Why you shouldn’t take stupid money, JLO T the Shark Tank effect w/ Poppi Founder Allison Ellsworth

Updated: Sep 15

On today’s episode we’re learning from Allison Ellsworth, the founder of Poppi.

There’s some seriously cool insights in this episode... We talk through her approach to raising money in the early days and why you shouldn’t take stupid money. Her recent moment of partnering with jlo. Mind blowing stuff. And her explosive growth after going on shark tank plus everything in between. This is an episode that shows you the power of having a truly great product. I’ve come off this episode feeling so inspired and charged for my own journey. This is the kind of thing that really lights me on fire so I hope you love it too! If you haven’t heard of it before Poppi it’s the leading prebiotic soda and the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage brand in the U.S. After appearing on Shark Tank in 2018, Poppi launched nationwide in retail and quickly became an Amazon best-seller. Allison Ellsworth is Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Poppi, the leading prebiotic soda and the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage brand in the U.S. After appearing on Shark Tank in 2018, Poppi launched nationwide at retail and quickly became an Amazon best-seller.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

00:04:53 Yeah, of course. So like you said, my name is Allison Ellsworth and I am the founder and chief brand officer at Poppi and you might ask you know what's Poppi? Well we are a prebiotic soda and it is infused with apple cider vinegar, but we like to say our vinegars and stealth mode. So you can taste the vinegar but you get all the functional benefits. And so it tastes amazing where 20 calories are less 4 to 5 g of sugar for the entire can clean ingredients, all natural, nothing artificial, all plant based vegan kosher, all the fun not do most stuff, right? But it really did start and the reason I created this came from a personal health story of mine. So I did not ever think I was going to own a beverage company and or be running one, but here we are, that's amazing. I am. I'm a big fan of apple cider vinegar just as a side note, so I'm sure I would absolutely love your products and I was actually comparing your drink to what a can of coke has in terms of sugar and a can of coke has something wild, which I didn't realize of like 39 point something grams of sugar.

00:06:06 And so yeah, that blows my mind. That's so cool that you've got the strength, it's like kind of like positioned as a soda, but it's like healthy, it's you're drinking something that's good for you. Well, we see if you see kind of the evolution of soda, right? Like our goal is to take on big soda and eventually replaced like a coca dr pepper, Pepsi, you know, Rupert and every household across America and eventually the world. But I would say like if you look at the evolution of soda and kind of how it went, but back in the sixties you have the refreshment was like high sugar and it's in that iconic bottle and then you get in the diet craze and then, you know, the seventies and eighties where like diet coke hits, but it's all artificial. It's like really bad ingredients. They're like finding out, you know, cause this cancer like all of these things, right? And then it moves into where they tried to do like the zero sugar but it doesn't taste good. It didn't like hit right. People were just kind of like, what's this? I'll just drink diet coke. And so now we really see like everyone's ready for disruption, like the soda category, they aren't raising like I'm not raising my kids on coke right?

00:07:09 Like we are the next generation, the current generations like next soda and but the best thing is we taste amazing. We have full flavor and on top of it, like you said, we're 4 to 5 g of sugar and so I give my kids poppy, everyone drinks it it's great. Just in general. You don't have to drink it just because it has health benefits, but it's just people are desperate for something different and I think it's just a movement across everyone's just like wants better for you, especially with Covid hitting people like health and wellness really think it's top of mind for a lot of people and so just people may be typically wouldn't go there so quick or kind of like maybe I should reevaluate like what I'm putting into my body. Absolutely gosh. 100%. Yeah. I imagine actually Covid was kind of like, for lack of a better word, like a good time for you because you essentially, we're able to provide something that people could consume daily without feeling guilty about, right? Yeah. And you know, and I think it's interesting just like, I can kind of jump into how we actually got started, but I previous to this used to work in oil and gas research, so, so far away from where we are today and I was traveling on the road I myself, I didn't feel great all of a sudden and I maybe was, you know, working too hard.

00:08:26 I wasn't really painted into what I was putting into my body, but on top of it, I just like, my stomach always hurt. You know, that bloating feeling and you're just like, I'm tired, my skin was breaking out. It's just like, I think it does hit a lot of women, I know this can hit mint too, but it's just like something that I just like, you always hear him like always bloated or I can't eat this or do that and you know it wasn't anything like crazy but I just didn't feel good and so I would go to doctors and they'd be like yeah, yeah, yeah like here's a pill. I was like this is not working. And so I went to the internet like you know everyone does google d Yeah. And um I just started researching like how do I heal my body through food? Like I started looking at my diet and one thing that kept coming up over and over again was drinking apple cider vinegar to detox and reset your body. And I had heard of it and I was like okay maybe I should do this. But I started kind of getting to the point where I was like really desperate to just like feel better. And so I just started drinking at every single day and within two weeks I was shocked at how amazing I felt like my stomach felt better.

00:09:34 I also had more energy. It was like all of these things started kind of just like lineup. But one thing that kept like hitting me in the back of my mind is like I can't drink this every single day like this is not sustainable. Anyone that's had straight vinegar like it's not enjoyable. Well I was like I put it like a big thing of water and you drink it all day. It's just like I am also a big fan of balance in your life. Like I like cookies and I like having a pizza from time to time. Like I don't want to be just so restricted and I think like fad diets are not amazing like any of that stuff. I was like is this sustainable? Like am I going to drink this big thing of vinegar everyday? Like probably not like it's great for now, but I don't think I'm gonna do is forever. So I went to my kitchen and I was like, how do I create something that tastes good? Like how do I make this tastes good? But I also didn't want it to be 39 g of sugar, like a coke, right, right. Yeah. And so I spent like three months in the kitchen and just started playing around. I loved to cook. It's like my happy place.

00:10:35 It's literally always been like all of my extra time and I just started cooking and playing around and I kind of came up with the first version. Looking back now, we call it our rocket fuel. Like it was way too much vinegar. I was like, it was just like, it was still pretty strong but you know, I started giving it to neighbors and people were just like really interested in and I'd have a neighbor combined, give her mason jars and she's like, well I've been doing this for a week and started seeing results and she was feeling amazing. And so she's like can I just start buying it? We make it and like add a full time job. So this is full hobby, you know, for myself, for friends, family. And then I was married with my husband and we decided sick of traveling and we wanted to settle down. And so we built a house in Dallas texas and I was like, okay, I don't want to go back to work, I'm pregnant. Like I'm going to start selling this, the farmer's market on the weekends, just like a total like hobby. Like let's take it. And within the first week we sold out like I was like, okay, we'll make double. We sold that triple within this is the crazy part.

00:11:36 The third weekend we had the whole foods buyer come by our booth. She was just there with her mom, you know, whole foods in Austin, we're in Dallas and she's like, look, I don't do this often, but here's my card. Like you guys have to be like a fantastic product. And like I've told that story a few times and nobody's, I've never heard that happening to anyone else. It was like one of those moments that was like really life changing for us. And I looked at my husband was like, literally that was the whole foods inspire, they want to be in whole foods. We didn't have you pcs, we didn't have nutrition. I mean I'm like putting these in big jars, you're like bottling this yourself at home in my kitchen, like straight up grassroots style, you know? But there was just something that I think you get as an entrepreneur, you're doing something like this gut feeling that you just know you're on the right path. And I told them we got like a job offer and I was like, I'm not going to take it, like, I don't wanna go back out on the road, like I'm pregnant, I'm quitting and I'm gonna do this full time.

00:12:37 And he was like, you're crazy, we just bought a house, You're pregnant, like you can't quit your job was like, no, I'm doing it like, I believe in this. And so it's something like, just as women to like, I think it can be really scary, you're like, I'm starting a family, like I have to choose and I think that's so 1950s, right? Like you can do both. You can like, I started the company pregnant, like it just didn't even like face and I was like, yeah, I can do this. Like women are superhuman. Like, I don't know, like I honestly, how did I do show me Yeah, exactly, right? Like give yourself a pat on the back sometimes and just like you can do it like you can be amazing and like have everything. And so I will say though, it kind of got to the point where I was like getting even more pregnant and it was like six months in and I was like okay now husband who is now ceo and he's my partner poppy and everything like in life I was like you got to quit your job and he's like you're crazy like we're literally, that was maybe like you can't and so like wrap it up, you got to wrap that up.

00:13:41 Yeah. I convinced him to quit as well. We did something like a little crazy where we immediately took our life savings, maxed out our credit cards and we opened up our own like little production facility and we set it up so much like a brewery. We had a friend at the farmers market was like that ran like a local brewery in Dallas and he's like I'll give you a list of equipment. And so we just started like sourcing equipment. I think we spent like 20 or 30,000 of our personal money credit cards type of situation. And we opened up our own production facility. I think we were in like 1000 maybe 1500 square feet. Was this like teeny place warehouse and like the hood of Dallas no air conditioning, you know? And we were just like let's do this. And so we started manufacturing, we got into whole foods so it took us about from the time to give the farmers market to the time we got into whole foods, it can take a while, it took us about 10 months. So by that time like I had the baby, everything like I remember like being on the bottling line, going into labor strapping the baby to me and being back on the bottling bottling line like two weeks later, it was just like, oh my God, a whirlwind, you know, my husband got a second job to pay like our mortgage at night, like it was just a full on grind of startup life, but you just like, don't, it doesn't faze you when you have that gut feeling, you know, you're doing something right, like just take it a day at a time, know that you are doing something right and like don't give up and don't let people around you bring you down either like just just go like hustle go, it's like, you know, just go so always try to tell people that because it's hard.

00:15:28 Yeah, I mean it sounds hard two weeks later after having a baby. That's a mate, That's incredible for one. But it's kind of funny that you're talking a lot about like you had this gut feeling and then you have this brand that is also for your gut and like to make you healthy from the gut inside out. Like that's so cool. That's like a little bit of magic there I feel it is and it's just like things like kind of doors like open for a reason and some stuff, you know, doesn't happen for a reason, it's just like, it's, I don't know, I hate to say that some of it can be luck, but I think it's a lot of combination of luck and hard work and perseverance and then like just staying true to who you are knowing when something's working, like stick with it. But I mean it was one of the things that like, we got to a point where we put our life savings in and we were like, okay, we need more money. We're growing in the Dallas area just like locally were in like all the coffee shops have gone into all the whole foods and like central markets and just like all the key accounts in the Dallas fort worth area and so I did, what a lot of people do is you go to your friends and family, Right?

00:16:32 You just reached out and I had my sister and my dad, they invested $60,000 And so open to this point within the first year and a half we've had about like $90,000 that got us through like their first, almost two years to where it kind of took us to the point where allowed us to grow, we still didn't pay ourselves like anything, anything that we made at the farmer's market to be invested back in two bottles labels, ingredients manufacturing. Um, we still delivered stuff. I mean I did deliveries with babies strapped to me with the boxes and things like it was just like, it was just like one of those things that people was respected, it's like, wow, look, these guys hustling, this is a fantastic product. Like no one's ever going to like fault you for that, right? But you do get to the point where like, okay, you know, we need help, we probably need to take it up a level, be a little bit, probably more professional, you know, that stuff. So we got to remember like, okay, we need more money.

00:17:33 And I was online one day and I saw an open casting call for shark tank and I was like, okay, like it's like make or break, we're to the point where we're doing really well, but if we didn't have money, we're either going to have to like stop or like figure out or what we take on is what people say is like stupid money where we had people interested, they weren't gonna bring any strategic to the table with it. And I think that people can get a little bit blindsided by stupid money sometimes where it's you, when you take on investment, it's different with your friends and family is like my sister and my dad, like I'm stuck with them for life already was, I knew what I was getting into, but when you start just taking on investment from people that just have money and they don't bring any other value other than that, it's not a great partnership, right? Maybe like later on, once you're an established brand and it is all you need is capital because you've kind of figured everything out. But at the beginning it's almost like a marriage or a partnership and you want to be really careful with that. Don't get blindsided by the fact that people just are trying to give you money and it almost happened to us, we almost took on an investment right before being on shark tank.

00:18:42 And it was one of those things too. It's like this just doesn't feel right. Like this guy is great. He was fantastic, a fantastic person but he couldn't bring anything to the business. And so other than money. And so we went on to shark tank and it's it's quite a process. It can take like six months or longer to get onto the show and they keep you very blind the entire time. They're like okay thank you. That was great. And then you two weeks later, like you made it to the next Now we need you to do this, this and this. I imagine it's costly to, right, you've got to like commit to getting ready for that, especially if you get onto it and have to build a set and all that kind of thing. You've got to really take that leap. Well no, so it's great. They have it all um like you do all the prep stuff to get on. It's like oh we'll do some interview now, film yourself like routine. So like that part's not bad. They didn't cost you money and then you actually fly out to L. A. And then you film it like in L. A. And by this time we were you know we started back in 2016 when it was like in my kitchen and we got into whole foods too really growing.

00:19:46 So by this time when we were going on shark tank, I was pregnant with my second once again we were husband are crazy and always tells us like you know but I'm just like we believe in family, we believe in business. So we kept like powering on and so like as the process of shark tank kept taking longer and longer and longer we kept it to the next stage. I'm like I'm getting very pregnant here so we were like okay you're going to be on in june. I think it was like 26th of like 2018. It's like okay cool I'll be nine months pregnant but I'm still going so ended up flying out. But the good thing about being nine months pregnant on national tv is it keeps you really calm. Like I was like I can't go into labor, I can't let myself like go there because you know I wanted to make sure the baby's healthy and all that's holding on. Yeah so but my husband on the other hand, Stephen, he was like sweating bullet was very stressed out. Like if you ever see our episode, he's just like his face and he's just like he's just so embarrassed, you can't watch it back, like he can't but the whole process is like they don't tell you the sharks until the night before and then we found out the night before that Rohan Osa was going to be on the show.

00:20:57 So for people that don't know who that is, he is just the sharks of all sharks for beverage industry. He's behind some of the biggest deals like by and vitamin water. He used to be head of marketing at coke, like this guy, like they call him the grandfather right? And so he just has years and years and years of experience has built his career on building brands and he just understands the beverage industry. So I was like, okay, he no matter what he offers us like we're going to say yes. Like it was like one of those moments, you know when we go on and looking back, he told us like that he knew the second he tried our product of course he is like one of the best negotiators I've ever met still to this day. And so we're like, we're definitely not getting a deal, like the way if you look back on the show and like every single shark started falling out and then he like offers still were like deal, we'll take it, you can't take it back, take it back, we're busy is exactly what is this exactly.

00:21:59 And it was funny because after the fact I guess, you know, Mark Cuban dropped out and were like kind of bumped with Cody's Dallas, that would have been nice, but Ron said that it's your in there for like 45 minutes and they're just yelling at you and it's really like crazy. But I guess like Bethany frankel is on the episode and Mark Cuban had asked him like how you want to do a deal together? And Rohan was like no. And so they were like, oh francois can invest, we're all going to drop out there, dropped out, but in return he wanted it all for himself. So he was like, he said that he had been looking for a shelf stable soda, that he himself knew that it was the future, right? And he knew that before we even knew that. And so he said that he had been searching for years and years and years for something like Poppy, well at the time it was called mother beverage, but poppy and so little did we know that? So he said the second try didn't hurt it. He was like, oh, this is like what I've been searching for because he loved the taste but our branding was not great, you know, I was working at it before this episode, very different, very different.

00:23:01 The name was mother beverage and I named it after the mother of vinegar, you know? But we learned really quick that you couldn't brand or you couldn't trademark the word mother right? And then on top of that I think there was like, we had found out like later on there was a brand called like mother kombucha and it was just like one of those things that we weren't really like married to that name, like it wasn't like a global name kind of a thing. So Ron was like look we love the liquid but we need to go through a full rebrand. So we got the deal and then we literally took the next eight months to go through a restructuring of changing the name, changing the packaging, changing the logos, changing just like everything about the company we worked really close with bro, on his team from, we did Consumer studies and a lot of people go back and forth and whether you should do like consumer studies and you definitely want to do it when you feel like you're in a good place not just to do it to do it. We did it for, do we be in bottles? Should be stoned to cans. Like that was like we weren't sure what to do there but we found cancer more sustainable hands are on the rise now they're like cool and fun, it was the right decision but then we were like okay do we do color or do we do white because white really has this like healthy halo, like vibe to it, but color, it screams taste, it screams fun.

00:24:23 And so for me I was like, well vinegar already has like that thing where people are like and it pops literally on the shelf. Yeah, it pops, it literally pops on the shelf. And so we were like, okay, well what do we do here? And so we went back and forth for a really long time with what to do. And we finally came down to um the name poppy, which to your point, it pops off the shelf, It's a playoff of soda pop, like that old school soda pop and then I love that, you know? Yeah. And then it's just poppy and fun and so we decided to go color and all those things, but it was all the right decisions and like we took the time, I always try to recommend people take the time to figure out what your brand is, even if you know you're trying to hit dates to launch, but you want to come out the gate, like really strong and previous mother wasn't a brand, it was just packaging, we threw on, I was hustling and trying to get at the farmer's market like that's okay too. But you do want to get to that point where you have like serious guidelines that you go first. Like what we talked about like brand guidelines are we have certain colors, like for example, like our strawberry lemon here?

00:25:29 Like it's yellow and pink, yellow, pink is the only thing that will ever use with these two colors, never going to put the pink with the orange, you're not going to put the pink with blue, like you want it to be super strong and iconic, so when someone sees this pink and yellow they think oh poppy, strawberry lemon and I know it sounds crazy but think of like Nike and they're saying like just do it, like everyone knows that saying and you have to brands like you have Nike and you have a six, write a six are both fantastic shoes, but who has the better brand Nike does. And so you want to think of how important branding is when it comes to your product, you really want to spend the time and really focus on what's your brand voice for example, Poppy, you want to think of it as a person so we think of poppy, like it's the cool kid at the party but it's not the kid that's too cool that you're not friends with them, it's you know the trendsetter but you're not the mean girl translator, you're the one that's like just happens to be cool, you want to be like were funny but Leslie cool, I've heard the school you wanna be funny but you don't want to be juvenile, right?

00:26:32 Like you really want to think of, like what's your personality, What's your tone of voice, What are your tag lines and you want to stick to them and you internally feel like, Oh my gosh, we've said this 500 times. Our tagline here is big a happy, right? Like how many times you say it? You just keep saying it like, just do it for a night. It's like a jungle, right? You get it into the people's head and then exactly, a million times over. Then someone will remember it exactly like a jingle. Exactly. And you don't want to stray. You don't want to like do crazy stuff now on instagram. You can have fun with memes and you can do different stuff, but in general and you're like retail, you want to have like your pos be all the same. So it's recognisable. You want people to like, oh, I know that right versus wow. This is different everywhere we go. So all those things are really important when you're building a brand and I don't think people realize how important a brand is versus, you know, just kind of doing what you want and just taking that time to really get it strong will elevate you over your competitor.

00:27:35 So I love to always give that advice two. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show, You'll hear women who were just like, you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now? You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards, I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsc small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached. Our long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business.

00:28:40 And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month All the way to 300 $1,000 a month and in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started. Go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S and booking a call today, I really feel like at the moment you guys are, you're obviously in a phase of growth because you're doing all this amazing stuff but it really feels like you're focusing on brand versus like hard sell shoving your face. And what I mean by that is like when I saw your recent party at the Hamptons which looked so cool and so fun and so colorful and then when I think about the J Lo thing, which we also need to talk about and when I think about your Tiktok, like everything feels like created for community created for brand awareness and not like hey here's my products, like here's an ad, you should buy it kind of thing, like it feels brand awareness and brand building is this phase that you're in at the moment which is so cool.

00:30:07 Yeah and I think you literally like hit the nail on the head with the what everyone is running right now is like to be authentic and that's what's really important to me, like as a founder and chief of Brandon, head of Creative is I want us to come across as authentic and not like just a product, we're building a brand, we don't want to be a product and so that opens so many doors for people to want to be involved and be part of your journey and just like to talk is something that's really scary for brands because they're like, oh it's just a bunch of kids on their dancing, but me as a founder, I just knew it was like the way of the future. And so we did start off by doing a lot of the trends and trying to dance with the cans and I was like, this just isn't working. And so one day I sat down and I told my story of like, hey, you know, my name is Alison and I got a deal on shark tank for my product, poppy and it started because of health issues and I just kind of went through that whole story and I posted 10 o'clock at night.

00:31:08 I went to bed and I woke up the next day and it had like over a million views. Our sales on amazon went through the roof and today I'm still like one of the highest converters we've ever worked with. And I'm like, oh, that's crazy because I was just being authentic and real, that's authenticity for you. And so we cracked the code for us on Tiktok. Now that doesn't work for every brand and you have to find what works for you. But we found just like on Tiktok in particular just being ourselves and talking about the product, why I started the company, why we picked the colors, right? Talking about these little how twos and stuff like people reall