A former player's tactics for a successful business

Discover the story of Rodrigo Barros, former football player and now CEO of Boali, a healthy food franchise that is preparing to explore new countries.

Rodrigo Barros, CEO of the Boali healthy food franchise, tells his story and reveals the lessons he brought from football

Today, CEO Rodrigo Barros, 41 years old, is the one who defines the company's moves Boali, a healthy food restaurant franchise that is preparing to expand abroad. But it wasn't always like that: he started his career just listening to the instructions of football coaches — some of which he turned into lessons for entrepreneurship.

Born in Guarulhos (SP), Rodrigo started playing futsal at the age of nine and became a professional football player in his teens. After playing in Brazil, the United States, Germany and Portugal, he hung up his boots in 2003, aged 22.

“I could say it was because I was injured. But in reality I wasn't good enough and I realized that I wouldn't get to where I had dreamed of getting to in football”, says Rodrigo. “And I didn’t want to be mediocre. I wanted to do something that would deliver extraordinary results.”

When he left the field, he opened his mind to try new possibilities, without being quite sure what he was going to do. “When you make the decision to leave a career behind, it's good to enter another stream, because it brings you new perspectives, makes you see things differently”, he explains. 

Back in Guarulhos, he went to work at a team academy, an experience that lasted three months. “It was interesting, but I understood that this was not my future. Just because I played football doesn’t mean I should work in sports.”

From that moment on, Rodrigo collected very varied professional experiences. First, he worked with real estate. At the same time, he enjoyed watching TV talk shows about business and entrepreneurship and became a presenter. “I thought: 'it's a good way to learn a lot'. I decided to also be a presenter and interview businesspeople to see if I understood what I wanted to do with my life. It was a means, not an end.”

He finally put on the entrepreneurial hat in 2005, when he created a magazine —later, he opened a business in the events area, the Regional Business Forum. Rodrigo took a liking to the activity and, four years later, he sold the events company and bought a stake in a college. There, he created a corporate university for companies, including the ABF (Brazilian Franchising Association) Franchising Academy, in 2010.

Building the perfect team

Things were going well, but Rodrigo wanted more. In 2013, he went to live for two years in Silicon Valley, the world hub of startups, in San Francisco, in the United States. And it was there, acting as a mentor to young entrepreneurs, that he met Victor Giansante and Fernando Bueno, franchisees of Salad Creations.

The affinity between the three was such that Rodrigo bought a stake in the company and became an investor in the business in 2013. “Football taught me that the team is always more important than the individual. When the coach prioritized one player and left the whole team suffering for that guy, he didn’t get a good result”, he recalls. “People, in a multidisciplinary way and with similar values, can create great results for the team.” 

As the North American franchisor was not interested in expansion, the partners purchased the rights of Salad Creations in Brazil to build a Brazilian restaurant brand, Boali — a name that refers to good food. “Our purpose is to universalize access to healthy food,” says the entrepreneur.

Founded in 2016, Boali started the game with the 19 operations that were previously owned by Salad Creations. Three years later, Rodrigo took on the role of CEO of the new franchise. “Two things attracted me to Boali: people and the market. I already knew the partners and thought they were extraordinary. They are two people with whom I have a lot of empathy and in whom I believe a lot. Furthermore, the market was booming.”

While living in Silicon Valley, Rodrigo followed the birth of many healthy food restaurants. “What I didn’t see were large networks of global expression. So, when I took over, I already had the dream of transforming Boali into a global business.”

In 2019, Boali had 30 operations, of which 10 were owned units and 20 were franchised. As CEO, Rodrigo adopted the strategy of selling his own units to franchisees with the aim of gaining scale as a franchise. “Putting energy into our own store, there was no time left to pay attention to franchisees.” 

This was another lesson he learned from football that he took into entrepreneurship: define what position you play in and focus your energy on that. “People want to be good at everything and, at the end of the day, their performance ends up being average, not extraordinary. You don’t need to know a little bit of everything, but rather deliver very good results in one thing and bring in people with skills that complement yours”, explains the former player.

Counterattack in the crisis

In his first year at the helm of Boali, Rodrigo faced a major challenge: the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of remaining on the back foot, he went on the counterattack and invested in expanding the brand. “As restaurants were going to close, we started preparing new stores for the resumption, because demand recovers faster than supply. We wanted to be fully prepared to take advantage of this movement when people return.”

As of June 2020, the franchise has opened six dark kitchens in São Paulo, Santa Catarina and Paraná to validate new squares. And it joined iFood to grow in delivery and new niches, such as vegan and economical sandwiches during times of limited service (morning and afternoon). “iFood was essential for keeping the network open during the pandemic and was even more important for our growth. There are many people who met us on iFood and are now customers at the counter.”

Result: Boali entered the pandemic with 40 operations and will reach the end of 2022 with at least 85, totaling dark kitchens and franchised stores. The victory in Brazil encouraged Rodrigo to finally put his internationalization plan into practice. The company signed a contract with the United States to open 40 operations in the country by 2026 — and is already negotiating expansion to Portugal as a gateway to Europe. 

Interestingly, it was in Portugal that Rodrigo ended his football career. Today, the country represents the vision of the future, the bridge to the extraordinary results it has always sought. “Football gave me perspective and a repertoire to look at problems in a different way. When you look for things for the right reason, you find solutions you never imagined.”

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