Katie Wilson: Co-Founder & CEO of BelliWelli

Episode 544

Katie Wilson, co-founder and CEO of BelliWelli, a dynamic wellness brand dedicated to reshaping the functional food industry with a focus on digestive health, shares her inspiring journey of starting a wellness brand focused on digestive health. Katie started the company after experiencing debilitating gut issues and realizing the lack of safe and delicious snacks on the market. With the support of her husband and a strong community on Facebook, she launched BelliWelli, later expanding beyond online and into retail including Target and Walmart. The company has recently launched a new line of powders that give consumers the fiber they need with a great taste.  We talk about the journey, the vision for BelliWelli and more.   is to be the trusted brand for gut health, offering delicious and science-backed products.  You don’t want to miss a minute of this motivational episode with so much to learn and be inspired by.  Now on this episode of #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 back to the Kara Goldin show. So excited to have my next guest with us. Katie Wilson, who is the co founder and CEO of BelliWelli, and if you aren’t familiar with BelliWelli, then you are going to get familiar with BelliWelli and be so inspired by her story. So it’s a dynamic wellness brand that’s reshaping the functional food industry with a focus on digestive health. Who doesn’t want that? Katie is on a mission to really dig in to this industry and fill a crucial gap in the $280 billion market by offering gluten free probiotic packed certified low FODMAP. Is it? Is that the correct? Yeah, so vegan snack bars. So, so good. She’s got incredible powders as well, which I just absolutely love coming from very humble beginnings in her kitchen to scaling and now available online as well as Target and Walmart. She’s just killing it. It’s such an inspiring story. So, so good to meet you. Katie Wilson. So welcome.

Katie Wilson 1:55
Thank you and I’m so excited to be talking to you. Favorite type of conversations to have so if so excited to dig in. I appreciate the intro it all sounds like things are going really really really well when you describe it and a lot is going really well with somebody so much behind the scenes. Right that that is breaking and shifting. So appreciate that intro

Kara Goldin 2:14
well. Absolutely. From the front, from the packaging to the actual product. I just absolutely love it. So what were you doing? Can you tell us a little bit about the backstory What were you doing before BelliWelli?

Katie Wilson 2:29
So I had the weirdest job ever. My favorite conversation starter and while BelliWelli’s my first love, this still remains a very close second. I was a professional matchmaker. And then I eventually went over to match group where I was the chief dating strategist. And I worked across the portfolio brands that match group to make dating apps better.

Kara Goldin 2:49
That’s wild. So how did this how did this idea how was it sparked?

Katie Wilson 2:55
So I was I was one of those weirdos who knew at 10 years old that I wanted to be a matchmaker. Don’t ask me why, but it was the life plan. And I made it happen. And I loved it. So I actually I I had no aspiration of starting a CPG brand. And if you told me five years ago that I was going to leave my dream job of matchmaking to go do this, I would have said you’re you’re totally crazy. But see about six years, five, six years ago now I came down with pretty debilitating gut issues. And I’ll spare everyone the TMI but I went from a totally normal eater with no sensitivities. I could eat mac and cheese at you know 1130 at night and be just fine the next morning or a slice of pizza to having a laundry list of dietary restrictions. And it all happened after a bout of food poisoning in Cabo. So this happens right you go to Cabo you’ve excellent drink the water, whatever, you you get a stomach bug. I think the difference is I went on antibiotics to try to solve stead stomach bug then that didn’t work what on another round of antibiotics and went on more pills and potions and next thing you know, I had a really out of whack gut microbiome. I didn’t know that at the time I was getting diagnosis. The diagnosis was IBS. So I was doing those food sensitivity tests that so many of us have done where you go and you take the test and then they tell you there’s like 100 Things you can’t eat. So I was living with a very restricted diet and I felt really hopeless and I had I noticed it was starting to limit what I was doing. So I was saying no to cool opportunities because I wasn’t sure how my stomach was gonna feel. I was wearing clothes because I was worried it was gonna be bloated. I just it started to take up too much mental bandwidth for my liking. So I found myself in tears when I think I was probably especially sensitive. I just had a baby and I just wanted to talk to cooking like I do not want rice and vegetables. I just want a good gooey chocolate to cook Key. And it just there wasn’t anything to my knowledge that existed in the grocery store that that was a mistake, I used to call them safe foods and have like a list of safe foods. And I remember it was like, late at night, I sent my husband to the grocery store. And I was like, just find something and I can’t have any of these ingredients. Any comments like this, this thing doesn’t exist, I don’t know what you’re talking about. But this, I’m looking for these words that you’re saying they just don’t exist. So it came back the next day and said, I’m gonna make you this talk, I’m going to make you the chocolate chip cookie that you want. And I’m going to find a food scientist, I’m going to find a dietician, I’m going to zoom with them every week, and we’re going to just make you this chocolate chip cookie. And he did. And so this, this totally started as a like so many great entrepreneurial stories, it started as a sole for my personal pain point, which was a chocolate chip cookie. You worked tirelessly, plenty of really terrible recipes. ventually eventually found one that that was a hit, I was eating a bunch of them. And I was putting them into bar mold. So like eat them on the go. And I suppose the part of the story that I had skipped is, again, when you’re going through something tough, what do you do you turn to other people, and you talk to to other people about the tough thing. And I was doing that in my own personal network. And certainly finding common ground, I felt like a lot of my female friends could relate to this idea that they were living with daily got trouble, maybe not to the extreme I was, but they they were avoiding gluten or dairy or they’re bloated all the time. But where I really found solace was in Facebook groups, there was just hundreds of these Facebook groups dedicated to things like IBS, bloating, living a better gut healthy life. And I, I spent a lot of time in these groups and got to know the community and then eventually decided, very strangely, before the bar even existed, I decided I was gonna buy these Facebook groups. I was fiercely curious. And I wanted to be a very significant part of this community. And so I started going to the admins of groups and offering them money to buy out their Facebook groups. Wow. Yeah, so I mean, lots of plot holes here that I’m missing. But, you know, eventually had said bar loved it had a massive group of people on Facebook that I knew and trusted me. And we can have gone through a journey together. And so of course, now they’re entrepreneur rain puts two and two together, and you say, look, let’s, let’s share this product with this community. And we had the, I don’t know, the, the launch was the Cinderella story. And that, like we launched it, and it worked. It just did. You know, we had a community who was ready for the product, and we put it live and they bought it.

Kara Goldin 7:45
That’s incredible. And so how many groups did you actually buy? I think you might be the only person who has been on here. A lot of people have talked about social, but your strategy is how you acquired those first customer. I mean, that’s amazing. It’s It’s so unique.

Katie Wilson 8:06
Yeah, and I don’t think it would work today. So I it’s a hard strategy to replicate. So like, I think it worked for that moment in time, right? Like it was one of those like, things that worked because it worked in the world in that moment, but I don’t think you could repeat it. So I even remember even calling our attorney and I remember saying like, could you is there like an agreement I could, I could give these people in exchange for their Facebook group. And he laughed, he’s like, this is not a thing. You’re just gonna have to like take the risk here. So I did. And again, I had built up a lot of trust with with the admins of those groups. And my goal sounds like a lie. But it’s just true. My goal was never just to buy a group so I could sell them things. I really use this word hesitantly because I think this word gets way overused nowadays, but it really was to buy a community and, and cultivate that community and kind of do that better on a on a broader scale.

Kara Goldin 9:05
That’s amazing. So how many did you actually what was like nine?

Katie Wilson 9:10
Sorry, I can’t answer your question nine,

Kara Goldin 9:11
nine. That’s the Wow, that’s incredible.

Katie Wilson 9:14
Yeah, about 400,000 people.

Kara Goldin 9:16
That’s amazing. So and obviously you were passionate about it, you were you were living it, so you could actually speak to it. When did you know like, what was that moment when you were first launching, you’re like, Okay, this is gonna be successful. And now it’s we’ve got to figure out how to scale it and in what way to scale it.

Katie Wilson 9:39
Yeah. It literally was the day we turned on orders. So we’d also call this brand I think it’s important to the story. This was a pre BelliWelli area. So I called it IV simple and I thought I had the best name on the planet and thank goodness for some early advisors who came forward it’s actually the the women who were the kind of the original software Our smart suites team and they came forward and they said, Look, we’re so excited for you, but you thought about a name change. So anyways launched, launched the product and quite literally woke up the next morning and the orders were flooding in. So we did the, like, we did this for months. You know, I would work my day job during the day match, and then we would, you know, sign off and then from five to 330 in the morning, I would run the business and my husband would bake bars out of our kitchen. I mean, hairnet gloves. My dad was a pilot, he’d fly in on the weekends to help him bake. And you know, you got to, it was, yeah, it was It was wild. But every everyone printers got those great epic early day stories, but that’s what we’re doing. And if anyone knew this was what we were doing, it would be, they would think we’re insane. Insane.

Kara Goldin 11:00
So when did you actually change the name to BelliWelli? Yeah,

Katie Wilson 11:04
so obviously, after about four to five months, which is very clear, we have some very incredible traction, you know, we had the line that went like this. And the repeat orders were very exciting. And we were doing a lot with very little, which is always a good sign. So funny, my a funny kind of entrance into raising capital. I actually, actually was on LinkedIn, and an old clients and old, old friend had asked if I knew any eligible bachelors in Miami, and they specifically wanted someone like 50 Plus, and I didn’t have anyone in my network, but I was like, Oh, look at my LinkedIn. And I did and I saw I was connected to this guy, but I didn’t know him. And I reached out to him on LinkedIn, I have the weirdest LinkedIn messages, because they’re half BelliWelli and half like old matchmaking messages. And I was like, This is so crazy, but I want to match you. And he replied, and he’s like, you know, I’m not interested. And I’m all good there. But I see on your LinkedIn that you’re working on something interesting, because I put working on it simple. And so can you do a phone call clean? Well, he was a VP at Clorox, and I got a phone call. And I think I like word vomited at him for like an hour about what we were doing and how excited I was. And he said, This is what you’re gonna do. Do you want to do you want to grow this business? Do you want this to be a big business? And of course, I was like, Yes. And he said, You’re gonna go back and you’re gonna put together what’s called the deck, and you’re gonna have 15 slides, and this is what you’re gonna do. And then you’re gonna call me again next week, and you’re gonna present me the deck, and you’re gonna raise capital. And I was like, No, no way. You said, Yes, you are. So I did exactly that. Right. I spent the next week poring over every bit of every resource I could. And I learned what a good pitch deck looked like, was No, by no means good looking back at it, but put together the deck. And I presented it to him a week later, and he said, Okay, great. You have your first check of $300,000. What?

Kara Goldin 13:04
That’s amazing.

Katie Wilson 13:07
Yep, so we got fully on board, right, I got everything. I got ducks in a row. And then very shortly after, you know, my husband and I started the business together, and we’re a great team. But longtime mentor and friend, same as Tyson, he was a venture capital at the time, but he’d been an operator, he’d started a number of businesses and we convinced him to come join our team. So he came over as a third co founder and we went on to raise about $5 million in seed capital. We changed the name of the business we on boarded a co Packer right all the things you do to make the business more legitimate. And yeah, that’s when BelliWelli was really born. I was gonna say part of missing is like we had another baby in this time in launch the business launch value really from a hospital room, but anyways, you go ahead. That’s

Kara Goldin 14:00
wild. So I love those stories. So you started then with one SKU, the chocolate chip peppermint and so at what point did you then move into some of the powders and some of the other things that you’re doing?

Katie Wilson 14:13
Yeah, so when BelliWelli it was like an official website and we were manufacturing product out of a co Packer we were running for skews is our lemon our blueberry believe it was our chocolate chip and our birthday cake kind of an odd SKU mix in retrospect and that was our b2c business for a long time. And then even our brick and mortar so we launched into retail with just their bars you know, we grew to the natural channel like a lot of better for you brands and then eventually got a chance to target which is incredible. Launched and target six, seven months ago. So I should say the bars are still in target and they just launched in Walmart. So the bar business remains a very important piece of our business but About a year and a half ago, you know, we are obsessive about talking to the community, I think I think sometimes too much. So to be honest, we survey the community. I try to email 50 customers a day. And we survey the community every week on anything we can and will go as far as to actually like, they will go camp out in store aisles and just ask customers and spend all day with customers. I tried to do that two days a week. And I tried to do it on weekends. So things were actually paralyzed by customer feedback. But the the piece of feedback or the request we got the most was can you make a beverage? And honestly, we were not interested in entering the beverage space. And when we really asked customers why they wanted a beverage, it was like they wanted to get that. I mean, they would go through and say like, I want guthook And a beverage Johnson and I could sip on. And when we when we really thought about what that meant. It’s really fiber and probiotics. Right? Like that’s it. That’s how you make gut health a beverage didn’t weren’t interested in entering the kombucha space. Lots of amazing Kombucha is out there. This is not what we wanted to do. So we went and studied fiber. And we spent a long time studying the fiber space and realize, Oh my gosh, talk about an opportunity. And talk about something that needs needs. A refresh, right the fiber is is it’s been owned by two brands mostly. last 100 years, and I don’t know who it was last time you bought fiber had to had to buy fiber, but it’s like a gloopy mess. It’s one flavor. Hello, good. As we all know, it’s one flavor and it’s it’s tough to drink. And you know, the gut health geek that I become the gut health geek and he was like, Oh my gosh, the more I realized the more I learn about fiber aid. No one’s getting enough. I was cocky. I eat really healthy and I thought for sure I’m getting 25 to 30 grams. We do a fiber tracker, you’re not average Americans getting seven. A lot of it’s not right. It’s just fibers and stripped out of modern food. And so I just became obsessed with fiber in the space. And I was like we gotta make not your our cousin’s name for it was always not your grandma’s Metamucil. But my milk but that was our internal codename right? It was like we have got to make we have got to do fiber better. So we just launched fiber two weeks ago when we launched it with Walmart. And we’re clearly on to something.

Kara Goldin 17:32
That’s That’s amazing. What flavors do you have it into? Actually

Katie Wilson 17:36
have a right to cucumber, lime, and tropical breeze? And then we have another one you do? That was that at Walmart. That one will be on Amazon here in a couple weeks along with our our strawberry lemonade.

Kara Goldin 17:50
I love it. No, that’s, that’s terrific. So you guys launched the hot girls have IBS campaign. So what did that entail? And why do you think it was so successful?

Katie Wilson 18:01
I spent so much time trying to think about why this was successful, to be honest. And I have kind of an insight but the inspiration for the campaign did not come out of some big agency sprint that we did right like like most great marketing campaigns. It came from that insight from customers right so what I mean by that is a my first my first kind of towing was billboards are really boring. I was driving around Los Angeles and there was a bunch of like sterile watch billboards. And I kept thinking because these work was they would buy their watch after they see a watch billboard. Then I thought someone should at least make these brighter. And then it was in kind of the the the Tick Tock era where the hot girls have insert blank stigmatize subject trend was was going. I thought, What is the most polarizing thing you could put in there? That was IVs. Right? Which is something near and dear to my heart. Did we ever mean that literally hot girls have IBS? No, everyone’s a hot girl, right? It’s a way to de stigmatize and reclaim IBS. And so we all talked about it internally. And we said, just to see what happens if we ask a bill or company to put up a billboard that says hot girls have IBS. So we did exactly that. And they said, Look, your budget sounds a little low, we’ll send you our remnant spaces and Nick pace and I looked at those spaces and study them for hours and hours and hours before selecting one with our little budget. And we selected the right one because the next day there was a line of 20 women outside developer taking photos.

Kara Goldin 19:31
Oh my god. That’s amazing.

Katie Wilson 19:34
It was pretty cool. It’s pretty cool.

Kara Goldin 19:36
Yeah. So you talked about these new skews launching. So how do you balance kind of when to actually innovate inside of a company? I know it’s always like, you know, assuming your your products that you have are doing well. Maybe you know, you’re discontinuing some. But how do you know that? We’ve got to like go When launch these new products and jump in

Katie Wilson 20:04
such a good question, I think, because you know, time and focus become the most precious commodities at a certain point. And anything that sucks, time focus is a risk. So we actually really struggled with this. I think generally you launch something when the core product is not working. And that wasn’t our problem. So like, we had a product that was working, so adding another SKU, felt like a massive potential distraction. But we couldn’t see or unhear this when something so loud from the community, and again, it was everything in the feedback was so clear, every time we asked, What do you want to see, they would say, drink. We felt that it was a must, right? If we’re really going to serve as our community and respond to their ask, we should do this. And then I suppose the other piece is, what we did do early on is we focused on building a company capable of innovating. So we really worked on strengthening those muscles very early on, we brought r&d internally, that was like, I think it was like our not our first time our second hire, which is a little strange for a small CPG company. So that was a muscle that we had worked hard to develop. So we were a we had built that internal capability and felt confident that we could execute on that flawlessly. Again, flawless execution, right, flawless execution. Matters really matters. And I think it’s the maker break early on. So we really, really went through that list of checks and balances to make sure we could flawlessly execute before we even entertained doing this. And again, the other thing we were able to vet out, which wasn’t intentional wasn’t necessarily part of the strategy is we knew there was interest from buyers. So we knew that this was a hole in the market. And we knew we weren’t. We were in a unique spot to be able to go fill that hole. Yeah, the credibility, the trust. We knew the space needed, needed some love.

Kara Goldin 22:17
So what has been the hardest part of growing this company? I mean, you obviously just launching a product in the physical goods space, you didn’t have experience with it. But and you’ve got two co founders that that, you know had, did any of Did either of them have experience and in kind of the physical goods or food space.

Katie Wilson 22:41
Nick, my husband, certainly not Tyson heads, it has startup experience, right, which isn’t CPG experience. So no, no one had CPG experience. Hardest part. Honestly, I think it’s actually it’s it’s actually what you just touched on, which was been avoiding distraction. And saying yes, when we should have said now is actually I think that’s been the hardest part. I also this is like very much me personally, it’s not BelliWelli. But I have like a bias towards action. And sometimes I think there’s so much value in stepping back. And I’ve really learned that from both my co founders and like taking a breath. Making sure like, action feels good, right? As a founder, like actually doing a bunch of stuff feels good. And sometimes you’re doing a bunch of stuff, but it’s not really laddering up to a goal or even the right goal. So that’s been a personal learning on my part for sure. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 23:39
Well, that’s great that you realize that because I think it’s it’s sometimes you head down some path and you think this is really going to be helpful. And I think it’s being able to say, actually, that’s not really helpful for the bigger cause and we have to kind of go back to it. So I think it’s it’s being honest with yourself about that. For sure. So so looking to the future what’s what’s kind of next for BelliWelli? I mean, I feel like you just talked about some of the things that you’re launching, which is so exciting. I mean, I think you guys are on this amazing pass, and really killing it in an industry that really needs better for you products that tastes great too that aren’t green necessarily. I have no problem with green but it’s you could still get the same same if not better products inside and that’s exactly what you guys are doing. So it’s very, very exciting. But what do you hope this company ends up being like, what’s your dream for it?

Katie Wilson 24:40
Yeah, so we’re not launching anything new for the short term doesn’t mean ever but like we are focused on our on our two product lines right now. But we want to be the brand that he or she trusts in the grocery store to help flush not hurt his or her stomach. Right. It’s as easy as that. We are the Do something better for your belly. There’s no one that that, that there’s no one that that doesn’t apply to. Unfortunately, right, we all are not doing enough. And that’s partly because of the food and the way modern food is made and their environment, all those things that we know to be true, but we all need more gut love. And we’re going to do that. So we’re going to do that in a delicious, easy, approachable way. With real science and real critical products, but some fun infused as you as you picked up on right, we don’t think the natural channel better for you has to be green and brown and white. We think it can have pink and sparkles and stars and still be a brand that you trust with with a lot of credibility and science behind it.

Kara Goldin 25:48
So great. So Katie Wilson, co founder and CEO of BelliWelli, thank you so much for joining us and everyone’s got a try BelliWelli. We’ll have all the info in the show notes too. But thank you again, really appreciate you coming on.

Katie Wilson 26:03
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been such a pleasure.

Kara Goldin 26:06
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 good bye for now.