Building a Sustainable Snack Brand – Isabelle Steichen of Lupii Foods
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 41:30)
Sponsors & Partners
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii Foods shares her journey of building a sustainable snack brand and how she adapted to the pandemic by shifting focus to direct-to-consumer sales, resulting in a dedicated fanbase.
Isabelle Steichen, CEO and co-founder of Lupii Foods, shares insights on building a sustainable snack brand using lupini beans as their primary ingredient. She talks about her personal journey of transitioning to a plant-based diet, discovering lupini beans as a protein source and using her background in recipe experimentation to develop a quality product. Steichen also discusses the challenges of launching a new food brand, educating the market about a new ingredient, and managing cash flow and inventory. Other topics covered include raising capital, building a co-founding team, and the importance of sampling and demoing to drive trial and get the product into people’s mouths. She stresses the importance of patience, endurance, and curiosity in bringing an idea to fruition, and the value of connecting with other entrepreneurs in the industry.
- 00:00:00 In this section of the video, Isabelle Steichen, the co-founder and CEO of Lupii Foods, talks about her company and the unique legume-based ingredient they use in creating healthy and sustainable snacks and pasta. Lupini beans are packed with protein, fiber and are naturally low in carbs, making them a perfect solution for plant-based protein foods that are more wholesome and less processed. They are also environmentally sustainable, being a regenerative crop that promotes soil health and efficient resource utilization. Lupii Foods aims to build a platform for this ingredient across different categories of grocery stores and introduce the lupini bean to the US consumer.
- 00:05:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen, the founder of Lupii Foods, discusses how her personal journey of transitioning to a plant-based diet led her to discover lupini beans as a protein source. She spent time researching and experimenting with lupini beans to develop a quality product before creating a business plan. Steichen emphasizes that her approach was more focused on research and recipe experimentation rather than a professional business plan, although she had an awareness of the opportunity to bring a novel ingredient like lupini beans to the U.S. market.
- 00:10:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen, the co-founder of sustainable snack brand Lupii Foods, discusses how they raised capital for their business. She explains that they raised venture money, early-stage venture money, and angel money, with industry veterans investing in their business. Lupii Foods also raised funds through crowdfunding platform Republic, allowing them to give their consumers the opportunity to invest in the business. Steichen notes that the crowdfunding process requires a lot of legwork, but it’s becoming more popular, particularly with sustainable food brands. She also reflects on how she found her co-founder, highlighting how she reached out to a venture studio to get the idea off the ground.
- 00:15:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen, co-founder of Lupii Foods, shares her experience in building a co-founding team and finding the right profile for the team. She went on a quest to build a diverse team, having various backgrounds, ideas, and skill sets to make something successful. Eventually, she was lucky to meet Ali, who had an incredible background in food and beverage, and they both pitched the concept to Human Ventures, who invested the first check in the business. Isabelle also addresses one big challenge in building a sustainable snack brand, which is educating the market about a new ingredient. They are introducing lupini beans, trying to make it clear to consumers why they should choose this versus anything else in the market. Their strategy is to progressively go into different aisles of the grocery store, which will help create marketing and efficiencies and educate consumers effectively.
- 00:20:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen, the founder of Lupii Foods, talks about the challenges of launching a new food brand and the importance of sampling and demoing to drive trial and get the product into people’s mouths. She explains that most food brands are still built in retail, and launching online is not a feasible option. Since Lupii Foods launched during the pandemic, they had to find other ways to get their product to consumers, such as sending out gift boxes and donating product to fitness events. Isabelle stresses that nothing has worked as well as sampling and demoing the product, and they are excited to be in retail now because they can directly connect with their customers in-store. She also talks about the cash flow management challenges associated with retail and how inventory financing can help.
- 00:25:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen talks about the challenges of managing a sustainable snack brand, including coordinating with co-packers and managing inventory. Lupii Foods currently has a team of 50, including full-time employees and contractors. While the company sells products through their website, their main focus is retail and Amazon sales. Lupii Foods is not the first mover in the industry, but they are one of the early movers, and they are competing with other brands that are using Lupini beans for different products. The company is not planning to venture into protein powders due to the hyper-processed nature of the ingredient, and they are focusing more on highlighting the nutritional benefits of whole food snack products.
- 00:30:00 In this section, the founder of Lupii Foods discusses the timeline of her journey towards creating a sustainable snack brand. She reveals that it took around a year and a half of casual Lupini research before she left her job to focus on it full-time. Passion, endurance, and curiosity were some of the attributes that helped her bring the idea to fruition, along with finding good mentors and being able to reflect on the product’s fit. She also shares one of the biggest challenges she faced as an entrepreneur, which was learning to be patient and thoughtful instead of rushing to move fast and break things.
- 00:35:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen shares her insights on entrepreneurship and productivity in a rapid-fire question segment. She recommends reading biographies of other entrepreneurs for practical information and finds the sustainable fashion industry exciting. Her top productivity tool is sleep and she aims for eight hours each night. Steichen mentions Partake Cookies as a company that is doing great things in the food and beverage industry, and she emphasizes the importance of connecting with other entrepreneurs in the same industry for helpful insights.
- 00:40:00 In this section, Isabelle Steichen, founder of Lupii Foods, shares that she looks up to Ali Kane, the founder of a sauce company called Haven’s Kitchen and host of the food industry podcast “In the Sauce”. She also emphasizes the importance of the advice to “go slow to go faster” in business, meaning that being thoughtful and taking more time to do things right can lead to better outcomes in the long run.
People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode
Book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Isabelle Steichen of Lupii
|00:54||Motivation behind the business|
|04:53||Starting the business|
|13:41||Finding a co-founder|
|16:48||Value proposition in the market|
|31:02||Bringing the idea to fruition|
|33:20||Mistakes made, lessons learned|
|35:20||Rapid fire round|
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii
- Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson)
- An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Sustainable fashion)
- A business or productivity tip that you would recommend (Response: Sleep)
- A startup or business and eCommerce retailer tech that you think is currently doing great things (Response: Partake Foods)
- A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Alison Cayne)
- Best business advice you ever received (Response: Go slow to go faster)
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there, entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and leaders, and also dive deep into some of those strategies they have used to, and I’m excited to Isabel Stein to the show. Isabel is the co-founder and CEO of Company called, Lu makes lupini based snacks and pasta that are good for humans and also the planet.
And today I’m ask Isabelle a s about her journey of strategies tactic. So thank
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: to be here.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So really interesting business. Uh, first of all, you know, I’m wondering what is. Meaning, and how did you do this? Yeah. And what motivated you
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: to. Yeah, totally. I mean, that is the number one question that, that we get asked. Um, so Lapine is a legume, a bean that is originally from Europe, from the Mediterranean.
Um, and it’s been consumed in Italy, in Greece, in Portugal for a very long time. And that is because it has really unique, um, nutritional functionality and even. Centuries ago, um, there’s some tales around, uh, the Romans consuming lupini beans and gladiators consuming lupini beans because they knew that they were making them strong somehow.
And so there was an awareness around the nutritional potency of the ingredient. And it’s a unique be because it has more protein than any other be that’s out there. It’s also complete protein, so it has all nine essential amino acids, which is very rare in the plant. Base, it’s also packed with fiber. And on top of that, it happens to be naturally low in carbs.
So it really hits kind of all three main consumer claims that US consumers are shopping for these days. And then, um, on the other side, it also, um, environmentally speaking is an incredible ingredient. It’s a regenerative crop rotation crop, great for soil health and, and resource efficient to grow. And the reason why I’ve been obsessed with this ingredient and my co-founder at Alexandra as well is because we have seen a real shift, uh, among us consumers to eat more plant based.
And I would say this first generational plant based foods was, um, a lot about mimicking an animal based food, especially the meat and dairy replacement space. Um, and. The unfortunate part of that is that, uh, a lot of those propositions are highly processed and overly engineered and using lots of protein isolates and additives.
Um, and so we see a vision to build the next generational plant-based protein foods around more wholesome ingredients. And Lupini is one of them. And that’s, um, kind of how we envision to build this platform for this ingredient across different categories of the grocery store where we can add these unique functional.
Additions around protein, fiber, and carbs.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s really interesting. Cause you know, I grew up in India. I’m a vegetarian. I grew up in, and I’m always looking for, you know, the, the next best, uh, source. Uh, it’s interesting, I, I never heard about Lu. Um, you know, I’ve, I, I found like the brown rice. Uh, I, I do eat a lot of li but, uh, um, is it, is it that this protein is just not in North America and it’s more in
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Europe or, yeah, I mean, I would say, you know, there’s thousands of ingredients.
That we don’t know about that are used in other cultures or parts of the world. And when you look at, I think I, I might be buting my stat here, but is it 70% of Americans get fed by, you know, three or four different animals and five different plants? That’s pretty crazy, right? I mean, the majority of food comes from a very.
Um, a very small proposition. Uh, and I think that in the last 10, 20 years, we’ve seen a lot of new ingredients come to the table or come back to the table. Like when we think about the rise of chickpeas in the United States in the last few years, um, we think about quinoa and chia seeds. All of those are not new ingredients.
They haven’t been around for a very long time. There just was no consumer interest in them. Um, maybe in certain parts of the world. And I think the trajectory for Lupen is very similar. You know, the moment needed to be ripe for this ingredient to take off in the US and we’re, we’re feeling pretty excited that this is the right moment to introduce the, um, small but 90 lupen being to the US consumer.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Definitely. I mean, there’s definitely a very. Uh, a very high level of awareness of, you know, uh, sustainable and protein based diet and so forth. What were you doing before starting the business? Like did you start this business cause you’re just entrepreneurial or was it something that, you know, you were trying to solve the problem for yourself and then you wanted to bring it to, to other people?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, I would, I would say probably a little bit of, of both. Um, so I have been vegan for 10 years now and was vegetarian before. I grew up in Europe. I moved to the States in 2013, and that was when I transitioned from a vegetarian to a vegan diet against my European family as well. Um, And you know, I was motivated initially by ethical reasons and then environmental.
And then I started learning about all the health benefits of a plant focused diet. I ended up getting certified in plant-based nutrition. Um, and professionally I had been working in startups, so I spent most of my career working for early stage. Startups mostly in the tech space. I worked for various tech companies, software companies, and then um, one more food related business.
And in my free time, I just started soaking up all information that I could find about the plant-based food space because I was a consumer in that space myself. I ended up starting a podcast a few years ago called The Plentiful, whereas interviewing. Exchange makers across industries. And the more I was talking to people in the space, the more I realized that plant-based was starting to go mainstream in the us.
But consumers were really looking for high quality, plant-based protein sources, and especially Americans are really concerned about nutritional and protein is top of mind. And so that’s what brought me on this journey because I wasn’t eating a lot of plant-based protein foods because like I mentioned before, they were so highly processed, they didn’t make me feel good.
I wanted to eat more simple foods that were nutritionally, uh, and functionally beneficial at the same time. And I, I knew that that was possible. And so that brought me back to my roots. Um, I grew up in Luxembourg. Lots of my friends were Italian and Portuguese growing up. And they have been eating lupini for centuries in those, in those cultures.
So I always knew about them and I started researching them in depth, um, talking to some farmers in Europe and growers, um, over there and, and some entrepreneurs. And the more I was uncovering about the ingredient, the more I saw that this was the perfect solution for the US consumer.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Mm-hmm. And, and your approach to bringing.
To market. Um, you know, I’ve spoken with other entrepreneurs with similar ideas, you know, who are starting protein based bars, uh, kinda business. And their approach is, you know, they, they. They, they create something in their own kitchen. They try it out. They, they, they share it with their friend, get the feedback, and, you know, based on that, they start the business.
Was your approach like something like that, or was your approach more business where you put a business plan together that this is, you know, this could be a good, uh, ingredient and then go from there, like hiding a, a professional kitchen or so.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, so I would say it was probably more number one. Um, that being said, I mentioned I spend a lot of time doing research.
I, I feel like I’m a researcher at heart. I, uh, you know, love being in school and, and went to grad school. And if I could, you know, could go back to school, I would do that any day. I love learning and, um, I was really spending a lot of time digging through information both. You know, research on nutritional benefits around lupini, beans, agricultural, um, ways of growing them.
Some, uh, case studies of other businesses in Europe. So I had an awareness of what the opportunity could look like, but I also am practical. And so I started ordering lupini beans, um, online and through some supplies that I found and ordered them to my home kitchen and started playing around and. Always had the vision to build a brand around ingredients.
So it wasn’t that I first had a product idea and then I fit in Lupini beans, and it was the other way around. It was, how am I gonna introduce this novel ingredient to the US market? What is the right format to do that in terms of consumer receptiveness? But also where can I fill a whites? Space. And so I had played around with various different ideas in my kitchen.
I actually had looked at some plant-based jerky propositions, um, some spreads, some baked goods. I had played around with bars and then I got a food he license and, um, got certified. And, uh, a friend of mine had a, a commercial kitchen here in New York City because he was running a restaurant. And so I asked him if I could use his commercial kitchen to.
The prototypes and start selling them. And so the OD version of the Lui Bar, I started making that by hand in a commissary kitchen and sold it at one store down the street from me in Brooklyn, um, way before Lui was born. And, and we didn’t have any branding, but you know, there was some early traction and interest.
And, um, there was also a way for me to understand if there was even feasibility with this concept. And I realized that that was the case. And so then I took that idea and. Packaged it up a little bit nicer into a PowerPoint presentation. And then I pitched it to, um, a venture studio here in New York City, and they were very excited about, about the opportunity.
And, um, I went and searched for co-founder and found Allie. Good, very lucky. And, and we, um, pitched this concept together and, and raised a precede capital to grow the business and actually find a co-man and start, you know, making it a, a more real business versus just me in my kitchen.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So you are, uh, venture funded.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, we raised, um, some venture money, some early adventure money, and a lot of angel money. So, um, industry, um, uh, veterans have invested in, in our business. And then we also have raised on Republic, which is a, um, acquired funding, uh, platform that lets you raise, uh, equity money through. Um, very small checks.
So most of that, those investments came from our consumers after we had been in business, which is amazing for two reasons. One, because it’s validation that we’re onto something. Um, and then secondly, it is incredible to be able to help democratize the venture model and give our consumers’ helping us to actually build this business, um, because they’re purchasing our products to give them the opportunity to also be part of the up upside potential of the.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s very interesting. I, um, I mean I’ve definitely heard about, uh, some of these other, uh, crowdfund sources, but Republic it seems like a very interesting idea. Um, is it kind of very similar to what, uh, some of these other crowdfunding platforms were in the beginning where, you know, people are there trying to look for to.
Even a small sum of money into interesting ideas. Yeah. And so, so you don’t have to do like a lot of marketing and it’s easy to raise funds or
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: how, how did you Yeah, I mean, , I would say it’s never easy to raise money . Um, but uh, I would say it’s, it’s kind of, there’s two models I guess generally there’s a Kickstarter type of model that usually means you, you’re investing, but that really means.
Turn you’re getting product usually or service. Um, with Republic, you’re actually investing into a safe note, um, which is similar to convertible note. Um, and that means that at one point, once the company raises an equity round, your investment converts into equity in the bus. And so that’s one of the main differences in terms of, is it easy?
I think, you know, there these platforms like Republic where we were raised, they are becoming more and more visible and um, a lot of people are starting to know about them. Uh, I, you know, Republic was more of a tech focused platform initially, but there’s more and more sustainable food brands that have successfully raised on there.
And they obviously have a big audience that they are promoting the different, um, campaigns to. But then there’s also the brand has to do a lot of legwork. You know, we spend a lot of time, um, sending out information about this, um, campaign to our consumer base. We had the unfortunate, um, luck to launch two months before the pandemic.
So most of our business initially was direct to consumer, but then, Here’s the other side of coin. That was amazing because we were able to message our consumers directly about this campaign and bring them along our journey of building. Um, so there’s definitely a need for the, for the company to push as well and, and do marketing.
Um, but Republic was, was super helpful. Um, also
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: a little bit of on your, uh, finding a co-founder. I mean, you, you mentioned that first you went to, um, venture companies and. Then you, you, you went out to find a co-founder. Was it like, was it a requirement from them to find a co-founder, founder before they will fund your company?
And I mean it, how do you, how do you find a co-founder at a notice like that seems like.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, um, okay, so I, I had just left my job and I had this idea, I didn’t really know, you know, usually I’m, I’m a planner and I would never have left my job, my previous job at a software company if I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a plan. I just needed some space to think in my head.
And, you know, I was working for an early stage startup at the time and there was no space for that. So, um, but I had this concept and I had been spending time in my free time building some ideas. What is now loopy? Um, I ended up, yeah. Um, getting in touch with, uh, venture Studio Human Ventures in New York City, and they are an early stage, um, venture studio and investor and their industry agnostic, but they usually to first check in, oftentimes pre-launch, just the concept stage.
And so I spent a little bit of time, a few months with them, iterating on some things and ended up pitching them the concept for loopy and. Their thesis is that they will only invest in co-founding teams. So they believe that, you know, you need a village to build something. And, and I share that deeply. So that wasn’t, you know, even though it was a requirement for me, it was, um, obviously I was in agreement with that.
And, um, I deeply believe in, in, in, you know, having various backgrounds and ideas and skill sets to, to make something successful. And so I went on a quest. Literally, I, uh, built uh, an Excel spreadsheet and uh, had like 70 plus coffees and calls with various different people. Uh, some of them came through the Human Ventures network.
Some of them were from my previous network. I had done this, um, extrusion program at Texas a and m a few years ago to learn if I could extrude Dini beans. So I met some people in the food industry through that reach out to everyone really broad at the beginning, just trying to. Who is that co-fund that I’m looking for?
What’s the profile? You know, I have an operations and sales background. Um, I don’t know anything about marketing and branding, so it became clear quickly that that was kind of the profile I was looking for. But I think a lot of this is luck, you know, and I got really lucky. Two and a half months in I was introduced to Ally by one of her former coworkers of Pepsi and.
We just grabbed a casual coffee, both not having any expectations, and it turned out that not only did she have an incredible background, she had worked in food and beverage for a long time, had a really amazing branding and marketing background, but she also was kind of ready to jump and do something, you know, startupy and and Leaf Pepsi, which was incredible and very unique.
And I can tell you, you don’t come across that every day. And so, A few weeks later, she decided to jump on board with me, and then we went back out to Human Ventures, the two of us as a team, retched a concept, and, um, they put in the first check in the business.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s, that’s very interesting story. And, and, uh, yeah, very, very interesting.
Um, in terms of, you know, creating a brand like this, I think one big challenge probably is, Uh, education, educating the market and mm-hmm. , uh, you know, how do you share your value proposition in the market? Because these days there’s so many different kinda protein bars out there, uh, with, you know, something a little bit different.
You know, protein content, you know, some, some are targeted towards sort of lifestyle and things like this. Um, When, you know, most of the people don’t know what Lupini Bean is, how do you like, I mean, is that, was that a big challenge or a big nut to crack at the, for, for your business? I mean, at the beginning, but even now.
Uh, and how are you dealing
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: with that? That is a nut that we’re trying to crack every day. Um, you know, introducing a new ingredient is, The challenge and the opportunity at the same time, right? I think amazing, incredible brands have been built around new ingredients. I think of banza, the chippy pasta, I think of Vida Cocoa to coconut water.
Um, you know, I think of Mama Chia and fresh chiia seeds at there has been a cauli power around cauliflower. They have been incredible brand platforms built around single ingredients. And the lift is always the education. So it’s always about, um, making it clear to consumers why choose this versus anything else that’s out there in the market.
Now, one thing that we know that consumers are looking for in the protein aisle, in the bar, protein aisle, but also in other, generally in the plant-based protein aisle, is more alternatives. Most of the plant-based protein today is soy and p, especially in. That’s the plant-based options, 95% of them. And what we have heard a lot from consumers and buyers are is where, where are the alternatives?
We want something else. We don’t wanna eat soy anymore. You know, there’s a lot of, uh, challenges around soy and a lot of consumers in the US are moving away from it for perceived health reasons as well as environmental reasons. P protein is actually not that nutritionally dense. It’s not even that high in protein.
So, Clearly the time is there and, and there’s a need, a consumer need for alternatives. So we’re not trying to sell people on something they don’t need. We’re trying to educate them on why this is the response to what they’re looking for, which is a little bit of a, you know, less of a lift. But still there’s a lot of storytelling that goes into building our brand.
And the way we position Lupe is really around the hero ingredient. Our queen bean, the lupini bean, which is. In bars, but now we just entered the pasta aisle as well. And the vision is to, you know, progressively go into different aisles of the grocery store, which will also help with creating the narrative around the Bean, its functionality, but also brand awareness.
You know, being able to meet your customers and different aisles of the grocery store is definitely a way to create marketing efficiencies. So that’s part of our strategy around around educating consumers.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, and, and, and does the, does the education, I mean, one thing that you mentioned was, you know, you started the business a couple of months before Covid, so was most of your education part.
Did it occur through advertising or online or, because I’ve heard, I’ve spoken with other founders and you know, one of the approach that comes up again and again is, you know, they will set up, uh, table in, in inside the store and, you know, hand out samples and educate and that that’s one way. Yeah.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: How did you do it?
So that’s, that’s, that’s really hitting the nail on the head in food. I think. Um, there are very little. Native D to C brands. I think most food brands still will be built in retail and especially a new brand and a new ingredient. You have to be in physical stores and you have to meet your customers sample and demo to drive trial and get product into people’s mouths so they can try it and hopefully they’ll love it and they come back for more.
That is, It’s the number one marketing and conversion tool. If we don’t do anything else, we have to do that because that’s what’s really gonna move the needle in these early stages. Now you’re right. We launched, uh, right before the pandemic, so there was no sampling and demoing. We tried to get product into people’s hands in other ways.
Through, um, you know, sending out, there were a lot of boxes, like gift boxes and sampling boxes that were going around during the pandemic. So we would try to be in every one of those once some events started resuming again, some, you know, races and things like that, fitness, um, uh, events. We started donating product there, but most of our.
You know, education was online, direct to consumer. We partnered up with some amazing YouTubers and Instagram influencers that were able to help us with the storytelling. That being said, I can tell you since we entered retail at the beginning of this year, nothing has worked as well as sampling and demoing the product because not only are you.
Giving people a product to try, but you also usually have a brand ambassador that gives you the two liner and the story behind it. And that’s very hard to do online. And especially in this day and age, capturing people’s attention online is, is really difficult. So we’re we’re very excited that we we’re in retail now and we’re able to actually connect with our customers directly there in.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, I mean, I saw on your website there’s like a huge list of retail, so you’re definitely very well, uh, penetrated there. How, like, are you going yourself, um, in retail stores? Are you doing some of that on your own? Are you hiding? Like do you, have you hired like an, some sort of a, um, a company agency that, that helps you with that?
How does that.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, so all the first stores, I opened myself literally going down street in Brooklyn. Manhattan. And then the way it works with larger retailers, like we are in Whole Foods, for example, in in the Northeast region, it’s a little different. It’s, um, more of an application program. So usually a retailer will review your category once a year.
They will require a presentation if they’re interested. They might have a call or a meeting with you. They’ll review the data. They’ll see, you know, What their data is telling them from their stores, what consumer needs are. And then if you’re lucky and you have the right proposition, it’ll take you into store and then you roll out in that retailer.
Even, even still, that is a very personal process and, um, all of our accounts to date, I have closed myself, Allie and I have closed ourselves. We do have a broker. The way brokers work is that they help you prepare any documents for submission. They help you think through promo planning. Once you are working with a retailer, they will remind you, um, to plan your promotions for the year and things like that.
So it’s a little bit more administrative, but it would say nobody is better at selling your brand at this stage as the founders like that. It, it is, um, probably not a good investment to hire anyone to do sales for you. I think, um, founders should do that themselves at the, at the early stages.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And how are you finding being in retail as this new brand?
Um, Also with respect to like manufacturing and, and getting the cash flow going and, and making sure the product is just not sitting in the stores. Yeah. Um, are there any challenges around that? How are you managing
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: that whole process? Oh my God, yes. Uh, that is very different than direct to consumer, right?
Cash flow cycle and D two C is really beautiful because it’s instant. Um, and planning is a little bit easier as well. With retail it’s a little harder. Lead times are really long, you know, from when Whole Foods said yes to us to when we actually landed on shelf it was seven months. So, In some ways it’s good because you have time to prepare and get your inventory ready, but you also don’t really have data yet, so you don’t really know what your forecast will be exactly.
You can always work with comms, but you know, it’s, you never know until you’re in store. So, um, cash flow management is really something that we’re very focused on. Um, we, there are solutions out there that do inventory financing, so, um, once you get pos from retailers and distributors, you can start financing against that.
But obviously you. It’s different than a software business. The product doesn’t get created in the second. You have to plan ahead. You have to make sure you have packaging, inventory and all the ingredients and you coordinate with your co-packer. So that’s something that’s, um, one of the parts of the business that we spent most of our time managing and making sure that we have enough product, not too much, and then that product moves in.
Retail is also. Important, and that’s really done through marketing and merchandising. So we have teams on the ground that make sure that our product is on shelf when it sells out, reminds a buyer to reorder that the pricing is correct, that when we’re on promo it’s displayed correctly. And then, as I said, we’re doing a lot of, um, in store marketing to move product and, and, and get people to, to purchase.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: your team look like right? Um, you, I mean, how I, I dunno if I should ask you, like how, I mean, it seems like you’ve only started like what, three years ago? How big is your business?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, so just, uh, you are looking at 50% of the team, so it’s myself and then my full time. And then we have some incredible partners.
You know, like I said, we have merchandisers that are underground. We are working with some really great demoing people. Um, all, all of those are contractors. They’re not, you know, part of. Time. We have a fantastic branding agency that does all of our packaging design. Um, we have some great people now that are helping us with supply chain management, um, and forecasting, you know, not the big business is starting to get bigger, but it’s just the two of us full time.
And I can tell you we’re definitely ready to grow the team, but, um, it’s all a question of timing and finding the right people as well.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Ok. Uh, so right now, I mean, you’re, I’m assuming you’re considering your business more and more.
Being in the retail store rather than a direct to
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: consumer? Yes. I mean, I would say, you know, we’re in 2022, you know, omnichannel is the name of the game. You have to be available online as well. But for us, the way we think about the channels is you have retail, Amazon and D two C. We really think as retail our.
Main focus along with Amazon, um, because we really see Amazon as an online retailer. There’s already, what is it, like 70% of Americans that have an Amazon Prime membership. I mean, that, that is a place that we don’t have to drive people to. They’re already going there organically. Um, and then D two C, we see more of the billboard for the brand and education tool.
We obviously south through the website, both the pasta and the bars, but um, where we’re focusing most of our energy is on retail and then on Amazon as.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Do you have any competitors who are using the same ingredients? I mean, do you think that
the market and.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, that’s always the endless conversation around first mover advantage or not. Well, we are actually not the very first mover. We’re one of the first ones. There’s a company out there called Brai. They have a pickle cini bean, and they actually just launched a wheat based pasta as well. So they launched a few years before us and then, Um, there’s some other companies that have entered the market that are using Lupini.
Um, there’s a protein powder company. Um, there’s some companies that are using lupini beans in their cookies to add, uh, more functionality. So we are definitely one of the early movers. We’re not the very first one. And you know, the more the better because the more, uh, brands that are educating consumers to more with sharing that, you know, marketing burden, that is the, the biggest lift for all.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So I’m assuming that, as you said, you know, first you were in the bar market, now you’re doing pasta. I’m assuming in the future you, you’re gonna get into more and more categories. Uh, does protein powder, uh, does this product work well for a protein powder? Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely looking for a. Uh, a good protein powder
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, so you could definitely make a protein powder out of lupini beans. And there are options also in Europe that are using it. We, from a um, guardrail perspective as a bread right now, we don’t wanna overly process the ingredients. So we are actually using the whole be in our bar so we don’t only get the protein, but also the fiber.
We’re not looking to go into protein powders quite yet because it’s a hyper processed ingredient, you know, protein. Are usually stripped of a lot of nutrients and then you have to add a bunch of stuff into it so that the taste palatable. Um, that’s definitely not on our radar in in the short term. We’re really trying to highlight, um, the incredible nutritional benefits and the whole food format.
So trying to keep it as clean as possible in terms of label. But the options are endless. And you know, when you look to Europe, there’s so many options on the market there. Dairy and meat replace. Snacks, baked goods, um, dips and sauces that are using lupini beans. So it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I mean, to me it seems like you’ve done, you’ve definitely done a lot of research into this whole, uh, category and industry. How, how many, what was the time period when you got it up, you know, uh, a theater of an idea? You started doing research and actually, actually, you know, doing the. Uh, the pitching of, of this idea to investor, how much time did that take to like really research and.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, I mean, you each came in mind I was working full-time when I first started thinking about this and researching it, and when I did that extrusion program as well, I was working, um, in a different job. So I probably started researching the ingredient around 2000, um, 17, 2018. And then, um, we didn’t really pitch it to investors until this.
2018. So I’d say a year and a half or so of, you know, casual lap research before I left my job and really started, um, working on this more full time.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. Um, as an entrepreneur, uh, what. I mean, you’ve definitely done a lot of right things. Uh, I mean, it may have been difficult to, to, to get to, you know, having the, that from idea to, uh, to where you are right now.
What do you attribute that to? I mean, is it really about just, um, Sticking to it, you know, just problem solving every little, you know, problem that, that comes up. Uh, is it something around, you know, being entrepreneurial and, uh, you know, being flexible? What do you attribute your, uh, Uh, ability to bring this idea to fruition?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a variety of different thing, uh, things. I think one thing that I know for myself is passion plays a huge role. You know, I have worked in some jobs that I did very well in, but I. Did not enjoy it because I didn’t feel personally emotionally connected to it. So that for me, is a big driver that keeps me motivated.
You know, I think that my endurance is way longer when I have passion for something and really care. Um, curiosity. You know, I, like I said before, I’m, I’m kind of a researcher at heart. I love learning, and I think building a business is an endless learning opportunity, which is really incredible and incredibly exciting to have this like, practical experiment in front of you, so that, that is really exciting and endurance, um, you know, not taking no for an answer.
And, um, uh, Kind of letting yourself get distracted, but then also equally it’s important. I think sometimes entrepreneurs get so obsessed with something that they don’t want to hear if it’s not really, if there’s not product market fit. I am just said that that can be a problem when you’re building a business that you care about deeply.
So I think it’s important to be able to reflect as well. Um, Finding amazing mentors and, um, people to surround yourself with. You know, I think it takes a village to build a business. I think that learning from others who have done it before, who have experience is so valuable. So finding mentors that you trust that you can take along the journey and get advice from is really crucial.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Now, in every entrepreneur’s journey, there’s always failures, mistakes made lessons. Um, in your entrepreneurial journey, what have been some of the, you know, the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome or the mistakes made failure, and what have you learned from that? What can other entrepreneurs, uh, learn from that, from your mistakes?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: I mean, it’s a, you know, I feel like. So, so many, right? Um, I think you’re always, you’re always smarter after, after the fact. Uh, one big thing is I spent my career working for early stage startups and I used to think that the faster the better. and I actually don’t think that anymore, even though that is my essence professionally and even maybe personally, that’s how I like to operate.
Uh, I don’t think that that’s always the right mantra. I think that doing something thoughtfully and well and would focus is really important, and that there is this culture around startups that you have to move fast and break fast and go up in flames if it’s not working in, you know, one year. I just don’t think that’s how good businesses I build, especially in the food and beverage industry.
You know, it takes one year to grow a crop, mostly, most of the time. So then you cannot make something happen overnight. And I think patience and thoughtfulness, um, is really important. That doesn’t mean that you. Shouldn’t be agile and nimble and adaptable, but I think both can work together. And what I’m trying to find as I’m building this business is that kind of intersection between being patient and thoughtful, but also being flexible and adapting and moving and making decisions when it’s necessary.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: By the way, what was your role in those startups? Were you in sales or were you
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: more Um, I was mostly in operations and then I had some sales roles as well. Yeah. So, um, yeah, a little bit of, a little bit of both.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So now I’m going to move on our rapid fire segment, and in this segment I’m gonna ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them maybe in one word or one sentence.
So, so the first one is, uh, one book recommendation for entre. And
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: why? Okay. Uh, I don’t know if I can do one sentence, but I’m gonna try to keep it short. You know, I obviously love all the classics and the startup space and I admire people like Adam Grant. Um, I think they are teaching a lot about leadership skills.
That being said, One of my favorite thing is reading biographies of other entrepreneurs, or they don’t even have to be entrepreneurs. I just think, um, I personally find reading people’s life stories more helpful in, uh, getting practical, uh, tangible information, uh, than necessary. These like self-help entrepreneur books.
So some of the really good ones that I’ve read this year are definitely, Steve Jobs is a classic, but I just read that, um, Biography a few months ago, and that was incredibly inspirational. And then there’s a book that I love that is not, you know, directly entrepreneurial, but um, something that I find very inspiring.
It’s called Bray by Alexi Papas. She’s a female, um, writer, but also former Olympian. And, uh, her personal story is, uh, so powerful and so many of her, so many pieces of her journey are very, um, transferable to an entrepreneur’s journey.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Great. Uh, an innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce real or tech landscape that you feel excited about?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Um, I’m really excited about sustainable fashion. You know, along with my journey of becoming plant-based and thinking about the environment, I started thinking a lot about the rest of my consumption habits. And, um, there’s a company that I, uh, look up to, it’s called The Big Favorite. It’s a. Closed loop under garment company and Al the founder, is incredibly inspiring and the business that she’s building is so thoughtful and her products are high quality and she’s trying to really build something that is actually sustainable in the fashion space.
So that’s really cool. Product,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a product?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: You know, uh, my number one productivity tool is really unsexy. It’s called sleep. And I know that when I don’t sleep enough and don’t take care of my sleep hygiene, I can have all the tools and all the asanas and slacks in the world, and that doesn’t help me.
So I would recommend everyone to find what is their sweet spot of sleep and really try to be disciplined about that.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: What is your sweet spot? Six hours, seven hours?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: No, it’s uh, it’s really eight hours. I mean, that’s the other part, you know, that, that we always were taught in, in the startups that I worked for, that you don’t have to sleep, you can sleep when you’re dead.
That’s kind of ridiculous. And so, um, I definitely need eight hours, ideally. That doesn’t mean I get eight hours every night, but that’s what I’m, what I’m aiming.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Do you, do you nap in the, during the daytime also? Like a half an hour thing or something?
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Not really. Um, I only when I’m sick, I guess, but then sometimes, sometimes on weekends.
You know, I’m, I’m training for, um, half marathon right now, and the, the longer runs on weekends are really tiring. So I find myself sometimes napping on the weekend and I’m like, I understand why people do this for 30 minutes. I just am worried that if I started napping, I would just fall asleep and be asleep for two hours that I hear it’s working for some people,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: uh, a startup or business, an eCommerce retailer that.
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: There’s a lot of food companies that I look up to. Um, there is one company, um, parte Cookies that is a retail focused, um, allergy free cookie and baking mix company. And Denise de founder is fantastic and I think the products are fantastic as well, and she’s been able to build a really focused, successful business.
Um, so I’m definitely excited about.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So as you were, you know, building this business, like, did you seek out to some of these other business people who were in the same industry and, and get in touch with them? Or how did you
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: find them? Yeah, definitely. I, oh my God, I find nothing more helpful than talking to others.
Food and beverage founders. So I definitely, organically at the beginning was introduced to some, but now I’m part of a number of communities here in New York, um, that are incredibly fruitful, uh, for me, and I’m always trying to connect with other food and beverage founders.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: A peer entrepreneur business person whom you look up to or someone who
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: inspires.
Yeah, I feel like I’m always just talking about food people, but, um, someone I really admire is Allie Kane. She’s a founder of a sauce company called Haven’s Kitchen. She used to have a brick and mortar store and then had to close that during the pandemic, but launched, um, a, uh, a soft company that is now I think in like Whole Foods nationwide and, and hundreds of retailers.
And she also has a fantastic, uh, food industry podcast called In Into Sauce. Um, she’s. Amazing.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. And last question, best business advice you ever received when you were
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: Uh, best business advice, I mean, kind of goes back to what I said earlier, it’s, um, you know, go slow to go faster. So being thoughtful and, and trying to do it right, um, and maybe doing, spending a little bit more time on it, um, usually has a better outcome on the other side.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Well, those were all the questions that I had today.
Isabelle, thank you so much for me for sharing your story, for sharing, you know, how you went to bringing your to life. So yeah, thank you. Thank you so much again for sharing your story, and
Isabelle Steichen of Lupii: thank you so much for having me. It was great being here. Thank you. Bye.
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