Ben Grynol is co-founder and CEO of Top & Derby; a company that makes design-driven home healthcare products, and aims to change the stigma of disability. Top & Derby’s products help to inspire the self-confidence of people who live with certain challenges. The venture’s business model of designing products in-house, creating better user-experiences, and building a brand that people relate to is beginning to shake up the stagnant home healthcare industry.
Over the past 17 years, Ben has worked in many different facets of product development and design, and has gained extensive experience in the retail and manufacturing industries. He has a degree in clothing design, as well an MBA from the Rotman School of Management. Ben has been an entrepreneur for the majority of his life, starting his first business when he was thirteen years old. Throughout his career, he has co-founded six previous ventures, prior to Top & Derby. Ben is passionate about social entrepreneurship, and believes in creating impact in the world through innovation that matters.
What do you do best?
Recognize opportunities. I’m a born and bred entrepreneur who acts on opportunities when I see them. There are millions of problems in the world that need fixing; broken business models, untapped markets, existing markets that are stagnant, products that are poorly designed and need fixing, etcetera. Essentially, the list goes on! With that said, a person can gain as much insight as he or she wants into a market, but it’s executing on insights and ideas that counts. Since I have a background in both business and design, I’m able to flip between both creative roles and business roles in the company; I understand the difference between good and great product design, and I also understand the business side of things when it comes to creating financial models and strategic initiatives for our products and company.
Additionally, I love to bring humor into everything that we do as a company. If we can’t make ourselves laugh, then we won’t make our customers laugh. What it comes down to is constantly creating excitement and surprise for people. Whether we’re creating products, packaging, copyright for our website, or marketing material, we always try to do things that are fun in some way or another. Matt Kroeker, my business partner and co-founder of T&D, and I love to goof around. If we aren’t having fun and laughing while doing something, then it will affect the products that we put on the market and the brand image of our company. People buy into T&D, because we are honest and authentic in everything we do. When a person buys a Top & Derby product, he or she is buying a small piece of each of our personalities. Overall, we try to do everything at a world class level. To us, it’s important to be world class and do world class things in order to be considered good at what we do.
What makes you the best?
My business partner. Top & Derby wouldn’t be what it is, or where it is, without Matt. Bottom line.
However, let me start by saying that I’m not always comfortable answering these types of questions, because I am positive that there is always someone in the world who is better than I am at something. The thing that I do well, however, is execute on what I say I am going to do, that’s all. I’m not the best business person, I’m not the best designer, I’m not the best….you name it. But, I can guarantee that I work harder than the next person to execute on things in order to be successful. With that said, I think grit and perseverance are two things that it takes to be successful. No matter how many times a person falls, he or she has to get up and try again to master anything. A person who gets up one more time than the last person is the one who will be successful. Never giving up is an important quality in having good work ethic, but in the same breath, it’s very important to be rational and know when it’s the right time to move on from an idea that is unsuccessful. Rationality is an essential quality. It’s self-serving to think that one is rational, but I like to think that I am honest enough with myself to admit when I make a poor decision, or have an idea that might not be realistic or viable.
Overall, I’ve been pretty lucky to have some unique experiences in life that have given me exposure to things which have changed my mindset and the lens which I see the world through. I grew up doing lots of creative things from a young age; designing clothes, cross stitching, and playing music to name a few. I was definitely the lemonade stand kid, and remember my first dollar. From these experiences, I built an innate connection with business and being an entrepreneur. Additionally, I played lots of different sports growing up, and spent more time outdoors than indoors. After school every day, I was always skateboarding, snowboarding, playing soccer, and playing hockey amongst other sports. I think this connection with being creative, active, and loving business has definitely influenced me as a person.
How will you become the best?
My business partner. Matt is legitimately one of the best designers in the world. I tell him this all the time, but, coming from me, I don’t know if he believes it. The dude is on fire. Seriously, anything and everything that he does is at such a high level, that I’m never surprised when he does things that blow me away. He’s in a league of his own, and doubtlessly deserves to be compared to the Jonathan Ive’s and Dieter Rams of the world.
As I mentioned previously, grit and perseverance are two things that make anyone successful. Continuing to work hard and never being complacent are key factors for success. Even when people have “made it,” they can’t ever sit back in their arm chairs and just enjoy the ride. This is a surefire way to fail and be disrupted in the market. Success isn’t guaranteed, and it is definitely not sustainable if you take it for granted.
What are your aspirations?
Personal: To do things which inspire people, and make a difference their lives.
Business: To do things which inspire people, and make a difference their lives.
Motto: What do you want to live by?
There are millions of mottos to live by, and I try to remind myself of many of them constantly. Here are a bunch that come to mind (in no particular order):
• Be good to other people.
• Don’t judge people and be harsh to them.
• Live with your heart, and not with your head.
• Reputation is built on executing on ideas, not just talking about them.
• Character is what people say about you when you’re not in a room.
• Be empathetic and open minded.
• Always be honest with yourself and others.
• Don’t let negative people take up free real estate in your mind.
• Possibility is simply a mindset.
• Make every day count, because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last.
• Don’t live with regret or resentment.
• Give your best effort to everything you do.
• Use adversity to your advantage.
• Be comfortable with who you are.
• Never compare yourself to others; it will get you nowhere.
• Anything is possible, if you put your mind to it.
• Give more than you get.
• Be the hero of your own story.
• Be curious and discover the world.
• You don’t have to look far to find someone in need.
• Age is just a number; don’t be fooled by what you “can” and “can’t” do.
• There’s no better time to start something than now.
• Don’t be embarrassed to start over.
• You only fail when you don’t embrace failure as a lesson learned.
• Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong.
• Be grateful for what you have, as there are always others who have less.
• Mental game is everything.
• Forgive others; we all make mistakes and poor decisions from time to time.
However, no matter how much anyone thinks he or she has a grasp on these concepts, we’re all human and imperfect beings. It’s easy to stray from these mottos, so it’s important to constantly remind ourselves about these things, and surround ourselves with others who can remind us about these concepts in order to continuously be good people in this world.
People: Who do you want to meet?
I’m not sure who I’d want to meet. I’m not really star struck by celebrities, because they are all just people too. With that said, there are some fascinating people in this world who are, or have been, hugely influential to our society. From a business perspective, I think it would be great to spend some time with Sir Richard Branson. I was lucky enough to meet him once, and he seemed cool. I’ve watched lots of interviews with him, and he appears to be a really humble guy. Talk about perseverance and grit; he’s got both. No ego, and from what it sounds like, he knows how to treat people. A couple of other people who would be cool to meet are: Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee. There are lots of other people that I’d love to meet as well, however, many of them passed away long ago. I guess if I had a Flux Capacitor, or could borrow Marty McFly’s time machine, I’d love to meet a bunch of people. It would kind of be like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, except I wouldn’t have to do a book report on everyone after meeting them:
• Leonardo da Vinci
• Thomas Edison
• Charles Darwin
• Albert Einstein
• Isaac Newton
• Galileo Galilei
• Ludwig van Beethoven
• Terry Fox
Places: Where do you want to go?
In the world:
I love to travel, so I’d like to go pretty much anywhere in the world; remote parts of Siberia would be rad to see. As well, I haven’t been to India and would love to go. It would be amazing to check out the mountains around Nepal too. There is such an interesting culture of spirituality in that part of the world, which would be amazing to experience. Basically, I’m always game to go anywhere that you can have an adventure and eye opening life experience!
No matter where I’ve traveled to, though, my favorite place on Earth is Lake of the Woods. It’s where I grew up fishing and spending time outdoors every summer. Both my parents are from the town that the lake is on, Kenora, so it has been a big part of my family’s life. If I could only ever go to one place in the world, that would be it.
In the universe:
Seriously though, if I could go one place in the universe, it would be into space. I really want to check it out, as I know that it would be a crazy experience and change my perspective greatly. If I had the cash, I’d definitely pony up to go on a Virgin Galactic express.
Products: What do you want to have?
Nothing; I really don’t care about material goods. I like cars, especially muscle cars, but I also like my bike. I used to love having lots of shoes and clothes, but one day I realized that I didn’t need all of those things, so now I just wear one pair of jeans and sneakers, and have a few different shirts that I rotate between. Don’t get me wrong, I still have lots of different things for different occasions; formal suits, rain gear, sportswear, etc, but I try not to have excess of anything that isn’t practical. Extra things end up creating both mental and physical clutter in a person’s life.
Passions: What hobbies/interests do you want to learn/excel at?
I still love being outdoors, so I get anxious when I’m not doing something outside. I always push myself with sports, like soccer and skateboarding. As well, I love fishing…big time. I have never caught a Muskie, and have been trying to catch one for a while. That is the one thing that I would love to get better at…catching a Muskie! Music is also a big part of my life, and always has been, so I love getting better at playing different instruments. Overall, I always try to improve on everything that I do.