What are your vitamins really made of? For those of us ingesting our daily vitamin intake through capsules, can we even pronounce of all the ingredients that go into them? GEM touts real food vitamins made for womankind, and you can pronounce all the raw ingredients used to create these cubed vitamins.
As with all great products, Founder and CEO Sarah Cullen experienced the consumer pain first hand, going through a bout of health issues brought on by daily stress, resulting in breakouts, inflammation, fatigue and so forth. Months of allergy tests and different diets did little to help, and she turned to supplements to fill the gap when she learned her issues stemmed from a deficiency in key nutrients.
Her search to find supplements that could work for her took her down a frustrating and surprising path.
“I was shocked when I found a $37B unregulated industry full of artificial, synthetic, overly processed, mislabeled junk. It was overwhelming, frustrating, and disempowering. I couldn’t find anything I trusted, so I decided to build my own. It started with a spoonful of Spirulina a day because it was the cleanest, most sustainable source of nutrition I could find. I noticed a drastic improvement in my health. I then began to research other types of algae. My obsession led me to figure out ways in which we can better diversify and complete our nutrition with real food in cleaner, more delicious ways. 40 prototypes later GEM was born.”
Founders who build a product to cure a common but overlooked consumer pain are likely to find others who are also on the hunt for a solution. For GEM, the brand quickly found other women who were also searching for vitamins they could understand and formulated for their anatomy.
“Women simply have different anatomies than men. We need different things. We need to nourish ourselves differently. The way the system is set up now is a one-size fits all – often favouring men. Supplements are marketed to women in the vein of diet this and skinny that – it’s the opposite of empowering. What if we built products that raised women up, not beat them down? I think a healthier, more empowered womankind is better for everyone.”
We love how the brand’s vision focuses not just on delivering healthy vitamins for women, but also on the deeper mindset level, to lift them up and empower them; it is the small details like this that enables the consumer to share in the brand’s growth and form a deeper connection to the brand’s cause.
In the market research and development of the product, Sarah listened to her customers.
“We tested the market by creating an invite-only Facebook group in April 2018. We grew to over 300 women by word of mouth and were shocked by the community that came together to share inspiration around their health. We offered free samples to 150 of these women and received product feedback prior to launch. This is also how we figured out our product positioning.”
A key lesson from this on the ground market research method? It works, and it’s as simple as listening to your consumers and acting on their feedback. Through the team’s research, they did not just search for answers from their customers, they also sought to understand their questions, curiosities, concerns and needs relating to the product. The insight helped the team refine on the product and figure out how to communicate their new product to prospective customers. After months of prototyping in Sarah’s kitchen, the team landed on the two flavours they went to market with: lemon and peppermint. Sarah adds that “she doesn’t think prototyping ever ends, we’ll always be evolving.” This is the mindset that will lead an entrepreneurial team to stay ahead of the market, always iterating the product to address changing market needs.
From her experiences building GEM, Sarah recounts two key things that helped establish the brand and attract funding for her business.
“I built GEM’s brand, product, and community at the same time. It’s really important to me that the end consumer had a voice in the product I was building and that my brand properly reflected the needs and wants of the end consumer. A lot of people build a brand, product, and community in silos, but I think by tackling them simultaneously I was able to show both the big need we’re solving for and the hunger for it, which ultimately helped prove critical early traction for my first round of funding. I think it’d be trivial to say “prove traction” as a suggestion to raise funds - it’s much more than that. It’s proving that there’s more than a transactional relationship with the customer. It’s proving that you’re much more than a product, but an experience, lifestyle, or community that are all aligned on your crazy passionate vision.”
The key here is that it is more than a transactional relationship, especially for a business like GEM, where customer’s health needs evolve with age; how will GEM’s products evolve or the product range expand to accommodate these changing needs throughout the lifetime of their customers?
When asked what part of the business is the most challenging, Sarah shares “I often think of my job as a radically optimistic problem solver. Every week there is a new challenge and my role is to figure out how to best solve it, adapt to it, and continue onward in our mission without letting it get me or my team down. This is where having a strong community you can lean on who believes in what you’re doing is so critical in overcoming the early rollercoaster of ups and downs.”
Under Sarah’s leadership, the brand has been on a great run, surpassing most of the team’s month over month growth generated organically from word-of-mouth. Sarah credits her customers as a key driving force. “We have a fanatical consumer base that has proven highly successful and scalable on social channels such as Instagram and Facebook.” When you have raving fans, you know you are definitely doing something right.
Find out more about how real food vitamins compare to your existing vitamin options to learn about how the nutrition and health industry is evolving. Learn more about GEM here.
Photos courtesy of GEM