Roxana Saidi Is Shaking Up the Plant-Based Milk Industry By Tapping the Nutritional Benefits of Pistachios

March 11, 2021
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We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our new series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back.

Pistachios were always in Roxana Saidi’s pantry growing up. “Ask any immigrant from the Middle East and they’ll tell you having them at home is pretty much mandatory,” Saidi tells Create & Cultivate. In fact, one of her most vivid memories dates back to when she was five years old when her father Morteza Saidi, an Iranian immigrant and a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur, taught her how to open her first pistachio nut. But it wasn’t until six years ago, when Saidi had an entrepreneurial epiphany while visiting family abroad, that the elongated green nut took on an even greater significance in her life.

After enjoying a leisurely lunch with her family in Paris, Saidi found herself craving an almond milk latte when inspiration struck. “I realized that the snack I’ve loved all my life was not only an incredibly delicious and healthy nut but could also be turned into milk,” says Saidi. “The lightbulb went off and immediately upon returning to NYC I started making different versions in my apartment kitchen.” And, after much recipe development, Táche Pistachio Milk was born. Now, the brand is poised to take over the plant-based milk category as a delicious, more sustainable alternative to almond milk.

Create & Cultivate chatted with the co-founder and CEO about how she’s shaking up the plant-based milk industry, collaborating with her father as a co-founder, and paying it forward to young girls and women in her community.

Take us back to the beginning, what was the lightbulb moment for your business?

When people ask me “why pistachios?” a vivid image pops into my mind. I’m five years old and my dad is attempting to teach me how to open my first pistachio. Growing up, pistachios were always in my household. Ask any immigrant from the Middle East and they’ll tell you having them at home is pretty much mandatory. 

Fast forward to adulthood, after a long family lunch in Paris, I was longing for an almond milk latte, but it was 2015 and almond milk had not yet made its way to Europe. It was at that moment I realized that the snack I’ve loved all my life was not only an incredibly delicious and healthy nut but could also be turned into milk. The lightbulb went off and immediately upon returning to NYC I started making different versions in my apartment kitchen. 

Being born into a family of entrepreneurs, I recognized the opportunity for a new healthy, yet decadent and flavorful plant-based milk and decided to bring my father, Morteza Saidi, out of retirement to support me in creating Táche Pistachio Milk.

Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful? If not, what did you use instead, and why did you take that approach?

I was a business major, so luckily writing business plans wasn’t new to me. However, as it would turn out, that prior experience was of absolutely no use. Not a single person asked to read my business plan. A lot of people asked me if I had one, but never if they could actually read it. 

On the other hand, my investor deck got plenty of mileage. In the early days, I had a hard time working on it because I so desperately wanted it to be beautifully designed. I couldn’t get past my nascent design skills, yet I couldn’t rationalize spending the thousands of dollars having a designer do it. Luckily, over time, my design skills improved and I got over my perfectionist tendencies, for the most part!

How did you come up with the name and what are some of the things you considered during the naming process? 

Táche is pronounced like the second syllable in pistachio. I actually came up with several names before Táche, but couldn’t get any of them trademarked! I think I attempted to trademark three earlier options. In the end, it worked out for the best because I like Táche the most of all the options I came up with. 

My advice for naming and trademarks is twofold: become familiar with the USPTO database and search for the name you want to use for your business in the correct class. Secondly, if you are bootstrapping your business, you can reach out to law schools at local colleges and universities. Most have law clinics where they will do your trademark or patent work with their students pro bono! 

What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business? What would you recommend to new founders reading this?

After getting your trademark process started, I would say the most pressing initiative should be to become intimately comfortable with the financials of your business. It can be daunting, I get that. In my case, I knew I had to scale the business first (meaning for my very first production run the industry minimum was 60,000 units), so there was no flexibility to figure out the financials later or to learn as I go. Overall, the sooner you can be fluent in the economics of your business, the sooner you will be able to confidently lay out a path for the business, raise capital, and understand its runway.

What research did you do for the brand beforehand? Can you explain how you found and compiled that research? Why would you recommend it and why is it important?

I spent three years just on the research phase of Táche learning all that I could. Besides everyone’s research bestie, the Internet, there were two standout sources to my research: podcasts and conferences. With the pandemic, the latter has shifted to more virtual ones and not as many opportunities right now, but attending conferences was instrumental in my research. I attended conferences ranging from NYC Coffee Fest to BevNET Live, and to this day I’m still friends with many of the people I met at those conferences years ago. Luckily, podcasts are more abundant than ever, and no matter your industry, you can find founders talking about their experiences. 

How did you fund Táche? Would you recommend your path to entrepreneurs starting out today? What advice can you share?

I started fundraising a few weeks before the pandemic hit, so I feel like I could write a short book just on this topic alone. For the first four years of building the company, we were self-funded. During the first six months of the pandemic, we raised $1.1million from friends and family and angel investors to fund production, sales, and marketing. It goes without saying, deciding how to fundraise is a personal choice and highly dependent on a number of factors to the business and its founder(s). Talk to people who know you well and whose insights and recommendations tend to be well-reasoned and consistently spot on. When talking “advice taking,” I like to remind advice seekers to first consider the source. 

How big is your team now? What has the hiring process been like, and did you have hiring experience before this venture?

The team at Táche is myself as the CEO, my father who is the COO, and my fiancé who is our chief business development officer. We plan to expand starting in early 2021 and are looking forward to growing the team.

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup of the business?

Luckily, with my father’s background and fortuitously having an early investor that is a CFO, we were able to utilize their collective expertise. We did, however, bring on an attorney early on. I could not recommend the brilliant Jessie Gabriel of All Places more for female founders. All Places is a business and legal strategy firm for women by women that walks with women founders through every stage of development: conceiving their entrepreneurial aspirations, locking down funding, launching their businesses, and plotting growth. Jessie has served as more than just counsel; she’s been a mentor to me and was one of the earliest believers in me and building Táche. 

What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing a business? What mistakes have you made?

The biggest learning curve in developing Táche has been operational with respect to creating a shelf-stable, plant-based milk. From ingredient sourcing to manufacturing to health certifications, there’s been an enormous amount of data, formulas, operations, protocols, and regulations to develop and understand. Creating products with a shorter shelf life is generally a much easier path to production, but I was resolute in wanting to develop a highly barista-friendly product and that meant shelf-stable.   

Do you have a business coach or mentor, and would you recommend one to fellow founders?

I would say my answer with Jessie Gabriel (above) is the best answer to this question.

How did you promote Táche? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz? Did you know anything about marketing before this venture? 

With my years of experience in running my own creative agency, Rx Social, I knew that I wanted to bring on teams to be completely dedicated to promoting the business and utilize my own network as much as I possibly could. Pre-launch, we’ve primarily promoted Táche via digital marketing, PR, and discoverability through coffee shops and retailers in NYC. 

What is one thing you didn’t do in the setup process that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?

In our case, we should’ve started designing the website much earlier. We made a critical error in hiring a web developer without doing a thorough reference check. This is something I can’t advise strongly enough no matter how busy you are: Find time for thorough reference checks. 

If you could go back to the beginning with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself and why?

Overthink less, action more. When I action decisions based on my intuition and with assertion, it rarely leads me astray. 

As co-founders, how have you developed a good working relationship? What tips can you give to other business partners trying to make it work?

Considering my father’s entrepreneurial track record and my own experience building brands via my agency, we were able to come together quite seamlessly. While bringing on your father as a co-founder isn’t the most conventional way to start a business, I have such an immense level of trust and support that I feel would be hard to find with any other business partner. My advice is to not rush into any co-founder relationship. The old adage is true, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is! 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Last year, our country elected the first female vice president, which feels auspicious for us as a brand. As part of our ethos as a female-founded and led company, we’re excited to be donating a portion of our profits to support education and entrepreneurship for girls and young women in our community. We partnered with The Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York City as our nonprofit partner in our mission to foster girls’ education and provide them with the mentorship, tools, and support they need to become healthy, successful women. 2020 has been tough on everyone, but we feel optimistic knowing we finally have our first female vice president in office.

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