by Jenna Kutcher
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I love hearing the brand origin stories of Goal Digger guests. Each one has a unique catalyst moment, a little spark of an idea that fuels the creation of something amazing.
When Bella Lam made the switch to eating vegan and gluten-free, she was instantly faced with the major lack of offerings in the market for her dietary needs. A chocolate chip cookie that fit her needs was like a unicorn. So Bella thought, why not me? Why can’t I create something that’s clearly missing from the market? That’s the short version of the Coconut Whisk origin story, but I’ll let Bella tell you the whole thing.
Bella created Coconut Whisk, building the company alongside her personal brand. She was a student and a CEO, all at once, which came with its own set of learning curves and challenges, but she’s on the podcast to share her story of filling a need in the market, building a strong personal brand, and her advice for building community and connection with your customers.
Falling in Love
When Bella Lam began eating gluten-free and vegan to answer her own health struggles, she began to fall in love with the lifestyle. Veganism became important to her on many levels, and so she started an Instagram account and blog to document it.
“It was really just me, falling in love with plant-based eating and veganism, and sharing it online to anyone who would listen,” Bella explained.
Two years into her new vegan and gluten-free lifestyle, Bella had an idea come to her in the shower (where all great ideas come from!) She loved baking but when she switched to gluten-free and vegan, she realized she didn’t have many options for baking at home unless it was completely from scratch.
As a fan of Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Cooking, Bella had the idea to create her own baking mixes line that fit her dietary needs. That’s how Coconut Whisk was born.
Everything is Progress
Bella holds one mantra close through all of her entrepreneurial endeavors. “Absolutely everything is progress.” And that was especially true in the earliest stages of Coconut Whisk.
“It really helped in the beginning, because when we started I knew that I didn’t know anything. And I knew I was going to be a student and I was going to learn. The only way I could learn is if I’m open-minded and look for the answers,” she explained. “I had to understand that it’s not going to be clear in the beginning, but what I can do is focus on progress. Every little thing I do is going to be progress.”
When she launched the business, she was also in a health-related internship. That was her 9 to 5, and then she worked on her business after that. But the balancing act was tough. “I was feeling down. I really just wanted to work on my business,” Bella shared.
What mindset shifted when she began to look at the internship as an opportunity to learn from something challenging and appreciate the opportunity to grow.
It Was Not Perfect
Together with her life and business partner, Bella started creating the baking mixes by hand. They measured ingredients tablespoon by tablespoon into packages. They printed labels on printer paper and hand-wrote notes to customers.
“Looking back on the earliest days, they’re cringeworthy!” Bella laughed.
But they’d finish a day’s work with 10 packages to show for it and knew that it was a good day of work. “I remember the first time we had a customer,” she continued, “A couple came right away and bought one of each mix. That’ll forever be with me.”
Personal Brand to Business
When Bella started her Instagram account and blog to share about her dietary struggles and the choices she was making to manage those struggles, she felt like she was building a community of people who were also invested in making dietary decisions to better their health and overall lives.
Launching a product to them meant first understanding exactly who she was talking to and how to communicate her new message that she had a product to offer. Bella networked and learned from people in her space, and she listened to podcasts (like this one — what an honor!) to learn more about communicating sales messaging to your audience.
Entering the CPG Space
We don’t often get an opportunity to talk about consumer packaged goods on the show, because so much of what I know and cover is the online and service based business space. But Bella has forged her way through the CPG journey with her business partner, and actually, that’s what she credits to their success.
“Having a partner is where it’s at,” Bella laughed. Bella knew that her strengths would be on the strategic and branding side, where her business partner was more equipped to handle the budget and finances and operations aspects.
Launching a product-based business with a partner can ensure that you get to focus on and develop the things you know best, while someone else is keeping your business on track with spending and earnings.
Bella also recommends actively asking for feedback from your customers — Instagram polls, email surveys, conversations on social media. Bella says it doesn’t have to be a big, formal database. “It’s just me, putting it into a Google Doc Sheet,” she explained.
As a lean team and a smaller business right now, it gives the Coconut Whisk brand the ability to try fun new products and experiment based on that customer feedback. What could that look like for you? If you’re a product-based business, when was the last time you started a conversation with a customer to find out what they want more of from you?
More from this Episode
Bella talks about the exciting things on the horizon for Coconut Whisk (including auditions for Shark Tank!) and what changes COVID-19 brought to the Coconut Whisk business. Bella also shares how she hypes herself up on social media to get people onboard with what she’s doing.
You’re going to want to hear about all the delicious things Bella has in the works and the lessons she’s learned from launching her own CPG business. Hit play on the episode above and don’t forget to take a peek at all of the incredible mixes Coconut Whisk offers.