Entrepreneurship on Her Own Terms: Alisa Pospekhova of Kindroot


Summary of Episode

#21: Alisa Pospekhova, joins Annaka and Ethan to discuss her startup Kindroot, a company manufacturing plant-powered, lozenge supplements meant to put your body and mind at ease. Alisa walks us through the process of manufacturing your own product, marketing and designing a unique product, and how she got a partnership with Target.

About the Guest:

Alisa Pospekhova is the CEO and founder of Kindroot, a supplement company fusing the benefits of herbs into a lozenges that taste like candy. Alisa has a background in global brand marketing, and she used her marketing skills to develop the vision for her company. Alisa always wanted to start her own company, and she developed Kindroot to revamp the lozenges industry, an industry that has seen relatively few changes in the past. When she struggled to find partners willing to manufacture her product, she brought her vision to life and manufactured it herself.

Podcast Episode Notes

Alisa’s story traveling and the inception of Kindroot [1:08]

What are Adaptogens? [4:30]

After hearing “No” numerous times, Alisa decided to make her own product and launch it herself using a commercial kitchen [6:35]

Staying organized, scheduling activities, and being hyper focused allow Alisa to run her business while still working a traditional nine-to-five job [11:19]

Making the leap to working on your startup full time [13:00]

Building a large partnership with a retailer can be a large turning point for a company [17:43]

What pushed Alisa over the edge to start her first business, Kindroot [18:49]

Combining two industries to create a new, unique product. “Make a tiny tweak to something that is already existing” [21:36]

Starting a company without any co founders [24:16]

Creating a network of entrepreneurs to help problem solve and combat loneliness [27:00]

Reach out to brands, find other entrepreneurs, and be open to serendipitous interactions [28:59]

The importance of confidence and how to build the confidence needed to start a startup [30:59]

Determining the best marketing strategy for your product [35:37]

Take the time to find your brand’s identity before brining other onboard to help [38:00]

Finding your first customers and using feedback to shape the brand [48:43]

Using old-school marketing and partnerships to get Kindroot out to new audiences [50:52]

Be intentional with your marketing budget [53:36]

How Kindroot got a partnership with Target [54:41]

Alisa’s advice — Find something as an outlook and stick to it [1:04:08]

Full Interview Transcript

Annaka: Hello everyone and welcome to Startup Savants. I’m Annaka. 

Ethan: And, I’m Ethan.

Annaka: If you’re a returning listener, welcome back! And, if you’re new, this podcast is about the stories behind startups, the founders who run them, and the problems they are solving.

This episode we are joined by Alisa Pospekhova, founder and CEO of Kindroot. 

We get into what adaptogens are and why they matter, her background in marketing, and the importance of strong branding. 

Ethan: Absolutely, and she tells a story about overcoming rejection that is just jam packed with value. 

If you’re looking for some excellent, actionable advice about building partnerships and strengthening your brand, you’ll want to stick around til the end to hear what Alisa has to say.

Annaka: Hey, Alisa, welcome to the show.

Alisa Pospekhova: Hi, I'm so excited to be here.

Annaka: We're excited to really jump into this conversation. Just to start off, tell us a little about the history behind Kindroot, its mission and how you got started.

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. No, absolutely. Going way back, I was like your typical sick child. Every cold, every flu, I was always in the hospital, and it was always respiratory-related. I think I dealt with it the normal way people deal with it. You go in the hospital, you get sick, you take some medication, but I don't think the root cause of the sickness was ever really addressed. That really turned into being a sick adult where it was that funny thing where I was working out. I was really healthy, but whenever there was a cold in the office, I would always pick it up. Whenever I would travel, two days later without fail, I was coughing and sneezing.

It quite honestly just got to the point where I was like, "Enough of this. I need to do something about it." It was my mid-thirties, I really started trying to figure out the root cause, and I was working with a naturopath. I was working with an herbalist, and acupuncturist, and went on this whole holistic journey of healing inflammation and just healing some of my immune deficiencies. Of course, a lot of it had to do with taking different herbs and vitamins and really supporting the body in being able to fight off whatever that was happening, and I felt incredible.

It takes a little time for all of these to build up in your system, but I started really noticing much more of a resilience than what I had before. I was quite honestly hooked. I went and did an apprenticeship. I took some classes in traditional Chinese medicine and herbalism, and more so, quite honestly, for myself. Then, one day I was traveling, and I totally remember that day because it's like, there's those moments that cement in your brain. But I was traveling and TSA stopped me because I just put a bunch of my herbal powders into Ziploc bags. They were like, "What is this?" I didn't even think twice about it.

It was just so funny because I was such a frequent traveler. They searched my bags. They ended up letting me go, but they confiscated my weird brown powders and whatever, because they were like, "This is odd." That was really the moment when I thought about, I was like, "There's got to be a better way of being able to consume some of these in a way that would be really convenient for travel and delicious." I was a person that was taking so many herbs already, where I could just take something very bitter and it didn't bother me. But whenever I would try to introduce it to my friends, they were like, "Okay, no kidding, I'm not going to take this. This is absolutely awful."

That’s really where it all began. I generally have that attitude of how hard can something be? Fast forward, it's really, really hard, like complete underestimation of the whole process. But that was really the beginning, is it came out of my own need and experience. Ultimately, it evolved into the mission of the company of making things accessible and hoping to be the gateway into this wonderful world of plants and supplements and adaptogens.

Annaka: Perfect. I had to look this up. I'm sure other people might have to as well. What are adaptogens and why are they central to the Kindroot product line?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, no, absolutely. Adaptogens, they're a special class of herbs and mushrooms and their primary function is to help balance your body. What's beautiful about that is that we all might have different reasons. Two people might not be able to sleep, but one might not be able to sleep because there's one deficiency and the other one might not be able to sleep because their cortisol levels are too high. They can both take adaptogens and adaptogens will work differently within their body to balance them out. They will cool down some of the heat aspects, or they can actually like rev things up.

They really are great because a lot of the things that we're experiencing today in our modern lifestyle is because of stress, and that affects our adrenals. It affects our pituitary gland, everything. Taking adaptogens in specific combinations can really help support you lower the stress or the way that your body's able to cope with it. That is why I think there's such a revival and such an interest in all of these herbs that have been used for thousands of years. I don't want to say forgotten, because there's a lot of other cultures that have continued to use them.

But I think we, in the Western world, moved away from them in favor of more pharmaceuticals. I think we're now coming back and rediscovering things that I think some other cultures are like, "Oh, we've been doing this forever. You're welcome."

Annaka: Welcome back to the party.

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah.

Ethan: Let's talk about the business and start from the beginning. Before launching, we read that you called up several manufacturers to see if they would make your product, but they all told you no.

Alisa Pospekhova: Yup.

Ethan: Some probably a little more kindly than others. How did you overcome this obstacle and actually start making your product?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, no. That was really, I would say, really pivotal. That was a big challenge to solve for me. I knew the product needed to be made. I knew the blends. I understood the ingredients, but then I ultimately needed that final piece of somebody who's like, "Okay, we're going to mix it all together, package it, get it out." Yeah, I probably spent about six months researching different pharmaceutical companies, candy companies, lozenge companies, and calling and emailing all of them. Looking back now, I understand, I get it. It's a more complicated product to make.

There's such a failure rate with startups that I thought I had an amazing idea, but they were probably getting 20 calls a day from all these other people that thought they had great ideas. I was just hearing either a no, or I was hearing, "Okay, but the minimum order is going to be three million units." Or, something that I couldn't even wrap my head around. There was, quite honestly, a point where I was like, "Well, maybe it's just not going to happen." Then, the pivotal moment was really when I started, I had to shift my thinking, which is what I think you always end up having to do in a startup environment.

I was like, "Well, why do I feel like I need somebody else to make it for me? It's going to be really hard, but I could actually make it myself." I completely switched the route, found a candy scientist, found an herbalist. Then, we just really essentially started working on figuring out a non-scalable small batch way of launching it with a commercial kitchen. I ended up, essentially, getting a mini degree in lozenge-making and production and CGMP guidelines and all of that kind of stuff. But ultimately, I think it was a very, very important experience because I now know my product inside and out.

I hope that that also made me a better partner to my co-packer now, because I understand how hard it is, but I also know what happens if you overheat the product by five degrees. I know if it's like, it comes in sticky, you can't tell me ... I know why that is. Overall, I think it was a really, really hard learning curve, but I think it was really beneficial.

Ethan: Do you think that if you would've gotten a yes answer right off the bat, do you think that you would be where you are today? Or, do you think that that would've ... obviously, it would've completely changed the trajectory. Where do you think that you would be today if somebody would've said, "Yes, let's do it. Let's go forward."

Alisa Pospekhova: Oh, that's a great question. I haven't thought about that. What I know now, I actually think that would've been a completely wrong move because, quite honestly, since then, we've re-tweaked the formulations. I've changed the packaging here and there. I think that I would've had to order so much inventory that I don't even know what I would've done with it. Quite honestly, I actually feel like that would've been probably detrimental to the business. I quite honestly thought I needed those. I was manufacturing them by hand for about eight months before I actually found somebody, but I think I needed those eight months.

I needed to understand the production. I needed to see what the response was. I thought all five flavors would sell the same and that just totally wasn't the case. I had one that was making 70% of the volume. It really gave me time to make some of those $500, a thousand dollar mistakes before ordering thousands of dollars worth of inventory.

Annaka: Yeah. I know the anxiety of getting ready to order way too much of what you need and being like, "If I mess this up, that's a lot."

Ethan: You certainly don't want to scale the issue, that's for sure.

Annaka: No, no. Even when it's like, "Okay, we need stickers." It's like, "Your minimum order is 5,000." I'm like, "Guys, we have stickers for 20 years."

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah.

Ethan: Yeah, we'll definitely use the same art for the next 20 years. Let's do it.

Alisa Pospekhova: Forever. Yeah.

Annaka: Yeah. I'm glad it was a learning curve that you needed and having that hands-on relationship with your product, I'm sure, is extremely helpful at this point. Kindroot isn't your full-time gig right now. You still have a nine-to-five.

Alisa Pospekhova: I still have a nine-to-five.

Annaka: How do you balance that 40-hour work week that we all struggle through and running your own business? How do you keep that balanced?

Alisa Pospekhova: I don't know, quite honestly, that I keep that balanced. I think that one thing that works is just being extremely organized. By organized, I mean my fun is scheduled. Everything is scheduled in and I can't deviate. I think that as long as I'm regimented and like, "These are the things I need to get done today, these are the things I get done tomorrow." Then, I have the time to still incorporate some of the fun activities or things that make me feel good. I think that's important because I do think the first year I was so hyper focused that I neglected myself and I felt that burnout. I was like, "This just isn't real. This can't go on." I think it's being organized.

Then, I think the second thing is that, where it actually feel like it helps me, is it forces me to be hyper selective with things that I do. There's a million cool things that you can do for a brand or for a business and I just really have to make decisions of like, what's going to move the most. I also think I'm pretty quick to abandon things that I feel like they're not working. I make decisions pretty quickly to move on. I think it's just a very disciplined way of running a business. I think that's what's needed now while I self-funded. Then, eventually, obviously, there'll be a point where I'll be able to focus on it full-time.

Annaka: Yeah. A couple questions I want to come back and do in just a second. You do have plans to move full-time. What's it going to take for you to make that leap?

Alisa Pospekhova: The interesting thing is that ever since the beginning, I've always said, "Oh, I'm going to raise in three months. I'm going to raise in six months." When that comes around, I've been able to figure out how to make it work without going that route. I think the reason, quite honestly, and this is just how much my thinking, I think, changed since the launch. I was thinking I was going to launch with a manufacturer and I knew I would have to fundraise back then. I had a whole deck put together of projections, which is, I went back and looked at it a month ago and I thought it was hilarious. The way I thought the trajectory of the business was going to be.

But what I found out that I love the most was the control of the strategic vision and the creativity, and I'm right now really, really committed to being able to hold on to it as long as I can. I think I really look at it like, how long can I do this without needing outside capital? I will figure out the path to make that work.

Annaka: Got you. The commitment to your own vision is resulting in hesitation in seeking outside funding. Am I following that right?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, yeah. Totally. Or, at least getting the funding on my own terms, I think is very important. I generally think that we need to celebrate more independent businesses and just people doing it on their own, having that authenticity. It's interesting. I never even thought about it when I was watching a business. That wasn't something that I even considered, but for me, that is the most important aspect now.

Ethan: It sounds like you're fairly dedicated towards the path of continuing to stay bootstrapped, which, personally, I love. It's the way that I ran my business and I see lots and lots of successful businesses who continue to stay bootstrapped for the entirety of their lifespan. Is there a point though, in the future, that you feel like you've got things so buttoned up and you know basically what's going to happen. You have a very clean burning machine that if you throw money into one side, then you know more money comes out the other side. Is there a point that you do say, "Okay, we've got this. Let's toss some real big money at the problem."

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that, probably at some point, where I envision that point coming in is having a large partnership with a mass retailer, because at that point it doesn't just take inventory. It takes awareness, it takes merchandising. There's a lot of those things and I've seen ... I think founders always get very excited about getting into the account, but that can be the easy thing. I definitely am very mindful. I don't want to be the brand that gets in and then six months later gets kicked out. Absolutely, I do think that currently we're like regional premium. We have good online visibility and partnership in the launches that we've had.

But I do think that at some point there will be, hopefully, Target coming in or Whole Foods coming in and saying, "Hey, we're going to give you national distribution or even international expansion." To me, that would be absolutely the reason, and the right reason, to take money, to take funds and expand. I'm not against it. I just think that a lot of time it's just done very early to acquire customers, maybe in an unsustainable way. But I absolutely think that there's a point where it's like, "Okay, to your point, let's turn it off and let's see how far we can take it."

Ethan: Awesome. We're definitely going to talk about at least one of those big name partnerships here in a little while. Just a little tease on that, but let's talk about, Kindroot is your first company, correct?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah.

Ethan: In your company profile, you mentioned that you always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but like most of us, it seems like you've spent most of your working years as an employee. What was it that finally pushed you over the edge to start Kindroot?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, no. I always did have a lot of business ideas, but I felt like... and I've explored other ideas like here and there. I think with Kindroot, what made sense was, it was an industry that I felt really comfortable in. I've spent a lot of years working in health and wellness, so I knew, and even though nothing really prepares you for entrepreneurship, I will say day and day again, that it's really like the grit and the resilience that separates people. Whether you know how to read a P&L, all those things I feel like you can figure out or you can hire somebody who can help you, but it's really the ability to push through. But I knew how this world worked.

It was a product that I felt like I was really, really passionate about. I just felt like I could do it. I truly was like, "I think I can pull this off." Without necessarily needing co-founders and a lot of outside forces coming in. That, I think, was the pivotal thing where, previously, I had an idea for a travel website and it sounded really cool, but I was like, "Who's going to actually code it for me. How am I going to do it?" This I really felt like “I can do it.”

Ethan: Yeah. That's huge. Just knowing the basic idea of how you're going to do, what you're going to do. I've been in that same place and I know that there are kabillions of other people out there who have said, I've got this great idea for a product, but I don't know how to code.

Alisa Pospekhova: Right.

Ethan: There have been many questions of, should I learn to code? I'm going down a rabbit hole here, but I think, honestly, entrepreneurship is a skill just as coding is a skill. If you can get yourself to a point where you know you need X skill, you can just hire for that skill. If you can play all the other parts or just the parts that you excel in, then you don't necessarily need to know how to code.

Alisa Pospekhova: No, that's very true.

Ethan: For everyone out there who's going to learn how to code, go ahead. Do it anyway. It's great. But then, but then also learn how to be an entrepreneur.

Alisa Pospekhova: It's funny. I took a class on coding through General Assembly and I walked out and I was like, "Okay, I feel like it's good." I get the general sense, but I was like, "This is not going to be my strength." I could tell pretty quickly. I was like, "This is not going to work. No." I think it's also good to know your limitations to your point and know your strengths.

Ethan: Right, exactly. You don't have to stick only in the industries that you know a lot about, but that is where your strength lies. That leads me to the next question. You did start your business in an industry that you were comfortable in, but you combined two concepts or two industries, and we've seen lots of products take two industries or concepts and combine them into something new. For example, there's a company called Nerd Fitness, which is essentially a fitness company for people that like video games. It's in the name, Nerd Fitness. Your company combines the benefits of aromatherapy and the healing properties of plants. How would you recommend that someone use the same approach to come up with their new business idea?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, no. What's interesting about that is that I think I am still figuring out where exactly we're at. I think the beauty of being a new form or product is that we are very unique and I think people who get it, get it, and there's no substitute. I would say the same has been for a lot of our retail partnerships where retailers say, "Hey, there's nothing really like this. So, hey, we'll bring you in." I think that's been beautiful. I think on the flip side, we have to do a lot of education with consumers to understand because they're like, "Wait, so you're like a lozenge, but you have stuff in it. But what about ashwagandha? Why is it good?"

There's all of these talking points that go into it. We're figuring out exactly what our positioning is still and how to talk about it to the consumer. But I think the base of it, if you look at the product, it's actually pretty simple. Lozenges already exist. Herbs already exist. It's an innovative product, but it's actually a quite simple innovation. I think my advice to anybody who's thinking about a product is, it doesn't have to be super revolutionary. I think a lot of times we feel like you have to invent an Uber or whatever it is, but really you can just make a tiny little tweak to something that's existing that solves a very particular need, and there you have it.

I would always say, "Look at an industry that hasn't been innovated in." For me, it was lozenges. I remember standing in a CVS aisle and looking at the same three brands that I've been buying for 20 years. I was like, "It's interesting. Nobody seems to want to do anything in here." That to me was like, this is an open space for me to come in and do a few simple tweaks and have a product that's very interesting. Don't worry about things like market share that they keep on talking about, because if I were to look at the pie chart and say, "Hey, gummies are huge. I need to make a functional gummy." Well, I will have 200,000 competitors within that.

Within the lozenge space, I don't really have anyone. I would say, go with your gut instinct and just look at all of these spaces where you feel like it's completely forgotten. Look at it and think about how can you infuse something a little bit interesting and innovative in it.

Ethan: Right now, you are a one-woman show. Why did you decide to start this without any co-founders?

Alisa Pospekhova: I didn't necessarily choose to have any co-founders. What was actually happening is that I had an idea. I took the weekend. I came up with a name. I had to brainstorm with myself. I basically Googled the name and saw that the website and the Instagram handle were open. I took it as a sign.

Ethan: It is a sign.

Alisa Pospekhova: I registered the name right there. Because it was one of those things, I remember when I was like, "No, Kindroot, somebody for sure has to have it." Because, again, it's a very simple merger of two words. Nobody had it and I was like, "Oh, okay." I put a deck together and started working on it. Then, six months later, I had the concept, the way to move forward, and I kept moving forward. Similar to the fundraising question, there were points when I thought, "Oh, maybe I'll need to bring in a co-founder to help me with operations and finance." I would say that is still an open door.

That doesn't mean a co-founder cannot come in, but I think I've been really focused on making progress day by day, week by week, month by month. I just keep going with it until there's a point where I can't anymore, and that is when I bring in help. I've done that with shipping the product by myself until I'm like, "Okay, well, I can't really do pallets out of my own house." Now, I bring in a 3PL, right? Doing all of my content for social media until it's too much, and then I brought in a video editor. That is just generally my philosophy. I just do it. I try to scale to the point that I can and then I bring somebody in.

I would say, the idea of bringing somebody into the business, it's still open and that might still warrant and justify. I would say, for example, if there is a time to, or when that time comes to fundraise, that is not necessarily a particular skill of mine and I know that, so that would actually be a potentially good opportunity for somebody to come in with a really strong finance, fundraising background who can help manage that side. That can be a really, really big piece of the business.

Ethan: That makes total sense. It's nice to have people on board to do a job that they would be 10 times better at than we would be.

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah, exactly.

Ethan: We've heard from a ton of different entrepreneurs, and I've seen this written a million times online, that entrepreneurship can feel really lonely, especially when you're in the founder's seat by yourself. How do you contend with this?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. I always say, to me, entrepreneurship is being in one of those haunted houses. You willingly walked into it and you know there's stuff that's going to be coming at you but you're like, you don't know when and where, but then you're excited being there and there's a certain adrenaline going. Absolutely, I think that the highs of entrepreneurship are probably like the most elated feeling I've ever felt. Sometimes it's even for the simplest things. You get a retailer and then you get a second PO reorder and you're like, "All right, people are actually buying this. This is cool."

But then there are problems and, ultimately, you are the only one and it's all on you, which is very different from a corporate environment where, ultimately, responsibilities are shared. For me, I've been lucky to meet other early stage entrepreneurs. Ultimately, I usually have, probably, a weekly call with one or the other, one of them, and we just talk, call it like little therapy sessions. We just spend 30 minutes each just unloading and coming up with solutions and problem solving. That has actually been just the most incredible network for me. It's interesting because I feel like some of them became my super close friends within three months because I think just that bond of building a company really, really unites you.

I would say that is probably the biggest advice that I would give to anybody that, find other founders at the similar stage that you're at, that are spending the same amount of money, so you're going through the same type of problems, and really build a really strong network of them.

Ethan: How did you, and how do others find those other founders in the same similar situation as you?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. Some of them came through joining different accelerators or programs, and then you connect with people. Some of them actually happened in a very funny way where ... I'll tell you, one of my close friends now, I commented on a post by Jaime Schmidt on LinkedIn and she did, too. She saw my comment and she liked it. She sent me a message on LinkedIn and said, "Hey, do you want to connect?" We connected and now I feel like we talk once a week. I would say just be open to these types of serendipitous opportunities, but just also reach out to brands, go to organizations. At least in the natural food community, there's Naturally LA, there's Naturally Denver.

There are those types of associations that people join because they want to meet other people and they really want to connect. That has really been truly incredible. Actually, I talked to one of them yesterday and we went through all of our wins, wins and losses, and finished up with a little pep talk at the end. It completely cleansed my soul after a 30-minute conversation.

Annaka: Yeah. It's like, the best vent sessions are when people just understand what you're going through. If I said 3PL or P&L or any other information to anyone they'd be like, "What are you talking about?" Everyone speaks the same language in those groups. I was reading one of your other interviews that you had done and I'm going to quote you real quick, "I believe that as women, we tend to think we need to know it all before starting a business, but the truth is just that most of us are a lot more capable of figuring things out than we think. We just need to be confident and go for it." I wish I could heart react that. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who may need help building that kind of confidence?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. Interestingly enough, and I think this is supplemental to your earlier question about why starting a business, is that there was a point in my career when I was working for a startup. It was a really, really well-funded startup. It didn't end up going anywhere, but the interesting thing is that I was there and the founders were literally doing everything wrong. They were just doing everything wrong. I remember sitting there and thinking, "Wow, they have a good product. They're doing everything wrong. People are quitting left and right, but they do have a company." The only thing that separates them is just the confidence to go for it. You just make it happen.

That was another reason, I was like, "I really just need to find that confidence in myself and go for it." The truth is, I don't know if the confidence is really, truly there. You have to fake it for a little while, and then just go for it. Then, with everything that I solve, every problem that I overcome, that's what's building the confidence. It's interesting because now, after starting business on my own, figuring out how to produce them, figuring out the 3PL, figuring out the funding, I'm in that state where I feel like, "Okay, there's probably most things I can figure out." But I think what helps me is reading some of these startup stories of people making it in a small way.

Because I think, unfortunately, what you hear a lot is these stories about people raising millions of dollars and going from zero to a thousand in three months. That's actually very, very unique. We hear about them a lot, but that's not the majority of the business. For me, modeling things after even like Sarah Blakely or Jamie Schmidt, these women that really took it from farmer's market or the backyard or whatever, and grew them into these incredible companies made me realize that, "Hey, I can just focus on day to day and I don't have to have a five-year plan." I don't have to want to sell the company in three years.

I just need to focus on acquiring X users or getting into two more accounts. Then, once I do that, let's look at the next thing. It's really, I think, about solving the problems in front of you rather than accomplishing these huge lofty goals.

Annaka: Yeah, like baby steps. In building your confidence, you've tackled so many things, it just seems like, "Oh, here's a problem. All right, Alisa, go solve that one." Has that changed other aspects of your life when you're borrowing that confidence that you've learned as an entrepreneur and then applied that elsewhere?

Alisa Pospekhova: I quite honestly think it calmed me down a lot. I tend to be very excitable and I'll get angry or panicky or whatever. I think now that I've like ... a lot of other things don't seem as big of a deal, quite honestly. Probably, even in my day to day job, I'm like, "Hey, look, this is a problem, but it's probably not as big of a problem as getting a cease and desist letter." That I just heard from a founder friend of mine that I talked to on Monday. That is a real problem, or your pallet gets damaged. You put all of your funds into it, which I've been through and I'm like, that is a real problem because now you don't have a product and you also don't have a way to pay for it.

All of these little things that I feel we get distracted by, and I get distracted by somebody cutting you off in traffic or whatever, it just doesn't seem as big of a deal anymore. I just accept them and move on. It's probably a big statement, but I feel like being an entrepreneur made me a better person in a way.

Annaka: I love that. We'll look forward to the book coming out: “How to use entrepreneurship to be awesome.” I'm going to go down a branding and marketing rabbit hole, because this is my niche. You have a background in marketing. How did you determine the best marketing strategy for Kindroot and what did that process look like?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. I am still trying to figure out the best marketing strategy, quite honestly.

Annaka: It's a moving target.

Alisa Pospekhova: It's a moving target. For example, again, I think entrepreneurship, interesting thing. I designed the brand thinking that my consumer was going to be 24 to maybe 45, the language, the copy, the visual. The interesting difference that I found out once I started selling is that, on my Snooze flavor, my biggest segment is 55 plus. I didn't think about it. That wasn't even in the back of my mind in any way. The reason being, when I talked to them is they said, "Well, we already take a lot of pills and supplements. We don't want to take another one. We love that yours is in a lozenge because it's delicious."

I was like, okay, but the only thing I'm doing is I'm on Instagram, I'm on TikTok. I'm not reaching these people. I had to actually go through and change my marketing strategy and talk to my PR person and say, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't go after Well+Good, but maybe we could go after AARP Magazine, or we're going after The Today Show or whatever." Quite honestly, it's just been a lot of being open to and reading really the consumer and looking at who's buying the product, and then just letting them lead me to where I need to be.

Annaka: Yeah. It's always a nice surprise when you're like, "Yeah, these are my people." Then, it's like, you got a little bubble over here. In developing your brand, I spent a lot of time on your website and like, ""Ooh, I like that. Ooh, I like that. Ooh, I like that." This is how I nerd out in my workday. Did you hire an agency or designer? It sounds like you were pretty involved in the process.

Alisa Pospekhova: I was very involved in the process. That was my favorite part of the whole process, of course. I had a really strong vision of what I wanted it to be. I got introduced through a friend. I told them, I was like, "Hey, I'm working on a brand. I'll need to hire a copywriter and a designer." We worked together before and he said, "I want to introduce you to this woman named Sarah. She's a great copywriter. She just went freelance. I just feel like you guys would've really hit it off." I met her for coffee and she showed me some examples of copy that she wrote before and I was like, "This is it. I don't even have to change. I feel like you get it."

Then, she came back and said, "Look, I have an idea for you. I know this other woman. We're friends. She loves color." Because I told her I wanted the brand to be really colorful. "She's an illustrator. She's super talented. She's actually never done packaging before, but I feel like she'll nail it." I can't explain it because, again, coming from corporate where you go through this really regimented process of putting every piece together and getting three agencies and analyzing all these things. It was really just a feeling. I was like, "I feel like you get me. I trust you. Bring in this other person." That was it, quite honestly.

Then, the three of us started collaborating on it and I'm really, really proud of what we created and what they created. I think they took my vision and they took it to the next level. I think it came out super authentic and super unique. But, again, it's one of those things where I'm like, I can't teach somebody almost how to replicate it because it truly just came from the heart and just us vibing together. Maybe that is the lesson, is that especially for a creative process, you can't force it. I feel people really need to just understand where you're coming from and understand the brand. Then, I feel like whatever comes out of it is truly beautiful.

Annaka: Yeah. It sounds like you found a team that just really got it right away. I know you just said that, but it's sometimes hard, in the design space, to communicate what you want your brand to be. We talk all the time, as designers, how do I get web developers to speak design? It's like, "Well, it might be the other way around. I might have to learn some different language there." How did you really define your brand to then speak to that target audience? I know we're getting real deep right now. I'm really excited.

Alisa Pospekhova: No, no, no. That's certainly true. To your point about working with design agencies or designers, I think that's probably where my past experience came in, to where I feel like when you get that design, rarely is it actually the designer's fault. Usually, that means they weren't briefed correctly or given the right direction. I've worked with a lot of people previously who would say things to me like, "I don't know what I want this to look like, but I'll know it when I see it." You're just like, "I don't know what to do with it." I did put a lot of ownership on my end of, I think I've created 10 different Pinterest boards for them. I created a whole PowerPoint presentation.

A lot of it actually was, there was a lot of, I love this, but there was also a lot of this, I hate this. Please don't do this. I think I gave them a lot of freedom with guardrails of, they knew exactly where to play and within that they could go wild and crazy. But they weren't going to be put in the situation, they would show me something and I would be like, "Oh, you're showing me green. I don't like green. Why are you showing me green?" They're like, "Well, you could have told me that and we would've saved 10 hours creation of ideating on that." I think that my biggest advice probably would be, if you're not sure where you want the brand to go or you're not sure of that identity, hold off on bringing anybody else in because they can't really figure it out for you.

I think it becomes one of those never-ending iterations. Take time and really be certain where you want to go, and then bring somebody in to make it better for you or push you, because they also pushed me. I think there were certain things that I was not comfortable with and they were like, "Okay, let's just try it. Let's just go." I'm glad that they also helped expand my horizons of what I thought I liked or where we wanted to go. I forgot what your question was. I hope I answered it.

Annaka: It was, how does your brand speak to your target audience?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good question. For me, one of the really big things that I wanted to accomplish with this is that I felt like, at least when I was developing the brand, there was this really big movement towards minimalism and being super cool and aesthetic. I think the first word in my brief to them was cute and accessible. I remember telling them, I was like, "You know what? I know that cute is not the word people want anymore, but I just want this brand to be overly cute. I want it to be adorable and I want it to feel super familiar and excessive to people." A big reason for that was also because it was a new product, a new form.

I was like, we can't also have a brand that has people jumping through. They at least have to want to pick it up and then they can go through and try to understand what the product is selling them. Everything that we did was to be irreverent and accessible and feel familiar. That was even reflected in the brand Kindroot. I said, it's one of those names where you're like, "Oh, I feel like I've heard of them. Or, that is something that could have existed before." Kindroot could be like a 20-year brand. It could be a one-year brand. I really just wanted to break down the barriers, if you will, to come into the brand as much as possible.

Annaka: Yeah. If anyone listening has not checked out the Kindroot site, go, please do that now. Because all the things you just said, familiar, accessible, cute. They're there in the choices of color, in the graphics. We haven't really talked brand a lot with a ton of founders that we've had on here, so I relish any opportunity to talk about brand. I know no one's actually rolling their eyes at me, but I can feel it. No, I'm just kidding. I really do appreciate you even being willing to talk about it. Yeah, go check out the site because it's really nice.

Ethan: Go check out the site. Yup.

Alisa Pospekhova: Thank you.

Ethan: We'll give the address at the end, but you’ve got to listen until the end to hear that. Yeah, now that I'm here, I'm going to dig my way out of this branding hole that we're in.

Alisa Pospekhova: No, let’s stay in.

Ethan: All right. Yeah, just give me Kindroot branded answers for all the rest of the questions that I want to ask. All right. You spent quite a bit of time talking with your target audience before launching your brand. How did you find those users and facilitate those conversations and what changes did you make based on the responses that you got?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. I was just talking to everyone and anyone about this, quite honestly. If I was at a party and some unfortunate soul asked me what I was up to, I would tell them. I feel like I was just bringing in every single person into the conversation. I know that some people are very secretive before they launch a brand and it's like a stealth startup or whatever. That wasn't me. I was really sharing a lot of what I was working on and asking and facilitating people's feedback. That was super important in helping shape the brand in a lot of ways. I even had a variety of different flavors that we were testing for each one of the SKUs.

I think we would narrow it down to four or five. I knew what my preference was, but again, I think every single one of my friends, random neighbors, would all get samples and I would get feedback from them, what did they like, what they didn't like. It was interesting because sometimes I would think I was making a risky choice. Sometimes, as a founder, you're like, I don't know. Is this the right way? Is it not the right way? That came to a flavor, like our mood flavor, lychee rosewater, I was like, I loved it but I wasn't sure if people would understand it. It was interesting because, I think I gave the samples to 10 people and uniformly, everybody said, this is the flavor. This is amazing. You have to go with it.

That gave me the confidence to move forward with it. I think it's extremely, extremely important to get that kind of feedback as you go. We even had a whole question of whether we were going to call it a candy or a lozenge at one point. I had somebody tell me, "Well, when I have a lozenge, I feel like I can have 20 of them, but a candy, I would probably limit myself to twice a week." It's not something I thought about, but I was like, "Oh, that's an actually really, really interesting insight." That's why we refer to them as lozenges rather than candy, even though you can go either way and some of our competitors talk about their product as a candy, and we decided to stay very supplement, herbal direction-based.

Ethan: You said lychee rosewater? Is that the-

Alisa Pospekhova: Mm-hmm.

Ethan: Okay. There's, obviously, a difference between tasting a flavor and reading the name of a flavor. If it’s me, I'm just some random 30-year-old white guy walking down the aisle and I see two different flavors and one is cherry and the other one is lychee rosewater, I probably might pick up the cherry just because that's easy. I understand what that word means. How do you deliver the experience that you're trying to give through, I guess, it comes back to branding doesn't it?

Annaka: Aha.

Ethan: Yeah. How do you do that?

Alisa Pospekhova: No. Flavors were interesting. Flavors is probably where I did take a risk on most of them, but I had this, at that point, a bold point of view. I don't want them to be conventional. I want them to be interesting and I want them to pique an interest. That's why we have lavender vanilla, which has a very herbal note to it. But people seem to love it. Then, we had lychee rosewater. Then, one of our flavors was white tea, like citrus white tea, so there were all these blends and I wanted them to have multiple notes. With lychee rosewater, you taste lychee. Then, you then note, you taste the rosewater, it's all very blended.

But, again, I think with packaging we then went very accessible and fun. Even if people looked at the flavor and they're like, "I don't know what that's going to taste like." They would still be interested in tasting it just based on how cute and tasty the packaging looked. But then we did work on the copy end, and so if you flip the packaging, we wanted to describe what that flavor was supposed to evoke. We don't say, "It tastes like lychee meets rosewater blah, blah, blah." We say, tropical spa vibes. Or, for lavender vanilla, we say it tastes like ... I actually am forgetting. I think we say it's like sweet dreams or something like that. We're trying to evoke the feeling that that flavor's supposed to get you to.

Ethan: All right. You got me. I love that. It's funny because these are probably the flavors that my fiance would be picking up. She would say, "Why do you want cherry? That's so vanilla."

Annaka: It's so basic, Ethan.

Ethan: That's definitely her words right there. All right. Moving on. You've mentioned that you don't currently have a large marketing budget. I'd like to hear what the word large means in this situation. But how are you getting your, here we go again, brand in front of more of your target consumers?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. In the beginning, I was relying a lot on performance marketing, like Facebook advertising, all of that. Things that they teach you that are very scalable, whatever. Then, the iOS changes came and it became completely ridiculously inaccessible and really expensive. Quite honestly, and I was joking with a friend of mine about this yesterday, we're all going back to marketing 15, 20 years ago and doing all the old school tactics like, I'm doing a lot of sampling. I am sampling at all events. I'm putting in different boxes for people to try the product. We do PR outreach.

We also work with some micro influencers but again, not people that are necessarily asking for payment, but people who truly like the brand, that are posting about it in exchange for a product, because they really like the ethos behind it. I would say that partnerships with other brands have really taken us far and we do it both on social media, but we've also done some interesting programs like D2C cross sampling. We'll partner with a brand for a month and we'll just do a free exchange where every single one of our shipments will get a sample of their product. Every single one of their shipments will get our product. You're leveraging these free ways of getting to audiences and surprising them a little bit with your product and getting out there.

Then, I'm currently also working on some partnerships with hotels, airlines, again, just trying to get to people where they are in the midst of using the product and just offering it to try. Because, ultimately, what I found out over the past couple years is, specifically in our snooze flavor, when people try it, they love it. They love the way it performs. They love the flavor. To me, it's like, why don't I just spend my money on letting them try it? Because then I know that they're going to come back and they're going to repeat rather than putting money into potentially attracting a cold audience that may or may not convert.

Ethan: Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs that are pinching every last penny to make the most out of a small marketing budget?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. I would say just be really intentional with how you spend it, but also, at the same time, be open to trying it. I think with marketing, the truth is that you don't really know if things are going to work. You have to just be open to spending a certain amount of money and see how it works. I talk to so many people and sometimes they're brands where they've done a program and it worked so wonderfully for them and I do it and it doesn't work for my brand and vice versa. I would say the first year specifically, just try and do as many things as possible. Then, going into the following year, I think you'll have a much better idea of what works for you.

Ethan: You heard it here first. Throw it against the wall and see what sticks. Okay, cool. Alright. We teased it earlier. Now, we're going to talk about it. You recently announced that Kindroot is going to be available on target.com. Congratulations, first off.

Alisa Pospekhova: Thank you.

Ethan: That's awesome. That's such a huge milestone for a young company, but I want to dig into the specifics about how you made this partnership happen and whether or not it's created the results that you imagined it would. Let's actually start with that second question first. Has it performed in the way that you would've liked to have?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. Look, we've been on it for three weeks, so it's a little quick, but I think that so far, I'm looking at the sales every single day, obsessively, unhealthfully probably, helicopter parenting the Target pages. Yeah, so far I'm really happy with the performance. Actually, there was a surprise in that overall our best selling flavor is sleep one and on Target it's the mood one. I think that's reflective of probably a younger, millennial mom demographic that tends to shop there. But yeah, I think even in things like awareness for the brand, it's huge. They have so many shoppers. I think it allows us to reach so many people who are shopping at Target for all the other different things.

Then, obviously, long term, this is something that I look at, "Hey, how did we perform at target.com? How can we make it work?" Then, eventually, of course, I would love an in-store test and go from there. Target was always very much the account I had in mind when I was designing it. I looked at everything that they had in store. I looked at their branding and that would absolutely be the, it's already a dream account, quite honestly, for us to get into the dot com space, but when we get into the Target retail stores, that's definitely going to be like a celebration moment.

Ethan: How'd you do it? How'd you get in there?

Alisa Pospekhova: Good question. I have a friend of mine who helps me on the sales side. We worked previously together at a company and she's been amazing because she pretty much came in at month one when I sent her a presentation. I was like, "This is what I'm going to do." She's like, "It's interesting." She advises and helps me, and she's really been incredible at going very gorilla with outreach, looking at people on LinkedIn and sending them messages. She actually just reached out to a buyer after finding her on LinkedIn, sent her an email, and what do you know? They responded. We sent them samples. Then, I think about three or four weeks later they responded and they said, and this quote is embedded in my head.

But she said, "I think you're very, very ahead of the trend curve probably for our stores right now, but I definitely want to test you online." That's ultimately where we wanted to be because we're not ready to go to Target retail stores. That would be a massive undertaking. We were like, "Well, thank you for telling us we're ahead of the trend curve. We take that as a compliment, but then also, let's test online and see how it works." Yeah.

Ethan: You've got your friend who's advising, who you worked with in the past. She goes on to LinkedIn. She finds a buyer, she emails them. Okay. I don't have that friend.

Alisa Pospekhova: Right.

Ethan: But I'm going to go onto LinkedIn and I'm going to find a buyer for Target. What's in that email that you send out to them?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. What has worked for us really is being super genuine about the product. That's what people tend to respond to. We always open with, "Hi, we're a small female-led business, manufacturing here in the US." Off the bat, we're saying, "Hey, we're not a big company, but take a look at us. We're interesting, unique." Then, we usually do a very, very short blurb about, "Hey, we're putting out these new lozenges. They combine plants and whatever." Then, we always add a line that personalizes it to them. For Target, we would write something like, "Hey, knowing that you have a high supplement consumer with moms who are looking for sleep and mood, we feel like these two skews would be quite perfect."

Then, we just leave it. It's not super salesy, super pushy. We just say, "Hey, here's a presentation. If you'd love to learn more, let us know." It's a very soft, personalized, very honest approach. Quite honestly, we've had a pretty good response to us reaching out to people. Sometimes people respond and say, for example, we did the same type of thing for World Market. I went and looked up a buyer and sent it to her and the response was, "Hey, I really, really love this, but this type of product hasn't performed well for us in the past, but I'll keep you in mind." And that's okay. Target, we seem to have reached out to the right person at the right time and it worked. There's probably 10 other emails that I send where I didn't get a response or I got a no. In a way, it's like a game of numbers in many ways.

Ethan: That's really great advice. Just knowing that it's not going to be necessarily the first one that you send out. It could be the second, it could be the fifth. It could be the 35th. Just like what you mentioned earlier, it's all about that grit. You have to keep going, you have to keep finding those folks that you can send those emails to and keep reaching out. I'm super glad that you did because it's gotten you to where you are today. Any other advice that you would give entrepreneurs who are interested in getting into those larger name stores?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. I would just say do the homework. Yes, we just look them up and send an email. But before we do, I spend a really significant amount of time. If it's on the website, I go to the website, I look at the competition. I put an Excel sheet together of them, their pricing, our pricing. I want to know just as much as the buyer knows, if that makes sense. In a way, I always look at it as a partnership. There's always times when I've looked at a website and I was like, "You know what? I don't think we fit in their assortment. I don't think it makes sense to reach out."

By the same token, I've had some accounts reach out to me and I said no to them because I was like, "I just don't think this is the right time. I don't think we're going to do well." Put yourself in that mindset of partnership, know as much as the buyer knows, know the competition, and really understand what it is that you're offering to them. If I would say, you do the research and you're not sure, that you have an offer or you have a differentiation, either maybe don't pitch them yet or I would say, expect probably a no. Because if you haven't found that hook or that in, they know their category so they're going to be really, really quick to come back to you and be like, "I don't think this fits in." I think a lot of times we talked about how to reach out or how to get there but I think people forget that there's hours and hours of prep. A lot of times it can go into a single outreach email, if you're serious about it.

Annaka: Yeah. That's a lot of work.

Ethan: Yup.

Annaka: Then, writing it out, I would be another ... Can you tell I'm anxious? I would be so scared to actually hit send. What are they going to think about me? Yeah, I think I'll be going on target.com and getting a little bit of help from Kindroot today. We all know entrepreneurship can be hard emotionally. It can be hard physically. Do you have any wellness tips for entrepreneurs to help their overall health?

Alisa Pospekhova: Yeah. Yeah. No, I would say absolutely find something that's an outlet and try to stick to it. I actually just recently discovered pickleball and I am obsessed. I am just absolutely obsessed. I have this group of women that I play with on Wednesday evenings. Sometimes I get caught up, and I'm behind, I need to accomplish things and I don't go. But when I do go, my Thursday and Friday are just so much better mentally and emotionally. I feel like I just perform so much better. I come from a place of happiness. You're probably not going to have time to have a ton of outlets.

But find at least one outlet and schedule time once or twice a week to do something that feels like fun, it doesn't feel like you're just going through the motions or getting to do so, whatever it may be. For some people it can be like running, it could be going out to eat, it could be pickleball, yoga, whatever it is, but that has been key for me.

Annaka: Yeah, find some way to get that out. I have to schedule it or it doesn't happen.

Alisa Pospekhova: Right.

Annaka: I swim pretty much every single day, but if I don't have it scheduled, I just won't show up. I'd be like, "Oh, no, one's counting on me. It's fine." That's the first way to do it.

Alisa Pospekhova: Yup.

Annaka: All right. Finally, any advice that you have for entrepreneurs in general?

Alisa Pospekhova: Oh, gosh, that feels like such a big, great thing. But I think it's one day at a time. I think it's one day at a time. I think the one thing that I learned more and more is, and it's really hard to do it, and it doesn't mean I still don't do it, but comparisons are the worst thing. I'm really having to remind myself that I'm in the right place today where I need to be, and that's the right journey for my brand. It can be hard because you're constantly seeing people making millions of dollars a month and you're like, "Why am I not there?" That is not productive. I would say just really focus inward and make decisions that are authentic. I truly just believe you'll end up where you're meant to end up.

Ethan: I think that sounds like super great advice. Absolutely. All right. This has been really cool. Lots of fun. One more question. How can our listeners support Kindroot?

Alisa Pospekhova: Oh, thank you. Well, look, we want people to be aware of the brand and check us out. I would say, if you can follow us on social, we're @Kindroot on Instagram, Pinterest, we have TikTok. Just follow us and, of course, check out our site at kindroot.com or there's always target.com. We love the sales there, too.

Ethan: Awesome. We're going to put all of those links in the show notes, but that is going to be it for today's episode of the Startup Savants podcast. Hey, thanks for hanging out. Hey, did you enjoy the show? We want to hear your opinion. Are we asking the right questions to these brave founders? Should we beat them up a little more to get all of their secrets? Send us your feedback over to podcast@truic.com. We'll take any words you're willing to give. The other thing we would love from you is a review on Apple podcasts. This will help us top those charts and show up in more searches so we can hang out with more cool entrepreneurs, just like you. For tools, guides, videos, startup stories, and so much more, head over to truic.com. That's truic.com, T-R-U-I-C.com. See you, folks.

Annaka: Bye.

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