Episode 114
July 12, 2022

From Spark to Wildfire

with Joe Ens, CEO of HighKey

About this episode

Joining the show today is the CEO of Highkey, Joe Ens. On a mission to drive sugar out of snacks and remove over 10 million pounds of sugar from the American diet by 2025, Highkey is the fastest-growing better-for-you cookie brand in the US. In this episode, Joe shares his journey from growing up in Toronto, to working at General Mills for over 20 years, to meeting the founders of Highkey. He talks about his experiences leading a Fortune 200 company, how to build trust with your team, why he uses the big plus one hiring strategy, and the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset.

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In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • (2:50) What it was like growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, never wondering why his parents divorced, but feeling like he was living the best of both worlds
  • (4:50) How he was given the opportunity to join General Mills right out of college and worked there for over 20 years in several different roles and cities
  • (5:30) Why he wanted to leave General Mills to see how small of a company he could be part of and eventually start a wildfire
  • (12:00) Why he believes in the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset
  • (15:11) The big plus one strategy and why he started to use it in his hiring methods and what the pricing hierarchy is
  • (18:00) How he met the founders of Highkey and became CEO just nine months after launch
  • (21:00) The different personalities Joe believes make the startup gusto mindset, versus the operators get it done methods
  • (26:00) The key traits he believes are beneficial for successful CEOs
  • (31:00) How they got to partner up with Ryan Reynolds, and how he became one of the primary investors
  • (45:00) How writing in a word doc everything he’s learned and inspirational quotes that stood out to him throughout his career has helped him in his position with Highkey
  • (49:00) Why he believes being an entrepreneur is being like JayZ and not Justin Timberlake

To Find Out More:



“I always say I got the best of each of them. I have my mom's heart and my dad's head.”

“I realized that the skill set to progress to the most senior ranks in a Fortune 200 business becomes less about running and building the business and more around managing and building.”

“I wanted to test myself. I wanted to bet on myself a little bit and see, could I build something from close to scratch.”

“I wanted to see if I had the leadership muscle to take a spark and turn it into a wildfire.”

“Failure really is progress.”

“The founder can sometimes be a squirrel hunter because they're just constantly trying to ignite sparks. The operator is a little bit more hunting with a scope.”

“It's a movement, but for us, it's not political.”

“In the startup world, there's no hiding both as the leader, but also, in your ability to make individuals better because there aren't that many to raise the whole boat.”

“Being deliberate in making a connection with people, both their head and their heart is key.”

“You have to be comfortable that you're not gonna get it right every day. In fact, you're gonna get it wrong a lot. One of our core values is make mistakes, learn, move on. And the ability to move on, I think is key.”

“Bet on yourself. And if it makes you really uncomfortable, cover the downside, but still place the bet. And then, you know, your risk tolerance will determine,  what cover the downside looks like.”

Read the transcript

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