Darby Jackson on Unstoppable with Kara GoldinI’m so excited to have Darby Jackson, wellness entrepreneur and co-founder of Après plant-based protein shakes, with me on today’s show.

After Darby stopped playing water polo for UC Berkeley, she grew a business as a personal trainer and a health coach. Her clients often asked her, “what should I eat after I workout?”.

Darby struggled to answer that question until she met Sonny McCracken. Together they created Après, a beverage company that makes clean protein shakes with high-quality ingredients.

On today’s show, Darby talks about her wellness entrepreneurship career, what she has learned about fundraising and pitching to investors, how Après has positioned itself in the competitive protein industry and much more.

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

Unstoppable with Kara Goldin on Apple Podcasts

“It started off being inspired by a need for women post-workout. The product has since evolved into being something that speaks to the modern consumer post-workout.”- Darby Jackson

Show Notes:

  • How to have more body love
  • What is Après
  • How to start a wellness business
  • What to eat post workout
  • How to market yourself
  • How to raise capital
  • Why you should surround yourself with successful people

“What’s going on in your life? What are you stressed about? How are your relationships? That’s what really makes you healthy.” – Darby Jackson

Links Mentioned:

  • Connect with Darby Jackson:

Facebook | Instagram | Après

“We’re building a team and in all of the important things that we’re doing throughout our day – I have to show up! I have to show up, and I have to be present, and I have to be focused and ready to provide a ton of energy to get this thing going.”- Darby Jackson

Transcript:

Kara Goldin: Hi, everybody. It’s Kara from Unstoppable. So excited to be here today with Darby Jackson from Après. Thank you so much for coming.

Darby Jackson: Thank you for having me.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. We’re here on Union Street, at our Hint offices, and Darby and I were just chatting about how she used to be on this street. So now where are you?

Darby Jackson: Now we’re in L.A.

Kara Goldin: Oh, wow.

Darby Jackson: Moved to L.A. about four months ago.

Kara Goldin: Okay. And how’s L.A.?

Darby Jackson: L.A.’s great. It’s so different from San Francisco. I grew up in Orange County, so it kind of feels like home, but I’ve been in the Bay Area for 10-plus years, so I still really miss it, but it makes a ton of sense for a business.

Kara Goldin: We’ll jump into that in a minute, San Francisco versus L.A., but I want to get back to … Tell us, for those of you who are not familiar with Après, I’d love to have Darby explain a little bit about what you’re doing.

Darby Jackson: Yes. So there’s a big, long story on how I got here, but just high-level, Après is a protein-based replenishment beverage. The thinking behind it is it’s the Muscle Milk for the modern consumer. Boutique fitness is growing, as we all know, and there’s nothing post-workout for this consumer that, one, hits on nutritionals that they feel comfortable ingesting, and two, that has a brand name that speaks to them.

Darby Jackson: So we spent a year and a half designing this product from the ground up to speak to the SoulCycle-riding, green juice drinking consumer.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. And you were an athlete?

Darby Jackson: I was. I was an athlete. Like I said, I grew up in Orange County playing water polo, and my intention growing up was, I was always laser-focused on going to the Olympics. I’m a workhorse by nature. I’m a Capricorn. That’s just in my blood.

Kara Goldin: So funny.

Darby Jackson: And I sacrificed so much growing up to focus on being in the Olympics. I didn’t go to my high school prom, I didn’t go to graduation. This was my dream. It was what I wanted to do. And so, playing in high school, got a full-ride scholarship to play at UC-Berkeley, one of the top two, three schools-

Kara Goldin: Amazing.

Darby Jackson: -in the country for water polo. It was amazing. I was really lucky. I was so passionate about what I was doing and was lucky enough to travel the world playing this sport, which I loved, but I got to this point halfway through college where I was so burned out. I wasn’t allowed to be in a sorority, I had no life, I never really dated. There were so many things I was missing out on, and I had this wake-up call moment where I thought, “I need to enjoy my life, and this is taking over, and I’m not sure this is the path that I want to be on anymore.”

Kara Goldin: That must have taken a ton of courage, though. Here you are, you’re on scholarship, right? I mean, what did that feel like? That’s so scary.

Darby Jackson: Rough. It was really rough. What really happened was a combination of things. I didn’t get along with my coach. I’m a pretty passive person, but I like to be heard, and he was … I want to put this delicately, but he wasn’t treating our team very well, and I felt like I was in a place to stand up and say something and do something about it. So myself and two other girls that were also on the U.S. National team, the three of us made a statement at the end of our sophomore year in college, and we quit, and we said, “We’re going to leave, and there’s no way that if the three of us leave, he doesn’t get fired.”

Darby Jackson: So we left, and we made this whole statement to the athletic board about how we wanted a new coach, and long story short, it ended up falling through. One girl transferred to another school, another girl went and played professionally in Australia, and I kind of went, “Well, I love Berkeley, I love water polo, my dream has always been to go to the Olympics, but I don’t think I want to transfer schools.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: So I ended up staying, and it stung. It was really hard, but I look back on that moment, and I am so grateful that that happened.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: Because, for one, I was able to meet my husband, which was fantastic, but two, it took me down this path that was quite dark to begin with, actually. So my freshman year of college, I was diagnosed with celiac. Made me really focus on fitness and wellness and how what I was putting in my body affected my athletic performance. After I stopped playing water polo, so I’m 5’11”. I was 185 pounds, just solid muscle, big girl. And all of a sudden I didn’t have an excuse to look that way anymore. I had joined a sorority. I didn’t have an excuse to be this big, strong girl, and I thought, “Wow, okay, this is the first time I’m actually realizing that I need to change my body.”

Darby Jackson: And it was a very negative thing for me at that point, and I fell into some really horrible eating patterns and thinking around my body and my body image. And that took a big toll on me, but where that led me, a couple years after college, was into a place where I found that I wasn’t the only one that was struggling with this kind of thing, that my girlfriends and so many other women around the world have disordered eating, are not confident in a bathing suit, think that they need to look a certain way, and it became my personal mission or my mantra, if you will, to fix the way that I thought about my body and then also try and change the stigma that’s out there around women needing to look a certain way.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: Drove me nuts. So I ended up, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition while I was working full-time out of college and started studying at night to become a health and wellness coach and then also a personal trainer. And what I really wanted to do was to work with women to help them repair their relationship with food and their body.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Darby Jackson: So it’s no longer about “I want you to drink kale juice all day and work out seven days a week.” That’s so unrealistic. It’s “All right. What’s going on in your life? What are you stressed about? How are your relationships? What’s going on at work?” And that’s what really makes you healthy. So I ended up basically started this business that I called Darby Jackson Wellness, and it started off as this really tiny thing, where I’d see a couple friends of friends before and after work and consult them on how to live healthier lives.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: And it ended up kind of blowing up. I think my method was really different and it was holistic and people saw a really big change.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s great. And were you personal training too, along with it, or not just the-

Darby Jackson: No, it was part of my program with them, so at some points I’d do some at-home personal training, but it was, I’d say, 85% focused on the lifestyle piece.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And so you’re doing Darby Jackson Wellness, and then you’re thinking, “Okay, I need this drink” that you decide to develop? What was the thought process that did that?

Darby Jackson: It’s a really interesting story. So I always knew … I started this fitness and wellness coaching company to really understand what the need was out there really from women. But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long-term. It’s really hard to scale something like that. I could only see so many clients during the day before I hit my wall. So I started experimenting with different ways to get my message and my philosophy out there. I had online programming, I started doing some television segments on KTV around fitness and wellness, healthy recipes. I loved that. I’ve always had this weird love for public speaking, which I feel like no one says, but I kind of always liked that.

Darby Jackson: Then I started doing some consulting for some fitness and wellness startups in San Francisco, and I was building programming for them. I was just testing the waters. I’m like, “What else can I do to get my message out there?”

Darby Jackson: And then one of the most serendipitous moments in my life. I got an email from a girl that had gone to college with me. I didn’t know her very well. She was a grade above me, but I was the health coach at MNT Studios here in Soma, and she worked out there, and she reached to me. She said, “Hey, I’ve been following your blog and your wellness. I think you have a fantastic voice. My boyfriend has an idea for a beverage. Will you meet him for coffee?” I was like, “All right. I’ll meet this random guy at Philz Coffee down the street, sure.”

Darby Jackson: So this was two and a half, almost three years ago now, actually, and went down the street, met Sonny, had no idea what to expect, and he said to me, “I think there’s an opportunity to make a protein drink that’s geared towards women. What do you think about that?” And I looked at him, and I said, “The number one question I get from all of my clients is ‘What do I have after I work out?’ And I don’t have a recommendation for them. Not the consumer that’s taking protein powder and water and shaking it up when they walk out of Equinox.”

Kara Goldin: Yep.

Darby Jackson: My husband used to always try and get me to do that, and I was like, “I don’t want to bulk up, but I don’t know what’s in that crap. No.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: It really resonated with me, so I said, “Hm. This is cool. Let me talk to some of my clients, let me talk to some of my personal training friends, studio owners. Let’s see what we’ve got here.” So I went back, talked to people, did a little bit more research, and we were both so aligned on the fact that there was nothing out there.

Darby Jackson: This was sort of the thing I’d been looking for, and it all came together when he brought this up. And I just thought, “Yes. There is a need for this.” And our backgrounds are so complementary, my cofounder Sonny and I. “This is exactly what we need to be doing.”

Darby Jackson: We spent a year and a half designing this product. It was really hard to make. We thought-

Kara Goldin: So can I back up a little bit?

Darby Jackson: Sure.

Kara Goldin: When you think of a women’s drink versus a men’s drink, what were the key things that you, above and beyond the way that it was actually being served? What you’re talking about is a two-step process, was how you had seen it before. This is ready-to-drink, right? But also, what are the key differences that you felt like wasn’t being activated in the market at that time?

Darby Jackson: Great question. Started off being inspired by a need for women post-workout. The product has since evolved to be something that speaks to the modern consumer post-workout, but what we found is that all of the ready-to-drink protein options on the market were packed with protein. It was just “How many grams of protein can I get into this tiny bottle?” And if you’re doing SoulCycle or spin or even [inaudible 00:10:50] a High Intensity Interval class, you don’t need 40 grams of protein after your workout.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: That’s for a bodybuilder or someone that’s trying to play football. We’re not trying to get football Max over here, we just don’t want to be starving and reach for the office cookies two hours later because we haven’t had anything to drink.

Kara Goldin: Yep.

Darby Jackson: So all of the options out there were packed with protein from a nutritional perspective. Then, in my opinion, drawing on my health coaching background, they were missing two really key elements. The first one was some kind of a healthy fat. I’m a big proponent of healthy fats, and I love organic virgin coconut oil. It keeps you fuller longer, and it helps optimize brain function. So I was really adamant about that being the key component of the ingredient list.

Darby Jackson: And then the third piece … so it was plant protein, MCTs, third piece being organic coconut water.

Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darby Jackson: Electrolytes. Me and you need that for post-workout hydration. So in that way, the beverage is completely different from anything else out there, from a nutritional perspective. And then, of course, sourcing the highest-quality ingredients that we could.

Darby Jackson: The other two things that make it really different, one is our positioning overall, in that we’re not trying to screen bulk and biceps. We’re also not trying to, and this is where this beverage and this branding is so in line with my personal message, in that protein brands, in my opinion, have gone wrong in the past in that they’ve been marketed as meal replacements or they’ve been marketed around “You’ll look a certain way when you drink this.” Or “You should have an eight-pack if you’re going to drink this.” I don’t agree. We use models of all different shapes and sizes. I advocate that you should drink this if you went for a walk around the block, if you just need a 3:00 snack, or if you finished a [inaudible 00:12:36] boot-camp class. So in that way, it was really different.

Darby Jackson: And then the third piece is shelf stability. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. You can throw it in your bag, which is perfect for this on-the-go consumer, but is what made this whole thing so hard to make.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, exactly. So you’re not using preservatives in the product?

Darby Jackson: No.

Kara Goldin: Wow.

Darby Jackson: It’s basically the way that the product is packaged. It’s in a tetra pack.

Kara Goldin: Oh, okay.

Darby Jackson: And it’s air-sealed tight. It’s flash-heated and then flash-cooled.

Kara Goldin: But once you open it, you can’t throw it-

Darby Jackson: That’s right.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: Once you open it, it needs to be refrigerated, and it needs to be consumed within three to five days.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. So you’re doing it in tetra, and then … so what is the shelf life on it?

Darby Jackson: 14 months.

Kara Goldin: Oh. So that’s … wow.

Darby Jackson: It’s great. And that was a really critical decision point for us. Originally, we were going to go in plastic. We were going to be cold chain, so it needed to be refrigerated.

Kara Goldin: Yep.

Darby Jackson: But it just didn’t fit the lifestyle of our consumer. And that changed everything that we were doing. It changed how much money we needed to raise, and it changed how we went to market with this product.

Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darby Jackson: Our original goal was to do what beverage companies normally do and scale through Whole Foods and go the retail route. But what we realized is that, with a shelf-stable product, we could build a direct-to-consumer brand and, even more importantly, with a direct-to-consumer brand, we could have a direct line of communication to our consumer.

Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darby Jackson: So the same way that we spent a year and a half designing this product to make it super right and building a relationship with our consumer, we could continue to do that after we launched. So perfect example is, Sonny and I got to Skype in live with five or six of our very, very first customers and watch them drink the product for the first time, live. You don’t get to do that when someone’s grabbing a product off of a grocery store shelf.

Darby Jackson: Doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually do that. We absolutely will, but it’s a great time for us to test and iterate and make sure that we’re building really strong relationships with the people that love this brand.

Kara Goldin: With customers. That’s awesome. And I think, especially for the direct-to-consumer business, I think having a strong social presence, which you do, that’s definitely helpful in building out that brand.

Darby Jackson: Yeah. We started our Instagram a year before we even launched, and it’s really gone through so many moods, if you will.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: When we were first starting, we thought that we’d speak a certain way and that we’d have certain images and then learned very quickly that that didn’t work and moved into something else. The last six months, I feel like we’ve really hit our stride. And we’ve realized, too, you touched on this being a protein drink for women. That was absolutely the original inspiration, and our consumer will continue to be mostly women, but my cofounder’s a guy. But there are so many guys that love this drink and see it as, it’s very elevated and chic packaging, and that speaks to them too.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. That’s awesome. So your plans are not to be available in the offline world? To gyms or …?

Darby Jackson: No.

Kara Goldin: No.

Darby Jackson: No. We are in 300-plus boutique fitness studios across the country.

Kara Goldin: Oh, okay, okay, okay.

Darby Jackson: That was a really cool move for us. It’s kind of like build-your-own-shelves instead of fight for shelf space, and it makes a ton of sense because that was exactly why the product … the product was designed for boutique fitness.

Kara Goldin: Yep.

Darby Jackson: So we found success there, and then we are starting to build out L.A.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: We want to make it really easy for this consumer to get this product and be everywhere they want us to be, we just want to do it in the right way and make sure that we continue to listen to what our customer wants.

Kara Goldin: So you moved from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. Was that the main reason, that you really wanted to build out the-

Darby Jackson: We wanted to build out L.A. Our flavor house is there, [inaudible 00:16:38]. Sonny and I had talked about this almost right when we first started, that we wanted to eventually be in L.A., we just didn’t know when we were going to do it, and it ended up being the right time.

Kara Goldin: So he moved there as well?

Darby Jackson: He did.

Kara Goldin: Yeah? Oh my god. That’s wild.

Darby Jackson: Yeah. We’re there, and we’ve since hired, and we’re building out a great team, and it’s just, the fitness and wellness scene is phenomenal in L.A., as we know.

Kara Goldin: I know.

Darby Jackson: So it’s been … I’ve only been there four months, and I miss San Francisco.

Kara Goldin: But you’re from there, though, too. I think jumping into that … It’s funny. I was telling an entrepreneur a couple of weeks ago that I feel like … they were actually moving their company from New York to Los Angeles, and I was saying that L.A. is such a big place. If you are growing your business, for example, and you say, “Okay, I’m going to hire on merchandiser,” for a merchandiser that you’re paying hourly to go from Orange County to Hollywood is-

Darby Jackson: Oh, wild.

Kara Goldin: Right? And then you’ve got-

Darby Jackson: It’s going to be four hours.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, and then you’ve got a store or a fitness gum that wants you to stay there, sampling, for three or four hours. All of a sudden you’re paying somebody six, seven hours because they choose to live in Orange County or vice versa or whatever. It was interesting. We’ve noticed … we’re nationwide with our product Hint, but we definitely, I feel like there’s so much white space in L.A. for us to still be in and New York, it’s just constant. I think it’s great that you’re focusing on that and really trying to nail it, especially for drink.

Darby Jackson: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: How did you find this company?

Darby Jackson: We did an initial friends and family round when we first started.

Kara Goldin: Cool.

Darby Jackson: So as you know, beverage is very capital-intensive. It’s even more capital-intensive when you’re trying to create a shelf-stable product. The minimums are huge. So we don’t get to just produce 1,000 bottles and see how they taste. We have to produce in 20, 40,000 units per flavor. For us, especially, when we first started, those were astronomical numbers.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, it’s crazy.

Darby Jackson: And you’ve got to nail it on the first try because otherwise you’re throwing away a ton of product. So we needed to fund that, so we raised friends and family round to start. Then we raised another seed round with a great venture team down in Santa Monica. And then we are fundraising again right now.

Kara Goldin: Cool.

Darby Jackson: I guess we’re always fundraising, but it’s been exciting. The business has really taken off and in a way that’s really fun. But fundraising, I’ve never fundraised before, and it is a wild ride. I’ll tell you a funny story about that.

Darby Jackson: My background, as I told you, I was a health coach, personal trainer before this, but actually before that, I was in marketing and PR, and even more so before that, I was a Spanish major at Berkeley. So I actually grew up speaking Spanish as my first language, reading and writing. I had to take English as a Second Language my freshman year at Berkeley. Not a joke, I did. It was pretty funny.

Kara Goldin: So your parents both speak-

Darby Jackson: My parents speak English, but I only spoke Spanish at school. So math, science, all of that was all in Spanish. So my intention, after I stopped playing water polo, was, I’m going to go to the Peace Corps. It’s what both my parents did. Going to go into the Peace Corps and speak Spanish and save the world.

Kara Goldin: That’s so cool.

Darby Jackson: It’s wild. Never did I expect to be a beverage entrepreneur. I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial. My dad’s an entrepreneur, and so is my mom. My father-in-law is also an entrepreneur, but never thought about beverage.

Darby Jackson: But it’s funny because that takes me to where we were two and a half years ago, trying to raise a fundraising round. I’ve never done that in my life. I can sell. I can sell to anyone. I think that’s a strong suit of mine, but this was a totally different ball game, and I’m so grateful and lucky I have an incredible cofounder that’s so smart and is really great at financing. He’d done some fundraising beforehand, so I was lucky that I got to lean on him for that.

Darby Jackson: But we went and pitched, as a pre-seed, so this is our friends and family round, this premier venture firm led by this woman. I’ve looked up to her for years and years. Went in and pitched her, and I fell flat on my face. I had no idea what I was doing, I couldn’t answer any of her questions, and I left and I went home and I just bawled. I was so upset with myself.

Darby Jackson: But what ended up happening is I sat down, and I wrote down all of her questions that she asked, and I wrote down what my answers would be. I made my husband practice with me. Since then, not that I haven’t fallen flat on my face again, I certainly have. But I’ve learned a lot on how to answer questions, especially when it comes to fundraising, how to be really big-picture, how to talk about our vision, and I’ve learned a lot. But fundraising is hard.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, it’s super hard.

Darby Jackson: Can be fun when you find the right partners.

Kara Goldin: I think the biggest challenge, too, is that I think a lot of people who are actually sitting in that seat, too, that unfortunately not many of them have been operators. So you’ve got some that are out there that are basically being the angels or private-equity firms or whatever, and they used to operate companies, but I think so often, there’s this “What are you doing? Why are you doing it?” I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them. I know them. Many of them, I frankly advise a lot of entrepreneurs not to talk to certain people because I think that, being an entrepreneur and growing your business is really, really hard, and you just don’t need that, right?

Kara Goldin: It’s one thing for somebody to say no to investing in you, but it’s another thing for people to just be nasty, right? And I’ve seen it over and over again, and unfortunately, I think it comes back to bite them, because when people actually go out and have a choice of who to raise money from, it may not be today, but down the road, you want to deal with people, right? And it really makes a difference.

Darby Jackson: Absolutely.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: Absolutely. We’re lucky. We have some really, really great partners right now that are helpful in that way.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Darby Jackson: But yeah, I mean, for the first year and a half, it was Sonny and I, and we gave up a lot. We didn’t pay ourselves, he cashed out his 401(k), I sold my house. We were all in.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, you guys really … yeah. So that’s how you really initially funded it. You got friends and family in there, but-

Darby Jackson: Friends and family, and then founder contributed capital, yeah.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, so a lot of people ask me that too, in terms of “How’d you get the money to do it?” That’s a whole … Unfortunately, if you don’t have access to credit cards, right, that you can max out, and if you believe you could actually see the cash coming back in later. I tell people, don’t screw up your credit if you really don’t think it’s going to happen, but I think it’s something that a lot of people just don’t know how to do it, how they ultimately can get the money to do it. Anyway, super cool that you did it. But it’s scary. It’s really scary, and it’s really hard, and as I tell people, being an entrepreneur, there’s a lot easier ways to make money. Right? It’s a lot, right? And it’s something, so you’ve got to love what you’re doing and be passionate about it and really believe in your product and still be having fun along the way.

Darby Jackson: Yeah. That personal mission alignment is so important.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: And you’ve got to be a little crazy too.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. But I also think your story, it’s such a great story. I’ve been a part of this group called EY. So Ernst and Young has a group, the Winning Women Group, and it’s funny. There’s a big chunk of the women that have been part of this program that are athletes. I was a gymnast growing up, and so-

Darby Jackson: Wow. That’s impressive.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. And so, not into college. I actually walked on in college, but all through high school I was a gymnast.

Darby Jackson: Amazing.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, so it’s … but anyway, you sort of learn what are the goals, and how do you achieve them? I think hearing you talk about even speaking to an investor, how many times was I in a meet that I didn’t think went the right way, and then I was forced by my coach to look back on exactly how could of this been better, right?

Darby Jackson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: And the first few times, it hurts, and then afterwards, it’s kind of like, “That sucked. That’s not exactly how I wanted it to go, but what’d I learn and how do I move forward?” Which is such great entrepreneurial training, right?

Darby Jackson: Oh, you get just beat up, and then you have to figure out how to pick yourself back up.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. But those are major life lessons that, I think, unless … I think female athletes, that’s what I see make great entrepreneurs. I would say 70% to 80% of the people have played some sort of sport at least through high school in the EY Winning Women Program. It’s so fascinating.

Darby Jackson: Teaches you how to really structure your time, too.

Kara Goldin: It does.

Darby Jackson: I remember in high school, having to be, “I have to do my homework,” and this is when I would do my homework. And my grades would fall when I wasn’t playing sports, because I didn’t have, when it was off season or something like that. I didn’t have that same structure, so I wasn’t forced to “All right, between 5 and 7, that is when I have to do my paper, and there’s no other time to do it, so I better do it now.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah. It’s so, so true, so I want to dig a little bit more into this. Sonny, you talked a little bit about your cofounder. Well, he kind of found you in this process.

Darby Jackson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: So did he come from CPG or beverage background?

Darby Jackson: Nope.

Kara Goldin: No. And what was his background?

Darby Jackson: He was a consultant at BCG.

Kara Goldin: Oh wow. Okay.

Darby Jackson: Yeah, super, super smart guy. He was also an athlete. Played football at Harvard and found me. So neither of us had had any background in beverage, which I think did really work to our advantage. We came at it from a totally different viewpoint, and we also had really lofty goals on what we wanted this to look like and what we wanted to be inside of it.

Darby Jackson: We were lucky enough to find someone, Sonny actually found him early on, a guy that had a ton of experience in beverage, and he really held our hand. He was “the adult in the room” when we were starting to build this and helped direct us to our flavor house. A flavor house, as you know, is where you go with a recipe and nutritional ingredients, and they help you make this commercially viable. But that process was really difficult because we were adamant about “These are the nutritionals that we want, these are the ingredients that we want, and we’re not willing to flex on this whatsoever, so we need to figure out a way to make it right.”

Darby Jackson: They kept telling us we were working on the edges of food science. They’d never made a beverage like this. We’re the cleanest shelf-stable protein beverage on the market.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Darby Jackson: And it’s cool, it’s really cool, but it took a really long time.

Kara Goldin: Took a long time.

Darby Jackson: The first couple batches we got back of this product … so they would send us the beverage to taste in glass bottles. The first couple we got were pudding. I turned this thing upside down, and it just oozed out. It was so gross. So it was very hard to work with the ingredients that we had in there.

Kara Goldin: And how many grams protein?

Darby Jackson: 14 grams of plant protein from organic pea, chia, hemp, and cacao.

Kara Goldin: Oh, that’s awesome.

Darby Jackson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: That’s very cool. And how many did you need in a day? What is the average? I guess it depends on how much you’re working out or what you’re doing, but what would you say, and I guess this varies, woman to man or whatever and depends if you’re a bodybuilder or what you want to do. But what would you say is a good amount that people should have per day?

Darby Jackson: Yeah. I think the biggest habitualization around the product is having it every time after you work out. That’s what we’re really building in and what we’re seeing that our consumers are doing, but there are so many other use cases for it. For example, we have a cold-brew coffee flavor. I have that almost every morning on my way into the office. That gives me my caffeine jumpstart. Sometimes I’ll have the vanilla flavor at night when I have a sweet tooth and I don’t want to dig into a chocolate or cookies, and I will quell that. I’ll use it as a base for smoothies sometimes. So there are all these different use cases.

Darby Jackson: It doesn’t have the consumption rate of a Hint, which you could have with every single meal and you’d have five to seven a day, so I think one a day, if you’re working out every day or as a snack, quick on-the-go breakfast.

Kara Goldin: You could have. And the sugar content?

Darby Jackson: 6 grams of sugar, from organic coconut sugar and then organic coconut water, and then it’s sweetened with organic [inaudible 00:29:57] extract.

Kara Goldin: Awesome. Very cool. You mentioned the cold brew. That’s so awesome.

Darby Jackson: I hate saying what my favorite flavor is. It’s like I’m choosing my favorite child, but cold brew’s my favorite.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s awesome. Now, are you going to Expo? And Expo West? You know about Expo West?

Darby Jackson: Yes, of course.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: I’ve gone the last two years, and every day I clock 10 to 12 miles. It’s so huge-

Kara Goldin: It’s crazy.

Darby Jackson: -so much walking. I love it. We’re not going to have a booth, but I’ll be there.

Kara Goldin: But you’re going to walk around?

Darby Jackson: Walk around.

Kara Goldin: Since you’re not too far, so you’re not exactly in Anaheim, but you’re not too far-

Darby Jackson: Not too far, no. It’s in our backyard now, so it makes it easier.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. That’s so awesome. Very, very cool. I feel like you guys are actually going to be going the route of grocery stores at some point. I don’t know. That’s sort of my gut.

Darby Jackson: We’re at Air 1, in L.A., right now, which is fantastic, and we’re doing really well there, which is very exciting. And then we are working on leading an initiative in L.A. to build out L.A., so we’re going to start going to grocery stores there.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: But not expanding outside of L.A. anytime soon. But yes, we will be in grocery in the future.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. I could totally see you guys doing that or going into the Costco route or something like that. It seems like that would really … Because I think the biggest challenges … I mean, we have a huge direct-to-consumer business as well, but I feel like the bigger you build that direct-to-consumer business, there’s always going to be consumers that want to pick up one or two bottles along the way, and they’re going to want to do it when they’re shopping. We even find our biggest customers that are actually buying online are still going into stores and buying our products.

Darby Jackson: I know. Totally. At least for us, the days of just being direct to consumer or just being retail, we need to be in both places.

Kara Goldin: Yep.

Darby Jackson: And then it’s staging it accordingly.

Kara Goldin: Along the way. Yeah. That’s super interesting. So the majority of your friends, do you have beverage executive friends, or are they … Do you feel like that community, have you figured it out yet?

Darby Jackson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Because I still haven’t figured it out.

Darby Jackson: So I’ve worked really hard in trying to build a community, especially of women, around me, because this is really hard. And whether they’re in beverage of CPG or just other female entrepreneurs that I can talk to about, complain this is really hard or “Hey, where do I get, how do I do insurance?” Just questions. How do I fundraise? And do you like this VC firm versus this one? When I was here in San Francisco, I actually started this little group of women. It was 8 to 10 of us, just female founders, and we’d get coffee or drinks once a month, once every other month and just chat and catch up. And we’ve been a support system for each other.

Darby Jackson: I’ve tried to do the same in L.A. I’m still new there, but there’s a great community of female founders there. I’m actually going on a female founders ski trip tomorrow, which would be really fun, up in Tahoe.

Kara Goldin: That’ll be fun.

Darby Jackson: I think it’s important to … I want to surround myself with people that are really smart so I can ask them questions and get help and also … I’ve never done this before and have that support system.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s super fun. But do you find yourself around more female founders, or do you find yourself around female founders in food and beverage?

Darby Jackson: More female founders. Food and beverage, not quite as many. And especially in beverage. Even in the VC/CPG world, a lot of guys.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, tons of guys.

Darby Jackson: So that’s been a challenge.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: Which, not to say there’s anything wrong with guys.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: But there aren’t a lot of women in that space.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, it’s absolutely true. There’s a few down there, but it’s … yeah, no, it’s absolutely true. I think I know what makes you unstoppable, but I’d love to hear from you. As you’re growing this, and I feel like you’re at a good trajectory where it’s really growing in the right direction. What do you think makes you unstoppable?

Darby Jackson: Yeah. I think my superpower and what makes me unstoppable is, I have a ton of grit and energy. To start with a beverage company, you are slinging drinks out of the back of your car, you’re working hours and hours on end, you’re making really quick decisions, smart decisions, you’re building a team. It takes a lot of work.

Darby Jackson: And the second piece of that is energy, and I am a big Brendon Burchard fan. Super smart guy. Saw him speak once at the Bulletproof Conference, and he said something that’s really resonated with me, that high performers, they don’t have energy, they create energy.

Kara Goldin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darby Jackson: And so I try and think about that and think about, as we’re building a team and all of the important things that we’re doing throughout our day, I have to show up. I have to show up, and I have to be present, and I have to be focused and ready to provide a ton of energy to get this thing going. So I do a lot around that, around centering myself, around making sure that I’m personally prepared to provide that energy that the team needs and not … which is a double-edge sword, kind of.

Kara Goldin: No, it’s hard.

Darby Jackson: It’s really hard, it’s really hard. But it takes a ton of tenacity, and I have that. I think I learned that through playing water polo. Water polo is a gritty sport. You’re up at five, you’re in the pool for six hours a day. I think that taught me that you’ve got to grind, and then you’ve got to show up.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. And be unstoppable.

Darby Jackson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: So, super cool. Well, great. Well, thank you so much, and we’re really excited. Where do people find you, so online?

Darby Jackson: Drinkapres.com, and “apres.” So it’s d-r-i-n-k-a-p-r-e-s.com or @drinkapres on Instagram.

Kara Goldin: Okay, awesome. And then do you have your own personal as well? Still? Okay.

Darby Jackson: My Instagram is just @darbyjackson.

Kara Goldin: Okay. Awesome.

Darby Jackson: You can find.

Kara Goldin: Yay. Super fun. All right, well, thanks so much, Darby. This was great.

Darby Jackson: Thank you. Super fun. I appreciate it.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Darby Jackson: It was great.