Kombucha is considered to be the fastest-growing product in the functional beverage market with global sales estimates of $1.8 billion by 2020. By 2025, the kombucha market is forecasted to reach a whopping $5.4 billion globally. If you’re not familiar, kombucha is a probiotic-rich, fermented, slightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink. Initially valued for its healing properties, its roots go back centuries, originating in China around 220 B.C. It is often referred to as a functional beverage because of its many potential health benefits which include boosting energy, aiding digestion and strengthening the immune system. The number three kombucha brand and fastest growing refrigerated functional beverage brand of 2018, Health-Ade was founded in 2012 by Daina Trout, her husband and her best friend. Theirs is a true farmers market start-up story. Two words I associate with Daina are grit and passion. I sat down with Daina Trout, cofounder and CEO of Health-Ade, to learn more about her commitment to building a strong company culture, how she balances work and motherhood (with baby number two on the way in less than a month) and her mission to get Health-Ade into every refrigerator in America.
Caroline Castrillon: How did you know that entrepreneurship was your calling?
Daina Trout: I worked for a huge pharmaceutical company and had made my way to this pretty cool position called Change Agent. My job was to improve the engagement of employees in the company. I had an unlimited budget, no structure, complete autonomy and basically a year to do it. What I recognized was that I was very comfortable with the autonomy and lack of structure. Firsthand I got this awesome crash course in leadership and management. Then when that assignment ended, I got put back in my original role, which was very structured. I was crying every night because I longed for that sort of freedom again. I shared this with the two closest people in my life, my best friend and my husband. They felt the same way for their own reasons so that was what inspired us to explore other opportunities. Literally, it only took us eight weeks before we had Health-Ade for sale at the farmers market. The three of us were not qualified. We were not experienced. We didn’t have the capital—but we had all the grit in the world and that was enough. That was enough for our story.
Castrillon: How important is it for you to build a strong company culture?
Trout: Extremely important. Because of my work in the Change Agent days, I feel like I had a bit of a leg up because I already knew that culture was critical. I knew what type of leadership was important so I built the company from the beginning that way. We had executive coaches as an example. We did things like crucial conversations as a company in the very beginning to get everybody trained on how to properly communicate when stakes are high. We also do something called a culture interview where we essentially vet a candidate before they come into the company, not at all on their skillset, but just on their values. We have all-hands meetings every six weeks where we all get together wherever you are in the country over Skype. Then the last thing is we do is this pretty awesome week at the end of the year called victory week. We already assume we’re going to be victorious, so we schedule this thing called victory week and we bring the whole company in live for a full week. It basically is a week of celebration, planning, excitement and camaraderie.
Castrillon: You’re a very busy CEO and mom. How do you balance work and motherhood?
Trout: It really is just a game of mathematics because you only have 24 hours in a day. I think the first thing you have to do is manage your expectations. That’s a really important step for a woman. I had to pick and choose what was really important to me so I started to change my expectations about needing to put dinner on the table every night. I used to be the type of person that was like, oh, I only worked out three times this week, not four—failure! And now I’m like, hey, I went for a walk this week. The first step is accepting that you can’t do it all, so you need to decide what’s really a priority for you.
Castrillon: How important is intuition and listening to your gut when you are an entrepreneur?
Trout: Very, especially in the beginning. Our tagline is follow your gut! When we first came up with that tagline, we had no idea it was actually going to be our business practice and it really truly has been. I mean, there’s no guidebook so you are constantly faced with complicated decisions that don’t have a clear answer. Anytime you’re doing something great, it’s like that. The complicated decisions are the ones that count and there’s no right or wrong answer. So, you really have to talk to people and get their input. But what you’ll find usually is that everybody has a different opinion. So you’ve got to make your own decision. That’s when you tap into your intuition and you say, what feels right? What is the best option? What is the best thing to do? You do it and then you take a step forward—that’s how you make progress in business. Then you look back and realize it was so much of your intuition that drove the vision.
Castrillon: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
Trout: I would say two things. The wins and the people. I get a lot out of the wins. I’m an achievement person. Achieving a goal gives me a lot of energy. What’s also always rewarding for me is the people. It’s so special to see the team meet me at my level of passion for the business we created out of thin air seven years ago. When I get the team together for an all-hands meeting, it’s inspiring to me. My goal is to be inspiring and motivating to them, but it inspires and motivates me because I see how much people care and how much they are doing. The people are what get me up in the morning.
Castrillon: In your opinion, what are the key things someone needs to be successful as an entrepreneur?
Trout: I think the key thing is getting back on that horse. So whatever you call that: hustle, grit, resilience, but it’s getting back on that horse when you fall off. Even in the farmers market days, I remember one brand in particular that started right around the same time as us. They had a great product, great brand and great packaging—the whole thing felt really spot on. Then by the end of the farmers market, they quit and we quit our full-time jobs to grow Health-Ade. I don’t think it had to do with having the right product, I think it was that they gave up and we didn’t, we kept going. We kept pushing. We kept getting better. We kept forcing ourselves to evolve. I think that’s the key to success—it’s that hustle, that grit to get better and that relentless drive and tenacity.
Castrillon: What’s your vision for the company in the next five years?
Trout: It’s always been the same. I want to see Health-Ade as a national brand representing more than just kombucha. Expanding past kombucha would be something I see happening in five years all under the Health-Ade umbrella, and then just bringing kombucha to more people.
Castrillon: What would you say differentiates Health-Ade from your competitors?
Trout: We stop at nothing to make the best tasting and highest quality kombucha. So for us flavor and quality are number one. We make it using 250,000 two and a half gallon glass jars and flavor it with cold-pressed juice. We make it the natural way. The story behind Health-Ade also differentiates us. This is the real story of three people that put their minds and hands together to build something and it’s a little bit like the American dream for us come true.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.