Mojo in a Bottle | Julian Giacomelli, RISE Kombucha cover image
Listen to how Julian Giacomelli of RISE Kombucha found his mojo focusing on businesses with strong values after giving up consulting for a one-way ticket to Katmandu.
Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I really believe increasingly that feeling connected to, and having a solid base and a base that takes care of us is really important to being able to maintain mojo.

Thane Calder
Thane Calder

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Mojo Moments. I'm your host Thane Calder. Anyone who's encountered me over the last decade or so, or popped by the CloudRaker office, might've noticed something. I am obsessed - I mean, obsessed - with kombucha. Yeah, that fuzzy little drink in a bottle. But I'm not into just any old kombucha, not those California ones or the ones from your mom's kitchen.

In fact, I'm obsessed with the one out of Montreal called RISE Kombucha. And several years ago, so obsessed, I tried to meet up and I did, successfully meet up with one of the co-founders, Julian Giacomelli. And we had breakfast at the iconic Beauty's diner. Over breakfast, I tried to hint - actually I was pretty straight up and blunt - asked, how can I get involved?

Do you need an agency? Do you need an advisor? Can I join the board? What can I do? Essentially, my underlying goals were to get a limitless supply of the stuff mainlined into the office. Well, I only partially succeeded. So stay tuned to hear my conversation today with Julian Giacomelli, former advisor, investor, cofounder, president, chairman, you name it of RISE Kombucha.

And let's learn more about mojo, in a bottle.

Thane
Thane

So, Hey Julian, welcome to Mojo Moments.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

 It's a pleasure to be here, Thane. 

Thane
Thane

Hopefully you're not too tired, you know, having to beam in all the way from British Columbia, three hours behind. So do you know why we call this Mojo Moments? 

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

No, tell me.

Thane
Thane

I'm going to tell you it has nothing to do with - I know there's a kombucha brand that's owned by Coca Cola somewhere... 

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Coke, in Australia. 

Thane
Thane

In Australia. It has nothing to do with that. Moja Moments is sort of born out of a 20 year realization after being entrepreneuring and being in business, that mojo matters a lot. Having, you know,  enthusiasm, passion and having a sense of meaning in your everyday work in life matters a lot. So in 2020, we decided we're going to sit down and talk to people of all different walks of life.

Business entrepreneurs, but artists, consultants, gurus, whatever, and try and pick their brains, and actually steal their insights on mojo. So that's what we're up to. 

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Love it. I'm down. And I couldn't agree more.

Thane
Thane

So a little backstory, just, you know, it's funny, cause my peeps were asking  "How do you know Julian?" And I'm like, this is how I think I know Julian.

So the story is, I'll give the short version, but I became obsessed with kombucha and RISE, and I decided to track someone down there that was involved, owner or other, and we ended up having breakfast at Beauty's, shooting the breeze, talking about everything, but essentially I had an underlying motive to get involved, so I could get free kombucha from you.

So I think I positioned it that I hinted "I'd love to get involved, maybe get on your advisory board or other." And you're like," Yeah, let's look at that." So my first question is whatever happened to that? Why didn't I, how come I'm not on the board of RISE Kombucha or getting my free cases?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Well, I think you ended up in a better place, which is a sort of informal advisor. As you know, there's all of these trajectories as to what governance is good and needed at the time.

I mean, we weren't really at a place where we were hobbling together a true advisory board, but you know, we had a bunch of good conversations, including talking to you guys once about looking at some name stuff...

Thane
Thane

Yeah, yeah. 

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Even to this day, we don't have a bespoke or a named advisory board, mostly because everyone who comes to RISE is looking for free kombucha, and...

Thane
Thane

You know what the funny thing is? So we did strike a deal where we were getting, and maybe I'm not allowed to put this out there in the airways, but we started buying because we were drinking so much and buying at retail is too expensive. So you're like, yeah, we'll set you up. So we ended up buying cases of it wholesale.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yep.

Thane
Thane

Until one day we got a call saying, "We're too busy. We don't have time to deliver to you guys wholesale kombucha anymore." And I was like, "This is really sad." Like I can't even get the wholesale stuff anymore.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah. We went through so many iterations of doing direct accounts and we used to have people come to the warehouse and that was great.

And just eventually, with too many friends and connected accounts that was taking a decent amount of energy without a really good delivery system, unfortunately we weren't able to always do that and we've gone through waves, and then like the next guy would jump in and I was one of those people came in and said, we're going to have 20 to 30 friends accounts that we can do.

Cause it's equally about connecting to awesome organizations. It's like they're drinking it in their, you know, brainstorms and they're for sure, doing better marketing, planning, and marketing design if they're drinking RISE instead of whatever other stuff that could be drinking. And then unfortunately, as you know, in business sometimes, like, it's just like, you can't get that extra person to be doing two days a week on the road for 20 bucks of profit. So, voila.

Thane
Thane

I understand. So let's go way back in your life. So you're a Montrealer and we have a thing for Montrealers on Mojo Moments. So you did the Brébeuf, which is the school, you did the McGill thing, and then you went off and did an MBA, INSEAD...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

And you missed LCC, we just talked about... 

Thane
Thane

Oh, yeah, yeah. LCC where my children went, Lower Canada College, LCC.

So you started there and then moved on through all these things. INSEAD, by the way is really easy to get into for those of you... it's probably the hardest MBA school in the world to get into, but I didn't realize this until we set up this call, but you studied engineering at McGill.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Correct.

Thane
Thane

Like what happened? So you did that and then you go off to MBA land and like, what was that trajectory? 

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, I mean, I've been keen whenever, I dove in both feet and I loved studies and enjoyed academics and was thrilled by and did really well in civil engineering. In fact, I actually never wanted to be an engineer. I was more excited about being an architect. Though, as you said, I went to a two year French CEGEP. And the operative word there was French. And I came out of an English system. So when I got to Brébeuf, the first semester, I was overwhelmed by the combination of French and women, because they were actually women in my classes, LCC at the time was an all boys private school.

So my grades kind of plummeted in the first semester at Brébeuf and I didn't get into architecture school because of that. Civil engineering was next door. And one of the paths to get into architecture school was to go to civil. And if you did well enough after a semester or two, you could probably get in.

And so I did that and started civil engineering and I was visiting my buddies down the hall at the architecture faculty and they were hating life. They were just not enjoying the studies and I was enjoying civil. So I stayed in civil engineering and specialized in structural design and engineering and construction.

And I worked for about three years as an engineer. And it was Quebec in the nineties and it's no different than it is now, it's just a, the best work was filling up last year's potholes and fixing the bridges that were not fixed well two years earlier. And it just wasn't fundamentally, the kind of work wasn't around that was interesting to me.

The most interesting projects were very far afield. I had a job offer to go to the Three Gorges Dam in China and up to James' Bay. And I didn't really feel like that was something that was super compelling. And so I... I say I chickened out, but I decided to go back and do an MBA. And I still think, I mean, clearly the disciplines of thinking, analysis, planning all came from those engineering years and it was an amazing base education.

And I still consider myself an engineer of sorts and I still have a strong affinity for the engineering profession.

Thane
Thane

What's interesting though, is I married an engineer who never practiced engineering and there's definitely a mind, an engineer mind. I know it's a cliche, but there is an engineer mind and thank God we have engineers in the world.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yep.

Thane
Thane

And thank God I married one.

So you do this fancy INSEAD MBA. You land at one of the hot consulting firms - normally in our Mojo Moments, we don't do this sort of your life history, but I'm doing it today just cause it makes sense. And then at some point. You go off to India for a spiritual detox of sorts.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah.

Thane
Thane

And maybe I'm putting words out there.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah. I mean the word spiritual wasn't in my vernacular. And I would have said - now, in retrospect, it was like a spiritual beginning, trying to do like a kind of, it's not a capitalist detox, that's terrible. I just had, too hardworking, not clear on who I was detox, but I spent three years in management consulting, amazing projects, amazing clients, some of the most talented folks that I've ever worked with, had the opportunity to work based out of the London office, but spent time in South Africa and mainland Europe. And then I just got hugely disenchanted simultaneous to, I think what I would probably consider my closest thing to a burnout when I was working with American Express in New York.

And I just said, one day, this isn't the life that I meant to lead right now. There's a lot, a lot of folks that I looked up to in many ways, smarter, wealthy, connected, but there wasn't anyone in the firm at all that I looked up into what I would call now holistically someone that I really aspired to be, I sort of realized that. And none of the clients that I was working for, even though again, they were super successful, largely white men in various successful companies, but it wasn't like I had a depth.

And even though a lot of my teammates were amazing, one day while running around the reservoir in central park had a moment where there might've actually been angels that came out and horns. And I was just like, Whoa, stop this. I, just like, it's the way that it was going was, so the more success there was, the more I was viscerally feeling unhappy. And some of the classic traits of working too hard and partying a little bit and not being honest necessarily always. And you know, not being great in my relationships. I just took a step back and said, this isn't going in the right way.

And I said, I'm going to go hang up the consulting hat for now. And I bought a effectively about a one way ticket to land in Katmandu and spend about a year backpacking around South Asia. Never having knew what meditation or yoga was and spirituality was just a word. But it was the beginning of a more intentional time of learning in that way.

Which was crazily juxtaposed with what I had spent the previous sort of three years of MBA, three years of amazing business work with amazing corporations. And then just pulled the chute and said, I'm going to go for a walk about, mostly alone, in places I'd never really thought about.

Thane
Thane

If I recall, Mitchell Madison was the shop, right? Yeah. And that's the one that ended up joining up with one of the .com, Razorfish or one of those, I don't know which one it was...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

They were first called March 1st.

Thane
Thane

Oh yeah, March 1st.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

And it was a U S. Web. And I feel really lucky because it was the only time in the history of the largest consulting company called McKinsey that folks would know, and whoever's listening know this, but nobody ever really leaves McKinsey and steals clients or ever really leaves en masse. You're very loyal.

You often go back and work in a large company and hire McKinsey, or you, maybe you go off and do some consulting work, but it tends to be sole shop. But in this one instance, these 20 odd partners left McKinsey financial services with a bunch of big clients. It was heretical in the world of management consulting.

And so we were in a shop that had a lot of legacy. Obviously all the partners were McKinsey. But they were the more cowboy-esque ones that were not happy with the status quo. And so we had this mix of McKinsey culture, and a much more aggressive interest in building. So we had that nice mix and it was enough for me. I'd seen, I'd seen that.

Thane
Thane

So it's interesting. And I'm going down a rabbit hole here because my son who's 16 is starting to look at his university stuff and he's potentially on path for one of those big overpriced schools. 

And it's funny, it a bit concerns me. I never did the big name schools and all that stuff, but the friends that I have that did it, big name MBAs, the Harvards, the Yales, the INSEAD of this world, there's like a period where they end up getting sucked into McKinsey or Goldman Sachs or whatever, cause that's what you’re supposed to do. I almost feel they're less happy people in life. It's like, they get stuck into doing what they think they're supposed to do. Do you know what I mean, like?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah. I think folks that go there and can deal with it and it's good enough where it doesn't turn them off, it's almost bad. But in my case, I just couldn't fake it. Like it wasn't for me. I did those things because I really wanted to experience them. I really think, and I believed, that that was what I was supposed to do, and following the path of like best earning, best pedigree, you know, as long as you had some semblance of balance was the right thing to do.

And I was lucky enough that the discomfort was just high enough that I decided to pull the chute. A lot of folks, I think feel it, but it's not quite enough to make the move. And then, you know, I think once you do four to five or six years or something like that, you can't go back. Once you've gotten used to a certain level of earning and that those things become part of how you tell the story about yourself, then you're kind of cooked. You know, then they suffer for years of like, analysis paralysis, because nothing will ever compare from a brand-name and to some extent, possibly earning, unless you get into other domains. And I just said, you know, it's killing me literally and decided that I didn't want to go that route.

Thane
Thane

I was reading the, not reading, listening to the other day, a podcast. I don't know who it was with, but the host, I should know who the host was, but anyway, it was with the author of Liar's Poker. You read that book?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, yeah, I read that book years ago. It's...

Thane
Thane

What's his name? I don't have the book here, but anyway, the guy who did that book and did Money Ball, he was talking about how he was, literally  was working at Solomon Brothers and was rocking it, making a bucket load of money, but he was doing it more out of curiosity and decided to write this book. His parachute was the fact that a publisher decided to give him an advance on it and believed in the book. And then the partners were all like, "No, no, no, you got to stay. We'll give you more money, and he was like, "No, actually someone's going to pay me to do a book. I'm leaving. No, I'm outta here. I'm serious." So, in your case, you got that ticket, went to Asia. Question, so you did your trips, you come back to Montreal. Why back to Montreal?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, I mean, I left Montreal in 96 on the eve of the last referendum. I actually intentionally gave back my driver's license and Medicare card and said, I'm going to become a nonresident.

I'm kind of like half out of Canada. I was so disenchanted at the time being a proud Quebecer, Montrealer, Canadian. And just the combination of all those things led me to think I'm going to go to Europe to study, and ideally I'll be based out of Europe for a while. And I have through my mom, had a British citizenship.

Thane
Thane

Just a little insert that a referendum is, for those who know where Canada is, there's Canada and there's this province called Quebec and Quebec every once in a while decides "We're going to separate from Canada." And it's called a referendum. It comes around everybody every 20 years, and it creates instability a bit like what goes on in Spain...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Spain and Ireland. Yeah.

Thane
Thane

So your mom had a British...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, but you know, to answer the question of why Montreal, so I had spent this time in Europe, both studying and then working and just, I went back through London at the end of this year and it clearly is not the place to be living on the cheap.

And I felt like Montreal was calling me again. I was like, I want to go back home and reconnect with my roots. I think it's also, there's something about your hometown where you probably have the most opportunity, given all the connections. And I just said, it's time to reset. So I ended up back in Montreal after having been outside of Canada for almost seven years and started doing what I knew how to do a little bit through the, I mean of being a consulting engineer, and management consultant.

I started consulting a little bit, just picking up projects here and there, that just felt better to me. Just felt good, you know, through old bosses. And I also bought a little house in lower Westmount and renovated it from top to bottom. I wasn't quite ready for nine more, you know, more than 10 or 15 hours a week at a computer.

So I do love building and I'm pretty handy. So I bought a place and, spent about six or seven months full-time, gutting and renovating, and then doing a little bit of contract management consulting work for folks that I knew and slowly started building a new, a whole new track of doing similar things, but on a much different scale and for projects and companies that I could relate to that I liked more than, say, American Express. Nothing wrong with American express, but just wasn't really... yeah.

Thane
Thane

Wait a little insert on that. It's interesting because what year are we talking about?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

2002.

Thane
Thane

Okay, so 2002, you go back, there was a little micro crisis back then, you remember 9/11 thing. So there's an interesting parallel. So I know it's maybe not connected, but I'm going to pretend it's connected.

Like, so post-crisis for you having this sort of moment of reset coming home. And what you do is you, you decide to fix up a place. And what's interesting right now, we're living in COVID era and how so many people, what they're doing, yes, maybe cause they're stuck at home, but a lot of people feel this need to fix their nests.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yup.

Thane
Thane

I'm doing a project here at home and at the local hardware store down here, it's a great little place. It's like a general store, they even sell donuts. They said they never had such a great... this is the best year they've ever had. So I don't know, in terms of mojo, is there any insight there that you think that, can we riff on that just for a sec?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, I mean, I think increasingly I'm believing a lot in, "place matters a lot" and you know, we hear it, we talk about entrepreneurship of place and as much as we're in the era of global, especially e-commerce and things, which seems to be winning or doing really well. I really believe increasingly that feeling connected to, and having a solid base and a base that takes care of us is really important to being able to maintain mojo.

And I think that when times are rough, we realize that it does matter where we're staying and the condition that's in. And we actually may have slowed down a little bit enough to realize why don't I just go and make it a little bit nicer. And I think there's a lot to be said about what that does to the human spirit of connecting with, and actually using your hands sometimes like, doesn't have to be renovating, but just like spending more time doing some of the more basic things.

Thane
Thane

Like a lot of people gotten into gardening or...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Gardening. Making bread. Again, it's not just to save the money on the 2.99 from the loaf. It's really about getting the hands into it. And there's something very healing, and I use that word lightly, about just really connecting that way. And I think that I went back to the, the neighborhood that I grew up in and got a place and was just spending the time creating a really nice space for me.

I happened to run into this practice called yoga, in India, not by accident. So when I came back to Montreal, I was also really interested, and studying pretty hard in some of those things as well. So I was doing my renovation work that was like daytime, real time, what I call meditation. So just immersing yourself in beautiful tasks.

And it was great to work with my hands and that I was doing a bit of management consulting to pay the bills. And I was doing studying and reading and my most excited stuff was yoga meditation. But, you know, connecting to all those things, it wasn't distracting. It wasn't like a taking away from, it was more, how does this inform how I want to come back into the world of business?

I was like, there must be a way to join this stuff.

Thane
Thane

So Crudescence, is that what you first bumped into which led to RISE? Or how did all that come together?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, so, you know, early 2000s, for about three or four years, I was doing this mix of, a bit of management consulting for projects that made sense.

They weren't necessarily super conscious or highly impactful, but they just were with people that I really liked at least. And I finished the renovation project. I taught a little bit of yoga, but I started to realize that I was competing as a yoga teacher with some of my friends who are great yoga teachers.

And that's not all they can do, but that's what they're doing. I have an engineering degree and an MBA, like clearly I'd like to find a way to bring more of it together. And so I started to actively seek out projects. So, you know, the world is in three buckets, to me. There's things that makes the world a worse place.

I didn't want to work on those, were things that made the world a better place, and those are few and far between, and it was this big gray zone in between. And I decided to start aiming more for those things that I think the world needed. I took a bit of time on a few other walkabouts. I didn't go quite as far or as long, but I went on a couple of other six month hiatuses in those years and came back in around the end of 2006.

Really, wanting to combine my passion for business with some of the things that I thought made the world a better place and especially made us better people. So I identified three sectors that were super relevant. I had been doing a decent amount of work in high tech in the early two thousands, some medical device work, helping, you know, inventions get commercialized out of universities.

And I just thought, I don't know if I'm smart enough to really figure out what's gonna work and what's not, I know we need three things. We need better food and beverage cause I had seen that a massive amount of the distress and unhealth coming in the West was from bad habits around food. I said, we definitely need to take better care of ourselves as humans physically.

So I was interested in, you know, mind, body and fitness. And the third sector stemming from my years of being a passionate builder was like, I think the way that we build and live, is really unhealthy. We build really wastefully with pretty gross materials. So there's actually the green building side of things...

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

But even more interesting than that was the lack of more communal living.

I don't mean communes necessarily, but sort of the, you know, the more successful you are, the bigger your property and the more isolated you are from other people. And I just think that I had seen examples of even just in Europe where, smaller individual spaces, a little bit more communal living, whether it's the commons of the town or in some of these other places where there was a smaller unit, but a library shared.

And so I was interested in, I decided to pursue only opportunities in green and co-living; mind, body; and food and beverage. And at that time, I was already doing a lot of, you know, mostly plant-based eating. I had learned that through the yoga and I ran into these two neo-hippies in 2006, that had started Crudescence, David and Mathieu who are amazing entrepreneurs.

And that was exactly the birth of both Crudescence and RISE. And these are two Montreal, you know, I think powerhouses, although Crudescence only lasted about seven years total. RISE is still going, but they were both founded by David and Mathieu in 2007 and I joined them as co-founders, now we call that. Like at the time I wasn't really a cofounder.

I helped them in more of an advisory work and I was their first external investor. But you look back now and it had been since almost the very beginning, they graciously call me a cofounder. And so Crudescence was really a vertically - or rather a horizontally integrated raw food business that had at the end seven restaurants and boot juice bars, had an academy about how do you learn all this amazing food prep, had a line of prêt-à-manger and a line of actually, grab-and-go foods... and this little side business at the beginning, they were making this funky drink called kombucha. And when I joined them as part of the team, I said, "Hey guys, let's separate these two things, because even though you have a similar client base, this kombucha business can travel across Canada and North America and the raw food business is hyperlocal."

So we created simultaneously two separate companies. One was what would eventually be called RISE Kombucha. And the other one was Crudescence. And that started in 2008. And I, you know, I would say like 60 or 70% of my professional effort in the last 12 years has been guiding both of those businesses at different phases and at different means, including a stint of running Crudescence for three years, and a stint of running RISE Kombucha for three years, which just ended last year.

So the last 10 years, I've gone deep in progressive, organic foods and have spent a lot of time in the whole foods aisles, looking at things and wondering what's next and what that does for us. And I'm really enjoying it. It was a wonderful place to spend that time.

Thane
Thane

I remember, actually, once, I even can picture this moment, I was in California.

It was my brother's 50th birthday. So I was driving down in LA. And I actually had a meeting tucked in with a client, but one of those very toxic-style meetings, okay? In the Valley. And, at the same time we were in discussions. This is, I don't know how long ago, 8, 9, 10 years ago? And there was some potential that CloudRaker could help you guys, you were doing your first sort of new packaging, the new bottle.

And I was so stoked. I said, this is a way finally, I'm getting in on here. And I remember I left that meeting, that horrible, toxic meeting, and I went into the nearest dep, or... We call them deps - convenience store over there, but a health one. And they had an aisle of funky drinks and there's all the kombuchas.

And I picked up a GT and don't forget, I was, I had never had that. My idea of a kombucha was RISE. You guys weren't out there yet. So I picked up a GT, thinking, well, it's going to be awesome. And remember taking my first sip of it going, "No. This stuff sucks." So I called you right away.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I remember.

Thane
Thane

I was like, "Man, I'm here. I'm in California. Like, you guys have got the best stuff you got to grow, got to get bigger. How can I help you? We gotta do more of this."

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah.

Thane
Thane

Anyway. It was an interesting mojo moment. Like, I don't know if it's cause that's the kombucha that I discovered, like that was my initiation, so that becomes the baseline of good... I've had this debate with people like around like, pizzas, you know, they're like "The best pizza is this one!" And it's like the one they grew up with.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Sure.

Thane
Thane

Or, you know, are there awards for the - could we argue that RISE is the best kombucha or is that...?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

You could argue it. I mean, unlike the craft beer world, there isn't really any awards yet.

It's still too early. I think what you're speaking to, to be honest is we made it a lot of effort in the kind of early-ish years. Now the first few years, our kombucha tasted a lot like that. And then we made some efforts to try to make it more mainstreamable. I think that if you were never honed on the early more vinegary-type kombucha, and they often have particles floating around in them, which can be a little off-putting and you start with RISE, then you won't necessarily enjoy some of the small - I mean, GT is not a small-scale kombucha, but they still, in those days anyway, made it fairly old school-like, and it's not for everyone.

So I think that we did a great job of making it accessible. You know the taste as well as, you know, we filtered out some of the goopy bits there, the sweetness level is always contentious, but I think that we were around the same sweetness level. We just managed a way to make it taste less kombuchy. Kombucha is not necessarily a good taste if I gave you kombucha, that was with zero residual sugar and hadn't been done with some flavors, it kind of tastes like old socks, like left in a VAT for a month.

So it's not like you're building on a great taste.

Thane
Thane

Yeah. So look, the bookend of our podcast here, what we do is these, we call it the rabbit hole five. It's supposed to be five quick questions but sometimes we end up in rabbit holes, so we'll see what happens, okay?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Alright. I'm ready.

Thane
Thane

So, as someone who cares deeply about employee wellbeing, what are some things that businesses need to start doing that they haven't already?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Developing practices to build trust and allow less, trying to control people.

Thane
Thane

And that comes right from the - what's the name, the Lulu guy.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Well, partly and also COVID, you know, we were just talking last night about if you're in a creative world where you can define output? That's great. "Here's what we have to get done together. Let's get it done by next Friday. You know, if you want to do it at midnight on the mountain, or... we don't care." But if you're a business that has to track hours and it has no other way to figure out what people are doing, we're sunk.

So I think that we have to turn into...

Thane
Thane

Trust machines.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Trust machines. And then people care. And like, if they say I'm going to do this with you by next Friday. And if they have a good sense of what they need to do, they can also say, "Thane, you're kidding me. It's not going to be done by Friday. It's the Friday after!" So you can have that kind of negotiation, then the teams agreed.

And we'll get a ton of stuff done together, but if we say, "Go and do it and give me your time sheet or something..."

Thane
Thane

So one of my, it's not like a transformational book, but one great business book I like is the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The foundation of the whole thing is trust.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, build trust.

Thane
Thane

It's interesting. I hadn't thought of it that, but what COVID's created is a lot of, "we're just trusting you're doing your thing."

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah. And so the companies that there's already a bit of a innate trust, it's a wonderful thing. For the folks that don't... like I met a friend last night whose boyfriend has a Friday, 4:30 call, just to check out for the week. Like, they're basically saying...

Thane
Thane

"We want to make sure you're there!"

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

"We want to make sure  you're there, and we want to make sure you got done what you said you were going to do." So I think it's going to go both ways, but I do believe that the folks that were already a little bit down that path are doing well. I think there's probably a lot of folks - my guess is in larger corporates that are really freaking out and saying, "What all these people doing? I can't see them!"

Thane
Thane

It's funny yesterday my GM, that runs a Toronto office, Leslie, I was trying to reach her. I do these long walks and do calls because I'm sick of being in front of a screen, but I do it via Slack. 

Anyway, every time I call Leslie, I had a couple of calls with her yesterday, I wouldn't land on her and then she would call me back, like within a minute.

So I jokingly said, "Oh, look so you're out by the pool and you want to run in and then take the call. You didn't want me to hear the splashing in the pool?" She's like, "No, no I wasn't!" I said, "I'm just joking. I don't care. You could be in the pool. Be in the pool!"

"I don't care." Anyway, so that's number one. Number two, if you could say you're the author of one book, that exists in the world today. What book would that be?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I think right now it would be Reinventing Organizations. You know, I brought it up. I ran into his work for the first time, it's been quite a while, six or seven or eight years ago, I guess I relate a little bit to him, he's a former smarty pants, McKinsey consultant, who was just not like, not overly disenchanted.

He was successful until he realized that, it was still killing him. So it's a business book grounded in integral theory that seeks to find companies that are exhibiting behaviors that are like living systems. And why that's exciting is that I think we need to be inspired increasingly by nature and living systems, even in the business world.

And so that book was just like a "Ah-ha!" So that's the book I'm taking authorship of, Reinventing Organizations.

Thane
Thane

That's a good one. That's...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Frederic Laloux.

Thane
Thane

Is he French by the way?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I think he's Belgian.

Thane
Thane

Okay.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

And he also - what I really respect about him is that he's offered up on his website 15 or 20 or 30 videos for free.

I think there is some paid stuff, but he's not trying to build - you know, he's trying to...

Thane
Thane

Yeah, he wants to change things. So he's put it out there.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

He wants to change things.

Thane
Thane

Yeah, for sure.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Really appreciate that.

Thane
Thane

That's interesting.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Humble guy lives in an eco village. So yeah, there's a lot of affinity with the path there.

Thane
Thane

Okay. Question number three, you can only drink one flavor of RISE kombucha the rest of your life. Which one is it?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Easy. Rose-Schizandra, our most obscure. Me too! Yeah. It's by far - it's the most complex. There's something about it. It's still to this day... I don't drink as much RISE as I used to because my company doesn't send it to me anymore, if you're listening... although I don't ask that hard, plus it's harder to get it at West. I mean, it's everywhere, but I can't go to the facility anymore.

Thane
Thane

Maybe if they put me on the board, I could help fix it.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Rose-Schizandra. It's awesome.

Thane
Thane

That's mine too. Is there actually rose in there?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Rose-petal tea, I think.

Thane
Thane

What is schizandra?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Schizandra is an adaptogenic berry, that's used a lot in Chinese medicine...

Thane
Thane

Wait, say that again? Adapted genetic berry?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

So there's a bit of a pseudo, I wouldn't say pseudoscience, but in the progressive food world, there are these foods that are considered adaptogens. So they lend themselves to multiple help. So it's like, it helps you, largely in stress relief, if I'm not mistaken. So the schizandra berry, in the traditional Chinese medicine is a fairly powerful and often used berry in the tincture. So it's, it's actually quite a bitter berry, but that has some pretty powerful anti-stress related properties.

Thane
Thane

So would you drink it for that or cause you just like the taste?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I love the taste and it makes me feel good. That's always been the order.

Thane
Thane

Yeah. That's my go-to. My business  partner, Pascal, his go-to is ginger.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Well, I mean, ginger is a bit of a no brainer. I love it. It would probably be number two. It's kind of like my go anywhere. I also love the name, Rose-Schizandra. I feel like if I had a daughter, that might be her name.

Thane
Thane

No I'm going with adapter-berry. Is that what you call?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Adaptogen.

Thane
Thane

Adaptogen, adaptogen. I'm gonna write it down, cause I'm going to...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Go into a whole - healthy food store and say, "Can you show me your adaptogens section?"

Thane
Thane

And they'll be like, Oh, okay. You can come to the back room. Okay. Number four, you're stuck on an Island. You can only bring one food with you. What's your mojo food for the rest of your life?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

It's a tough question for like a foodie. I mean, especially like a future foodie. It  might be...I had two flashes. Avocados or cashews. But I'm thinking way too practically, like, which could I sustain myself on for a long time...

Thane
Thane

Yeah, don't get too intellectual.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

No, but no, but they're both like, I mean, honestly, like I'm largely plant-based. So like my steak, these days, is beautiful avocados. And there's something  that's about cashews that I've always loved. I could eat cashews till the cows come home.

Thane
Thane

Okay, the last question of our rabbit hole five. So you meet up with the 16 year old Julian, you. What's the advice you're giving you?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Oh, God. Easy. I mean, try to start figuring out what really matters to you. I was very motivated by what others thought I was meant to be doing. And so I think I was quite late to develop a sense of self-knowledge.

And I know that that's... To a 16 year old, I wouldn't phrase it quite that way, but I would be, definitely encourage young Julian to be not afraid to honor the things that felt a bit different about what was interesting to me. And I think that I, it took me a long time to get a step out of that, like, "How do I need to be classically successful?" 

And I think there's something to be said, and then I'm increasingly - I don't have any kids of my own, but my amazing girlfriend has two boys, three and five. And I think that somehow finding a way to tap into our individual kind of gifts earlier is important.

I mean, you're a father. You know, we - I think we, this is simultaneously like you, you want them to be happy and successful, so you sort of push someone away, but it's like really honoring the uniqueness and what it is that they're all about. Cause I feel like that was starved in me, not - it was my own choice. No one beat me over the head. I was just so motivated by all those great schools to be like...

Thane
Thane

So let's go, can we go down this rabbit hole for a second? Because actually the one question we ask in every one of our podcasts is this one question. It's the only one that's a repeat for sure. Sometimes we do repeat things, but this one has always been there, it's our last question. My eldest son is 16. And so I'm essentially stealing this for helping me giving sound advice. What you just shared is actually pretty much a common theme. The question I've never asked is how does a 16 year old get a sense of that self-awareness?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah.

Thane
Thane

Cause it's a weird age, you know, because there's so many pressures...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Sixteen might be... I wouldn't say it's too early, you know, I guess it's like, we all saw the Dead Poets Society, where you have the teacher or the influencer, who's not your parents, who encourages you to just hold on to crazy ideas.

So I don't know, I guess maybe more relevant to be thinking about that in your early twenties. I think at 16, 17 years, you're grappling with so much of like, what's it like to be a teenager? And... It's a great question. How do you do it? Because asking a couple of questions, won't do it. You're so driven by the pressure of peers and what's happening at home.

Maybe one of the ways, and it's one of the things that I I believe is to try to get out on some kind of - again, I wouldn't call it a vision quest because at that age you have no idea what that means, but to get out of those... to go and do a month long trip of some kind to get out of the zones where you're buffeted by and driven by, you know, like not the soccer camp that your dad wanted you to go to. Like, that may be it, but, you know, so whether it's a workaway thing or, I had this place in Fredericksburg out in the townships. And I was like, I want to run a summer school where you're not telling them "That's what it's all about." Like you don't, there's no theory. Cause it's not that. 

It's more just like letting them come out of all of the programming that comes from day to day life, which is normal. You need schools, you need - all this guidance comes from caregivers and comes in a good way, but to take them out of that and let them explore that a little bit more, with activities and projects. And develop that - it's sort of like, I would say that it's developing a confidence, that ideas that come up that might be different or that fly in the face of what mom, dad, and the school teachers say, are okay to entertain.

Some kids have that, right? You had those kids in your class that were like, "F you I'm going to be a rockstar.

Thane
Thane

Oh, there's very few. I'd say like there's...

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah. And a lot of the time that's misguided, but it's as those ideas come up is to listen and honor them and to not just throw them out and try to step in line and do, not something everyone else is doing.

Like we weren't told to be all the same, but being guided by these really general, like "Here's what you should do, what you couldn't do." And I think that would have been fun for me to have some way to build more of that in my sort of late teens, early twenties...

Thane
Thane

My wife shared with me the other day, a great interview with this super smart woman whose name I should remember, but is a sort of educational psychologist. And she said, "we as parents often treat our children like a bonsai tree. So we go around and clipping and pruning it and making it perfect. But really, we should be inspired by a wildflower garden."

So you do want to set the soil, you want to make sure that there's the space to grow, but just let it take shape a little on its own.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, we're stewards. I mean, you said it, those are the words, you know, what you learn about living systems is we create the conditions for growth. You don't look at the plant and pull it out of the ground.

So we create the conditions, we're aware, and then you just let nature take itself and you can guide and work a little bit on it, but you don't... you know, too much of it is driven by our ideas of what things should be, and... but of course that requires our own self awareness. And if you don't have it as parent, then it's harder to even know what that means, right?

Thane
Thane

Well, dude, that was awesome. Great conversation. So appreciate your time. Thank you. Any final thoughts or we just leave it on that great garden moment?

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

I mean, I love the work you're doing here. I think trying to find ways of getting folks, especially in the business sphere to connect with their mojo and feel it is a huge part of what's missing. So continue crusading out there Thane. I really appreciate it.

Thane
Thane

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Thanks everyone.

Thane
Thane

And, stay safe.

Julian Giacomelli
Julian Giacomelli

Yeah, well talk to you soon.

Mojo Moments Takeaways

Thane
Thane

So that was awesome, the conversation with Julian Giacomelli. As usual, we do a little recap chat. I have Gisela with me today. Mark has snuck away on holidays. Gisela, great conversation, what are some of the sort of highlights for you?

Gisela Sleizer
Gisela Sleizer

We talked about success and what success means for different people.

I don't know if you remember, a hundred years ago, when we spoke to Helen, we also had this conversation...

Thane
Thane

Yes. I don't know what the trend is now.

Gisela
Gisela

Yes. I don't know what the trend is now.

Thane
Thane

Yeah. And when Helen Antoniou was talking about success, when we were talking about Michael Jordan and what is the definition of success.

Gisela
Gisela

Yeah. And Julian touched on that as well and how his notion of success shifted through his life.

Thane
Thane

And he talked about like, you know, being hot shot consultant in New York City jogging around and realizing "ça suffit, this is not what it is."

Gisela
Gisela

Yeah. And he mentioned later how the more successful people get, the more they isolate themselves and how that also strikes a chord with him and the ways in which we deal with our communities.

I found that super interesting. I don't know if you had any thoughts around that.

Thane
Thane

I wonder if it's a mental block. We didn't tuck into that, but it's like, you're stuck in a corner. Like you have to continue that. You've committed to one idea of some external success. And if you wait too long, like he said, if you stay there and beyond five, six years, like, it's too late. And he had this notion of, he had to do the reset and find out what really mattered to him, what are his values. Which is an interesting connection into when we talk about scaling businesses, it's almost like scaling your career or scaling a business. You know, he touched on what's the central thing? Values.

Gisela
Gisela

Totally. If your values are not there and strong and you believe in them, then how do you scale yourself or your business?

Thane
Thane

It's interesting, cause you know, we're living in this pandemic period and I remember hearing at a conference and a woman was talking about successful businesses or not. She said, values are the underpinning and the - she'd said at the time. It's really coming into play when things are not going well, because you're forced to like, "What do I really believe in?"

Gisela
Gisela

Well, it's a guiding light, right? We had this conversation a lot with clients, recently.

Thane
Thane

But Julian is actually talking about, they actually even matter when it's going really well and you're scaling. Because you scale in the right way or you lose sight and you end up down the wrong path.

Gisela
Gisela

Totally. I really liked that train of thought.

Thane
Thane

Any other major takeaways for you? I mean, there were many, but...

Gisela
Gisela

There were many, it was a very insightful conversation. We also discussed, riffing on this growth idea, and how do you kind of stay local and grow? Is that a possibility, what does growth mean? And I guess it's kind of related to this idea of success.

If success is driven by the notion of more, and bigger, then you just never quite reach it.

Thane
Thane

Yeah.

Gisela
Gisela

Whereas if success is more about your values perhaps...

Thane
Thane

It goes into, you know, the cap off question, which was the, you know, the advice you give your 16 year old self, which is try and discover what really means something to you. Frankly, that's a lifelong journey, I guess, but I mean... It's interesting, you know, when we talk about values and that self-awareness, for CloudRaker, around the six year mark, we hired an external brand guru to figure out what's our brand. Spent weeks and money on all this thing. And at the end, I was like, I don't know, but I literally banged out what I felt were our values or beliefs, which are our 11 beliefs.

Like I said after six years in business, here's the 11 things I do believe to be true, and that shouldn't change. So the, you know, our little beliefs book, the 11 beliefs book...

Gisela
Gisela

They're pretty awesome!

Thane
Thane

And it was based on living them. And I was like, just trying to act like, what are the things that really mattered? And I ended up, I think with 11, because 11 is my secret mojo number.

Gisela
Gisela

There we go. So that's a wrap for our conversation with Julian Giacomelli. Gisela, thank you for listening and participating.

Big thanks to Xavier, thanks to Mark, thanks to the rest of the team. And obviously a huge thanks to our friend, Chris Velan, who generously shares his music and tunes, as we wrap this up. 

Don't forget. Share the podcast. If you like this thing, give it five stars. If you don't, go have a coffee. Take care. Be safe.

Thane
Thane

There we go. So that's a wrap for our conversation with Julian Giacomelli. Gisela, thank you for listening and participating.

Big thanks to Xavier, thanks to Mark, thanks to the rest of the team. And obviously a huge thanks to our friend, Chris Velan, who generously shares his music and tunes, as we wrap this up. 

Don't forget. Share the podcast. If you like this thing, give it five stars. If you don't, go have a coffee. Take care. Be safe.

Next transcript

The Mojo Moments Summer Reading List

We ask each of our guests which books have meant a lot to their mojo. We’ve pulled them all together into the Mojo Reading List for Summer 2020.
Read transcript