Inside the strategy behind Daniel Lubetzky and former KIND execs’ investment platform, Camino Partners

They’re focused on the journey, not a tried-and-true playbook for success
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Camino Partners

· 5 min read

Just because the capital markets are cruel these days, that doesn’t mean you can’t be kind…or, maybe, be like KIND.

Today, Daniel Lubetzky, founder of KIND, is debuting Camino Partners, an investment platform using Lubetzky’s and other former KIND staff’s experience in scaling the snack giant to a billion-dollar business to help a fresh batch of entrepreneurs find success.

“Over the years of building KIND through every stage of its growth, our team has amassed tons of experience building a formidable culture, beloved brand, and highly successful business by focusing not just on where we are going, but also how we are getting there,” Lubetzky, who serves as Camino’s chairman, told Retail Brew.

The platform is led by managing director Elle Lanning, who served as EVP of corporate development and chief of staff over her decade at KIND. She told us she joined the brand right as Lubetzky was taking his first outside capital—just $5 million—for the company and all the way through its sale to Mars in 2020 for a reported $5 billion in 2020.

“What we saw more than anything is that there cannot be predetermined kind of outcomes, timeframes, ways of scaling a business,” Lanning said.

Following the sale, various KIND execs wanted to bring their “really in-the-trenches experience to bear,” Lanning said. This started through Equilibra Ventures, Lubetzky’s family office investment group, which is now being rebranded as Camino to double down on its belief that there’s “no one playbook” a consumer brand should follow.

“This is your camino, and we’re going to help construct it in a way where there’s hopefully better outcomes for all parties involved,” Lanning said.

Fund facts: Camino is interested both in helping brands scale after they’ve amassed consumer demand, as well as incubating new businesses—such as Lubetzky’s own plant-based Mexican brand, Somos, introduced in 2021—Lanning said, and it doesn’t have a revenue threshold.

As KIND scaled from fruit-and-nut bars to a slew of other adjacent categories, and entered specialty, natural, and mass grocery channels, the Camino team is looking for brands “where we feel we can leverage the breadth of those experiences,” Lanning said.

  • It’s got its eyes on brands that have: proof of a broader consumer base, i.e. a regional brand performing well beyond its home market; ability to appeal to both a specialty market and mass market player like Walmart; values alignment; and “a voice and reason for being,” offering category-defying or culture-shifting products, Lanning said.
  • Lanning pointed to portfolio company Belgian Boys, a food brand offering a unique take on breakfast products in the refrigerated section in grocery (an area that’s “a whole other animal” given its tricky supply chain)—and which Equilibra invested in about a year ago—as an example of this criteria.
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She said brands don’t have to be operating profitably, but should recognize why they aren’t. When approaching Camino, Lanning said brands should also have “a conviction in why your brand exists,” and where it’s headed, but also be flexible to different points of view on their biz, which she said often happened at KIND.

“We debated things vigorously, and for some people who came to us from different environments, I think they found it emotionally exhausting…if I look back and think of some of the more notable successes, those were the amalgamation of a bunch of people’s counter points of view,” she said.

Pressed for cash: It’s no secret that the investment landscape has ~shifted~ recently, from one “in which capital has been used to buy growth, to one in which inflation and a recessionary outlook are causing investors to pump the brakes,” Lubetzky noted. But this change doesn’t have to be all bad.

“Investing during a downturn has the benefit of helping to reveal values-aligned partners with the fortitude to navigate challenges and emerge stronger,” he said.

  • Those who relied on prior “subsidized growth” aren’t faring well now, so entrepreneurs must now build a strong foundation with sustainable growth in mind, he said.

For brands navigating this tricky funding climate, Lubetzky offered a few crucial “don’ts.”

  • Don’t be afraid to turn the tables on investors and ask them questions, too. “At the end of the day, a good investor is a strategic partner, not just a source of capital,” he said.
  • Don’t let these economic times keep you from investing “resourcefully” to grow, Lubetzky said.
  • And don’t take investment just for the $$; make sure investors actually get your mission.

“In times of major economic disruption, it can be particularly tempting to look for ‘easy answers’ by relying on someone else’s playbook for success…The most epic journeys don’t follow a road map; they are forged by teams whose values help them navigate the inevitable twists and turns ahead,” Lubetzky said.

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