Liz Fisher: Founder & CGO of LAVVA

Episode 339

Liz Fisher, Founder and CGO of Lavva, shares her journey starting a company that makes delicious dairy-free, plant-based yogurt using a very interesting ingredient, pili nuts. Liz took the plunge to start Lavva after having her own health scare. Her own journey of healing through food resulted in bringing her creation to the shelves. Liz is a veteran in the natural food industry having helped scale many familiar brands including Pirate’s Booty, LaraBar, Horizon Organic and Kevita. We chat about her entrepreneurial journey, what it is like to actually be the founder vs working for one, lessons she has learned along the way and of course hear more about her company Lavva. Her wisdom and tenacity is inspiring and you won’t want to miss this episode! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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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. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show and I am so thrilled to have my next guest with us. We have Liz Fisher, who is the founder of LAVVA. She’s actually the chief growth officer as well as the founder. LAVVA makes delicious, dairy free plant based yogurt using the very interesting ingredient, pillowy nuts, and Liz decided to take the plunge into starting LAVVA after having her own health scare. To heal. She started creating her own yogurt and her blender her kitchen blending sound familiar, right that that good old kitchen with coconut milk, and the result was unlike anything she’d ever tasted before, so she decided to try her hand at launching her terrific product and bringing it to so many others. She’s no stranger to the natural food industry having worked and supporting other entrepreneurs and many known brands including Pirate’s Booty Lara bar horizon, organic and Kavita, I can’t wait to speak with her to hear all about her journey or wisdom her lessons, any tips, all that kind of stuff. So without further ado, welcome, Liz.

Liz Fisher 1:56
Thank you, Kara. I’m delighted to talk to you

Kara Goldin 1:59
so excited for you to join us here today. So let’s start at the beginning or I should say first of all, what is love? How do you describe it to people,

Liz Fisher 2:09
the product descriptor is dairy free p li not yogurt. Okay, wonderful. So it is a cultured alternative to an animal milk, yogurt, but it is 100% Vegan plant based.

Kara Goldin 2:26
Amazing. And is there anybody else in your category that is doing this?

Liz Fisher 2:30
Lots of other people in our category?

Kara Goldin 2:33
Well, and you know, whenever people ask me that in beverage, I say our competition is every beverage on the shelf, right? But Is anybody doing your category?

Liz Fisher 2:43
Well, I very carefully pulled us out of coconut there are a number of coconut alternatives. And of course, so delicious, which is done on and Sal have been making coconut alternative for as long as they’ve been in existence. So over 30 years, but it is really just a tiny segment of the broader yogurt category $7 Billion US category. So it’s about 4%

Kara Goldin 3:16
Wow, okay, you started LAVVA, what led you to the creation, I read that you had a health scare?

Liz Fisher 3:23
I totally did. But I have been in the food industry my whole career. And it’s, I’ve had a respectable career and love it. And it’s been good to me. But just on the way to work one day I was actually running to catch a train to go to a meeting with my pirates team and I had a little pinch and bomb two weeks later, I have full on ovarian cancer I was in the system and I thought I was the healthiest person I knew. But that journey really did lead me to a change in my diet a dramatic change in my diet, which I thought was pretty great. Was PLANT BASE super clean. But I had a very high complex carb diet and I move to a very low carbohydrate diet and changed my the way I was making energy. So it was the first time I heard the word keto. I didn’t know what it was never heard of it. I was very much of my generation women. Fat on the side calorie conscious scale weight conscious and didn’t think of food really as fuel as energy. So here I am taking blood samples making energy out of fat, not glucose. So looking at cancer, along with other metabolic diseases as a metabolic disease and not a A genetic one. And I was just eating so much fat very, very difficult psychologically. It doesn’t work unless you get enough fat. So and I wanted to keep it plant based and I wanted to keep it clean. So avocado, coconut, lots and lots of macadamia nut and literally could not eat another one macadamia nut, just put it down no more. And I found the pili nut, which nobody had ever heard of. I hadn’t heard of it. Here’s a little

Kara Goldin 5:33
piece of it. Yeah, I’ve never I had never heard of it before.

Liz Fisher 5:37
And yet it’s indigenous to Southeast Asia grows off, as it has for centuries, requires only rainwater to grow. And that really is the source of the name, LAVVA. It grows in volcanic soil. So there’s the V, there’s a reason that wasn’t in the US. So from a supply chain, discovery and vetting. It was a journey, many journeys, many trips to Southeast Asia and vetting the supply chain making certain we had enough to scale. And certainly bringing a new ingredient to the US took some doing and a considerable amount of capital. But we did it. And it’s an incredible regenerative growing story.

Kara Goldin 6:31
I love it. Now, when did you actually start my last

Liz Fisher 6:34
let’s see, I raised money about a year before we came to market. Our first case is hit the shelf in 2018 in a couple 100 stores out of Northeast or Brooklyn based company, I got the call from Whole Foods global they wanted us into all stores at the q3 2019. It was shortly after the Amazon acquisition and it had been a dream come true. So we said yes. And we scaled to support that launch. And then five months later, we were just hitting that tipping point because slightly premium price. Definitely scaling a whole food product commercially without any processing aids or fillers or sugar and really not even water. So it was this whole food value proposition really nutritionally rich, we were just hitting that point where it was sweet without sugar. Think you know a little bit about that. You know, it’s very hard to do because how taste is such a, you know, instinct and emotion and intellect dog meats together and how people experience it. The creaminess the right thickness, and of course that was really driven by this. The nutritional profile, the peeling knob, which is super neutral and buttery and actually performs like butterfat. So and we were hitting on all cylinders, after about five months. And then literally the truck stopped in March 2020. And small brands got deprioritize sadly, trucks base was at a premium

Kara Goldin 8:29
when you say trucks space, so you’re not talking about your containers that you’re bringing, because other people have had those issues where, you know, bringing in containers from outside of the country and things like that was were really

Liz Fisher 8:42
good happened year two was a pandemic where all the boxes were parked, you know, in the port, right Long Beach, you know, it’s like, I can see the coconut water. We just can’t Yeah, use it.

Kara Goldin 8:55
You can’t use it. Yeah, exactly. No,

Liz Fisher 8:58
I’m talking about when you’re prime to do a promotion, and you load your distributor, right. So cases in the building, not coming out of the building.

Kara Goldin 9:11
So frustrating. That’s crazy. So you were supporting other entrepreneurs for many, many years. And now you became a founder, right? You’re the chief growth officer of the company. This is your idea that you are taking to market and scaling it to become a reality. How different is that?

Liz Fisher 9:33
Well, I always did my job as if my brand were my own, you know, probably to a fault. So if I could take that back, I would have held a little back and blank. But you know, it’s the work. The work is the art. The work is who we are and Avatar. Yeah. But from day to day execution of am I doing the best job possible today for to build my brand I’m to get to that end shopper, because that’s who I’m trying to get to. These are the people who are like, Oh my god, jaw dropping tears, look what I found in our household in West Virginia, you know, look at what I found on the grocery store this quality nurturing, delicious food that is healing me and my family. You know, I mean, we’ve gotten the letters. And, you know, that’s why come back to fight the fight and continue

Kara Goldin 10:35
funding accompany, especially for female entrepreneurs can be a little bit tricky. You and I were talking a little bit about it a few minutes ago, but not impossible. Have you taken funding for your company?

Liz Fisher 10:48
Well, that’s probably its own podcast, but yes, I did. I wasn’t about to go into the dairy space without adequate capital. Sure, you know, I know what it is to do things on a shoestring. And, you know, finding and identifying and getting getting to the trial, get enough customers and customers to build your tribe, you know, was gonna take investment, and I was very lucky to find a visionary Investment Fund, and they share the affection for the brand positioning and the product and the unique ingredient. And so that led three raises an A, B, and A C, and a C was a down round, it was very difficult period, it did feel as if everything was falling apart. And I was no longer had the responsibility of the day to day, that was definitely the most painful period. And I’m happy to say that that is behind us. And so we have a new beginning, new capital, raise investors, some of whom all of whom were part of the original first round, have come back. And to start basically, day one,

Kara Goldin 12:18
that’s terrific. So people always think that successful people, you’ve had an amazing career, you’ve helped build great companies. Now you’re doing this with LAVVA. People always think that, you know, they snap their fingers. They know how to do this. It’s really easy. They never have any challenges along the way. But I’d love to hear a story in building LAVVA where, you know, maybe you faced a tough challenge. And you got back up. You talked a little bit about this, I think, to some extent right now, but is are there any others that you think you learned a lot of lessons from?

Liz Fisher 12:53
Well, we grew so quickly, and were invited to move into the beverage sat with a milk and a creamer. I mean, how hard can that be? Right? So, you know, I mean, incredible brands that took a long period of time to propagate and have a huge following. And we’re sandwiched between them with this little milk and this little creamer and trying to support it, and nobody’s in the stores, you know, and then you so you, and it was a very different production and managing of those different categories were different than yogurt. I mean, basically, we we ran out of money, and we’re gonna fall out. So then I voted default, we had uncovered every stone and try to build a case for the brand positioning, especially around culinary medicine, really, healing food nutrition. So I’m quite passionate about that as food based healthcare. I think that is the future. And many, many shoppers are gonna have already gone off road and are reinventing themselves through fitness. And not just food, but the pillars of first being healthy animal. But food is very much one of those pillars. I do think there is tremendous growth that for something that is not made with the same set of ingredients that are basically on every end cap in every grocery store in America right now. I mean, I just heard Kellogg’s is posting a record year ahead for Cheetos. What we see is not what’s happening, so I’m just we need to be patient. So the lesson learned is everything falls apart. and you think it’s over? As long as you’re breathing? It’s not over. Yeah. And re healing happening underneath the surface. It’s not visible.

Kara Goldin 15:11
Mm hmm. Yeah, very good insight into sort of what’s going on overall. So what have you enjoyed most about being a founder and entrepreneur?

Liz Fisher 15:20
Well, the, the value proposition was taking something that happened in benchtop, which was really just these whole food ingredients that meet they metamorphosis into something else. But it was really on revealing the perfection that was already there, if you will. And that was the aspiration and then going into a commercial production setting where you’re scaling. And the first time we put the probiotic is called inoculation, where you put in these living organisms, these good gut buddies, but they are living healthy bacteria that live in a low pH product, which is cultured foods, and they just lit up in the cup like never before seen. And I wouldn’t have known that I’d never made yogurt before. It’s incredibly scientific, incredibly precise. And not a lot of experts. I mean, you can press a button and add a bunch of water and fillers and gums and stabilizers. And you can almost get something that sort of kind of but that’s not what love is about. It’s more like a hummus. You know, it’s a whole food, but it’s cultured, but it’s totally not a hummus, anybody listening, it’s totally a yogurt mess, and is super creamy and delightful. So hope you’ll try it.

Kara Goldin 16:52
Love it. Well, we’ll have all of the info in the show notes. And Liz was so great to hear all of your wisdom and lessons and hear more about LAVVA and I know that everyone is going to go out and find it. Now it’s available nationwide. Like I said, we’ll have all the info in the show notes. Thank you again.

Liz Fisher 17:11
Take care.

Kara Goldin 17:12
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. 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. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin and if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey including founding and building hint we are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening