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Dear Mark: My Primal Investments

Cyber Monday Sweepstakes: Thrive Market, best described as Whole Foods meets Costco online, is giving you a chance to win hundreds of dollars worth of your favorite Primal foods and a free annual membership to their site. Thrive is on a mission to help make healthy living available and affordable to all American families. I’m a huge fan of what they’re doing. So much so that I’ve become an investor in the company. But more on that below. Enter the sweepstakes here [1], and you could be one of the lucky winners!

For today’s edition of Dear Mark [1], I discuss one of my very favorite subjects – investing in oneself – in relation to this whole Primal thing. I explain my theory of investing, why you should invest in yourself even if you’re working a 9 to 5 and have no desire to be an entrepreneur at all, and I give the story of how I decided to quit the (well-paying and stable) rat race and make the ultimate investment in myself and my future: starting Primal Nutrition. Then I discuss the Primal-friendly start-ups in which I’m currently invested, including a really exciting new venture that I think everyone here is going to dig (accompanied by a simple and potentially lucrative contest).

Let’s go:

Dear Mark,

I’m a big believer in the concept of putting your money where your mouth is. For example, if you value humanely-raised animals, and grass-fed cows, you should be willing to spend the extra bucks on them to support the farms and purveyors, thus making them more readily available to more people, and hopefully, ultimately, bringing the costs down, too. I’m always looking for companies that have similar values to mine as part of their mission statement. I heard you’re an investor in Exo cricket bars. Is that true? What companies do you think are making a positive impact on the world? I’d be very interested in your opinion. Grok on, Mark!

Dale

As a young entrepreneur, the single best piece of advice I ever received was to invest in myself whenever appropriate, rather than following the more conventional wisdom of setting aside small sums of money and investing in passive things like common stocks, mutual funds or real estate for some future retirement. Don’t get me wrong: those do have a place in many a retirement strategy, and I don’t want to lead anyone down a path that’s wrong for them, but I always found myself feeling less in control of those types of investments. Furthermore, I really don’t see myself “retiring” ever. And whenever I have made those traditional investments, I seem either to have lost money, worried myself sick over uncontrollable events, or simply been less than satisfied with the outcome.

On the other hand, whether it was money spent in furthering my education, making sure my health was optimized, gaining useful experience by taking calculated business risks I might not otherwise have taken, or simply reinvesting profits back into my business – I have found that the main benefit to investing in myself has always been the degree of control I have had over those investments. It has instilled both a sense of responsibility and a feeling of empowerment. Of course, much of this presupposes that you are working for yourself or have plans to do so at some point. If that’s not something you’re interested in undertaking, this advice may not apply. At least, not financially. However, I still think the concept of “investing in self” applies to everyone, even if it’s “investing” in your own health [2] with proper diet [3] and exercise [4] and sleep habits [5] so you can enjoy your time [6], family [7], and money better. It’s not necessarily about money, but about giving back to yourself. That could mean investing your free time into a little extra sleep, a vacation with the family, that good book you’ve had sitting beside your bed for months collecting dust, or a nightly walk around the neighborhood, instead of using it to “get ahead” at work or “catch up” on email.

I left a comfortable and well-paying job to start Primal Nutrition, Inc. in 1997 (now Primal Nutrition, LLC). At the time, I had a wife and two small children, and no money in the bank – but I had a vision of how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of a health movement [8] about which I was incredibly passionate. While some might have said that it was a risky move given my circumstances (and it was), I knew deep down that it was what I needed to do to feel fulfilled. I also knew deep down that it would succeed eventually on some level if I stuck with it.

As my business has grown, I have reinvested profits and other resources whenever and wherever appropriate for nearly 18 years, and I still look for ways to invest in myself. But these days there are other investment opportunities that arise outside my company which still allow me to take advantage of my knowledge, experience, influence and money.

The Primal/Paleo community has grown, too, and with it the business opportunities. There are probably hundreds of small companies entering the paleosphere with an intent to fulfill a perceived demand or better yet, to create a new demand that requires fulfilling.

I started angel investing about five years ago and have helped fund several interesting start-ups. Among them, EXO [9], the cricket bar company; Sirens and Titans [10], a gym in Los Angeles; and Bona Dea [11], a maker of gluten-free [12] baking flours and ready-to-eat baked goods. In all my current investments, I serve as an advisor as well as investor – again, it’s important to me that I have a degree of influence on my investments.

More recently, I invested in one of the most compelling start-up ideas I have seen in a long while. It’s called Thrive Market [1] and I believe it will change how all of us gain access to healthy foods. The concept is surprisingly simple: offering top brand proprietary packaged healthy foods at discount prices online. It’s like Costco meets Whole Foods online. Thrive is membership-based and offers discounts of 25-50% off what you might normally expect to pay in a regular health food store (or even at competitive online venues). While it is perfect for accessing your favorite Paleo/Primal, gluten-free products, it also affords an opportunity for smaller companies with awesome products that might not be able to get major distribution in places like Whole Foods to become available nationwide. As part of the “giving back” philosophy that the founders exemplify, for each membership sold a free membership is awarded through select charities to a family in need. The membership fee is $59 annually. I made that back in savings on my first order! If you are someone who has struggled with the costs of certain elements of the Primal Blueprint or paleo eating strategies, Thrive was designed for you.

Investing in companies like Thrive, EXO, Bona Dea, and Sirens and Titans isn’t just financial for me. As you rightly point out, Dale, it’s a way to ensure the movement I’ve grown to love and fight for continues to grow and be sustained. If we want Primal to continue growing, we’ll need to broaden our horizons. We’ll need mainstream interest in insect protein and nutrition – which is what EXO is doing. We’ll need to have gluten-free options that taste good and are widely available for those folks who just don’t want to give up grains [13] and baked goods [14] and aren’t interested in baking themselves. We’ll need to support progressive fitness spaces (like Sirens and Titans) and, maybe most importantly, we need to figure out a way for the average everyday consumer to gain access to affordable, high-quality Primal-friendly foods. That’s where Thrive Market comes in.

Thrive just launched. To commemorate the start of a beautiful friendship, we’ve put together a sweepstakes. It’s really simple:

Enter the Thrive Market Sweepstakes Here [1].

All you need to do to enter is register an account for free, and then share the sweepstakes page on Facebook.

That’s it! One person will receive $500 that can be used at Thrive; 20 people will get free Thrive memberships for a year. The sweepstakes ends on Sunday. Try it out and let me know what you think. It’s only going to get better.

That’s me. How about you guys? How are you investing in yourself and the Primal community at large?