Mr. Alper was the founder of “Bread and Circus,” a natural foods grocery in Brookline Massachusetts which was later sold to the national U.S. chain, Whole Foods. More famously, he founded the kosher quick service restaurant, Noah’s Bagels, in 1989, and later sold it six and a half years later for $100 Million to Einstein Bagels. Currently, he is a consultant, speaker, involved with the ethical kashrus movement, and a co-founder of a Jewish high school in the Bay Area. A serial entrepreneur with perpetual perma-shpielkas, he has started six ventures, and four succeeded. This is a great track record. I am not counting his lemonade stand at age 9. After visiting Israel, he started a company to sell Israeli products to evangelical Christians. It was a dismal failure. Perhaps because, feigning a Baptist demeanor, he was being someone he wasn’t. In 1989, after his brother returned from seeing a cute Montreal bagel store, he started a kosher bagel and appetizing store a mile from Berkeley. The store and later, the chain, embraced its Jewish roots. It integrated over the top customer service, high quality foods, tikkun olam, and an overt and unapologetic Jewish soul. It was even closed for Passover, which was unusual in San Francisco. The rest is history.
Alper is one lucky mensch. He hit upon bagels in 1989, when the carbohydrate-loading market was taking off, and sold the business right before carbs became a naughty word. The book opens with Alper waiting to see if the $100 million dollar deal has closed. Is the money in the bank? He thinks back, as all good business books do, to a time of personal crisis. Two decades earlier he was in a mental hospital for nine months. He was a wreck, manic and delusional. He left the University of Wisconsin, fearful of the Vietnam War draft and paranoid. Slowly he reentered life. He started in a book warehouse, then became a cashier in Harvard Square, and then started his first venture, selling hand crafted wooden salad bowls. Each success led to a new venture, and failures led to learning.
Alper imparts seven Noahide laws, or Noah’s 7 principles. They are:
(1) Have a Little Chutzpah: How did a former mental patient end up as an entrepreneur. The hospital though taught him important life skills, and a little over two decades later, he had built a family, businesses, made millions. What Chutzpah! You need it to think that people will give you money to start a business. You need it to call a salad bowl company Alper INTERNATIONAL. And here he was, sitting in Jerusalem in the Kabbalat Shabbat service at Yakar. He had integrated business and the personal Here he was, a guy who was sarcastic with the rabbi who did his first son’s bris, now spending a year of study in Jerusalem. What a Chutzpadik. But if you have no ego, you cannot succeed.
(2) Discover Yourself: Stop living for somebody else’s plan. Discover your own unique passion and gift and have a purpose in your life. Alper imparts the story of Rabbi Zusia. Maybe he heard it at Pardes in Jerusalem where he studied. God does not ask the rabbi why he was nt Abraham or Moses, but why he was not Zusia. Alper tells how he was a Jewish athiest. Although he did own a used truck from a Jewish bakery and kept it parked outside his Cape Cod office, and his college roommate was an ardent Zionist and head of the local Hillel, it wasnâ€˜t until Alper divorced at 38, sold his business, and enrolled at Aish haTorah in Israel that he started to develop and follow a passion for Jewish life.
(3) Go Forth – Lech Lecha. Be ready willing and able to move at opportunity, to grow and progress. He tells of the rabbi who wore two watches. One showed that it was late, the other that one still has time. Only training, experience and intuition can tell you though when you need to jump at the opportunity or study the issue more to avoid an error.
(4) It Takes a Shtetl – Where do u find advice, how do you rely on your employees, how do you work with partners
(5) The Power of a Mensch – You don’t have to be Mad Men, cold, and nasty to succeed.
(6) Come Back Stronger – nearly ALL new businesses fail. Learn to springboard from it
And (7) Remember the Sabbath – take time for yourself. 24/6 instead of 24/7. Hard work is vital, but so is a day off, or even at least a scheduled power walk for 30 minutes. Even Jewlicious.com takes off for Shabbat. You can, too.Another timely book relates of POM, and since POMegranates are eaten by many Jews for Rosh Hashana, it was an appropriate book to read for Elul. Lynda Resnick has written â€œRubies in the Orchard,â€ which is the story of how Resnick and her husband overcame marketing challenges to launch Fiji brand bottled water, POM juices, The Franklin Mint, Cuties branded citrus, branded pistachios, and Teleflora. While not as basic as a kosher bagel, and a tad more edgy, since the businesses must confront environmental issues in Fiji and on farms, Resnick narrates how she used her experience to make these into national brands for which consumers pay very premium prices.
Resnick’s book also starts with a personal crisis. For the first time since age 17, she was out of work. She had started an ad agency at age 19, and was not a slacker. Her husband invited her to a meeting on creating a market for the output of the pomegranate orchards their company had planted for years. They had funded research on the benefits of the fruit at UCLA, Technion and other schools, and the results were promising for creating a market or an image for pomegranates, a fruit of which less than 10% of Americans were aware. Her husband’s team was recommending the sale of pomegranate drinks mixed with less expensive fillers, such as apple and grape juices. A person with a highly developed sense of taste, she recommended that the sell and brand pure pomegranate juice as a premium product with health benefits. Well, she did not demurely and constructively suggest it. She demanded it, and told everyone else they were wrong. She does not consider herself a genius. But she is smart and a shrewd marketer. Thus, POM in the heart shaped bottle was born. POM is now a $150 million business. In her book, she relates stories of her other brands and how she overcame marketing hurdles, supply issues, manufacturing problems, and more. But essentially, for the new year of 5770, her solutions are not applicable to most readers. For example, she is not going to tell you how to change your media mix or acquire shelf space. She will tell you that a few years ago, consumer demand was greater than their ability to supply POM juice to retailers. So they considered using a tanker full of Iranian pomegranate juice to fulfill their retailersâ€˜ orders. After much debate, they decided to only sell the juice of their orchards and forego the additional revenue, and protect the integrity of their brand. Their lack of juice supply also forced them to consider line extensions into teas and other products that were less dependent on their orchards (every threat can be an opportunity).
So. what can we learn for 5770? Mostly that you need a lot of self confidence to succeed, you need to listen and learn even from your enemies, creating a product with a false value is eventually exposed and penalized, and it is better to admit to not knowing things and asking for help, than pretending to know it all. And basicily, you have to be authentic, and if you are lucky, you can start a business and sell it at its peak.