In the early 1980s, Greg Steltenpohl borrowed $200 to buy "a little hand squeezer and some bottles and a box of oranges," he tells CNBC Make It.
He and his band at the time started selling juice out of their Volkswagen van in the Bay Area as "a way to self-support," he says.
What started as an effort to make ends meet turned into a multimillion-dollar company, Odwalla, within just a few years.
Part of Odwalla's success was thanks to legendary entrepreneur and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. "I was fortunate to develop an early friendship with Steve," Steltenpohl says. "He called me one day and said, 'I love your juices. I've got some apples in my backyard that I want to have squeezed up to give as gifts to my employees.' So we went and picked up the apples, juiced them up and then I said, 'Hey Steve, maybe you can do me a favor and do your employees a favor — I'd be happy to drop some juice off every day for them.'"
Jobs agreed and started putting the juices in the Apple cafeteria. After all, he was "a big lover of fresh juice," says Steltenpohl.
Besides stocking the Apple headquarters with Odwalla and generally promoting the product, Jobs also passed on lasting business advice, Steltenpohl tells CNBC Make It: "He always said, 'Never be afraid to pick up the phone and call the best person in the world at doing anything.' He said, 'If you care about something, get the best and go for the best.' That was simple advice, but I keep that in mind."
Plus, "his sense of design has kind of been a consistent source of discipline for me," says Steltenpohl, particularly for his latest venture: Califia Farms. After an E. coli outbreak put Odwalla on the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s, Steltenpohl and his partners were forced to sell the company in 2001 to Coca-Cola.
But Steltenpohl, now in his mid-sixties, is once again generating beverage industry buzz with Califia, a plant-based beverage company he co-founded in 2010 and currently runs as CEO. Califia sells its plant milk in eye-catching, curvy bottles, a design that was partly inspired by Jobs.
Steltenpohl says he always kept in mind "the way Steve went the extra mile to make sure that things looked just right. And that gave me a lot of encouragement to push the envelope on Califia's design.
"I owe him a lot actually," the entrepreneur adds.
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