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The One Secret Ingredient That Turned This Chocolate Bar Into a Success

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After college, Jake Karls thought he wanted to be an investment banker. But he never got past the first job interview. Saddled by learning disabilities and a lack of enthusiasm for corporate work, the Canadian was forced to move back into his parents’ house.

“I could not find a job, so I literally had no choice but to become an entrepreneur,” he says. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Karls co-founded Mid-Day Squares with his sister Lezlie and her husband, Nick Saltarelli. The good-for-you chocolate bar is non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, and packed with pea protein. But Karls says the one ingredient that really makes it stand out from the pack is its emotional connection with the consumer.

On this week’s episode of One Day with Jon Bier, Karls shares his personal journey from early failure to success, why he believes that authenticity and good storytelling have made the difference for Mid-Day Squares, and what he’s learned about himself and running a successful business along the way.

The secret ingredient

When devising a marketing plan for Mid-Day, Karls looked at brands like Sephora and admired how their customers wanted to be a part of it. They posted photos of themselves on social at the store and raved about how much they loved the brand.

“The food and beverage world didn’t have that connectivity that the beauty world had,” he says. He wanted customers to go to the grocery store and “not just buy a chocolate bar, but actually feel that they’re buying from a friend. Feel part of it.”

So, Karls focused on building a deep connection with consumers by being vulnerable and transparent and telling an authentic story about the brand’s origins and his own personal journey. This allowed the brand to develop a passionate fan base that felt invested in the company’s success.

Related: Don’t Be a Boring Brand – How to Create Brand Distinction That Has Everyone Turning Their Heads

Jake Karls

Playing to his strengths

Initially, Karls took on the company’s CMO role because he thought he needed to take on a leadership position and manage people as a co-founder. However, he quickly realized he was playing to his weaknesses.

“It was 6 to 8 months of complete wreckage,” he recalls.

By stepping back and focusing on what he was truly great at —community building and brand storytelling—the company began to thrive. Karls learned the importance of blocking out noise and focusing on his unique strengths and superpowers.

Related: Building a Community Around Your Brand Is Crucial for Long-Term Success. Here’s How Flex Watches Makes Emotional Connections With Customers.

Overcoming burnout

But the breakneck pace of growth took a toll, and Karls experienced a serious burnout that left him with crippling anxiety and OCD.

“I thought you could keep going at 200 km/hr 24/7, and your body could take it, but eventually, my body shut down on me.”

He decided to tackle this mental health crisis head-on, going through 37 days straight of therapy, eating healthier foods, and undergoing hypnotherapy, which he says “really changed everything.”

“My anxieties have become minimal. And my OCDs are at the level that I don’t even think about or care about,” he explains.

Lessons learned

Looking back on his early struggles, Karls realizes that he was so focused on pleasing everyone else—his parents, friends, and family—that he lost sense of his own priorities.

“There’s too much noise in this world, telling you to be this way, try this, work with this, do this, have this strategy,” he says, conceding that much of this advice comes from people who care about you and love you.

But ultimately, you need to trust your gut and be able to put horse blinders on.

“Once you play to and understand your strengths and start executing on that, you feel a sense of freedom that makes you feel unstoppable.”

In that spirit, he plans to make Mid-Day Squares a $100 million company in two and a half years.

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