Money Matters: Daina Trout, CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha

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You asked for more content around business finances, so we’re delivering! Welcome to the first installment of Money Matters, our newest series dedicated to giving you an inside look at the pocketbooks of some of your favorite CEOs and entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll learn what successful women in business spend on offices spaces and employee salaries, how they knew it was time to hire someone to manage their finances, and their best advice for talking about money.

Our first Money Matters guest is Daina Trout, CEO and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha. Daina is a huge advocate for being forward when talking numbers, so she’s an ideal woman to kick off the series. Below, she shares her financial story.

Where do you think is the most important area for a business owner to focus their financial energy?

First, you want to focus on growth; second, on profitability. On growth: It is very tough to get your company off the ground and to a place of increasing revenues from scratch, and it’s going to take every piece of your being to get it there (so you can’t be distracted by much else). Also, my experience has been that momentum is a real thing. The faster your company grows today, the faster it will grow tomorrow (at least in the beginning). It’s all hands on deck, full pedal-to-the-metal speed.

On profitability: You don’t want to wait too long for this, else you will be constantly raising money and diluting yourself, feeling like you’re in a never-ending rat race. But at the same time, nobody cares about a profitable business that isn’t growing, so you don’t want this to be your first #1 priority (unless you have one of those rare businesses that can do both from the start). You want to be an owner of a company that is growing and tightening at the same time. It’s important to strive for that balance.

You want to be an owner of a company that is growing and tightening at the same time. It’s important to strive for that balance.

What was your first big expense as a business owner?

Two things: People and manufacturing equipment. People do the work so you have to invest here to have a good business. I often wonder, though, if co-packing is better than manufacturing in-house. The capital intensity of owning your own manufacturing is seriously something to consider.

How did you decide what to pay yourself?

I talk about this all the time to fellow founders—it’s a major issue. And I think most are underpaying themselves. In the very beginning, this is hard, because you don’t usually have investment or profits, so you’re last on the list (we paid ourselves a meer $300 a month in the beginning, which covered basically nothing). Once you get investment or profits, though, it’s important to re-look at your compensation and your role. Think about what it would cost for the business to hire for this role in the marketplace. An experienced CEO in LA makes $250K+ on average. This probably doesn’t make sense for a business that has just received its first round of funding, and you hopefully have a ton of upside in equity, so you want to consider that. Also, you probably aren’t as experienced yet, so your salary would be below average. That said, I don’t think $30K makes sense either. Be careful not to be a sacrificial lamb for your company here. A sensible pay that considers your job requirements, your value, and your equity situation should be budgeted for the business. Each year, you should re-calibrate until you get to the average or your goal at a reasonable time.

Be careful not to be a sacrificial lamb for your company. A sensible salary that considers your job requirements, your value, and your equity situation should be budgeted for the business.

How did you decide what to pay employees?

In the beginning, you’re always looking for the “unicorns”: the people out there without the experience, but with ALL the talent and drive to be great. This can work in the beginning—it’s certainly cheaper to do it like this. The problem is, you’re constantly going to need more out of them, and they are going to constantly have to rise with the tide in fast growth. You will likely find in one year that it just doesn't work anymore. Rarely, our “unicorns” have made it all the way in seven years, but I can only think of a few who have. Just think about that when you hire these so-called unicorns: it’s likely a short-term cheap gain for a longer term termination and re-hire. At the end of the day, my opinion is you will get the best value from hiring a person that could easily do the job one to two years from now. But you have to pay those people what they’re worth, AKA market value. The one thing you do have is equity, and you can reduce someone’s salary in exchange for that. But at this point, everyone in my company makes market pay or higher, regardless of their equity status. The equity-exchange-for-lower-salary thing only kind of works in the beginning.

What are your top three largest expenses every month?

#1 People. #2. People. #3 Raw ingredients. Did I mention people?

How much do you spend on office space?

Strictly office space is about $10K for every 30 people. But also consider the cost of building out the space. You might be surprised to know that cubicles are $1000K+ per desk, and design is not cheap. Of course, your number could go up or down if you’re super scrappy or need something fancy, but this is the average spend.

How much do you spend on employee salaries?

Salaries right now are about 60% of our total expenses. We do a lot of things in-house, though, so this number could swing 30% down (total expenses here would likely go up) if we choose to outsource more.

How much are you saving? When did you start being able to save some of your income?

We will hit profitability this year, in our seventh year in business. For the beverage industry, it’s pretty typical to take five to 10 years before hitting profits. It will often be on the longer side if you manufacture. This is something to consider—in this industry, you will need cash solutions for five to 10 years to keep your business running.

What apps or software are you using for finances? How did you decide when to hire a financial advisor (if you have one)?

We started with just QuickBooks and Square, but now we use a ton of additional tools to help us, especially for manufacturing, such as Domo and Fishbowl.

Money to a business is like air to humans. It’s not the reason
you exist, but you literally can’t live without it.
There is no shame in wanting money.

Do you wish you’d done anything differently in your financial journey as a business owner?

The ONE ABSOLUTE THING I would do differently is hire out financial support earlier than I did. Now that I have my CFO, I literally wouldn’t start another business without him (or someone like him). He’s been critical in helping me build a strong business.

Why should women talk about money?

Women should talk about money all the time and every day. Money to a business is like air to humans. It’s not the reason you exist, but you literally can’t live without it. There is no shame in wanting money. Money gives you freedom to live the life you want. You can make more of an impact on the world. You deserve to live the life you want, right? If you agree, it’s time to start figuring out how you get the money to live the life you want. The same goes for your business, by the way: figure out how much money it needs to make in order to hit its goals. Once you define the life you want, and the money you need, you have a defined gap to work on: the now versus the desired. It’s a heck of a lot easier to get to your desired state if you know how far you have to go.

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