Money

Odwalla founder who started with $200: It's a 'myth' that you need money to build a successful company

Greg Steltenpohl, co-founder of Odwalla and Califia Farms
Courtesy of Califia Farms
Greg Steltenpohl, co-founder of Odwalla and Califia Farms

In 1980, Greg Steltenpohl and his band at the time started juice company Odwalla with just $200. They bought "a little hand squeezer and some bottles and a box of oranges," Steltenpohl tells CNBC Make It, and started selling juice out of their Volkswagen van as "a way to self-support."

What started as an effort to make ends meet turned into a multimillion-dollar company within just a few years.

"It's a myth that you need to have money to start something," says Steltenpohl, who says he was inspired to launch Odwalla after coming across the book "100 Businesses You Can Start For $100."

"I didn't learn much from the book, it just gave me the idea that you could do it," he says. "And that's the main point to anybody."

Starting with very few resources also happened to be the key to Odwalla's success, the entrepreneur tells CNBC Make It: "Businesses become successful when they're very connected to the needs of the customers. By starting with a small amount of money, you have to listen and watch how the consumer interacts with your idea or your product, and observation and closeness makes you evolve the product or the service."

That's why his advice to entrepreneurs is to not get carried away at first.

"Rather than extrapolating a big idea that's going to save the world and raising a lot of money to do that, it's more important to start small and create iterations and watch and learn directly," says Steltenpohl, who sold Odwalla to Coca-Cola in 2001. He is now generating beverage industry buzz with Califia Farms, a plant-based beverage company he co-founded in 2010 and currently runs as CEO.

"And if you keep that closeness even when you're much bigger," he adds, "I think your accuracy and success rates of products will be much higher."

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