HowGood CEO Alexander Gillett on Ideas Without Execution

Alexander Gillett has long been on the lookout for a great business model. He remembers being a boy in Portugal, setting up a table outside his family’s apartment, and testing the market with different goods for sale. He felt he had an advantage.

“I used kid-cuteness,” he said.

Today, Gillett is co-founder and CEO of HowGood, a company that identifies the producers that are making environmentally friendly and socially responsible food, helping shoppers make more informed decisions.

We recently sat down for a discussion with Gillett about his path to becoming a founder CEO and the best lessons he has learned along the way.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I’ve just always wanted to run my own business.

When I was a kid, I started collecting the jewelry that my mom and her friends didn't want anymore, set up a stand, and sold it for silly prices. I quickly sold out because obviously my mom didn’t have a lot of jewelry she was trying to get rid of.

Next, I bought candy from the local store, set up my stand, and started selling it for double. After a while I got bored with that, so I hired other kids to run the stand.

Since that time -- I was eight years old -- I’ve probably been run eight different businesses.

Where do you find inspiration?

I get really inspired by the energy of an aligned team, when everyone is moving the same direction.

It’s so satisfying when your marketing team pushes something out that doesn’t get broad press coverage, but targets exactly what your salespeople need while taking advantage of the data analysis your engineering team ran - it’s about those moments when everything just clicks.

What is one thing you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself?

Do you want to tell yourself the things you've done wrong? Most of them are good for you. I don’t feel regret about any of my decisions.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t have gone to business school. I would tell myself to go to an awesome liberal arts school. I would still go into business, but I don’t think business school is particularly relevant for an undergraduate degree.

What's something you had to learn the hard way?

An entrepreneur with a good idea but no execution will not raise capital.

We probably spent six to nine months trying to raise capital on an idea. But then we spent another six to nine months trying to implement the idea without capital. And all of a sudden, raising the money was easy in comparison.

It seems so obvious now after having raised, but there are so many ideas out there with little proof of concept. There’s so much risk in someone just investing in an idea. It makes sense that investors didn’t invest in us back then. They needed to see more.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

A teacher told me that you’ll never have less responsibility than the day you get out of business school.

So, if you want to start your own company, start now. Now is the best time to start a business. In five years you’re going to have rent and a car and a spouse and kids. Your responsibilities will just build. Don’t wait. Do it right out of the gate. That was really helpful advice for me.

FirstMark is a seed investor in HowGood, which gives consumers trustworthy knowledge of the true cost of their food. Bridging the information gap between the food we buy, the farmer who grows it, and the path it takes to a store, paves the way for an overall more sustainable food system. HowGood has rated over 137,000 products, with only 5% of the industry earning the highest rating. The in-store ratings can be found on the shelves of hundreds of stores across 26 states and are also accessible via a newly released app. For more information, visit