GREEN CREATIVE. Silicon Valley Lighting manufacturer, adopted by some of the largest companies in the world. Walmart, Whole Foods, J. Crew and so on. $65 million revenue. Who would have thought that only 6 years earlier its Co-CEO Cole Zucker was a door-to-door salesman, sleeping in the backseat of his car and showering at gyms?
When LED technology started to take off, Cole Zucker and his French partner Guillaume Vidal saw an opening and bet on this rapidly evolving technology. And thanks to Cole and Guillaume’s great determination and never taking a no for an answer resolve, Green Creative has taken on established giants Philips or GE in the LED lighting space and is now joining Harbour Group’s portfolio of companies.
In addition to be a successful entrepreneur, social good is at the core of Zucker’s activity. For instance, he did pledge 1% of his shares to Epic and that is only the beginning. This guy is simply fantastic: no wonder I wanted him to share with us the secrets of his tremendous success!
Cole, Windows or Mac?
Call or text?
Outspoken advocate or tactful supporter?
Proactive or reactive?
Do it yourself or pay someone to do it?
Do it yourself.
“If someone says no and there is no way to get them to change their mind, figure out what there is to learn from the experience and then move on. You can always go back.”
Cole, you were a door-to-door salesman selling products out of a suitcase, living in your car and showering at gyms before Green Creative took off. What kept you motivated during this time? Looking back, what are some of the lessons learned that you took with you?
That was a very interesting time in my life. I was confident that Green Creative was going to be a success and I was willing to struggle in order to provide as much runway as possible to give the company its best chance to take off. Additionally, I knew my business partner was struggling as well to make the business a success and we didn't want to do anything to let each other down. One of the things I learned early on is that you should never fear or get disheartened by rejection. If someone says no and there is no way to get them to change their mind, figure out what there is to learn from the experience and then move on. You can always go back.
Green Creative grew from $300,000 to $39.9 million in just five years. Your client list includes North Face and Wal-Mart. What was missing in the lighting industry before you came on board? What do you think is the greatest factor behind your success?
LED was a new and disruptive technology and we entered the market just as the technology was reaching a point of relevancy. A lot of the larger brands were struggling to transition from legacy lighting technologies. We positioned ourselves as a pure LED manufacturer capable of being a great alternative without having to compromise quality. We also were very thoughtful with our product line, expanding into areas we believed would create the most value for our customers. Additionally, we were able to hire amazing talents who have been able to assist in building out infrastructure that enabled us to support our rapid growth.
Traditional startups grow with the help of large investor dollars. This wasn’t the case for you and your Co-Founder, Guillaume Vidal, who took the old-school approach of growing a company through sales. How did you develop a business with little to no seed funding?
We stretched our dollars as much as we could. In the beginning, we were doing every role, I was even shipping out our orders on weekends. This bootstrapped approach created a culture of being as resourceful as possible, as we were always constrained by capital. We only invested in the areas that created the most value for the organization. However, we were able to obtain a large bank loan that allowed us to bring in adequate inventory to support our growth. We started as the banks smallest client but in a few years, grew to become the banks largest.
“Spending 4 years working in China was in some ways an experience accelerator as I was given opportunities I would never have had if I was living in the US during this time.”
You relocated to Shanghai, China in 2007 after graduating college. This is eventually where your business idea was conceived, but what was the motive behind your move in the first place? How was your experience in China, versus the United States, conclusive to founding Green Creative?
My grandfather told me in 1999 that when China would enter the WTO (in 2001), the world would change forever. This got me thinking that it would be beneficial for my future if I spent time and effort to learn the language and eventually gain business experience living out there. Spending 4 years working in China was in some ways an experience accelerator as I was given opportunities I would never have had if I was living in the US during this time.
I hear you really enjoy traveling. What are some of the best places you’ve visited and what makes them special to you?
Traveling is a passion of mine. I love visiting countries and spending time cycling through scenic areas. I recently cycled through parts of New Zealand and the Italian Alps. Both places are breathtaking.
Who is your business idol?
What is your favorite quote?
“If you don't ask the answer is always no”.
Where is one place you still haven’t been that you want to go?
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Why do you do what you do and what makes it meaningful?
To challenge myself and build an organization shoulder to shoulder with our incredible team. It is meaningful to see a group of individuals come together to make a strong and successful team.