Q&A with owner/founder of Quest Nutrition, Tom Bilyeu

QN TheBloq Tom Thumbnail V2In 1999, The Matrix came out. An iconic movie about a dystopian future. “The Matrix” is really just a simulated reality perceived by humans. Of course, it’s not until Keanu Reeves is pulled out of the Matrix that he realizes there was an alternate reality. So too, the story of Tom Bilyeu, co-owner/founder of Quest Nutrition parallels the story of the protagonist Neo. Sick and tired of chasing the almighty dollar, Tom decided to get out of the Matrix, and chase “the right answer” instead of chasing “always being right.” He walked away from millions of dollars to start Inc. 100’s Fastest Growing Companies, Quest. Since then, he’s managed to grow the company to be worth far more than he could have expected, but he’s also changed the mindset of practically everyone he’s encountered in the process. If you didn’t have a growth mindset before (or even know what a ‘growth mindset’ was), then prepare to be taken to the next level.

Prepare to leave The Matrix.

I know that YOU wanted to talk about the topic of having a growth mindset. Start off by telling me what the whole idea of a growth mindset is, why it's so important to you, and so valuable to your company?

Well the reason that it's important to me is the same reason that it's been valuable to the company, which is, honestly, from a human performance perspective, if you want to get good at anything (whether it's adding muscle mass, running faster, being able to deadlift heavy, get better SAT scores), all of it takes a growth mindset if you really want to excel. A growth mindset is simply being open minded and realizing that your talents and intelligence are not fixed, and through disciplined practice, you can improve at anything. And once you have a mindset that says, "Hey, through disciplined practice I can improve at anything", suddenly you're going to get a company full of people that are trying to push themselves or trying to grow and get better, and they're trying to do it through disciplined practice.

That's how people gain true and useful skills. When people have a fixed mindset, which is the opposite side of the coin, they believe that their talents and intelligence are fixed, written in stone, and they're never going to get any better. Once you plug self-esteem into that mix, it becomes really clear why that is so detrimental. If you believe that fundamentally humans are going to build self-esteem, that they're going to find something about themselves that makes them feel good about who they are, if they have a fixed mindset, then they're going to try and build their life around showing how good they are.

Imagine that you're physical strength was fixed, and you were never going to get any stronger. You walk into a gym, and all the weights are geared towards the heavier side, there's a bunch of big burly men and women in there going crazy, setting PRs, lifting heavy - You're not going to want to be in that gym if you're weak. So you're going to go find a gym where no one is really pushing themselves, the weights are all lighter, and YOU feel like a stud in that gym. So you make sure that even at your current weak state, you're still the strongest person in that gym. There's no one there who's going to push or challenge you, and give you an opportunity to really grow and succeed. To me, the mind is as malleable as the body. Just like a bodybuilder would hear that scenario and think, "What the hell?!", I think the same way about the mind. So to me, most people (in an effort to protect their self esteem), are going to the mental gym that's the equivalent of the lighter weight gym where no one challenges them. This is useful in business because when you have people who are focused on the right answer (the thing that moves you towards your goal), then they'll make changes at any time that live in service of that - even if it means admitting that they were wrong. It's not about you being right, it's about going after the right answer in general.

The goal of QUEST has always been to end metabolic disease. What made you think of making a bar that no one had ever made as a way to go about that goal?

We always knew we wanted to be a food company, and we always knew that food is by far the most powerful thing you can use if you want massive results whether it's in your physique, cognition, health, longevity - it's just never going to be something that comes from a drug. From an evolutionary standpoint, we've been evolving for so long with a relationship to only one thing, and that's the things we can eat. The body is designed to react tremendously to the things that you intake. We wanted to change the way that people were thinking about food, but we needed an in. We needed something where we knew there was pent up demand, that people will understand it, that we're not coming in with something that's confusing or unexpected, and do it better. Looking at all the protein bar, all of us were making protein bars at home and bringing them in to work because despite the sheer volume of bars that were out there on the market, there wasn't a single one that the three of us would eat. We figured there would at least be a market of 3 for this bar. In the beginning, it really was that simple; we decided we were going to make products that we want in our own life, and hope that this stuff catches on and that there are enough people who think like us.

Did you see Quest getting this big, or is all this notoriety a surprise?

We didn't know how big it was going to be, and we didn't know how fast. We knew if we were going to end metabolic disease we wouldn't necessarily have to become one of the largest food companies on the planet, but if you give yourself over to a focus like that, then you're not just going to do something basic. We decided to build the best protein bar that has ever existed, and then if we can do that, let's see how big of a market we can get, and then from that, came the resources for which to build a true research and development team. We have over 40 people completely dedicated to making the current product lines better, and then making new products. That's critical for us. We think it's going to take us roughly 25 year to end metabolic disease; it's a gargantuan task, and it's going to take a lot of other food companies to stand by our side and start thinking the way that we think, and really just completely changing the food paradigm.

Does no finish line mean you grow bigger adding products, or do you move on to different ones?
The vast majority of the world is not prepared to make changes in their exercises or eating regimens. Despite hearing the message about health and fitness, they aren't getting in shape, they're not getting the results that they want. What we wanted to do was say, from a food perspective, we're going to leverage people's biological impulses to get them to make better choices. So food companies traditionally have been leveraging your biological impulses against you, and they're getting you to make bad choices. You're eating a bunch of stuff that has ingredients with a deleterious effect on your health and physique. What if we could use that same thing (knowing you want to eat things that are sweet, salty, fatty), but then we did the hard work and made sure that it was actually good for you from a metabolic perspective. So that's been our calling card. All food companies need to ask and answer 3 questions:

1) Does it taste good? Because if people aren't going to eat it, then you're never going to get anywhere.
2) Is it good for you
3) Is it cheap?  

So far, every other food company before we came along was asking questions 1 and 3, and that's why we have the problem we do now, where people are 200 or 300lbs overweight, and they're malnourished. It's absolutely crazy. We came along, and as of right now, we're only asking and answer the first two questions. Those are the two most important questions.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and the number of bars similar to Quest has grown exponentially in the last couple of years. You chose to build your bar based on incredibly in depth R & D, so how does seeing these bars pop up make you feel?

A whole revolution is going to have to happen in the food industry for us to make a difference. Diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, metabolic disease - These are all tied to diet. I don't think anyone is out there saying, "Hey, I bet we can make people really sick with our food!" But it's just so much easier to make food that tastes great and is cheap. Making food that tastes great and is good for you is brutally difficult, and then to also make it inexpensive is something that no one is doing yet. It's just not possible yet. The consumers have yet to make a broad enough demand across all companies to force them to source ingredients that are metabolically advantageous. They have rewarded us for doing that, and this company has exploded. We hope that we're the tip of the spear, and that a bunch of food companies rise up next to us. I'm not afraid of competition. I get that we can't do this by ourselves; I get that we need the whole industry to rise up. For these really great ingredients to come down in cost, there needs to be a lot more people using them.
We need to figure out what to do if other companies don't join us, how we can take matters into our own hands in order to keep costs down for people.

Speaking about the success you’ve had so far, do you even see what you’ve done as a success even though you still haven’t reached your end goal of ending metabolic disease?

Yes and no. I'm super excited with what we've done, it's amazing. But at the same time, there's no finish line for me. Let's say we kill it and just end metabolic disease and everyone recognizes it, the only remaining problem is over consumption. At that point, I will already be on to the next grand challenge in my life that I'm going to tackle. That's just how we are as guys. We said, "When we get to 100k social media followers, we're going to do something crazy." and by the time we got there, we were already thinking about 250k and 500k. So we didn't even do anything. That's the fun for us. We're just so excited to be doing what we're doing, we love what we do, and the company is the answer to the questions, "What would we want to do everyday that we knew we would love, even if we were failing?" So I think we're a success in that sense, that I know what gives me a sense of fulfillment, and fulfillment at the end of the day is what I think every human being is after. They'll tell you they want happiness, but it's all about that deep sense of contentment with what you're doing. We're also very goal oriented, so we're always setting the bar higher and higher, and going after it. All the things that are born of that fitness mindset. You're always thinking of what the next goal is going to be.

There’s a company with the slogan, “Do one thing, really really well.” Are you ever worried about spreading yourself too thin?

No, but I do think about how to scale intelligently so that the business is always strong from a financial standpoint. If the brand is going to be viable for the roughly 25 years that I think it's going to take to end metabolic disease, we have to be careful that as we scale, no matter where you touch the company, that you get that same brand experience. The brand has to mean something to people.

We want to mean something to people, and I don't trust a lot of other companies. So I know people look at us and are super skeptical. The reason we are using social media as heavily as we're using it is because we really want people to get to know us. We want people to understand our real drivers. For us, the end goal is to end metabolic disease, and we're going to act in accordance with that. We know we have to earn that trust over time. I get it. Watch my actions. "Never believe what somebody says. Don't even necessarily believe their actions. But always believe a pattern." And what we want people to see is the pattern of our behaviour over time, see how we act consistently with our mission to end metabolic disease. That's it, and we're going to do everything we need to do to be in accordance with that mission. Our bars, from an ingredient and macronutrient perspective, are exactly what they say on the package. We're a food manufacturer; we make foods of a certain type.

Your mission in life is to acquire as many new skills as possible, and subsequently find ways to utilize them. What are the top 5 benchmark skills you acquired, and you feel are the reasons you're as successful in business as you are?

1) Controlling emotions - This is the most important to me. Being able to control your emotions is that most important thing you can do to go on and be successful, in the gym or in the boardroom. That's everything.
2) Power of persuasion - If you want to lead a team, then you've got to have the ability to persuade. And one of the most important things in persuasion is being able to see the world from that person's point of view. If I went in to every encounter with a human being thinking that they're also an INTJ personality, then I'm going to have a really hard time convincing people that what I want to do is the right thing. Being authentically you is one of the most powerful facets of persuasion, so that people can gravitate towards that. They see you be vulnerable, and as a human being. "The secret to controlling others is to find out what they want, and help them achieve it." When they see that you're the surest path to their success, as they define it, they'll stick with you.
3) Discipline - I think some people make the mistake of thinking you're either disciplined or you're not, but I think discipline is a collection of habits, and identity. Your identity is everything; it will control your behaviour. I'm super lazy, but the story I tell myself everyday is that I'm a disciplined learner, so I make that part of my identity. I show up at the gym when I don't want to, do the things that other people aren't willing to do so I can gain the things that others can't gain, so that I can accomplish more with my life. I'm just telling myself that story over and over again. Getting that discipline is super super powerful, and something that can be trained.  
4) Public Speaking - I've worked desperate to improve on for a very long time. It's probably one of the earliest skill sets that I began developing, and the reason that I find public speaking to be such a fundamentally important skill is because we're trying to be a movement. We're not just trying to be a food company. We want to be a change in the way people think about food, think about themselves, what they're capable of, etc. I want to live in a world where more people believe they can do the impossible, and then they go and do it. And if I can help usher that in in any way, shape, or form, I'm going to do it. To be able to get people behind that idea, I have to be able to express that idea. I have to be able to directly convey what's in my head, and to do it with passion, and to do it with sincerity.
5) Marketing/Story telling - This feeds back into persuasion and creating the vision that people can get behind. Marketing has come in to a place where it's about being authentic, inspiring and motivating people, behind something that they can really believe in. Companies now need to bring something into people's lives; being slick with your marketing, and getting people afraid, isn't how we do things. To me, one of the most important ways that we market QUEST is customer support. Through my behaviour, that's where I can show you over and over, day after day, who we really are. People get to see whether we come through for them.

I always try to exist just beyond what I'm really good at so that I can always keep pushing myself.

Tim Ferris has the CAFÉ (Compression, Frequency, Encoding) method for remembering everything he’s learned. You’re a voracious reader, you have the most interesting and informative people come through your doors at inside Quest, you do Dream Driver roulette all the time; how do you remember, categorize, and utilize all the information that passes between your ears?

The sad reality is that I know some distressing portion of what I read goes away immediately. The way that I combat that is that I try to use what I learn, so I open myself up to being changed. I go into every book thinking there might be something in this book that fundamentally changes everything about my life. I'm open to everything. If something hits me which seems useful, I decide I'm going to try it out right now, today. I take notes on what I read, and I try to put it into practice. Honestly, I read so much that I encounter similar ideas over and over and over, and for me, that's really super useful. I actually find it more useful to read two or three or four books on a topic rather than just trying to read really slowly and really drink in every word from that one book. I like to move through things quickly, and the things that stick easily stick, and then when I get to the next book on the topic more things will stick, things will be reinforced more. So I'm just trying to constantly be in front of new information.

How do you choose whom to interview on IQ?

I have very specific criteria, which is, 'this person needs to be able to have a talk where they help get somebody out of the Matrix.' Now what that means exactly is really about helping people stop limiting themselves with their own mindset. I think the only thing that holds people back is their own mindset. So if you look at someone like Nelson Mandela; he was in prison for what, maybe 27 years? It's absolute craziness. And yet he comes out, boom, ascends to power immediately, helps his country rise up, and does all of these incredible things without missing a beat! As if no time had passed. I can't imagine many people in that situation not telling themselves a story that limits their own mind. That is such a powerful reminder that we and only we create the limitations in our mind. Just look at Stephen Hawking. He has every reason in the world to make excuses, but he doesn't. And he's making breakthroughs in everything. These people didn't let themselves get trapped by their own mind. That's Rule #1. I also love getting guests that I'm already familiar with, because it means I'll have already done just a ton of research, which is always a lot of fun. Plus I know the nuance of their world, I know they're going to be worth bringing on. But then the sad reality is just who's going to say yes!

You and I had a conversation off-camera about how on the Myers-Briggs personality scale, you actually score as an Introvert (INTJ). Yet, if I had to bet my entire bank account, I would’ve pegged you as an extrovert. How do you “transform” yourself, or “turn on” when the time is right, and why do other people just let the label define them?

Honestly, I think it's a spectrum. Being introverted vs extroverted isn't binary. I clearly fall closer to the breaking point between the two, so it's not a hard switch for me. The reason that Myers-Briggs would say that I'm introverted is because I would rather be alone than with other people, and I recharge when I'm by myself. But that doesn't mean that I don't get pleasure from being around people, I do. If I'm going to get into my zone, I'm going to be alone. I can enjoy being around other people, I absolutely can flip that switch and turn on, and it really isn't anything fancier than visualizing flipping a switch. I know what that part of my personality feels like, and so I just try to get that chemical cascade going. Sometimes it's as simple as laughing out loud and putting myself in a more gregarious mood, and doing postures that are bigger (power poses). But for the most part, it starts pretty simple.

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