How I Built This: Whole Foods with John Mackey

John Mackey | Whole Foods | How I Built This

  • How John found his path in life: I lived in a vegetarian co-op. I was interested in the counter culture. I started working for a small natural food store called The Good Food Company. I loved everything about natural, organic foods. I thought this is something I could really be passionate about.

  • John was a disappointment to his Mom: On her death bed she asked me to go back to school and make something of myself. I was a hippy grocer. Go do something with your life that makes a difference. I told her I am doing something that makes a difference. She said you’re just a grocer. I said mom grocers are great!

  • An idea grew in John’s mind: I loved working at the health food store. This is what I want to do with my life. I want to open my own store.

  • How John raised money for his first store: We raised 45k from friends and family. An entrepreneur is like a panhandler except that they are selling dreams to people. 🤔 The store was called Safer Way.

  • Were you scared to fail? Not at all. At 24 you don’t have much to lose. The worst case scenario is I’d disappoint a lot of people and do something else in life.

  • Starting a business is fun: For me it was a grand adventure. You’re engaged and passionate. The whole dream swept us along. We didn’t know what we were doing but we learned quickly and got better.

  • John decided to merge instead of compete: A competitor opened up after Safer Way. Clarksville Natural Grocery was a good store run by good guys. John pitched them on working together on opening a natural foods supermarket [the precursor to today’s Whole Foods)]. They agreed on one condition: We have to sell more than just vegetarian food. This turned out to be a great idea.

  • How long did it take for the first Whole Foods to be successful? It took till about 3pm the first day. It was an immediate success. 😳

  • The community kept the first Whole Food alive: Six months after opening, Whole Foods is destroyed by a “100 year flood”. They had no flood insurance. Customers volunteered to clean up. They held a benefit to raise money for the store. A bank loaned them money on a signature alone. Investors kicked in more cash. Whole Foods reopened 30 days later.

  • His unique reaction to expanding too early and cannibalizing his own sales: I really wanted to grow the business. I always approached challenges as a great lesson. I told myself I can learn something here. I learned a lot from the early trials of Whole Foods.

  • People have been saying the same thing for 40 years: Whole Foods is just hippies selling food to other hippies. I don’t think the market is very big. The big companies will take your market. You can’t compete with these big conventional supermarkets. 🤦‍♂️

  • John didn’t trust venture capitalists: Venture capitalists are like hitchhikers with credit cards. As long as you take them to where they want to go they will help pay for the gas. But if you don’t take them where they want to go they will try to hijack the car. 😳 They will hire a new driver and throw you out on the side of the road. I thought we are going to go public and then get the hitchhikers out of the car.

  • Building a business is like having children: You watch the children grow up. You hope your child is healthy. You hope your child is happy. You hope your child has integrity and does the right thing. There will be no one that loves Whole Foods as much as I love it.