This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business executives to find out everything from how they got to where they are to what makes them get out of bed in the morning to their daily routines.
On Tuesday, Beyond Meat announced the latest version of its plant-based burger, dubbed Beyond Burger "3.0" — its third iteration since debuting its first faux "beef" patty in 2016.
Beyond Meat is known for its vegan burgers (and other products like vegan chicken strips, sausages and beef crumbles) that are juicy and taste like meat, but without the cholesterol and fewer calories (though they do have some saturated fat and high sodium). According to a University of Michigan study commissioned by Beyond Meat, the burgers' production also delivers environmental footprint benefits, using 99% less water, 93% less land, 45% less energy and generating 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional beef.
Today, Beyond Meat products are in 28,000 retail locations across the U.S and in more than 80 countries with partnerships deals with McDonald's, Yum! Brands (KFC and Pizza Hut) and PepsiCo. The company has a market value of $8.3 billion, with backers including Bill Gates, Twitter founder Biz Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio. (Though sales have been slower over the last two quarters in 2020 after soaring 141% year-over-year during the first quarter when consumers began stockpiling food amid the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders.)
"I remember my friends ... joking like, 'Ethan, how is your tofu factory?'" he says.
Today, at 49, Brown has 12 years at Beyond Meat, a successful IPO and a personal reported net worth of nearly $400 million under his belt. Brown lives in the Los Angeles Area with his wife and two kids, a son and a daughter.
Here, Brown talks to CNBC Make It about his productive trick for dealing with negativity, quitting his day job, his daily routine and more.
On dealing with naysayers: 'You have to let it fuel you'
You have to let [criticism] fuel you. There is no other way to deal with it in my view.
I made posters out of the negative comments [I received]. These canvases have snarky comments from people. If a critic writes something, I tend to want to [hang] it up in my office and let it fuel me.
Great athletes do that, right? I will never profess to be a great athlete, but I can share the mindset. Everybody saying this isn't going to work or that we can't do this, just let them become part of the momentum because we're going to prove them wrong.
That's really powerful. It makes you hungrier and it also keeps you grounded. It's very easy to get caught up in the positive comments that people make about what you're trying to do.
On leaving his day job to start up: 'The greater fear was not doing it'
The greater stress about [launching Beyond Meat] was not doing it. I had been thinking about it for a really long time, knowing that it was necessary to do. And it was that discomfort with not acting that became far [too much]. I just had to go do it.
So nerves at that point were less of an issue. I just felt so clear it was something I needed to do. Certainly, there was some trepidation but the greater fear was not doing.
[At the time], I had a decent career going. I was reporting right to the CEO of [an alternative energy] company. I had done a lot of work to get to where I was and to sort of walk away from that and do something [different]...
But [Beyond Meat] was just so far from what [I had been doing]. So I went from one day, just working with a bunch of papers and pushing papers around in a meeting, to the next day being in a kitchen in the middle of nowhere to try to get a particular substance to perform a certain way [to develop up a meaty, juicy but plant-based "meat"].
On his daily routine: 'A lot of what I do to keep it together has to do with how I treat my body'
A lot of what I do to keep it together and to continue to try to move things forward both in my business and in my family has to do with how I treat my body.
When I was in my late 20s, I thought it was a good idea to work all the time and make sure that my boss knew it. Sometimes I would sleep in my office. I would always be the last person to leave because that's what I thought was the route to success.
What I learned as I've gotten older, it's really about taking care of my body and mind.
When I get up, I always exercise before I do anything else. It allows me to be calm and focused.
In the morning I don't load myself up with carbohydrates or refined sugars. I'm very focused on what my brain needs to be productive first thing in the day.
I also pray and meditate and things like that.
I break in the middle of the day for a half-hour, almost without fail, and exercise pretty rigorously.
I have a gym in our warehouse in one of our buildings. I put on great music and I have a friend who I work out with and we push ourselves really hard for 30 minutes. I sort of shower in the sink to go back to work.
Then I get home at a reasonable hour and I'm present.
On his childhood fascination with animals: 'I'd try to trap any animal I could' as a pet
I grew up in Washington, D.C. and in College Park, Maryland. What was kind of defining for me as a kid was my dad was a [University of Maryland public policy] professor and he had a lot of time in the summer and on weekends. He hated living in the city, so we spent a lot of time at our farm.
I had an unusual childhood in the sense that I lived a very urban life in a lot of ways but was also plucked out of that on a regular basis and taken to a farm in Appalachia.
When I was on the farm, I was fascinated with animals. I would try to trap any animal I could — not in a lethal way, to try to make them into pets. It always failed.
But I really enjoyed interacting with nature and understanding nature. I think that really shaped a lot of my life and what I'm working on today.
On finding his passion: My dad asked, 'What's the biggest problem in the world?'
My actual majors in [Connecticut College] were history and government, and then I got a degree in my dad's program [from the University of Maryland], which was focused on the environment. And I got an MBA [from Columbia].
I was always very focused on what I could do as a young professional to make an impact on the world.
[After school] I was moving around a lot. I'd spent time in Nicaragua working on a watershed management program with a marine biologist, and I went to Bosnia to work as a very low-level bureaucrat with the State Department.
I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my career, and I asked my dad. He said, "What's the biggest problem in the world?" And I thought that was a really good question and a way to frame what I wanted to approach.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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