Carly Stein, Founder of Beekeeper’s Naturals
Carly Stein was working full-time as a financial analyst when she decided to trust her gut and start her natural remedy business Beekeeper’s Naturals. The company was born out of a personal need due to Stein’s allergy to antibiotics and her love for science. To build a business, Carly has. been involved in creating, selling, and networking by herself and faced a lot of opposition from those around her but never the less she perceived and established a loyal client base in the Canadian farmer’s market scene. Through networking and working long nights creating the products by hand Carly was able to get in touch with Whole Foods Canada and become a staple product on their shelves. Now Beekeeper’s Naturals can be found in thousands of stores in both Canada and the US – it has revolutionized medicine cabinets offering people a natural alternative.
Find Carly Stein and Beekeeper’s Naturals
Table of Contents
- How Necessity is the Mother of Invention
- Remedies from A Range Traditions & Geographies
- Learning to Care For Bees
- Value of Taking a Job in Finance
- To Build a Business Stay True to What Makes You Happy
- Gaining Experience in the Entire Supply Chain
- First Break – Distributing to Whole Foods
- Sources of Funding
- Believing in Your Idea
- Imagining the Future
- Closing Tips
Mimi MacLean: Welcome back to The Badass CEO. Today we have Carly Stein and she’s the founder and CEO of Beekeepers’ Naturals. It’s an innovative company on a mission to reinvent the medicine cabinet founded in 2016. Using unique remedies from the beehive. The Beekeeper led team is committed to providing the cleanest most powerful solutions to modern health issues like brain fog, poor sleep, and scratchy throats. Enjoyed by the Kardashians and countless other celebrities, all products are non-GMO, non-toxic, Certified B Corp, and made by nature. So you can feel good about what you’re putting in your body. To get your top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know about how to build a business, go to thebadassceo.com/tips.
Mimi MacLean: Carly, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. And I’m excited to get to know your company better and to hear your story. So thank you so much for coming on.
Carly Stein: Thank you for having me.
How Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Mimi McLean: I’d love to just start out like how you got started. If you don’t mind, a little bit about your background and how you decided to be a CEO and start your own company – to build a business.
Carly Stein: So it was kind of like a falling forward situation. Really. It started with my longstanding health issues. So it started really early on. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard tonsillitis before or maybe-
Mimi McLean: Yes.
Carly Stein: You know, it’s like quite painful and the whole thing. So I had chronic tonsillitis growing up, and I’m allergic to most forms of antibiotics. So basically what happened was I was constantly sick with no real cure. And tonsillitis, it’s certainly a curable condition. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s really painful, and if you don’t have antibiotics and you don’t kind of get rid of it pretty quickly, it can linger and it can really affect your day to day. So I would have tonsillitis for like two to three weeks at a time, and I would have it very, very regularly growing up and antibiotics are just not an option for me.
I’m allergic to a lot of different sort of traditional forms over the counter medicine. So basically, I was constantly sick with no real solution. I was just like always sick and always missing out. Growing up, everything from like dance recitals to you, name it, I was constantly sick and kind of on the bench. And it, from a pretty early age, got me looking at my options. And I started really exploring the world of natural wellness and I became really frustrated with that world as well, because I would end up spending all this time and money I didn’t have on these products that were more natural, but made big bold claims and just were not delivering on the results I needed. They weren’t really getting rid of this viral condition I was struggling with.
I saw everyone, like I went all over the country, seeing specialists. I was seeing MDs, naturopaths, everyone. And I just couldn’t really find a solution. And it felt like on the Western side, I didn’t fit into the traditional medicine model. There was no real cure or remedy for me in that space. Then on the more alternative wellness side, I started to really not trust things. I thought it was like a lot of snake oil, a lot of fancy well-branded products that just didn’t actually get the job done. It left me spending all of my high-school paychecks and all my part-time job work on these different products that did nothing and still feeling sick.
This was just the state of affairs for me. This continued on up until college. And when I was in college, I did a semester abroad. I was studying in Europe and when I got to Italy, of course, I got really bad tonsillitis and I was going to have to come home. It was so severe that I was having a hard time breathing, and I had busted my butt waitressing to get out there. It was like my first big trip abroad by myself and I was really not wanting to miss out. And so I was like, I sort of missed out of a lot of big opportunities and big experiences throughout my life because I was sick and I’m really sick of that.
I just decided I was going to find a solution and I’M not leaving Europe. And I went into a pharmacy in Florence. I spoke to the pharmacist and I rattled off my long list of allergies. And basically she was like, “Oh, you need Propolis.” And I was like, “Okay, what’s that?” She says: “You know, propolis from the bees.” And I was like, “Oh, so honey? Like a honey derivative or something?” And she was like, “No, no, no, totally different thing. Propolis is a totally different compound. Just trust me, take it.” Walked me through all of this. She ended up giving me this like little tincture, very little information on it, telling me how to use it.
I started using it. And in about five days I made a full recovery and that was like my first ever healing experience. I was so used to using things that didn’t work, and these false promises and things that actually in many cases made me sicker. It was my first experience of actually using something and getting better in like a timely fashion. That sparked this whole fixation on Propolis and understanding it and understanding why I’ve never heard of it. Thinking about how this could have affected my life if I had it earlier on. And I started doing a ton of research and I basically found that propolis is not new.
Remedies from A Range Traditions & Geographies
The first recorded human use dates back to 300 BC. It was used across cultures for a variety of inflammatory conditions. It’s anti-microbial, it has antiviral effects. It’s an in general immune booster, and it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. And it’s something that can be really utilized for its germ fighting immune boosting abilities. And it was also really commonplace in other cultures. It wasn’t very well known or still isn’t very well known in North America, but across the world and other cultures, it’s a common remedy that people rely on for immune support and for all kinds of concerns.
As I was traveling around Europe because I was able to make a full recovery, I would find these different bee products that were more nuanced, you know, going far beyond honey in different places. I remember finding brain supplements, Royal Jelly in France. And also these anti-aging supplements. I started using these energy supplements that I found in Copenhagen and with all of these things, I was both practically incorporating them into my routine and experiencing the benefits.
I would follow it up with a ton of research. And it was just fascinating to me that there’s this whole world of medicinal bee products. And we tend to only focus on honey or really know about honey. And at that point, not thinking about starting a company, I never thought that’s something I would do. I was just really interested in these products as a customer. And I was having an incredible personal experience with them. And I finished up my semester abroad and came back home to Canada where I’m from to finish up college. And I got sick again when, I think it was during midterms. I wasn’t so worried this time because I was like, it’s okay. I just need to get my hands on some propolis. And I couldn’t find it anywhere.
I went to every health food store, every conventional store, there was tons of Manuka honey. There was tons of organic honey, but nobody really had Propolis. And in many cases, nobody really knew what I was talking about. And I finally found Propolis at this farmer’s market. And it was like $40 for a tiny little tincture. And it was organic and artisanal and all the things. I used it and I had a really severe allergic reaction. And that was just devastating for me because I was like, “Great, I found the thing I need and now it’s not working for me.”
At the time I was a TA for my chemistry class. So I ran a toxicity panel and the product I purchased and I figured out that there was trace amounts of pesticides in it. And then I started to learn how even organic bee products are not necessarily pesticide free and just like the regulation that goes into bee products and the state of affairs with all of that. And basically what I came to was, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I’m not going to find the products in the quality that I need them, or it would be really hard and I’m not having good luck.
Learning to Care For Bees
So I guess I just need to take care of my own bees and keep them away from pesticides and do this myself. I was a college student, so no idea how to do that. And I literally Googled local Beekeeping association. I started reading blogs about beekeeping in different books. And I started attending the local chapter meetings for the Beekeeping Association in the town I went to university. I found myself a mentor, and he is a third generation beekeeper and a retired biochemist to move to Canada, to basically be like a recluse and keep bees.
I showed up and started annoying him and I became his apprentice and I would work for him for free. And I would clean his hive tools and tend to the bees. And I really had this incredible experience because I wasn’t thinking about starting a company, or how to build a business, I was just building products for myself. And I had this very practical experience where I would go to the hives and tend to bees and really work with them and get to know them as creatures during the day. And then in the evenings, as a TA for my chem class and I had a great relationship with my professor, so I basically had free run of the lab.
I was using the equipment and perfecting the extraction type or propolis and doing all these things and basically building this product line that was just like my dream medicine that I always wanted. And again, not really thinking about starting a company and not thinking it was something I could do, but solving a problem that meaningfully affected my life. And I started sharing these bee products with friends. And next thing people on campus were messaging me to get these weird immune boosters, made of bee products that were natural and worked. And that was my first moment where I was like, “Okay, I live in Canada, this isn’t like the LA wellness scene. And a bunch of broke college students are willing to pay a premium for these natural medicines that, I’m selling out of my dorm room.”
I was like, “Okay, there’s clearly an appetite for a more sustainable natural solution. I might not be the only one who has this reaction to conventional medicine and conventional pharmaceuticals. And it’s working, it’s working for a meaningful population beyond myself.” I knew all of this from reading studies about propolis because it’s a very interesting substance. There’s over 300 beneficial compounds. I mentioned it’s immune boosting properties and all of the incredible effects that people have researched around propolis, but having my friends who think that like smoothies are woo woo, and reject these different things like yoga’s for hippies and have a very limited perspective on what wellness is and what it can look saying, “Hey, this stuff really works. I want more of it.”
That was the first moment where I was like, “Okay, this could maybe be a thing, and maybe be really helpful for other people.” And so I had this dream about re-inventing the medicine cabinet and changing the way medicine is created and looks and all of that. And I shared it with a few of my friends and family members. And pretty consistently, people thought it was insane. Like-
Mimi McLean: Really?
Carly Stein: Oh yeah, everyone thought it was a bad idea. People didn’t understand that I’m talking about, working with Royal Jelly and Bee Pollen and Propolis. People didn’t understand that the bees did anything beyond honey. And they didn’t think there would be an appetite for a medicine that kind of fit in all these different categories that was like truly science-based and effective, coming from bee derived and plant-based ingredients, can displace a lot of the conventional junk that we’re taking and just ultimately really worked.
People didn’t really trust it. I mean, I had an experience that made me feel very disillusioned with the natural wellness world, the natural medicine world. So I understood. And to top it off, I was graduating with negative funds as most college students do, and I had a really great job offer out of school. I was very fortunate to have that job offer. And the job offer was in finance. And I had an offer to join a hedge fund as the biotech girl. As the pharma researcher.
Value of Taking a Job in Finance
Carly Stein: I had studied social sciences in my undergrad, but this was an opportunity where I could apply my research skills and still focus on sciences and do it in just kind of a corporate finance setting. It was a great offer and frankly, I needed the money and didn’t really know how to start a business. So I took that offer, I was at this hedge fund for about 10 months. 10 months into that, I was recruited by Goldman Sachs and I joined them as a trader. And when I was trading, I did a bunch of different products, but mostly I was trading equities, and I just didn’t like it.
It was this great job. And everyone was really proud of me. And there’s a lot of social capital working at a big bank and a big brand name. Particularly if you’re in New York. And at that time I was splitting time between Toronto and New York, mostly spending my time in New York. There was some amount of recognition working at Goldman and that was great for my ego. And it was also a great job. I learned a ton and I had money and I was able to pay off some debt. And it was just a fantastic situation for a lot of reasons, but I didn’t enjoy what I was doing.
I’Ve never really cared about finance. I’ve always really been focused on sciences, but I didn’t see myself as a practitioner. I always kind of saw myself in more of a research role. And it really took a toll on my mental health. I was really struggling with anxiety. I wasn’t sleeping, and I felt this real disconnect between what I wanted to do and what I should be doing. I was getting this great response from the people around me about how. “This is what success looks like as a young professional.”
Mimi McLean: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Carly Stein: … The road, you can go down at Goldman Sachs. And all this opportunity. And I felt really guilty because I was like, “That idea makes me really unhappy.” And I know that this is a great job.
Mimi McLean: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. At this time, were you also still making product for yourself?
Carly Stein: I was for myself, but that’s it. In fact, I was like really sheepish about it. I was embarrassed about this like weird hobby. I wasn’t working with the bees directly anymore because I was primarily in Manhattan. The APRA that I worked with was in British Columbia and it wasn’t… I just didn’t have a ton of time. But I was sourcing the raw product from my mentor out in BC and making it for myself. And I just had a bunch of my friends used to make this like Breaking Bad joke.
Because they would come to my tiny studio apartment and it would be full of like equipment. Online just to make kind of extraction and basically make the products that I needed for myself. And so that’s what I was doing. But I found myself just really unhappy, just living in-authentically. What I was doing didn’t have meaning for me. And for some people I think you can have a fantastic job that is really your career and then have all these hobbies and passions that you spend time on in your personal life.
To Build a Business Stay True to What Makes You Happy
Carly Stein: For me, my job was taking over my personal life. So I was working insane hours and I just couldn’t bridge that gap. I was really, really unhappy. And my mental health really deteriorated and the not sleeping aspect probably was not great for I’d be there. And I sat down one day and I made a spreadsheet about happiness because that’s what type B people do. And the things that I kept coming back to when I was trying to identify the points in my life where I was the happiest happiest working with the bees. I just completely fell in love with working with the bees.
I’ve always been like a nature person. The bees have just such an intricate society and I’m very fascinated by them. So working with the bees was one of the things that has made me the happiest in my life at that point, and making products. And I couldn’t work with the bees because I had a job and it kept me mostly in urban regions and it also took up a lot of hours, but I could keep making products. I was already doing it for myself and I thought, I’ll just do it on a bigger scale slightly. And I’ll share it with friends and relatives and all of this. And the same way you have a friend who’s really into baking, who shares like the most delicious cookies, I’ll do that. But with like weird natural medicine things.
I started making my products and sharing them with people. And I had a girlfriend who worked at this company that it was an events company that put on pop-ups and she was like, “Why don’t you come do a pop-up at this market and sell your stuff. It’s weird and cool and different.” And so I did that, and I actually ended up selling a lot of product. And then I started going to farmer’s markets and I would go on weekends and go to these different pop-ups or farmer’s markets, or basically anywhere I could and sell my product.
I was really championed by young parents who are looking for cleaner alternatives to this kind of medicine they were buying at CVS and Walgreens and all these places. And then also different people who have some sort of health issue or auto-immune and antibiotics are not accessible for them. Who also were dealing with illness and needed to feel better and had mostly immune concerns. I started to build up this like scrappy evangelizing customer base that would follow me from market to market and word of mouth.
Next thing you know, I was sending product to one of my customers sister-in-law’s in Chicago and it just kind of got around and it got to a point where I was shipping all over the place and it was just crazy. And I was like texting these people who would meet me at the Farmer’s Market. And I was like, “I should probably just throw up a website and make this a little bit-”
Mimi McLean: And you were still working this whole time, full time?
Carly Stein: I was still working.
Mimi McLean: So when were you making all the products like on the weekends, at night when you get home, like you have long hours.
Carly Stein: Weekends. And then I also didn’t really sleep. I already, being an analyst at a big bank, you don’t get a chance to-
Mimi McLean: No, I know, I worked at one too out of college.
Carly Stein: Yeah. You know what it’s like, but I really had no social life. This was all I was doing. So I was coming home from work and in like any time that I had, I was making products. Also, when I say scrappy customer base, they were really dedicated and there would be times where I would send out on my email list that, it’s going to take me another two weeks because it wasn’t like everyone was patient and they waited. I think some people felt bad for me, but also a lot of people were really seeing results of these products and using them with their families. I think a big thing for me was when people started sharing their recovery stories. I had one customer who she had a six-year-old with auto-immune and he would just get like chronic sore throats.
For a kid dealing with that, he was crying all the time and nothing worked. And he also wasn’t able to take a lot of conventional medicine. The Propolis spray was the first thing that ever worked for him. People were sharing these kinds of stories of how they were using these products to really meaningfully alter their experience around illness. It was kind of a bunch of different factors, but it was hearing these stories and my small, but excited customer base, sharing this with their friends and family members. It got to a point where I was like, there’s a lot of people who are looking for medicine that works, but also fits a profile of natural ingredients and sustainable ingredients, and there’s a hole in the market.
We have like two things on totally different ends of the spectrum. And I’ve also very luckily stumbled upon this class of ingredients that can really help people’s health sustainable way. And I think this needs to exist in the world and how much it would have helped me if I had found this earlier. And so I left Goldman end of 2016.
Mimi McLean: And how long were you at Goldman for?
Carly Stein: I was there for just over two years.
Mimi McLean: So you were doing that for two years? Wow. Okay.
Carly Stein: Yeah. I mean, it was still pretty fresh in the workforce, because this was such fun then Goldman, and then it’s just like-
Mimi McLean: I mean, at that point you didn’t have sales that you could be like, “Okay, I’m going to be able to pay my rent.”
Carly Stein: I didn’t. No, no, no. So I moved out of my apartment. I had some savings because I was very careful with my money, but I was putting most of my money into the company. I gave up my tiny apartment and I, my best friend, Adam, I moved into his apartment and I lived on his couch for the next six months, maybe longer.
Mimi McLean: Oh wow.
Carly Stein: Yeah. I lived rent free. If Adam were to listen to any of the podcasts I ever record, I always talk about him. I don’t think he ever wants to listen to me talk more than I already talk to him.
Mimi McLean: That’s funny.
Carly Stein: Yeah. I lived rent-free in his space and it was like him and he had a roommate too. And his roommate’s girlfriend was there a lot. So it was like four people in a very tiny New York apartment.
Mimi McLean: Did you put them to work? Did they help you make the products?
Carly Stein: I didn’t really put them to work, but Adam would help a lot. He’s a fantastic writer. So he would help me like writing the emails and copy and that sort of thing, these things that I just don’t think of because I’m just such a-
Mimi McLean: That’s how I am. I’m a math science brain.
Carly Stein: But yeah. Basically every friend or supportive person in my life I asked for help, didn’t always get it. But at that time too, it was a really challenging time because I had kind of in a lot of people’s eyes, just blown up my life.
Mimi McLean: They’re like, “What are you doing?” I get it. I left investment banking too and people were like, “What are you doing?”
Carly Stein: Yeah. People thought it was… And I mean, you probably had a similar experience because you’ve paved your own path as well. But leaving to do something, it would be one thing if I was like leaving to go to Google or if I was starting like something related to what I was doing. But starting a company, to build a business that’s supposed to shake up medicine using B-products was like far too weird.
Most people in my life thought I was having like a full blown mental breakdown and got a horrible idea. It was a really challenging environment for me because everyone thought I was just blowing up my life. And there was a lot of condescension and judgment and all these things. But people unfortunately sometimes get when they are doing something different.
Mimi McLean: Different, yeah.
Gaining Experience in the Entire Supply Chain
Carly Stein: So I was selling products. I started selling products quite a bit more in Canada. I would literally fly home, stay at my parent’s house, fill my backpack up with the products I had made and I’d go to different health food stores and ask them to sell on commission.
Carly Stein: And I started to build up a following that way and I started to actually get more and more sales in Canada. And then I started reaching out to distribution companies. I didn’T know what a distributor was or broker any of this stuff. I think I was like at a health food show… No, I was at the Toronto Yoga Show with my little booth and somebody who was a buyer at some store asked me for my distributors information. And I was like, “What does that mean?”
Carly Stein: I had never heard that before. I was just so confused. But everyone should remember that you don’t have to be an expert in what you’re doing, you just have to be ready.
Mimi McLean: To learn as you go.
Carly Stein: Yep. So I was totally learning as I went along, went home and started researching distributors and how it works in CPG and all this stuff. And I realized, oh, to actually scale this, I need a distribution company because obviously me going with my backpack full of products is not a sustainable approach. And so I contacted every distribution company I could find.
I did a lot of LinkedIn stalking, reached out to a few people and I think one or two people got back to me and they were like, “When you’re in 50 doors, we can have a conversation”.
Mimi McLean: Oh wow.
Carly Stein: So I was like, “Yay.” I’m in-
Mimi McLean: And how many doors were you at, at that point?
Carly Stein: Oh, I think I was in 10 or 15.
Mimi McLean: Okay.
Carly Stein: Not many, but I was having really good sales. It was a crazy structure because I was making all this stuff in my apartment. And then I had a friend who was moving into a home, entering the next phase of life and moving into a home with her significant other. And they were doing renovations on part of the home.
There was like a part of it that was vacant and they let me use that part as my lab. I literally turned that into my lab and that’s where I was making product, and I hired my step-mom’s hairdresser’s daughter. She still works for the company. Well, yeah. She actually runs our warehouse now.
Mimi McLean: Oh, that’s great.
Carly Stein: But I hired her on a part-time basis, gave her keys to this place and she would like go in and fill things, and jar things and help me with that. So it was just like so reactive, figuring it out as I go and googling everything that I didn’t know. But I was making products that worked and people liked them.
Mimi McLean: So what was the next thing that got you to the next phase?
Carly Stein: I realized that the production was not scalable at all. So I started looking into different contract manufacturers in different places I could produce products. So I sorted out… Actually you know what? Before that, I got taken on by this distribution company.
It was great, but it wasn’t like the big thing, but it was great, because all of a sudden I had demand and then very quickly I had these retail accounts reaching out, placing large purchase orders. I was making small batches. I mean, I was doing this myself with one other super talented girl, but it was like the two of us.
I started looking into third-party production and most people turned me down, so I didn’t have large enough product runs and I had these purchase orders, but I couldn’t really pay up front. I didn’t really have anyone to borrow money from. I had invested all of my savings in the company, so that was a tricky thing. From humble beginnings you can build a business.
First Break – Distributing to Whole Foods
Carly Stein: I found this one production company that was willing to… When I showed them a documented order, do a run for me. Actually, again, through LinkedIn creeping I got in touch with Whole Foods Canada. There was one person who was a buyer for Whole Foods Canada, who I sent fruit baskets to and these letters saying how all of these things wouldn’t exist without the bees and like educating them about the nuances of B products and really trying every weird, different marketing tactic I could.
They ended up being interested and they gave me a purchase order. And I shared this with the producers and they were able to basically do a run for me on the condition that I paid them later. And I paid them half of it, because that’s what I had accessible at the time. So going national that quickly, that was like a few whole foods locations, but those two things, getting those in place, getting production in place that actually sent me up to scale.
Continuing to be really scrappy and reach out to retail accounts and reach out to individuals and use everything I could to just get in front of people and get product in front of people. Those two things eventually sort of collided and gave me a real opportunity, which was Whole Foods Canada.
Sources of Funding
Mimi McLean: That’s great. Have you gotten outside funding or have you done it all on your own at this point?
Carly Stein: Yeah. So now I have gone to some outside funding sources. I was doing it on my own for a while and then 2017… So I left Goldman end of 2016, I had a few months there where I was just sorting it out and all of this stuff happened. And then late 2017, I started going out to… A lot of it was actually my former Goldman Sachs clients.
Mimi McLean: Doing like Angel friends and family, not official like a VC round?
Carly Stein: Yeah. So that was my seed round.
Mimi McLean: Seed round.
Carly Stein: I kind of did it differently. I didn’t really do a pre-seed or anything like that. I did that seed round that was late 2017 and then 2019, I think it was, I did our Series A and that was with [inaudible 00:28:54] brands who they’re fantastic partners. They’ve a lot of experience in the CPG world. Then we just did our Series B in the summer with [inaudible 00:29:02].
Mimi McLean: Oh, that’s great.
Carly Stein: It was so fantastic, and experts.
Mimi McLean: What would you give advice to anybody listening as far as any advice for financing, either finding it, the valuation, any kind of tips that you’ve learned from that?
Carly Stein: I always valued it as a multiple on sales. That was really helpful. I think because I was scrappy and kind of brought something to market first, it can help you and it can hurt you. Sometimes it can limit you because you want to go off what your idea could be. For me, it was helpful because what I was doing was so differentiated that a lot of people thought it was crazy until I actually showed them the sales and the customer response. That’s how I got some people to notice me. So that’s the first thing. There’s two ways you can do it.
Believing in Your Idea
If you’re able, doing whatever you can on your own and just demonstrating that work ethic. Even if it’s not just about the sales number, just demonstrating your dedication to this idea and you don’t have to leave your full-time job necessarily. It doesn’t mean, if you have a life you need to support it. But just doing whatever you can to bring something to life before you go out and pitch other people and believing in your idea. People I think are really responsive to just seeing somebody who’s put everything they have into something, and that’s certainly something that I did. So that was definitely helpful.
Carly Stein: Then having a really deep connection with your customers. The nature of what I was doing, speaking to people who struggle with illness, chronic illness, in some cases. It’s sort of sensitive information, people tend to open up to you, and going to farmer’s markets, without really realizing it, I did so much consumer testing.
Strong relationships with customers
Carly Stein: I had such a serious and just great feedback loop with my customer base. I was able to be very, very clear on who my target customer is, and that information is really important. I mean, it’s not just about knowing your product and company and saying, “I love this the whole wide world.” It’s going as deep as you possibly can into customer segmentation. And this is stuff we do today, but getting really clear on who your actual buyer is, what they look like, what that demographic is focused on, problems that you can help them solve moving forward and getting really clear on kind of your action plan. That was another thing.
I was really focused on really setting this company up to scale. So I mentioned how sort of on the production side I was doing that early on and that wasn’t the end of those problems where it’s an ongoing thing that’s always changing. But I had a really good idea of what this company would look like longterm, our product development. I had a really good kind of… And it’s totally changed, but for that time I had a really strong five-year plan that I had clearly put a lot of effort into and it’s totally changed. A lot of my investors now even tell me that they thought it was crazy back then, but it let them know that I had a lot of foresight.
Know your business
Basically, if you’re seeking funding really just demonstrating that you’ve taken a 360 approach, that you’ve been incredibly thoughtful about it and doing everything you can and showing that you’re willing to get your hands dirty in different areas. I run a lot. I mean, I had to because I was bootstrapping it, but I took on and it made myself good enough at a lot of different things that years before I would’ve said, “I can never do that. I’m bad at that.” Or that’s not my skill set or that’s not how I think.
Just getting your hands dirty and getting in there and demonstrating that you can gain enough of an awareness of these different areas, that you can manage them and grow them. Then for seeking funding and actually getting in front of the right people, same thing I did with retailers. It’s using LinkedIn. It’s a great resource. I still use it now for a lot of different things. Now it’s mostly hiring, but LinkedIn is a really fantastic resource. I would look at companies who I liked their growth structure and try to get clear on who their investors were. There’s press releases every second. So that’s not hard to do with companies who are maybe similar to you or who had a growth trajectory that you want to sort of move into yourself.
Research and reach out
Get clear on who those individuals are and then just reach out, be really bold. I mean, I didn’t really have for the most part. I haven’t really ever had very many warm intros. It was really a lot of cold calling, a lot of me reaching out and then demonstrating all of the findings that I had.
Mimi McLean: That’s good advice. Now you had mentioned about knowing your customer, which is really easy to do when you’re doing the markets on the weekends and you’re going to the health food store, but once you got into just distribution channels and you were going into whole foods, you kind of lose that connection with the customers. So what are you doing either now, or then to keep that connection?
Carly Stein: So you lose it, but then you get it in different ways. So digital marketing, we have a lot of clarity into who’s actually responding to the ads we put out, now as well with our different accounts. We can get clear and… Even before I kind of had access to this information, I would spend a lot of time with the buyers, get clear on who their target audience was.
Mimi McLean: Right.
Carly Stein: I would sit down with the buyers of even smaller health food stores. And it was interesting because like… I mean, maybe it’s changed and I’m not doing this so much at this stage. But at that time they didn’t have a lot of businesses that were coming to them and saying like specifically, who is your customer?
There was a lot of like, “Would you be interested in this? And I have this to solve all these problems.” But with these sort of smaller health food stores, at least with the conversations I had, they were kind of not used to that. So I would get really clear on who was walking into these different health food stores that I was placing my product and making sure I was building products for the people who want them and the people who are looking for them.
Imagining the Future
Mimi McLean: Right. Right. No, that’s great. What would you say your biggest hurdle is at this point going forward?
Carly Stein: I mean the hardest thing is building the right team. It’s easy in some ways when you’re doing it all by yourself, because you’re responsible for everything, the things you’re bad at, you know you’re bad at, and you just don’t have to really think about the interplay of different personalities and that sort of thing.
Now it’s really about not just finding incredible people, but finding people that really enjoy working with different personality types and placing them properly. And it’s tough. It’s tough. There’s a lot of amazing companies to work at and finding talent that’s also a culture fit for your specific company. It takes a huge amount of effort.
Mimi McLean: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And is there any tips that you would give towards that? Because I definitely think human capital is the biggest hurdle and the hardest part of being a CEO.
Carly Stein: Totally. I think hiring kind of a head of people or culture earlier on earlier than you think you need it, I think our HR… I mean, how many people were we at that point when we had HR join the team? I think we were 20 maybe. And that’s earlier than some of my friend’s companies, or some companies that I look at, the founders I speak to.
It helped us really create structure and creates procedure and onboarding people and create just kind of a culture where people feel comfortable to get to know others and do their best work and ask the hard questions and are willing to look silly and that sort of thing. There’s all of these little nuances that you just don’t think to. Because it’s not just about you putting your head down and getting to work. It’s about creating a place that feels safe and happy for people to do their best work and understanding which individuals are going to thrive in this specific culture that you create.
That’s something that I would say early on. Then I would say, I mean, put people on like 30, 60 day plans and give people hurdles. So it’s not just like, “You’re really smart, join the team”. I didn’t have a lot of that early on. I got really lucky finding smart people, but I didn’t create a lot of infrastructure when people could join the team to really show me what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and where they need support and that sort of thing. So I think having that sort of structure in place, even at very early hires can be something really supportive.
Mimi McLean: That’s awesome. Before we wrap it up, is there any other tips or what advice would you wish you knew that you didn’t know when you started out that you could give somebody?
Carly Stein: I mean the team thing’s a big aspect of it, because you’re just so focused on sales and product market fit and perfecting product. I mean, I’ve always been so obsessed with product, and I think something that I am late to learning that has hurt me is understanding just how critic… I mean, perfecting your product is key. But beyond that, taking a step back and really focusing on team dynamics, as opposed to just continuing the innovation pipeline forever and continuing to build more-
Mimi McLean: It’s a costly mistake too, right? Because hiring and firing and finding new people is really expensive.
Carly Stein: Yeah. It’s incredibly expensive. It’s incredibly time consuming. It’s emotionally at least for me it’s draining in some cases and it’s kind of a roller coaster. It’s also exciting and fun. I think focusing on that. I think really understanding the interplay of operations and marketing when you’re kind of at that sort of mid-growth stage is really key. Especially with CPG this probably will not… I can only speak to CPG companies right now with this. But there’s this desire and CPG to really focus on sales and marketing and product, and you kind of can leave operations to be sort of last focus on.
Without tight operations structure, you don’t have anything to sell or market. So really investing in that area of the business. Luckily I have a co-founder that is the opposite of me and was super operations focused. But for me, myself, I’ve had to get much more focused on just supply chain operations, that sort of thing in order to allow for the growth that we’re targeting. So that’s a big thing for CPG companies.
Then just continuing to focus on product. There are a lot of companies today that are more focused on marketing than product itself. I think if you have a fantastic product that can actually solve problems for people, you’re going to have a good situation. And I think that’s where the majority of your focus should be specifically in the early days, really getting clear on what your values are, why you’re doing this, why your product can help people and then just keeping your focus there.
Mimi McLean: Carly, this has been an amazing experience talking to you because I love your story. It’s fascinating. Your products you sent them to me and I’ve been really enjoying them. I don’t know if you know this, but I have chronic Lyme. And so for me, it’s been helping a lot. So thank you very much.
I actually might even share this podcast on my Lyme… I have a Lyme community called lyme360.com. So I might even share this podcast down there if that’s okay with you, because I think people would love to hear about your products. So if anybody’s listening and wants to try any of her products, you just go to beekeepersnaturals.com and you have lots of good products there.
Carly Stein: I didn’t know that you struggled with Lyme, but I hope that you’re using this one regularly. Our customers who do deal with Lyme, they use this on a daily basis and we’ve heard-
Mimi McLean: Which one is that I’m having hard trouble seeing that.
Carly Stein: So I use this everyday just for general immune boosting.
Mimi McLean: Yeah.
Carly Stein: But for Lyme as well, because it’s great as an anti-inflammatory agent, this is a great thing to incorporate. I do like three to four sprays every day.
Mimi McLean: Okay, awesome. That’s great to know. Thank you so much for your time. This has been amazing and good luck to you. You really have a fascinating company.
Carly Stein: Thank you so much.
Mimi McLean: Thank you for joining us on the Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top 10 tips every entrepreneurs should know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week and thank you for listening.