THE KOMBUCHA QUEEN.
Daina Trout is running the kombucha game.
And yet, the CEO and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha, AKA the fastest growing kombucha company in the United States, spends her free (ahem, what?) time mentoring younger entrepreneurs. She says it’s an important part of the process that she didn’t have when starting her company in 2012.
Trout explains that often, after speaking with younger entrepreneurs, she'll “discover that they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. The whole thing about being a successful entrepreneur is that there is some major risk you have to take. That’s the price of the game. Whether it’s a financial or personal risk, whatever it is, you’re taking a risk. I don’t think you’ll meet any successful entrepreneur who didn’t have the moment where they thought, ‘Oh shit, everybody is telling me this is stupid, I’m the only one who thinks this way. I have to quit my job. I have no money.’ Everybody has those stories. So when I talk to the entrepreneurs who are trying to mitigate that risk by keeping their job and their apartments, I tell them, ‘We had to live out of our car, what do you think this is?’”
Not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. “When they talk to me like that, I say, ‘OK, you’re not ready to start a business. Give up your apartment for four years. You can’t live the life you have from a corporate, steady and sturdy job, and also start a business. That’s the whole point.”
It's exactly what she did when she launched Health Ade with her two co-founders.
Alongside her co-founders, husband, Justin, and BFF, Vanessa Dew, the now-CEO quit her job. She calls it her most important jump. “I had steady job, where I was moving up and getting awards, to start a kombucha company in the farmer’s market,” she laughs. At first she did attempt to split her time.
For about four months over the summer of 2012 the three co-founders tried working the farmer's market circuit on nights and weekends while keeping on with their day jobs. “I was completely driving myself into a brick wall," Trout says. "I was starting to lose my mind." Adding, "And there is no physical way I could do this if I had a kid.” Noting that at the time, she didn’t.
Right around November 2012 is when the trio knew they couldn’t continue at this pace, nor were they doing at good job at either. They weren't going to expand, “certainly not into Whole Foods,” Trout shares, if they didn't commit. So in December they shook hands, made a pact, and as of January 1, 2013 they were full time Health-Ade.
More about Daina and her badass kombucha journey below.
Name: Daina Trout
Instagram Handle: @dainatrout
Business Instagram Handle: @healthade
From pharmaceuticals to kombucha takeover. We know it's been a wild ride. What's been the craziest twist on your journey?
Having a child while at the same time growing a business past its start up phase was the craziest most challenging "twist" of time at Health-Ade. Now it's a lot easier to take on, because I have more employees and processes to manage the work, and I have 2 years experience at being a mom. But when we were still a start up and he was just an infant--WHOA--was I in for a ride.
You're about to double *I think* your staff... how do you go from managing yourself to managing thousands?
We currently have 107 employees and yes, that was double how we started the year in 2017. This has both been a challenge and a blessing. The challenge: with numbers come complexity. Managing yourself, or even a small team of something like 10 employees, is a lot simpler. With less employees, you don't have to worry as much about leadership skills, communication styles, engagement, and culture. The reason is that YOU as the founder ARE the culture. So, as long as the founder is strong in these areas, the team breathes it. A larger employee number has layers, sometimes far away from the founder, so culture and leadership doesn’t just “happen.” It can easily slip away. You have to be seriously deliberate with how you build your team, your style, your values, your culture once you’re bigger. For me, I noticed a BIG difference when we passed 50 or so employees, and it helped to get an experienced lead in HR to help me tackle the right build. The blessing: with numbers comes support. More people get more work done, and we can hit our goals both strategically and quickly, without too much sacrifice to personal life.
You risked it all. Where do your drive and passion come from?
It comes from different places. In the beginning, I had something to prove...I knew I had something game-changing in me, and I needed to make my mark and show the world who Daina really could be. I got all my drive from that dream and the hustle. Now, that's not as much an influence on me--I'm good with what we've accomplished from that respect. Today it's 2 things that drive me: 1) the importance of bringing real food to the commercial shelf and being a part of this great movement and 2) my team. I am so inspired by my employees. I don't know what I did to attract so many magnificent and intelligent people, but they get me up every morning--it's an honor and a privilege to work by their side, and I don't take it for granted.
What's something you wish you had known about beverage production?
I had no idea how much money it would take. I don't "wish" I would have known this though, because it may have deterred me from starting. I don't think I could have fathomed back then how I'd raise over $30MM in 4 years. In a lot of ways, I'm glad I didn't know it then. You figure it out as you go, just like you always have.
What's something about the biz that surprised you? And you think most other people would be surprised by.
The business can be pretty cut throat. You'd think beverage and food, especially kombucha, would be hippy dippy. But it's not! It's like the wild wild west, and everyone is looking out for themselves.
It's like the wild wild west, and everyone is looking out for themselves.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Troller law suits just out to make a buck.
What's something you'd like people to know about your work that they probably don’t?
I do my absolute best in every single moment--i give it my all--but part of being at the top means your best always has to be even better tomorrow. So I kind of always feel like I'm chasing and never there. It's lonely and tough to be proud of yourself.
What about your career makes you feel the most complete?
Hands down the people. When I see my team of 107 people truly gather around our tagline--aka my motto for life--FOLLOW YOUR GUT! and work for it and believe it and breathe it, I am in awe. That's so fulfilling.
If you had to trade jobs with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why?
Our pomegranate farmer Gene Etheridge of Etheridge Organic Farms. I miss getting my hands dirty. I love food and nature. I kind of fantasize about working the fields and harvesting fruits.
At what point in your career did you find the confidence to really take charge and become the woman you are today?
There was no inflection point where I switched. It's been more like a constant climb. Each tough experience gets me closer to the woman I was meant to be. The toughest moments in life have gotten me further along. Questions like this make me take a breather and look back at how far I've come--and baby it's fucking far! But I'm only half way up the staircase still. There's a lot more of me to come.
What's the best advice you've ever been given? Or your favorite piece of #realtalk?
Just do it. You will figure it out, just like you always have.
When you hit a big bump in the road, how do you find a new road or a detour?
The most important thing you have to do is accept that it's just a bump in the road and not a dead end. You have to accept that this is where you are, you are not a victim, you are not helpless, and there's no denying it. Once you do that, you're 99% there. Chances are, you can problem solve like a champ already, and it was just your own ego in the way of you jumping on it. Business is a game of CONSTANT detours. It's the people who can pivot the quickest and with the most ease that go the furthest.
Business is a game of CONSTANT detours. It's the people who can pivot the quickest and with the most ease that go the furthest.
What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day?
‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Katy Perry. IT gets me re-motivated every time. Especially the "you're gonna hear me roar" part.
Photo Credit: @davisfactor