We didn’t realize we were about to meet an innovative Kiwi entrepreneur, but that’s exactly what happened after we stopped by a New Zealand i-SITE center in Motueka. We were nearing the end of our New Zealand roadtrip around the South Island and inquired about reasonably priced (a.k.a. “free”) activities available to us in the town of Nelson. One suggestion was to tour the Pic’s Peanut Butter factory. Free and peanut butter sounded like a perfect match to a couple of hungry global nomads, so we hopped back in our campervan and set out to make another discovery.
In the New Zealand drizzle, we set our course for Nelson and looked for the simple bright red star logo of Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter. We were met by a smiling face, Monica, who just squeezed us in for a factory tour the following day. Upon sharing that we were two former NASA engineers on a journey around the world, her eyes grew wide and she quickly asked if we’d like to meet Pic himself. Fifteen minutes later, we were sipping coffee with Pic Picot, his trusty black lab Fido curled up at our feet, and learning about his success as an innovative entrepreneur.
Curiosity is a Cornerstone
Pic’s journey didn’t start with peanut butter. “I get bored easily,” Pic said when we asked about how he came into the peanut butter industry. His journey has included being a restaurateur, establishing a sailing school, and even running a laundromat. Some endeavors were more successful than others, but all of them were fed by curiosity. Curiosity that was also fed with a fair amount of global travel too.
After closing down the laundromat, Pic was looking for something else to earn a few more dollars prior to retiring…and that’s when one key event set him on the voyage to create New Zealand’s best selling peanut butter. Pic recalled being intrigued by the “health style” peanut butter an American yachting friend of his had. Isn’t peanut butter supposed to be healthy? Why would peanut butter have to be specially marked as “health style”? This is when Pic’s curiosity led him to realize that most peanut butter had additional ingredients, mainly sugar. “My mother didn’t make peanut butter with sugar,” Pic recalled, and he was concerned that the store shelves in New Zealand would soon be filled with peanut butters that contained sugar and other ingredients.
Sure enough, Pic soon witnessed the sugary version making it onto store shelves and was determined to put a stop to it. He learned a lot about peanuts – like that the high oleic peanuts from Australia wouldn’t require any additional preservatives to keep from going rancid. He also learned that many New Zealand peanut butter manufacturers had moved their operations overseas, which likely contributed to their making less than healthy peanut butter. This is when Pic began to experiment.
Experimenting is Critical to Being Innovative
Things started small. Pic began roasting peanuts in his home oven, grinding them up in a Vitamix mixer, adding salt (when desired) and then selling hand-labelled jars at the local Nelson farmers market. He wasn’t trying to launch a large business, but rather just make a few hundred dollars a week to cover his costs and make a little change on the side. Pic kept selling out. People wanted the “really good” peanut butter and Pic knew he had it. To keep up with demand, Pic needed to innovate his process. A burned-out Vitamix and overtime on the home oven wasn’t cutting it, but he wasn’t quite ready to invest in large machinery. The compromise? Modifying a cement mixer and propane burner to create a much larger peanut roaster.
In true start-up fashion, production moved to the garage. Pic shared how it took some experimentation and tinkering to get things right, but it was his curiosity and dedication that kept him going. His drive to make a product that was healthy and tasted really good triumphed over the challenges he faced. Eventually some of his jars of really good peanut butter landed in a local supermarket and that’s when things took off.
Enthusiasm Makes a Product Contagious
Having a good product is very important, but so is how you sell it. “You need to be enthusiastic about what you have to offer,” Pic told us. He believes his enthusiasm for the product he offers is one of the many keys to his recent success. Success that has landed Pic’s Peanut Butter as recognized by Deloitte as one of the 50 fastest growing businesses, with growth of over 200% in 2014! How does Pic show enthusiasm for his product? He makes sure to have fun. In 2012 and 2013, he painted up a silver trailer like a giant toaster and completed a New Zealand road trip, sharing his delicious product on pieces of toast along the way.
And then there’s the hidden poems under each label or even the humorous notes on the bottom of his shipping boxes. Pic believes when things are fun, people want to be a part of what you have. He credits his father as teaching him the valuable lesson of how a bubbly personality helps to make your product contagious and more importantly, valued.
Keys to Being an Innovative Entrepreneur
Since the days of roasting peanuts in his home oven, Pic has watched his business grow – one that has moved beyond New Zealand to Australia and is even trickling in to the United States. With such success, we asked Pic what he saw as the keys to being a successful, innovative entrepreneur.
“Just give yourself time to think,” Pic told us, “once you think of a good idea, then let it sit and gradually pull it back out to add layers of brilliance.” Pic continued to share how taking time to let ideas percolate and grow provides the opportunity for an average idea to become extraordinary. Perhaps his taking a few years off to sail around the Pacific Ocean seeded some of Pic’s entrepreneurial ideas – like the sailing school he established. And once you have that extraordinary idea? That’s when Pic says you need to execute it better than anyone else. “Do it better and do it differently.” That’s exactly what Pic did by learning all he could about peanuts and how he could produce really good peanut butter. He continued to set apart his brand with a simple but fun and quirky marketing, all the while keenly demonstrating that his product was different from the shelves full of sugary and well-preserved spreads. In continuing to make his product line different, he now sells pure cashew and almond butters along with new Peanut Butter Slugs; deliciously packaged ‘shots’ of pure peanut butter.
In our final moments at the café with Pic, he shared with us the importance of building a team you can rely on. Amidst the success of his burgeoning peanut butter industry, Pic faced an unrelated challenge – his failing eyesight. Macular degeneration was taking a toll and soon led to Pic acquiring the furry apprentice, Fido, quietly resting under our table. Helping guide Pic around Nelson, Fido makes a cameo appearance on each jar of peanut butter. Although a physical challenge, Pic’s failing eyesight enabled him to realize the importance of surrounding himself with other talented and passionate individuals. Pic believes too many entrepreneurs fail in trying to do too much, and that in relying on others, more can be accomplished while the entrepreneur can focus on the underlying vision. Sage advice for burgeoning start-ups and motivated entrepreneurs.
So what’s next for someone who gets ‘bored easily’? Well, Pic would love to see his new Peanut Butter Slugs in space (any former colleagues interested in helping out?). He sees it as a small way he could be part of humankind’s Journey to Mars. But being a man of many interests, he also hopes to see if he can make a dent in reinventing the baby stroller. As he continues to see his peanut butter business expand and dapples in new endeavors, we trust Pic will always show his curiosity, desire to experiment, and enthusiasm on his journey to innovate.
-James & Jayleen
P.S. After making our way through a few jars of Really Good Peanut Butter, we hope to see it on our local shelves. In the meantime, we’ll have to place our orders via Amazon to get our fix. Ask for Pic’s products in your local store or get your order in to try some out.