In Conversation with Sara Cullen of GEM

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Describe your business in a few words?

GEM is a scientifically backed, food-first solution to the outdated and unregulated multivitamin and supplement industry. We use plant-based holistic science to deliver better-for-you nutritional solutions at the cellular level, focusing on using food as medicine. Our Daily Essentials for Women is redesigning the daily vitamin with synergistic superfood ingredients to improve everyday health outcomes from energy and brain function to gut health and inflammation. Be on the lookout for new launches in 2021 too!

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

My personal frustrations with our broken healthcare and food system – and the vital need to revolutionize our nutritional solutions with cleaner, whole food alternatives.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I’m a 2x entrepreneur in the food and beverage world. My personal studies, research, and prior work has been in agricultural development, food policy, and sustainability. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes! I always knew I wanted to build awesome things with incredible people and make a big impact.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

My strategy was to build a lean prototype and get it into the hands of people as quickly as possible so we could iterate with customers at the heart and center of the brand and work to build a quality product that helped people feel their best. We started by forming a private beta community on Facebook to share our initial prototypes and collect as much feedback as possible. This community ended up becoming our early adopters and evangelists.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

A lot of our challenges were being impatient in the early days and wanting to push growth really quickly. Making sure the management and structure of your business is set up to support growth is so critical to ensure sustainability in scalability – and also to ensure you don’t burn your team out too fast.  

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Building an awesome team of humans and a product that has positively impacted people’s health. 

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

“What does success look like for you?” 

Hiring requires a thoughtful, structured, and proactive process that eliminates unconscious biases. Create a scorecard first and foremost, not necessarily a job description. This scorecard should describe exactly what you want a person to accomplish in great detail – a set of outcomes or deliverables and competencies that indicate whether they are meeting and exceeding expectations in that role. This scorecard helps clarify the type of candidate you seek to be able to meet and exceed the role’s requirements. From there, run a proactive, structured, and consistent interview process and make sure to ask for the right kinds of references! 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’ve been really fortunate to build a product that helps your immunity and health – something that people are investing in now more than ever. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We’re launching some exciting new products – all rooted in the premise that food is medicine. We’re also launching a new look & feel that speaks to our larger mission in translating the confusing science and health information and making it more accessible and exciting to learn about your bodies. As we continue to grow, we’ll continue to build out natural, food-first alternatives to the supplement and medicine aisle. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To listen. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

The importance of putting more time into the “why” and “who” and not the “what”.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Yes in the sense that they should coexist effortlessly. My work is my passion – a tip is to find something where you feel like you’re getting paid to play. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I lived out of a single small backpack for 6 months. 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Drink water.
  • Be cognizant of nourishing yourself with the right nutrients and whole, minimally-processed, foods.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being a woman who helps other women. Trusting your instincts, taking big risks, and all the while celebrating other women to lead us into a brighter future.

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