We had the good fortune of connecting with Brandon J Bird and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brandon J, how do you think about risk?
I’ve decided to answer this question because of all the choices, this the one I don’t have a previously considered answer for. I also sense it would be useful to me to consider and apprehend in some way we’ll arrive at together. It sounds simple but I’ve come to believe risk calculus is not only crucial, its a moving target with nuance the new among us struggle with -as I did.
I’d say I am over-exposed to risk, maybe even jaded to it. That sounds dangerous but it actually helps assessing and addressing it. Thats the first thing I realize as I write this, risk simply required exposure for me to feel confident managing it. I’m almost a different human being than the one that began the business, that’s true in several ways but for the sake of this topic, it simply illustrates that and no amount of preparation insulated me from the stress of taking enormous risks. I just did it, it hurt, it was scary, it wasn’t a reflection of incompatibility with business, it was a reflection of my essential humanity and likewise my progressive fortitude in the face of risk is basic humanity. It’s not right or wrong, it just is the way we are and it probably helps to know that no early entrepreneur is as cool as they present themselves in the face of taking a leap.
My industry is perilous in the extreme, we have faced existential threats half a dozen times. We’ve probably had 30 years or stress compacted into 8 years of business. The botanical supplement industry has a dearth of guiding policy and a plethora of aggressive enforcement of those (often deliberately) vague guidelines. Even common, household supplements face shocking challenges and tremendous competition. The calculus says I should sell off and do something else, there are a few mitigating reasons I override logical calculus. 1: I love what I do, we help people, I see the effect and it helps cope with the risk 2: I felt that if we could keep the business long enough we would get well ahead financially and it’d be worth it even if the business eventually shuttered. This is now subjectively achieved and the calculus vindicated 3: I’m stubborn. The science and public health are on our side, I can’t abide public health policy that has strayed far afield from its intended aim. Living under ever generalized existential risk, I’ve learned to aggressively manage the risk I can control… Even in times of plenty and growth I love to hunt down liabilities and destroy them. We can view liabilities as being risks without converse upsides. Thats why most people ignore them, they aren’t terribly exciting to address! Where’s the profit? But I love to hate these creeping, sneaky pitfalls that catch us unawares not today or tomorrow but one day. And on that day, there goes the profits. So in this vein, I recently decided to make my life more financially survivable in case of a crisis on macro or micro level. over the course of a year I paid a car off early, reduced my mortgage by $600, reduced health insurance by $1500, reduced car insurance by about $500 month (while adding a cheap vehicle for errands, preserving our nice cars and saving on gas) and found various other ways to make my life more financially robust such as learning to trade and creating consistent gains on my equity. I not only felt more secure from even the most unlikely of financial crises but also freed cash for retirement savings and personal interests. I did the same with the business on several fronts, slashing inventory costs by 50% through a new importation and larger purchasing power and reduced hefty laboratory expenses by 2/3. We managed to bankroll the build out of a new facility and bring in a year’s worth of inventory with cash flow and just one tiny 30K loan -which my wife and I supplied the business personally at generous terms. The overall effect is financial fertility and robustness and a better nights sleep.
I try not to define myself as brave or conservative, I try to keep my risk tolerance flexible and relevant to the situation in real time. When I began trading stocks I did so with a 20k balance and gave the rest to an advisor (conservative). I then learned the most dangerous style possible and took courses on “day trading” (risky). It was harrowing yet I quadrupled my money. Then I quit volatile day trading to swing trade in less dubious stocks (conservative) aiming for smaller percentages on much larger positions now that I had buying power. I was flexible and conscious in risk aversion, at times betting the farm and at others falling back, both within the same exploit in the course of a year. I’ve seen those who will essentially find something that works then bias towards continuing in that vein because our innate sense is that what has worked before is less risky. In reality, what’s worked before may at any point become either more of a risk than ever or less of a payout. An average person day trading with hundreds of thousands of dollars for example is either a born trading prodigy or has a confirmation bias that continues to green light a risky strategy due to past success. In their shoes I would re-calculate risk tolerance in trading and weigh the alternatives.
I won’t initially judge an idea by the size of the risk or the size of the payout. I start by assessing whether or not I can really pull it off. Of course if this question isn’t answered first, all other considerations are academic at best, misleading at worst. If it’s real, if I can do it then I do the risk/reward calculus. This is how I’ve appeared before to take huge risks. In reality, usually I’ll be comfortable with my risk management and what others are responding to is the magnitude of the stakes, not my actual chances of pulling it off. That goes to show most people don’t really apply problem solving to risk calculus by nature, our uninitiated response is about as simple as placing 2 weights on either side of a scale and seeing which is heavier -this is a gross simplification for conceptual purposes. For me, the scale is the final step.
Take what I say only in context, don’t forget that risk for me is quite often existential, this may not be the case for many people. For you liability hunting may be a distraction, for you committing to a risk before having solutions in hand may work better with your personality type (those are the Elons and Jobs among us that function well in such inhospitable conditions). But if any of this demonstrates utility to you one day, I will be glad that my parsing this out has brought you even a hair closer to your goals. At very least its been educational to think about. For that, thank you and cheers!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Applying creativity to the business keeps us personally engaged and that alone is valuable. In social media, videos, ad and site art, packaging and stickers, in the way that we speak to clients, in the look of our shop and even the way we dress, all of it is comfortable expression. This keeps business from becoming a job but also amounts to engaging branding which encourages people to try us. It also humanizes us which improves retention. We have an employee who hand draws cute little sketches on every invoice. In terms of client satisfaction vs time and effort spent, these drawings are probably the most efficiently valuable use of time in the entire company. That creative touch matters for some reason.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Our neighborhood is the place, Melrose on 7th ave. It’s next to the “Gayborhood” which really describes the vibrancy more than the concentration of actual gay bars. If thats your thing, its definitely the place but its also a great area to explore during the day or night with hardly a mediocre restaurant to be found and many interesting shops. My favorite is McAlpines where you can get good diner food, ice cream Sundays and shop for antiques within the same shop. Rice Paper is great Vietnamese near there, my favorite pho in town. Short Leash is another 7th ave favorite. Off 7th I’m a big fan of the Japanese Friendship garden and most of Roosevelt Row. I still love Lost Leaf there for being the only bar that smells and nearly looks like a church inside and Jobot is always worth a visit. I have been meaning to check out Cobra arcade bar and Thunderbird Lounge (70’s themed bar), I haven’t been there yet but hear good things.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Spencer Coffey and Michael Joyner for their brilliant presence and faith. Violetta Papadakis for plucking me out of the crowd. Paul Penzone and Debbie Moak for awakening empathy, Brenna Wolff and Shane Watson for showing up right on time. Too many professors to name who shared their gorgeous minds and time graciously. Brad Taylor for his commitment and compassion. My parents for their monolithic support. Estevan Nunez for astonishing generosity. And most of all, the other half of the business, life partner, best friend, gifted administrator and best looking Trekkie Ive ever met, Jill Bird.
Brandon Bird, Jill Bird, Murry Michaud and Kolin Coats of Golden Rule Botanicals