Dear U-M Student Entrepreneurs: Be Audacious and Ask Big Questions

Jessica Henry sat down for an hour with Josh Tetrick (U-M Law, ’08), CEO and Founder of Hampton Creek Foods…

His company, Hampton Creek Foods has been called the world’s fastest growing food company by Inc. Magazine, has been credited with re-inventing the egg by Entrepreneur, has landed on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 more than once, and boasts a Chief Happiness Officer in a dog named Jake: Josh Tetrick (Law, ’08) is inspiring, candid, and (in his words, and our opinion) “gives a sh*t.” He sat down with CFE’s Jessica Henry on Sunday for a small-group chat in a San Francisco park, near the Giants ballpark. Aptly titled “Sandbox Sunday,” these casual meet-ups were started by Josh and his team (including his also aptly titled Chief of Stuff) to inspire young entrepreneurs through their own stories and journey, and to encourage us all to ask the big questions, be audacious, disrupt, and start over. Not surprising if you have opened a New York Times in the past few weeks and seen the full-page Hampton Creek advertisements, which read more like a custom-written manifesto to great-grandmastwenty-three-year-olds, and CEO’s. With quotes like “what would it look like if we started over” and “start companies that compete directly with us,” a scroll down to the bottom of the page shows that Josh signs each letter as a sort of personal gauntlet-throw. In him there is both the intent and the will to disrupt a multi-billion dollar industry we all assumed was unchangeable: food. Did we mention he has re-invented…the egg?

So on this Sunday, our first question of Josh: if you could go back to college now, what would you do? His answer: he would have found a class or an experience (or just figured out he could do it on his own!) that allowed him to start a new company every two weeks. Start, and stop. Start, and stop. Get in the cadence of invention (hey former practicum class members…sound familiar?). And while you are at it, compress your metric of success. Because (and this is our favorite): if the world were to blow up in two weeks unless you did X, what would it be? Raise the stakes. Get the synapses firing. Make it happen.

While our conversation spanned grocery stores to meditation to working in sub-Saharan Africa (his job before founding Hampton Creek), we asked him two things specifically for aspiring entrepreneurs. First, his reading list of the books that have shaped, challenged, inspired and – to again use his terms – wiredhis entrepreneur’s brain. His list reflects his preference for data-backed stories and science-backed theories; get ready to jot these down, or screen shot this page…

  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle
  • Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
  • The Social Animal by David Brooks

And that second request? We asked Josh if he would share a brief message to Michigan’s student entrepreneurs. So from the leader of a company born out of breaking the mold (or egg?); starting over at the beginning; and calling-to-action millions of consumers, politicians, CEO’s, families, and millennials, we were stoked to hear him encourage students to be the ones to ask the big questions (watch here).

To respond to one of our favorite parts of his message: we miss him in Ann Arbor, too. But we don’t think it is a coincidence that a region known for constantly disrupting and revolutionizing boasts U-M alumni disrupting and revolutionizing every large industry out there, and there are still many up for grabs.

Before our tiny group disbanded into the uncharacteristically warm San Francisco day, we stopped and reflected: in our world of alerts, beeps, tags, curated messaging, and constant distraction, the only tech we saw on Josh was a pair of Beats Powerbeats headphones draped across his shoulders. For over an hour, he never checked his phone, did not break eye contact, and bid us all farewell by name. A reminder to all of us that there is power in being in the moment, and a data-point proving that he does, indeed, give a sh*t.

Jessica Henry is the Director of the CFE’s M Engage Program in the Bay Area, connecting and showcasing the University of Michigan’s innovative alumni and students.