Balanced Hustler: Meet Daina Trout, Co-Founder + CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
At this point in our 2019 culture, if you’re immersed in the wellness world, you’ve heard of the bubbly, fermented drink kombucha. But 10 years ago, kombucha was just a health-food store drink, without mainstream availability or understanding. Enter Daina Trout, co-founder and CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha, one of the brands increasing accessibility of the gut-boosting drink and making it a mainstay of the broader culture (pun intended). With her husband and her best friend, Daina started the kombucha company in 2012, without the initial intention of selling the her fermented concoction. We chatted with her about how she started the company to curb hair loss, how they had to pivot to take advantage of opportunities, how long it’s taken them to become profitable and how she deals with being a mother and female CEO trying to navigate maternity leave in an age when the conversation is a little convoluted.
Fast Facts: Daina Trout
When did you launch Health-Ade Kombucha?
We launched in the Brentwood Farmers’ Market in March 2012.
In one sentence, tell us why you started Health-Ade.
I wanted to make my mark on the world by building a career and company on my terms, in a way that made me proud.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
More time than I had to give and all my savings. We started with $2,000 and then gave everything we got back to the business. It wasn’t until we received investment that we started to pay ourselves two years later.
How did you get capital to start?
We launched in the farmers’ markets with our own (petty savings), got 1-2 year loans from family for some tough and tight spots in the middle, and then got our first private equity and F&F investment when we were on our way to doing about $500,000 in annual sales. Since, we’ve had to do several rounds [of investment] and also developed great relationships with certain banks (like Pacific Mercantile Bank or Trinity Bank) for lines of credit and debt. It would have been great to get financial support from banks earlier on, but that didn’t become available to us until about five years in.
What was your 2017 or 2018 revenue?
We don’t share revenues, but in 2017 we sold about 750,000 cases (three times growth) and in 2018 we doubled that. This year, we are continuing with our explosive growth again as the number one growth contributor to the category for the third year in a row!
How long did it take for the business to get profitable?
We still are not profitable, but are on track to be in the next year—a big feat for a food & bev brand to do within eight years, and one of the hardest things we’ve had to do.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
I’m not building this to sell; I’m building this to make a healthy company on my terms that I can be proud of (as was my intent from the start)—like getting to every fridge in America! That said, I think finding the right strategic partner in food and beverage can help us get there faster. But that doesn’t mean I want to exit—I think often people confuse the two and think that a sale means an exit for the founders. Right now, I am in my dream seat and plan to stay here no matter what happens. I definitely was born to be in this role!
How many hours a week do you work when you started versus now?
In the beginning, I gave everything I had to starting and building Health-Ade. This produced some real problems in my life, and I had to learn how to live a more balanced life (this wasn’t easy and took a while). Now, I work about 45-60 hours a week, try to keep my weekends as work free as possible, and take enough vacation, including one day every month to be solo with my son, to make me feel fully energized at work.
How many employees do you have?
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
- Profitable growth.
- The above will require a lot of change, so goal number two is to manage and lead through this change like a champ (aka—keep my culture strong!).
How Daina Balances the Hustle
You’re one of just two female CEOs amongst 350 companies in the kombucha industry. Tell us what hurdles you’ve come up against being in that position. How has it changed your perspective on building your company?
Of course, getting over my own “baggage” that I carried from childhood has been a necessary and repeat exercise I’ve had to undergo to be a great CEO, and perhaps many of these struggles are unique to being female (like learning how to cultivate the same level of confidence a man might have, everything else being the same). That aside, the industry is quite progressive, so I don’t see gender as a disadvantage when I think about being a CEO in kombucha or beverage.
The ONLY exception to this has been pregnancy and early motherhood—and I think this would be a theme for any woman in a top leadership role anywhere, not just kombucha. I have spent the last 1.5 years trying to both get pregnant/go through pregnancy AND be a CEO of a fast-growth business with 200+ employees and it has been a very steep struggle, obviously unique to being a woman. I am still noodling on how a company might evolve to better make real “space” for this cohort at the executive level, as it’s obvious that having gender diversity there is beneficial for all involved, and I don’t have it fully flushed out yet. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I don’t think a one-size-fits-all package works as well as a customized one, and it’s making me prioritize a revisit of our “three months off” maternity plan.
You’re pregnant with your second child, and have been talking online recently about your pending maternity leave, and the struggles facing mothers in leadership roles in their companies. Talk to us about what conversation you’d like to open up around women in the workplace.
I’d like women to begin exploring what it would really take to make them feel like they can be pregnant, have a baby, and be a good mother ALL THE WHILE being great at their job. At the very least, we’d get data on what a woman needs to feel motivated and happy both at home and at work, and companies can begin to figure out how and if they can meet these wishes. It may be more doable if we think outside the “one-size-fits-all maternity leave plan” box.
What will your maternity leave look like, and how would you like to see other companies follow your lead in what they offer?
I’m in this very unique spot as the CEO, the creator who shapes the maternity plan for my employees, a mother, AND pregnant. I’m kind of a like an observer, a guinea pig and a company all at the same time. So I’m trying not to apply too much structure here—I’m clearing my calendar for three months, BUT I’m going to try a few things in that time to see if it frees up some space to come back to work earlier (with no compromise to motherhood). I’ll report back, but I assume it won’t just be about “time off.” Remember, it’s taken me so many years to get to this spot in my career—I’m not sure 3 months off makes sense from that standpoint entirely either, so my hypothesis is that there is this middle ground no one has explored where we can flex into work earlier, with something (like covering child care) given in return.
You’ve also been through miscarriage, which is a more common occurrence than we often talk about. How did that impact your thoughts around work, time off, recovery and the like? What advice would you give to other women in your situation?
It’s a horrible thing to go through, and we commonly go through this alone because the pregnancy is still early on and no announcements have been made. Many people can take off work, at least, and tend to their emotional and physical needs. But leadership, founder and executive roles often cannot take off. This was my experience, when I had to suffer through two weeks of a miscarriage while going to work and leading important and taxing investor meetings.
This was really hard. And I don’t really have advice here. I do think being open enough to share my experience with others is important (at least) so people don’t feel alone. I think feeling like you’re not alone is a huge part of having support to move through something difficult, even if it doesn’t change the outcome.
You’re very acutely balancing family and career—what gives? What do you let fall by the wayside in order to maintain the give and take you and your family need (i.e. some people have to sleep 8 hours a night, but will give up working out; others need that one-hour workout to think, but can sacrifice alone time)?
This has been a painful journey for me to figure this out. I have a few steps to follow that I’ll share:
- Accept fully that you cannot do it all—there is no such thing as super woman and you will have to let some things go to make space.
- Define who you really want to be and how you want to be remembered. For me, I have five roles really important to me, and it’s not just being a CEO. I also want to be a good mom, a good wife, have enough energy to be my joyous self and be a good friend.
- Manage your expectations. There is no way you will be good at all of these things every single day, but every week you have a shot and certainly every month you can be pretty darn good at achieving a balance if you’re proactive and present.
- Begin designing your life so you can make sure every month has enough to make you happy in all your buckets. You can’t just wing it, feed only “being a good CEO,” or be a victim to your kid’s schedule. So you have to build in time and boundaries for all your “buckets.” This also means removing things from your plate that aren’t mission critical. For example, I love to cook and I love to look good. BUT, with all that’s on my plate it’s just not going to be the chapter where I also get dinner on the table for the family or am the fittest I’ve been in my life. So, I’m comfortable with being as fit as it takes for me to be my joyous self (aka two workouts a week or a daily walk) and order in. I’m okay with being remembered as having taken that compromise, especially if it means I’m having my weekly date nights, my sacred weekend family time and my monthly massages.
- Read the book Your Life By Design. It changed my life!
On a totally different note, I know you started Health-Ade because of your husband’s hair loss. I love the story—can you share with us why you think that worked, and why it became so important to bring your formula to market once you knew how it worked?
We thought we were starting a hair loss prevention or cosmetic company because the “culture” is sometimes used to make kombucha is used in the world as a mask on the head to regrow hair. To make the cultures, we had to make a ton of kombucha, even though we weren’t initially interested in the liquid kombucha itself. In an unexpected turn of events, we had an opportunity to sell at a local farmers’ market, but we weren’t ready with the hair loss stuff. We made a quick pivot and decided to sell our accumulated kombucha instead (which was really good), and the rest is history.
I think the lesson in this story is that you can be successful at anything, even if it’s not your first plan, and saying YES, leaning in before you’re ready, and figuring it out as you go might just get you the success you were looking for all along!
Daina’s Advice to Entrepreneurs
What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had? What do you want to leave our readers with?
I believe entrepreneurs, besides having great vision, have to have some makeup of experience, expertise, grit and/or capital. Our story is one where we had nothing but hard work available to us, and that was enough. Everyone can hustle, so don’t feel like you’re missing something if you don’t have it all. Our story was founded on pure grit.
What failure have you learned most from? How did you overcome it?
I failed at trying to be too many things, all at once, too many times. I read the book Your Life By Design and learned to prioritize what’s important to me. I then began to succeed at life!
What is your #1 piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Follow your gut!
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.