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‘Granola Boy’ comes of age; Lee HS alumnus talks tenacity, transitions

2014 March 6
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, and employees, we catch up with Lee High School graduate Justin Anderson (Class of 2005), who shares what he’s learned since starting his own business as a junior, which recognition has meant the most to him, and how he hopes to inspire other young people to follow their dreams.

You launched a granola-manufacturing company in 2003 while still a junior at Lee High School. Since then, you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University and rebranded your entire business. What lessons have you learned along the way?

Justin Anderson today...

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that it’s important to figure out what you’re passionate about and have it be something you can stick with for a long period of time to make successful. Surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you, and be prepared to fail small and learn big from your mistakes.

Your signature product, Anderson Trail Premium Soft Granola, was recently phased out in its retail form. Was it sad to say goodbye to the thing that essentially launched your whole enterprise?

No, not really, because Anderson Trail is still the name of the company and it’s on every bag of our current product. At the time we rebranded, I was looking to innovate and reinvent the company and its products, and I knew I needed to bring in someone with a bigger skill set than I had. And since CEO Bill Schneider came on a few years ago, we’ve already been more successful in terms of the number of stores we’ve gotten into than I was in the entire eight years I did it my way. I look at this as Anderson Trail 2.0.

As far as the original line goes, we still offer Anderson Trail in one ounce, single-serve bags to food service and schools. Which reminds me, is HISD still serving breakfast? (laughs)

You’ve been profiled by publications such as Texas Monthly and included in lists such as the EMPACT100 (the top 100 entrepreneurs in the U.S. under age 30). Which recognition has meant the most to you so far?

...and back in 2005

I think being selected as a National Scholar by the Horatio Alger Association was the most meaningful and has had the biggest impact on my life. I got it back in 2005, and it was the first scholarship that I received that wasn’t totally based on your GPA. Instead, it had more to do with how you planned to overcome your adversity and achieve success in college and beyond. Only around 105 of the 40,000 people who applied were selected that year, and I got to fly to Washington, D.C. and meet other scholars.

I also got to interact with some of the association members, who had come from nothing and gone straight to the top of their fields. One day we had a luncheon at the State Department and I ate lunch next to Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A and Lyt Harris and his wife Venita, who discovered Orville Redenbacher back in the 1970s. Truett had a cow tie on, and the Harrises stayed in touch and became my first investors in 2006.

What else have you been doing since we last spoke? And what are some of your goals now?

One thing I’ve been trying to do is help inspire other students find and pursue their own passions through our “founder’s tour.” I would love to be able to talk to students at the schools where I went in particular: Parker ES, Johnston MS, and Lee HS. The company also offers college scholarships and financial assistance for community projects.

Right now, WOATS is carried in more stores in California than in Texas, so my next goal is to try to reverse that!

Are you still colloquially known as “Granola Boy” or did that get phased out, too?

Yes, my friends still call me Granola Boy from time to time. And now, I’m also getting, “Hey, WOATS!”

Your tenth high school reunion is coming up next year. Do you plan to go?

Absolutely! I probably need to look into that since I was class president. (laughs)

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.

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