Dustin Finkel started his career as an investment banker and equity research analyst. He is the founder and CEO of Ancient inGRAINed Snack Co. a consumer goods company that offers delicious and nutritious hottest trend snacks. Finkel is also an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado teaching marketing, strategy, business management, and other business courses.
Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in West Los Angeles near a large park – Rancho Park. I spent most of my childhood (through College) playing any sport that I could find time for. I am a strong believer that being part of a team and an athlete are some of the most vital lessons a young person can learn. How to work with others, rely on others, step up when needed, learning to win and lose, etc. I often say to my team that the odds are stacked against us as a small business, so we need to work harder, faster, stronger than anyone else. Lessons I learned being an athlete.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I suffer from severe anxiety, which led me to have all types of issues that I never understood. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I finally realized the problem and began dealing with it. While I am still on a significant improvement journey, my relationships and ability to handle stress has improved dramatically. I am a big advocate of men being open with their mental issues and getting them addressed. By all superficial definitions, I am an a-type ‘guys guy’ – if I can be vulnerable, anyone can.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people, so I don’t think I hear a lot of bad advice. So I’ll answer what I believe is missing instead – analytical and financial skills. I am fortunate to come from a finance background, and I use this every day to manage and run my business. It was also instrumental in helping me excel throughout my career (no pun intended). You cannot run your business effectively without a detailed and robust understanding of your P&L and cash flow. It helps address the financial considerations, and it helps tell a story about the business’s qualitative areas.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
One of the hardest periods I’ve been through professionally is starting my own company. You hear that entrepreneurship is lonely but the actual process of starting a company from the ground up by yourself is so isolating. The fear that can manifest itself in that solitude can be overwhelming, and it can become all-encompassing. I often share that this journey is the most difficult of my life, and that’s with things going relatively well!
As I said earlier, the best way to get out of this is to get others involved. The first realization I came to is that I am not alone -nearly every entrepreneur/founder is going through the same emotions and struggles. The next thing I did was join/create a small group of CEO/Founders that meet weekly to share our challenges, perspectives and support each other. It is single-handedly the best use of my time as a CEO – it makes me and everyone around me better.
This journey is lonely, but there are many others on the ride. Get them on the bus with you.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I always struggle with the “one” thing questions – because it’s never one thing. So I am going to cheat and pick two. The first is having amazing people around me – both personally and professionally. I am incredibly fortunate to have an all-star list of advisors and mentors who support my business and me personally. I am not sure what I have done to deserve their loyalty and dedication, but I am forever in debt. In my personal life, my wife and kids are rockstars, always helping me do my best.
The second is a bit more intangible – my drive and passion. In fact, I had two investors this week say they were adding more money to the company simply because my passion and enthusiasm are contagious. I am not sure where it comes from, but if you can’t be passionate about your business, who will?
What is your morning routine?
It’s incredible how many hours you have to put in as an entrepreneur, and this is coming from an ex-Goldman Investment Banker! Unfortunately, to create more time, you must trade-off something, which is usually sleep (both purposeful and constant insomnia in this job). Additionally, I am incredibly dedicated to working out – at least six days/week. To get it all done, I typically try and get out of bed around 5-5:30 a.m. and work until 6:45 a.m. It is the ONLY time of day that the world is quiet. I work out for an hour, help get the kids ready for their day, and then back at it. I like to have a morning call with the team and align on priorities and any hot items.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I am also a huge advocate of meditation. I follow Transcendental Meditation, which asks for two twenty-minute sessions. I would be lying if I said that I usually do two, but I try and sneak in one per day. The idea of slowing your mind to move faster is a hard concept for people like me, but it is amazing what happens when I commit to my meditation practice.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach, but I am very detailed in managing my tasks list, priorities, and contacts. I don’t understand procrastination – just get it done. Probably not the most helpful advice 😉.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I am a voracious reader of Business “Self Help” Books and Biographies of great leaders. I often take detailed notes and send my thoughts to the author – you would be surprised by how many personal responses I have received!
There are a few books that have really impacted my thinking and I would highly recommend them to anyone:
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, an ex FBI negotiator. Both an excellent read, and also incredibly astute in how to handle various day-to-day negotiations. Chris also has a Master Class that brings more color to the stories and lessons in the book.
- Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. Many entrepreneurs and A-Type leaders are decisive and action-orientated. The downside is that we make assumptions constantly. This relatively simple book reinforces how asking ourselves, AND others questions can lead to a completely different perspective and thinking.
- Finally, the classics are unforgettable – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
One that I have in my email signature as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado is: “Strategy without Execution is Hallucination” – Thomas Edison. I cannot tell you how many “leaders” I have seen who are blessed with creative thinking and idea generation but have NO idea how to get it done.
The second one may not be appropriate, but I love it: Success is Like Being Pregnant: “Everyone Says Congratulations, but Nobody Knows how Many Times You got Screwed.” Everyone looks at the “overnight” successes, yet they don’t realize the hard work, determination, and talent it took to get there. This is especially true in the LinkedIn world, where all we see is companies and leaders sharing their impressive successes (I am part of the problem), but not the heartache and struggles it took to get there.