We all have knives, but do we all have sharp ones?! That’s the question and answer Marc Lickfett, the CEO of Knife Aid Inc. can answer.
While the pandemic has taken companies all over LA and the rest of the US on a rollercoaster ride, Marc and his team have stayed sharp and seen massive success; They even appeared on the hit TV program Shark Tank!
We spoke in this exclusive one-on-one interview with Marc, who is also a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience, about being a business owner here in LA, trends for the future and why he has stayed here to run his knife company instead of departing like many others.
1. What does it mean to be a business owner here in Los Angeles during these pandemic times?
It sure had a sense of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The drastic and early shut down in LA was a real challenge and there were many days I looked at other business locations such as Florida in envy. At the same time, it looks like all is well that ends well, and we are doing much better here than much of the world is doing now. Our staff were stars and adjusted to the new reality quickly, be it working from home or coming into our workshop to sharpen. We put all the CDC routines in place and then some, and our guys did a great job of staying save, and no one got sick. The people that did come in loved the fact that their commute was so much quicker. In terms of our customers, we were able to help tens of thousands of people by making their more frequent home cooking more fun. The fact that people cooked so much more and spent more time online has helped Knife Aid grow nicely during 2021, so we were maybe in the right place at the right time after all.
2. A lot of companies have been leaving California for Florida, Texas and other east coast states. In your opinion, why should people STAY?
Most of our staff has LA roots and would not want to leave their beloved home town behind. I am not sure how easy it would be to build a new team of such great people in a new location. Los Angeles has an amazing pool of high quality staff to recruit from and offers so much in one place that I do not think any other location can compete with. So while I was a bit jealous of other locations in 2020, I never considered a relocation.
3. You have owned companies around the world, so what drew you to now run one in the United States, and primarily in California?
The USA are the home land of entrepreneurship and have had a great allure for European Entrepreneurs like myself for 150 years. To miss-quote the old song “If you make it here, you can make it anywhere.” As I have always started and run online and technology businesses, California was the obvious choice – it is the Mecca for anything technology. I choose LA over San Francisco or the Bay Area because of the lifestyle here: the beach, the weather, and the attitude. Silicone beach is more grounded and intimate than Silicon Valley, so that made the choice easy.
4. How did you even come up with the Knife Aid idea?
I love the digital space and the last 20 plus years have seen so much change and innovation – in 1999 pretty much any industry or product needed digital disruption, and today the list of industries for major disruption is much smaller. Knife sharpening is exactly such an industry where the old solutions like sharpening trucks driving around LA, or the local butcher shops that sharpen knives have disappeared. A convenient way of getting your knives sharpened does simply no longer exist. People have forgotten what a difference sharp knives make in the kitchen, but also in DIY projects, hunting, or fishing. The fact that we stumbled upon knife sharpening as a niche is extra fortunate, as it is a beautiful ancient craft that was about to die out. And it is a powerful service to help reduce the amount of knives that end up in landfill. So helping people have more fun cooking and doing our part to help people re-use their knives was simply too exciting an opportunity to pass up.
5. How was your experience on Shark Tank?
It was a wild ride. Being European, I had no idea how powerful the show was. We were also lucky to be approached by them, so we did not have to spend hours waiting in castings and jump through as many hopes as other entrepreneurs do to get on the show. The show did miracles for the business and it was great fun to get a chance to look behind the curtains of our local LA show business. It was impressive to see how well produced and efficiently run the show is.
6. What advice would you give others who are dying to get on that show?
I think fundamentally it is about being quirky or different, and a lot of luck. As we did not go through the full casting process I cannot comment on that, but it is clear that the show thrives on good stories, so if you have any, use them. The sharks love to support smart, hard working, and innovative underdogs that do not get support from anyone else. So if you have a story about hardship (few entrepreneurs don’t), use it. Make why you would do anything to succeed in your business a part of the pitch. It is really about soul, strong motivation, smarts, and a compelling story, which make for a good show and in the end for an exciting product.
7. Aside from work, where are some of your favorite spots to go here in town (pre-COVID)?
With my dog I love the Pacific Street Dog park in Venice, as there are always tonnes of larger dogs and great unexpected people and conversations to be had.
A quirky place that makes me feel at home is Emil’s Bakery in Agoura Hills, as the sell authentic Swiss, German and Swedish buns, cakes, and breads.
I am a car guy and I love the Petersen Car museum as well as the amazing canyons around LA , for example Tuna Canyon in Topanga or La Flores Clayton in East Malibu for an early Sunday morning drive. It is amazing that such a large city would have so many amazing driving roads so close by.
8. What trends in your industry and in the business world in general do you see happening the rest of this year and into the future?
I think the phase we are going into is more interesting and provides more opportunities than the times after the 2001 dot com bust or the 2008 credit crunch. A lot of data points to broad shifts in customer and employee behavior and attitude, and the shift has already begun.These shifts create great opportunity, but are also a bit puzzling and will need braveness to capitalize on it. One shift I am seeing is a turbo boosting of online businesses. We have seen behavioral change that would have taken 5 years to happen in one year of COVID. There is at the same time a shift towards supporting local businesses, both because it was those businesses that have sold water, milk, and toilet paper to people when they most needed it, but also because we humans seem to value or neighbors, friends, and local community even more after a dreadful and lonely 2020. I am seeing a strong emergence of climate awareness and the understanding that some of the big issues like climate change and COVID can only be solved in partnership with others across the country, and even the world. Lastly, I am worried that we will see the 1930s bust and boom cycle repeated as people are so keen to go out and treat themselves now that personal lending together with enormous lending by the federal government might create some very happy and golden years, but potentially a crash 3-5 years down the line. These powerful trends are partly contradictory, but should make for exciting years full of interesting business opportunities.
9. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently and why?
That is always a tough question, because who would we be without our screw ups! If anything, I wish I had been more assertive earlier in life. So much of life be it business, personal relationships, or investments are about making clear decisions in a timely fashion and with integrity iI.e. are really based on intuition, feelings, and genuine needs and wants. I know I missed some great opportunities, experiences, and learnings because I did not go all in. I actually think part of the reason for moving to LA was to have the assertiveness of the locals rub off on me. By the same token, LA showcases assertiveness without soul or substance and that can be really annoying and an example of how not to do it.
10. What is your most ‘prized’ knife you own?
I own three Swiss Victorinox knives with wood handle that I love. They are good quality mid range knives, but I love them as they are laser engraved with the name of the little shop I bought them in probably 18 years ago in a village in Switzerland.
A lot of the mid-range knives actually use great steel and (once they have been sharpened properly) cut as well as many knives three times as expensive, so you will not hear any knife snobbery from me.