“Every one of your dreams is a just a phone call or a visit away,” Ido Leffler says. “You just need the chutzpah and tenacity, because, you never know, the person on the other end could be the most important person in your [business] life.”
In 2006, Leffler faced this type of one-time opportunity when traveling from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Chicago with one mission in mind: to sell his new line of natural beauty products made from fruits and vegetables to Walgreens. At the time, his company, Yes To Carrots, produced six products sold in 16 stores. Leffler wanted the brand to become a household name worldwide, but first had to win over one of the largest drugstore brands in the U.S.
He almost blew it at the last minute, based on one detail. Leffler woke up the morning of his meeting, put on a nice pair of pants and shirt and walked down to the lobby of his hotel to meet his driver—who gave him a once-over and frowned. “He told me, 'You can’t go into a meeting looking like that. You need a tie,’” he says. “So we raced over to the nearby Neiman Marcus.”
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Tight on time, Leffler frantically searched the men’s section of the store, stopping only when he saw a bright orange tie. He purchased the tie, aced the meeting and never looked back. Today, Leffler and his team are based in San Francisco and more than 30 Yes To products can be found in 28,000 stores (including Walgreens) and in 25 countries worldwide. In addition, the company recently launched the Yes To Seed Fund, which donates 1 percent of company profits to grow gardens in San Francisco and Kenya.
Take me back to that first meeting with Walgreens. Did you think it would be a slam-dunk?
Not at all. I landed the meeting through an old contact [Leffler previously founded a company that helped develop international business entities], but there were no guarantees that things would go well. I walked into that meeting more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. As I said hello, my contact put out her hand and instead of taking it, I leaned in and kissed her on both cheeks. She was stunned, but it seemed to help break the ice.
The meeting was supposed to last 30 minutes; it lasted three hours.
Did Walgreens pick up your products right away?
Not exactly. They put us on an online trial first to see how we would sell. We couldn’t afford to fail, so we went crazy trying to market our products on the Web and did a massive contest on MySpace trying to find the face of Yes To Carrots. It worked. More than 100,000 people entered the contest and word of mouth grew. We also took out a full-page ad in Cosmopolitan magazine to promote Walgreens.com. That helped show them that we were serious.
Those early days were pretty crazy. In our first two years, I was flying about 200 days per year between Israel and the U.S. until we finally moved our offices to San Francisco.
Let's go back to the beginning. How did you come up with the idea for Yes To Carrots?
I’d sold my previous company and was living in Tel Aviv with my girlfriend [now wife]. We were working hard during the day and playing hard at night and started talking about finding ways to improve our health, so we looked into our grooming regimen. We wanted to buy all-natural products, but couldn’t find anything that was sexy and appealing to us. So we made the clear decision to come out with a brand and product that would be the Virgin or Apple of the natural beauty world—something that our customers would like the look of, the price of and get excited to tell friends about.
The name ‘Yes To’ came out of the need not to be told ‘no’ anymore. Back in 2006, every beauty product was claiming to be anti this or anti that. We wanted to say yes to everything and create a positive message.
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What challenges have you faced running Yes To?
Managing growth has been a huge challenge. In the early days, we were saying yes to everything. We were playing a game of monopoly and buying every street. Fortunately, that worked out in the long run, but looking back, it could have killed us.
Is it true that you wear orange every day as a nod to your tie from the first Walgreens meeting?
Yep, that is true. That color has brought me a lot of luck. I wear it every workday, without fail.
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Katie Morell is an independent journalist based in San Francisco. She regularly contributes to Hemispheres, USA Today, Consumers Digest, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Crain’s Chicago Business and others.
Photos from top: iStockphoto, Courtesy of Yes to Carrots