Authors@Google: Noah Alper

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 18.02.2010

Thank you all for coming this afternoon. We have a very, very unique privilege of welcoming
Noah Alper, the founder of Noah's Bagels, to speak with us
today, this afternoon. Noah has 38 years of experience, and he's
a six-time entrepreneur. He works now -- he has 38-years of experience
in business management and non-profit management, and recently came
up with a book, Business Mensch, which he will tell us about.
So please join me in welcoming Noah Alper.
NOAH ALPER: Thank you, Charo. I'd also like to thank Ellen Spurdus for bringing
me onto the Google campus today.
It's a pleasure to be here -- just the food offerings alone; it's
probably the only reason I was chosen as a food guy.
It's amazing. But what I'm also reminded of is fast-- going
backwards 50 years to when America was involved in a lockdown struggle
with the Soviet Union over the -- putting a man onto the moon, and
what's reminded me of it and I was just speaking with someone a couple
of weeks ago about this, was that if you would go into a NASA facility
at that point and you would have talked to the janitor, what would
he have been saying my job is?
He wouldn't have been saying my job is to clean the floors, and to mop
them spick and span. What he would say is I'm here to put a man
on the moon. And walking around the Google campus and talking
to people today in the brief time I've been here, I get that same
kind of feeling that this place is all about your mission statement
of -- of disseminating and organizing information for the world.
And by all accounts, you're doing a heck of a great job at it.
I hope that in 50 years -- and this is something that I was again
thinking about just today -- watching Toyota, everybody's read the
papers. Fantastic company, built on quality, only
to get arrogant and to forget where they first started and are running into
some real bumps in the road right now.
I don't think that's going to happen here as long as the -- this
fantastic culture that's been developed perpetuates. So I wanted to say that before I go into a
little discussion about my life and my book.
As Charo said my name is Noah Alper, and I would have to admit that
I've been a serial entrepreneur for over 35 years.
I've built six enterprises; four of which were successful.
So I felt that with a .666 batting average, I had the credibility and
credentials to write my book, "Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for
Today's Entrepreneur." The book is not only about -- excuse me --
the bottom line but it's also about the soul and the connection between
the two. In these hard times, I've had occasion to
fly all across the country and in many cases deliver messages to groups
that are trying to get people jobs in networking and in inspirational
meetings. And I'm reminded of one huge billboard, that
I saw driving in from JFK airport into Manhattan and it said, "In New
York-ese, Recession 101 Self-Worth Beats Net Worth."
And hopefully that kind of perspective, that kind of attitude, is
what's going to pull us out of this mess. And you folks here are going to be in the
leadership role in doing that.
In 1996, after only six and a half years, my company, Noah's Bagels,
the largest kosher retailer in the United States with 38 stores from
Seattle to Los Angeles sold for $100 million. But 27 years previous to that, I was locked
up in a psychiatric hospital for nine months.
It was 1969, I was a college senior at the University of Wisconsin, the
Vietnam War was raging, and Madison, Wisconsin, was one of the
epicenters of the anti-war movement. I was uncertain about my future, and I was
afraid of being drafted into a war that I did not believe in.
These factors, combined with a lot of old personal issues and a steady
diet of marijuana, sent me barrelling over the edge.
I was paranoid, I was delusional, and only after my parents took me
home did the process of healing slowly begin. Very, very slowly, I regained my balance.
And after getting out of the hospital, I was finally able to hold down
a menial job in my brother-in-law's book warehouse shelving books and
filling orders. Eventually, and again very slowly, I felt
the confidence and strength to handle a little bit more challenging job,
which is a retail cashiering position in his Harvard Square
store. So one night during this period while living
in Cambridge, I fell in love.
And it wasn't a typical kind of romantic love we're used to, it was
actually the love of a salad bowl. Now these were rustic, wooden salad bowls
that my grandmother probably would have chopped gefilte fish in or liver
in. Very, very rustic bowls.
But at that time in the early 70s, rustic and natural was in and
plastics were definitely out. When these bowls were rubbed with vegetable
oil, they glowed. And they just got me so excited that the next
day, I got into my VW bus -- because in 1971, you had to have a VW bus
-- went up to Vermont, and picked up a thousand dollars worth of these
salad bowls, only to start off back into a blinding blizzard, and the
VW bus went off the -- off the road into a guardrail.
I had these thousand dollars of salad bowls. I didn't know how to get them back to Cambridge,
where I was going to be hocking them.
So I rented the biggest Lincoln made, and I stuffed the bowls in the
trunk and in the glove compartment and under the seat.
Got them back to Cambridge, took out my Indian bedspread -- because
that was kind of standard issue as well, it kinda went along with the VW bus-- spread
it out over the back of the rented Lincoln, put the thousand dollars worth of salad bowls
on display on the back of the trunk of the car, and in an hour and half they were all
gone. Thus my first business, the Alper Wooden Bowl
Company, was born. Beyond selling them off the back of the car,
my brother-in-law taught me an early lesson in being a mensch and being
-- just to refresh those of you who might not be familiar with the
term, mensch is originally a German word meaning "man."
The Yiddish word is the same pronunciation, but it means a man, a
person, what he, they, she should be in an ideal world, in God's world.
That's what a -- what a man should be is a mensch.
So my brother-in-law taught me about being a mensch when I was out in
front selling these salad bowls because he charged me the princely rent
of $150 a month. But he didn't take the money.
He wanted me to donate it to the charity of his choice.
And I got a really -- a firsthand view of what it's like to run a
company from a ethical standpoint and from a standpoint of involving
others as well. So I'm selling the bowls on the sidewalk.
I'm also going to gift stores, gourmet stores in the greater Boston
area and selling these -- these salad bowls. And at the same time, my former wife and I
decided to open up a natural foods store in Brookline, Mass., called
Bread and Circus. Now this was right in the heart of the brisket
belt, okay? Kosher butchers one after the other , delis.
Schmaltz or chicken fat was a staple item in most neighborhood
refrigerators, but nobody there knew what organic carrots were in 1973.
There were only a handful of such stores nationally. And if there's one thing I think that I've
been able to do successfully in my business career, is to spot an emerging trend, and
try to get -- to try to get, if you use the wave analogy, to try to get there just
before that wave is crashing but not early enough that nobody knows
what the heck you're doing. This was a borderline.
It took about two, three years until this store was really something
that the local neighborhood understood. When we first opened, people said, is this
a hardware store? They didn't understand the wood walls, the
sort of rustic look that was popular among certain circles.
And there were really no such things as natural food stores.
There were health food stores. There was stores that sold Tiger bars and
vitamins and distilled water, but a store that would be, you know, part
of a whole lifestyle movement was something that was really in incipiency
at that time. Brands like Tom's of Maine, Celestial Seasonings,
Häagen-Dazs -- these were all brands that we brought in that were
brand new and no one had ever heard of them.
And we would -- we could not have imagined that these would have been
mainstream items that you would have seen at a Safeway or a Lucky's in
those days. This was, as I mentioned, a part of a lifestyle
movement that grew and grew and grew.
However, for us being in that -- bringing in that retail environment
was very difficult. I'm kind of a guy who has what they refer
to in Yiddish as shpilkes, and shpilkes is kind of terminal ants in the
pants. And for me to sort of sit, you know, day-to-day,
week after week in this one retail location was not really something
that, um, I wanted to continue with.
So, three years after opening the store, we sold the business to a
young Irish immigrant by the name of Anthony Harnett.
Now I knew this enterprise at that time, because three years had
passed, was on the move and I knew that it was going to be something
that was going to develop and grow, and indeed it did.
Bread and Circus became the largest natural food store in the
Northeast, and in 1996 it was sold to Whole Foods Market.
Simultaneously to the development of Bread and Circus, I continued to
work with the woodenware. I built that business up, and eventually was
importing from eight countries and selling to over 2,000 natural
food stores and cookware stores and catalog houses and department stores
across the country. This was part of yet another emerging trend,
which was the gourmet industry.
And you only have to go down -- downstairs to see your lunch offerings
to understand that. In those days, I mean, we're talking you know
Salisbury steak, Swanson TV dinners, canned vegetables.
This was the -- the haute cuisine of the day. But people had started to go to Europe, young
people in particular, airfares had come down, people had experienced
continental cuisine and they wanted to replicate it in their kitchens.
And they needed serving utensils and implements and tableware to
reflect that interest in fine dining. Julia Child was emerging as a very popular
figure on television. And all of these -- all of these factors combined
to create a brand new industry called the gourmet industry.
And the first ever gourmet show was actually held just up the line here
a little bit in San Francisco. As the company developed from these rustic
wooden bowls into this import business of artisan-made housewares,
the name changed. Never being accused of being overly humble,
it was a very logical and easy transition to change the name from the
Alper Wooden Bowl Company to the Alper International Incorporated Company
which it became in the late 70s and early 80s.
I ran Alper International until 1984 and after selling it to a
colleague, I took a much desired year off. And this year off coincided with a planned
move to the West Coast. As a prelude to that year and on a whim, I
decided to go to Israel. I had never been there before and I was curious
to see what it was all about.
I immediately fell in love with the land, with the people, with the
spirit. And I came back dedicated to trying to strengthen
the Israeli economy by connecting my next business to the Jewish
state. Ronald Reagan was in power, and I heard a
statistic that one out of three Americans had admitted to a born-again
Christian conversion. So my concept was why wouldn't these same
people be interested in buying things from the land of Israel, from
the land where Jesus walked, "special gifts from a special place"
was the slogan for the company.
Evidently, the gifts weren't that special because that business was a
total and complete failure. I didn't really know my customers in retrospect.
I should have really partnered with a Pat Boone or some other kind of
Christian minister, and been sort of the expediter, the middle man, the
backdoor guy who sourced the products. But I didn't understand that at the time,
and this failure was very difficult for me.
But as I explain in a chapter in the book called Come Back Stronger,
I'm convinced that I would not have been as successful in my next
business had I not gone through that experience. And in the way of an example, our first store
at College at Alcatraz in Berkeley was a very, very successful store
right off the gate. The landlord told me one year after we opened
-- and the store was going gangbusters -- that she said, you know,
Noah, based on your resume of the Holy Land Gift Company and some
of these other things, I'm not sure I would have rented you this
space in this high traffic location, seeing that you had had such a miserable
failure and you were sort of looking for a job when I rented you
the store. She said, but you had such a fire in your
belly. She said that I was convinced that no matter
what you went into, you were gonna be a fantastic success.
And on that basis, I rented you that store. So backtracking, a bit, I'm licking my wounds
and I'm facing the sobering fact that I had a family to provide
for and I needed either a job or a new business venture.
Just at that time, my brother Dan had been to Montreal, and had taken a
video, which was pretty radical in those days to begin with.
Camera was about this big, showed me this video of this sort of Willie
Wonka of bagel shops in Montreal, where you would see the bagels going
through these glass tunnels, and coming out on the other end.
And it was an amazing show. And he looked at me and he said, you ought
to do this in Berkeley. At which point I looked at him and I said
if this is such a great idea Dan, why don't you do it in Berkeley?
He said, no, you're the entrepreneur, you're the one that's supposed to
do this. I said okay.
It's kind of interesting. I don't know about four o'clock in the morning.
I got a four on my mechanical aptitude test out of a hundred.
I'm not sure I'm going to be the one to fix the ovens in the middle of
the night. But you know what?
I'll go back East and I'll check it out. I remembered, as I mentioned, that during
the Alper International days, as part of my research, this came to me that
this gourmet show, San Francisco, the home of every kind of fantastic
ethnic cuisines of all descriptions, with one major exception --
there weren't any really fabulous bagels.
So after prowling around the bowels of old New York and the lowest of
the Lower Eastside, and thinking a lot about this and talking about to
my wife, who was a Brooklyn native and would always tell me whether I was on track, off-track
in terms of my concepts. I decided after the end of the year, that
this was a go. I had the -- the makings of a winning formula.
I had a great concept. I would combine a terrific bagel with what
was called the New York appetizing stores, and what these appetizing
stores are is a place where you can get great herring and cream
sauce and all cream cheese spreads.
It was a dairy deli in Jewish tradition, meat and milk are kept
separate. So this would have been a collection of great
dairy items, pickles and cakes and smoked fish and things like that.
So that was the concept. And from the moment that that first store
opened, one mile from the UC campus, it was an enormous success.
I had never intended to found a large company. It was all about one store and making it great.
And I am convinced that that, you know, that that perspective of making
that one store great is what really kept, kept that business successful
as we went through. I can remember my brother Dan at one point
calling me and said, we were written up in the San Francisco Chronicle
as being a chain, very upset. I said, Dan, we have nine stores.
We are a chain. Well, I know, but you know I just don't like
it. And I think that his comment was emblematic
of how we ran the business. It wasn't a chain.
It was a collection of local stores. And again, coming back to, to your enterprise
here, I hope as you get larger and larger and larger and instead of
taking over a quarter of the world, you may be able to take over half
of the world, that you -- that you keep this perspective that the --
that there's always someone at your back, and no matter how big you get.
And it's always important to retain that humility. I think, in my case, you know, I was just
kind of born hungry. So no matter how successful that store was,
I was always looking over my back and seeing who was, who was about
to overtake us. That's the way I did business.
And that's the way the company did business as well.
I've discussed some of the steps towards a winning business concept,
but I discuss many other tools in the book. In particular, our approach to our customers,
our communities, and our employees.
And as an example of how we took care of all of these constituencies in
a very substantive way, before we would open up any of our stores as we
were expanding, we would do a community service project.
We would go out into the community. In one case, in Los Angeles, we painted an
entire house in a rough section of LA in a day.
We had 30, 35 crew members including part-timers. And we would go down there to the various
locations, and whatever the communities involved were interested in, we
would pitch in and do a service project.
What these service projects did were not only telling the community
we're here to stay, we're -- you're very important to us, but it helped
to bind the crew together by working on the service projects together,
they got to know one another. Before we opened a store, everybody knew everybody's
name and knew a little bit about them and they felt good about
the company that they worked for.
So that they were able to deliver a kind of service that allowed Noah's
to have one half the turnover rate of an average quick service retailer
company. And all of you know that that translates into
huge advantages in terms of morale, in terms of cost savings and in
terms of overall performance in the business.
In 1995, we're expanding very fast -- excuse me.
-- and looking for a strategic partner. We had been co-locating with Starbucks often
as it was a very symbiotic relationship.
Bagels, coffee. Our real estate people kept seeing each other
at various locations that were opening up.
We eventually formalized that partnership and Starbucks became a
25 percent owner in Noah's. One year later, we get a serious threat.
And the threat is from the Einstein Bagel Company out of Golden,
Colorado. It was a public company and it was acquiring
regional bagel chains across the country.
And they -- they gave us basically two options. And the first option was sell us the business.
And the second option was look for an Einstein Brothers Bagel
Company -- I told you, I got a four on my mechanical
aptitude test, didn't I?
I was even able to stand here and do nothing and break the microphone,
you know. So there comes Einstein Brothers.
They're threatening to either acquire us or compete with us in every
location across the West Coast. We thought a lot about it.
We didn't like the offer. It wasn't enough money.
And it was also a stock deal, and it wasn't all cash.
By then, needless to say, it was not also just about me.
We had venture capital partner, we had Starbucks, we had senior
management. And by the way, brother Dan, he came into
the business a year after we opened the -- opened the first location.
We had store managers. We had assistant managers.
We had a lot of constituencies. But as a collective, we decided that that
offer wasn't substantial enough for us to sell the business.
A year later, they came back with a new and improved offer, which was
an all cash offer. As I mentioned or was mentioned in the introduction,
it was indeed for a hundred million dollars.
And we took the offer thus avoiding a bloody bagel shootout in the Wild
West. Hopefully, you'll read the book.
And I understand they're on sale for $5, and as they used to say in the
Lower Eastside, such a deal. How could you pass up $5?
You'll learn that I'm a firm believer in working hard.
I'm also a firm believer -- and I think this has been really
institutionalized in this culture, and I don't even know if I have to
say this to you -- but in balance and maintaining perspective.
I'm still not sure how you guys unleash yourselves from all of your
hardware, but I'm also a firm believer that that's important.
That taking time off, whether it's -- in my case, I'm Sabbath
observant. I don't work on Saturday.
I shut the phones. It's like what everyone pays thousands of
dollars for to go to a desert island for and turn off the phones and not
be bothered by anyone and do exactly what they want.
I do that every week. Not that all of you need to do that, but the
idea of maintaining perspective and balance in our lives is --
has never been more important.
And I'm fond in my speeches of talking about how, you know, what are
the engineers going to throw at us next to make us even more leashed
and connected and wired? But I realize I'm talking to them right here.
So not that you guys shouldn't invent them, but very, very important to
take a walk around the park, to go in the endless lap pool, and I can
see that you are doing that already. I wish that the entire country could really
understand the importance of that balance and how indeed it improves
our work performance, as well as it helps to ensure our personal health,
and the -- and the health and the unity of our family structure.
So after -- after selling Noah's Bagels, I had a dream.
And my personal dream was to spend a year in Jerusalem with my family.
Unfortunately, our oldest son was not able to join us for the year, as
he was in college, but the younger two boys and my wife and I did
indeed spend a year in Jerusalem. I was at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
And I learned what I never learned in school about my own tradition.
Most or many Jewish people have about a 6th grade education in their
own traditions, and that didn't -- wasn't much different than mine.
I was able to get the equivalent of a higher education in Jewish
thought. And it was an absolutely tremendous, tremendous
year for me personally. My boys were in Israeli public school, my
wife was doing some really interesting volunteer work.
After the end of the year, I came back to San Francisco.
And almost immediately upon touch down at the airport was approached to
help found a Jewish community high school in San Francisco.
So in -- on September 1st of 2001, 10 days before 9/11, we created the
Jewish Community High School of the Bay. It was an interesting first month of operations.
After a year the school moved to San Francisco, and I'm proud to say
that the school now has 180 students. My older son started the organic lunch program,
which was and remains to be a model for school lunch programs across
the United States. It's very similar to going to a Google cafeteria.
Tremendous food, hand crafted, and tremendously healthy.
After four years of full-time volunteer work for the high school, I
again began to have an itch to get back into the food business.
If any of you have had familiarity with it, it's something that you
can't shed very easily. So my wife and I opened a kosher, Italian,
vegetarian restaurant in downtown Berkeley called Ristorante Raphael
in 2003. Unfortunately, 4 years later, the bottom line
results weren't there and the lease was coming due, and we had to call
it a day. But we had tons of adoring patrons and great
memories. In the beginning of '08, in response to many
requests, I started my own business consulting practice to help small
businesses with concept creation, marketing, and executive planning.
And if any of you, you know, go off to do your own thing for after
you're leaving Google, I'm the guy to call. Later on -- later on that year, I decided
to codify or to -- or to compile a business memoir.
Both the successes, the failures on a personal level, on a business
level, lessons I had learned, a lot of stories from my father who was
the consummate business mensch. And this was 38 years of -- of really just,
you know, coming into industries and seeing them born and grow up
and mature and a lot of stuff you learn in 38 years.
So I finished the book, "Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today's
Entrepreneur," it went out for sale in September. And while envisioning this book, Jewish thought
informed my direction. We are, by some recounts, 5,000-year old tradition,
we have a lot of wisdom, a lot of accumulated perspectives to share
with the world. And so the book is framed through the lens
of Jewish values and Jewish wisdom and Jewish pride.
But I also wanted to make it clear that, like there was an old Levy's rye bread ad years
ago, and it said, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's."
Well, it's the same with my book. You don't have to be Jewish to read the "
Business Mensch." And in the book, I talk about being a mensch
or being a highly-principled person, and being successful in business.
Dispelling the notion that most or all Jewish business people are like
Bernard Madoff, who I refer to as the anti-mensch. And in the book, I share wisdom not learned
from business schools, because I didn't attend one; nor from MBA
computer models, which I really can't understand; but more from Jewish
sources, and more importantly, from my own trial and error on
what I like to call the real streets of life.
So by way of a little bit of preview, I'm going to read a couple of
short pieces from the book and I think that these will give you a
little bit of a flavor as to what's inside. So this is from a chapter called, "Have a
Little Chutzpah." And I think since it's written in the New
York Times without any kind of translation, probably everybody knows what
that means. And if they don't, there's a company called
Google you just go in under "chutzpah" and I think they'll be able to
tell you what it is. My own earliest lesson to chutzpah came when
I was 10-years old. The teacher, my cousin Donny, three years
my senior. Growing up in suburban Boston, we were both
hockey fanatics. And seized on any opportunity to skate, usually
on a nearby field that was flooded over and frozen in the winter.
Then we heard about a new country club, where a winter ice rink had
been created on the tennis courts, complete with genuine hockey nets
and sideboards. Donny and I couldn't wait to try to out.
So one Wednesday evening, Donny gathered a group of our friends to go
to the Sidney Hills Country Club for a hockey game.
There was just one problem. None of us were members.
Now, that didn't bother Donny. He led the way and a dozen of us all carrying
sticks and skates followed, proceeding to the rink, lacing up
and starting a game of hockey.
We were enjoying the smooth ice, the warm glow of the floodlights, and
the thrill of sending the puck into a real net, when another group of
kids showed up looking to use the ice. Donny looked them up and down.
"You guys members here?" He asked. Of course, they said in chorus.
Donny shook his head slowly. "Sorry," he said, "Wednesday is nonmember
night." They looked at him confused.
"Come back another night," he said. The kids didn't protest, politely and respectfully,
they gathered up their gear, found a pay phone and called their parents and then disappeared
into the night. Donny flashed a huge grin, and the rest of
us played on savoring the rink until the club shut off the lights late
that night. Now that was chutzpah.
Lastly, from the chapter, "The Power of a Mensch."
In the 1950s, long before the government enacted laws to protect
employees and prohibit workplace discrimination, my father, a food
broker in New England, founded the Massachusetts Commission on Fair
Employment Practices. It's name made it sound like a bona fide government
agency but it wasn't.
Dad and a friend took it upon themselves to speak out for workers.
They would investigate reports of discrimination and write press
releases to bring attention to the issue. They were bloggers before their time.
Dad always taught me that people are capable of tremendous things.
An employer's role is to give them a chance, supply them with the tools
they need, and help them to reach their potential. I saw the benefits of treating your employees
right firsthand and developed what I call the 14 piece bucket
rule. That term came from the college summer I spent
travelling around the country working odd jobs.
In Denver, where I worked as a delivery boy for a chicken place, the
owner had a policy of not giving the employees any free food.
I spent long hours inhaling the aroma of freshly fried chicken.
My mouth was watering. I'm only human after all, but I knew the policy.
It just felt unfair to me. It felt cruel and inhumane to put a 20-year
old kid around food all day and tell him he can't eat.
So after awhile, let's just say the 16-piece chicken buckets started
becoming 14-piece chicken buckets. Later, when I ran Noah's, I made sure that
our policy allowed employees to eat as much as food as they wanted.
To me, that simply seems like good sense. Instead of tempting my employees into sneaking
a bit, I invited them to feel like a part of the enterprise.
The heart of my message in Business Mensch is this: Doing the right
thing not only makes us feel good, but it's good for business.
Thank you very much, Google. It was a pleasure to be here today.
I'd be happy to take some questions if there are any.
Yes, sir?
>> [INAUDIBLE] I have a couple of questions. Did you ever write a business plan for any
of your ventures? And also which [INAUDIBLE]?
NOAH ALPER: Okay, good question. I didn't write a formal business plan but
-- and I didn't write any business plan until I got to Noah's.
And then Noah's was about a two-page concept plan with some
manufactured numbers, which most business plans are anyway.
Based on some research I had done. And I am a firm believer of -- of some view
of you who are parents who say, do as I say and not as I do.
I'm a firm believer that a business plan is very important, and I've
learned that, you know, later on. If for no other reason that it helps to clarify
and organize one's thoughts about starting a business.
And the more information and the more data that can be collected, the
better. I did organize -- I did get a lot of data
collected, but it was all here in this computer.
Your second question had to do with funding. And -- all except Noah's were boot-strapped
businesses. In the case of Noah's, it started out with
a small loan from my two brothers, and a small amount of money that
was left by my father. And we were able -- I was able to open that
first store for roughly half what the later stores were opening for.
Of course, we had to change out the linoleum flooring after about three
weeks and replace it with tile because it had worn out.
But that's what you do, you know, starting a business.
Eventually however, Noah's, as it developed, went, you know, the sort
of obviously more traditional financing routes, where we started out
with the debt financing, and then worked into revolving lines of
credit, SBA loans. And then as we -- our need for capital increased,
brought in a venture capital partner, brought in Starbucks, some
outside people, so it kind of ratcheted up as the activity and the need
required. Thank you.
NOAH ALPER: Yeah. I'll repeat the question.
The first question is what does it take to be an entrepreneur?
And the second question is -- did it come -- if I'm quoting correctly,
was there a time when values needed to be compromised for, in the name
of business success?
>> Ideals.
NOAH ALPER: Ideals. Ideals need to be moderated, altered, in the name
of business success. Um, okay.
I think obviously, well, I like to sort of strip it down into sort
of -- there's two sort of major components to being entrepreneur.
And the first is to have a high tolerance for risk, that you're willing
to basically jump off a diving board, knowing there's about a 90
percent chance that there's water in it. The second one is that you be willing to work
about twice as hard as the average employee, salaried employee, in
a company. And I would say that, you know, a third component
is that the business, um, becomes something like an obsession to
you. And I think that's why I focus in on the Shabbat,
the Sabbath piece in my book, because it kind of comes with the
territory that all-consuming passion.
And unless you bridle it somehow, it can just get away from you, until
you -- you're not dimensional anymore, you're tunnel-visioned.
And unfortunately, it does take some of that to get a business off the
ground and to keep it successful. Having said that, and I've talked to other
groups about this, being involved in an entrepreneurial venture is
different than being the sort of -- there's a Yiddish term called the mashugana.
It's like the crazy person in the middle who is like stirring it all up and makes everyone
else crazy. That was kind of my role.
But there's ways to be involved in entrepreneurial ventures that don't
require that kind of personality. So if you're interested in getting involved
in entrepreneurial ventures it's important to partner with people that
have complementary skills so that someone's -- someone's a crazy guy in
the middle of it. But that you be able to bring your expertise
and your capabilities into the picture to create the total success, because
it's obviously a package.
And I talk at length in the book in one of the chapters called, "It
Takes a Shtetl," instead of a village, it takes a shtetl, a little
village in Poland is where the word comes from.
But truthfully, to get an enterprise off the ground, even though
there's one crazy person in the middle with the idea, it takes a lot
more than that to become really successful. To your second question, I would answer it
as follows -- and I think that we, in our business careers, we are involved
in decisions on a day-to-day basis that test, that test our
ideals and our values. And it's very easy to slip over the line.
And it's hard to sort of say, you know, even where the line is
sometimes. And it comes very fast.
I was very interested in talking to someone at lunch about Google and
China, and about censorship. And should Google be involved in something
like that? And there were policies that were made, and
I remember reading the policies and it made some internal, you know,
some sense to me. We're going to go with the laws of the land
and within that confines we're going to do the most we can, and perhaps
we can -- you know, we can generate internal change.
And now there's some rethinking of that subject and so forth.
I think the key is to keep the moral plane in full view, like you would
get your tennis gear assembled before you go out and play tennis, I
think you need your moral lens to be firmly in place when you go to the
workplace so that when these decisions come up, and some of them as I
mentioned are very fast and very seductive, okay?
And I think if the extra time that it takes to just think that through
a little bit further is done, then more than likely, while greed is not
going to go away and self-interest is not going to go away, slowly,
incrementally, we can move towards a more ideal world.
NOAH ALPER: Well, I think you're in the heart of it right here.
The other trend that unfortunately, I think is -- is huge and needs to
be addressed is-- is the obesity crisis that America's in.
And that we somehow as a nation, as a society, get our arms around how
to -- how to alleviate this issue. And I think that as my thesis in the book
states, that there's a -- going to be a lot of money to be made at it as well as doing
a lot of good for the planet. I think that it's very clear and obvious and
I'm restating the obvious in saying that we're on a suicide track in
terms of global warming. And that if we don't get our arms around sustainable
lifestyle, we're going to all fry up.
And I think, it's on the radar screen. I'm not sure how loud and clear it is.
Anything to do with that is going to huge and hopefully some of those
jobs will wind up in America and not overseas, if we can get our
entrepreneurial spirit cranked up and the where with all to tackle
issues as vital as these two that I have mentioned.
Yes, sir?
NOAH ALPER: Well, it's an interesting question. It's like a lot of marketing stuff and I
-- you're going to say, marketing?
Wait a minute, this is kosher. But I want to -- want to give you just --
and maybe others would bear with me for a second.
I was learning with a traditional rabbi at the time when I was about to
open the first store, and he wasn't going to eat in the store unless it
was kosher. So I wanted it to be a place where the whole
Jewish community could come, whether they were ultra Orthodox, whether
they were communist, whether they were Reform, Conservative, whoever
they were, they could feel comfortable about going into a Noah's
store. The more I looked into it, you know, it was
not all that difficult because most of the products came in already
kosher certified. Later on, as I -- as I was in the operation
phase, I learned that it was a lot more complicated than I thought.
We had employees come in with ham and cheese sandwiches and toast them
up in our ovens, and then what do you do? So there were a lot of -- there were a lot
of nuisances. But what I realized as I had made -- initially
made the decision to operate the stores kosher was that it added
yet one more piece of authenticity to the enterprise that we were
putting together. That this was a genuine, Lower Eastside, old-timey,
New York bagel place.
Well, it should be kosher. So it was a little bit of an intangible.
But I know that I got enough feedback from people that said, you know,
you stand for something here. There's something that's -- that's more important
than just making money and selling bagels.
You have somewhat of a higher purpose, that I think the kosher, you
know, while represented if you will was symbolic of.
And I know that some of our employees who were -- who were totally
secular, said to me that -- that the kashrut or the kosher aspect of
this business is really what bound it altogether. Now I thought it was an interesting comment,
especially coming from someone that was really outside the tradition.
I can remember that when we closed for Passover, I had a lot of people
come over to me later, non-Jews, and say how it impressed they were
they we had kept our values and remained closed during the time when
bread is not allowed to be consumed or sold. Many of our Jewish customers complained, where's
our bagels? So you know, you never win it all.
But I think, in retrospect, the only way I can answer, was that before
the Sabbath when I would walk home with the challah under each arm,
knowing that this was a kosher challah, just made me feel good.
And I think there was a residual feeling amongst -- the amongst the
entire workforce and our customer base that this was a company that
stood for something. And in that sense, I think it was huge.
So I want to thank all of you again for taking your valuable time today
and coming to listen to my talk. And I -- it was my pleasure to be here and
see such an exciting company at work.
Thank you very much.