BGBS 066: Gregg Bagni | Alien Truth Communications | Only the Clever Survive
Gregg Bagni is the founder of Alien Truth Communications. He works behind the scenes with organizations in the outdoor, bike and natural food worlds where he offers up energy, direction and expert business strategy around branding, marketing & product development.
He is also a partner with White Road Investments and claims to be the luckiest being on this planet.
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- Define your goals and keep them somewhere you can see so when you’re discouraged, you can always remind yourself where you are headed. It will give you the motivation to make it happen
- Greg’s experience turning a dead brand around in the public’s minds and helping it succeed
- It does take incredible intensity and tenacity to get from $0-10 million, but always remember, only the clever survive
LinkedIn: Gregg Bagni
[21:33] I have always been a product developer, first and foremost. I don’t know jack about brand, or marketing, or sales or investment, and I’ve got experience in all those areas but at the end of the day, I’m a product geek. I love building stuff and building it from the ground up.
[49:24] I’m hoping to get another 20 years on this planet, but I’m planning for 20 seconds.
[55:16] Saying no is probably one of the most important pieces of doing business.
[56:13] I’ve always over-delivered. I’ve never been afraid to go the extra mile. It’s just the little sh*t sometimes.
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Greg Bagni 0:02
In that guy’s little sort of work area, he had one of our ads cut out of the magazine taped up on the side of the wall. And I’m not kidding you, I went in the bathroom and I kind of wept for a second. And I walked back out, I said, Hey, dude, what’s up with the ad in your cube? There he goes, Hey, and then the headline was no calves nor glory. That was the headline. He goes, What do you mean? no gas, no glory. And I wept again. I thought this could work. We might get over on this one. It was such an exciting time to to be able to take a dead brand and turn around both financially and perceptually. You know, in people’s minds, it was just, I had to tell you, it’s hard to put it into words how exciting it was.
Marc Gutman 1:00
podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and today’s episode of Baby got backstory. We’re talking to a real life alien. Well, sort of, for all you Earthlings that only understand Earthling type labels. We’re not an alien. We’re talking to a career brand builder than mission driven investor. And before we get into the alien episode of this show, I am asking all you Earthlings to rate review this other worldly podcast on Apple podcasts or Spotify, Apple and Spotify use these ratings, this part of the algorithm that determines ratings on their charts. And when life from other planets does come to earth, and learns about podcasts. Don’t you want it to be the baby got backstory podcast that is representative of all our human accomplishments. I thought so. Thanks for the review. Today’s guest is Greg bagni. Greg is you’ll hear has been on this planet for most of his life, and currently is the founder of the brand consultancy alien truth communications, as well as a partner at the esteemed mission driven investment firm, white road investments. Greg works behind the scenes with organizations in the outdoor bike and natural food worlds, where he offers up energy direction and expert business strategy around branding, marketing and product development. As you’ll hear in today’s episode, Greg claims to be the luckiest being on this planet. And I believe him. Greg’s experience is vast. from helping to turn around the then bankrupt iconic brand Schwinn to advising mission driven businesses and entrepreneurs. Greg doles out the golden nuggets and my notepad is full of stars and scribbles. And I think yours will be too. Here’s Greg bagni. In this is his story. All right. I am here with Greg bagni, the founder of alien truth, communications and partner at White road investments.
Greg, welcome to the show.
Greg Bagni 3:40
Ack ack Nice to be here. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here today. Ack Ack that’s
Marc Gutman 3:47
such a great lead in because why don’t you tell us a little bit about kind of what Ack Ack means to you and why you open up that way?
Greg Bagni 3:56
Well, you know, actually, the greatest movie ever made on this planet? Is Mars attack. I mean, that’s it. I mean, I’m not saying there aren’t other good movies but that is the greatest movie that’s ever been produced. And if you watch the movie, all the aliens in that movie sort of say Ack Ack I got that good. It’s that’s how they communicate. So I brought it up as a just kind of a greeting and actually have colleagues and friends that we will talk back and forth on the phone for several minutes just using that one word and it’s actually kind of interesting.
Marc Gutman 4:35
Well, I like that social experiment and and why I ask as well is that you are a how do you how do you say it? I want to say it right? You’re a self described alien or you are an alien. How do you phrase it? Oh, you know,
Greg Bagni 4:52
I’m trapped here on planet earth and my only escape is mind adjustment. Yeah. You know what, I will We’ll say this, you know, I’ve always struggled to fit in here, I had to try extra hard to sort of get in the groove here. I’ve always been a bit of a dork and a geek. So with that said, I never really felt like I was from here. So, you know, when I went out on my own 21 years, four months, in one day ago, I sort of said, Well, you know, let’s call a business alien truth communications, LLC. You know, I mean, I’m sort of into what we call for authenticity, fa UX, where, you know, there are times when you’ll talk to me where I am dead serious about not being from here. And there are other times where you know, that I’m absolutely foolish it. So it’s, it’s kind of by design that way. And I’ve always tried to solve problems a little differently. And things do look differently when you’re standing on the earth, or whether you’re orbiting, it’s a completely different viewpoint. And I think that’s kind of the alien truth is to sort of look at problems from a different viewpoint, and solve them differently. So you really can be distinct and strategic about it. Right?
Marc Gutman 6:07
Absolutely. I love that. I love that. That perspective that’s rooted in your, in the name of alien truth. And let’s talk a little bit about what you said about this idea of never really feeling like you fit in here feeling like that, you know, you’re been a bit of an outsider. And is that something that has always been with you from as long as you can remember? I mean, was little Greg having trouble to fit in?
Greg Bagni 6:31
Dude, I need to lay down on your couch now, don’t I? Is that what’s going down here? Well, perhaps perhaps, I’ll be vulnerable doc. I’m okay. You know, I’m physically I’m different. You know, it’s funny, I’m, I’m old now. So it’s been I’ve always been a ginger. So I was the redheaded, freckled, short, little chubby black glasses geeky, you know, one in the neighborhood. So that was the first step of really not fitting in, I don’t know what the percentages of redheads versus others, but it’s a small percentage, and that automatically set me apart. And I and so because of that I I think that was part of it, you know, just not fitting in. So because of that, because you didn’t have that visual. Now, dude, you’re a good looking humanoid, you know, you got that look about you, I can see you here on zoom. And you’re, you’re there. I always had to sort of rely on humor and being clever to survive. And then finally, when I was about a senior in high school, I actually started to grow. And I went from like, I grew like six inches, and in a year, year and a half, something like that. So that helped a little bit. But I’ve always been, I’ve always been a little bit off that way. Without a doubt.
Marc Gutman 7:56
Oh, thank you for your kind words about my appearance. It must be my my zoom filter. I appreciate that very much that is it in my head a little bit. But in so where did you get your start? Where did you grow up?
Greg Bagni 8:09
You know, when I basically grew up in the Chicago Chicago suburbs, born on East Coast, but got dragged here when I was relatively young, and grew up in Chicago suburbs and learned to cut my teeth here. You know, I was, since I’m on your couch, you know, I was supposed to be my parents told me I was supposed to either be a dentist or an insurance agent. That was the plan. Excited? Yeah. And I was kind of, I was not on that program. And you know what, when I, when I was in college, I read I got into college radio, and was a DJ and ran the radio station for a year we had staff, volunteer staff of 70 people, you know, I mean, it was a really great experience for me. But I’ve always been a music lover I I still play my cello and and I’m a bad drummer and a terrible guitar player. But I was always into music. And then when I got out of college, I just couldn’t get close enough to it. I worked in a couple of small commercial stations in the suburbs that sucked. Wk DC the sound of D page. Okay, I don’t know. I don’t see anything else more than that. And, you know, when I got into the music business in a really roundabout way, I just had some friends that were in bands and I started I started as a roadie and started pushing cases around road cases and setting breaking shit down. And then I built a commercial stage lighting system from the ground up. And at the time, as it was a bicycle shortage and outdoor gear shortage. Now there was a lighting instrument shortage at that time and this was this is way back. This is like in the Oh probably 1979 or 80 shows you how old I am. And I ended up selling my system to somebody who wanted all my gear. I was ready At the time to, usually to rock, commercial and fashion is what I was doing and making a living, it was actually pretty cool. I was in my 20s. And so I sold all my stuff I did the smartest financial move I ever made. And I put a down payment on a house with that money. And then one of the bands that I was working with, I went to work for them.
And I became their tour manager on a scale of one to 10. If one’s a GarageBand, and 10 is a national act, we were about a seven and a half. So between maybe, I don’t know, I don’t know, between like 81 and 84. I was in it for about seven years. But that last three years, we opened or did double bills for everybody. We had a couple of hit singles and some records out. And it was a really great learning experience. And I had a crew 13 and trucks and motorhomes and hotels and shit and all the rest of that stuff. So I learned all about management by crisis
Marc Gutman 10:55
was the name of that
Greg Bagni 10:56
bad and professional babysitting. So it was really a great sort of that was really kind of my first job. But then, in the meantime, I did all these other crazy stuff. I became a I was a carpenter, I you know, I worked retail, I promoted events. You know, I did all sorts of crazy shit on the side. And then when I was I was a late bloomer. When I was 37, I got my first real job. And that’s when I went to work for Schwinn, I was lucky, I was an independent sales rep at the time, driving around about a nine state Midwest region, selling bikes and bike parts, shitty ones, actually, to retailers. And I was standing in the right place at the right time. And I got that gig at Schwinn. And then we picked them up and moved them from Chicago to Boulder. They were bankrupt. And it took us four years. And we brought him back to number one in the US and units. And then we were owned by typical private equity. And they got ready to flip this for the third time in seven years. And I said, You know what, I think I know enough now that I can do this on my own. I don’t want 2000 employees anymore. So alien truth is a one person shop by design with, you know, 2030 years of subcontractor experience around me, you know, people I’ve known that long. And I just started working for brands, mainly helping them figure out who they are and what to sell and who to sell it to. And can I drop an F bomb?
Marc Gutman 12:21
Of course, friendly. So,
Greg Bagni 12:23
So was this it was like, Who are you? What were you sell who you sell it to? And what the fuck Will you say no to? And that was it. That was kind of the start of it. And I started, I started getting people hiring me. And it was amazing. I mean, great brands. But you know, I had a target. I usually worked with companies somewhere between 10 and 20 million in revenue up to about maybe 250 300 million, because after that was really tough for them to sell me. And yeah, we get this guy is one person shop, he says he’s an alien, and we really want to work with them, the board would be like, get the fuck out of here.
Marc Gutman 13:03
Market Fit, right?
Greg Bagni 13:04
There’s my story in like two to three minutes. And so I went out on my own. And I’ve been doing that ever since. And then about 10 years ago, I started working 1011 years ago, I started working part time for white road investments. And we’re a mission driven investment fund. And we’re kind of a family office, we Gary Erickson and Kate Crawford, the founders of Clif Bar, they’ve done very well. And they always wanted to give back to small companies. And that’s what we do. So I’m, I can’t tell you how lucky I am. First of all, to not be a dentist or an insurance agent, and second to have landed here in this spot that I’m standing on right now. Dude, it’s incredible. And I’m not kidding you. I really mean that when I say it.
Marc Gutman 13:52
I believe. Let’s back up a little bit. What was the name of the band that you were the tour manager for?
Greg Bagni 13:58
They were called the kind? Ghandi. Yeah, and and I know that’s playing for good weed. But at the time, it was more slang for not fitting in, it was more about the band would walk into somewhere like a restaurant or whatever, and then say we don’t serve your kind here. And, and so I fit right in with that group, you know, and it was really, it was really a fascinating way to hit singles. And we’re based out of Chicago, and it was an incredible experience. And I played from the shittiest clubs, you know, where they’ve, you know, it’s a couple 300 people to 20,000 seat halls. So it was all sorts of just a really good well rounded experience of I learned so much about production. I learned so much about people. I learned a lot about scheduling. And you know, the show when they tell you when you’re opening for another band and there’s 20,000 people in a room and then You start exactly at 805. It takes a lot of management skill and execution of skill to get everybody together there at 805 claim. So I learned a shitload about that. And it was a fascinating education. And I had a lot of fun too at the same time.
Marc Gutman 15:16
Yeah. And what is what’s hard about running a band like that? You know, from from the outside, it seems like it’s all fun. And it’s, it’s a bit like a mash up of like, almost famous or something like that, you know, like, we’re all hanging out and just being with the band. But what’s hard about it?
Greg Bagni 15:32
The character, the personalities, there, you know, did you get banned level personalities Did you get to put together, and then there’s this crew level personality, too, you got to go out and be out on the road, y’all got to get along. You know, you know, as a matter of fact, on a side note, I live by three rules. One of them I learned in the music business, and that rule, and I still use it today, my colleagues, we refer to it all the time. It’s called one asshole comment per day. So I believe that everyone is allowed one asshole comment per day, when you’re out on the road, and you got to live with these guys. And you got to get along because guess what you’re on that night at 805. You know, and you have to get along. The asshole comet roll comes in. So the way it works is pretty simple. You say something to me, we’re in a, we’re in a vehicle driving from point A to point v b for hours. And you say something to me. And like, it is not nice. And I look at you and I go, Hey, man, that is your one answer or comment per day, you know, I’m going to give you a flyer on that one, I’m going to give you a pass at the same time, when you get to know the rule, you can actually use it in reverse. I’m about to say something to you that I know might piss you off. So I’m gonna say excuse me, but can I make my one asshole comment for the day? And then they say yes. And then it’s a really, it kind of breaks a wall down. And when I say hey, you know, about 10 minutes ago, you did this or you said something or you know, this went down. And then you can kind of talk about it. So, to this day, I learned about the one household comment per day. The problem is most people say is resent mean, I can make an SEO comment per day per person. And when and then I go, Hey, when you’re starting to ask questions like that you’re abusing the rule, right? You’re only making one per day in general to all humanoids as a as a group, right?
Marc Gutman 17:29
Yeah, let’s let’s lay that, that framework down one per day, don’t go crazy with the one asil comment rule. But I love that that’s so great. And when you’re going through that experience, I mean, it’s quite a, it’s quite a jump from being in the music business and being on the road and doing those sorts of things to the bike business. Like what, what was that gap? And what was going on at that time? Can you set the stage for us? Like, where was Schwinn? What did it look like? Like I was,
Greg Bagni 18:01
I made the mistake of making my hobby, my business. I’ve always loved bicycles from a little kid. It was to me as close as you could get to flying while still being on the planet. So I was always a bike freak. I love bicycles. And then you know what I said, you know, I’m going to I’m going to try and get a job in a bank business and no one would hire me. I finally convinced a Japanese company whose product was overpriced, the wrong color, the wrong SPECT and weighed too much, you know, I convinced them to hire me and I became a sales rep and then eventually started doing the marketing forum. And I was there for about three, three and a half years. But it was really a setup. It was like playing pool, I was setting up an X shot Schwinn was in Chicago, this company was in the suburbs. And I started positioning myself and really learned that the retailer base in the Midwest. And that’s kind of how and why I ended up in the bike business. But I thought, you know, this is perfect. It’s something I really love. And I think I can kind of take that love that what we call the intensity of complete attention as a monomaniac around it. I mean, I purposely put myself out of balance for that seven years, 49 dog years, that was that chillin.
And I knew what I knew that I needed to do that, but all that road time that I spent, and all the time I spent with unique personalities. And it really, it really paid off for me, you know, I mean, hey, I’m not proud of this, but I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, you know, I mean, I haven’t flown since March 2 of last year. And I think that that year before I did, like, I don’t know 60 to one ways, you know what I mean? I know people that are traveling more, but at the same time, so a lot of travel and you know, music business kind of warmed me up for that. So I was ready to go out on the road and do what I needed to do. So getting a Schwinn was Kind of a, you know what, I am a little bit of a weirdo I had this thing in my head, I’ve always been pretty goal oriented is goofy as that sounds or is stayed is that is I said, you know what I’m going to go to work for a US based company, they’re going to either be number one, number two, or number three in the marketplace. And I’m either going to run or be an integral part of their marketing department. And I had that written down on a little piece of paper and I looked at that mofo every single day. After I went on a sales call the company I work for what’s called Miyata is a Japanese company, I would go on and call on a retailer, and I would just get my ass kicked. I mean, it was a great exercise and understanding and dealing with rejection. So every time I get my ass kicked, I pull that little piece of paper on my pocket and look at and I’m gonna, I’m, this is where I’m added. And then I got lucky again, and started meeting some people that were connected inside the Schwinn building. And I knew enough to be dangerous to say the right things to sort of say, hey, the reason you guys are going bankrupt? I’ll give you a couple of thoughts around that, you know. So I started there, and it worked out. But back up
Marc Gutman 21:14
a little bit like you’re getting your tail handed to you, at this Japanese company, like what makes you think that you can go into some other company, and and fix it and be the hero, if you’re, you know, working for this competitor? That’s not very strong.
Greg Bagni 21:30
You asked good questions. By the way, you know what, I have always been a product developer. First and foremost, I don’t know jack about brand, or marketing, or sales or investment. And I’ve got experience in all those areas. But at the end of the day, I’m a Product geek. I love building stuff and building it from the ground up. So I really understood the product side of things. And I understood how much potential there was, you know, this was 1993, when I went to work for twin, and the mountain bike boom was on fire. It was starting, it was rolling. And it was just like Schwinn had gotten behind on that they were to lock down and sell it and varsities and collegiates and all the other junk they were selling. And I just saw this huge opportunity to have this brand with unbelievable awareness. You know, and not in the bike industry in the sporting goods industry. They had like, top 5%, but their association sucked. You knew about them. But when you heard the name, you went, Oh, those guys. They suck. So I thought, Well, you know what? I understand rejection. So well, I bet you we can go in there. And we can start changing the product and start changing the perception of the brand and turn this baby around. And we got lucky and it worked
Marc Gutman 22:49
out. And so how did you do that? Like, what was the insight you had about Schwinn? I mean, you mentioned a little bit that they had great awareness. But everyone thought there wasn’t a cool brand. Like, it’s one thing to see that like Then how did you go about actually turning that ship?
Greg Bagni 23:05
Well, to get two years of bad press around bankruptcy, and I’m not kidding, it was two straight years of just bad press, always talking about the bankruptcy. And so we came up with this three step deal. The first one was you know what Schwinn gets it. So we started running, advertising and content, and creative all around the fact that we were different. And we kind of get it and we weren’t afraid to admit what happened. We had an ad, we had a headline that said, we’ve see when you we’ve had one line and said that when you were bleeding like we were there’s only one tourniquet, clean, wicked new product. We fell we got up and up apology was another one. So you know, I mean, from that standpoint, once they saw that we understood what it was like to be a hardcore cyclist and understand the market. And we hired when went to Boulder. We started with 75 people in that office. And when I left there was like 375. And everybody, you know, the customer service reps, when we got there were all people that didn’t ride. They weren’t fit, they smoke cigarettes, you know, and that was the customer service person to the retailer, the trade person, and we ended up bringing a bunch of bike geeks in so that first step was we get it and then it took us two years for the product development group to catch up. The second step was Schwinn builds it so all of a sudden we started coming out with product that was the right color that was the right spec that was lightweight that performed really well. You know, they told us that we would never sell a bike over $1,000 and I was just like that belt that thing came at the perfect time. Did it just perfect.
Marc Gutman 24:57
Yeah, it’s like a like a sideboard.
Greg Bagni 24:59
Whoa. Can I turn that better? But you know, we said no, we will sell bikes over $1,000. And we did. And so then Schwinn gets it. Schwinn builds it. Step two. And finally, the third step was Schwinn is it? Meaning? Can we get to a point where people say, Hey, you know what, I’m gonna buy a new mountain bike. And I’m looking at this specialized. And I’m looking at a Yeti. And I’m looking at that Schwinn homegrown. And so you became part of that considered set. And it took us about five or six years, but we got there. And every single high end bike that we made, and we made limited runs, we sold out, we were backordered, our biggest problem was being on time for delivery. And I would always get pissed off at the product department. And technically, my title there was, what was it Senior Vice President of Marketing and product development. So I ran the marketing in the product group when I left when I was finally out of there, but I had a business card that said, balloons, banners and marketing on it. That was my technical title. That would be the card I would hand out. And then when the bankers came in, I’d give them the other card.
Marc Gutman 26:13
That’s why is it important to have a card like that, that says balloons,
Greg Bagni 26:17
banners, and marketing? Because we all take ourselves way too seriously? Yeah. And you know, what, the, here’s the thing, you know, I used to get in these huge arguments with the product group about this, they’d say, Well, you know, we ate this, this is, uh, you know, this particular ad, it’s got to have, you know, we got to talk about the double butted spokes. And you know, it’s got to, you know, but tubing, and it’s all assuaged. And this and that, I’m not saying any of that stuff was cool. But in the first couple, three, four years on, we talked about, we just saw escape. That was it. We just, you know, there was an emotional attachment to the brand. And we sold escape, rather than getting down and dirty was back. And you know, what the goal was, and that was when magazines were still around. Now, granted, listen, I have adapted Well, I mean, I work with, with white row, we’ve done 25 deals. In 10 or 11 years, I work with 16 different companies, sometimes on a daily basis, it’s an informed boards. With that said, I understand what it’s like now. But at that time, when you had a magazine, we’d run these spreads. And the objective was the, the ads were so cool and so beautiful, that we wanted somebody to cut it out and tape it together, and then hang it on the inside of their cube. You know, about two years into this thing. I walked into a retailer, I don’t even remember where it was somewhere in America. I walk into a retailer and I walked back to the area, the wrench area, the shop area. And in that guy’s little sort of work area, he had one of our ads cut out of the magazine, taped up on the side of the wall. And I’m not kidding you. I went in the bathroom, and I kind of wept for a second pulled my shit together. And I walked back out. I said, Hey, man, What’s up, dude, what’s up with the ad and your cube there? And he goes, Hey, in that the headline was no calves nor glory. That was the headline. He goes, What do you mean, no gas, no glory. And I wept again. I thought, holy shit, this could work. We might we might get over on this one. It was such an exciting time to to be able to take a dead brand and turn it around both financially and perceptually. You know, and people’s minds. It was just, I had to tell you, it’s hard to put it into words how exciting it was. And I moved to Boulder from Chicago, which was great. And I and I rode my bike into work every single day. Even when it was snowing. I wouldn’t give a shit. And people were like, dude, you’re the most hardcore guy in the office. I’m like, Chicago, it’s nice here. You get me? As long as it was above 18 degrees I would ride is
Marc Gutman 29:08
a common question I get all the time is Mark, can you help me with our brand? Yes, we help companies solve branding problems. And the first step would be to schedule a no obligation brand clarity call, we’ll link to that in the show notes or head over to wildstory.com and send us an email, we’ll get you booked right away. So whether you’re just getting started with a new business, or whether you’ve done some work and need a refresh, or whether you’re a brand that’s high performing and wants to stay there, we can help. After you book your brand clarity call, you’ll learn about our brand audit and strategy process will identify if you need a new logo or just a refresh will determine if your business has a branding problem. And you’ll see examples of our work and get relevant cases. studies will also see if branding is holding your business back and can help you get to the next level. So what are you waiting for? Build the brand you’ve always dreamed of. Again, we’ll link to that in the show notes, or head over to wildstory.com and send us an email. Now back to the show.
It makes me think, like, how deprived this generation this kind of upcoming younger generation is that they don’t have print media the way that we did, because as we’re talking, I remembered, I mean, so much of like, how I would self actualize or how I would see myself was by taking like magazine adverts and spreads and put them on my bulletin board and whether it was, you know, a Burton ad or kaitou or, you know, something from a bike company. I mean, there was just this really interesting and and that that Now today’s I don’t know what they do, like, what do they do they pin something digitally, right, like, you just don’t have that same. And I remember like the adverts on my bulletin board. I mean, some of them are like taped together, you know, like I had to like, mock them up. And it wasn’t it wasn’t pretty, but it like, I have one that I remember specifically from Vernay. And to this day, I still wear Vernay sunglasses as a result. But that’s really cool.
Greg Bagni 31:22
Yeah, there is something to be said about the tactile paper and ink thing. It’s sensory, you know. So you’re not only taking the visual side of it, but actually you can feel in touch it, you’re flipping the page, or ripping
Marc Gutman 31:36
it out, right and interacting and then putting it somewhere on your cube. I mean, that’s a whole kind of interaction you’re having with that advert that you just don’t have. There’s something
Greg Bagni 31:44
he said for that. And you’re right, it is missing. But I mean, now with visual displays and everything else, you can still get their reproduction. And now, you don’t put you don’t put the ad on the wall in your office or your bedroom. Now it’s the wallpaper on your screen, right? Yeah. So it’s all everything’s still the same. It’s just the medium changes. It’s, I swear to God, you know, I’m watching some movie last night online streaming and in our ads that are coming on every 15 or 20 minutes, and I’m just laughing. When I see him. My wife goes, it’s so funny, I go, nothing’s changed. It’s still the same. It’s just
Marc Gutman 32:22
just a different medium. So you were talking a bit about the turnaround plan. And it all sounds like hey, you had it together yet a three step plan, you hammered it and you did execute. You did awesome. But I have to imagine it wasn’t all that easy. That it was like, from the beginning. It was like staring into the abyss. You mentioned you had two years of just trying to live down, you know, bankruptcy and what you had done, like, how did you keep the faith? Like how did you know that this plan was gonna work? Because I see so many marketers who are really quick to attack, you know, like they they set a plan, they have a strategy, they start to put it in place. But whether it’s because of impatience and marketing pressures from things like you know, external boards and and investors, I see people tack all the time, and I even look back at my career, I look, if we just would have stayed on this one strategy, we would have been way better off, like, how did you keep it together and fight through what I have to imagine were dark times.
Greg Bagni 33:28
Oh, it was, I’m glad you brought that up. Because it was not easy. It was very difficult. And there were a lot of personalities and, and you had the retailer base, there was no such thing as direct to consumer at that time, you know. So it was, it was really challenging. It was not easy. But the one thing we all had in common in the office was we all kind of had a Schwinn when you were a kid. So there was this emotional attachment, not just with the consumer, but between us in the office and, and we were given the big ftu to the industry. We were all all of us there had a chip on our shoulder. You know, we’re like, we’re gonna turn this mofo around whether you like it or not. And if you don’t want to get on cool, you don’t have to get on, you know, but we’re going to do this really differently. And we, we shook it up, meaning whether it was the way we communicated the way our tradeshow booths looked, the way we ran advertising the way we use paint and colors and graphics on bicycles. We just shook it all up and went absolutely nuts. And, you know, I was just a piece there. It was a piece of that team. You know, there were so many other people there that had this incredible intensity to make it happen. So we managed to bounce back nicely from rejection because it happened to us a lot where people would say no to us, but then it got to a point where it was hard to say no, you know, and there was something to be loved about us because We were scrappy. And we took this, here it is, we took this iconic brand. And we acted like a challenger brand. That was really what it was. How do I become a lighthouse identity? How do I, you know, how do I really communicate to people? And how do I talk like number two or number three, even though they think you’re number one, just trying harder all the time. And, and actually having some fun at the same time, because we always said, Hey, we’re not selling nuclear bombs, or cigarettes, these are bicycles, and it’s a lot of fun. And we all love the product. It was what we lived for. So with that attitude, drove the whole building who we hired was, you know, we were the way we hired and the way I mean, I’m still I still stay in touch with people I worked with 20 years ago. I mean, that that I talked to somebody yesterday that I cash Monday, he was the he took the VP of Marketing role when I left in cash was homeschool on a ranch in javas, New Mexico. That’s how he started. And he sent us a letter and said, I want to work for you guys. And I read the letter, and I set it aside, then he sent a second one. And then we brought him in and we hired. I mean, it was that’s the kind of stuff that scrappy, and people recognize that and really appreciated it. So we always made people laugh and had a lot of fun with stuff too. And I think that was what attracted people to us. But you’re right, it was not easy. It was really difficult. It was two steps forward one step back all the time. But we just kept at it, you know. And the next thing, you know, I mean, a year passes, you know, and then all of a sudden another year passes, and then you’re starting to get some traction, and the numbers are looking good and more retailers are picking you up. And the reviews and the expert were reviewing product and said this is really a great bicycle, you know, it’s pretty cool. I mean, like, again, I was super lucky to be there. I didn’t, I didn’t really belong there. But I just kind of weaseled my way in,
Marc Gutman 37:02
let’s put it that way. Cash Monday, what a good name, right? Like that just sounds like born to be like a movie star or a VP of something for sure. You made the comment about that you made your hobby, your career, and that that was a mistake. What did you mean by that?
Greg Bagni 37:20
Well, I have gray hair now. And that’s part of the reason. You know, some, sometimes what happened to me was, every time I was on my bike, I was it was a rolling focus group. If I’d pull up next to somebody else, I’d be looking at what they were riding what they were wearing, I’d start asking them questions, you know this, that everything was all wrapped around that. And during that period, I kind of lost that true reason that I was on a bicycle. I did, I lost it. And then when I got out of the industry, and I kind of when I got out of the bike business, I sort of said, you know what I again, I wrote down on a little piece of paper, I’m going to get into natural foods world. And first I’m going to shift to outdoor, and then I’m going to shift to natural foods. And I work a lot in those two categories. Now I still work in a bike business a little bit. Not every day, though. But when I got out of the industry, then I started riding bikes, and oh my god, it was fun. Again, you know, this is cool, you know, and then I was living in Boulder. So climb in all the canyons there and all the dirt roads and every I mean everything we did at all. So for me, making your hobby, your business is a little dangerous. I mean, you got to keep your head on straight. And it’s really hard to keep your head on straight. When you’re trying to turn a brand around at the same time. You know, there’s a lot of pressure that way. And I did, I worked a lot of hours. At one point, my partner there, his name is skip pass brilliant, brilliant product guy pain in the ass, but a brilliant product guy. He’d say the same thing about me, by the way. And I would say that to his face and he would laugh and say so are you but one point we looked at each other and I said, you know dude, I spend more time with you than I do with my wife. And that is a little bit you know, you got a little bit of an issue with your work hours and the intensity of what you’re working at. I wrote this article fuse go it’s called addicted to intensity. Boom, that was it, bro. I was way addicted to intensity or that seven year period.
Marc Gutman 39:29
So with Schwinn being this amazing experience and turning the ship, why did you ultimately leave?
Greg Bagni 39:38
Well, we were owned by private equity, typical private equity, which you know, at White road, we call ourselves a typical private equity. We’re small, we’re patient. We work directly on the ground with our companies. Typical private equity is the exact opposite. You either make your number or go get pick your mom up and go over to the corner there and start selling or off the street. You know, they don’t give a shit. And so when they got ready to flip us for the third time, my job had changed so much. It was just one management presentation after another, they were just always trying to flip, sell, raise more money, do whatever it was, and I stopped being a marketing and product geek. And I turned into this presentation machine. And it kind of sucked. And so that last year, I knew I was gonna leave. And then they hired a CEO who was a total jackass. And, you know, I was raised in the Chicagoland area, and you know, there’s a phrase you are, who you hang out with. And I realized who I was hanging with, and said, I can’t do this anymore. And I don’t even care if I’m unemployed and don’t make any money, I am not going to do this anymore. So I made a decision, I gave him six months notice I said, I’m out of here in six months, because I don’t want to screw you around and will have announced three weeks before I leave. And in the meantime, I’ll set up a total succession plan for this place to run without somebody like me here. And we did, and it worked. And it was fun. And then it’s funny, I have this little book called the Zen lessons that I’ve been carrying around with me for 25 years, it’s beat to shit. And they’re number 59 is called selecting your associates. And basically, it’s like, you know, if you can honor and respect and model or mirror your behavior from your associates, then you should find another teacher, you know, and when the the guys that own the company at the time, flew in on their private jet. And he said my office and he said, I heard you want to leave. And then I opened the book up and showed him number 15. And I said, read this and he read it. And he said, You’re right. You gotta go. I said, cool. He goes, if you ever need anything call me. I, you know, this was at the time. You know, there’s a there’s a firm on wall street called Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette dlj. They were the first sort of brokerage house to go public back in the 70s. And Dan Lufkin was the guy that flew in, and Dan was raised on a ranch and he’s in the rodeo, like cutting horse Hall of Fame or something came from nothing. I was in some fancy restaurant with him. And they they serve soup, and he picked the ball up and drank out of it. I knew this was he was cool, but all the rest of more assholes. So, you know, he sort of made some tough decisions. And I moved on and said, I don’t want to 1000 employees anymore. It’s just gonna be me. And that’s when I started in the truth. And I’ve worked with some incredible brands, and I met Gary Erickson, from Clif Bar, when I was a twin, he was a $15 million dollar company. When I met him, they’re a little bit north of that now. And I just hit him and I hit it off. I was like, wow. And then when I left when I started doing some projects for him, and the projects, nobody else would take, he called me up and say, Hey, I can’t find anybody to do this. One project was so weird. I said to him, I’ll do this. But you know what, you can’t expect any results, meaning if I fail, you won’t punish me. He goes, I’m cool. I’m good. We ended up succeeding with it. But I met Gary and Gary and I just hit it off. And then he started inviting me on these bike rides, because he knows that the Dolomites in Italy, like the back of his hand has been going there 30 years. And we were on one of these bike rides. Just all and that’s what the meaning of a white road is. Wide roads, you know, a red road is the major superhighway, the yellow on the map is the medium and then the little white road is the little shitty road. That’s going to be super adventurous and really cool. And it might take you longer to get there. But oh, it’s going to be pitching stories afterwards, you might have to pick your bike up and hop over a few fences and run away from some charging ball or something. But you’ll get there. And I was on a white road trip with him where we just go point to point with a little bag underneath our saddle. And that’s it. You wash your shorts every night. There’s your unsupported. Some goes wrong, you’re looking for a bike shop, and you’re speaking broken Italian, and I don’t do that he does that. But we’re on a trip and he said, Hey, we’re going to start this small investment fund and we want to help companies like we wish we would have been helped and are you interested? Talk to your wife and I’ll talk to my
wife, but I’m in dude. And then about a year later, we were on another crazy bike ride in Northern California. Another area he rode what knows? Well, we, we did snow pass. We did Tioga, we went to Yosemite we did 300 miles in three days and climb 30,000 feet. I can’t do that anymore. But he said well, it was June. He said we’re really going to start it now. And so we started in August to September in 2010. And I the only three of us and I had no idea what I was doing. We noticed it and I didn’t even know the other two guys. Gary said you’re gonna love these other two dudes you don’t know but you’ll you’ll work well together. I’m like, sure okay, because I trusted Gary company. In, it all worked out really, really well. And a lot of that experience from being in the music business, working retail, pounding nails, you know, being having a couple of small businesses, my own, all that really came into play with this whole white road gig, the last 10 years have been incredible. And we’ve had such impact, you know, in natural foods and outdoor on the environment, because we like these little mission driven companies. And it’s been, it’s the only reason I’m still working. Because the people are so cool, and they’re younger, and they’re energetic, and
then it’s like a magnet. It’s bitchin, I can’t believe I get to do this. That kid. Yeah,
Marc Gutman 45:43
I believe you, I believe you. And for me, you know, white road almost represents like what I always dream about and my career, you know, you work in on other brands, you get to help them realize their vision, their mission base, I mean, it’s just, it’s something that that I aspire to myself and hearing you talk about it, it sounds just frankly, quite awesome to like, blast the question again, that I’d asked earlier. Like, what’s hard about that business?
What’s hard about the investment business that that maybe we don’t know? Like, you know, cuz to me from the outside, I’m like, oh, man, those guys are awesome. They just go by companies and help them out. And they have the good job, but I’m sure it’s not all easy.
Greg Bagni 46:22
Well, we’ve been unbelievably successful. I mean, my boss, Devin Clements, who’s our Managing Director, and it’s still there’s only four of us. He told me, we’re our results, our returns are like in the top five or 10% of all investment firms in the US, which Now granted, we’re smaller, but we still have done very, very well. So that’s the good the good news, the not so good news is the challenge is the exact same one is in the music business. It’s people it’s getting everybody on the same page. And founders can be really entrepreneurs and founders can be really interesting cats. But let me tell you, they are sometimes you know, it’s an amazing thing. We have this, I’m writing a little trying to write a book around this, you want to help me all you can talk about that on site. It’s called founder itis. So and I understand that so well. And that started for me in the music business. Because you know, everybody is an entrepreneur in the news business, everybody thinks they’re gonna make it big, you know, but how do you get there. So I think the biggest challenge is the people side of things. And then the second challenge is getting from zero to $10 million. That is real. And I’m talking to annual revenue, I can’t tell you how difficult that is, once you hit 10. Getting to 20 is easier, again, from 20 to 40, maybe even a little easier, but that zero to 10. That’s the hardest part. And you got to be scrappy. And you got to be clever, because it’s not only the strong survive, it’s only the clever survive. And you need a level of tenacity and strength, power of the founder that that he or she has to have. And we’re proud to say we work a lot with, with he’s and she’s, you know, which is really great. But people, people the humanoids are incredibly complex and interesting and unpredictable. So but you know, there’s nothing cooler than I had happen to me yesterday, CEO from one of our companies, you know, they’re probably 15 million now. So they broke that 10 million. And he called me up and he’s in his mid 30s. And he called me up and he said, Hey, I really need to talk to you. And he’s asking me all sorts of these really good questions wrapped around people wrapped around his own personal growth wrapped around his view worldview. And to me, that is where it’s at, that you can have that kind of relationship with somebody, where and it’s professional, don’t get me wrong, it’s not personal, it’s professional, where you can really have that kind of relationship. And you can speak with good heart and mind. You know, good heart, mind, it’s both sides of the equation. So you’re really looking out for them, and you want them to succeed. And that part to be able to give back like that, boom. You know, as I always joke, and I’m not joking, I’m hoping to get another 20 years on this planet, but I’m planning for 20 seconds. So when you hang up a phone call like that, you know, it’s just super rewarding. Nothing’s better.
Marc Gutman 49:37
Speaking of rewarding what portfolio company, I want to say, are you most proud of because I know they’re probably like children, like you don’t want to single them out. But if you could, if you could talk about one that you’re like, really proud of like, which one might you mention?
Greg Bagni 49:52
Why, you know, it’s kind of funny at I, in a way I don’t want to do that because then it sounds like there’s a little bit of favoritism. But you know, right now this five minutes of my life, because like for example, sometimes you can only live your life five minutes at a time. That’s how I was like a twin. And that’s how it was the first couple years a wide road, that’s how it was like you’re only living in five minutes at a time. That’s how expedient things can be. I get to that I’m really excited about one is rumble on a mana poetically spelled ru MPL, and they’re in the blanket business, and they make high tech blankets for everywhere. I have one way to go. And their founder Wiley Robinson, it’s just a piece of work, man. He’s just and he’s been through some hardship. You know, there’s that thing hardship benefit, you got to get a little ass whipping to get to the benefit. We were talking about that earlier. He’s been through some hardship benefit. And I think he’s doing really, really well. Right now it’s going well, the other one would be nice recovery, which is it’s cool little cold and compression device that you don’t need ice for it’s got little refrigerator inside of it. And the guy who invented it, Michael Ross, the CEO there the founder, said Gary Erickson story, you know, Gary, get tired of after the fifth power bar. And along Ryan said I’m going to make something better. This guy got injured to use the competitive product and said this sucks, and then made some better. And then I’ll give you one more skies from rare form AR ar e fo RM. They take PVC billboards, which end up in landfill. And then they clean them and cut them up and turn them into bags and accessories. And a couple of brothers Alec and Eric, just amazing story and amazing impact that this stuff doesn’t end up in landfill. So it’s, you know, yes, we want to give you three that I’m pretty excited about right now. That it’s like, wow, these guys are gonna, this is gonna work. You know.
Marc Gutman 51:59
That’s awesome. And, you know, we I won’t ask you what are the next 20 years look like for alien truth communications and right road investments. But how about the next five minutes? Like what’s what’s that look like? What’s What are you looking forward to?
Greg Bagni 52:14
Well, we’re working on a couple of deals right now that are hopefully going to close that we’re working on a couple of them ones in the bike industry. We can’t tell you too much once in the bike industry. And it’s very specialized. And that would be the wrong word. It’s not specialized, but it’s a very focused category. And the other ones in the workwear category that we’re just very excited about. So I have my head down on these two and really want to see them come together. Not only is the product in the category, great, but the founders are like, really, really good people. So you know, there’s this thing about a, I get this thing called IQ, you know, that’s the number that you give your brain right. And then there’s EQ, emotional intelligence, or what I call the equanimity quotient. And then, the last one I put up top is called v q, that’s your virtue quotient. And these have high virtue quotients wrapped around them, the founders and the product and the category. And that’s what we love. Jason is hi v q stuff. We The other way to say it is we’ll talk on the phone, we have a weekly call with why road and we talked about a business and we’ll say, Oh, you know that one has a lot of goodness in it. We like businesses with goodness in them, you know, where it’s just, everybody’s happy. Hey, if you want your marketing PhD, since up fire hosing you today, I’ll continue on. If you want your marketing PhD in seven words, here it is. solve my problem. Make me feel good. There it is. And so when we see businesses that sell by problem and make me feel good, we’re instantly attracted to them. We want to know more about them. So that and, and again, no cigarettes, no nuclear bombs. Right? Absolutely. Really quick side story. And then I know you got to go enough. Tell it quick. When I was a twin, this is a long story. We had pro racing teams promo by teams, pro stunt teams, you know, X Games, the whole deal. And we were always struggling. Those are multi million dollar programs. And we were always struggling to fund those. And Marlboro came to us because that’s when Marlboro was heavy into motor racing and auto racing before the laws changed. And they came to us and offers a multi million dollar deal to sponsor our mountain bike teams. And it was the hardest no we ever said because that’s where that term came. We don’t sell cigarettes and we don’t sell nuclear bombs. We all got around a conference room table. We all kind of literally held hands. And I and we stood up and said you know, we can’t do this. Do we sell way too. Kids bikes, and we sell way too much goodness here, we got to say no to it. So with that said, that would be sort of one last little fire hose story that, you know, hardship benefit. That was, that was a tough note to say. But saying no is probably one of the most important pieces of doing business. Right?
Marc Gutman 55:20
Absolutely. And Greg is we’ve come to a close here. I want you to think back to that. That little boy who loved bikes back in Chicago probably came down to this planet saying act back and back on the couch, back on the couch. And if he was looking back and he saw you today, what do you think he’d say?
Greg Bagni 55:42
Well, he’d be looking forward, not backwards, right? That’s right. He’d be yes. Correct. Yeah, he’d be looking forward. He’d say, dude, you have been one lucky mofo. That’s what he would say. It’s a I never thought you’d be doing what you’re doing. So I still believe I’m super lucky. You know, just to turn it. Some of it being in the right place at the right time, some of it being prepared for the opportunity. But I’ve always, I’ve always over delivered. I’ve never been afraid to go the extra just the extra mile just it’s the little shit sometimes. It’s everything from the little stuff you do for your employees to making sure you hire the best drum roadie, you can find some when the drummer gets behind his kit. Everything is absolutely perfect in its right spot. And he can play and perform to the nth degree and then comes out the stage after the gig and says dude, man, I love PD. That was my the best drummer the ever had. I love PT that guy has got me down. That’s over delivery. And I’ve always been into that man it’s it’s really cool when you can do it with product with people with the planet with community and and make some money while you’re doing it. Dude, you got me all you may be go off today. And I’m not even drinking caffeine.
Marc Gutman 57:17
And that is Greg bagni, founder of alien truth communications and partner at White road investments. Well, I’m glad Greg never became a dentist or an insurance salesman. No offense to you enamel and premium lovers out there. Because Greg was dropping brand and marketing bombs that entire conversation. And his enthusiasm is infectious. You know, the good kind of infectious, his seven words summation of how to succeed in brand and marketing his genius. solve my problem? Make me feel good. And I absolutely love his goodness metric. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all were striving to increase a goodness metric? The big thank you to Greg bagni alien truth communications, white road investments in the aliens who have loaned Greg to this planet all these years. We will link to all things Greg bagged me in the show notes. And if you know the guest who should appear on our show, please drop me a line at podcast at wildstory.com. Our best guests. Like Greg come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. Well that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. A lot big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can’t deny.