In this alternative milk craze, entrepreneur Brooke Harris created GoodMylkCo. She, like many of us, have been told that plant-based milk is better for us. But when Brooke stopped to look at the ingredients, it turns out the product was filled with gums, oils, and ingredients she couldn’t pronounce. This led her to create GoodMylkCo., a game-changing, industry-disrupting plant-based milk product for the masses. Tune in to learn how Brooke Harris launched GoodMylk as a B2B and B2C product, delivering frozen home-made plant-based milk to local cafes, grocery stores, and directly to your home.
Table of Contents
- Making It In Hollywood
- Health and Nutrition As Motivators
- Goodmylk.Co Started At Home
- Scaling Strategy Included the B2B Route
- The Impact Of COVID
- The Financing Question
- Advice For Wannabe Entrepreneurs
Making It In Hollywood
Mimi: Brooke Harris and she is the CEO and founder of Goodmylk Company. Brooke, thank you so much for coming on today.
Brooke: Hi Mimi. Thank you so much for having me.
Mimi: I can’t wait to dive into your story, but first I want you to just touch on, because I just find this so interesting that you were an actress in Hollywood, and you became an entrepreneur, but before you became an entrepreneur, can you just tell us about your lucky break? It’s so hard to make it in Hollywood. So talk to us about that.
Brooke: Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say that I made it, but I went to school for film and while that is a lofty goal and dream, my passion was always nutrition and wellness, but had no idea that you could make a living from it or how to make a living from it. So of course film seems like the next best option, which also everyone thought was crazy and was, but it landed me in Los Angeles, which is the health food capital of the world, in my opinion, and a very innovative place to be. And I think a place where if you can dream it, you can do it and make it possible. And that’s really the base of my journey and my story.
Mimi: Right, right. That’s good. Well, you do have an IMDb or whatever they call right up. Right. That’s what I consider, I don’t have one.
Brooke: Okay. Fair. Fair.
Mimi: So you have it in some movies or TV shows. So that’s why I just thought that was an interesting parlay. Because most people can’t say that and it’s even hard to do that, I think in LA. So kudos to you that you’ve been able to. Were you doing anything in between acting and entrepreneur?
Film world can be similar to the startup world
Brooke: So working in the film and TV world, it’s very similar to startup world where it’s just incredibly hectic. It’s long hours, it’s early hours, you’re constantly on the go. So that was the lifestyle I was living and doing it to the best of my ability. I moved to L.A. as a vegan and remained a vegan for quite a thinking that that was the pillar of health and living my best healthiest life being vegan, also love animals. But just constantly on the go and working long, weird hours and eating stuff that was grab and go vegan or fast food vegan versus being at home cooking vegan meals for myself.
Health and Nutrition As Motivators
Brooke: And that’s what led me into, like I said, nutrition was always a passion, but it wasn’t until I got sick and started on my own wellness journey and came from a place where I thought I was doing all these great things for myself, just by being vegan and choosing plant-based foods. And Whoa, I had so much to learn and so much to figure out on my own journey. But at the end of it, once I had the information I felt really empowered to share, and I think one of the best ways to share the information is to give people really delicious tasting products and then fill them in on the backstory.
Mimi: Right. Right. But you had shared with me at one point, I thought it was really interesting. You were doing a cleanse and the way you came up with the product, can you talk about that?
A hike that changed my life
Brooke: Yeah. So I had major digestive issues for about a year, spent another year going to all these doctors, no one could figure it out. And in a very L.A. Hollywood moment was hiking Runyon Canyon, for anyone who’s in L.A. knows how L.A. that is. I was hiking Runyon Canyon with a girlfriend thinking about a cleanse that I was going to go on or something. And the woman in front of us turned around and was like, you girls are giving each other really good advice. Just wanted to tell you and give you a few tips.
It turns out she was a holistic nutritionist. And I booked an appointment with her, sat down within 45 minutes, she was like, this is what’s going on with you. We need to heal your gut and you need to cut out processed foods. And I was like, no, no, no, no, I’m a vegan.
Brooke: I eat really healthy, don’t worry. And she was the one who was like, go home, take a look at the boxes, the packages of food that you’re eating and look at those ingredients. And I did. And I was like, Whoa. The burgers and stuff like that. Not that big of a surprise, but the plant-based milk, my almond milk, which is what I was drinking at the time.
I never even thought to look at the ingredients because of the way it’s marketed or the fact that it can sit in my cupboard for years at a time. And so she put me on just this whole food cleanse. And within a matter of two days, I felt a completely different person just cutting out processed foods. And it wasn’t anything crazy of like a juice fast or anything like that. It was just eating whole unprocessed foods.
Goodmylk.Co Started At Home
Mimi: That’s amazing. What I love about that story though, is you found a niche, right? You found a void in the market, even though it’s a saturated market, I would say like the milk industry, that almond milk, rice milk, alternative milk industry. Right. And you have found a place for your product because it’s different. And can you tell us why it’s considered different?
Brooke: Yeah. So it’s interesting. It’s a really saturated market. However, it’s a lot of the same ingredients, same liquid, just in different boxes or different cartons. And that’s where, when I came to this journey and was like, Whoa, why is my almond milk so bad for me? What are my other options? And realize there really aren’t any other options. Everyone’s doing the same thing because no one has really demanded a better option, and from a consumer standpoint.
So I started making homemade almond milk for myself at home. Once you taste homemade, you’re never going back to the box and it was obviously way more nutritional, but it’s a pretty big pain in the butt to make. It’s a pain, it’s messy, it’s expensive. And then it tastes so good that, it takes you two days just soak and sprout and make the milk. And it’s gone in 20 minutes.
Brooke: I was like, this is not sustainable for the average person, the average household, maybe a working mom that has kids. They might want this product, but they’re not going to make it. And so that’s where we came in and I said, I want to make homemade plant-based milks for my community. And now this level of the business that we’re at, it’s like, we want to make homemade plant based milks accessible to everyone. So we’ve scaled our milks that the end product tastes like homemade as if you made it yourself in your kitchen. It’s the same process, just on a much larger scale with bigger equipment and same ingredient profile and ingredient caliber.
Mimi: Right. Right. So what do you think has been the hardest part since starting the business?
Brooke: Yeah. COVID.
Mimi: Yeah. Exactly, we’ll get into that too. Before even COVID, the actual starting, was it hard finding a manufacturer or I know you were doing it actually at a facility you found, right. But finding how to do it, how to actually manufacture it. Was it finding people? What would you say the hardest part has been?
Brooke: I think in the journey, what you consider hard changes every day, because once you get over one hurdle that becomes easy and you’re onto the next. I think the only time I’ve ever had moments of questioning this entire process over the past few years was when we decided to scale. So we started with this homemade fresh product that we were delivering to your home, or you can buy at the farmer’s market or delivering to our shops, which is great, but not scalable.
So our scalable product is this frozen concentrate, that’s now been on the market for over two years and it’s having great success. But those first few weeks of having that actual product in hand and me talking to my team or going to sales meetings and showing up with a packet of frozen almond milk concentrate, I might well have been an alien from another planet.
Brooke: People were just looking at me like I was crazy. My team thought I was a little bit crazy. They wanted to do some different processes that are easier, that involve heat and pressure and things that I just wasn’t on board with. And so those first few weeks where it was like, I know deep down that this is going to work and this makes sense, and this is the right direction, but there weren’t too many cheerleaders behind me believing it. So that was probably one of the toughest times. And obviously we got through that and are on the other side.
Converting the team
Mimi: Did you have to change your team or did they finally see your side?
Brooke: No. I didn’t change my team. They got it, but they weren’t… The day the packaging came, it had been something I’d been talking about for months. And when you get packaging like that, it takes 10 weeks for it to… The day you decide you want to print it for it to actually arrive in your hand. Let’s say this had been a six month process, which in startup world is a long time.
And the day with the packaging came, I called the meeting with my team and sat in front of them with the packaging in hand. And I’m not a super emotional person at all, especially in front of my team. And I cried telling them that this is the future of plant-based milk and the looks on their face. They just thought that I had lost it. But with Goodmylk the overall goals of providing the best in class plant based milks and food in general to people is a mission that they’ve all always been on board with. So they were happy to go along for the ride. And luckily it’s gone the way that I thought it would.
Scaling Strategy Included the B2B Route
Mimi: Right. Right. So I love that you pivoted because you saw a bigger opportunity of scaling GoodMylk. And I also like the fact that you decided, instead of just being B2C, you also took the B2B route. So can you talk about that as well?
Brooke: Yeah. That was a route that just made a ton of sense for us. And it isn’t another hard piece of what we’re doing. We can get into fundraising, but when I have conversations with venture capital firms and tell them that we are primarily a B2B business, that doesn’t compute to them as brand and cool and scalable, because historically B2B businesses are white labeled. You have no idea what the brand is, it’s just an ingredient. Where we’ve been able to do it in a really great way, we have amazing partners who are really proud to use our product. So they’ll put us on the menu or let us put signage up in their locations, share it on their social media platforms. So we’ve grown B2B in this really cool way with really great partners where there’s a lot of brand recognition.
Brooke: And if you look at the other to channels direct to consumer is so expensive. We’ve quickly learned that through COVID. We love direct to consumer, it’s a great way to communicate and bring the community together, but it’s so expensive. And then grocery is really expensive. It’s a really big beast, especially when you’re the small guy doing something new and different. So we wanted to be really thoughtful about our strategy and our playbook. And that’s where B2B made sense to start there first.
Mimi: Right. And now how has COVID played into this strategy as far as, have you concentrated more on B2C because a lot of your places may have been shut down? Or…
The Impact Of COVID
Brooke: Yeah, it’s been. It was a quick and a hard pivot in that March 15th came and all of our coffee shop partners shut down and thinking back on those first few weeks, we just had so little information. Everyone had so little information. We had no idea how long this was going to last, even then when the administration were saying it was going to be over in April. That’s still a long, long time, for us of all to not have any income.
So as a crazy founder, the first thing I did was I literally got in the car and drove to every local grocery store in my area, on the West side of L.A. and tried to get the buyers contact. And I was successful with some of them, but I don’t know if you remember how crazy grocery stores were then. I was crazy to think that as this tiny little brand, the buyers had any time to listen to me or try my product, the grocery stores were on the front lines, so busy-
Mimi: Trying to keep everything in stock.
Brooke: Yeah. So I quickly realized that tactic wasn’t going to work as much as I pushed. It was out of our control. And as I was realizing that we were really lucky in that we had our direct to consumer channels set up. It was a channel we always wanted to dive into just making it a priority for 2020. And all of a sudden our direct consumer set [inaudible 00:13:12] shot up without us doing anything drastically. And it was this community that we had built in the B2B channel out and with our cafe partners who still wanted their morning lattes and they had to make them at home, but they didn’t want to compromise on the ingredients.
Brooke: And so they were buying our products online. So we leaned into that and have been focusing on direct to consumer this year. And it was like learning an entire new skillset and an entire new business. And we had to do it in a matter of weeks because we had to you know bring in an income and know that we can grow this over the next few months, so that we could keep our team employed and keep the business running. So it was really hectic those first few months, but we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor and feel like, cool. We know what we’re doing in this channel now.
Mimi: Yes. So can you speak a little more to that? Because I definitely have some friends and other CEOs that have not made that transition. Because I think they’ve been a little reluctant like, Hey, I’m a vendor. And I supply stores or I’m actually a store and I haven’t made that transition yet to even being online. I’ve been saying how I think it’s worth it. So have you spent a lot of money on advertising or have you just done it all through word of mouth and emails?
Brands owning their e-commerce
Brooke: So the one thing that I think is crazy is to think that online is not important. Before this, I felt like online was important. I’m one of those people, I hate going to the grocery store. I Instacart my groceries every week. And for us being a frozen plant-based milk, online shopping like Instacart evens the playing field for us. Because you don’t have to worry about driving consumers to the freezer. So I’ve been a huge champion of online grocery. So I think as a brand, you have to have your own e-commerce and you have to understand how things work online, but we didn’t have the money to spend first of all.
Mimi: That’s the problem, right. It’s the money.
Brooke: Yes. And first being naive to direct to consumer, I just thought that paid advertising was just going to work so much faster than it does and bringing in so much more. And we have great numbers now with our paid strategy, but we’re still not able to spend a ton of money on paid. So we’ve relied on organic and our content and our emails and newsletters and social media and other brand partnerships and collaborating with other brands to showcase them to our audience and showcase us to their audience.
Cost of B2C strategy
We’ve had to be really thoughtful about that strategy because we didn’t have a bunch of money to dump into it. We essentially needed it to be profitable the entire time. So that’s a very different strategy than just acquiring customers and hoping that they’ll stay with you long enough to pay for themselves at some point. Which learning direct to consumer and all of that, and then also trying to even that out with being profitable was a pretty interesting time.
Mimi: Right. Well, your margins are going to be higher, right? Going direct to consumer without-
Brooke: Or we should frozen. The cost of shipping Goodmylk frozen, it has to arrive to you in two days with a big chunk of dry ice. And then we do everything in compostable packaging, which costs more money. And the box is a little cooler box because it has to keep the dry ice cold and keep everything cold. We’re not like a beauty company or something that’s shipped at room temp that has these 60% or higher margins, we’re fighting for every dollar.
We still have okay, margins as a business, but direct to consumer for us is more, yes, it has to be profitable, but it’s also so much of what we’re building is about education and community. And it’s a great way to bring people into that world. And our bigger goal is certainly sell plant based milk, but because of my journey, we want to empower people on their own wellness journey and really empower people to understand the food that they’re putting into their mouth. And hopefully that will help make bigger changes in the food system, which is so messed up.
Mimi: Yeah. I know you opened up a cafe.
Mimi: Before COVID, can you talk about that decision and also, is it still open or did you have to shut it down because of COVID?
Brooke: Yeah, it is not open any longer. I hate to use the phrase we got lucky because we didn’t, but our lease for that ended up being up in April. So COVID helped us make that decision pretty easily, we were in survival mode. But I started this storefront really kind of the same reason that I initially started the business is I want to serve my local community and give them the best quality, best tasting products that could literally have an impact on day one on their health journey. And so that’s what that place is all about. It was really fun. A lot of learnings, I don’t know that I will ever open a retail location again and-
Mimi: It’s hard.
Brooke: It is hard and it’s just so time consuming too. And our mission has evolved where we don’t want to just serve our community, we want to serve the entire world and make our products accessible. So it’s hard to do that with retail locations.
Mimi: No, and it’s super expensive, right?
The Financing Question
Mimi: Sometimes it’s just not worth it. So can you talk about your financing? Because I know you have not been completely self-financed you have had to go through that process. So did you start out with a friends and family round and then move to angels? And where are you at in that process? If you don’t mind sharing?
Brooke: Yeah. I don’t mind sharing at all. And I hope that my story paints the picture of if I can do it, anyone can do it. I think you hear a lot of founders stories or a lot of business stories and you’re like, Oh, well they’re the child of someone or they had another business or they’re associated with this venture capital firm. And our story is not that at all.
I started the business, not knowing anything about funding or taking on investors, didn’t even think about it. Never had any plans, just not even on my radar. And then when we decided there’s something here, we’ve proven this concept on a small scale, let’s move on to this frozen format. It was very clear that we needed some investment and just being in L.A. and in the locations that we were in, we had some good buys and we had people approaching us about potential investment too. So we did our first round of friends and family it ended up being, and I love that term because I remember when I heard it and I was like, shit, none of my friends or family have any money.
Brooke: What am I going to do here? So it was a friend of a friend who’s become a friend who to entire friends and family round got really lucky with that round. A really great group closed it within like 30 days of opening learned a ton. And then conversations I had had for that round really set me up for the next round that we raised about a year later. And that’s kind of… There’s this phrase, once you start raising, you’re always raising. And that’s not exactly what it is, but once you start fundraising, you always have to be building those relationships. Like building your pipeline of investor relationships, because if you’re starting from scratch the day you have your pitch deck ready, it’s going to take you a long time.
Mimi: Yeah. It takes a lot of iterations with different people. Was it hard to find evaluation for both rounds? How did you go about doing that?
Brooke: We just decided. We picked a fair evaluation. One that we felt was fair to us. One that we felt investors would think was fair. We had a little bit of pushback, but we picked evaluation that we could back up with facts, not some crazy multiple. So we pretty much decided on the valuation and the investors agreed.
Mimi: Right. Because I always say you don’t want to value a company. Yes. You want to get as much as you can get as a CEO, but you don’t want to be so much so that the second round it’s a down round because that’s not good for anybody.
Appreciating collaborative investors
Brooke: No, exactly. And I’m lucky that most of our investor group is very collaborative and thoughtful and it’s a lot of female investors. So when I have questions or need to talk through that type of stuff, I’ll go to them. And so our investors are actually the ones who have educated me a lot about the process and along the way, and it is like learning a new language. I remember my first few meetings, I had someone from our accounting team, they were coaching me through.
Brooke: I’m out pitching by myself, we created a pitch deck and I would get on the phone with them, right before walking into a meeting and be like, okay, remind me what this means again and what that word means? And what’s pro rata and just pumping me up and reminding me of the basic things before walking directly into a meeting. And now obviously I know it all, once you know, you know, but that’s where I think it’s hopefully encouraging to others. I didn’t know anything about fundraising when I started this. And you learn as you go and surround yourself with people who can hopefully give you good advice and help you through it.
Advice For Wannabe Entrepreneurs
Mimi: That’s great. Now, what advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about starting their own company? Can you do it right out of call? Especially right now, COVID I think a lot of people don’t have jobs or they just graduated and they don’t have a job. How much experience do you need to have? How many connections do you need to have, or is that something that you can just dive in and do?
Brooke: Yeah. It totally varies. And certainly there’s a list of nice to haves and then the list of need to haves. And I think in the need to haves list, it’s probably, you have to be passionate and you have to be curious and you have to be willing to work really fricking hard, harder than you can even imagine and resilient. And I think if you have those, you can figure out everything else. I’ve heard both routes.
I don’t have a recommendation on this, but my personal journey is I stopped working when I started my business and did my business a 100% just because I knew what it was going to take. And I also just had this blind belief that I was profitable after my first month because I had to eat and pay rent and that type of motivation.
Brooke: I think that’s really good motivation to run your business in a smart way, versus it being maybe a side job and something that you’re excited about, but you don’t need it to survive. I think it’s a different mentality and it all depends on where you want to go with your business. And I think I just had the right amount of ignorance to not think too far into the future and take it one step at a time. And I knew the immediate hurdles and I knew that I had confidence that I could get through those, my confidence in my problem solving skills. I had no idea that someday I was going to make frozen and powdered plant-based milks, but that’s okay.
I took in information and adjusted as I got it. I think that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about too.
Mimi: I love that advice. I love it. Did you ever think you were going to be an entrepreneur?
Brooke: It wasn’t like a conversation in my childhood. I grew up in a very, very rural place. The conversation is okay, are you going to be a teacher or are you going to be a nurse, a lawyer? You’re a girl, maybe you could be a doctor, but you probably want to shoot for nurse, the typical jobs, which are amazing jobs, but those were the conversations. It was not you could do anything you want and you can build a business, it wasn’t that. I have always been bossy. So I knew that I wanted to be involved. I knew I wanted to be the boss. I don’t really love to follow rules. So I knew that that was going to be hard for me. And I like to be really engaged in problem solving and thinking 10 steps ahead.
Brooke: And when I was in film school, I really thought that my end goal would be producing, which is like being a founder at a startup.
Brooke: You’re just putting all the pieces together and moving everything forward. So I always knew that I liked that, but I didn’t really think about. It just wasn’t part of the thought. And I worked for a couple of startups as the main person. And that’s when I was like, Whoa, if I can run their business, I can certainly run something for myself.
Juggling it all
Mimi: That’s awesome. Being a CEO you have a pretty big staff, how do you keep everything juggling? How do you keep your day-to-day life going? Is there any tips or apps or advice or anything that you would give to anybody who’s listening? Who’s trying to just juggle it all.
Brooke: It varies every day. For sure. There are pieces of my routine that I absolutely have to have. I have to have my juice in the morning. I have to have my matcha latte with all my adaptogens and some days go perfectly. I get up, I do my morning routine. I feel good. We have our morning meeting. I’m super productive. I end the day. I have my nighttime routine. And it’s a perfect day. Those are pretty few and far between,
Making the pivot to COVID it’s been really interesting because we were in an office altogether. It felt like inside that building, it was really easy to manage and physically see everything that was going on and everything that we were creating, the good, the bad, and face it all in that space in the day. Since we pivoted to working from home, we’ve really had to find some tools.
Communication and productivity tools
Brooke: And in the beginning we tried three or four different types of tools that just didn’t work. And so internally we use a tool called Basecamp. That I highly recommend that where we manage everything, we manage our individual goals for the month, our individual daily tasks, so we can all see. And then we manage all of our projects and we share docs there. We communicate there. And then we use Slack during the day. We’ve started a thing where we’ll have just the Zoom, everyone has their Zoom on for a few hours, a couple of days a week, just working together like we would in an office in case we want to chit chat or say hi or not talking at all.
Brooke: And that feels nice, but it’s definitely been a work in progress. And for me, I swear by my notebook, I write everything down and not even that I go back and look at it, but just the act of writing things down just helps me stay organized and on top of things. And it’s my job to be organized and drive the things forward. That’s just how I’m wired and what I like. So it doesn’t feel like I have to work that hard at those pieces.
Mimi: Right, right. That’s awesome. I love it. And I’m a notebook person too. I just was starting to read about The Bullet Journal. Do you know about that?
Mimi: It’s a notebook. And it’s a system where you keep track of… Google it, you’ll see. It’s interesting. A guy wrote a book about it, I think he’s a journal and how he organizes the journal, so you can find everything. How you keep track of your notes, your goals, your to do, your tasks and everything. So that was this weekend. I was diving into him. Like, I’m going to try that.
Brooke: I’m probably ready for that next level. Yeah.
Mimi: Yeah, exactly. Because I’m definitely a paper person too, as much as I’d like to be a digital person, but I wish you the best of luck. This has been amazing. And so everybody can find you at goodmylk.co?
Brooke: Yes, Goodmylk.co.
Mimi: And the Y instead of an I. And you are also in a bunch of different grocery stores around… I know at least in L.A.
Brooke: A lot of your favorite coffee shops in L.A. Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Civil Coffee, a bunch of the cool ones. And online is right now where we’re having the most fun and feeling the most engaged with our community. And we’ll have some cool things happening through the holidays and some special releases. So come and interact with us online. And if you follow us on Instagram, you can’t not know where to find us.
Mimi: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it.