Career Coaching

Want to Be Your Own Boss? Follow this Checklist

Juan Salinas

By Laura Quaglio

Three-time Rutgers alumnus Juan Salinas spent more than 20 years working as a snack developer for well-known companies like Kraft and Nabisco before he said “P-nuff’s enough” and created his own healthy snack called P-nuff Crunch. As a natural bodybuilder and amateur endurance athlete, Salinas CC’91, GSNB’94,’00 had long wanted to put his doctorate in food science to use creating a snack food that’s as nutritious as it is delicious. After about five years and 100 recipe versions, he took his perfected puffs—available in original peanut, cocoa peanut, and cinnamon peanut—on the TV show Shark Tank in October 2020. His appearance secured a $400,000 investment from Mark Cuban in exchange for a 25 percent stake in the product’s sales.

Over the past year, Salinas has been making the most of the resultant “fame and fortune” by developing his own manufacturing facility—one that doesn’t have to avoid cross-contamination by peanut products. Still, he asserts that 15 minutes of fame isn’t a requirement for becoming a successful entrepreneur.

“No matter how you find investors for your product or service, it’s up to you to make it or break it,” he says. “That’s true every step of the way.”

Here, Salinas shares the steps it took for him to become a “Rutgerspreneur”—including a few things he wishes he’d known from the get-go.

Ask yourself the tough questions

Starting your own business is exciting, but it’s important to make sure that you’re really ready for it. Are you ready to leave behind your life as you know it—your weekends, your traveling, your comforts—to focus on your business? Do you have enough money to keep yourself going until the business can support itself? Also ask yourself why you want to do this in the first place. Only do it because you love it, not because you think you can make money. Many businesses don’t make money, especially during the start-up phase. It’s your passion that’s going to keep you going through the really tough times.

Give your idea the pitch test

Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean that it’s good—or marketable. You need to make sure your idea is something that people actually want. The best way to do this is think about what your pitch would be for the product—say, if you were going to be on a show like Shark Tank. Make sure that you’re clear on what problem you’re solving, what your solution is, and why your solution is unique. Then pretend you’re being asked to pitch it on TV. To really sell your idea, you need to be entertaining. You must show a lot of energy. You must be relatable. You must have a great backstory. People who are going to buy (or invest in) your product want to know all these things. They aren’t just investing in your company—they’re investing in you.

Float the idea to family and friends

Quitting your day job is a decision that affects your whole family. There are going to be lots of ups and downs, and you want to make sure you have their support. If you don’t, it can be hard to keep going. Sharing your idea with loved ones also can get you some valuable feedback early in the process. My first idea was to make healthy snacks for babies, but my friends said, “You don’t even have kids!” So, I was like, “I’m an athlete. What if I do this same concept for athletes?” They were like, “Oh, man, that would be an easy sell. They’ll take one look at your body and they’ll buy the stuff.”

Prove the concept in public

This means taking your product into the real world and presenting it to potential buyers. I had high school students taste my puffs and fill out a survey. I set up booths at fairs, vegan markets, and supermarkets and I asked people a lot of questions. I learned to listen to what they had say without getting discouraged. Everyone has an opinion, but if the same things come up time after time, it’s probably something worth addressing. This obviously isn’t a one-time thing. It took me two and a half years to test-market my product.

Learn as much as you can

I knew I had a good product because I had 20 years of experience in the food industry. But I didn’t know a lot about running a business, so I’m going to Rutgers for my master of business administration degree. Rutgers has a great Entrepreneurship Partnerships program where you can reach out to mentors and people who will help you develop your initial business plan to make sure it makes sense.

Look for investors who are actually working in your industry so they can help you make connections to grow your business. If you have friends who are in other industries like finance or marketing, ask them for pointers, too. You’re only one person, and you can’t do it all forever. It’s just as true in business as it is in sports: teamwork makes the dream work!

Webinars with Juan Salinas

  • Nutrition for Active Lifestyles with Juan Salinas: Register to watch live July, 22, noon to 1 p.m., as Salinas explains how protein, carbs, and fats contribute to fitness and how to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • Be Your Own Boss (moderated by Colin von Liebtag): Salinas; Pavita Howe, director of Entrepreneurship Partnerships; and franchise consultant Jeff Bruce explore the worlds of entrepreneurship and franchising.

What is the Entrepreneurship Partnerships program? 

Entrepreneurship Partnerships was created in 2019 by the Rutgers Corporate Engagement Center to grow the entrepreneurship ecosystem by bringing visibility to Rutgers entrepreneurs, making connections between the university and its alumni community, and providing networking and support to “Rutgerspreneurs” as they build and grow their businesses.

The program is open to alumni, students, faculty, investors, corporate reps, and members of the local business community. To learn more: