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Lokai Founder And CEO Steven Izen Says, “Don’t Cut Corners”

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 21, 2021

When Steven Izen watched the track & field relays at the recent Tokyo Olympics, he saw something a little bit different than the average television view. “I love the relays, and the passing of the baton is one of my favorite things in sports because it looks so easy on TV when those guys are doing it,” said Izen in a recent episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast. “But they’re going full out at 100 percent and for all the seamless passing from one guy to the next, all it takes is one slipup and the handoff just explodes.”

You don’t have to be a sprinter to quickly reach the business lesson here: doing something extremely well takes a lot of focus on execution, whether you’re handing off a baton or designing packaging for your product. The former sprinter and relay man at Belmont Hill school in Massachusetts as well as Cornell University has done both. In addition to being a former sprinter, Izen is the founder of Lokai, the bracelet phenom which Izen conceived of at Cornell and now retails at more than 5,000 locations in 170 countries.

“People know when you’re cutting corners and doing things cheaply rather than giving them the best possible product,” noted Izen. “There’s no easy way to be successful. It’s hard. And taking the hard route is usually the right route.”

Taking the hard route hasn’t always been easy for Izen who founded Lokai at Cornell after learning that his uncle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis made Izen deeply aware of the highs and lows that accompany the disease. He named the company for the Hawaiian word “Lokahi,”​ which means “the blending of opposites,”​ and spent six months scouring the globe for opposing elements from the highest and lowest points on earth. He found them in water from Mount Everest and mud from the Dead Sea, both of which were infused into Lokai products when the company launched in 2013.

Izen paid his dues going “door-to-door” around New York City, trying to get stores to display his bracelets and getting rejected 95 percent of the time. Eventually, his hard work (and his discovery by celebrities like Justin Bieber, Cam Newton, and Blake Lively) helped the company turn the corner. They haven’t looked back since.

Six years later, he founded his second company Elements, which produces functional wellness drinks formulated to consistently balance the body’s stress levels. To date, Elements is “in all doors at Wegmans” and being tested at other big retailers.

As Izen reflects on running two companies, he says his biggest challenge has been learning how to go from being the founder “who is willing to run straight through walls and never take no for an answer,” to the role of CEO who takes a longer-term approach to team-building and setting longer-term goals.

“For me, I have the best team I’ve ever had right now, both from a talent perspective and also from a morale and teamwork perspective,” said Izen. “This has allowed us to be able to build out more of a three- to five-year plan and know where the company’s headed—with everyone behind those goals and driving towards the same thing. That’s what’s really exciting me right now.”

Equal parts humble and driven, Izen shared wisdom suitable for founders and corporate leaders, alike. Here are several highlights:

  • It’s not just about numbers: Numbers count, but they’re not everything, says Izer, who says breaking the eleven-second barrier in the 100-yard dash was a personal highlight of his sprinting career. At Cornell, he never made the travel team but used to drive his own car to meets to cheer on his teammates. As a business leader, he started out “chasing the numbers” but has doubled down on his larger goal of using business to “make the world a better place.”
  • It’s all about the team: “When you start a company, you think you can do everything in your company better than everyone else,” observed Izen. “It’s just not true.” Izen says that starting two companies taught him that the stronger his team was, the more successful and resilient his companies would be. “We continued to thrive during the COVID pandemic because our sales, finance and operations people knew how to adjust.”
  •  Give back. Give lots back: Both of Izen’s companies, Lokai and Elements, give 10 percent of their net profits back to charity through partnerships with different organizations. “I think that it’s just the responsibility of young founders and CEOs today to make the world a better place and start companies that do good in the world,” noted Izen. His many partnerships include the Make-A-Wish Foundation and supporting U.S. veterans and their families who have gone through tough times, “especially with mental health, which are the scars you don’t see.”

Izen admonishes founders and leaders to search for something they are passionate about and love to do. “That is the only way you are going to be really successful, because it’s hard work,” he said. And don’t cut corners.


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