by: Carte Blanche Studio
Being bold and breaking free with Jake Karls
Welcome to the Edition 001 of The Lenny. Short for The Loud Entrepreneur, we’re all about being loud, bold, and unapologetic. So naturally, we needed our first guest to be, too. Introducing Jake Karls, the CEO and co-founder of Mid-Day Squares – the Montreal-based, vegan chocolate bar company that’s hell-bent on disrupting the $140 billion chocolate industry.
Karls, along with his sister Lezlie Karls and her husband, Nick Saltarelli, founded the company in 2018 after identifying a need for a healthier chocolate bar and a better-tasting protein bar. Fast forward to now: the company is on track to hit $36 million in revenue in 2023, and you can find the bars in Target, Walmart and Whole Foods. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Karls to chat about what it means to be bold – and we’re happy to report back that he 1000% lives up to the hype.
1. What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
“I collect toys. I collect these Funko Pop Toys. I have almost 500, and they’ve completely destroyed the second room in my condo. It looks just like a toy store. It’s all just piling up, and people are getting frustrated because they’re taking up so much room and making a mess. So yeah, I collect a lot of toys, and I hope to continue to do it because it makes me happy. Two items that I buy consistently are books and toys.”
2. What’s your entrepreneurial origin story?
“It’s been a long journey to identify who I am in the sense of what I’m good at and what I love doing. In high school, I was the class clown. And when I realized I needed to get my shit together, I started to drift towards the herd and cave toward that societal pressure. Like, sometimes, as humans, we just go with the flow of what life is ‘supposed to be.’ To do well in school, go to college after that, get a job and have a family. That’s what I thought life was about.
Then I went to college and studied to be an actuary to prove that I was no longer the class clown. But I was miserable. One day, I was watching Shark Tank, and this guy was pitching his dream, and he looked like the freest human. He looked so happy, even though he was broke, and at that time, I felt like I was in mental jail. And that’s when I said, ‘I need to try entrepreneurship.’ I didn’t care what the business was, but I knew it was a path I needed to take.
3. How did you join Mid-Day Squares?
“The first business I launched was a fitness company, an outdoor boot camp. I did that for two and a half years, then closed that due to a loss of passion. So I decided to launch a second business, essentially to throw parties on college campuses across Canada and sell clothing. That did well in terms of the story, the hype, and the community – I learned that storytelling was powerful and that I was good at making connections. But I was disastrous at operating the business and bankrupted it.
Then my sister and brother-in-law approached me with this chocolate bar idea in May 2018. They were like, ‘Let us be the operators – we have a product ready to go. You just be the one that focuses on brand-building, the energy, the community and the network.’ I thought about it, and I was like, ‘I’m not the biggest foodie, but if I get to do what I love every day and play to my strengths, I think I can thrive.'”
4. What are your superpowers?
“I’ve learned that you need to go out there and truly be yourself because that’s your actual superpower. It’s your best way to succeed because your superpower is that you are the only person in the world that could be you. No one can copy you. So if the one thing that’s stopping you is your fear – it’s you against you. Once you knock out the other you, you’re good to go.
When I started to be myself and do things that were actually true to me, that was the moment I started to see greatness happen. When you step into the zone of discomfort, and I believe that’s going against the herd, that’s the moment that doors open. And today, I’m not scared to be myself.”
5. What do your attribute to your business’s success – is there a secret sauce?
“The key to Mid-Day Squares is three things. First is product-market-fit – it’s a data-driven product that the market actually wants. When we built our product originally, we had data showing that dark chocolate and vegan protein were growing, and my sister was already making a baby of these two massive growth categories.
Number two is great storytelling. Storytelling is the future of marketing, and understanding how to tell a good story is extremely important. When we started, I pitched that we document everything and share it with the consumer in a very raw format. The good, the bad, the ugly – the actual behind the curtain. So arguments, therapy sessions, milestones, legal battles, raising money. Things that not everyone typically gets to see, on a day-to-day basis, with a hint of entertainment.
The third thing was to continuously be authentic and not as a buzzword. Yes, we got into Target, but also, our machine broke down, and we had to fire this person. Those kinds of things allowed us this vortex to create. So if you found the product on social media, and you’re like, ‘This company is interesting, their story is good, and it’s very authentic.’ And then, you go and try the product to support the brand. And then you experience the love, care, and the taste of quality, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ Then you become a fan of the brand, that’s the most valuable customer you can be.”
6. What’s your greatest success and greatest failure?
“The awards I’ve won are cool. A lot of bucket list stuff, like being on the cover of Forbes 30 Under 30. But I think the kicker is that my greatest success comes down to two things – one, learning to listen more, and two, not caring what others think. In the beginning, when someone would say something mean on social media, I would take it personally and let it ruin my day. But now I feel empathy towards that person, so I try to work with them without emotionality or ego; I just want to help. Because of that, I can sit at a boardroom table on Wall Street with all these bankers and still wear my beach shirt and be myself – that’s what I’m most proud of.
As for failure, I don’t think of it as a failure. I go through times of sadness and loneliness on this journey, but it’s not a question of failure. It’s a question of learning not to obsess over being on top of the mountain all the time. It’s not possible to jump from peak to peak of another mountain – you need some time to come back up. Rest is important, and it’s ok to have downtime.”
7. What’s your best advice when it comes to being loud and bold?
“Use momentum every day to propel forward. By just moving, you’re creating a sense of momentum, and momentum is exponential. Momentum is the most powerful human force we don’t tap into for some reason; it’s more powerful than passion, effort, and even vision. So just get the forward motion of momentum moving and embrace it, and one thing will lead to the next.”
A final word
The future is looking bright and bold for Karls and the rest of the Mid-Day Squares team. Speaking of momentum, Karls is using his to deepen his relationship with Montréal and build an entrepreneurial community in his hometown. While Karls may go against the herd, he’s inadvertently created his own – and the vibes are immaculate.
About Carte Blanche Studio
The Lenny is a newsletter produced by Carte Blanche Studio – Toronto’s leading creative agency. We’re passionate about the world around us and love helping brands authentically express themselves to build a more connected future. Follow us on Instagram to learn more.