How to get thousands of email subscribers & customers, with Cure Hydration’s Lauren Picasso
Joining me on todays’ episode is Lauren Picasso, Founder of Cure Hydration.
Cure Hydration is an organic electrolyte powder that has 4x the electrolytes of sports drinks, but no added or artificial sweeteners, sold in more than 5000 stores.
In this episode Lauren shares her journey to starting the business and how she validated her idea, a crazy to-market launch strategy that landed her thousands and thousands of emails and lessons she’s learned along the way.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Lauren: Absolutely. My name is Lauren Picasso and I'm the founder of Cure Hydration
Lauren: Cure Is an organic electrolyte mix that's made with plant based ingredients and based on the science behind oral rehydration solution, which is a product that was originally developed by the World Health Organization and is proven to hydrate as effectively as an Iv drip.
Doone: Wow. Sounds amazing. Actually, when I was looking at the website was like, I just want to drink this now for no reason. Sounds really frickin good. Let's go back to life before you started to talk about what got you interested in starting this brand in the first place and why you wanted to go down the pathway of entrepreneurship and starting your own business.
Sure, yeah, absolutely, I'd
Say I'd say my
Lauren: Inspiration for starting my own business really started a long time ago. My father is an entrepreneur and has always really inspired me to start my own business, especially a business that does good. And so that's been something that I've been interested in for a long time. I have spent most of my career in e-commerce and retail, but really more on the startup side. So I was an early employee at Rent the Runway, which was my first taste of the startup world and a really exciting place to be.
I fell in love
With the fast paced nature of startup life and really at the end of the day, just really enjoy solving problems. So after rent the runway, I went to business
School and then was an
Early employee at
Jet Dotcom, started there
About a year before the company launch, came in as the director of marketing and stayed there for four years. So all the way through the Walmart acquisition in twenty sixteen. So a really amazing experience.
Hypergrowth, sort of one of a
Kind of experience, I would say
It's incredible. And so knowing that you wanted to start your own business and going through these startup companies where you were early on, where I'm sure things were very, I don't know, scrappy or lots of different hats that you were wearing. What's that saying? Wearing many hats, you know what I'm saying? What was what then got you inspired to start Kuo? Was there a light bulb moment that you were like, oh, I've got it. I've got the genius idea.
Yeah, it really started as a passion project, actually, I was training for a triathlon a few years
Ago and would come
Back from my long workouts and feel really sick. I would feel nauseous and get headaches. And I really couldn't
Find any products
That really worked for me while I was drinking a lot of water. But it just wasn't enough to replace all of the electrolytes I was losing. And all of the other electrolyte products in the market,
Sports drinks, you see were just full of added sugar. So the average sports drink actually has thirty six grams of added sugar. And so
Sort of defeats
The whole purpose of what you're trying to do,
Which is exercise
Healthy. And so the
Cure is really
A reformulated version of a formula that was originally developed by the World Health Organization
Rehydration Solution. It's what medical grade products like Pedialyte are based on. So super effective, proven to hydrate as effectively as an IV drip.
But even products
Like Pedialyte or other products that use the same science, they
All are universal,
Using a base of cane sugar and synthetic minerals. And so I wanted to create a product
That was just
As effective but use premium and organic
Ingredients so that I could feel good about
Drinking something like this every single day, not just when I was working out or for some sort of emergency situation.
Totally. How did you know to look at the World Health Organization for that piece of information, or how did you stumble across that?
Just a lot of research,
Discovered Pedialyte, it was this time when Pedialyte was really taking off for adults. So there was this trend where all of a sudden Pedialyte, which is really made for children, started becoming very popular with adults, specifically adults who were hung over. So it became sort of this underground hangover cure. Never heard of
Hilarious. About 50 percent of their sales actually are from adults mostly who are hung over adults. And so I started researching effective hydration solution, stumbled across medical medical grade products like
Pedialyte, and then started learning about this this term
Oral rehydration solution. And that's how I discovered the World Health Organization
Formula, which fortunately,
Because it's been around for over 50 years, has a ton of literature online about the science and all of
The the key
Components of the formula that make it effective.
Gosh, that's so interesting. And so you come across this, you decide that you're going to start dabbling as a side hustle or a passion project. What happens next?
Yeah, so it was really just about getting
The minimum viable product for me, I knew I wanted to take the science and
And but replace it with premium and
Organic ingredients. So the main components of this formula are sodium, potassium
Which is a little basic with sugar. So I wanted to find ingredients that had naturally occurring sugar and naturally occurring minerals.
So I my original
Concept was coconut water and pink Himalayan salt. So I actually at home I started mixing these ingredients. I would take water from the store and just add my own salt and start testing it out. I started to start testing. I'd go on more runs and drink the product to to see how I felt.
And I found
That the product really works. So it was just as effective as other products out there because it was still following
These had contained the same amount of
Electrolytes as the
Formula, but it tasted
Terrible. So you can imagine like adding a bunch of salt to coconut water, like, oh, does it taste very good? So the next step was really to find a formulator. So somebody who had experience in food science
Could help me take
This concept but make it taste better. So we spent a lot of time tweaking the formula, experimenting with
Different fruit juice
Powders and organic
Flavors to make the products
And make it taste
Good. Because at the end of the day, if something doesn't taste good, we're just not going to get consumers to buy it totally.
How long did that process take until you actually got something that you were like, OK, I can drink this and it's going to be great every day.
About a year, so it took a really long time to get the formula right, and even actually after we launched last March, we did further iteration from Tharon recently launched a new formula this past April that had an improved taste just based on initial feedback from customers.
Wow, that's so exciting. And is this all the time, all the while, rather, that you're working at Dotcom and doing this kind of in your spare time? Or had you already quit your job and you were pursuing this now?
Yeah, so I when I was at datacom, I that's when I had the idea I was training for this race and I started really just the research phase. And once I established that this was an idea that I was really passionate about, I felt that there was a lot of white space in the market and I did a lot of customer validation. So talking to customers, potential target audiences to understand if this is a product that people would actually buy. Once I validated all of that, then I decided to pursue it full time. I'm the type of person
That really likes to focus on things.
One hundred percent if I am trying to do two things at once, I'm just not doing both of those things well. So I decided to leave in twenty eighteen and really pursue the idea of full time.
Is there any specific learnings that you had at your time at Rent the Runway and also a dot com that kind of obviously filtered in across to your business and what you were building?
Absolutely at rent the runway, it was
Being scrappy, so
We always said
At rent the runway that scrappiness is a virtue and we
By that every day. So I always like to tell the story.
When I first started
At Rent the Runway, we didn't have a tracking system in place to actually
Track our dresses
When they were being sent out and returned to us. And so we ordered these labels that could be pressed onto the dresses, but we couldn't actually afford to
Buy a machine like
An industrial machine that would actually press the labels. And so we had everyone in the office, all the girls in the office bring in their hair straighteners. And we sat around pressing 20 thousand labels on dresses.
Oh, my God, I love that
We had to validate that this would even work. Like what these labels would stand dry-cleaning
Are people going to try to peel them off. And it wasn't until we established that process years later that it actually made sense to invest in the equipment. And so that's just a
Mindset that I've taken
Into to cure and especially in the early days. But we had bootstrapped early on for about the first nine months or so.
I love that. That's so funny. When I was just starting out in social media marketing and that kind of thing, I was also working for a startup in Australia that's really quite big now. And it was an Internet company selling fashion online. And we were in the very beginning using Internet dongles like all of us had Internet doubles. The building that we worked in didn't have Internet at that time. And it was just such a funny contradiction that we were running this huge Internet business through these dongles and didn't have Internet. It was it was hilarious. It was also very scrappy picnic tables. That looks hilarious. I love it. I love it, too. I think it's a great it's a great base to get experience on, especially if you are going to go on and build your own business after after experiencing those kind of early days startups and
Really builds character
Definitely builds character. When you were saying you were doing your validation and speaking to different customers, what do you mean by that? And how were you specifically finding people who were your target customers?
So my initial hypothesis was really for this use case of working out, so I tried to find
Were active and wanted to see what they were drinking before and after their workouts. And so I did a mix of surveys.
Great. Just get quick information from a large group of people.
But then I also did a lot of focus
Groups and one on one interviews. So I talked to round up
Friends and talk to them about their lifestyle and just try to gain a sense
For who this customer
Really was and what we were replacing
In their lives. What I found is that most people
Were actually drinking water, just water on
Its own or coconut
So people had
No experience in this
Category. They were
Avoiding products like Gatorade because of the added
Sugar. And so that was
Really the pain point that I saw,
Was that the sports drinks options
In the market were just full
Of sugar and
Artificial ingredients. Water wasn't enough on its own.
A lot of people had
Similar experiences to me that where they'd say,
Do a long run and basically be on the couch for the rest of the day because I feel so terrible and even just really extreme stories. I had a friend who did a bike race and ended up in the hospital for three days because she had such a severe electrolyte balance. And so it was a clear problem that wasn't being solved, but there wasn't a solution on the market that people
Felt like they
Could really use. And so that was part of the validation process for me.
Do you think that your idea of who your target customer was going to be versus who it actually is now was different?
So I'd say yes and no, I think my original hypothesis was that our customer would be really active and that certainly is a bucket of our customers.
We have a
Large group of people who I call amateur athletes.
So people sort of like
Me who are not extreme athletes, but working out a couple of days a week whether that's just getting on their peloton or going for a run. But the really surprising group that emerged that I would have never expected is a group of customers that's using our product for medical conditions and not going to be really anything. People who have
Diabetes or Crohn's disease, we have people who are
Using the product for medical treatments like IVF, because
Types of treatments can lead to
Breastfeeding, you name it. There has been all of
Cases and diseases, honestly, that I have never even heard of. And those happen to be our most loyal customers because they really need the product to feel better every day.
Gosh, that's so interesting. Really fascinating insight. I'm wanting to talk about the startup capital that got you started sort of pre before your recent raise and how you are funding the business before then. And then we'll get into chatting about the fund raise as well.
Cool. Yeah, so the first nine months or so, I bootstrapped the business,
So I really wanted
To spend time validating the idea, developing the product and the branding.
And I I basically
Just took some of my savings and then also consulted on the side.
So I would spend
A little bit, a few hours a week just working with different companies to try
Sure that I was still getting some capital in so
I could really just make
Myself feel better about all the money. I was investing in my business idea when it came around to
The product. The manufacturer that I worked with had a pretty large minimum and they were going to let us do a pilot. So it was a reduced minimum to what they typically do, but it was still really big for me. And so that's when I decided to raise money. So I raised up pressie ground ahead of my recent round and that that is the funding we use to actually launch the business
And be able to share what kind of minimum order they required versus the pilot order.
Yes, so they normally have a minimum of one hundred thousand stick packs, but we were able to go now and I'm not that much but back that I was like, oh, my
They let us divide it up between three flavoursome instead of one hundred thousand per per flavor, we were able to do thirty three thousand per flavor, which made it made a commitment a little bit more
Manageable. Yeah. Wow.
Gosh. And I imagine, like, you know, before you're seeing the success of your marketing efforts and everything paying off, you're like, oh, God, this is a lot of we're going to get through these hundred thousand many triathlons yourself. Exactly. Something I love to dig in is to talk about the marketing in the very beginning, what you were doing specifically to acquire new customers and get the word out there and get that early momentum started.
Sure. So we we did a campaign before we launched, it was a pre launch referral campaign where a user would come to our site. It was on our fully built out site since we had it launched, and they'd essentially just drop their email.
And then they
Were encouraged to refer
Friends. And as they
Refer friends, they would unlock prizes. So depending on how many people they would
Prefer, they could
All the way
Up to our grand prize, which was a peloton. Oh, my gosh. And this is like I'd never really like large investment, right? I was like,
Ok, you know, this
Is a word this is a very expensive marketing campaign.
But the goal is really to get this group of super
Referrers, really excited and have something to work
Towards. So we found that like, you know, 90
Percent of people don't really refer of the 10 percent of people who do
Refer, you have nine percent
That are like, OK, let me send this to my mom and a few
Friends. And then you have
That one percent that get super excited by this grand prize and ends up
Being the the few
Group of people that is actually referring your entire list. So the program is incredibly successful. We actually acquired thousands of initial customers that way. And so that cost of the peloton
Is a big bite to chew,
Ended up being a great, great ride
For us. Wow. How many people did the win, Arifa?
Like over a thousand words.
Oh, my gosh. How do you even know a thousand people?
Yeah, it's pretty crazy in that that customer is still one of our best customers to you. So, like, we created this relationship with her and she was so excited to win this Balaton bike. It was such an amazing prize that she became a really loyal customer.
Oh, my gosh. And so what software do you use to run something like that?
Yeah, so there's a lot of programs out there now that do this, but we used a program called Fira Loops, so pretty straightforward, set up really easy. And so even if you don't have your Shopify website filled out or your product or anything,
You could still run a
Prelaunch campaign pretty easily.
That's incredible. Did you have to get permission to use peloton is the prize. You're able to just go out and buy it and then be like this is the prize kind of using it for marketing.
Yeah, we just thought it when you
Had a great prize. OK, so you get a really successful launch, I imagine, from your huge email database and all these people who are really actively excited about your product. How does that then evolve? And you kind of keep spreading the word.
Yeah, so being a CPG product, we found that sampling was really the best way to convert our customers. So when customers tried the
Often customers for this category, especially for like a powdered drink mix.
They have really
Low expectations of how the product is going to taste. And we think our product tastes really good.
So getting the product in
People's hands so they can
Try it, see, let it taste
Also see how it
Makes them feel is really important. So in the early days and this is last year pre pandemic, we did a lot of sampling. So I would go into fitness studios every single week, sample the
We would sample
The product in offices and a variety of other places like races and things like that. And it was a great
Obviously get the product in people's hands, but also
Tried to find out who our customer is. And it was you would even see differences if you sampled at Firewheel versus Soul
Cycle or like, oh, I think we're
More of a five year old customer. These customers seem to be more engaged and excited about the product. So it is really interesting and gave us a lot of insight to inform our future marketing.
And then how did that change for this year where you obviously had to drop in person sampling? What did you do to kind of like balance that out?
Yeah, I mean, we've had to get really creative, we're now in a number of retailers that have been working really closely with retailers to be part of their sampling programs. So one example of that is we're in we recently launched in just over a thousand Wal-Mart stores.
Wal-mart is interesting
Because they've seen a massive acceleration to e
Commerce, but also online
Grocery pick up. So customers
Ahead of time and then picking up their orders
At the store, which is
Great. I love to see that acceleration in commerce, but it's a new brand that also makes it more difficult to get into somebody's hand because they're
The store, let alone sampling the product. So we've recently committed to a sampling program
With them where we
Target customers who purchased
Similar products in the past and include our sample in their orders. So trying to get really creative with how we can work with different retailers.
And the good thing is
Our product is just a little stick pack. So it's sort of this perfect sampling item.
And we found
That it's just really effective in terms of
Getting people to
Eventually try the product. Yeah, I love that.
In the last two years since you launched, what do you think already feel the tipping point was where you were really kind of like, yeah, OK, things have really started to escalate. All the channels are working. It's it's all on.
Totally. So it's really this year in February, we had done a pilot with CBS last summer that went really well in eight stores and they came to us in February and decided to roll out the brand into twenty nine hundred stores. And so that was really the tipping point.
After that actually saw a big surge in our sales because of a pandemic as people were stocking
Up on health
Products and just grocery products.
Generally, we saw people stocking
Up on our brand as
Well, and a lot
Of retailers were selling out of electrolyte products. So after CBS, that was really just sort of the initial
Got us in front of other
Retailers. But we started
Seeing a lot of interest in this category due to the pandemic.
That's so interesting how it really shifted getting people, even though people were in lockdown, getting people more healthy and more inspired to take more care of what they were consuming in those moments of physical exertion and things like that. How interesting. I want to go back and rewind back to the fundraising conversation, because I remember that we didn't continue with that. I wanted to know what your learnings were from your recent fundraise and if you had any tips and advice for other people who want to go through that process.
Yes, I think it's really important
Momentum ahead of your fund raise
And, you know, for
Me, that really started back in February
When we got the go forward
From CBS to launching twenty nine hundred
Stores. What was challenging
For us actually was that this is the beginning of the pandemic. So it was also right around the time when the economy
Was all of a sudden
Crashing and a lot of investors
Were unsure of
What was going to happen. They were very, very focused on their portfolio companies and they really weren't making new investments. And so I actually had
To head of the
Fund raised by an alternative capital because we were launching and all of these stories, we needed to buy a lot of
Inventory and we didn't have the cash to do that. But I thought,
Here, here we have like
Guaranteed sales, like we're going to be buying inventory and
It's just a matter of
Time and then we're going to get paid by retailers. And so I was able to find a debt financing solution, which was a great intermediate.
So we essentially
Found a fund that would purchase our invoices from us. So basically giving us liquidity
So we could pay our
Manufacturers and then that enabled us to launch in retail and actually do it profitably. So by the time I went out and started fundraising in the summer,
We were given
Over four thousand stores and we had found this sustainable solution to be able to fund our inventory. And so we were profitable. And a lot of investors, especially in this climate, we're looking
For we're looking for
Companies that were self-sufficient and profitable and that was ended up being something that was really differentiating for us.
Wow, that's so cool. When you say the fund, do you mean something like a clear bank or a way fly like those kind of companies that are able to pay for inventory and pay for marketing as well?
Yeah, there's a number of options on the market, the fund that we work with is called Prestige Capital, but there's a number of other funds like Circle Up and Assembled Brands and Clear Bank. So I definitely
Founders to explore that as an option, especially if you
Are a product
Of consumer product where you have
Inventory and you have a
Business because that those those purchase
Orders do have value.
And rather than is raising
Equity, it sometimes makes more sense to get the momentum you need to to eventually get equity funding.
Wow, amazing. Every entrepreneur obviously goes through a lot of challenges and ups and downs. It's not always a smooth sailing road. Are you able to share any challenges that you've been through throughout the journey over the last few years of being an entrepreneur in this business?
Yeah, absolutely. So I'd say
Just getting the initial
Product market fit was definitely a challenge. So when we first launched in March, I may have mentioned
We ended up reformulating the product.
So we launch
And a lot of customers really loved the product, but then a lot of customers just didn't like the taste of the product.
And I knew just watching
Customers interact with the product that unless we
To ten out of ten people say they love the taste of the product, the product just wasn't going to be successful. And the formula, the nature of the formula is pretty challenging. So we spent a lot of time just focused on the product and making it better. And that was challenging because that meant that we weren't growing during that time. So we were
Sort of just steady state
For a while while we're getting the product into a better
But it was the right decision. I encourage
People not to
Waste money on marketing, trying to drive sales if they're not
Seeing the results
Or the metrics that they're looking for.
That's a really good piece of advice. Where is the business today and what does the future look like for you?
Yeah, so this year has been a big growth year for us. We're now live over four thousand stores. We launched in CVS, Walmart, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and a number of other retailers. So that's been really exciting for us. And we have confirmed new retailers for next year as well. So we'll continue that trajectory. And we've
Also spent time
Building out the team.
So we now have
Employees across sales,
Marketing and operations and will continue to scale the team as the business grows. And then we're also starting to think about innovation.
So we are really
Starting to think beyond hydration. And so that's really the base of
Businesses, these hydration mixes. But the long term goal is to
Portfolio of organic products across a range of different functional categories. And we've begun development of those those different products that we're planning on launching next year.
Oh, very exciting. Very, very excited for you. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business?
My advice would be to try to validate your idea. So I really recommend trying to figure out what a minimum viable product would look like. So what
Do you need to
Have in place, whether that initial formula of a product or if it's a tech product, getting
Of cheap and
Quick and VPI
Live as quickly as possible to test your idea and see whether it needs to be iterated at all? It's going to be really
Helpful before you go down
A path of sort of investing a lot of money into an idea.
Amazing, you know, I was just also thinking back to the beginning when you said your dad was an entrepreneur. Was there any key advice that he gave you or any key takeaways from, you know, seeing him when you were growing up being a businessman that you took into your own journey?
Yeah, it was really about doing good, so my father is
From Peru and his
Business is based in Peru, it's a microfinance business and he really spent his career focused on building this company that was going to give back to his native country. And I could see how much purpose he had and how that really drove him forward. Obviously, throughout his journey. It's been over 10 years now with this company. He's had a lot of ups and downs. And I think at the end of the day, having a purpose and a mission has been really valuable for him to keep him going forward.
Certainly, I love that. OK, we are up to the six quick questions part of the episode. Question number one is what's your why?
My wife is really about creating products that make people feel better. I created a cure really for my own personal problem of not having an effective, healthy hydration solution before and after a workout.
But what really keeps
Me going is when I have customers, right, and
Who have chronic
Issues that they're struggling with. And they've found that
Cure really helps
Them feel better every day when I get those types of emails and reviews. And that's really what keeps me going.
Yeah, gosh, I bet that's incredible. Question number two is, what do you think has been the number one marketing Balmond that made your business pop?
Number one marketing moment would actually mean recently
Recently announced our seed round funding, we waited a few months. We wanted to wait until after the election just to make sure the news cycle wasn't as crazy as it has been in twenty twenty. And we coincided that we with
Cyber Monday and
So we made
The announcement on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
And that coincided
With a lot of marketing offers and initiatives that we had lined up for that week. And so
We had this
Big surge of traffic when the press came out. But we also had a lot of really compelling offers. So we ended up having the biggest month we've ever had on our website since launch.
Oh, my gosh, that's so exciting. Congratulations. Wow, what a clever idea. I love that question. Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading? What do you subscribe to? What are you listening to?
It's a great question. I had interpreted that literally originally and thought, where do I hang out right now at home? But I will say,
You know, it's been interesting. I've worked
Alongside my partner
Now for 10
Months since we're both working from home. And I actually think that's made me a lot smarter. I basically got to shadow somebody in an entirely different industry who works in finance and feel like I have a much better understanding
Of of his
Industry and what he does more than ever.
That's so funny. I've read like those like Twitter threads on women, like listening into to their husbands like phone calls and stuff from home and being like, oh, so that's what he does. Gotcha. So funny question number four is how do you win the day? And that's around your AMPM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful.
Yes, so I am very routine oriented, how I start my day, and it's really important to me. So every day I wake up, I take my dog for a nice long walk. I come back and I
Drink a green smoothie
Every morning and also have a cure, obviously, to stay hydrated for the day. And then I try to spend some time actually
Just checking emails and reviewing
My calendar for the
Day. But that actually take a pause.
And I usually do a mid-morning workout, which has been a great new part of my routine in the pandemic since I am able to do that. And that really sets me up for the day. So I
Feel like often I
Have a lot of calls and meetings and the day can easily get away from you. So getting that workout in the morning is really important to me.
And then at the
End of the day, I've just
Found that we're spending
So much time on our screens these days. So I really try to unwind with something off screen. I usually will cook dinner or read a book or even go take a walk around. We live right above Madison Square Park. So really anything to do
Just to to get my
Mind off of work and off screen?
Oh, yeah, I totally know that feeling. I know. So I feel like everyone does these days. Everyone's like, oh my God, I'm just so sick of screens. I question number five is if you only had a thousand dollars left in your business bank account, where would you spend it?
Great question. So I would apply for a business
Loan and I would use
That a thousand dollars for the due diligence fee, so often
Have some sort of fee associated with giving you a loan for any sort of diligence they have to do. And I think that would be a great way to turn that a thousand dollars into potentially a much bigger number.
Haven't heard that before. Very, very good insight. I love that. Thank you very much. Question of the six. Last question is how do you deal with failure? And that can be around a personal experience or just your general mindset and approach.
Yeah, I think it's all about how you think about failure.
I really don't think of
A failure as a failure until you've given up. Otherwise, it's really just a setback because it's just the part of your journey and your story. And as far as any setback that I've ever encountered, I I really just try to focus on what I learned from the experience and how I'm
Going to be more prepared
In the future or avoid that kind of
Mistake going forward. And I think
It's important to keep perspective. So I try not to get too disappointed in myself or worked up about something that's really not going to be productive and helping you move forward.
Absolutely. Lauren, thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the podcast today. I have loved listening to your story and what you're building with it. Sounds absolutely incredible.
Thank you so much.
It was great to be here.