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Battling against the tough times of a business can take its toll on entrepreneurs and business owners, but not with the right business strategy. Diving into the value of figuring out what to measure in the business is Anna Collins, the President and COO of Bulletproof 360. Bulletproof 360 is a world-renowned brand which provides supplements, foods, and technologies to help people perform better, think faster, and live radically improved lives. Having been responsible for the strategy, operations, and omnichannel growth of the company, Anna unravels the building blocks of linking strategy to execution, why guiding principles create alignment and can help companies scale, and how Amazon played a role in the success of Bulletproof.
Making Your Business Bulletproof with Anna Collins
Anna Collins is President and COO of Bulletproof, a world-renowned brand that provides supplements, foods and technologies that help people perform better, think faster and live radically improved lives. She’s responsible for the strategic operations and omnichannel growth of the company. Her mission there is to create products and provide information that supports Bulletproof’s vision to help people tap into the unlimited potential of being human. She is a versatile and transformational leader who has pioneered and scaled new businesses at some of the world’s most admired, multibillion-dollar companies. Anna served as a worldwide General Manager of Amazon Prime membership, where she led the first two Prime days pricing and membership engagement, growth and retention programs. Prior to Amazon, she was recruited to Microsoft to build out and scale the global search advertising business from concept through launch and growth to over $1.6 billion. She’s also led initiatives with CVS Health, SVP Media and holds an MBA from Harvard University. When not changing the world, Anna coaches sons Henry and Cooper in basketball and keeps up with her wonderful wife, Debbie. Anna, welcome to the show. I’m glad to have you on the show.
It’s great to be here.
We first started talking a few years ago when Dave told me that he was recruiting you. You came in from Amazon. Were you the former head of Amazon Prime?
I was the former head of Amazon Prime membership globally.
Why would you leave such an amazing organization? Bulletproof Coffee is an amazing organization, but totally different in terms of scope. What did you see? What were you thinking? Walk us through that.
There are a couple of things. One is, in my career, what I’ve done is I’ve gone back and forth between building and growing enterprises, small solar businesses and startups, and large companies like Amazon and Microsoft or CVS. That’s normal for me to go back and forth across. I had never heard of Bulletproof. I got this recruiting call and in many years of working, I’d also never gone to a next opportunity based on a cold call recruit. It’s always been through my network, getting referred in and pulled in. It was unique. I wasn’t looking to leave Amazon happy. Prime was my third job at Amazon. I love Amazon. There are lots of wonderful things. The opportunity to join Bulletproof, I looked at it when I learned about Bulletproof and started talking about Dave.
I saw Bulletproof as a uniform in the better-for-you consumer product goods space. I started by trying some of the products, Bulletproof Coffee, the Brain Octane Oil. I’m a high-performance individual. I always need coffee. It was a performance-enhancing substance for myself and using it on spiritual practices like meditation and other athletic fitness things. I can tell what changes and works for my body. When I started doing the Bulletproof Coffee and Brain Octane Oil, I could feel the difference. This is real. It’s not a fad. I got intrigued. Second is the size of the opportunity to make an impact on the world, the mission-driven nature. Bulletproof’s mission is to create products and provide information that radically improves lives. Dave taking his hero’s journey, apply and make it accessible for the masses, I was jazzed about that.
Third, it hit the sweet spot, which is I’m a builder. What I do is help take a product market fit type idea, help scale it up and build teams and businesses. That’s what I know how to do and want to do it in the space that matters. This fit my personal passion and my mission-driven nature. From a role perspective, a partnership perspective, Dave as the genius entrepreneur and creative that he is, wanted a business partner to help the business leader to grow and scale the company. He continued his genius creation in both content and product. He is a visionary, biohacking and leadership that he continues to do in the world. Evangelizing that and spending a lot of time externally doing that, not just writing books like his latest Game Changers book but also speaking at events and spreading the word like only he can do.
Dave started Bulletproof. I know a lot of our audience know the name Bulletproof. A lot will be like you that won’t have known the name. They’ll probably hop right on Amazon or right on the website and start buying the product with Dave being one of those very entrepreneurial founders. How did you get him to start releasing from parts of the organization? What parts did he keep? What parts do you know that maybe were harder for him to let go of?
When I talked to people about Dave as an entrepreneur, he’s a genius in how he comes up with 100 ideas and 90 of those 100 ideas are good. Stepping into Bulletproof, there were many projects going on. They were all good. Most of them were very good. A company can’t scale and grow by doing everything. One of my favorite quotes on strategies, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” That’s from Michael Porter, the grandfather of competitive strategy. I started by saying, “How do we make tradeoffs and sequence?” It’s not no, but not now. Not this, but that because how do you start making these strategic choices and to do that, what’s the vision that you have? What are the goals that support that vision? What are the strategies to get there? How do you execute that? Tying in and linking strategy to execution. People that entails linking that strategy to the building blocks of execution, which are people, product, process, customer systems, enabling tools, those building blocks. You start looking at those things and how do you make choices around those?
The second thing is Dave was very much a part of how does a product get created? How does this content get created? He wanted to go faster on some things as we all do. It was how do we take Dave and scale it out. I brought mechanisms from other places like tenets from Amazon, which are guiding principles. They help you get an alignment at the start on how to run a program or how to build products or do innovation. You agree and Dave could have the input with the team. You agree on those things and said, “We’re going to use these tenets or these principles unless we know better ones,” and that helped. That was an example of one mechanism that we started to use that helped the team scale.
Did that allow Dave to move out when he started to see that there were some systems and processes that were going to allow you to scale faster but didn’t need him to be involved? Is that part of why he could step back?
Those mechanisms allowed me and the team to earn trust with him in these different areas and to see what was working. It gave him more freedom to continue to pursue and put his energy in other areas.
The company killed off a couple of products early on in your tenure, in the first year or so.
I did a number of things. I mostly reduced focus. The company the year before I came, I joined in January 2017. In 2016, Bulletproof had opened up international eCommerce in a couple of markets including Canada, UK and Japan. One of the things I did was I shut those down in my first 90 days. I also cut the skew count in half my first year. In that first 90 days he made that decision, as I was retooling, revising our operating plan. Part of that was the international internet skews. Part of that was also other categories or they were other supplements and areas of new product innovation and to help focus and reduce the inventory as well as the complexity. The other thing we did was we weren’t selling on Amazon. Amazon has a lot of customers. It’s a good place to go get some business. It’s hard. It’s not easy to go do that. Once your products are in retail distribution, you also have some distribution control issues to work through. We worked on those in 2017. It started to build any and recruited the right folks and started to build an Amazon business, which is quite substantial two years later and continuing to grow very fast.
I didn’t understand how he could have such a strong brand. They didn’t have much going on Amazon at all. Was that a cognizant early-stage decision to not be there or they don’t have the depth and the expertise to go after it?
It was more about the latter than the former. It’s hard.
Was FATwater one of them?
FATwater has its own distribution. We did scale back our distribution of FATWater, paused it. We paused in the further innovation on that so that we can focus on our ready to drink Bulletproof Coffee innovation and distribution, which we have done. That’s one of our core products and retail distribution that continues to the channels. That was one of the things it gets back to, you can’t do everything. How do you make choices and prioritize certain things over other things?
How do you sell Dave on killing off some of those? I would have imagined he had a love affair with. There were things that he started.
There are a couple of things. One is I focused on the customer, the different customer and consumer segments that we have. The core Bulletproof has been built on the core of biohacker. A customer that is super loyal and continues to be important to the brand, to the company and to grow the company beyond the core biohacking customer. We had to say, “What’s required to do that? How do we grow if our vision is how all people tap into the potential of being human? You want to go beyond the core of biohacker that we have.” Let’s look at that. Who is that customer? How do we serve that customer and add that customer segment in addition to the core that we have, which is growing beyond the core? It was through customer focus, growth and how do we retain the core? How do we build both content, product and distribution to go beyond the core? That was critical to shifting Dave and getting his enrollment beyond.
I was in a hotel, it was at an event that Dave was at, but is Bulletproof Coffee now the drinks? Are they in some hotel chains or did you happen to pull that off for the Abundance 360 event that I happened to see?
We are in the Beverly Hilton, which is where you were. That was a unique distribution because we have Upgrade Labs in there. That was part of that engagement with the Beverly Hilton. We are not in all hotels. We are in some top corporations like Goldman Sachs and Microsoft, Microsoft campuses and Google. We’re on some college campuses like USC, UCLA. We have the Harvard women’s basketball team that is using Bulletproof. We’re targeting and engaging in that area. It’s more about getting out there. Those are important pillars to help expand the strategic marketing of the brand. We’re sprinkling those in as we continue to grow in mainstream distribution.
That’s huge credibility. You mentioned something early with some of the projects that I can’t remember the term you used, but it’s like greenlighting some and yellow lighting some. It was not no, but not right now or not yet or trading one off for the other. Dave is a spectacular entrepreneur. He has 100 ideas, 90 of them are good. How do you get someone like that not to want to start all of their ideas? What’s the system you do to grab the ideas, track the ideas, and not kill their spirit? How do you keep him excited? Do you have those ideas without killing it off and without having to start them all?
One part is where we can take an idea? If it’s not now, let’s set a time frame to revisit. For example, I created a series called What The CEO Needs To Know. I said, “Every month we’re going to do product innovation reviews with you and spend 90 minutes on chronic innovation,” so that you’re not wondering where these things are in the innovation pipeline. When we take a trade-off and we say, “We’re going to do this and not that. We’re going to sequence this over here and we’re going to have these streams that match up to different consumer segments.” We’re going to have a cadence. It’s not going to disappear. This is a way to continue to have visibility. At the right level and with the right framework, it’s not a freeform brainstorming idea of other things you want to go do. Let’s put in a context where we’re talking about implications and tradeoffs that we will make on the business and our customers. It’s not freeform, “It’s out here, which is the entrepreneurial way to do it?” Let’s say your thing is already an idea, “They’re all great.” Let’s bring him down to the reality of business and customers and what the implications are.
I’ve got 74 different areas to go with you on this stuff.
My basic framework for leadership is I’ll say it’s fun. My favorite quote of leadership is, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is the same. In between the two, the leaders both as servants and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” That’s from Max De Pree’s Leadership Is an Art. What I love about that is the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The reality for me is what the state of the union for all facts on the ground is? How many skews do we have? How many customers do we have? What are the segments? Who are we serving? What is our cash position? Everything of the reality, what’s the team capability? When I walked in the door, I did that. What’s the reality now? That was the first thing he did for sure. I said, “Here’s my state of union report. The other part of defining reality is the opportunity, the vision, the possibility, which is what I was talking about. Here’s the big vision. What are the roadmap, strategy and goals that are going to take us there and both on the small tenure? Setting that reality up, which was true, and the possibility is that frame that I’m operating with Dave and the team.
How far out do you plan versus how far out do you allow yourself to think with Dave and vision?
There are different time horizons. We’re doing the big vision. When I walked in the door, I was interviewing with the company, it was clear that there were a strong mission and a strong vision. Talking to end values like gratitude is a value that we have at Bulletproof. We have seven other values. If you asked different people on the team when I walked in the door, I did and they would give you ten different answers for what the vision is, ten different answers for the mission. They would all say gratitude is one of that values that you get on their answers. In the first night is I went through a process with Dave and the team using employee input, customer input and the facilitator. We define this definitively what our values and the vision-mission to be able to say it and everyone would say the same thing. We use that frame to start doing performance reviews to start to do the hiring, interview and baking them into the process to help us scale. That’s another example of creating a common reality, the context for the team and us all to operate and practice business. That vision is a twenty-year vision to tap into the unlimited potential of being human.
That’s when you’re always communicating and talking about. You’re probably planning in a more granular basis than three out, two years out?
We have the strategic planning process. I use a three-year strategic planning process. We do that. We have our annual operational planning. We do the three-year planning process ahead of the one-year planning. We’re constantly doing the three-year planning ahead of our one planning. We do mid-year to check-in with that.
If you were to go back to Amazon for a bit and think about when you left Amazon and came into Bulletproof, what skills did you bring with you from Amazon that you still use or what styles of leadership did you bring in? What did you have to change? What were you may be great at or doing at Amazon that wouldn’t work in the entrepreneurial world and you had to reinvent?
It’s a tardy answer. The Amazon question because I spent a few years at Microsoft. What I’d say is when I bring all of that, as Amazon ruined me forever with, for example, PowerPoint because at Amazon you can’t do PowerPoint. You can only write narratives. It’s only written word. Every meeting starts with a document and nobody talks until everyone meets the document. A document has data in it. Therefore, you do that for any number of years. Any other meeting is crap compared to that. What I didn’t want to do, when I walked into Bulletproof is crush this entrepreneurial company that didn’t ever write anything down like a narrative. What I did was I started sprinkling and demonstrating some practice of the document or narrative form. I had brought some other mechanisms to increase in the keep of data and the analytics capability, which Amazon had to strengthen and create a weekly business review. I didn’t start the first year doing a weekly business review. By the second year, we have a business review. What I did the first year was to create a data analytics capability and started building that up so that we could do those other things. Those are normal scaling uptight stages to go see.
They’re normal except a lot of companies don’t do it. You talked about data analytics. I was talking to a client that I coach. They measured everything. He was showing me all the metrics. I was like, “There’s no way you can ever look at all this data. You have so much data. It’s almost like plugging your Porsche at a car dealership and looking at the 75,000 things they measure.” What are the most important ones? How did you decide what to measure and how to look at it? Who was looking at it? Can you walk us through some of that?
It depends on areas you’re talking about or the input/outputs. Some companies and practices look at outputs. Revenue is an output. What are the inputs? The number of customers and on and on. An eCommerce business you have customers and average order value ahead. What are the inputs? There are inputs to the number of customers who have to do with new customers and return customers. For an eCommerce site, you have the traffic coming in. How many visitors are visiting? What’s our conversion? Conversion visitors and traffic or visitors and conversion are input metrics to average order value and revenue in units. I’m giving an example on eCommerce business, how you can start looking at it and saying, “What matters?” Those are all metrics that matter, inputs and outputs for the daily business. You can drive and say, “What impacts conversion on a website, on a product detailed page?” You start talking about low time speed of the page, usability, what information or content is on the page, where it’s positioned on the page? I could go on and talk about there’s advertising. It depends on what area you’re talking about that’s different than supply chain or retail distribution.
I love the whole input through the outputs and then diving on the areas. What do you look at? Is there a dashboard that you look out more than others? Are there specific numbers that you’re focusing on to know the health of the whole organization?
That is a weekly business review. As a president looking at everything, I’m not picking on any one area. I am looking at the house across the business. I’m looking at the customer. There’s customer service metrics. There are product quality metrics. There is an inventory supply to demand inventory metrics that are important. There are financial metrics that are important. There are marketing metrics that are important. When we do field marketing, we do demos and return on investment for demo. As being responsible for the entire business, I don’t not look at anything. There’s no one dashboard. We’re not that sophisticated. Amazon doesn’t have any one dashboard either. It’s a set of things that we’re looking at.
Can you walk us through your weekly business review and how that meeting runs with the pulse or the agenda?
There are defined metrics by a team that is driven by the goals for that team. These are the key inputs and outputs that matter for those goals. It’s the trend you can see. You do the trend to prior weeks and prior year comparing for the metric against the goal. You look and you talk about variances that are out of bounds that are under control. It’s an exception-based conversation. The presenting owner of that metric slide is reporting to me, the other extended leadership team that’s reviewing this and explaining the frame.
How long are they presenting for? Is it five, ten minutes per business area?
It depends because we’re building that muscle. As we’re doing that, we’re continuing to build the muscle in the different areas. It’s not perfect yet, but again, depending on the owner, it could be two minutes or it could be five minutes.
We used to run weekly business reviews. I call them the bar meetings at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I loved when you’d get some different business areas, but all of a sudden challenge someone like you would have the person running the call center would all of sudden challenge finance on something. They were doing it as a team. Everyone was arguing and challenging for the good of the company. Is it a stressful but good stress meeting?
That’s exactly right.
We only did it before I was a company COO. I loved doing it because they felt that stress and pull. What are you focusing on the day-to-day? If you had that old adage if you were sick and you can only focus on two hours a day, what would you be doing? Do you have the core things that you focus on or obsess over?
I think about my time because we have the stakeholder buckets more than the to-do list. What are the big stakeholder buckets? It’s our customers. Every day, every week there’s some amount of time I’m spending with customers. For example, I had a customer call and the president of one of our top retailers as an example. I was observing some consumer focus groups led by our product team. I’ll stop there on the customer example. The other one is the team. I spend time on the people, the higher and developed. I wrote a launch plan for my new CFO, who’s going to get it now, so I won’t steal the thunder coming up here.
I finished her launch plan that’s like here are her goals and priorities to give her the start here. What I want you to start with the new team meetings that I want you to start with. Here’s your get started Bulletproof launch plan. That’s an example of people thing. Another call on recruiting a VP of marketing, we missed an interview loop. I’ve got that rescheduled. I’m giving an example from that. The other is of the daily operations and running the business with how are we meeting and driving whether it’s new customer launches, product innovation. How are we progressing along with our plans whether it’s financial, operational? It could be forecasting. I have SLT, Senior Leadership Team meetings where we’re reviewing different capabilities that hit across those buckets as well as operational and financial. I’ll stop there. There’s marketing. There’s PR. I usually have some amount of PR stuff going on. I have some of that respond to another marketing. That’s the thing I love about my role as it spans, it’s as bucket reduces that bucket.
When are you going public? I’m asking because I want to buy stock. You guys are starting to execute so much better than the company was before you got there a couple of years ago. Dave was running a good company. You guys are on fire right now it feels like.
We have been exploding. It’s a total team effort. We have said it’s a partnership where we last locked arm, going at it and with the team. We’ve brought a lot of great folks on the team. We’ve brought a lot of great people on the team like Pat Brown who’s our leader in retail distribution, retail sales. Karen Huh who’s been our product leader and brand for a few years now. She’s that product innovation, consistency and lights out, ready to drink Bulletproof Coffee that we hadn’t had that collagen protein, dark chocolate. Ready to drink Bulletproof Coffee is amazing. It is light. You drink that and you’re like, “It’s such a treat,” and it’s good for you. It’s exploding. Our Collagen Protein Bars are amazing. We keep coming out with more and more flavors. The Cookie Dough Chocolate Chip is my favorite from that. When they get on the shelf, the demand is continuing to grow because as people taste it, they’re like, “They taste good. They’re good for you.” There’s no sugar. Those are the products.
The team, the business continues to grow. They do this creative genius on content and help us with the product and guide us as an overall strategy in business. At some point, that’s a financing event that is a possibility. We’re focused on the growth and the customers. What’s going to meet their needs and how do we create more and more access for the masses? How do we simplify it? Bulletproof can be a life that can be intimidating and unapproachable as a lifestyle. When someone comes to say, “How do I become Bulletproof?” I’m like, “Eat this Collagen Protein Bar. Now you’re Bulletproof. Drink this great tasting, ready to drink Bulletproof Coffee.”
Versus having to understand biohacking at the level that Dave understands it, which is terrifying. Where do you struggle? You’re clearly super strong as a President and Second-in-Command. Where do you struggle on day-to-day? At the end of the day, we’re all still trying to figure this out. Where do you struggle as a leader, as a business person? What are you working on to get better? The best golfer in the world still practices the game. What are you working on for yourself and your skills?
The main thing is managing with Dave in the day-to-day. My leadership style is let’s take the hill. If you’re not in the line of sight, if you’re not on the hill at that moment, the amount of effort to continue to take the time out and bring everyone along is the thing that I struggle with. Part of that is slowing down and making more of an effort to engage as I’m going after stuff. What that shows up to someone if they’re on a team is I can be intimidating and overbearing. That’s the thing. It’s not a new thing. That’s the thing I’ve been working on for many years. In an environment where there’s so much to do, it’s super stressful or gone like crazy, dates going like crazy, those are the points that will create friction for me and up, down and around. That’d be one of the biggest ones.
I had something similar. I’m 6’4″ and when I come in with that battered hell feeling around people, they feel like I’m running at them when I’m walking into the room quick. I was told to physically slow down as I was approaching people because I scared them. With your people, the stuff that you are the best out of, if your team was to describe you right now, we’ve certainly got a huge glimpse of it. How would your people describe you as a leader? Are any of them remote or is your team all office-based in Seattle?
We are a combination of remote and based in Seattle although we’ve continued to create a critical mass hub here in the headquarters in Seattle. My direct reports are mostly here. A couple of them are remote if that’s the question.
How would they describe you as a leader?
I’d say direct, demanding and likes data.
You said that you finish everything with that, “Thank you,” with that gratitude. Is that natural for you or do you have to work?
The gratitude, I do the, “Thank you.” The other thing would be connecting and caring. I was thinking about leadership. If you’re going to say my leadership style is what people say distinguishes my style is high. I’d say character, competence and caring. The character is how high integrity and high intention that shows up. The competence part is strong basic capability. This has to be like don’t suffer fools. It very quickly has a strong point of view and communicates directly around whether we’re interviewing somebody right on an interview loop that creates clarity and had a strong point of view on that and communication. The caring part that I do care about each individual and I care about them professionally as a person. What that means is I’ve been invested in their success as well and work to be that leader. Not only helping to provide clarity on the reality as a servant in helping arm lock and be of service but what can I do to help with Dave and their team?
You’re clearly one of those exceptional leaders. The ability to straddle and go back and forth between the corporate world and in the entrepreneurial world back and forth is I don’t see it virtually ever. It’s pretty amazing to watch and to have seen you over the last few years. If you were to have that one final word of advice, not for our audience, but for yourself. If you were to give your 21-year-old self a bit of leadership advice, what would you wish you had known at 21 you know to be true?
I did it at Microsoft. When I was at Microsoft, there was a woman who wouldn’t book Alan, I can’t remember the last name. His letters to his younger self. I did a panel on this. I had a whole letter I wrote to my younger self. The number one thing would be don’t take me so seriously. I can say that. I still struggle with that one because I overdo it on the serious part and my responsibility back to one of my opportunities.
I’ve been trying to go with that as well. That whole doesn’t take yourself seriously. My girlfriend and I wore heart onesies. We went to a nice restaurant. We walked in with these pink and purple onesie outfits. Everybody in the restaurant was like, “What?” We were like, “We owned it.” We walked in like we were wearing tuxedos and ball gowns. We owned the place. Anna Collins, President for Bulletproof Coffee, thank you so much for sharing on the show. I’m glad you were able to share with us.
About Anna Collins
Bulletproof 360 is a world-renowned brand which provides supplements, foods, and technologies to help people perform better, think faster and live radically improved lives.
Anna is responsible for the strategy, operations and omnichannel growth of the company. Her mission there is to create products and provide information that supports Bulletproof’s vision to help people tap into the unlimited potential of being human. She is a versatile and transformational leader who has pioneered and scaled new businesses at some of the world’s most admired multi-billion-dollar companies.
Most recently, Anna served as worldwide general manager of Amazon Prime membership, where she led the first two Prime Days, pricing and member engagement, growth and retention programs. Prior to Amazon, she was recruited to Microsoft to build out and scale the global search advertising business from concept through launch and growth to over $1.6 billion. She has also led initiatives with CVS Health, SVP Media, and holds an MBA from Harvard University. When not changing the world Anna coaches sons Henry and Cooper in basketball and keeps up with her wonderful wife Debbie.
Yes and he is my son of whom I am SO PROUD. John Herold
I think there was mention of an on-boarding or fast start plan for new employees. Is there any chance I can get a copy of the template? Loved the interview!