The Path of a Successful Entrepreneur:
Luck, Hard Work and the Right Opportunity

Norm Snyder’s career in accounting started in the usual way. He earned an undergraduate degree, was snapped up by a Big Eight firm and started on the path to partner. Things soon changed. After he completed a two-year partner-track assignment in Venezuela, he returned home to a recession and few opportunities.

Snyder ’83 said, “Not everything we do is scripted. For the majority of us, things kind of happen.” A chance conversation with a colleague brought a new job, as chief financial officer of one of the four business units of the National Football League. After a couple of years, the writing was on the wall. The units would be consolidated and the NFL would not need four CFOs. Snyder knew that he could last for a couple of years but also wanted to do something entrepreneurial. A former boss at the NFL had started a beverage company specializing in healthy noncarbonated teas and drinks, a new market. Snyder moonlighted at the South Beach Beverage Company while maintaining his NFL position by day, until South Beach had evolved enough to need a full-time CFO. Snyder left the NFL.

“In entrepreneurship, it’s not ‘I want to do this now.’ Instead, it’s ‘This is the right time to do this.’” Professionally (he had some money in the bank) and personally (no family yet), it was a good time to make the jump.

There were doubts. Snyder had enough to live on for 18 months, thinking if it didn’t work out, he would have earned a “street MBA.” It took 24 months, but by 18 he and his partner believed it was do-able. He said, “We knew we had something, but like many startups, we were undercapitalized.” Snyder came up with a plan to obtain the necessary resources and presented it to shareholders, who not only approved it but offered to put up the funds. That development was key to the future of South Beach. Snyder said, “Since we were able to raise the money internally, we could maintain the environment and autonomy we wanted. Not all money is the same.”

Production, distribution and suppliers expanded, and South Beach became SoBe. Snyder advises that although entrepreneurship is glamorized, it is not for everyone, noting that more than 90 percent fail. He said, “It’s not something that you can elect to do. It takes more than a degree. Part of it is walking a tightrope. You eat what you kill and if you don’t kill anything, you’ll go hungry. Not everyone is an entrepreneur.”

In the early days of SoBe, a short day lasted 12 hours and making payroll was difficult. Snyder took a pay cut to join the company and, like many startups, the company burned through cash. The work paid off. PepsiCo bought the business in 2000, four years after its start. It was time for Snyder to move on. He said, “As much as companies say they want to tap into your experience, it’s not the case.”

With 20 years in the business, Snyder is known as a beverage industry expert, having worked for Rheingold, the High Falls Brewing Company, Adina for Life and now, Avitae, a flavored, caffeinated water. He said he owes his success to hard work and doing his homework, adding, “Luck plays a bigger role than most people will admit.”

How To Be an Entrepreneur

  1. Choose the right time.
  2. Over research your product and market.
  3. Know that not all money is the same.
  4. Get lucky.
  5. Be successful!
 Norm Snyder Speaking at Seminar Norm Snyder speaks at the UAlbany Center for Entrepreneurship's Spring Seminar in February 2015