Zak Normandin is an award-winning entrepreneur disrupting the way businesses create, communicate and deliver consumer goods. He has over ten years of experience as a product designer in the food and beverage industry and is credited with branding more than 50 nationally-sold products.
Zak has a unique understanding for the way people, brands and technology interact. As Founder and CEO of Iris Nova, the parent company of DIRTY LEMON and The Drug Store, he is reinventing the traditional CPG business model. Iris Nova utilizes a direct-to-consumer SMS-based ordering platform to bypass existing distribution inefficiencies and improve how consumers find and purchase beverages.
Normandin is building the beverage company of the future, expanding and applying the proprietary platform to a portfolio of innovative beverage brands that meet the rapidly evolving preferences of the modern consumer.
On his morning routine. On an ideal day, I’m able to get up, have a couple cups of coffee, and read the newspaper. At our current stage, we’re expanding in a lot of different areas so every day my priorities shift. The reality is, most days I’m getting up very early and either going straight to my first meeting or directly to the office. We have two retail locations in NYC and an office in SoHo, so I try to keep everything central to one of these spots.
During more mellow times in my life, I’ve had a more flexible schedule. The summertime is a bit more of juggle - I have three kids - so on any given day I’m balancing their schedule on top of mine. I wish I had a more exciting morning routine but really we’re grinding every day to build Iris Nova to reach the potential I know it has, and there isn’t a lot of downtime.
On facing stress head-on. Fundraising comes with a lot of stress. Securing Coca-Cola as a strategic investor is a huge accomplishment but I view hitting that milestone as just the beginning. It’s something I take very seriously, proving the value of the company to investors. The outcome of our last raise in December was a success but closing the round came with a lot of stressful moments along the way.
When I get stressed out, I’m better off taking time to myself and working through whatever is causing that stress. As I get older, I’ve come to realize that the best way to deal with stress is to face it head-on. Every day you have forces working against you, and you just have to come up with creative solutions to get past them. You can view them as challenges or just par for the course.
On learnings from the Coast Guard. I joined the Coast Guard right after high school, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school. I was always creative and came up with a lot of ideas but I didn’t know what career path I wanted to go down. I spent most of my time with the Coast Guard in Central and South America chasing drug runners. That experience, more than anything, opened up my perspective to what the rest of the world experiences in their daily lives.
We have such a sheltered view of the world in the States. If you go to Haiti or Nicaragua, you see through a different perspective and recognize how much opportunity we have in the US. The experience made me look at the world through an entirely different lens from how I grew up and to this day directly affects my outlook as an entrepreneur. The Coast Guard helped me to understand difficult situations and taught me to manage priorities in a very tactical way.
On staying grounded. Every day presents a new challenge. There’s a lot to overcome, and I don’t have time to do a meditation for an hour every morning or to do a lot of things I’d love to do. Iris Nova is my priority right now and I need to make sure I’m staying focused and upholding the commitments we’ve made to investors, employees, and customers.
As a founder, there's so much of your personal life that bleeds into your day-to-day work. Just based on the demands of the business, there are a lot of sacrifices I make daily to keep moving. This life is very imperfect - and it’s not just mine - a lot of founders paint a picture of building a company that’s this perfect experience and that’s very rarely the case. It takes a lot of willpower to not give up and I think more entrepreneurs should talk openly about the challenges of running a company.
To stay grounded, I focus on the bigger vision. I know we’ve created something incredible and the company has a unique opportunity to change an entire industry, which keeps me motivated. Over time it’s become more about strategizing, making sure that the business is moving forward in the direction it needs to and less about the day-to-day minutiae.
On protecting creative outlets. On the weekends, I’ve been trying to travel, rest, and take time off. Whenever I head to London or our office in LA - where I’ve been spending a lot of time recently - I’ll try to enjoy the travel time and make a long weekend of the trip. Getting out of my daily routine is really helpful to make sure I’m thinking creatively and coming up with new ideas.
Where my weeks are mostly work focused, my weekends are generally revolving around travel or spending as much time with my kids as possible. On weekends I make sure to get a lot of sleep and try to get my head out of work by watching a movie, reading the paper, eating a good meal. It’s the simple things that keep me in balance.
On international expansion. I love the rawness of New York. The city is very unpolished. I also spend a lot of time in LA, we have an office downtown and a lot of investors are based there. LA has definitely become the consumer hub and creative capital of the West Coast. Whenever I’m in London I’m impressed by the attention to detail, whether it’s hospitality, brands, or customer experience.
From an entrepreneurial mindset, London is still at least 5 years behind. A lot of entrepreneurs there aren’t trying to take over the world; they’re just trying to build their brand. While in the States, entrepreneurs are much more aggressive in their ambition. That being said, the London market and brand opportunities are extremely exciting. We’re looking to expand to London and I’m excited to see how the Iris Nova brands perform there.
On his nightly routine. To be honest, I’ll usually stay awake until I know I’m minutes away from falling asleep, which is usually around 1 or 2 am. I’m usually writing emails or I’ll watch a movie to fall asleep. There’s no real routine, but maybe that’s a routine in itself.