Episode 48 How to Pick the High-Hanging Fruit

with ZICO Founder Mark Rampolla

David Hassell interview David Hassell interview
AWE Episode graphic Mark Rampolla

In 2004, Mark Rampolla was sick of settling for low-hanging fruit.

Sure, he had a comfortable life, a six-figure income, and was poised to reach the top of a Fortune 100 company. But he knew there was more to life than making money.

Most of all, he was concerned about the example he was setting for his young daughters. Did he want their dad to be a corporate conformist, someone who settles for the status quo, or someone who could strike out on his own and change the world for the better?

That’s when he decided to reach for the high-hanging fruit.

A few months later he launched ZICO coconut water, a company that sought to transform the billion dollar global beverage industry by offering a healthier alternative to the sugar and chemical laden sodas that dominated the market.

And he never looked back.

After a successful exit from ZICO, Mark is now the co-founder and managing partner of Powerplant Ventures, a venture capital firm specializing in plant-centric businesses. Together with his partners and portfolio companies, Mark’s goal is to revolutionize the global food system by offering the nutrition people need in sustainable and ethical ways.

Oh, and he’s also the author of the new book High Hanging Fruit.

Mark captivated us with his ideas and stories from his journey from Peace Corps volunteer, to entrepreneur and CEO, to venture capitalist.

Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that Mark has maintained his trademark optimism and grit throughout his long career, and is always challenging himself to learn and grow.

Buy Mark’s Book and Donate to Homeboy Industries

Mark’s new book is called High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will.  Use this link to purchase the book and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women.

Key Takeaways

  • Mark explains why he made the leap from entrepreneur to venture capitalist, and how he investing unexpectedly became a labor of love.
  • Mark tells us how he evaluates companies, and why the single most important factor is always the quality of the person (or team) leading the business.
  • Mark breaks down the difference between “experience” on paper and the story that an entrepreneur brings with her to a business.
  • Mark weighs in on the question of whether or not our culture has “entrepreneurial fever,” and explains why he usually discourages people from people leaving their job to start a business.
  • Mark describes the perils of becoming an entrepreneur in a left-leaning family, and tells us the amazing story of his entrepreneurial journey, which started off in the Peace Corps.
  • Mark explains how his days in Latin America with the Peace Corps working with local cooperatives and women owned businesses shaped his perspective on entrepreneurship, and helped lead to both ZICO and the high-hanging fruit concept.
  • Mark tells us why took on the challenge of managing International Paper’s (a Fortune 100 company at the time) business in El Salvador, straight out of business school.
  • Mark tells us how he discovered that the IP’s local CFO was cooking the books, and how that ultimately led to an acute familiarity with finance and balance sheets – something that serves him to this day.
  • Mark talks about the genesis of ZICO, which actually began as a side hustle while he was still with IP.
  • Mark explains why half of strategy is deciding what NOT to do, and explains some of the worst business ideas he came up with during the ideation phase prior to launching ZICO.
  • Mark describes how he evaluated these ideas not just with the typical business filters, but with personal and social filters as well.
  • Mark talks about the greatest challenge working with a giant company like Coca Cola back when they were a mere minority investor in ZICO.
  • Mark tells us the single most important lesson that he wished he knew back when he started ZICO in 2004, as well as the darkest moment throughout the entire ZICO journey.
  • Mark explains why the belief that “you’ve already won” actually enables you to do your best work.
  • Mark explains why he’s so bad at hiring.
  • Finally, Mark tells us what inspired him to write the book High-Hanging Fruit.



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