GUY RAZ, HOST:
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BOB MOORE: I got a call in the middle of the night, got up, put my clothes on, jumped in the car. I lived just 1 mile from the mill. And I was up on a hill, and the mill was down in the valley. And when I came around the corner and I could see this fire reaching into the heavens - and realizing that that was my business.
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RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.
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RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how Bob Moore's passion project to grind his own flour turned into a whole grains empire called Bob's Red Mill, one of the biggest names in natural foods.
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RAZ: On the show, we've heard the stories of a lot of tech entrepreneurs. But today's story - it's about as low-tech as it gets. It actually goes back to the Paleolithic era and a technology invented essentially by cavemen - grinding seeds and grains into flour. And as an actual industry, people have been making a living off of this for at least 10,000 years. So we're not talking about a disruptive idea here. Bob's Red Mill mainly sells whole grains and flours, and not just wheat or corn, but things like millet and sorghum and kamut. And who actually knows what kamut is? And even though it wasn't his intention, Bob has turned all of that grain into gold. Bob's Red Mill is a $100 million-a-year business. Go to most supermarkets today, and there is a good chance you will find Bob's Red Mill products. Just look for Bob's friendly white-bearded face on the package.
And what's really amazing about this story - Bob started the company after he basically retired when he was almost 50 years old, right around the time he decided to study theology at a Christian seminary in Portland, Ore. And at the time, Bob was not a rich man. But we'll get there.
For now, here's what you need to know. Bob grew up in the LA area during the Great Depression. His dad drove a truck selling Wonder Bread. And around the time of the Second World War, all the young men went off to fight. Bob wasn't quite old enough to enlist, but he was old enough to work.
MOORE: Absolutely. I rounded up a job from the May Company in Los Angeles, which was their headquarters, I believe. I got a job in the warehouse. They had a master warehouse that fed the other May Company stores. And because there wasn't men around, the people that were running the warehouse were all old guys. At least, in my mind, they were really old. And they weren't draftable. And I can remember after working at the May Company warehouse for quite some time, I was called down to the office. And his name was Mr. House (ph), and he smoked cigars. And he was ominous in my mind, anyway. And I knocked on his door. And, of course, I thought they were going to fire me, and I was just shaking. I was so nervous to go in there. And Mr. House said, well, sit down, Bob. And he asked me if I would like to have a department of my own at 16 years old.
MOORE: Guy, that was probably the greatest thing that society did for Bob Moore was to give me that kind of responsibility when I was that young. And I almost cried. And he said, we will pay you a dollar an hour. Gosh, that was a lot of money at that time.
MOORE: But I walked out of his office - I didn't walk out. I flew out. I was just in seventh heaven. And it was probably one of the most magnificent moments in my life, was having that happen to me.
RAZ: After Bob finished high school, he joined the Army for three years. And when he got back to Southern California, he met his wife, Charlee. And, eventually, they had three boys. For a couple years, Bob worked for an electric motors company, and he thought that's what he would do for the rest of his life. But then his dad died unexpectedly.
MOORE: I have a picture of him in my office that was taken the same year he died. He looks as fresh and normal as anybody at 49 years old, certainly didn't look like he was ready to die. And he just keeled over one day, and the doctor said he was dead by the time he hit the ground. He had a massive heart attack. And to this day, I miss my dad immensely.
RAZ: You were, I guess, in your early 20s when he died. How did that change your direction at that point?
MOORE: Well, dad and I - we were always going to go into business together, but that didn't happen, of course. And one day, I was driving down Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, and they had just put up a big sign on a corner that said, coming soon - Mobil gas station. And I wrote the phone number down and called it because I wanted to find out how much it would cost to get a gas station. I didn't even think there was enough money in the world for me to do that. But they came through with a figure that seemed fairly reasonable to me. And so we put the house up for sale, and sold it immediately and got the money we needed to buy the gas station. And that's what I did.
RAZ: How much did you need to buy that gas station at that time? Do you remember?
MOORE: Oh, I had to spot $6,000. And I can tell you that the excitement of having my own business is still with me. Guy, it's still with me. It fulfilled every single thing my dad and I had talked about and - only I was - I didn't have my dad.
RAZ: So if you were enjoying things at the gas station, you - I should mentioned you, like, sold it a couple years later and got out of LA. Why? Why did you do that?
MOORE: Well, LA had a lot of problems. It was very smoggy. It was so intensely uncomfortable that we talked about, well, now that I have a gas station, we could really move any place. We could get a gas station in any town. And we decided that Mammoth Lakes was the right place to go. The Mammoth Lakes lodge had just built a big ski resort...
MOORE: ...Up at the top of the mountain, which I believe is still a very active ski area.
RAZ: Yeah, sure. It is.
MOORE: And so I sold my station, and we sold that house. So we had enough money. I think at the time we had about $17,000, which in 1959 - oh, Guy, it was a lot of money.
RAZ: And so you moved your family out to Mammoth Lakes.
MOORE: I did.
RAZ: And how'd it go?
MOORE: Nothing. No business.
MOORE: It was crazy. There was already a Shell station up there that had been there for years and years and years. And everybody loved them and went there for their gas and for everything else. And frankly, Guy, by the - almost one year to the day, we just ran out of money. And there's only one way I could go, and that's to get ourselves out of there.
MOORE: ...Which I did. And Charlee and I and the three boys took off for Sacramento, where I changed my direction in life.
RAZ: So what did you end up doing? So a year after this thing fails...
MOORE: Yeah, one year almost to the day, we got down to Sacramento. And I got a job at Sears Roebuck in the hardware department selling everything - I mean, lawnmowers and all the stuff that was there to sell.
RAZ: When you moved to Sacramento, what was your family's financial situation?
MOORE: (Laughter) Well, I think we were at the lowest point. We moved in. We'd had a minister of the church that we decided to go to at the time. He was caretaking an apartment, three-unit apartment. And one of the units didn't have a shower that worked. And he said, well, Bob, I can let you and Charlee and the boys live in that for a while. And we took him up on it because we didn't have any money. I remember the kitchen was very small, and Charlee and I put a mattress in the kitchen and slept on the floor. And the boys, the two youngest boys, slept together on a fold-up bed. And Ken (ph), the oldest at that time, slept in a sleeping bag. And that's how we slept. We didn't have any furniture. So that was about the lowest point in our life, when we were living on somebody else with the three boys. You know, when you get down, you feel helpless like a baby.
MOORE: You know, there's no strength left in you. You don't even know how to retaliate or fight. We really - we needed a helping hand.
RAZ: But at some point - maybe it was in the early or mid-1960s - I read that you came across a book...
MOORE: That's right.
RAZ: ...That I think it's safe to say probably changed your life. What was that book?
MOORE: Yes. A book called "John Goffe's Mill" written by George Woodbury. I have it in front of me right now. And George was a very well-educated archaeologist. He got a letter in the mail. It said that he had inherited his family's mill, which was about 600 acres in Bedford, N.H. Well, I mean, if you got a letter like that, you're going to go down and see what you have. And that's exactly what George did. He went down to the mill and spent the next 10 years of his life restoring John Goffe's Mill, which is still down there.
RAZ: And so this is, like, a memoir of his life restoring this...
MOORE: That's exactly right.
RAZ: And that book somehow struck a chord with you. What - why?
MOORE: All of a sudden - he makes a statement in the book that the most delightful thing was whole grains. When he ground all these wonderful whole wheat flour, and whole rye flour, and cornmeal and all this - that the public beat a path to his door. I remember those words. I underlined them and tagged them and showed it to my wife. If we could do this - if we could get a mill and do the same thing - the public would beat a path to our door.
MOORE: And we would be in business.
RAZ: So you get really interested in this idea of maybe starting a mill. And lots of people get interesting...
MOORE: Oh, yeah.
RAZ: ...Ideas and get obsessed with things for a time being. And so what did you do? Did you start to think, well, how are we going to buy a mill? Did you start to talk to your wife - to Charlee - and say, let's look for a mill to buy?
MOORE: Yeah, I did a lot of talking. I did a lot of talking to Charlee. And I - and the boys were all in their teenagers by that time, and I got them interested, too. And one thing I did was I went to the library, and they had a 12-volume group of American manufacturers of equipment. And in there, they had pages of companies who made flour mills and equipment for mills. And I wrote some letters - rather naive because I really - I was talking about stuff in the 1800s and asking them about stone mills. And I wrote about 10 letters. And I think I only received a response back from about two of them. One of them gave me the name of a fella who they knew had a stone mill. His name was Dewey Sheets, and he lived in Muncie, Ind. And he had been in the milling business for, you know, a lot of his life. And Dewey was such a help. He found me a mill that was to be torn down in Fayetteville, N.C. So I ended up - for not a whole lot of money - with my garage stacked full of old, very ancient stone mills dated 1870, 1860, 1880.
RAZ: Let me just understand what you had - what you were bringing in. You were bringing, like, large stone...
RAZ: ...Wheels and just all the equipment you would need to grind up grains into flour?
MOORE: That's right.
RAZ: And with - I guess with all - with the intention of eventually actually getting it up and running and starting a mill. But was anybody - I don't know - anybody that you knew saying - thinking, this guy Bob is, like, kind of losing his mind. I mean...
RAZ: ...This hobby thing of starting a mill - you know, it seems like he's taking it a bit far.
MOORE: You know, Guy, I don't know why I didn't have much resistance. I didn't feel that I had to back up to anybody or apologize. I think that I felt it was time for healthier food to come along. Our world needed better food, needed more whole grains. It needed most of the nutrition put back in the food that we were feeding people through the grocery chains. And the whole thing began to take on a real form and make sense to me. And when I talked to people - certainly, my wife and others - it made sense to them, too. So, well, maybe you should try it.
RAZ: I guess after a couple years, you started to save some money, and then you were able to buy...
MOORE: My wife started to save money, Guy.
RAZ: She started to save money, OK. And you were able to...
MOORE: (Laughter) Yeah, I never was good at it.
RAZ: But after a couple years, you were able to move to a small farm - like, a 5-acre acre farm. You have - you amass all this equipment. This is, I guess, the late '60s, early '70s at this point. First of all, how did you - how were you going to get the cash to find the land to build a flour mill on?
MOORE: Well, we didn't build a flour mill. We rented a piece of property that had a building on it. There were so many things that happened in our favor. I got a job at Penney's - J.C. Penney Company in Redding, Calif. - opening a brand-new auto center. And so we ended up in Redding, Calif. There was a delightful old Quonset hut on the south end of town, and it was vacant. And we built walls inside, built a store - a real quaint store with cedar planking on the walls. We covered the whole front of the building, made it - tried to make it look like a flour mill, and called it Moore's Flour Mill. And we converted this building into what was a reasonable facsimile of a mill. And we had three stone mills that we set here and there and began the process of grinding flour - whole wheat flour - cornmeal.
RAZ: So this is 1974. You open the doors to Moore's Flour Mill with your boys, and you're making wheat flour, corn flour. What else?
MOORE: Oh, actually, we - I created the 10-grain cereal that we're using now. We ground whole wheat. There's a lot of kinds of wheat. There's a durum wheat, which is a hard white wheat. There's a red wheat, which is high in protein and makes wonderful bread. Oh, and then soft wheat - there's a soft white wheat for pastries and biscuits. And so you get a little knowledge of what grains are and how to use them. Then you create some recipes and put them in a bag. And then you peddle them. And that's just what we did. We put large windows across the wall from the store into the mill room, and they could see one or two or three mills running all the time.
RAZ: So this was like - almost like an artisanal mom and pop kind of storefront. It was never designed to be anything bigger than that, I guess, right?
MOORE: Oh, no, no, no. I kept my job at Penney's for two years. And Charlee, of course, she worked the store and talked with people, and she was a great believer in whole grains. And it was all very nice. We were having a great time.
RAZ: OK. But you must have still been, like, kind of restless because you - I guess it was around this time - you kind of made a radical shift. Like, you decide to retire. One of your sons takes over the mill, and then you take off to go study at a seminary.
MOORE: That's right. I had a intense desire to learn to read the Bible in the original languages, Hebrew and koine - Greek. And we did a little scouting about and found here that Portland, where I am right now, was one of the greatest spots for seminaries. And we enrolled in one of the seminaries here and began to learn to speak Bible in its original languages.
RAZ: This is - I mean, this is interesting, Bob, because at this point, when you decide to completely change directions and just go and study at a seminary, you are about 50 years old, so just a little bit older than the age when your father died.
RAZ: And this was going to be your retirement, the beginning of the - you're sort of winding down from work, I guess, right?
MOORE: Well, I counted all my buckets that I had, and I said to Charlee, I think we could last - we could live this way for four or five years, and I think I could get my education. And once I got that, I would get some kind of direction, I felt, whether it was spiritual direction or what, and would be able to reroute my life into something that was worthwhile. And we both agreed that that was what - it appealed to us both. So that's what we did.
RAZ: So you start at seminary school, and...
MOORE: We do.
RAZ: Do you love it? Did it fulfill all of your dreams and hopes and wishes?
RAZ: (Laughter) Oh, no, what happened?
MOORE: Well, it's hard work. When you haven't been into languages, Guy, it's a tough one, actually. I had to do a lot of studying. And Charlee was right with me. What really changed the whole thing was one day, we were walking along. We were reading vocabulary cards back and forth. We had Greek verbs on one side and nouns on the other. And so anyway, one day, we were walking down a particular street. And much to my surprise, I looked over, and there was a mill. And it had been there for a long time. And in front of it was a for-sale sign. I couldn't believe it. I said to Charlee, I said, hon, that is an old mill. We walked over. This is probably six blocks from the seminary. And I got up - went up on the steps. And I looked in the window. And I could see bucket elevators, grain cleaners. I could see all the milling equipment. I could not believe what I was looking at.
And there was a phone number. And I called the number, and I got a hold of the guy that owned the property. And when I told him I was interested, he says, what are we talking about here? He owned a lot of property. I said the old mill - mill, mill, mill. Oh, he said, yeah, that property. He said, yeah, we're going to tear the building down, and we're going to have the property as 2 acres, and we're going to have it for sale. So it's going to be a really good buy without that old mill on it. I said, what you going to do, tear that mill down? And I thought, this is just the most fantastic thing in the world. I can't believe what's happening. So well, basically, I bought the thing and changed my entire life.
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RAZ: When we come back - how Bob opened his new mill, started to grow the business and then stood on a hill and watched the whole thing go up in smoke. I'm Guy Raz. Stay with us. You're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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RAZ: Hey, welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. So it's 1978. Bob and his wife, Charlee, stumble across an old mill about to be torn down, and they decide to save it, to create a new company. And they call it Bob's Red Mill.
MOORE: I took three months. I gave myself three months to the day to get the doors open. And I began a concerted effort to make my life what I thought I was capable of doing with this building. Now, the building was everything. It was just a godsend, to be honest with you. I think that's a good term.
RAZ: But how did people - like, when you opened the doors after three or four months from the moment you bought it...
MOORE: Three months...
RAZ: Three months...
MOORE: ...To the day.
RAZ: ...To the day, and you're processing grains, and you know how to do this stuff - how did you get the word out? I mean, were you just waiting for customers to show up and buy flour and grains?
MOORE: Well, I had a lot of help. I put - every Tuesday was the food ads in the local paper. And I put a two-column - the mill is now running; come and enjoy a fresh, stone-ground, whole wheat flour. And I'm a pretty good shouter. I can yell it out pretty loud and make it work pretty well. And Channel 2 here came out with Kathy Smith (ph). And within two weeks of opening the mill, I was on the evening news...
MOORE: ...With Kathy saying the nicest things about Bob's Red Mill. And then I could fill a parking lot in no time.
RAZ: And people were buying your grains, your oats, your - like, your flours, just coming in and buying all that stuff?
MOORE: Yeah. But what else came in was, we had a group of markets here called Fred Meyer one-stop shopping center. And their buyer came in. He was the vice president. And he said, Mr. Meyer would like to open health food stores in all 44 of his stores, and he'd like to put your products in there. And they gave me a list of the grains they wanted, the flours they wanted. And, of course, with the Fred Meyer chain, others came to us - Safeway, I know, and Albertsons and some of those - and ask us if we had enough production...
MOORE: ...To keep them going. And without too much effort, we got a pretty good business going.
RAZ: And this is - I guess we should say this is the mid-'70s, so this is, like, really when the health food craze kind of starts to take off in America. It's really...
MOORE: Well, we had a - yeah, we had a lot of help. Like, Reader's Digest came out with an article on bran and why that was so healthy for you to keep your bowels in good order. And just one thing right after another kept coming out. And, of course, everybody had a TV, and there were shows on health. And we really began to realize that we had kind of a tiger by the tail over this whole thing, you know? And there's a lot of revelation in this stuff. We didn't start out with any huge intent or anything. It just seemed like the right thing. First off, we were eating that stuff ourselves. And we were - all felt the benefits of all this. So that's one thing - that you're in a business that you believe in. And I think that's one of the biggest things that made this thing work.
RAZ: Yeah. So all right. So Bob, I'm going to just jump ahead because the first 10 years of the company, you were growing slowly and steadily. You were still pretty small.
RAZ: But about 10 years in, after you launched Bob's Red Mill, in 1988...
MOORE: Ominous year.
RAZ: Ominous year - you had a fire completely destroy the mill.
MOORE: Yeah, I did.
RAZ: And it was intentionally set. It was set by an arsonist.
MOORE: Well, yeah, you know, we - it was kind of crazy people running around. I didn't know this person at all. And it wasn't any - like, an ex-employee or anybody mad or with any grievance or anything. I don't think any of us knew it was coming. And, boy, I'll tell you, with that old wooden building that was really old - you know? - why, it really caught fire. And it was full of grain. It was a very active company - lots of paper and just everything.
RAZ: Where were you when it happened? I mean, how did you find out about it?
MOORE: Well, I got a call in the middle of the night - Bob, Bob, your mill's on fire. So I got up and put my clothes on, jumped in the car and got on down. And as I went around the corner, I didn't - I lived just 1 mile from the mill. And I was living up on a hill, and the mill was down in the valley. And when I came around the corner, and I could see this fire reaching into the heavens and realizing that that was my business.
And you don't know what to think. You don't know how to think. You don't know whether to cry or what. I just got down there pretty quickly. The fire chief came up to me who I knew that used to make inspections of the mill. And he said, we got all the water we need. But if you could tell me what part of the mill is the most precious that would keep you going in business, I can direct a whole fire department at that point. And, of course, the millstones were the most important part of the whole thing.
We walked over to the mill. It was pretty hot there, but, you know, the - and the fire departments were throwing a lot of water on the building. But we walked over, and I pointed out on the building - side of the building where the mills were inside. They immediately had a saw. They just whacked a big square hole in it. And he planted one of the firemen there on the ground with a fire hose aimed through the hole. And for the entire time of the fire, he kept direction inside the mill room, which actually saved all three mills.
RAZ: So when the fire was put out and you're looking at what was left of Bob's Red Mill, which I'm assuming was not a whole lot...
RAZ: ...Did you - were you immediately thinking, we're going to just rebuild and start up again really soon? Or did you think, maybe it's time - maybe this is a sign to pack it in?
MOORE: Well, that's pretty much what I thought. But there were some things that changed my mind. And even that very night, David (ph), my - at that time, my oldest employee's wife came down. Eileen (ph) was such a lovely lady. She was our - she worked at the bank where we banked, and that's how David met her. And we took them, the two kids, on their first date together for dinner. And they got married. We went to their wedding and everything else. And David had been with me almost 10 years by that time. And that night, within a few minutes of my arrival there, Charlee came.
And she and Eileen were talking, and I overheard them. And Eileen told Charlee, oh, Charlee. I don't know what we're going to do. We just signed the papers on our home. David doesn't have a job now. And, you know, that sunk in pretty deep. Charlee looked at me. And I guess what she was saying and what I was thinking in my mind is that there's probably not going to be any thoughts of not continuing this thing. Somehow, we'll make it work.
There's an awful lot of things that have motivated me over the years. And a lot of those things came out because of David and Eileen and the fire. So I felt that I had a weighty responsibility staring me in the face. And there's a lot of things that go through your mind in those kind of situations. And, certainly, I had every thought you could think of.
RAZ: But you kept it going. You decided to keep it going.
MOORE: We tried first, of course, to rebuild the mill, and that was impossible.
MOORE: But I had a warehouse across the street, about a 10,000-square-foot warehouse directly across the street. So even though the mill burned down, I had some resources. I was able to save the millstones, so we almost immediately moved across the street to the 10,000 square feet that we had. It wasn't enough, but we tried it. And I - but I had the business. Guy, I had awesome business. People wanted our products. They kept bugging me when I was going to open my retail part, which, of course, burned up. And we just kept trying and trying to keep machinery going.
MOORE: Remember now, I started many years ago with my sons in Redding, Calif., and my wonderful son Bob (ph) had a milling operation that we had all built as a family. And he allowed one of my people to go down there and grind my whole wheat flour and my cornmeal and things like that at night, you know? And then they put it in a truck and brought it back up. So all these things began to work almost immediately. It gave me a pretty good degree of comfort with getting things going.
RAZ: One of the really interesting things, Bob - it seems that after the fire is really when the business started to take off. I mean, in the...
MOORE: Oh, it did.
RAZ: ...Sort of 10 years after the company almost, you know, just, like, goes out of business because of fire, what happened? What's the reason why? I mean, was there a strategic decision that you made? Was there someone you met? Was there a lucky break that you guys got that just allowed Bob's Red Mill products to go national and then beyond?
MOORE: (Laughter) Well, actually, there was - I was told that I'd never go anywhere or be anything unless I became a part of the national natural food industry, so I joined that. It wasn't very expensive. And we went down to Anaheim, Calif., where I just got back...
RAZ: This is a famous natural foods expo, right?
MOORE: That's correct. Yeah. And we got a little 10-by-10 booth at the back of this thing. And we brought all the products that we were making. It was quite a few, actually - several hundred. And I tried to have all-natural whole grains and every form of them. We could take one item - corn, for instance - and we can make corn grits. We can make fine cornmeal, regular cornmeal, coarse cornmeal. I ended up with, you know, six or seven products over one basic grain. I did the same with wheat, and I did the same with oats and everything else. So, I mean, it was a unique way of doing it. I wanted everything. I didn't sell as well - some sold better than others.
But when the industry down there in Anaheim saw this, I had some people come to me, and they said they wanted it. Who's your distributor? And I said, well, (laughter) I don't have a distributor. So those people - the distributors were there at the show, too. They went and got their distributor, and they brought him down. They said, we want these products. So they took my products on. So almost overnight, we kind of hit the jackpot. And we had to go back and work pretty hard to catch up with their orders.
RAZ: So once you found distributors, and you started to - your project started to really take off, it wasn't that long before you really started to - I mean, the revenue for your company was growing. I mean, I think by 2007, your sales topped 45, maybe $50 million. Did you - I mean, I know you didn't go into this for money.
MOORE: No, I didn't.
RAZ: But did you ever look at that number? Did anybody - your CFO ever just say, hey, look. We're - this is our revenue. And did you ever just think, that's crazy? This little mill is doing this kind of revenue?
MOORE: Well, we did pretty good - pretty good, Guy. People were always wanting to buy us. I mean, it was just a constant.
RAZ: You were getting offers from companies to...
MOORE: Oh, yeah, yeah. Different investors who wanted to invest in me - and actually different companies that just simply wanted to buy me. There was a lot of that.
RAZ: And you just said no every time?
MOORE: No, I said no because - all right. I didn't - it wasn't any money anyway. And besides, I knew as soon as they bought me out - even though they always tell you that everything's going to stay the same - that everything changes. And I didn't want my life to change. I thought it was really swell. It was a good life, Guy.
RAZ: All right. So you have this company. It is now doing at least $100 million in revenue a year.
MOORE: Yeah, it is. It's well over $100 million.
RAZ: And I think it was in 2010 - you announced that you want to hand the company over to your employees. And they now own, like, two-thirds of it, right?
MOORE: That's right.
RAZ: And you are also giving away a lot of or most of your money. So it sounds like - and you've a long time to go, a long life ahead of you. But it sounds like...
MOORE: (Laughter) Thank you.
RAZ: ..You are slowly - it sounds like you are slowly aiming to end - you know, to end your time here on Earth as a poor - or a, you know, relatively poor guy, a guy with no money.
MOORE: (Laughter) Guy, if there's anything I can tell you, I'm giving it away because I want to. I mean, the Bible, to me, was so clear - to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Now, that's the basis of how I think and how I feel. If you do these things, the feeling, the return - your life is appreciably improved. And I have that feeling. I know what that is. It's a different feeling than I had when I was 50 years old or younger.
RAZ: Yeah. Yeah, of course. How much of what you experienced throughout the course of your life and the incredible success with this company do you attribute to luck and how much to just hard work and your intelligence and your skill?
MOORE: Oh, Guy, I've always worked hard. I'm crazy. I get up at 6 - here I am, almost 90. I get up at 6 every morning. I go down to my own store - my own restaurant - and have cereal. I don't like anything besides hot cereal - cooked cereal. And then I - well, I get into bed a little bit early. But I work till 5 or 6 every day. So I've always worked hard. So if working hard is the secret to success, I've done that. I know what it feels like, and I probably never will do anything different.
RAZ: Bob, you talked a little bit about your faith - you know, your Christianity. And I'm just wondering, like, how much has it guided you, you know, over the years - like your decisions and your thinking?
MOORE: Well, I think it permeates me, as far as that's concerned. The whole concept of whole grains I got from the very first page of the Bible. You know, when you go to seminary, they start you off with the first page. So I have it with me. I can read it to you. It is only a couple of lines. (Reading) God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And I read these words in 14 different translations, and I learned to figure it out in the original Hebrew. It still says the same thing - simple, unequivocal, comforting. Just made perfect sense to me, Guy. And the fact that I could establish a business around it was just unbelievable. And I'm not doing too bad at it. It's working pretty well.
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RAZ: Bob Moore - founder of Bob's Red Mill. In 2007, the company moved to a bigger facility just outside of Portland, where they make about 400 different products, still using the old quartz millstones from the 1800s. By the way, Bob actually keeps a mason jar full of the very first product to come off of those stones - red wheat flour ground in his original mill more than 40 years ago. And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.
But first, a quick thanks to one of your sponsors, Squarespace. If you're ready to start your new business, make it stand out with a new website from Squarespace. Visit squarespace.com/buildit for a free trial. Then use offer code BUILDIT to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.
Hey. Thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today's story starts back in 2015 when Mike Boulos was working as a lawyer in Chicago and then moved to a new firm in a new office.
MIKE BOLOS: My new desk was just one of those typical desks that's kind of mounted to a wall. But - yet in downtown Chicago, I had these beautiful floor-to-ceiling ceiling windows out to my right overlooking the city.
RAZ: Now, we might not all have floor-to-ceiling windows in our office, but we can relate to the main problem - right? - an office desk that is not in the right place.
BOLOS: The perfect place to be would be the window. Get this beautiful view. Get the natural sunlight. I'm like, there's got to be something out there for that.
RAZ: What Mike was looking for was a desk - a ledge, really - that could be mounted directly to a window.
BOLOS: So I started looking online, couldn't find anything. And that's when kind of, like I always like to do, I headed to Home Depot and Amazon and started to buy the parts I need to build it.
RAZ: OK. So first thing on Mike's list - suction cups that could attach a desk to a window and could support what's on the desk - a laptop, some books, you know, that type of stuff.
BOLOS: So I shopped, and I found some good suction cups that, you know, held about 40 pounds, they said, mounted them with some string that I bought from Amazon and created this really rudimentary, almost kind of cat bed-looking thing.
RAZ: And it wasn't too bad for his first try. But it was bouncy, and it was too narrow to really work as a desk.
BOLOS: And it was at that point that I stepped up, and I found the types of suction desks that they use to install commercial-grade glass windows in high rises. And I was like, this is perfect. These are ultra-durable, ultra-strong and intended for this purpose, essentially.
RAZ: OK. So Mike now had the critical suction he needed to affix the desk to a window. And from there, he built 18 prototypes. And, finally, he had the desk he'd been dreaming of.
BOLOS: People started walking by my office and saying, what is that? I want that in my office. That's cool. Where did you buy it? And that's when kind of the lightbulb clicked. And it was like, well, I should really think about mass production and really bringing this to market.
RAZ: And around that time, Mike went to a party where he met a guy named Jason and told Jason about the desk he built.
JASON GROHOWSKI: Immediately, the lightbulb went off in my head.
RAZ: Yes, more lightbulbs. It turns out Jason Grohowski was a real estate advisor. And it was his job to help businesses improve the design of their workplaces. So Jason saw real potential in the desk that Mike had invented. Here's Jason.
GROHOWSKI: I've seen how culture within spaces is changing, how all the new buildings are glass, how everything is about bringing in the natural light for employees and just productivity and health and wellness within spaces. And so I just got super excited. I was like, we need to do this. We need to take this to the next level.
RAZ: Mike and Jason soon started working with a design firm in Chicago and made even more tweaks to the desk. And by January 2017, they had a prototype ready. So they launched a Kickstarter that April and made $25,000 in just the first day.
GROHOWSKI: After we closed out the Kickstarter, we had to fulfill these orders. So then it was, let's go get this made.
RAZ: They had all of these orders and no manufacturer yet. So a month later - this is May of 2017 - they found one in Singapore. And by November, Jason and Mike went there to check on the desks before they got shipped.
BOLOS: And I look at the unit. I'm like, something doesn't seem right. And I play with it, and the lever snaps. At that point, we had 2,000 units already made, all the components made it. And we were like, this is something that we can't let out the door.
RAZ: So after a month of sleepless nights and many design revisions, Jason and Mike finally got the lever right. In December, they started shipping their desks from their Singapore manufacturer to their customers in more than 40 countries. They're now both working full-time on their company. It's called DeskView, and their desk comes fully assembled. So you can install it on your window in just a few minutes and then enjoy the view.
BOLOS: We focus so closely on our computers. All of our work day is just straining our eyes to look at close objects. With DeskView, you're actually allowing yourself to relax your eye and look out further.
RAZ: If you want to find out more about DeskView, head to our Facebook page. And, of course, if you have a story about something you're building, please tell us all about it at build.npr.org. And thanks so much for listening to the show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, go to howibuiltthis.npr.org. You can also write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to send us a tweet, it's @HowIBuiltThis.
Our show was produced this week by Rachel Faulkner, with original music composed by Ramtin Arablouei. Thanks also to Nour Coudsi, Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour and Jeff Rogers. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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