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Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Matt Clifford's advice to students includes: giving more than you receive and eat a lot of bananas! Matt Clifford's advice to students includes: giving more than you receive and eat a lot of bananas!

Stories of Leadership: Matt Clifford

Matt Clifford, '09, has founded a company that gives athletes raw, organic energy.

“I often say it’s better to be lucky than smart, and when you are, you better know the difference,” said Matt Clifford, a San Diego State University alum and a founder of Barnana, a company that makes organic chewy banana snacks. “In essence, don't take yourself too seriously, and remember you’re not that smart.”

Clifford, a 2009 finance graduate considers himself incredibly lucky. As an undergraduate, he set out to be an investment banker.

“If you would have told my sophomore self, I was going to be in the banana industry, I would have said, ‘you’re crazy!’”

After he graduated, he decided to take a break from books and numbers and travel through Europe. Four months later, back in San Diego, Clifford met serial entrepreneur, Mitch Thrower. Thrower was embarking on a venture called, now Clifford said he was in the right spot at the right time.

“I owe a ton to Mitch Thrower. I got my practical MBA in entrepreneurship by working alongside him for 2 years as we built”

In 2012, Clifford embarked on his own entrepreneurial startup, creating Barnana with two business partners, Caue Suplicy and Nik Ingersoll. Since, then, the company has grown in size and popularity. Barnana products are now sold in more than 1,000 retail stores across the U.S. and Japan, including Safeway, Vons and Whole Foods Market locations. They also sponsor triathletes, humanitarians, models and reporters who support personal and planetary health.

Tell us the highlights of your professional career. What are your proudest achievements?

I would have to say starting Barnana and being involved in the organic food movement. The team we have at Barnana is world class. We’ve entered what many would call a crowded and commoditized market, and brought life, energy and loads of fun. Additionally, the untraditional nature of what we do makes it inherently exciting. It reminds me of an Emerson quote, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” We are leaving a trail of banana peels so it’s easier to follow.

What’s your favorite college memory?

There are tons of memories christened on or around the SDSU campus. From sleepless nights at Love Library to the late night burritos at Trujillo’s; it’s hard to single out all the goodness. I do vividly recall a defining moment in my proverbial “path” at SDSU. It was toward the end of my first semester. I was offered an opportunity to study abroad in Oxford with one of the smartest, most brilliant professors at SDSU. Dr. Stoddard. The trip redefined my college experience. Looking back, I was fortunate to have the “study abroad” experience as a freshman. It quickly set the tone for me of what the educational experience is all about. I returned understanding the classroom is just a conduit for knowledge; a true education is up to you.

Who was your favorite professor and/or what was your favorite class?

Tons of professors made a significant impact on my journey as an undergrad. One in particular not only significantly improved my writing style, syntax and structure but also changed my paradigm as a student, entrepreneur and leader. Jeff Campbell is one of the most talented, experienced and practical professors at SDSU. He was the previous chairman and CEO of Burger King and vice president of PepsiCo. He is also a brilliant educator that created a practical learning environment with a heavy dose of inspiration and knowledge. He is one of those professors that humbly remind you every week how much you don't know. He is a dear friend, mentor and now sits on the board of Barnana. Campbell, if you’re reading this, thanks again. Let’s grab a beer.

If you were to give current SDSU students some advice, what would you say?

Embrace the journey; live it to the fullest; get involved in as many clubs, organizations, events and experience as much as possible. Be YOU! You will always be the second best someone else. If you don't know who you are or what makes you tick, spend more time seeking it. Others may say find your passion, I say find YOU, and your passion will come! This is what college is about, don't just take the major that offers the highest paying job out of college, or become an accountant because your parents are. Ask yourself tough questions, challenge the status quo, and fully understand who you are, and what you like before you graduate. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Make mistakes, and be naïve, stay hungry, and stay foolish.” Also,

  • Eat a lot of bananas.
  • Heed the advice of all, but act on the advice of few.
  • Always give more than you receive.
  • Have an obsession for what you do.

What are you currently reading? What’s your favorite book?

I am currently reading three books:

  • Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful”
  • Niall Ferguson, “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World”
  • Candice Millard, “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President”

Two books undoubtedly changed my life and serve as modern day bibles:

  • Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends & Influence People”
  • James Allen, “As a Man Thinketh”

What quality do you value most in friends and colleagues?

Integrity, the thirst of knowledge, and the pursuit of excellence.

What is your passion?

It’s weird to say you have a passion for bananas. It just doesn’t sound right. However, I’m a big fan of bananas. It is the perfect fruit. I’m a bit biased. On a serious note, my passion is to bring inspiration and happiness to people’s lives through positive enterprise.

What is your motto?

“You only live life once, and if you do it right, once is enough.” Secondly, “Our worst day is someone else’s dream.” Don’t complain; life rocks.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?

Is this is a canned question? I feel like I’m in a beauty pageant … I throw it right back at you.

In short: Everyday both of our feet are above the ground; it’s like winning the lottery. I’ve got two feet on the ground. Actually, I am answering these questions while in a plane where I am so very high above the ground. So in essence, I’ve already won.