Carly Stein left behind her lucrative Wall Street trading career at Goldman Sachs to pursue her true passion. A beekeeper, Carly discovered the miraculous healing properties of bee propolis and created a fast-growing nutraceuticals company called Beekeeper’s Naturals. Committed to conscious capitalism, Carly is using her company as a platform for sustainable farming and pesticide free beekeeping. We talk about overcoming fear and taking the leap into the unknowns of a startup as well as how to hire a great team and scale it fast to meet growing demand.
Melinda Wittstock: Carly, welcome to Wings.
Carly Stein: Thank you so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I'm so intrigued for you to share the story that I heard you tell a group of us at our Unicorn meeting not so long ago, which was your leap where you literally did put on your wings and you leapt from a cushy but very demanding job at Goldman Sachs to launch into this entrepreneur gig and it wasn't exactly easy making that transition.
Carly Stein: It was one of the hardest transitions of my life. Just to kind of paint a picture. So I was working on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs. There are not a lot of women as traders to begin with, so I was stuck out there and I was a visible minority but also had a lot of opportunity just by virtue of the fact that I was different. And I had this great on paper job that I had a great trajectory, financially stable, it afforded my a lot of the comforts that I had really wanted or that people sort of socially reward.
But I was really unhappy. I was really depressed, I was working sixteen plus hour days, pulling all nighters, and more than anything I was working this job that again, was good on paper, but I didn't really have a sense of purpose. The things that the people I worked with were motivated by are not the things that I've ever been driven by. It just felt really empty and I had this huge disconnect because I had never received as much external types of feedback as I had when I was working at Goldman Sachs. You know, you just get sort of instant credibility, particularly when you're in New York. And yeah, I was receiving all of these sort of social rewards, but I was feeling really empty. And I started to wonder what's wrong with me, why am I not happy? Am I not capable of happiness?
And I had this just really nice cookie cutter life, I had just bought an apartment with my boyfriend, but like I said I just felt really empty. And so I had to kind of blow that whole thing up to pursue my dreams and really find myself. And that's exactly what I did, so in working with [inaudible 00:12:33 Goldman and … you know, I think I was pretty depressed. And so my first step, I sat down with myself and I made a spreadsheet because that's what I know how to do and the spreadsheet was all about happiness. And I was trying to dig in to the recent years and figure out when was I the most happy. And the thing that I kept coming back to was the quirky hobby I had picked up in college in my semester abroad, which was beekeeping and making bee products.
I started beekeeping in college out of necessity. I found these products on a semester abroad in Europe and they cured a lot of the autoimmune issues that I was dealing with. And then I came back to North America to finish up school, and I couldn't find these particular products anywhere. And then when I could find the type of bee products I was looking for, there was no assurance that they were pesticide free or met the quality standards that I was looking for as somebody with a more sensitive system.
So I had this weird hobby of keeping bees and making products out of the different things they make and that was when I was the happiest. So I was like “okay, I have to do that.” A little bit of a c hallenge given the urban environment I live in. But what I can, because I know sustainable beekeepers I used to work with then, is source products from them and just turn my apartment kitchen into a potions lab and start making cool stuff.
And that's exactly what I did. I started making stuff. I didn't go into it with the idea of starting a business, I just went into it with the idea of making more of what cured me and sharing it and almost seeing it as an art project [inaudible 00:14:09. So I just started making these different products, these different health products, and I would sell them at farmer's markets on the weekends because I wasn't working enough during the week. And I started to get this amazing response from customers. More and more there's people who struggle with autoimmune conditions and that kind of became my early adopter customer base.
And it started building this cult following at the farmers markets and then the next thing you know people were asking me to mail it to their cousin in Chicago or different places. So I started the website and I was really just responding to demand. There wasn't a lot of thought into the business model at that stage. And it just really started growing and it got to a place where we were in six hundred stores and shipping internationally and I was living this crazy double life. And so at that point I was just “okay, someone needs to run this business and I really want it to be me.”
But still I had so much fear, because it sounded crazy to people. When I told my friends and family about what I wanted to do or how much my side project was growing, they tended to be a little bit dismissive or they just thought it was ridiculous. And in their defense, when somebody says they have a bee product company, you don't really know what to think. I didn't pick an app or a chocolate company or something that we're even a little bit familiar with, I picked something that's very, very niche and I maintain that that was my opportunity, how weird an unknown it is. At that time, people just thought I was crazy and I was about to blow up my life and exit the best career opportunity I could ever have for a silly little bee start up that's not going to go anywhere.
And I think I was twenty-six or twenty-five maybe at that time. So I had already had a lot of confidence issues around starting my own business and then when I hear the people I look up to tell me how crazy my ideas are, it was a little bit challenging to make that move. And then compounded by the whole golden handcuff situation and the great on paper job. So I sort of was going back and forth for about six months, really wanting to leave but being overcome by fear and I actually … my close friends and family actually interventioned me at one point because they were genuinely concerned that I was going to destroy my life by leaving my quote unquote good job for my crazy, outlandish idea. So that was terrifying.
But I finally got it together and a lot of it was asking myself “what's on the other side of fear?” And the answer is “freedom.” And for me, I value my freedom above everything else and it just … I had to make this change. And what I figured is “well, if I fail the skill set that I'm going to gain in this process is going to be well worth it and it will allow me to do the next thing.” And I just kind of had to have blind faith and jump into it and trust the universe to take care of me and that's what I did.
And I remember when I had the conversation with my boss, he took me into a board room and literally using arbitrary numbers because he has no idea how it works in the health and wellness industry. But he basically drew out a plan on the white board showing me where I would be with my silly little bee company in five years versus where I would be at Goldman Sachs and just basically telling me that I'm going to have an epic failure on my hands and be completely broke within five years time.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my god.
Carly Stein: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: [inaudible 00:17:49. So he took you aside, so he's your boss and he's your mentor and I understand that he doesn't want to lose a high producing asset at Goldman. So he's looking at you like that. And so he has to do the thing that he knows is going to just trigger all your fears, okay?
Carly Stein: [inaudible 00:18:07.
Melinda Wittstock: And so he literally paints this picture what, like you're going to end up homeless if you become an entrepreneur? Like, what are some of-
Carly Stein: I mean, pretty much. Yeah, pretty much. He was just using all the term numbers and showing me where I'd be financially and he has no idea what margins look like in my industry or anything. But in his defense, I think for him it was really triggering that I was getting up and wanting to leave because I don't think he really loved his job, but he sort of had a golden handcuff situation [inaudible 00:18:37 finance guy. And here's this young person who is saying no to all of that and that kind of shakes his ego a little bit. And I think he was just kind of repeating to me the stories that he tells himself every day for why he does this thing that's a little bit meaningless for him. And so that's what happened and I had this really amazing moment of I'm sitting there and somebody who is one of the most intelligent people I've ever met is telling me how big of a failure I'm going to be and I was like “yeah, I hear you but I'm still going to do it.”
Melinda Wittstock: If someone tells you that-
Carly Stein: And that was the moment.
Melinda Wittstock: But it's almost like a dare. Because as soon a someone says you can't do something, you can react either way. You can choose to believe them or you can take it on like a dare. Like “oh, yeah? Oh yeah? Watch me.”
Carly Stein: I totally took it on as a dare. But it was also … it was sort of like affirming all my decisions because I had this other very clear awareness of the fact that this is a man in his late fifties who's telling a twenty-five year old not to follow their dreams and how miserable their life is going to be. And like, you could be a little bit unhappy to do that and if wanna look like that I can definitely sit in this seat and be bitter.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Carly Stein: And so just kind of seeing his thought process there and how it was just so clear that he isn't fulfilled by what he does and he tells himself these stories to keep himself sort of satiated where he's at. And I just don't want to be like that. I wanna be doing something that fills me up every day, that I'm enthusiastic about, and when I encounter other people on a journey I wanna be able to meet them with excitement.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Carly Stein: And that's just not the road you go down when you're doing something day in and day out that doesn't give you any meaning or purpose and that isn't really want you want and is sort of valuing all the wrong things for you.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, it's interesting. I think there's a quote, and I can't remember who said this, but you can build somebody else's dreams or you can build your own. And given the relatively short time we have here in our earth suits, it seems like a complete waste of that time in a way, to not do what's actually in your heart or in your soul.
What I love about your story, Carly, is you're explaining that … okay, so you just had this passion for all things bees and beekeepers and when you think about the problem with all this colony collapse disorder and all of this, we would not be alive without bees, right? So you have this passion. What I love is that you didn't make a big deal, you just started. Like, you just started making stuff.
Carly Stein: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: What did you apartment or whatever kind of look like in that period? Tell me, break down, what's the first thing that you actually did?
Carly Stein: So the first thing … my apartment by the way was atrocious, it was our warehouse and production facility and everything. It was crazy. One of our first employees, she had keys to my apartment and she would come in while I was at work and help me sell honey. And now we've just renovated our office and she was talking about how we're going to … we have our team retreat coming up and we're going to do a sideshow and choose pictures from that time. We're very excited. But the very first move, I was living in a city so I couldn't … I wasn't ready to up and quit my job at that point, so I couldn't go and keep bees.
But I did have a real tie in to two sustainable producers because I was working with the bees in college. That was, I just became obsessed with bees and I became a beekeeper's apprentice and I was fortunate to under somebody who was sustainably … who was just all about sustainability and saving the bees. And so I knew that his products were incredibly pure. And that's a big issue with bee products today, even the ones that say organic, a lot of them do have trace amounts of pesticides and exposure to different chemicals which we certainly don't want when we're taking an all natural supplement.
So I reached out to him and I was like “hey, how much phosphorus can I buy? How much pollen can I buy? How much honey can I buy?” And so I started purchasing that and then also I went to, when I was in college my chemistry professor, he had done a PhD with a guy who owned a contract chem facility. So then I reached out to him and like “hey, can you hook me up with this guy? I know that I'm a teeny, tiny hobbyist. I wonder if he would do like, this super small [inaudible 00:23:24 for me given your relationship with him.” And I was able to convince him to do just that. So I found a co-packer, I found my supplier, and I started formulating products, and I kind of knew how to formulate them because these are all things that'd I'd been making for myself and taking myself, I was just producing them in a larger way.
So those were my first steps and then … so I had a manufacturer, I had a supplier, the co-packer actually didn't come until later. I was co-packing in my apartment, which was madness. And then once we started to really scale I found a co-packer and I literally just googled it. I was like “natural health co-packers”. Everything at this company I pretty much googled. I did not have an edge way into this industry, I was a trader. So for sure I brought some financial capability, but I didn't know anything about the consumer products space or how to do a lot of the stuff that I needed to do, but I just figured it out.
But I think coming at it from the place that I did, coming at it from this authentic place of just wanting to do this and truly loving working with the bees and loving the natural health field and the experience of curing myself and my own illness and then having this enthusiastic response from people at the farmers markets and hearing their stories. I remember I had a customer with multiples sclerosis who would come in to me and really sharing in an open way about her experience with my products and all kinds of people like that. And once you start receiving that sort of feedback, it's just sort of “okay, other people need this. This works. It's not just me. I need to make more of it.” And I was just kind of functioning in almost a reactive way. I think I wasn't allowing myself for a long time to acknowledge that this was a real business because I was so scared of leaving the comfort of my full time job. So I-
Melinda Wittstock: What was the trigger? Yeah, what was the trigger that made you just walk away? Did you have to have a certain amount of money or was it just that you just lost … like, you were exasperated and burnt out at the end of it? What was the thing that you just said “okay, this is it, this is my last day at Goldman Sachs?”
Carly Stein: It was a combination. I was really burnt out but I made all of these … now I look back and they're kind of arbitrary financial benchmarks and I made them pretty out there. I thought they were things that I couldn't hit. Because I was like “okay, well if the company gets to this place then I'll leave and do it.” And I just said that not really thinking it would get there. And then I got there. And I was like “this is a real operation, someone needs to run this thing.” And I had all of the fears of not being good enough and questioning if I could … I was like, “yeah, I got it here” but I had every excuse for why I couldn't take it further. But I just was like “you know what? I'm so unhappy in this life” and in every aspect as well. I was living with a boyfriend who was amazing but it wasn't right for me and I had this life and we had couple friends and he was sort of in the corporate world as well and I had this life that made sense to a lot of people and I just nagging feeling that this was not my life.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, it's interesting. When you make a leap like that, it makes other people around you uncomfortable, I've found. When I've made these radical decisions in my life, much like you, that just bring me into alignment with myself, the people I'm around are can be destabilized by that. And I mean boyfriends, husbands, parents, friends, relatives, the crowd at the Thanksgiving table who are like “what are you doing?” And they mean well, usually, right? Like, they're concerned.
Carly Stein: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: But their concerns are limited by their own world view, right? And so when you go off and do something truly amazing or really follow your bliss, it reminds them that they haven't. And so sometimes I think that's where the resistance comes from and it sometimes stops … I think it stops women from really daring to dream or live their dreams because we can get so worried about what other people think about us. Because we're such … especially if we're people pleasers, which a lot of us fall into that. We care about relationships and all of these things, right?
Carly Stein: Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: So how did you navigate all of that? Did you have stuff with your parents saying “Carly, are you sure you know what you're doing?” You know, friends-
Carly Stein: Oh, I had all of that from everyone. And what you just described is literally what was happening with my boss as well and I think it was just … it was destabilizing for him. It was highlighting all of the things that he had spent so long justifying. And it forces other people to kind of call into question everything that they're not happy with. And some people just aren't willing to accept a certain level of life.
And I got to a place where I wasn't willing to accept that this was my life. I wanted to be happier than this, I wanted to be more fulfilled than this, I wanted to have a career where I had a real impact. Environmental impact has always been so important to me and I was completely detached from that at that point in my day job.
And so it was all of these little things kind of building over time and it just got to a place where, I think it was that conversation with my boss actually. I told him that I was thinking about doing something else and it was that conversation where one, somebody who I really looked up to was like “you can't do this.” And so a little bit of “well, I will show you and I can.” But it was also “I don't wanna be this person who hates what I do.” Well, not particularly that he hates it yet, but who has all of these stories built up around what they do to the extent that they can't let somebody else walk off and do what they really want.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What I love about your company so much, I mean apart from the fact that the products are amazing, and thank you for all the samples at Unicorn Club, but they really are extremely good … is that it's a movement. It's so mission focused. It is about changing the world and really helping people. I'm seeing increasingly that the best companies and the companies that are actually growing the fastest and having the highest valuation or by any metric, whether we look at it terms of valuation growth or just revenue growth or having great teams and cultures, have that mission. And one of the things you said earlier in the podcast which intrigued me is that you didn't even know this was going to be a business. You started it as a hobby, but it became this business. And I think increasingly, actually the best businesses are missions and movements. Do you think that's true?
Carly Stein: Yeah, I definitely do. I think there's so many issues in our world today and I think consumers really want to have impact with their purchase. I know I certainly do with everything that I buy. So that's a big part of it, giving people an opportunity to have a voice in all of their buying decisions and stand for something a little bit more than the exact thing that they're getting. So I think mission driven companies are really important and I think the trend of coming at it from a place where you're solving your own problem. I think that really does, I mean I'm biased here, but I think that that really does push people to create the best companies because like I said, I was not looking at this company as a profit opportunity. I was really just looking at something and I was really just wanting something to exist in the world that had helped me so much. And yeah, it's just coming from a really authentic place. I mean, it's very similar to what you do as well, you know? The many things you do. But with even just podcasts, you're creating a space for people, for women who support other women and discuss all of the different things they've worked through and encouraging other females to move into the world of entrepreneurship. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: It's all mission all the time for me. In fact, I don't think I could do a business just for the transactional part of the business. It just wouldn't grab me in the same way that actually doing-
Carly Stein: No, it's a lot of work for it just to be transactional.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, because it's so much. That's the thing. Well, this is true. It's so much work that there's no way as an entrepreneur, I find, that you can get through some of the inevitable challenges, those moments where you've kind of left the shore but you haven't … you can't quite see the other side of the lake yet. You know, those kind of moments where you're like “oh my god, I'm I going to make payroll?” All those kind of heart palpitating things. It's really hard to get through those if you don't have some sort of higher mission or if you're not in alignment or it's not your purpose or you just, frankly, don't really love what you're doing.
So the mission for me, gosh, it's everything. And I realize every single business of mine, if I look back, has had a mission. They all have. And I see some entrepreneurs go for it like “you know what? I'm going to create this business and I'm going to build it up and then flip it and sell it quickly.” I don't think those businesses ever really sustain very long.
Carly Stein: No, I don't think so. And I think, I mean it's different in different sectors, but certainly from my sector. I'm building alternatives to a lot of the medicines people take. You definitely don't want someone to come into that area with a quick slip perspective.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, yeah.
Carly Stein: So I mean, in certain sectors it can work, I guess. But I'm just a big fan of people allowing their passions to flourish and creating things from the heart.
Melinda Wittstock: I love this. So tell me a little bit about how it works, because you're solving a whole series of problems, right? On one hand bees have tremendous healing properties for us and in your products. So I want you to describe your products and let's get really deep into what you've created. And on the other hand we have this issue where, because of all the pesticides and because of a whole series of things we're having colony collapse disorder and I want to get in a little bit into the impact of that and the real peril to our society and our food system if we can't sustain bee colonies. And I love that this kind of connects the dots on these two issues in terms of our health and our environment. So I don't know where you wanna start with that, that's a big question. But take us through, first of all I guess let's start with how your products are really good for people and good for our health.
Carly Stein: For sure. Yeah. So maybe I should start a little bit with how I got into it because everyone's always confused about how I got into beekeeping, because it's a little bit of a weird hobby to pick up. But it makes a lot of sense when I explain my experience with it.
So basically I have an autoimmune condition and growing up I was always sick and I cannot take antibiotics or most conventional medicines. I just have a really sensitive system. Everything from preservatives to gluten, you name it I cannot have it. But I do have a really serious reaction to antibiotics. So something growing up, like a cold or strep throat could turn into a pretty serious viral infection and I had to be really careful. And that pushed me to deeply explore the natural world. So I was always kind of researching and reading about the natural world and trying different products and I wound up really frustrated and just continuously out of money because I would try these expensive fancy super foods that promised the world and didn't really deliver on results.
So that was just sort of my universe and the way things worked for me. And that carried on up until college, and in college I did a semester abroad, I was studying in Europe. And I got really bad tonsillitis and it developed to a place that was so serious I was going to have to come home and have surgery because I can't take antibiotics and it's difficult to deal with. And I was looking for anything to keep me out there. And so I was Florence at the time, in Italy, and I went into a pharmacy. And I walk in with … my face is literally blown up like a chipmunk, it was hard for me to breathe. And the pharmacist took one look at me and she was like “you need propolis.” And I was like “okay, sure, what is that?” And she told me it's from the bees. And I was like “okay, honey, got it.” And she was like “nope, not honey. Propolis.” I was like “okay, there's some sort of language barrier or something, but I'll take it. I'm desperate.”
So I tried this propolis stuff and it's like this weird tincture, not really well labeled, and in about five days I recovered and propolis works in my body the way antibiotics do for regular people. And I had never before had that experience of recovery.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow. Propolis.
Carly Stein: So yeah, I made a full recovery and it was just a big game changer for my health, and I was able to stay in Europe. And Europe's so progressive with their natural health world. And so as I'm in Europe traveling around, I'm starting to just see propolis and pollen and royal jelly and these different products all over the place. And in common places, not just in some strange super food stores, but corner stores in many cases. And there's a pretty strong awareness across different countries. So that was just a really interesting thing for me in that it sort of got me into these different things. And I started to cut out a lot of the different things I was taking and sort of replace them with these bee products. And I was feeling better than ever.
And when I came home to finish up college, of course when mid terms rolled around I got strep throat and I was just like “hey, well, I know what to do. I need propolis.” So I started hitting up the local health food stores and nobody knew what I was talking about. Propolis it turns out is not a very common supplement in North America the way that it is in Europe. So I'm not really finding it. I go to to a farmers market and I do find some there, but I was not sure about pesticide exposure. And then I took it back, I was a TA for my chem class at the time, so I took it back to the lab and I just did a little messing around with my professor and we figured out that there was a little bit … sorry, my dog just barked. We have a basset and a lab.
Melinda Wittstock: That's okay. I have a golden retriever and she barks on my podcast sometimes, too. So that's … oh, there we go. On cue.[crosstalk 00:38:34.
Carly Stein: He's a golden, too.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, I love dogs. So totally cool.
Carly Stein: [inaudible 00:38:44. So yeah. So I'm kind of looking all over for this stuff. I do some mad scientist testing with my prof and we find out that there is trace exposure of pesticides in the farmers market product. And I was like “okay, well I can't take that because I will react.” So I was like “okay, I need this stuff. I can't find it at the quality level that I need for myself. I guess I have to make it.” So I sent some emails to the local beekeeping association just explaining my situation and they passed my email of to one of their members who has an apiary, which is a bee farm, in literally the middle of nowhere in British Columbia.
And so I start buying raw products from him and the second I went over there to purchase products and I saw an apiary and I saw just the world of bees, I was mesmerized. And I've always been like, a nature girl and a bug girl and I'm obsessed with every single animal and living thing, but I was just like “oh my gosh, I need more of this.”
So I asked if I could work for him for free and eventually I wore him down and he said “yes.” And I became a beekeeper's apprentice. And this is in 2012, so now it's kind of like, cool and hipster to be a backyard beekeeper, but at that time my friends were very confused by the fact that I was spending my Saturdays with a sixty year old beekeeper and over a hundred thousand bees. But I really just fell in love with it and I had the added benefit of being a student at the time, so I had full access to my lab, I would call my university database to build products for myself. And again, I'm making all of these different products with no intention of starting a company around this. I'm really just healing myself. A
And so I had this amazing healing experience. I just kind of changed my immune system with propolis, I started using royal jelly for brain health and I found that it was really beneficial for me during exams. And a lot of my friends were taking Adderall and ritalin and all kinds of study drugs, they started replacing what they were taking with my weird bee product brain formula. And just incorporating these different things into my routine in different ways and feeling the benefits. And so that was sort of how I got into it.
And now with Beekeepers Naturals, our mission really is two fold. And the first part, we're looking to give people truly clean alternatives to most of the stuff in their medicine cabinet. A lot of the things we take, whether it's NyQuil to study drugs, there are some less than desirable side effects and they're not the most natural. And they're also not accessible for certain people, for people who are struggling with autoimmune or just looking to lead a more natural lifestyle. So we wanna take all that stuff, basically throw it out, and build natural, better for you versions. And all of our products, they're looking at the full picture of health. So for example, our propolis immune booster. That absolutely will address any immune concerns. It's great for a sore throat, cold-flu, but it's also going to flood the body with antioxidants, it's really high in [inaudible 00:41:55 acid so it's great for inflammation, it's really good for gut health. So we look at the big picture and we don't just wanna kind of cure the symptom. We wanna get rid of the symptom, but we wanna make you better off as a whole. And that's sort of the first part.
And then the second part is how can we have environmental impact knowing that we're working with primarily bee products? So all of our products line, we work with all different kind of plant based super foods, but we use bee products as a base ingredient. And knowing that bees are an endangered species and they pollinate one third of our food supply, how could we make sure that we're protecting them and promoting a style of beekeeping that actually helps to build bee populations over time? And so that's our big thing. So we practice sustainable beekeeping.
One of the biggest differences I would say on the sustainability side is that we're the only bee product company that practices third party pesticide testing. So all of our raw products, before it's bottled, jarred, or whatever else, we send it to a third party lab and they test for every pesticide, toxin, and pollutant in accordance with Health Canada, which is more rigorous than the US. And that way we can really ensure, from our honey to our bee pollen to our propolis that we're giving people truly clean, natural super foods and we can ensure that our bees are not getting exposed to pesticides, which is one of the primary factors in the bee decline. And we also partner with UC Davis to do research, and in Canada we work with the Canadian Bee Research fund. So we have some incredible research institutions that we work closely with to help support just a lot of research going into what's happening to the bees and how we can have a positive impact.
Melinda Wittstock: So thank you so much for explaining just what the products do and the very personal story that lead you to create this. And I understand that you're growing this company really quickly. You've hired recently, your revenue is growing, it's all looking really great. What are some of the challenges around that growth?
Carly Stein: Yes, I mean we've definitely grown quickly. It's been really exciting, so one of the other positives about keeping my full time job and starting with this as a side hustle, I was able to bootstrap for a while. So I bootstrapped the company until we were profitable and then I closed a precede last December. So about a year ago now, at the end of December. And in one year, we've gone from just me doing everything to a team of twelve, which has been very interesting. And I think the biggest challenge has been, for me, learning how to evolve my skill set and delegate, being really okay with the fact that my job as CEO is to support everyone else and be really okay with letting go of the things that I'm typically in control of and taking on things that are very new and challenging for me.
And then the other thing that's just been interesting is working capital crunch with CPG business, it is awesome when you grow really quickly and beat your projections, but it's also terrifying when you're in the CPG world because you kind of need money to come back a little quicker to make new products and meet demands. So just navigating that balance and anybody who's kind of entering into a CPG world, it's something to really, really think about. You have to be pretty intense with your projections. But yeah, those two things have been the biggest challenges in learning.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, absolutely. And just sort of getting access to capital, one of the tricky things even for women in tech with like … yours is a scalable company. CBG companies are scalable companies. But very, very difficult to get venture capital funding, women are still only getting two to three percent of the available VC money in this country. And so what have been some of the challenges in terms of fund raising and do you have to go out and fund raise some more? And it is VC that will be your route or is there another better way to get you the capital you need?
Carly Stein: Yeah. So … sorry, the dog is barking again. We'll let it … okay, I'm going to go back inside. Just a sec. One second.
Yeah, so fund raising. It's so shocking to me how little funding goes toward women, because I think that women are incredibly thoughtful founders and operators. I have to say that, for me, I've had a very positive experience fund raising. I saw precedes. We had mostly [inaudible 00:47:22 and then we had some sort of smaller funds come in. But I think I went into it one, I had proof of concept. My company was profitable at that time. But more than anything it was the confidence that I brought to it. My projections were air tight, my [inaudible 00:47:44, I had worked my ass off on it, and I really believed in my business and my products. I don't make a single product that I don't use every day. We have people all over the world using these products and having incredible health affects. And I just wasn't willing to allow anyone to be diminishing about my company at that point. I think having the hardship on the social side, having my friends and family question me, having to leave an area in the workforce that was rewarding in different ways and have just that aggressive questioning come at me, I had already been through it and I was like “you know what? This is happening, I'm going to fucking do this.” Excuse my language. “And if you're not interesting, then you my friend are going to miss out on a huge opportunity.”
And that is what I brought to the table with every single conversation and we ended up oversubscribed.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Carly Stein: So I think confidence has a lot to do with it. I think going in very prepared, I was insanely prepared mostly because I was terrified of looking like an idiot. But that happened to serve me in this particular situation. I was ready for every single question, I pulled on a lot of resources because yes, I have a finance background but I was working with public markets, so this was very much new area for me. And I listened to every podcast and read every book and basically just devoured everything that was accessible, but more than anything I was like “I am not going to allow this conversation to be swayed by anything other than this business and financial metric.”
Melinda Wittstock: Ah.
Carly Stein: And I think that's really important for women.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, it is. Your story is so inspiring. You know Carly, I could talk to you for a whole other hour, so that means that you're going to have to come back on the podcast later this year with all your updates. Thank you so much for telling your story so openly and transparently and all you're doing in the world. And also, too, for your generous gift for listeners today. Tell everybody a little bit about that.
Carly Stein: Yeah. So we are going to make a custom code for everyone who wants to try our products and we will be sharing that. And basically we'll give you a discount and you can try some amazing super foods. And we have everything from the immune boosting throat spray to royal jelly based brain [inaudible 00:50:13 helps with focus, memory, concentration to CBD honey, to energy boosting honey, all this good stuff and it's all natural and I'm excited for everyone to try it.
Melinda Wittstock: Ah, that's wonderful. Well, I'll make sure all the links and everything are in the show notes. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Carly Stein: Thank you so much for having me.