Describe what goes into GO BIG.
Ben Koren: Imagine if a five-hour energy shot and a wellness beverage had a baby, that’s GO BIG. We took the best parts of each kind of beverage and put it together to make something that we believe is exponentially better. Essentially, my co-founder and I brought what we’ve always wanted for our daily morning routine into the market.
I always assumed that energy shots often stretched the definition of healthy. What makes GO BIG defy that assumption?
Ben Koren: Well, we can have a conversation about what constitutes as healthy regarding caffeine. If you take one of our shots, you would be well under the FDA-recommended guidelines for what is considered healthy consumption.
The energy itself comes from a seed from the Amazon called guarana. The seeds themselves are beneficial for many other reasons, including improving people’s brain cognition, ehancing their athletic performance by reducing post-exercise fatigue, and acting as an antioxidant. The caffeine is mostly comes from this seed that has a ton of polyphenols, which are natural antioxidants that’s common in green tea. Studies even show that guarana has just as much or even more than green tea.
We took all that and combined it with apple cider vinegar and a choice of super fruits. Each of our flavors (blood orange ginger, raspberry pomegranate, and blueberry açaí) uses a different blend of super fruits. GO BIG is proudly clean label, made with just a few number of ingredients that are recognizably healthy and familiar to anyone.
Where did the idea for the company come from?
Ben Koren: My co-founder Vivi Mullen and I have been friends for almost ten years. She had just returned to the United States after spending time back home in Brazil. At that time, she had just had a baby. When I visited her, I complained about being super tired from waking up everyday at 5:30 to go to a 6:00 am Crossfit class. And she said to me: “Well, I’m really tired. You don’t know what tired means. But since you’re my friend, here’s my guarana stash.”
So, Vivi gave me some of these guarana powdered seeds and I started to take it before my Crossfit classes. And it made me feel really amazing. All of my friends started asking why I was so talkative at 6 am, why I was lifting more weights. So, I would make these little shots for them in my kitchen, placing them into these little soy-sauce receptacles. And after a while, people were asking to buy it.
After that, we started to examine the energy drink and shot industry. It is a big market, dominated by a few companies with products that are super narrowly branded and, frankly, full of junk.
We realized early on that pretty much every food and beverage category has been disrupted by better natural alternatives, but this one hasn’t yet. So we set about turning what I’d been making in my kitchen, what people had been making in Brazil forever, into a viable beverage retail product in GO BIG‘s all-in-one energy and wellness shots.
I know that you guys only launched early this year. In your interview with Food Beverage Insider, you mentioned that your supply side managed to stay steady despite the pandemic. The key ingredient for GO BIG is from Brazil. I would assume that an international supply chain would be a lot more vulnerable to the crisis, but you managed to pull through. What business decisions do you think you owe that to?
Ben Koren:That’s all my co-founder, Vivi. She runs the production side. Very early on, she said we needed to have a back up plan in case something went wrong. She was really insistent about that in the beginning, even before we launched in February. It was important that we had backup suppliers for each ingredient. As problems did come up, we realized we had already thought through the plans which allowed us to execute things pretty well.
What about you? What strengths as a CEO did you learn about yourself during the course of this year?
Ben Koren: I had another direct consumer business before this one. It’s called Frameology. It’s a framing company where you can upload the photo to the website, we frame them, you choose one, and we send it to your house. One of the things that I had learned way back then, especially when it comes to the direct-consumer business, is that you have to talk to your customers.
Throughout the pandemic, we invested a lot of our time in developing a strong customer feedback loop. Every week, both Vivi and I personally get on the phone with our customers to ask them what they think. We’ve made a number of product decisions this year based on those conversations.
We recently relaunched with a new formula a couple of weeks ago, and that came from customer insights. It came from speaking with the people who absolutely love us, from people who are subscribed to multiple boxes a month, who are increasing their basket sizes every single month, and for whom GO BIG is becoming the way that they get their energy shots and wellness fix everyday. But it’s also thanks to the people who never bought anything from us again.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you discovered customers online that you never would have reached in a physical store. Do you think that realization is going to affect how you market GO BIG in the future?
Ben Koren: Oh, 100%. It’s all from that. The customer base that I didn’t think we would immediately reach are exactly the ones we wanted to focus on. Essentially, our customers fall into two brackets.
On one hand, we have people shifting from mainstream energy drinks, those who buy RedBull or Monster. They’re now looking for something that has a cleaner ingredient list.
On the other hand, we have people who don’t really drink energy drinks. I understand energy drinks have a stigma for many who prefer to consume coffee or tea.
But there’s a common theme that ties everyone’s needs together. That is that they’re tired. The people switching from coffee might be looking for something more functional, and maybe they’re looking for something more convenient.
We weren’t expecting 50% of our customers to be energy drinkers. We thought we would eventually reach them after we had already established a large retail distribution and selling in places where all the other energy drinks were selling. But now they make up a big percentage of our customers. We think the product has a much more easily understood value proposition to that particular consumer group than coffee drinkers, because they don’t need as much education as to why they might want or choose this product.
Are there emerging clients that you want to focus on when everything normalizes?
Ben Koren:Yes, the good thing is that everybody needs energy. Some people more than others. And during the pandemic, we actually saw a lot of people from the health care community purchasing from us. When we began to see what was happening, especially in New York, we decided to donate 10,000 shots to frontline workers. We hadn’t expected to penetrate that market, but now that’s where we’re focused.
On the flip side, did pandemic bring to light any organizational weaknesses or strengths that you hadn’t known before?
Ben Koren: We’ve been thrust into this online-only world. We had a whole strategy around gym and we sought to replicate that in a different context in real life. We developed this QR system that was going to be really cool, but it was shut down. So, we ended up focusing on the non-physical ways to promote our products. We look forward to the world going back to normal.
How are you managing the communication end of your organization this year? Most companies already rely on online communication to manage their day-to-day, but what’s the experience been like for you in terms of managing your team and keeping everyone’s spirit up?
Ben Koren:We’ve always been remote, even before. So, from a work flow perspective, there really hasn’t been much that’s changed to keeping everybody’s spirts up. I mean, everybody has been in pretty good spirits, other than when there’s bad news, then, there’s bad news. One hard thing is, I used to have a lot of face time with my co-founder. That hasn’t happened as much.
Talk about the people you work with. What’s your favorite thing about collaborating with them? How have they impacted your growth as a company?
Ben Koren: One of them is on the call with us right now – Emel Shaikh, she’s great.
Honestly, we collaborate with a lot of different people. Start-ups nowadays, including ours, focus on specific aspects of our operation. Then, we have partners that own other aspects of the value chain, such as fulfillment centers.
We have a food safety consultant, who was recommended by another food founder. And she has been amazing. She instituted a whole series of food safety checks, and she really educated Vivi and I about the things to look for. When producing an all-natural product, there’s certain things that you have to comply with on the manufacturing end, because you’re not adding these chemical preservatives. We wouldn’t have learned about these things if we didn’t have anyone on our side who really knows.
Our fulfilmment partners have been great. It has been a challenging time, Especially for the organizations who require people to be physically in a place, such as fulfillments. But yeah, everybody’s been making it work.
Is there any advice you would leave other entrepreneurs out there in terms of what they should focus on strengthening to survive and continue thriving past the months ahead?
Ben Koren: Talking to your customers is always the most important thing. Serving your customers well means doing everything you can to solve whatever their problems are, and making sure that you’re solving it better than everybody else. That’s how you keep the lights on, I think.
It’s really pretty simple. When you ask your customers, what could be better, they tell you. They will tell you what they think, and it doesn’t require that much to really understand what your problems are. Obviously designing is really hard. Identifying problems proactively, and figuring out what you’re doing well so you can scale things, I found, in my personal experience, are best uncovered by talking to your customers.
Isn’t it a bit more crowded to be selling and working online these days?
Ben Koren: For sure. It’s super crowded right now.
Do you have strategies to set you apart?
Ben Koren: So, I think differentiation starts primarily with the product and your ability to solve a person’s problem. Like, we’re able to find customers because we have solutions to people’s problems. It’s a very basic problem. People are tired. The digital canvas is a beautiful place to tell that story, but it has become more expensive to operate on all these platforms. When we go back to the world with physical places to connect, I think it will open up more opportunities.
If you had a magic wand and you could magic away or magic something about your company right now, like as a quick fix, what would you use it on?
Ben Koren: I was really looking forward to selling our products in gyms. If I could magic that back, I’d love it. I really think our product is so great for people before they do their workout or go for it. I wish we could do that. But I do think it’s gonna happen.
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