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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,


Like the


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


And be


Healthy. And so the


Idea behind


Cure is really


A reformulated version of a formula that was originally developed by the World Health Organization


Called Oral


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,


I first


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


This


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


That MVP,


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


And glucose,


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


Really pop


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


Really about


Being scrappy, so


We always said


At rent the runway that scrappiness is a virtue and we


Really lived


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


Like there


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


Customers that


Were active and wanted to see what they were drinking before and after their workouts. And so I did a mix of surveys.


Surveys are


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


My my


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


Water.


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,


Yeah, I'll


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


Those


Types of treatments can lead to


Dehydration, pregnancy,


Breastfeeding, you name it. There has been all of


These use


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


To make


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


Actually producing


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


Gosh,


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


Win free


Product


Lifetime subscriptions


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


Bike, which


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


Product, they


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


Good and


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


Product for


Several hours.


We would sample


The product in offices and a variety of other places like races and things like that. And it was a great


Way to


Obviously get the product in people's hands, but also


See who


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


Were ordering


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


Not browsing


The store, let alone sampling the product. So we've recently committed to a sampling program


With them where we


Can actually


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.


We immediately


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


Retailer that


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


To build


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,


Ok,


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