In Conversation with Stefany Nieto of Gwella

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Describe Gwella in a few words?

Gwella is a company rooted in wellness and intention, delivering mushroom-based products, content and tools. 

We’re developing and curating transformational mushroom products and experiences, elevating physical and mental health, and bolstering cognitive performance. We focus on adaptogenic, medicinal and psychedelic mushrooms that optimize three critical aspects of wellbeing: Mind, Body, and Spirit.

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

I fell into entrepreneurship. Gwella is actually my third start-up! The first two were social ventures that got off the ground to help improve the standard of living and quality of life people were facing in developing communities (e.g. better drinking water and food security). Once I got the hang of building up teams and structuring operations to meet milestones, it became a personal joy. From there, I was hooked on the entrepreneurship lifestyle. I jumped because I loved the ability to have a say in strategy and the freedom to take action to move action forward.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I started my first company when I was 19. For a long time, I felt I was ‘too young’ to be a founder and so I took it upon myself to get the best of both worlds and worked anywhere between 2-4 jobs simultaneously. I dipped my toes in diverse sectors ranging from government, a Fortune 500 company, accelerators, consulting, teaching, and charitable endeavours. All to say, I learned that I love variety in my day-to-day. These experiences gave me the opportunity to build a well-rounded professional background which landed me where I am today: Chief Operating Officer for Gwella.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Not at all, in fact, early in my career I would say I had an anti-entrepreneur lifestyle. As an operations enthusiast, the potential risk and uncertainty didn’t align well with my love for organization and planning. Instead, I took the safer route and dived into opportunities across government and the corporate world for several years. Overtime, I learned that the bureaucracy and limited space for innovation were sector attributes I didn’t want my future to hold. I left those roles and haven’t looked back since!

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?

I don’t think anything ever goes as planned when it comes to early-stage businesses. With Gwella, we’re still in the process of launching our first product, Mojo productivity gummies, so we haven’t had a plan backfire – yet. In regards to strategy, it always goes back to understanding your consumer and how your product or service can blend into the flow of a user’s life without pause. For Mojo gummies, we’re exploring the world of our target market to better understand their wants and needs in order to deliver product value that makes their lives at least 10x better.

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?

When I built my first company, I hired and developed it with several close friends. While building a company with your best friends sounds like a good idea (read: fun), the day-to-day operations can become a nightmare. Managing a team with diverse personalities is a challenge on its own, but mixing in friendships leads to bringing the office home with you and that can be incredibly draining both for the company and for your own mental health. Personally, I still love being close to my teammates and co-founders but I now take precautions when building relationships to ensure mutual boundaries are in place that can preemptively save me from conflict and headaches.

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

Most recently, it’s been following my own passions. Mushrooms and psychedelics in recent times have gotten a bad rep, due to my association with social-good, I had kept my psychedelic advocacy quiet. Recently though, I decided to take the jump and publicly support mushrooms and share my own personal experiences, especially through Gwella’s platform as a form of advocacy. I hope it inspires other closeted psychedelic enthusiasts to share their own experiences, thus moving the needle on psychedelic branding across the globe. 

To date though, I’d have to say the accomplishment I’m proudest of is making agriculture a possibility on the Arctic circle. That’s been pretty cool.

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

I always ask candidates what they’re hoping to get out of the opportunity, with no BS. I never want to hear a standard answer, instead I encourage candidates to share their selfish reasons for applying because that greed-driven reason is possibly the main reason that they will stick around and will help me understand how to invest into a candidate’s personal and professional growth to help retain their talent.

As for hiring tips, initiative is the single most important attribute you can bring to the table. See a job posting? Learn about the role, team, and company, find gaps and figure out what you can do to fill them. Also, don’t be afraid to go the extra mile (within reason). Several years ago, I found a ‘perfect’ job but I had just missed the application deadline by a singular day. So I did what any other inventive human would do and figured out who the hiring manager was (+what they looked like) and camped out in the lobby of their office until I could personally hand-in my resume. I got the interview.

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

Throughout COVID-19, the population of consumers wanting to explore natural remedies that enhance their lives and improve their health (particularly mental health) has been steadily growing. People are demanding food and beverages that go beyond basic nutrition to help their bodies thrive. As a result of this demand, the functional mushroom space and psychedelic industry has become a bit of a gold rush.

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

Starting in December, we’re going to be releasing mushroom-based products, content, and tools that are built to maximize user value. Within the next 3-5 years (regularly change dependent), we’ll be launching psychedelic products that are designed to be a middle-ground between clinical and recreational use, with self-improvement and reflection at their core.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Expect the unexpected and life moves fast. It feels the world has turned upside down and even though it seems everything is a whirlwind, it’s alright to take a moment to yourself to breathe.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Honestly, I think it comes down to my partner. My life both personally and professionally has been a rollercoaster and he’s been such a supportive presence every step along the way. There aren’t enough words to express how thankful I am for him.

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

Absolutely! However, I’m biased because I’ve faced burnout and have since made it a priority. In terms of best tips, it’s all about organization and sleep for me. Friends may judge me occasionally but I try to get 8-10 hours of sleep per night and I religiously use Workflowy to keep me accountable and on task. It’s a list-making app that is super simple to use and hitting complete is usually a highlight in my day.

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

Despite running a greenhouse business for 7 years, the first salad I ever ate only happened about 4 months ago, during COVID-19.

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

  • Wake up early to get more out of your day.
  • Go to bed early so you can accomplish #1.
  • Remember to be human and maintain your social relationships. A happier you = a more productive you.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Leaning in and out at my discretion, and getting the work done.

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