The Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture Series welcomed Mark Rampolla, Founder of ZICO Coconut Water, on Thursday, October 20, 2016.
In the early 90s, Mark Rampolla was fresh out of college and working in Costa Rica as a small business development volunteer with the Peace Corps. He had just graduated from Marquette University and wanted to put his Jesuit business education to good use. Over the next few years, he lived and traveled extensively throughout Latin America and two things stood out to him: 1) coconuts were everywhere and 2) people were drinking Coca-Cola instead of coconuts – even in tiny remote villages! This sparked a desire to make a positive impact on the world.
Mark started to think about products that could make an economic impact, create jobs and improve public health. Around this time, Vitamin Water was starting to take off and he remembered the coconuts. Even though he initially didn’t like the taste of coconut water, he knew it was an untapped commodity. How could he make coconut water cool? To get his idea off the ground, he researched other beverage companies like Coca-Cola, Snapple, and Red Bull and learned from their successes. He discovered that coconuts grow in 85 countries, none of which are wealthy, and he knew his idea had the potential to make a positive impact on the world.
“Successful entrepreneurs find ways to disrupt a market,” said Mark, who also has an MBA from Duke University. “Entrepreneurs today are putting a problem at the center of a product, and doing it all for a good cause.”
He tested ZICO in various markets and discovered it did especially well in yoga studios. The beverage quickly gained a following amongst fitness buffs and celebrities and it wasn’t long before it was on the shelves in major grocery chains.
In 2013, Mark sold ZICO to Coca-Cola and started Powerplant Ventures which invests in food and beverage companies that have a social impact and/or mission.
“Good ideas are a dime a dozen but it’s all about execution,” said Mark, who lives in Redondo Beach with his wife and two daughters. “As Peter Drucker said, the goal of a business is not to profit but to create customers.”
At the conclusion of his talk, Mark shared several tips for budding entrepreneurs:
- Live within your means and save all you can
- Be a truth teller…even when times get tough
- Take small risks
- Have an alternative plan
- Embrace the ability to work hard but have a balanced life
- Enjoy the ride