How the Founders of a Multi-Million Dollar Startup Got Their First Customers
Sakara Life founders Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle raised $700 to launch their plant-based food delivery service in 2011 by hosting friends for a dinner party. Somehow, they turned that cash into real customers, and later into a multi-million dollar business that reaches wellness-minded Americans all over the country. Here's how they did it.
What gave you the idea to launch Sakara?
Whitney: We’re both from Sedona, AZ, which is this very spiritual, health-conscious place that’s really ahead of the curve in terms of wellness trends and the mind-body connection. So we both grew up with this understanding and connection, but when we moved to NYC we each started struggling with our own health and body image battles, and completely lost touch with how to eat, what, and why. I was working crazy hours on Wall Street. I was super stressed out, I’d gained 15 pounds and I was fighting cystic acne, which nothing seemed to cure.
Danielle: I had come to NYC to study biochemistry and medicine—I was doing acting and modeling on the side to pay for school. The pressures of that world really got to me, and my relationship with my body became really toxic. I tried every diet under the sun—food was definitely enemy #1 for me. Finally I’d had enough, and I knew I needed to create a healthier, more loving relationship with food and my body. So Whitney and I got together to come up with an eating plan that would heal us, and Sakara was born! When we realized how transformational it was, we knew had to share it.
So, how did it all begin? We asked Whitney and Danielle what they've learned in the past five years when it comes to acquiring early customers, finding a cofounder, and securing investment. Here's what they had to say.
What was the hardest challenge in your first three months of building the business, and how did you overcome it?
W: We were doing everything ourselves at the beginning, so the hustle was real! Developing the recipes, cooking the meals, making deliveries on our bicycles all over NYC, plus doing things like marketing, events, and customer service. It was insane, but the result was that we developed an amazing understanding of every angle of our business that I don't think we would otherwise have gained.
D: We had so many learnings coming out of those first three months, the learning curve was steep! I'd say one of the biggest challenges was learning that it was okay to do things our own way. We had a lot of people telling us we had to do things a certain way, but it wasn't working for us or didn't make sense for our particular business or brand, so we had to make things up along the way. It was hard, but worth it.
How did you get your first customers?
W: We placed marketing cards in cafes and yoga studios all over NYC and trusted they would come to us, and they did!
D: From there, Sakara really took off thanks to word of mouth. Once people experienced the amazing results of this program, they told their friends and it just spread. We're so grateful for the way our Sakaralites—especially those very first ones!—have helped spread our mission. We also had some incredible early press hits from outlets like Goop and The New York Post, that helped us grow tremendously.
You bootstrapped the business in the beginning, but have since raised venture capital. Tell us about both experiences.
W: We actually didn’t fundraise until late last year. We bootstrapped Sakara from the start—we threw a dinner party for our friends and raised $700, and took that money to buy a domain name and make those marketing cards that attracted our very first clients. We’ve really benefitted from being lean and scrappy and resourceful. Everyone on the Sakara team is a hustler for sure.
D: When talking to VCs, it’s so important to find people you respect and who believe in your mission. They're going to be a part of the family moving forward, so it's so important that you are aligned from the start.
How did you two meet? Any advice for other first-time founders looking to find a cofounder?
W: Danielle and I grew up together in Sedona, AZ—we joke that Sakara started when we met in 7th grade math class!
D: It's actually pretty similar to my advice for VC: find someone who believes in your mission ad someone you respect! It's so important that you believe and trust in them as a worker, visionary, and a leader.