course, there’s the way he’s turned his unusual personal story into the soul of a powerful brand.
The story of GT Dave is more than a little weird. He’s cultivated an air of mystery and bucked the standard playbook again and again. What ties it all together: relentless perfectionism and staying true to his vision. It’s worked. He’s now a billionaire, according to Forbes, and the market he created continues to grow at an estimated 40 percent annually.
Kombucha may or may not be a kind of magical elixir, as Dave has suggested it is, but his business journey quite certainly can be instructive for other entrepreneurs.