Wings: I have a very special treat today. Not just one guest but three! The awesome ladies behind the startup Real Beauty Food! This is one you’re all going to want to know about. Not only because these ladies are going to make you look and feel great … but because their story is also so inspiring. Here with me today: Bassima Mroue, Amy Bader, and Elizabeth Zieg, the entrepreneurs innovating at the intersection of food, beauty, and wellbeing. They’ve all done incredible things before this. Bassima the business guru at Real Beauty Food was a close advisor to Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, and climbed up the cooperate ladder to high levels at Nike. Elizabeth, the culinary brain, is a Cordon Bleu chef, and Amy, a doctor, is an expert in natural and herbal medicine. Welcome to Wings ladies.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Amy: Thank you.
Bassima: Thank you.
Amy: Thanks so much for having us.
Wings: It’s great to be with you all. Well I love founder stories, and especially when three powerful women come together like this. So tell me, what was the spark that ignited real beauty food?
Amy: Well you know, we’d love to tell you our story cause I think we can relate to so many women. This is Amy, by the way: I’m the doctor in the group. You know, Elizabeth and I, Elizabeth is our culinary brain. We were out walking one day. Two women, super good friends, walking in Portland on a lovely summer day, and I was just experiencing actually a huge change in my life. I was going through a separation and divorce and we were chatting about hey, how do you step it up when you’re single, really? Right Elizabeth?
Amy: So we were actually having a conversation about, how do you use food to it’s utmost to be as healthy as we could be, but also around beauty, you know? Aging gracefully, and we started really talking about getting collagen and the ways that we can do that. So on that walk we put our experience together and we came up with amazing recipes. Right Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. So it was such a great mix of your medicinal background and your expertise with teas and then my background with culinary piece. So one of the lines we love to say is that Amy pushed a pile of stick and twigs and roots and leaves at me-
Wings: You made those taste good.
Amy: What I eat normally tastes like dirt; I’ll just really be honest.
Bassima: But Elizabeth, she’s picky.
Elizabeth: I won’t do that. I don’t do that. I feel really strongly that things that are good for you can also be really delicious and really satisfying on a deeper level than just how they taste, and so it was really important that it meet both of those criteria for us.
Amy: Right. So when we kind of figured out this combination of team collagen, which is pretty awesome by the way, my training in herbal medicine kind of went nuts. I was really thinking like all these different teas and herbs with an incredible array of medicinal benefits, and all of the things it could bring to not just beauty and our skin and hair, but just overall wellness, we just kind of went nuts that day.
Elizabeth: We did! Yeah! It’s so fun. Yeah, absolutely!
Elizabeth: And then so what we created was so wonderful I started telling my patients about it and in comes Bassima.
Bassima: Yeah and so this is where I come into the story. So this is Bassima and Amy was my fantastic doctor for years and years, and I’m a pretty high maintenance patient, and I showed up in her office because I had just left Nike, which was an incredible experience but I had left to start my own consulting company and to really venture out into an entrepreneur journey, and at the time I also had back surgery. So my angle was really around health and at the time I was supposed to be getting a micro-discectomy and surprisingly my mom and my surgeon both told me, you need to start taking collagen before, during, and after, and it will really help me with my recovery with my joints and my bones and everything else. Now that was my first introduction cause I thought collagen was injections in the face. I didn’t really know [crosstalk 00:03:50 you could possibly consume them. So of course I read everything I can about it and I started getting ready and I started taking them and when I had my surgery it was one of the fastest recoveries that my surgeon said he’d seen and I like to attribute that, not just to the fact that he’s an incredible surgeon, but that I really took care of what I put inside my body and I was really careful, but towards the end of it people were noticing more my beauty benefits than anything.
So I was feeling great but people were like wow, your hair, your nails, but I was getting really tired of how I was consuming collagen and at the time it was really pills, powders, bone broth, or little beauty shots and elixirs which I didn’t really like the taste of. So I show up in Amy, Doctor Amy’s office, and I bring her everything and I throw my pills on the table and the powder and I say there’s just gotta be a better way to get collagen in your body, something that’s so important, and there’s gotta be an easier way, and that’s when she looked at me and she was like … She was so great cause she’s like well let me give you a formula of this awesome [inaudible 00:04:48 that we’ve created that is a combination of collagen and tea, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I want to share it with you, and I gave her this look of I’m not the one who’s going to go home and boil the herbs at a certain temperature and then add high quality gelatin. I need this pretty easy and done, and that’s when you looked at me, right?
Amy: Yeah, I told other patients and everyone kept [inaudible 00:05:10. I don’t have time to make it: can I buy it? I’m like, you know, it just doesn’t exist. It’s not on the market.
Bassima: And that’s when Amy said to me this was a passion project for her and Elizabeth, and so she told me about what they were doing and she knew I had the business background and strategies. So we just met up at Starbucks and started ideating on what this could be and we decided, you know what, we have got to create product and share it with the world and make it easy to eat and to get collagen in you body, and that’s really where it started. It was in end of 2014 and at the time I was actually on my way to work for the fabulous Sarah Blakely. So we agreed, the three of us, which was incredible at the time, we agreed that I would go work in Atlanta and they would do, Elizabeth and Amy would do RND for a couple years while I helped on the weekends on strategy and brand you know, there was this immense trust and belief in why this was important that we agreed we’d make that work and luckily Sarah, who’s a huge supporter of entrepreneurs period, agreed to let me continue focusing on this on the side while working for her. So just really lucky to have incredible women all around who supported this journey.
Wings: There’s such providence about your story. It’s like the universe conspired to bring you all together like at the right time, at the right place. There’s this awesome addressable market, a lot of people who want this, and then all your skills are so complimentary. It’s amazing. It’s one of these beautiful founder stories.
Amy: It truly is and we talk about that often. How grateful we are that we found each other cause we truly are a sisterhood. It’s been kind of this spiritual journey, but we talked about how we feel like this product line was meant to be and we are the people through which it was meant to come.
Bassima: That’s right.
Amy: Cause it’s so automatic.
Bassima: And to your point about the complimentary skills, Elizabeth’s talent is unbelievable in the food world but what people don’t know is a little secret is that she’s an entire IT department.
Wings: You’re the [inaudible 00:07:08.
Bassima: Yeah, she’s the quieter one, you won’t hear her as much, but we’ll get her to talk more, but she’s very humble and she’s got this incredible set of skills. We’ve got Amy is this incredible doctor with practices in two different states and teaches and then I came in who’s just suddenly so happened to have the business side of things and a long line of entrepreneurship within my family. So it was an incredible intersection, but not only that, we are different women, but our spiritual and emotional journey during this time has really been a really important part of everything as well.
Wings: That is something I wanted to pick up on because the energy amongst all of you is just so light and easy. It sounds like you’re just having a blast. Right? But talk to me a little bit about the inner inspiration because I think when women innovate in business a little bit later on in life, potentially and hopefully they’re coming at it from a more involved place. You know? Like more of a balance between the inner and the outer, and more mindfully, more consciously! Is that a big driver of where you’re taking the company and the culture of the company and what you intend for it?
Bassima: We’re all nodding so… People can’t see us; we’re all nodding simultaneously. So we’re all nodding simultaneously because you hit on something so critical. You’re right. It is our experience and our life journey that even enabled this to happen. I mean the amount of inner work we’ve each done on our own and that brought us to this journey has played a big role in how we work together and our ability to even launch this company and one of the things we believe in and we mean it seriously when we say, real beauty starts on the inside. We’re really talking about … I’ve had a lot of health issues in my life and the biggest thing I’ve learned is what I put into my body is so critical, but equally so, what I say to myself is important. So the way I treat myself is important and it allows me show up in the world in a different way and we’ve all had those inner struggles. Whether it was Elizabeth or Amy, where we struggle sometimes in the way we talk to ourselves or we share with ourselves the health issues we have and it’s by working through that that we really got to this company, I believe with all my heart.
Amy: This is Amy. We truly support each other completely and I’ll tell you, being an entrepreneur, it’s challenging. It creates … You know how they say all the good stuff in life happens outside your comfort zone?
Wings: Oh yeah. That’s true. I know that one. I mean I’m a serial entrepreneur so I know all about that roller coaster, man.
Elizabeth: Oh yeah. This is Elizabeth, but there’s a fantastic quote we read a while ago and I think it’s so true. It’s that you’re not a real entrepreneur unless you’ve been crying in the fetal position twice in the last six months.
Wings: Well sometimes there’s that elation and devastation several times within the same hour, [crosstalk 00:10:05 so much that you can’t control, but when you do come at it in this more evolved place where you can all be support of each other because on your journey, and I’m sure this has happened already, really challenging moments, but when those happen you’re there to help each other get out of that mindset. That can become really crippling when we’re in our fear.
Elizabeth: Yeah. This is Elizabeth. I think the other thing too is to recognize that the journey is never ending. Right? We often know that we’ve made such huge strides but there’s still so much further to go. We’re just getting started on this journey together.
Wings: I presume already, since 2014, there have been challenges along the way as there are for all startups. What have been some of the more difficult ones and how have you overcome those?
Bassima: Part of it I think it just different lives. Amy’s a single mom and there’s her schedule with her daughter. We think she’s the best single mom on the planet and that comes with her own schedule and I can let you see-
Amy: Oh my god, I’m crying now.
Bassima: Yeah, yeah. We have our headquarters at Amy’s house because it’s easier for her and with her daughter and everything she needs to do and Elizabeth’s been through a lot as well and she’s married and her and her husband sometimes need to go hiking, and I had some serious health issues just even a year ago and they all stood behind me. So I think I don’t know if we would call it a challenge. Those have been moments in time where real life interferes. That’s [crosstalk 00:11:28 it. I don’t think it’s been as much about we don’t believe in the product or we’re having that issue. We feel we can solve any business issue but we believe we have to first take care of ourselves and make sure that that foundation is rock solid, and knowing that, we’ll continue to face life things that should come up, but there’s a way we’re going to work together to deal with it. I think that’s really my … I found out for example we all have family members that might get a disease or something comes up and those things are the examples I would say of the biggest challenges and also just us self funding for two and a half years so far.
We have walked away from big jobs with big money, we’ve reduced a certain type of lifestyle, I could write a book about how to downgrade your lifestyle. I reduced mine to seven boxes and three suitcases for this and it’s been the best thing I could have done but I think those are the biggest ones.
Amy: Yeah, no. I think what I’m most proud of is this corporate culture that we have developed among the three of us out of respect fundamentally and we have done conference calls from my car in a parking lot across the street from my daughter’s grade school cause she’s getting out of class and I have to jump out and pick her up. We just support each other as sisters.
Wings: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. That’s so vital. I’ve been there, I’m also a single mom, and trying to balance a business, a podcast, a book, and all these things but I think I’d describe it as like a work-life integration.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Wings: It’s really all the same. It’s a journey. It’s all these things are very much intertwined. This idea of somehow, I don’t know, having some balance between all of them. I mean I can’t achieve that. The only thing I can really do is just be the best I can be at any given moment of the day at whatever it is I’m doing. I’m just trying to prioritize.
Wings: Work life balance is something that women talk about a lot. Where we feel pulled in lots of different directions a lot of the time and I like to look at it a little bit more as work life integration. I mean I’m also a single mom, I just try to balance all this stuff, but do you ever feel that pressure? That kind of sense of when I’m doing one thing you feel like you should be doing another? Or have you guys master that wonderful thing about really being in the present moment with everything that you’re doing?
Bassima: Well I can speak to my corporate experience. At that time I found it hard. It was very 9 to 5 and then of course after hours as well, but you had to show up at work in a certain way and then everything on the personal life side had to be kind of after. I think what’s incredible about us, and I can give you a great example. I, after having [inaudible 00:14:08 and having a very successful surgery, my partners, my sisters here, know that it’s important for me to build back my muscle, and so I found an amazing training that can take me Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and it’s at 3 o’clock, and as an example, they didn’t blink an eye. When we meet, I’m just going be gone from 3:00 to 4:00, three times a week, in the middle of my day, and it doesn’t matter. That’s integration to your point. Amy has to pick up her daughter every day from school. So for us it’s almost been seamless that were just going to work around, not work life in, but work into our life. Versus the other way around where it starts with work and then you integrate your life. We feel differently and so we look at the week as seven days and we’re running this any way we want.
Of course as we grow that may change a little bit but even with people that are working with us, we’re huge believers in a culture that integrates life and work in such a way that just makes sense. When we all need to be together and we need to be physically together we expect that, but all the other times everyone’s in an adult. We’re not going to try and monitor your time or have certain expectations and I come from 18 years of that world, of 9:00 to 5:00. So when we say this we mean it. We’re coming from experience.
Wings: Isn’t that the wonderful thing about being an entrepreneur though? I mean it really is setting your own course.
Bassima: That’s right.
Amy: I couldn’t live any other way at this point.
Elizabeth: We hear you sister.
Wings: And so I love that you create time for things outside of like quote unquote, work. Do you find that often, I guess like me, that you get your biggest inspiration, your biggest epiphanies, your biggest, I don’t know, like product or marketing thoughts or just like business ideas when you’re not actually working.
Elizabeth: So this is Elizabeth. I’m so glad you asked that question because I feel like a lot of the inspiration has totally been driving. Like Amy and I have taken a lot of road trips for work and we’ll just be driving along and some inspiration strikes, we have an idea of the concept [inaudible 00:16:03 or the flavor and it feels like it just like drops in and presents itself.
Amy: Exactly. When we’re relaxed and we’re locked in a tiny space then all the best stuff comes and Bassima teases, like she’s just like, I’m just going to lock you in a little space.
Amy: They’re my RND department and when I have them both battling it out, medical and food, it’s perfect. That’s when the genius happens, but you know it’s not a traditional like, go into the kitchen and why don’t you guys innovate. It’s never when they’re in the kitchen. It’s when they’re free flowing that they’re creative and that’s clear in our culture of how it happens.
Wings: So you obviously have an amazing culture. What about that culture is specific do you think about what you bring to it as women in particular?
Amy: This is Amy. I can tell you first and foremost, you people ask us, how do three women who get along, and I’m like, are you kidding me? We respect each other so much. I think that our culture, the baseline is this huge amount of respect and from there everything else percolates up out of that. Our need for self care or how we need to develop things or how we need to, I don’t know, allocate our hours or days or tasks or whatnot. Don’t you guys agree?
Bassima: Completely and I think in terms of the feminine, I think when we think of women and what we go through in life from an emotional and spiritual standpoint, we’re creating this culture based on what it feels like to be feminine. I mean there are times that, like I said, we understand a single mom and how a mother feels to need to leave and really prioritize her daughter. We understand what it feels like to have hormone issues and be off on some days and not be judged for that but it’s okay to show up and be like [inaudible 00:17:43 this month, this is really painful, I’m not feeling so great. Or our cravings or being in touch with our intuition. A big part of our culture is intuition. We literally will look at each other and go how do you feel about something and our intuition kicks in and that plays a big role. They joke that I’m really chief intuition officer.
Amy: That’s right.
Bassima: It’s really funny because we’re not afraid to tap into that and we’re not afraid to be feminine in our approach to business. A big thing for us is also around how we approach business. We don’t believe it needs to be so cut throat either and I think one of the people I learned that a lot from was Sarah Blakely as well. She always used to say business doesn’t need to be war and she’s so right in terms of how a lot of us think about this. For us, and we have a lot of fun together, and I think that’s a huge part of our culture. I don’t think people realize how silly we are and it’s a big part of what makes every day enjoyable.
Wings: Well you know, business doesn’t have to be war and I remember her story that she told when a bunch of us entrepreneurs were in Atlanta with Maverick, my business group, and we were working Bassima, you remember we were working with Sarah’s foundation to advance all these wonderful female entrepreneurs who she was mentoring and I do remember her telling that story. That she’d been taken aside by some like dude somewhere like, you know, “this is going to be war”, and she’s like well, “I don’t want to do that on your terms if it’s going to be war, I’m going to make my own way,” and I think as women as we try and define what our sort of authentic feminine power actually is and like redefine those kind of stereotypes, or what used to be seen as a weakness can actually be a strength. So what do you think that women specifically bring to the table that often men don’t? Or I mean they could, right? What are those assents that we have that if we really harness them, you know, really differentiate us, rather than allowing us to be defined as weak or victims or like the way that some men or even some women may define themselves?
Bassima: I mean for me, this is Bassima, I’ll name a few. Intuition is huge. I think collaboration. Empathy. Those are all traits and I just gotta say this for the women out there, multitasking.
Wings: Yeah we can all do that.
Bassima: You [inaudible 00:20:11 multitask and so when we … So just the power of the tree of us and how much we can multitask is out of this world and so I feel like we’re not afraid to be empathetic. We’re not afraid to cry. We’re not afraid to tap into our intuition and we’re not afraid to collaborate and seek help as needed and be humble about that. So I think that’s not saying that’s a blanket approach for everyone but at least for the three of us and where we’re at, that’s I think a feeling that we have.
Amy: I agree with you Bassima. This is Amy. I think that our willingness to be vulnerable with each other has created a tremendous strength for the three of us.
Wings: Yeah, that’s like total Brene Brown territory there. [crosstalk 00:20:52 but there is such strength in vulnerability and I think some men are beginning to learn that and women too because I look at … I’m just old enough to yeah, remember that phase in the 80’s where women fought to be in business. They had to behave like dudes. Even the way women dressed and just not really showing up authentically as feminine and I think now, these archetypes are changing a little bit, but what it was funny is when we were talking about multitasking. When guys, I think when they look at our ability to multitask, often they’ll say things like hey, be more focused.
Wings: …and the woman is like, but I am focused. What are you talking about? Our brains just work differently.
Amy: [inaudible 00:21:35 right now.
Bassima: You know this is why I’m a huge believer in diversity. I love also male traits just as much as I love feminine. I think it’s the mix of the two that’s beautiful but what I find fun about all three of us being women right now is it is kind of our time. Our time to really lead with that energy but it doesn’t mean we don’t welcome the male energy as well and what that can bring. I think we’re open to all of that and we want really, you know, we’ve had men support us here that have been unbelievable on our journey but to your point, it does create a different culture from a male dominated company and it’s just fun that it gets to be different.
Wings: So I noticed a little bit earlier in the conversation, you talk about the fact that you were self-funded. Is there a specific reason that you chose to go that route or was it difficult to get funding?
Bassima: We weren’t trying to get funding at that time, we just really wanted to prove it first, and that’s why we self funded. I think we’re just be believers and we believe in ourselves right now and we’re going to, you know, we need to have skin in the game and go all in before we seek funding. So that’s why we really did that for two and a half years first.
Wings: Okay so let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the product. I mean you guys are about to launch some amazing product. Tell us all about it. I’m so excited and I’m so excited to try it as well.
Amy: We are too babe.
Wings: It’s going be good for me I think, yeah, and all of our listeners.
Amy: Yeah. We are so excited. So [inaudible 00:23:04, we alluded to this earlier. We were talking about we’re really looking at this magic combination of collagen and tea and the various forms that those two kind of sets of ingredients can come together to form. Right? So what we did is we did a ton of research looking at the optimal dose and type of collagen to use and we started with that. Okay? By the way, we really did our research. We actually hired a brilliant woman who’s a doctor and a researcher to really look at every single ingredient that we use and check it for safety and efficacy and make sure we’re going down the right path.
Bassima: And this woman is selected by one of the top 100 people in the US selected by the FDA. So she’s pretty amazing.
Elizabeth: She’s been so well trained and we’re so lucky to have her [inaudible 00:23:44. I just want to say that to her. Thank you for being part of our team Karina.
Amy: So we started with this collagen and then I really wanted to put some kind of neutral tasting herbs into the blend to make sure we had very good mineral content, and so I chose four of my favorites, and I have to tell you, not to risk getting a little too [inaudible 00:24:06, but some of them I chose because they really are good for your emotional body.
Amy: Well sense a real well being when they ate our products not just to make sure they have their minerals and vitamin C and then after that there were some things I really felt strongly that we use like green tea, white tea, huevos tea, and some other great ingredients, and that’s when I shoved that whole pile at Elizabeth and she made the products taste amazing. So she can [crosstalk 00:24:35 some of our flavor profiles, but that’s where we started and what we came up with. Pretty darn good!
Wings: And how are you guys going to be sold? Are you going to be sold primarily online? Are you going to be in stores? Or how is that all rolling out?
Bassima: Yes. Absolutely. So the way we thought about where we would launch first is we really wanted to make it easy for our target consumer to find our product. So we definitely want it to be in [inaudible 00:24:56. We’ll be in fitness locations as well as medical clinics. At the same time we want it easy and fast for her and we know that there’s this instant gratification world. So online will be a huge part of our strategy. We also are a lifestyle brand and it’s really important that we make it easy so Amazon and our own website will be huge plays for the consumer.
Wings: That is so exciting and I know that you have a great offer for our listeners today when they sparkling beauty brew is ready. Can you tell us about that?
Bassima: Absolutely. We’re super excited about it. So just to set this up: I hope everybody had read our website and will know this, but we really believe with all our hearts, that real beauty starts from the inside out and we mean it. So we want to invite everyone to participate in the beauty of character social media campaign with us, which is really all about recognizing and honoring the beauty of character and making that super sexy and super cool again and what we’re asking everyone to do is send us an email to email@example.com and let us know what you think beauty of character means to you. The top submissions will receive a free four pack of our skin tea drinks when we launch next year.
Wings: Oh, that’s wonderful. I love that. That beauty does come from within and so that’s great. So everybody just email firstname.lastname@example.org and the best submissions around the character of beauty will qualify for a free four pack of skin tea. I’m going to submit one.
Elizabeth: I’m excited.
Wings: I think all, I mean so much goodness comes from within and the character but just that the beauty of sort of mindfulness and being present and being grateful and all of those wonderful things and you guys just exude that and it’s such an honor and pleasure to talk to you.
Bassima: Oh thank you so much. We’re the ones who are honored and so grateful to everyone who engages with us and we’re super excited to provide a product that hopefully everyone will love and can be part of our journey with us around beauty of character.
Wings: That’s wonderful and we’ll have to have you on again and just catch up off and on as you launch the product. Then all the great things are going to happen as you grow in scale. I’m so excited for you.
Bassima: Thank you so much. Yay!
Wings: Yay! Bassima, Elizabeth, Amy, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom with us today on Wings of Inspired Business.
Bassima: Thank you.