POM Founder: Now Is a Great Time to Start a Biz

When Lynda Resnick brings her own water to an interview, she really brings her own. That is, when she produces a bottle of Fiji, she owns the entire company—as well as POM Wonderful, maker of pomegranate juice and antioxidant supplements. She's a serial entrepreneur who also owns the Teleflora floral service and a number of other ventures. Resnick's new book, Rubies in the Orchard, details a lifetime acquiring businesses and transforming them with a keen eye for value, marketing and community. The writing can be flat—especially compared with how charismatic Resnick is in person—but the ideas are so sound, and the track record so full of success, that the book is still a fun read, and highly instructive to anyone wishing to start a business in these bleak times. Resnick spoke to NEWSWEEK's Nick Summers about the Bush administration's economic legacy, balancing risk with reward and why now is a great time to be running your own business. Excerpts:

How long were you working on the book?
Of course it took me my whole life, but six months. I turned in the manuscript, and my editor said it was the cleanest he'd ever seen. I thought, "Is that a compliment?" The corrections took about half an hour; that was it. There was a page and a half that he took out that was a little too strident.

What was it strident about?
I get carried away. The Bush administration—I was hysterical during the entire eight years. Beating my chest, crying, screaming at the television. I saw the end. I did. I have a Cassandra complex. Do you know who Cassandra was?

I do!
And do you know what happened when she broke up with Apollo, what he did to her?

I don't.
He gave her the gift of prophesy, but made it so that no one would believe her.

So you saw the end—of what?
I didn't see the debacle the way it is today, but I did—every time the stock market went up another 300 points, I would get sick. I was very upset, because I've lived through so many bubbles. I knew that there was no way that this was going to last. You can't expect to make 20 percent a year, year in and year out.

Why did you write the book? Who was the target audience?
I wrote it, I hope, for small- to medium-size businesses, although Wall Street could learn a lot from it. But alas, will they? I talk about the tyranny of instant gratification that our country has gone through over the last 20 years. Running companies for quarterly profits is not a long-term game, as we've seen. So my concept is, if you have a product or business or service, you have to make sure you have true intrinsic value in what you're selling. You have to figure out where that value resides—is it your technology, is it some invention that you've made? Is it the fact that your water fell as rain 200 years ago? Is it the fact that your pomegranate has healing properties?

Then communicate that value. You have to have a unique selling proposition, something that sets you apart from the other people in your realm. If you're a dry cleaner, is your front office as pristine as the clothes you're returning? If it's a movie theater, maybe it's an art theater, showing films that they can't get somewhere else?
Community and transparency can level the playing field. Small businesses are not burdened with the overhead and the debt of a big business—they can zoom in with their disruptive technology and take over. There was no chance for small business up until recently; it was very hard to come to market with your new idea. Nobody was interested; they wanted to write fancy derivatives and instruments that were going to make it quick on Wall Street. But today there's a real opening, and it's a good day for small business.

So there's reason for optimism, for entrepreneurs with an idea for a business? And what about taking risks in general?
What do they have to lose? They may as well go for it. They're not going to see another opening like this. Investing in your own business is what we've always done; we've never been a public company. Who are you going to believe in more than yourself?

Now, I disagree that we should be spending. I'm not, and believe me, I love to. Now I'm very cautious about what I'm buying. I used to buy at the auction houses all the time. We have a big art collection, but I'm not doing it, man. I don't need it. I don't need another thing. Cash is king. If we start saving, we may be able to finance our own future. So it's OK, pull in your belt a little bit.

What else should entrepreneurs consider about today's economy?
The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it wasn't there during the last depression. It's the No. 1 thing that I think will save us. Let's say you have a great idea that you've invented: the best mousetrap. How easy it is today to comb the Web and find out if someone else has done that mousetrap. A piece of cake; I could do that in 20 minutes. Then you could go to zoomerang.com, which is a market-research Web site. For $20 a month, you can find your target market and ask, "How do you feel about this mousetrap? Is this the mousetrap you've longed for? The roach hotel that will make your life easy?" Then, you're ready to go to your patent attorney. And there are also cheap patent attorneys online!

You write that you despise the phrase "think outside the box."
Because the answer's inside the box. The answer to your problem is always inside the box, always understanding the intrinsic value again of your product or service. Look there for your marketing answer. Take Fiji Water. Smartwater got Jennifer Aniston to be their spokesperson for millions of dollars. But every celebrity drinks my water. I just take the pictures from Us and Touch, or whatever the hell those magazines are called, and put those on our Web site.

I hate "think outside the box" too.
People don't like the obvious—it's like, boring. It's "boring" to think of value, "boring" to think of unique selling proposition, "boring" to think of community and hard work. "We should have this big idea that's just going to transport us to riches!" But it isn't like that, especially now. Hard work is back—with a vengeance.

That's probably a good lesson for almost everyone.
I realized after reading [Malcolm Gladwell's] "Outliers" why I did so well when I started [business] at 19. By the time everyone else was graduating from an MBA program, I had been in business for so many years that I was ahead of the pack!

Do you still have an inner competitiveness to stay on top of the business world? Are you still looking to buy new companies or start new ones?
Sure, yeah!

Always? Till you drop dead?
Well, yeah! I have no plans to retire. You think it's undignified for a woman my age to still be working? There's so much need in this world, how can I not? If I can motivate a person that comes to one of my lectures, that's something. [Coughs, clears throat] Excuse me. My vitamins. I take POMx.

Should I take vitamins?
I don't know your family history. How's your father?

He's in good health. Had a bout of prostate cancer, but that's—
You have to be on pomegranate juice. You have a 50 percent chance of getting it. Listen to me. It is the one thing that will keep your PSA normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check. Ask any urologist—your father should be on it. Your father should be on it. I'm sorry to do this to you, but I have to tell you. We just did a study at UCLA, on 43 men … It arrested their PSA. How old are you, 28?

Get a base line now. [Pause, wink] It's also 40 percent as effective as Viagra. Not that you need it. But—couldn't hoit!