Mike Lohner Interview
Entrepreneurial maven and happiness expert Mike Lohner has been a cherished mentor and huge proponent of Gardenuity since the beginning. We sat down with him to pick his brain on growing a happy business and lifestyle, and today, we’re letting you in on all the secrets!
A note from Gardenuity co-founder and CEO, Donna Letier:
I was recently in New York meeting with various media outlets when one reporter asked me, “Was it hard at your age to raise money and start a business?” The question stunned me—first as fatuous, then as uncouth. But as foolish as the question was, my response was real.
Yes, it was hard. Whatever stage of life you’re in, it’s hard. However, there are key foundational essentials that make any entrepreneur’s job easier: grit, a great idea, lots of energy, time, capital, and a network of extraordinary advisors. As co-founder and CEO of Gardenuity, I knew I needed to surround myself with smart, experienced leaders who would guide me and the team through the business journey.
One of my and Gardenuity’s mentors is Mike Lohner. Mike has been with us from the beginning, and his patience, encouragement, and passion have been a critical part of our success. Today, I wanted to share a little bit of his genius with all of you.
Entrepreneurial expert, adoring father, wannabe musician, avid golfer, social seller, business maven, and mentor are among Mike Lohner’s self-imposed titles. But his official title is way cooler. Officially, he’s a “Chief Happiness Officer.” And, if that’s what he does, then Mike Lohner is good at what he does.
On the phone with me, he’s jovial, articulate, engaging, and extraordinarily zealous about what he says and does—in that way young children often are. He positively oozes positivity, which is not surprising, considering his expertise.
A Masters in Business from Stanford University and a vibrant career as an entrepreneur, CEO, and advisor for companies around the world more than qualifies Mike as an expert in many things. But his true expertise—his real niche—lies where business meets happiness. He says, “I think my purpose in life is to build businesses that create communities of people who are of similar interests and who come together to build each other up—to learn, to uplift, to do something with some meaningful purpose.”
So, how does Gardenuity and gardening connect to happiness? For Mike, it begins with a branch of psychology called Positive Psychology, which began officially in 1998. Technically speaking, it’s the scientific study of what makes humans flourish. Now, psychologists say that the single most important indicator of happiness is your social network—the people around you. So, when you have a strong community filled with passion and uplifting energy, you up your happiness levels.
Turns out, 50% of your happiness is genetic, meaning half of your happiness you can’t do anything about. Then, 10% of your happiness is attributed to wealth (up to a point). But, the remaining 40% of our happiness can be determined by the little things we do and the way we live our lives. Happiness research is about leading our best lives—something that resonates strongly with Mike.
“Growing things is a great hobby. My wife grows stuff and loves it. I’ve grown Gardenuity tomatoes with my grandson…and I grow grass on my putting green,” he says with a laugh. He continues, offering that Gardenuity has created a great idea and a fabulous product that makes it easy for people to participate in growing. It’s one of the reasons he invested, joined the board, and is so excited about helping the business grow.
But mostly, Mike is involved in Gardenuity because it’s a brand with the potential to drastically improve people’s daily happiness levels. He points to a model by Marty Seligman to explain this to me. PERMA is an acronym for Positive environment, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. These are the five major keys to unlocking your happiest self. “Gardenuity,” he boasts, “provides every single one of these keys.”
He continues in a systematic format. First, Gardenuity offers a community that’s supportive, optimistic, and loving—a positive environment. As part of this community, you become engaged in something positive, like growing an herb or veggie. When you grow, you’re developing relationships with this community of people and with your family and loved ones, as they grow, eat, and enjoy life with you. You have meaning in your life: clean eating is meaningful, increasing the amount of oxygen in the air is meaningful, and learning to nurture is meaningful. And lastly, eating something that you grew is something to be proud of, which is a huge achievement.
Mike continues, “These are the things that lead to a happier life. If Gardenuity continues to find success, it will be making the world a healthier and happier place.”
It would be a shame to speak to our mentor and advisor without asking him about advice he’s received. He answers that the best advice he’s ever been given was to leave every person you meet better off than they were before you met them. And then, as a sort of corollary to that, to treat every person you meet as if they’re in crisis because you’ll be right half the time.
I ask him what advice he would give to entrepreneurs—experienced or novice. He responds without hesitation, “Remember that it never goes the way you think it will. So, when things go wrong—because they will—you have to persevere. Keep on trying. Adjust. Keep on going. Believe in yourself.”
In fact, he tells me that Donna and he met because she called him to ask him to invest. And, “It was Donna’s sheer determination that convinced me to support and help her.”
“It’s hard to start a business,” he says, “and, like Donna, you have to be persistent. You have to persistently believe in yourself and believe in yourself strongly enough that, without fail, you get up every day and go at it with a strong purpose. You go make it happen.”
At Gardenuity, that’s what we plan to do—what we are doing. Like Mike said, we’re creating a lifestyle and community that makes plants and people happy, and we’re doing it with zeal and with love. With a decorated Chief Happiness Officer behind us, we feel sure we’re doing it right.