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Ron Graves '96 has taken Pinkberry from 20 frozen yogurt stores to 250 in a few short years.

Ron Graves '96

Pinkberry 2.0

By halting development for a year to create a new infrastructure, Pinkberry CEO Ron Graves ’96 took the frozen yogurt chain global

By Daniel P. Smith

10/11/2013 - When Ron Graves ’96 became chief executive of Pinkberry in 2007, the then two-year-old frozen yogurt concept already had launched more than 20 stores in Los Angeles and New York City.

Yet, Graves had bigger plans.

“With the brand’s passionate and cult-like following, I felt [Pinkberry] had the potential to be a global brand,” Graves says.

But rather than open stores at breakneck speed, Graves did the opposite. He stopped developing new units and took a year to shore up the burgeoning company from the inside out.

When it resumed development in 2008, the Los Angeles-based company catapulted to the top of the frozen yogurt market. They currently have more than 250 stores across 19 countries.

“I knew we’d be growing fast, so laying a solid foundation with the infrastructure that would support rapid growth was paramount,” Graves says.

Pinkberry 2.0

Graves took a three-pronged approach to reorganizing Pinkberry. First, he built a team of investors, board members and management personnel capable of shepherding the company through a global expansion.

Next, Graves clarified Pinkberry’s mission and brand promise, reinforcing the young company’s core values of entrepreneurial spirit and uncompromising quality.

Finally, Graves outlined a strategy for growth that leaned on franchisees who shared the company’s values, had multi-unit operating experience, had deep local roots and knowledge, and were financially sound.

With its foundation set, Pinkberry hit the domestic and international market in full force. The company partnered with Kuwait-based operator Alshaya to expand into the Middle East in 2009. Seemingly a risky move at first, Alshaya has since opened more than 50 stores in the region, and Pinkberry has expanded to several other countries including Peru, the Philippines and most recently India. 

Pinkberry has also expanded its domestic footprint; two thirds of its stores are in the United States, but store growth has reached nearly 50 percent internationally.

“We worked hard to establish a balance between the structure and discipline necessary to scale without compromising our values," says Graves. “It is a balancing act we must fight for every day, then, now and in the future.

Battle-tested thanks to military, startups

But growing amid risk isn’t new to Graves. As an F-16 fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Graves learned the critical value of taking calculated risks.

Later, throughout two decades in the venture capital and startup world — including an 8-year stint with the Seattle-based Venture Capital firm Maveron — Graves gained rich insights into the successes and failures of other consumer startups.

When Maveron invested in Pinkberry in 2007 and he became CEO, Graves felt Pinkberry was poised to be “an enduring brand.”

“Pinkberry is a special brand,” Graves says. “When it launched, there was nothing else like it and it reinvigorated an entire category. As the space becomes more and more competitive, it is imperative we maintain that balance between discipline and innovation and never let the competition define us.”