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Don't Fit In.

In order to change the world you don’t do what’s already been done — you create change. Don’t Fit In explores how unfamiliar surroundings made Gavin Armstrong realize massive change could come from one little thing: a fish.

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Don't Fit In

Ever seen a fish in a suit? They don’t fit in — but you sure do notice them.

Gavin Armstrong spent university trying to “fit in”. He thought getting a suit-&-tie job in finance was the secret to success — and a way to inflict retribution on his high school bullies. But Armstrong’s career path hit a snag: he was miserable.

It took an unexpected and eye-opening trip to Botswana to change his perspective towards his goals. Being a fish-out-of-water made him realize trying to fit in wasn’t working out.

Witnessing abject poverty first-hand inspired Armstrong to channel his passion for business in a less selfish direction. Today, as founder and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise, Armstrong has become a leader in providing accessible tools to battle global malnutrition, proving that not fitting in can truly change the world.

In this episode, we also hear from Zoran Krunic, Customer Success Architect at Traction on Demand, and Aikido Sensai who explains how his approach to the competitive nature of life begins with the mantra “the biggest victory is the one over one’s self.”

These two introspective journeys intertwine to prove it is when we don’t fit in that we are best able to envision our true potential.


  • 3:19 - 7:58Gavin Armstrong’s journey of not fitting in and then finding his own path
  • 17:33 - 21:15Zoran Krunic on becoming an Aikido Sensei
  • 27:04 - 29:06 “Gavin reflects on the value of not fitting in and how it changed his life.”


[00:00:00] Alexandra Samuel: If it seems like the world is kicking you to the sidelines, it can feel like the answer is to either knuckle under or push back. We've come to a dojo here in Vancouver, an aikido dojo, to find a different kind of response. One that doesn't mean choosing between fight or flight.

[00:00:26] Zoran Krunic: My name is Zoran Krunic, and I'm the chief instructor of Vancouver Aikikai.

In a way, you can think of aikido as “the way of good energy”. 'Ai,' we can translate simplistically as good; ’Ki' is universal energy, life-energy, and the energy of the universe; and 'Do' is a way, the way of good energy. So in aikido, we do not have competition and I think this is a great thing. In competition, you are thinking more about the victory and you're thinking more about overcoming your opponent than you think about developing your technique, developing yourself as a person, and helping a partner develop themselves.

[00:01:05] Alexandra Samuel: Head-on conflict isn't the only way to deal with obstacles. It's often a lot more effective to focus on understanding yourself and seeing what other pathways that understanding can open. Or in the words of the founder of Morihei Ueshiba...

[00:01:22] Zoran Krunic: The greatest victory is the victory over one’s self.

[00:01:25] Alexandra Samuel: I'm Alexandra Samuel and you're listening to Waste No Potential. Today I want to talk about what seriously matters — fitting in. The older we get, the more we can see that fitting in is not just a trap, but often the very enemy of success. But there are so many pressures for conformity, so many signals about how we're supposed to look, how we're supposed to live, even what we're supposed to drive.

It's one thing to recognize that fitting in is just not what it's cracked up to be. It's another thing to embrace and really live the three words that will help you find a more meaningful, lasting path to success.

Don't fit in.

So that's what we're going to talk about today. How to give up on that urge, you know, that pressure to fit in.

And then what happens when you finally do. There's no better illustration of that power, than Gavin Armstrong. He's CEO and founder of The Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise. His company is focused on solving a huge, widespread threat to human health and doing it with a simple solution. It's a three-inch iron fish that you just drop into any hot liquid meal, and it gives you a much-needed source of iron.

I'll let Gavin explain later on why that is such a powerful tool. But right now I want to focus on one thing. In Gavin's story, we're going to learn about how one moment fundamentally changed the way he viewed his own identity and how that one change allowed him to make a much bigger impact on the world. But, like most of us, he began his journey thinking he had to fit in if he wanted to do well in life.

Gavin, I'm so glad you're joining us today. Tell me who you were in high school — what was the 15, 16, 17 year old Gavin Armstrong like?

[00:03:29] Gavin Armstrong: Well, the Gavin who I was in high school was not who I was today. But my time in school was actually quite negative. I was bullied a lot by my kids. I was trying to wrestle with my sexuality and my sexual orientation, and I was a bit effeminate and kids picked up on this. Called me quite nasty nicknames, you know, ‘Gay-vin’, 'Noodlearms', uh, things like that. And so it was a really negative experience in high school.

So I was really looking forward to going to university. That was my plan. Just survive high school, get into university. And I actually had some teachers who said "give up on that ambition, cause you're not going to get into university. Your grades aren't where they are going to need to be and you should maybe thinking about another path."

I wanted to go into finance and banking because I thought that if I could make a lot of money and live that Bay Street life, maybe come back to a high school reunion in a fancy suit, in a fancy car, I could prove to all of these people that I did something with my life.

And I think actually, the experiences I had in high school made me feel quite worthless. And I thought if I could have worth, like actual financial worth, I would put value to myself. The problem was I hated what I was doing. I wasn't passionate about it. And my grades were suffering because of it. And I was actually at risk of flunking out of university.

So I was really concerned. But I found a course that was called Politics, Science, and the Environment. And it was a course that completely changed my life.

[00:05:05] Alexandra Samuel: So tell me about the course.

[00:05:06] Gavin Armstrong: The course was a problem-based learning style course where it was a group of eight people. And because we jived so well as a group, our facilitator said, "I don't want to break this up after the semester."

And so we ended up taking a field course over the summer to Botswana in southern Africa. And it was my first time leaving North America.

[00:05:29] Alexandra Samuel: It was wheels down in Botswana, but for Gavin it's when life felt like it was truly taking off.

[00:05:36] Gavin Armstrong: Seeing all this, like the traffic and hearing all the noise and it was dusty and it was hot.

I got to see wildlife that I only saw in movies. Like, you know, there were lions and zebras and giraffes. The work itself is doing a study for an eco-tourism resort where tourists would come in and members from the community would take part in managing the facilities. And then revenue or profits from the facility would go to support things within the community, like schools or wells, water treatment programs, and educational opportunities.

The problem was the facility wasn't generating profit. And so the communities weren't getting the money that they needed to invest in themselves.

[00:06:19] Alexandra Samuel: Gavin and his fellow students decided they wanted to see what was happening with the profits from the eco-tourism resort.

[00:06:25] Gavin Armstrong: And so we went into the local community and it was there where my eyes were really opened.

I saw a school that was one classroom for multiple grades. I saw really, I saw poverty up close and personal for the first time. A lot of malnourishment and hunger issues. I just remember walking around and feeling, just feeling uneasy because my privilege was on display. And I just realized like, I don't really know what to do.

I don't know how to process what I'm seeing. So I paid attention to what was going on. We went into a school and, you know, we got to, uh, engage with the kids and seeing, you know, the laughter and the smiles of the kids. And just being able to see like such innocent, innocent joy when right outside you know that there was suffering happening.

We knew that this facility wasn't generating the profits it needed. We knew there were food shortages. We knew the water supply needed better filtration. And so I just felt on that, I didn't know where or what to do. I didn't know what to do with what I was seeing.

On the flight back I realized that I was on such a selfish trajectory to prove to a bunch of bullies, who will probably never see again, something about myself when this type of need exists in the world. And I knew I still had a passion for business. I knew that I could use business as a force for good.

[00:07:53] Alexandra Samuel: He started to toss away that rigid concept of himself and found his own hidden passion.

He just needed one further push to go beyond his original vision. At this point, I want to bring in someone else: Zoran Krunic. He's the Customer Success Architect at Traction on Demand, but you remember him from earlier in our episode. Remember this? [sounds of sparring in aikido dojo] Like Gavin, Zoran knows the potential that opens up when you let go of fitting in and instead live as your full self.

So, how would you say you are, you know, different from, let's call it, the median Tractionite?

[00:08:33] Zoran Krunic: I really liked what Gavin said about his re-examination of himself in terms of his approach as to what he wants to do. I was told that I'm different because I listened to classical music.

[00:08:46] Alexandra Samuel: He's a philosophy lover and a numbers guy.

[00:08:49] Zoran Krunic: I was a math head in school, but then I started philosophy.

[00:08:53] Alexandra Samuel: And the man knows a seriously impressive number of languages.

[00:08:57] Zoran Krunic: Don't laugh, please. So I learned French to read a particular writer in French and I learned German because I wanted to read the German philosophers in the original.

I picked up Russian because I was in Russia. I picked Italian because it was...

[00:09:10] Alexandra Samuel: Then there's one more obvious difference.

[00:09:12] Zoran Krunic: As you know, I do martial arts and I teach aikido. I haven't heard of anybody at Traction do that. So...

[00:09:19] Alexandra Samuel: Zoran came to work at Traction on Demand feeling like he was a bit different from the young vibe there. But he says there's a real benefit to that. And in fact, we shouldn't even try to fit in.

[00:09:31] Zoran Krunic: I think it does a couple of things. One is if you let go of trying to be in a box you will be dropping imaginary boundaries. Because the box is essentially in your head, right? There are rules out there, there are a number of people in the media that'll tell you what you need to do at any given point in time. And one of the problems with that is not only that, you know, you adopt it and put it in your head and then you start molding yourself to it, but it's also, uh, I believe it leads to stiffness we talked about before, and then you can't really benefit other people.

And let me explain what this means. I believe that if you get rid of that, as Gavin did, and if you start being yourself, i.e. 'not fitting in,' you become a better person. You become a more satisfied person. Let me maybe speak in basic psychological terms. You become a more satisfied person, you have more energy, and you radiate this towards the world as well. And I do believe that if only at that level, that will impact other people and at the company level if you have that culture, will impact the success of your business. But essentially again, going back to your excellent point, and Gavin's great story, I believe you will find a way in that case to benefit the world, not only yourself.

[00:10:55] Alexandra Samuel: And that's just it. In Gavin's story, he is going to benefit the world — he just doesn't know it yet. So let's come back to him. As he's touching down in Canada.

Coming back to Guelph University, Gavin kicked into high gear.

To start, he began working in student leadership.

[00:11:15] Gavin Armstrong: I ran for the senate, the board of governors and the student union and actually won all three elections. And so I was the representative in three different bodies of governance on campus.

[00:11:26] Alexandra Samuel: He quickly set to work realizing his personal mission. That's when he heard about a program called "Universities Fighting Global Hunger." It's an initiative to help send much-needed aid and food for emergency relief around the globe.

He got Guelph to join the effort and then he convinced many other universities to follow suit. He even made it into a competition over which university could produce the most emergency relief meals to go overseas.

[00:11:51] Gavin Armstrong: It was really cool. It was these assembly stations where everyone packed a certain ingredient.

There were beans and rice and fortification powders, and then you'd seal the bag and everyone was running around. And my goal was to set a world record. And we actually did! We packaged the most amount of emergency relief meals in one hour. The event was such a success we did two more. And we ended up, over the next two years, packing a million meals that would be used in emergency relief circumstances.

And it was, you know, thousands of people came out to these events. And because of that, I was able to do some fundraising activity in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. And that was an experience like no other.

[00:12:34] Alexandra Samuel: Going to the Dadaab refugee camp, Gavin was reminded again why he was set on this path of making a difference.

[00:12:41] Gavin Armstrong: I remember seeing the lineup of people trying to get in at one of the admission centers. And you saw people as far as your eye could see. It was, it was known, onto the sand basically. In this heat, and it was just heartbreaking. And I think the aid workers who were working there are some of the strongest-souled, strongest-hearted people I've ever met in my entire life because being there for 10 minutes I was in tears.

I was starting to break down. And they had been there for weeks and months volunteering. And it was at the camp that I learned 800 million people were going to bed hungry every night, which is a massive problem. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. And in fact, under the sea, you know, the part of the iceberg you don't see, was this problem that was much, much larger, and that was hidden hunger and malnourishment.

And about 2 billion people were going to bed malnourished every night. With the largest form being iron deficiency. And I learned more about iron deficiency and learned that it was actually getting worse, not better, rates were going up. And it was having a serious global impact, but no one was talking about it. So I went back to the University of Guelph and I found an opportunity to do a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science, on a solution to solve iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is getting worse for a lot of different reasons, and actually, spending on iron fortification is also going up. So we're spending billions of dollars on a problem that's getting worse. One of the problems was fortified products were very expensive, so people didn't want to eat them, or they had a taste, so they didn't want to consume them.

Diets are changing. There's more meatless diets. Access to healthy foods becoming more expensive and so iron-rich foods are inaccessible. Iron deficiency is linked with poverty. So if you can't afford the foods that have the iron, you know, that's going to be the problem that causes the iron deficiency.

[00:14:37] So I learned about research that was being done in Cambodia, by someone named Christopher Charles. And he had developed a cooking tool that when you boiled it in liquid, it would fortify that meal with iron. So it was sort of like a cast iron pan in reverse. And I had seen some preliminary data from an initial clinical trial that was done, and it was incredibly positive.

Not only did it have high efficacy rates, but it also had high compliance rates. So what worked and people wanted to use it. And it was so simple.

[00:15:08] Alexandra Samuel: He'd found what could be an amazing tool for combating iron deficiency. So once again, Gavin boarded a plane and set off. This time for Cambodia. What he couldn't have known as he traveled halfway across the world is that his life would never be the same once he touched down.

You're listening to Waste No Potential, a new podcast about incredible stories of spotting untapped potential. The show is brought to you by the good folks at Traction on Demand. And I'm your host, Alexandra Samuel. If you're enjoying the podcast, don't forget to follow us wherever you're listening from.

You can also find us at

In Cambodia, Gavin met Christopher Charles. Chris's cooking invention was in its early days of development. It was a small piece of iron that could be added to your cooking pot to infuse your meal with this essential mineral. And it came in the shape of a fish, a symbol of good luck in Cambodia.

[00:16:10] Gavin Armstrong: So Chris started the work in Cambodia. He had an affinity for the country and when I was there I thought "Perhaps, you know, research has been done here. Let's try another country so we can grow the portfolio of data in other areas." But on my first day in Cambodia, I just fell in love with it and I could see why he fell in love with it.

It was everything from just the hustle on the street, the busy-ness, the people being so kind, the smiles, the food is incredible. And I just thought you know what? And after learning about the history too, and the need that the country had, I just said, "This is where we have to continue. I want to continue to build the foundation of the product here.”

[00:16:47] Alexandra Samuel: Gavin was in unfamiliar territory. But at this point, he’s slowly realizing something: he's noticing the power of dancing to the beat of his own drum.

Which reminds me of our other guest, Zoran, and how he began his unlikely journey of becoming an official aikido sensei.

I do want to come back to the aikido story. I actually have been dying to learn more about aikido, so I'd love to hear the story of how you got into it and how you became a sensei.

[00:17:21] Zoran Krunic: So I started back in Belgrade in the old Yugoslavia. And I went to see a practice that a friend of mine took part in. And I liked it immediately, Alex, right? But Yugoslavia was starting to fall apart, which, because of nationalism, which I hate from the bottom of my heart.

So it was time for me to move. And I had a couple of countries in mind, but I chose Canada, obviously, because of Canadian values. But then I chose Vancouver specifically because Kawahara Shihan lived and taught in Vancouver.

[00:17:54] Alexandra Samuel: You literally moved to Vancouver to train with this particular sensei.

[00:18:00] Zoran Krunic: Correct. Well, first I noticed that Kawahara Shihan was a very quiet person. Very polite, which is typically the case with all senior aikido people.

[00:18:12] Alexandra Samuel: Yukio Kawahara Shihan was a local legend in Vancouver. He'd traveled around the world, teaching aikido and spent decades perfecting it. To Zoran, he became a close mentor.

[00:18:24] Zoran Krunic: It's going to sound very simple, but for me, it's profound. At one point in time he told me, "You know, all you need to do is practice and relax."

And I know this sounds very simple, but if I may amplify this a little bit, two things we don't do well in life is one is we don't put our energy into what we think we like or what we like.

So that's the practice part. But the second part is relaxed. And that ‘relax’ is even way deeper. What we don't do well in our daily lives, in my view, is we put a lot of our ego in things we do. And when we put our ego and thought into things, we tend to stiffen up, stiffen up mentally, stiffen up physically. If you practice something that you like or want to practice, and if you disperse with your ego, you are doing the best you can.

You're never going to do better by doing anything else.

[00:19:21] Alexandra Samuel: Through the lessons, he learned from his sensei, Zoran practiced, honed his style, and eventually…

[00:19:28] Zoran Krunic: Kawahara Shihan asked me to take on one of the dojos here. And then after that, which is a huge honor, he asked me to take over his main dojo, the original dojo here in Vancouver.

When I say, you know, I don't necessarily want to fit in, this is from the standpoint of doing what is right. Doing what is needed. So if you think about this in our professional lives, mine at least is, you look after an area that is not a sort of a beaten path often, right? So that's how I think about it.

From that perspective, I don't want to be in a box if that's going to mean that I won't be able to satisfy the client, satisfy our own team, connect people across the board, which I do as part of my job. Again, going back to aikido, so yes, aikido has influenced how I deal with my work. It is making sure that you do not have a collision with your opponent, but you use that person's energy and your energy to get to a situation that basically ends the violence. That means that we fit, right? You fit your opponent. That's correct.

However, if you think about this in the wider terms, you don't fit and why you don't fit is that you do not conform to any preconceived idea or what kind of response you would have to the situation.

The situation itself dictates how you react, not any preconceived rule. And that's what I've taken into my professional life as well.

[00:20:56] Alexandra Samuel: What Zoran's getting at here really speaks to what's so limiting about trying to fit in. It's like you're constantly fighting an invisible opponent, this other imaginary version of yourself who conforms to all of those external expectations.

Everything you have to offer, the energy you could bring to your life, your work, the world, it goes into that internal wrestling match. You react to expectations instead of harnessing your deep internal momentum. But, like aikido, instead of fighting, attacking, reacting, we can take all of those incoming pressures and transform them into momentum. Momentum that is guided by our own internal voice.

What I think of as that deep inner purpose. The power of following that purpose, we can see it in how Gavin decides to capitalize on what makes him and the Lucky Iron Fish unique.

[00:22:01] Gavin Armstrong: When I was trying to develop the business model in Cambodia, we were hitting a lot of problems. I had spent some money, some grant money I had received on developing basically a traveling road show.

And we bought a tuk-tuk, which is a three-wheeler with a little trailer on it with our logo. And we had a mascot, which was a walking fish within a chef's costume. And we'd go into communities with a jingle that was basically to the chicken dance tune, and we would go into these communities and do these workshops and talk about iron deficiency.

And we would do a cooking demonstration with the fish, have people use it, and it would tell them that, you know, this will help with those problems you're experiencing. And everyone loved it, but they didn't want to buy it. They didn't trust us. And where was the government approval? Why didn't the government buy it for us?

And so the people were really struggling to make that model sustainable. At the same time, I had requirements for my degree to present the data. So I was presenting data at conferences and talking about the product. And every time I would do that, I would have a lineup of people after my session saying, "I have iron deficiency. Can I buy one for myself?" It didn't matter what country I was in. And that's when I realized that iron deficiency is this massive global problem, which means there is a massive global demand for it. And so pivoted the business model to sell it online and a portion of each sale would go towards providing fish for free to families in need.

I started in Cambodia, but now around the world.

[00:23:27] Alexandra Samuel: This was the early days of e-commerce. Companies were still trying to figure out how to effectively sell products online. But, as it would turn out, that was just the boost the Lucky Iron Fish needed.

[00:23:39] Gavin Armstrong: It was the first time starting an e-commerce business. I started it in my basement.

I had a very cheap website and I would, basically, I'd have to go to Cambodia a lot to oversee the trial and do some business aspects there. And I basically would bring, you know, a suitcase full of fish home, or we would have fish mailed to us. Because we weren't selling very many, it was like 10 here, 20 there, kind of thing.

So it wasn't actually generating any kind of revenue that would make this sustainable. And then I remember waking up on the Sunday of the May 2-4 long weekend and my email inbox was just overflowing. And I had all these missed calls from someone that was working with me. I thought we'd been hacked.

I thought there was some emergency and I called her and she said, "Something's happened!”

And I said, “What?!"

She's like, "We have way too many sales."

We realized that the BBC had run an article about us. And so suddenly the story that was from conferences and stuff from local newspapers hit the BBC and that's where we had thousands and thousands and thousands of orders to fulfill. While we thought, okay, we've got to fix this.

And now we know we have a winner here.

Then from there we had people like Oprah say it was “off the hook” in one of the O magazine features. I was able to share the stage with Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton and hold up the fish and talk about it at a Clinton University event.

So I had been asked to go on Dragon's Den for a few years in a row, and I'd always been in Cambodia. And finally, I got the call saying, "Do you want to audition?" And I was in Canada, so I was, “Absolutely I want to go on Dragons' Den!” I was terrified of making a mistake, becoming a meme, you know, just really embarrassing myself.

But I ended up having very supportive comments from the Dragons and ended up getting an investment, actually a bit of a bidding war on an investment.

One of the most incredible parts of the job was being able to actually hear about the impact that it would have. One of the stories that I always think about is in Guatemala.

And I heard there was a mother who said, "I could never walk my daughter to school. I couldn't get out of bed. I was dizzy. I was tired. And after using this product, I can finally walk her to school every morning." And apparently, she had tears in her eyes. And it’s stories like that that remind you, that you can get really focused on the data and all of the macro-level impact, but you really have to think about the individual impact you're having as well.

[00:26:10] Alexandra Samuel: Since then, Gavin's received all kinds of accolades. From being awarded small business leader of the year from the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, to winning the best overall award from B Corp, to appearing as a Forbes 30 under 30, and more.

I mean, there's been so much recognition for the business and for you personally. Is that what you would want to go back and tell that high school Gavin about when he was having those tough, tough times, and getting bullied and pushed around because he didn't fit in?

[00:26:44] Gavin Armstrong: If I went back in time and told grade 11, Gavin, that he'd have a Ph.D., be the CEO of international social enterprise, and be a Forbes 30 under 30, who was on Dragons' Den, I would say "You're lying. And who are you?" Because I [absolutely couldn't believe it. I mean, I woke up every morning feeling worthless and despondent.

I struggled with suicide. And to think that just persevering through that, telling those teachers, “No, I can go to university.” Having worth by the impact and the work I'm doing, not by money and cars. I mean, it's just I wish I could go back in time, honestly, to say that because it could have made life a lot easier, but at the same time it's been motivation for me.

To always never give up and never take no for an answer. I think that the trauma I experienced in high school has been fuel that's gotten me this far.

[00:27:41] Alexandra Samuel: So what advice would you give to other young people who feel like they don't fit in and wonder if they're ever going to find a way to make a contribution?

[00:27:53] Gavin Armstrong: We're always looking for complicated answers and sometimes solutions have been done for generations. And so it’s, “Well, that just has to be the way it is." Honestly, we need to change things up. So it's okay to think about innovation, and it's okay for ideas to be simple. I think when we look at the problems the world is facing it's very easy to feel like it's too daunting and that we're screwed. And I think that young people are the ones who have the innovation, the imagination, and the drive to actually come up with the solutions to solve these problems. So I think let's find the answer, don't take no for an answer, and it's their time to shine.

[00:28:43] Alexandra Samuel: So many of us go through a period of life where it feels like all that matters is fitting in, when the things that make us different from other people are the things we hate most about ourselves. But we don't have to get stuck there. Just like Gavin, we can find ways that not fitting in can work to our advantage. After all, it's all the ways we're different from other people that mean we also have something unique to offer. Your strange choice of words, your quirky sense of humor, your unexpected approach to solving problems. They're all clues about where you have some special perspective that the world really needs. So please, don't fit in and let that decision unleash your full potential.

Today, my guests have been Gavin Armstrong, founder of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise, as well as Zoran Krunic, Customer Success Architect at Traction on Demand. I've been so pleased to have them both, and I hope you've enjoyed the journey with them. I'm Alexandra Samuel, and this is Waste No Potential, brought to you by Traction on Demand with production support from JAR Audio.

This is a show about success stories. But let's be honest, life isn't always a string of victories. Sometimes we make mistakes. Even lose what feels like everything. We collect scars in those moments and it takes bravery to pick ourselves up and carry on. Join us next time when we're going to hear the story of Lilian Umurungi-Jung from Mumgry on how those scars can be the very thing we need to spot our own potential.

Follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your shows. Until then, thanks for listening.

More potential awaits.