Karen Danudjaja: Founder & CEO of Blume

Episode 550

Karen Danudjaja, Founder and CEO of Blume, shares all about how this brand is quickly rising in the world of functional beverages. Starting in coffee shops and quickly expanding into retail and direct-to-consumer markets over the past six years, Blume has redefined café favorites by infusing them with the magic of superfoods. Karen shares what she has learned in the journey, more about Blume and what is next for the brand. You are going to love this episode and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Now on the #TheKaraGoldinShow.

Resources from
this episode:


Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara Goldin show today, we’re super excited to have Karen Danudjaja, I did it. Founder and CEO of Blume, join us today. So she’s coming from a background and commercial reality, or real estate, I should say. And we’re coffee meetings are the norm. And that’s where Karen noticed how the traditional espresso and syrup based drinks I am 100% with you on this, that it’s just like, kind of creepy, and and not so good for you stuff that is affecting so many people’s health. I guess I read that that’s kind of where this all started for you as well. But so I can’t wait to hear more of the background story for sure. But Blume is really her vision to create a product that not only tasted great, but also offered real nutritional and health benefits. And starting in coffee shops and quickly expanding into retail and of course direct to consumer over the past six years. And they’re based in Vancouver, Canada. Yeah, Canada. And yes, exactly. And so, so excited to speak with you more about your journey and building Blume and everything that you have going on as well. So I’ll leave it at that. But so excited to have you here. Welcome.

Karen Danudjaja 2:12
Thank you what an intro. I’m so excited to be here. I followed the plan for a while and can’t wait to get into it and tell you a little bit more about the story.

Kara Goldin 2:21
That’s awesome. So tell us a bit about you. I gave everybody kind of a preview. It’s not like you grew up in the superfoods industry or, or even the beverage industry. You were living in a whole other world. And so tell us the backstory on this and how did you decide to pull the trigger and actually go and start Blume?

Karen Danudjaja 2:43
Yeah, I mean, in a lot of ways I was the completely wrong person to start Blume, I grew up in, you know, a small town and Ontario a meat and potatoes kind of family. And I ended up moving out to Vancouver to go to business school and I thought I’d be an accountant, to be honest, Kara, like I was finding like, you know, find that ladder climb, like find something in a climb. And I was really like the idea of starting my own company and doing something and superfoods like there was no basis for that at all at that time in my life. But when I graduated, I got into commercial real estate and like you mentioned, it’s a really relationship focused industry. So is having five coffees a day and you know, corporate life is so much about, you know, the grind, how much coffee Are you drinking, like, almost like a point of pride. It was like people’s personalities. And I just felt the impact of it. Caffeine. Although coffee has a lot of great benefits too. And I’m really not anti coffee Despite starting Blume, it can be a stimulant for like anxiety can upset digestion and disturbed sleep. And there’s so many different reasons that people manage caffeine. And I love the setting of the cafe, I love the experience of a cafe and how they were these hearts of neighborhoods. But really, I felt there was this big disconnect between why you go to a place like that and what they were serving you. So an example would be if you order a pumpkin spice latte, there’s maybe 20 Different ingredients, many of them you can’t read, some of them don’t even have pumpkin in them, which is sort of ironic. And so the idea was to find a middle ground to find something that was delicious, that satisfy that itch that was special enough to be served to you and that one in a cafe you loved your corner shop and still had the functional ingredients that we’re looking for as a modern consumer. And so, at this point in my life, I really embarked on my own journey of wellness and not being a nutritionist or a dietitian or coming from that background. I found the industry really expensive I found it really convoluted where it was like a handful of capsules was sort of the the ritual that they wanted you to develop For that the industry was based around, there was no color, there was no life, there was no flavor and excitement in those rituals. And so Blume was really my answer to that it was an introduction to superfoods. It was a way to get the experience that I really wanted while still getting the benefits that are typically reserved to those supplement aisles. And so yeah, Blumein has been around now for six years, we’re going on our seventh year, which is wild. And we’re now available in about 4000 doors, including target Whole Foods, sprouts, and many more so very excited with the trajectory it has right now. That’s

Kara Goldin 5:37
awesome. And so you started out when you decided to create this product? Where, like, how did you actually figure out the packaging? You didn’t come from this industry? How did you figure out distribution where you should actually show up all of those things?

Karen Danudjaja 5:55
I like you said I had no background in it. One thing I would say about entrepreneurs and founders is that they’re so willing to answer a question. So I would just take coffee meetings with anybody who had talked to me, or, and so a lot of it was trial and error, trying to find things out on on the fly. But Blume started really in specialty shops. So we’re just doing our big push into natural and grocery distribution now. But where we started was independent stores, specialty gift stores, cafes. And that’s where we really got to refine the product connect a little closer to our end consumer learn what their real pain points were. And because of that, you know, not because of any like genius of mine, or special business plan, but really out of luck, we were able to refine the product so much faster, because we were closer to her and consumer. And so it’s really happened super organically from there, our customers are shopping in Target, they asked for us to be in a store like that. So it was easier for us to pick, pick us up. And that’s where we moved next. So all of the learnings that we’ve had been like trial and error asking questions on the go, and nothing in my commercial real estate background really prepared me for the world of CPG.

Kara Goldin 7:14
So what was your first location, then that you actually got the product into? I think it’s something that is very scary, right for people when they’re just starting out and trying to have that first buyer meeting. And, you know, I think everybody wants to assume that it all goes perfectly right? That it’s that, you know, when they look at you, you’re down in over 4000 stores, you’re, you know, you’re off to the races, you’re ahead of so many others that that are out there, but I’m sure there were some nose, there were some, why would we need this? All of those kind of answers. But do you can you sort of take us through that, that that first meeting that you know, you showed up and here you have Blume with you, you’re all excited, you know, you’re hopeful. And what what happened.

Karen Danudjaja 8:05
So our first store, I remember and we’re still in there today, it’s a store called Victoria’s Health here in Vancouver. And it’s a part supplement store and smoothie bar. And so it was on my way to work. So I would walk by the smoothie shop almost every day on my way to work. And sometimes I would stop in and there was like a smoothie that I love to get and I would see the same owner all the time. So Victoria’s health is a chain here in Vancouver, but it’s independently operated each of the locations. And so one of the times that I went in there, I was sort of like thinking about Blume as a concept and thinking it could be a solution. And I just literally asked the owner it wasn’t like a buyer meeting setup. It wasn’t like this formal thing. It was, hey, like I have this idea for a product, what do you think? And he said that he had been looking for something similar, like it’s specifically what I asked about was our first product of the Tumeric latte. It’s like a golden milk powder. And it was like our, it’s our first SKU that we launched and he was looking to add golden milk to the menu like that was like kind of the time that they were having that research so that they were becoming really popular. And so I was just like, I’ll do that for you. Like I’ll make it for you and he was our first customer so from that day to when we actually delivered the first product it was maybe like two months and I’m sure we did a lot of things not right in those in that period but I know like the first batch was literally us blending it and in a commercial kitchen that we rented and buying all the ingredients and like this really unique way and handling bling bags, but he was our first customer and and then from there I just became so Kara became so obsessed with it. It was like every moment outside of my actual job. I was I’m, like obsessed with sending out samples and asking for feedback and going to little markets. And you know that expression where people say that if it if you love it, it doesn’t feel like work. Like I just was so obsessed with Blume. And it became, you know, by the end of that year, maybe we were in 100, independents that were kind of me reaching out and bringing out samples and whipping it up as I went there. And after a year of doing it, as a side hustle, I decided that there was enough there for me to feel really good about going all in on it.

Kara Goldin 10:32
So when you first started, you were there wasn’t a giant team behind you, you were hustling and getting you’re doing everything, I’m sure how is the product changed since that first, when when you were just getting into that first location, how have you know made it better, whether it’s inside the package, outside the package, all of those things,

Karen Danudjaja 11:01
almost everything has changed honestly, like conceptually, from the beginning, because it happened. You know, it was a product I was making for myself that I was interested in that I brought to this cafe, like it wasn’t this perfect business plan. It happened it’s been like happening and changing with consumer feedback over time. So you know, now, we use plastic neutral packaging. Now it’s 100%. Organic. Now, many of the ingredients we direct source from from small cooperative farms. Now they’re, you know, blended really differently. It’s a finer mill size to improve the experience. The original concept actually wasn’t necessarily like a lineup of different superfood lattes, but something really based around tumeric. And that’s changed too. And all of that is kind of you know, we have a big focus on direct to consumer at Blume, one of the most amazing advantages of it is like the ability to survey customers directly get that feedback so quickly and review so quickly versus through retailer where there’s like this really big disconnect. And one of our one of our realizations is this familiar flavor approach, you know, using pumpkin spice using salted caramel using flavors that people understand versus, and the experience being the key focus versus individual product attributes, which is really how it had been done previously made such a big difference and how easily consumers could understand the product and enjoy it. And so and just opened up the market for superfoods. So instead of targeting a really narrow customer who is interested in a specific ingredient, you’re trying to find a customer looking for better health, easy lifestyle choices that they could make to improve their overall health. And so we really think about, you know, now we have these guardrails of what Blume has to be, and we’re really clear in that, but we think of how we approach that very iteratively with our customer, and we always want to be learning and adapting to actually solve their pain points and what they need as a customer.

Kara Goldin 13:10
So the super foods category has, has really heated up, right. And that’s not the only thing that you’re doing. And definitely, like you said, the product started in one place and has grown into other things. Have you think about the product as it had it? How do you differentiate it for the consumer, when the consumer is thinking about Blume? How do you really say, well, that’s not a store? We’re a lot more than that. And here’s why. I mean, how do you think about it?

Karen Danudjaja 13:45
Well, I think the key thing is that we start with flavor and the experience, whereas a lot of things that you have in the supplement aisle or the wellness aisle are more function first or ingredient driven. And so not that that’s a bad thing, but I think just like to your point, or to what we were talking about earlier, it’s limiting. So an example would be like my mom, my mom would never in her life have a mushroom tea elixir. You know, it’s it just doesn’t sound good. And it’s too foreign for her. And it’s not necessarily something that she can imagine enjoying or even trying. So we have mushrooms and adaptogens and our blends, but they’re caramel. It’s like it’s hot chocolates that infuse them. And the idea is like we really want to be the door into super foods, the introduction, make it really friendly, make it really accessible. And I think that positioning of color light copy showing all shapes and sizes, really making it an inclusive community and space for wellness is really different than what’s out there right now. Often what we see is this vision of perfection, you know, and the reality is that people are trying to do trying to find and easy solutions to incorporate into their lives. And we want to show a really holistic view of what wellness is today. I

Kara Goldin 15:07
love that explanation. So, so you’ve gained a strong following totally makes sense. Your your product tastes great. And but a really strong following of millennial customers, everybody that I’ve talked to you, especially if they’ve this is their first startup will say like, how do I afford marketing? How do I get the word out about what I’m doing? And why I feel like this product this company has a has permission to be, but what what would you say to that? Like? Like, how do you get the word out about your product?

Karen Danudjaja 15:46
I personally, you know, you know, Blume was bootstrapped for the first five years, I think that there are no, there’s no cheats, like it takes time, you have to develop real relationships with customers and be in it for the long haul. I think a lot of startups that come out think that they’re going to be like, instantly having national distribution, and instantly having relationships with the top influencers and instantly, you know, in the hands of celebrities, and, you know, maybe there are stories like that, but there are a lot more stories where they’re slow builds, and it takes time. And and we have really taken that approach where one customer that really speaks highly of you and spreads the word is so much more powerful than an influencer, that you’ve, you know, paid to have a five second story on the product benefits. And so that it’s it is an investment. And it does take time, but we think that it builds, and it compounds over time, and we’re starting to feel that momentum generate right now. So I think that it’s true, it’s expensive to get the word out about your brand. But if it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it. And that’s like the choice you make as a founder starting up a new brand with a new vision. And the idea is that every little bit compounds eventually and that flywheel will get going eventually. And I think really investing in real relationships with your customer, and in a slow and true way is the most effective in the long

Kara Goldin 17:18
run. Yeah, definitely. So let’s talk about Super belly. That’s an extension of, of blue Blume. So but let’s talk about sort of how that what is it? And how did that come to be?

Karen Danudjaja 17:31
So super bellies got building hydration. So it’s got a probiotic prebiotics, apple cider vinegar, as well as organic superfoods in it. And it’s just a really hydrating being super delicious drink, very drinkable. And it’s really different than our core line. So our core line is, you know, coffee alternatives and super belly is really the first water elixir or water hydration blend that we’ve ever done. And the reception to it has been incredible. Like we’ve we just launched it about two months ago. And it’s totally exceeded all our expectations. And we’re seeing incredible repeat rates and reviews for the product. And I think how we launched it is really what sets it apart. Super belly was in response to we put out a survey to our customers asking, Hey, what do you want to see from us? And what are your top pain points? What are the flavors you want. And really, our customers chose 80% of super belly other than the design of the package. They really chose like core ingredients, the price point that we should set it at the pain points, we really wanted to go after the positioning of it through their surveys. And so we’re really proud of it. We felt like the brand had the license to go to new areas. And we wanted to solve a new pain point for our customers so they can start stacking their rituals with us. And super bellies kind of our answer to that.

Kara Goldin 18:59
That’s awesome. And what is the top SKU for Super belly? Strawberry

Karen Danudjaja 19:05
hibiscus, which it deserves. That’s my favorite, too.

Kara Goldin 19:08
It’s awesome. So you just add it to water or? Yeah, that’s, that’s amazing. And what do you think about the how it relates to Blume? Two? Do you think that there’s I mean, are they very, very separate brands? Will they remain separate brands? I think that that’s like another question that I think I hear from so many entrepreneurs. It’s like, when you’ve got two brands within an overall brand and you’re still they’re both taking off. I mean, do they merge? How do you different is it the same consumer? All of those things? I’m sure you’ve thought about?

Karen Danudjaja 19:48
Yeah, I think of them under the same brand super bellies more like the product identifier, the product name, the way I think about it is by Blume for so long with cafe latte has done better like really the reinvention of that of the syrup based drinks. And that we’ve grown up we’ve, we’ve like, adapted our vision, we’ve grown the vision to what we can be. And we really want to be the introduction to super foods and kind of rituals and to create a safe space where people can be all shapes and sizes, and it’s more inclusive. And it’s a place where you can actually enjoy wellness with some levity versus it being so serious. And under that adapted, you know, mission and, and grown vision, we can have different product lines. And so I really felt that because of the strength of the community and the momentum that the lattes had given us, we had the license to reinvent ourselves and, and innovate and new categories. And so I think that they’re both they both seamlessly fit under the Blume mission and vision. And that will continue to create new products under that brand name.

Kara Goldin 21:04
So, Blume is a certified B Corp. How did you make that decision that that was really important for you and your company to invest in and not just financially invest in, but also mentally invest in making sure that you guys were a B Corp, we’re

Karen Danudjaja 21:20
actually not a B Corp, we’re plastic neutral. So we were an organization called Clean hub, which allows us to offset the plastic used in our supply chain. And that was really important to us, because like I’m living here in BC, surrounded by the ocean and understand that it’s something that we need to protect. And unfortunately, you know, compostable materials, have some limitations for our specific goods, you know, they really require it’s it’s very specific goods that fit into compostable in terms of like, shelf life and protecting the ingredients and protecting the experience. So one day, we hope we’ll be able to move to compostable when the technology is there, but for right now we’re plastic neutral.

Kara Goldin 22:08
Yeah, it’s so interesting, because there are certain there definitely are certain categories. And for some reason, through my research, it said that it was certified B Corp and and hint for whatever it’s worth, we haven’t been able to get a B Corp certified either. But it was interesting because B Corp actually came after we had actually taken investment. And so when you start it, so there’s different components of that, that don’t allow you to and again, we had done that before actually B Corp came about. So there’s different intricacies that are super, super complicated. So but it’s great to hear that you guys are you found that initiative, because I think that that totally makes a ton of sense. So when you think about start launching what you’ve done, I mean, it’s you mentioned this before, about, you know, there’s no incredible businesses that are overnight successes maybe you haven’t heard of, of certain businesses, and then you find out I remember meeting the vitamin water founders ages ago. And by the time I had met them, they had they were like, 12 years old, right? I had never, you know, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, what I’ve only I thought I was a new adopter and had, maybe they were a year old. But when you think about how long businesses take to really get the traction, are you proud of what you’ve accomplished? I mean, do you feel like why is this taking so long? I mean, what what’s sort of your feelings around the company overall? Oh,

Karen Danudjaja 23:55
I mean, it’s so easy to compare yourself to others to write. And I think the stories that we see are these like, overnight success stories, or at least they look like them to us. And I try really hard to stay out of comparison and find a way where, you know, the obstacles, the journey that were like enjoying the ride and finding some joy in that every day. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s been I think of it as my biggest growth opportunity. Personally, you know, I had never led a team before I I’m learning a whole new industry and it’s really pushing me in a bunch of different ways to be adaptive myself. And I’m, of course like I There are moments where I wish it could go faster, but I think I’m really trying to spend time enjoying the journey and appreciating for it for what it is. And right now. I’m I think we’re like at this really incredible point where we’ve got a new product line that really seems to have have that product market fit and really capturing the interest of our audience? And we’ve got, you know, the capital, the motivation, the energy to go after it. And so we’re hoping to seize on that moment. But yeah, overall, extremely proud of the past six years and really looking forward to the next six. So

Kara Goldin 25:19
you briefly mentioned fundraising, and that you had done your bootstrapped it initially, and then you went out and raised money. How did you think about fundraising? Like, how much you needed versus how much you? You know, because it’s always this? Like, should I go out and raise a ton of money? Should I? Do I need this in order to grow? I mean, how did you think about it? Overall?

Karen Danudjaja 25:45
Yeah, I never really thought that I would be that founder that fundraisers to be honest, you know, I’m, obviously a woman, Asian women, I had heard how difficult it was for women to raise and I had sort of, like, tucked myself into a box that it wouldn’t be possible. But Blume like continued to scale with, like, we were bootstrapped for the first for the first five years, and we got to kind of like that $7 million run rate that way, and I was starting to say no to things I was because we couldn’t afford it, we just like didn’t have the capital to have the inventory to make bets to do the marketing to, to support that continued growth. And I never want to be in the way of the business. You know, the idea is, I’m supposed to be the catalyst, I’m supposed to be guiding it into the next and I was letting my own limiting beliefs and my own fears start to limit the business because we didn’t have access to enough capital. And in the end, we had, we raised on a safe, we raised two and a half million dollars. And we did it in about five weeks. And so we had a really incredible fundraising experience. And so the way that I thought about it at the time was that, you know, I don’t really, the way that I’m approaching Blume isn’t that it needs to be a rocket ship. And, you know, be something tomorrow, that I’m in it for the long haul, I think that we’re building a category. And we’re pioneers of this coffee alternative set that’s still at its infancy. And that will take time. And so the capital is here to support innovation to sport building a team, but not to accelerate us to a place that the consumer isn’t ready for. And so I’m taking a slow and steady approach where, you know, it’s still double digit growth every year. And there’s still really exciting things, but that I don’t want to get on a fundraising wheel personally. And that’s like a choice I’m making as a founder. And at least that’s how I feel today. So yeah, I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that? Kara? Like, how do you think about fundraising and curious,

Kara Goldin 27:50
I think there’s always have, you know, this cushion in there, if you choose to fundraise that, I think it’s super important. But I also think that your investors, I think that, so often I hear entrepreneurs, they just get so tired, right through the fundraising process, and then they’re like, Okay, somebody’s going to write me a check. And then it’s going to be over. And that’s just the beginning. Right? So it really as the beginning, because if you’ve got to deal with somebody in your house, so to speak, that you’ve just got to be really careful about who they are and, and really look for the people that understand your mission, that understand what you are really trying to do. So if for example, I’ll just pick this one out of the hat. I mean, let’s just say, for example, that you had somebody come in, who is trying to say that you should put Tumeric in your product, and you’ve actually decided you’ve done the research, you’ve looked around, and you know, you’re operating and directing the company, and you’ve got an investor who’s put a big check into the company and says, you know, no, no, tumeric is really where it’s at. You don’t want an investor directing your company, right, and saying, I mean, they can weigh in, right, I’m sure, you know, consumers can weigh in directors, but there’s so often people think that they know better. And, frankly, I think there’s a lot of people who are investing in companies that should probably be operators, and they should go start their own company. But instead, I think so many of them come in and they think that, Oh, here’s an idea. They’re, you know, invest in this and then potentially, frankly, try and, you know, come in and, and maybe

Karen Danudjaja 29:48
it’s like really hard to vet that and advancing when you’re raising there’s such a strange power dynamic, right? Like you’re you’re raising money you’re trying to you’re trying to sell yourself you’re trying to sell you your vision. And I think it’s really important that founders who are raising realize that it is both ways, you’re also presenting an opportunity. And you can say no to an investor to who is in a culture fit. And it’s almost never thought of that way. It’s so much about like trying to convince people to come in versus presenting versus you setting some guardrails about who, who should? Or because their long term partnerships, right, like, it’s totally, you’re gonna have these people in your inbox for the next 10 years. So, yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting dynamics for raising I think, especially for women.

Kara Goldin 30:36
Yeah, I think that’s so true. And, and I think the bigger the name of these funds, and the more ego that’s involved, I think that the more you have to be leery of some of these people. So it’s, it’s definitely, it’s scary, because I think so many people think I don’t even care, I just have so many opportunities, I’m just going to take a check. And, and I’ve seen this for over and over and over again, in every industry, not just in the food and beverage industry. It’s it’s, you know, it’s really, really interesting. So, so that’s what I would say about fundraising. So and, you know, unfortunately, if you raise a ton of money, then, you know, it’s I don’t know, maybe there’s, there’s a feeling of having a bigger say, in the business to versus actually having those people just go start their own. The problem is, is that they don’t necessarily have the courage to kind of do what you’ve done, right? To be the sole proprietor and go and get it in just smoothie stores, they, you know, that’s for somebody else to do. They just want to come in when they’re seeing success. But I think like, that’s the other thing. Find out what, you know, what is their temperature from other founders, especially who have dealt with them? When the business you’re not going well, right? When there’s COVID When COVID hits, and, you know, everything’s happened. I mean, that was definitely, you know, eyes wide open for many, many founders. So for sure, well, I could talk to you for hours and hours. And I just love everything that you’re doing, Kiran. So thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom with us. And definitely, we’ll have all the info in the show notes. So everyone needs to learn and taste Blume and super belly. And thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom with us.

Karen Danudjaja 32:37
Thanks for having me, Kara. It’s been a real pleasure.

Kara Goldin 32:42
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and goodbye for now.