Freshii founder Matthew Corrin on leadership, David Letterman–style

The 33-year-old founder started with no restaurant experience but has grown the chain to 100-plus locations in 12 countries

Career Path, a continuing CB series in which top innovators and entrepreneurs explain how they got there
Freshii founder Matthew Corrin

Freshii founder Matthew Corrin: “Just stay in the game. Just don’t run out of money. Just don’t go to zero.”

In 10 years, Toronto health food chain Freshii has grown to 100-plus locations in 12 countries. The company’s 33-year-old founder, who started with no restaurant experience, explains what he gleaned from his early days as a serial intern.

Founder, Rink Routes (Summer 1996)

“I created a book of maps that guided people to all the different hockey arenas in the city of Winnipeg—this is long before Google Maps—and sold ad space to cover the cost of printing. When the season started, I went around to all the arenas and sold my Rink Routes for $2 a book.”

Student, Western University (1999–2002)

“I probably had the lowest grade in my first-year business class. I was very uncomfortable reading financial statements. That basically reinforced the direction I would take in my career: less of the CFO route and more of the creative, visionary side of business. I played to my skill sets, which were more creative than analytical in nature.”

Intern, isalvage.com (Summer 2000)

“It was basically an online auto-parts salvage yard, and I was in charge of the launch party. There was no budget—I was just told to make as cool as I could. Money is a very valuable thing. Without it, you literally cannot continue to operate. One of the things I tell young entrepreneurs today is, ‘Just stay in the game. Just don’t run out of money. Just don’t go to zero.’ Doing anything other than going to zero is the better option.”

Talent intern, Late Show with David Letterman (Summer 2001)

“Thursday and Friday’s shows were shot on the same day. Between tapings, Dave would have his dinner. He would have two dozen lobsters delivered. He would eat one and would give the interns the rest. I thought that was really cool. It was his way of saying, ‘Hey, we recognize you. We appreciate you. Enjoy eating like me for the summer.’ That, to me, was a lesson in management and how you make somebody feel valued and important.”

PR and marketing manager, Oscar de la Renta (2002–2004)

“At the end of the day, a fashion business is like any business: It needs to generate sales, and it needs to generate profit to grow. But Oscar de la Renta really did everything with an eye for style. When we design something at Freshii, whether it’s a new store or a menu item, a significant feature of it is, how can we do it with style? Can we make it look beautiful and unique as opposed to ubiquitous and cookie cutter?That eye for style should be in everything you do.”

Founder and CEO, Freshii (2005–Present)

“Instead of a business plan, I wrote a series of guiding principles. I use them to lead the company and hope that my team members, franchise partners and employees also lead by them. There are five guiding principles, but the last one is “pick your battles.” As a young entrepreneur, you’re often engaging and interacting with people who are older than you—in some cases, 20 years older or more—and you run the risk of coming across as, what I was once called, “a young, arrogant little prick.’ So you’ve got to learn when to fight hard, when to be an arrogant little prick, and when to be humble and polite and back off.

Dragon, Next Gen Den (2015–Present)

“It’s an evolution of my interest in helping young entrepreneurs launch businesses. We young entrepreneurs don’t know what we don’t know. It’s interesting to help those who have never experienced those first things for the first time, to help them navigate that stuff.”