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Chris Hunter Co-Founder of KoiaEver wondered how a kid selling coloring books door-to-door could end up co-founding one of the hottest plant-based protein drink brands? In this Raw and Real Entrepreneurship episode, Susan Sly sits down with Chris Hunter, the unstoppable force behind KOIA. From hustling coloring book pictures in Youngstown, Ohio, to navigating the chaos of Four Loko, to breaking into major retailers like Starbucks with KOIA, Chris’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary.

Chris opens up about his early entrepreneurial sparks, the financial hurdles he faced, and the resilience it took to turn his side hustles into full-blown successes. We dive deep into his innovative approach to parenting, raising kids who are already budding entrepreneurs, and the critical role of mentorship and sustainable business practices in his journey.

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Chris shares his raw and real experiences of dealing with regulatory crackdowns, managing towering debts, and the therapeutic process of writing his book. This episode is packed with insights on authenticity, perseverance, and learning from every misstep.

Whether you’re an established entrepreneur or just dipping your toes into the business world, Chris Hunter’s story is a powerful reminder that with grit, hustle, and a bit of chaos management, you can turn your wildest dreams into reality. Tune in for a dose of real-talk entrepreneurship that’s as inspiring as it is enlightening.

About Chris:

Chris Hunter is a powerhouse in the beverage industry, known for his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. He’s the mastermind behind several hit beverage brands, including Four Loko, Koia, and Not Your Father’s Root Beer. As the co-founder of Koia, Chris Hunter has driven the company to $100M in annual sales, securing spots in Whole Foods, Sprouts, 7-Eleven, and Starbucks. His memoir, Blackout Punch, reveals the gripping story of his journey and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

 

Topics Discussed In This Episode:

  • Entrepreneurship, side hustles, and parenting with a focus on the guest’s childhood business ventures and their children.’
  • Entrepreneurship, debt, and starting a business.
  • The Beverage Industry and regulatory challenges (Four Loko).
  • Entrepreneurship, failure, and resilience.  Crisis management.
  • The importance of mentorship and market strategy.
  • Aligning personal lifestyle with business ventures, partnerships, and growth.
  • Patience, tenacity, and clarity in partnership goals led to successful collaboration with Starbucks.

Connect with Chris:

Website https://drinkkoia.com
LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-hunter-890a2315/
LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/koia/

 

About Susan:

Susan Sly is the maven behind Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. An award-winning AI entrepreneur and MIT Sloan alumna, Susan has carved out a niche at the forefront of the AI revolution, earning accolades as a top AI innovator in 2023 and a key figure in real-time AI advancements for 2024. With a storied career that blends rigorous academic insight with astute market strategies, Susan has emerged as a formidable founder, a discerning angel investor, sought after speaker, and a venerated voice in the business world. Her insights have graced platforms from CNN to CNBC and been quoted in leading publications like Forbes and MarketWatch. At the helm of the Raw and Real Entrepreneurship podcast, Susan delivers unvarnished wisdom and strategies, empowering aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned business veterans alike to navigate the challenges of the entrepreneurial landscape with confidence. Dive deep into the essence of success with Susan Sly, and redefine your entrepreneurial journey.

 

Connect With Susan:

X @Susanslylive
LinkedIn @susansly
https://thepause.ai/

 

Listen to past episodes

 

Read Full Transcript

This transcript has been generated using AI technology. There may be minor errors or discrepancies in the text and it follows a natural conversational flow.

SPEAKERS
Chris Hunter, Susan Sly

00:00
Well, hey there, Susan here, I hope you're having an amazing day. This founder that I am about to interview is absolutely incredible. He is behind several iconic beverage brands, including Four Loko and KOIA and Not Your Father's Root Beer. And you can look at him and go, dang, you know, your latest venture. You're in Starbucks, you're in 7-Eleven. And you could think I mean, this guy, he has it all together. Well, he is going to share in this episode, how not only did he have some legal struggles, there were times where he had severe emotional challenges as well. And he's got a new book out where he chronicles all of the challenges he faced and where he even had to get super clear because he didn't know how he was going to continue on. And so in this episode, you're going to hear about grit, you're going to hear about determination, and you're going to hear what his secret superpower is. So it's my honor and privilege to bring to you this incredible founder and father, Christopher Hunter.

Susan Sly 01:10
This is Raw and Real Entrepreneurship, the show that brings the no nonsense truth of what is required to start, grow and scale your business. I am your host, Susan Sly.

Susan Sly 01:24
All right, what is up, Raw and Real Entrepreneurs. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are having an amazing day. And today I happen to be in Scottsdale, my guest is in Miami and I'm so tempted to sing, Going Back to Miami, but I'm not going to do it. So Chris, welcome to the show. We were talking prior the show about parenthood. We're talking about inspiring young entrepreneurs. And we're gonna dive into so many things. But one of the questions I loved to ask, but the guests like, what were your first childhood businesses or your first childhood business?

Chris Hunter 01:58
Yeah, I mean, I Well, first of all, thanks for having me. And this is going to be fun. I am that kid that was always an entrepreneur from day one. And I don't know that I knew the term but I knew that I like to figure out unique ways to make money. I grew up in a lower middle class, blue collar family in Youngstown, Ohio. I saw what happened when you didn't have money, right, the tension and things that it could create. And so at an early age, I started figuring out unique ways to make it. And so like the earliest one that comes to mind is, I would like many first graders color in a coloring book and I think I was told by my mom or somebody my aunt that I was really good at it. And then I had great shading and all this stuff. And so I decided well, I'm going to rip this out and go sell it because clearly somebody wants it. And so I went door to door selling my coloring book pictures in first grade and that just steamrolled from there. I sold candy on the bus and at school. I sold you know knockoff sunglasses and T shirts and sweatshirts at a flea market. I sold Cutco knives door to door. And that just continued to grow. From there. I started my first official company in college, I started a magazine. I started a promotions company. And as any entrepreneur knows plenty of losses along the way and a couple of wins too.

03:16
Well, we're going to get into your entrepreneurial career. So it sounds like to me like you've always had like a side hustle. You've always been entrepreneurial. Do you? Do your kids have side hustles?

Chris Hunter 03:28
Yeah, it's amazing. So it's amazing to see. So my kids are nine sorry, 11, nine and six all boys. And so that's a competitive and you know, energetic household. As you can imagine. We found this amazing school that we love down here in Miami. It's called Centner Academy. And what we love about it is it's very my older two boys went to a Waldorf school, if you don't know about that style of teaching, you know, look it up. It's it was really magical for them as kids. And then we moved here and this school embraces many of those concepts, but also is progressive. So you know, they meditate in the morning, they learn about mindfulness, they're learning about crypto and entrepreneurial in the afternoon. Entrepreneurism in the afternoon. And so they do a Shark Tank starting in third grade, where they come up with an idea, they pitch it to us parent potential investors. Little secret, they all get funded, oddly enough. And then they do a marketplace at school and they do two or three of them a year. And so my older two boys have you know, I'm the I'm a beverage entrepreneur. So my oldest did a beverage for his first, one my second son did a ice cream stand for his his. My youngest son who's six has not had the opportunity to do that yet. But you know, it's it's amazing to see how want and desire motivates because his older two brothers, we empower our kids to manage their own money. There's some requirements around what they save, invest in, spend and give. But within that, as long as it's legal and not against the house rules they can buy If they want, and the older two boys bought these gel blaster guns, and my younger son wanted one and he asked us, like, how can we make money? And so we brainstormed, and he came up with the idea that his brothers were going to be playing a hot football football game in hot weather on Saturday. And so he created lemonade, and he went person to person and sold it. And then one day, he made the money to buy his, his gel blaster gun. So I would say they have side hustles already going.

Susan Sly 05:27
I

05:27
love it. And and I think it's so important that it you know, I, we were talking to like, my son, AJ, he just graduated. And I was telling Chris that his degrees already, obviously, because of AI, right? So his degree is in design and advertising. And so there we spent 150,000 on this degree, and what does it really mean? And that teaching kids entrepreneurship is is I think it's essential, because it's, it's something that if Chris Hunter and I were on the corner of like 52nd in Manhattan, and we had nada. Like by that night, we'd have a roof over our heads, we'd have, you know, food it this is it's because you have to know how to do it and the world is changing. So I love that. So Chris, you I mean, you mentioned beverages. How did that spark happen for you? Because the CPG consumer packaged goods is not an easy gig. What I have invested in two CPG companies both in the beverage space, women led companies. One is Une Femme Wines. One is Gloci, like beverages are tough. Like how did how did that start for you?

Chris Hunter 06:42
so I guess it probably luckily started with some ignorance on my part. I didn't know how hard it was. So I didn't know what to say no to it. i If I look back, and you know, look, these are long answers, right. And I'll try to shorten them up. But I wrote extensively about all this in my book. But if I look back, what really got me going in beverage was one, in college, I started at a nightclub promotions business. And so you know, drinking and alcohol were really central to what I was doing and how it was paying my way through college. That's one, two, around that time, Red Bull was really just launching into the US market. And watching that happen was fascinating. They had reps in our, I went to Ohio State, they had reps in our college town, just giving out cases. And of course, since I was the party guy, there were given me a ton of them, right. And so those things, in retrospect, make total sense why I got in the beverage. I moved to Chicago, I had no job. I ran up a ton of debt. And out of necessity, I had to figure out something to do. And the first thing I figured out to do was go go work for like a hail damage storm chasing company because they made good money fast. And there's low barrier to entry, but I'm afraid of heights. And that was never a career. So I bugged. I bugged a contact I had made in Ohio that lived in Chicago. I bugged him every day until he gave me a job working for his startup vodka company. And once I got in, I learned the beverage industry, the alcohol industry specifically. And it just steamrolled from there. I saw opportunities because of the world I was living in. And so that's really what, what propelled me into beverages.

Chris Hunter 06:42
Yeah,

08:20
Well, I'm afraid of heights as well. That's the first thing. And my question for you is what alcohol did you mix in your Red Bull?

Chris Hunter 08:28
So we sold this, we sold this vodka called, it was a really bad name. It's called Players Extreme Vodka. And there was a cherry flavor and we sold it mixed in with Red Bull as a cherry bomb shot. And that was primarily where I was selling the bulk of that flavor of product. And so yeah, Players Extreme Cherry Vodka. Okay,

08:51
okay. Full confession. I've maybe had a Red Bull once. I've never had Red Bull with alcohol. I can't do caffeine after noon. So I don't know what kind of mess I would be. I'd probably hallucinate so not not a good thing for me. So, Chris, the, you mentioned debt. So I just had Nick Fogle on the show, he had $250,000 in student loan debt from going to law school. He never practiced law, he went into entrepreneurship. Oftentimes we hear about entrepreneurs who have debt coming into a venture, like how much debt did you have?

Chris Hunter 08:52
So I

Chris Hunter 09:15
had racked up probably keep in mind, this is the early 2000s, I had probably racked up, you know, 30 , $40,000 in credit card debt, not just long term debt. Plus, I had student loans. So you know how that works. That was almost something that couldn't come out of, right. I was fortunate in one sense. I had an uncle who said, I will essentially refinance this for you, I'll pay the credit card debt off and you pay me back plus interest, and I did and pay that off. So that really was helpful. I'll tell you there was a pivotal moment though. My now wife, but she was my girlfriend at the time, was living in Chicago and I had I had this confidence maybe bordering on arrogance after my college days, and I was not going to go get a entry level startup, or an entry level job for a big corporation, just wasn't gonna happen. And that mentality led me to being broke with a ton of debt to the point where I woke up at my girlfriend's house one day and didn't know how I was going to pay rent. And to her credit, I woke up the next day, and there was a check on the on the nightstand. And that's how I paid rent. But again, that is a motivator, I said, I gotta get, I gotta get it together. And, and so I started by getting a job, which I didn't want to do, and then built my company, which is now you know, a good sized company as a side hustle. While I had that job, I was being paid the way I looked at as I was being paid to learn an industry. And I'd be foolish not to take advantage of that. And so those two years I worked for that startup vodka company, I learned a ton and made an enough contacts, that I could launch something in that space. So, you know, I did all that before I quit my job and, and,

Chris Hunter 11:11
and started something.

Susan Sly 11:12
Yeah, and I want to unpack that for the listeners just for a second, because in Chris's book, the, you know, he lays out his story, his vulnerabilities, it's, it's huge. And I want everyone to read it, because the you cannot be an entrepreneur by yourself. And you said you had confidence bordering on arrogance. And I want to pause for a minute. So this really lands for the listeners, we're talking credit card debt, which is high high interest, debt, student loan debt, which you can't default on. So a significant amount of debt. Chris is working full time. And he's doing his side hustle. So we, you know, we look at Chris a lot, the the rate for startups to fail is about 90%. And I'm asked all the time, you know, what, what kind of startups are going to make it, what are going to fail. I've interviewed 400 founders, I'm a multi time founder. I always bet on the founder. I think ideas are like there are a million ideas out there. There are a million concepts. But is that person gritty? Are they going to do what it takes when the chips are against them to really get themselves out of that corner? Right? And so you work for two years? And I'm sure it wasn't easy. Like, did you have some wall kicking moments like, okay, so you got your girlfriend, you got a full time job, you got a side hustle, you're still paying off debt? What was the hardest thing about that time?

Chris Hunter 12:31
I mean, I think the hardest thing about that time was having patience. Like I knew that I was never going to work for someone long term, I was not long term employable, at least in my own mind. And that, and I was okay with that. And so getting to where I wanted to be took patience, and and that was tough. But I look back at the comment you made about grit. And I read this study that I thought was super interesting around and I applied it to my kids. On a range of zero to 10, zero being you had the worst life you can imagine. And nothing was in your favor and 10 being you had everything with a silver spoon, and nothing could go wrong. Between zero and two and eight and 10 that the same failure rate in life, however you want to classify that. So the point was that middle ground where you had to have some grit and had to overcome some things was really imperative to long term success. And so I grew up in a situation where, you know, on the lower side of that scale, where there were plenty of obstacles created for me, or that were in life for me. Fortunately, my kids are on the higher end of that scale. And we find ourselves creating some obstacles for them to overcome, so that they don't have everything handed to them, because we want to set them up for long term success. And I say that because I look back. And I remember specific times in my life, that things worked out that literally propelled me forward and gave me the confidence to go do other things. I remember in third grade, I moved to a new neighborhood, I had to take the Iowa test, which was the standardized test at the time. I performed really well on it. And so I was then suddenly considered gifted and I got to go into these gifted classes. Well, when I think back all those gifted classes, where were conversations and critical thinking, there was nothing that special about them. I just wasn't forced to sit in a in a desk and listen and regurgitate what the teacher told me. That was a pivotal moment for me. When I was told repeatedly, year after year that I was in the gifted class, I started to believe I was gifted, and then I was more confident and going out to do something and that I would figure it out. And so I can't Oh, I can't overemphasize the value of that grit for

Chris Hunter 14:41
kids.

Susan Sly 14:42
Yeah, that's huge. And that you mentioned patience too, because it's this. There's a testing every entrepreneur, like entrepreneurial failure. I think one of the things I look at. Someone asked me yesterday, what characteristics do you look for an entrepreneur? I'm like, I love former Athletes, like, you know how to push past pain, you know how to go and get the job done, how to perform when it's important, like there are things that I look for. The commitment, you know, someone who can commit to something. So you have these characteristics that you honed. And then you, you know, you start Four Loko, and you have this meteoric rise, and a regulatory Smackdown. So like, what? Talk about a little bit I know you've spoken about in so many interviews, how you founded the company, but I want to dive right to the moment where it's like, the Oh, crap moment, like what the heck is going on here? And

Chris Hunter 15:41
I think on the on the, on the patiences's topic, like many people know, Four Lokos, the meteoric rise, and it's true, it was but we were in business for multiple years before that on the verge of bankruptcy every year, hiring people letting them go going without paychecks, whatever it may be. And then when we hit on Four Loko, it was this meteoric rise. And, and then a very quick, you know, regulatory SmackDown, as you mentioned. And I look back at that, and I say, I got my PhD in crisis management through that experience. It was definitely a eye opening, you know, experience to where we had done everything we thought, right, we followed the rules as they were laid out, and then the rules changed for us. And so it was very much another practice and patience of asking a lot of questions, trying to understand what the what the root of these regulations and concerns was. And ultimately, what we determined is it didn't make logical sense. But we had to play by the rules that were now being changed. And so we did. And so it was a very intense time. But what I've also found out about myself, both through behavioral assessments, like DiSC, you know, telling me about myself, and then through experience, is, I thrive in chaos. And so there was a lot of clarity for me that may, others may not have during a time like that. And, you know, those high, highs and those low, lows create a level of focus and intensity that is, you know, can't be matched in normal day business. So you learn a lot about yourself, we came out the other side with a with a really strong company, and that company is better than it's ever been. But it was it was a learning experience for sure.

Chris Hunter 15:50
That I had Jeremy Delk on the show. And so Jeremy was raided by the FBI, like he was doing like the compounding pharmacy. And, and, and they were just like, they were growing so fast, Chris, that the they weren't paying attention to the regulations and the things that are changing. And I just step into a mentorship role for a moment. And and what would you say to an entrepreneur, in terms of being able to look around corners before you're, you know, you're going down the road? And you're driving 150 miles an hour? Like, how do you anticipate the turns?

Chris Hunter 18:03
So in retrospect, that I'm yeah, in retrospect, I don't know that it would have changed anything. I mean, it ultimately got us to where we were, but if I were thinking through things, we may have been able to do better. You know, one of them was getting it. Alcohol is a highly regulated industry, getting more ingrained in the industry, that the trade groups the, you know, regulating bodies, and working collaboratively, collaboratively with them from the beginning might have been valuable. It may have saved us some headache, a lot of money, it would have saved us. But it also may have made us not do things in terms of continuing to put the product out that was legal, that solidified our business for the long, long haul. I would say that when you're going at 150 miles an hour, it's really easy to just bolt things on and not focus on culture and not focus on sustainable processes. And I think, had we, if I were running that race, again, I would find a way to implement some of those so that it was the rocket ship ride will eventually end or will plateau. And so we would have been better prepared for when that happened. Those would be the two biggest ones. I would say, you know, the other thing is remain focused, we got to a point and I'll speak for myself and all my partners, but I got to a point where it felt like I could do no wrong. Anything that we came out with was was taking off, was working. And so I started to get distracted and thinking about other businesses and other things that I could do, rather than focusing on this tiger we had by the tail and really kind of solidifying it.

19:40
That's huge. And did you have someone in your life at that point who's kind of sat you down and said, hey, it's time to like think differently.

Chris Hunter 19:50
You know, the first time I would say that really happened was I met I met a guy that I wanted to partner with his company to bring an alcohol collab brand to life. And he was the CEO or president of a company that had sold billions of dollars worth of liquor brands to strategics. And I asked him how he did it. And he said, I was ill equipped for my position when I got the position. But there was this guy who coached me through it. And he's the only reason I was successful. And so of course, I said, Well, I gotta meet that guy. And he introduced me to him. He did this DiSC behavioral assessment, he coached me. And that was the first time I realized, like. One, some of the things that were really second nature to me that were unique and special, because we only know what we know, right? What comes natural to us may not come natural to everyone. So that was really valuable. And the second was, was realizing that we needed to think a little bit ahead about, you know, look, we were a three headed monster, right? There were three co founders, equal owners, and no real defined roles and hierarchy. And he, he said, Hey, this is going to become a problem at some point. And ultimately, it did. So he was the first first person I think that that helped guide me and I would say that, if I could go back, I would get a coach or a mentor much earlier. Yeah,

21:10
That's huge. That every entrepreneur I know who's had an exit, who's grown a company to a nine figure beyond valuation, or in your case, like multiple nine figure annual sales, they have a coach, they have a therapist, right, they have a team, because it can be a very lonely journey. And that's, that's why I said, it's so I read books, like I'm an avid reader. And here's a full confession in front of 1000s of our closest friends, is my youngest daughter at Emery and I, we love Barnes and Noble. Like old school, like go we need to have physical books in our hands. I read them on tablets, and and I read like three to four books a month, easily. So audio read them, I physically read them. And and I can't, you know, we we need that because we don't have all the answers. And speaking of so you you say okay, well, okay, well, we're gonna do KOIA and that is the book there's a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. It's talking about you know, you're nodding, Chris is nodding. If you're listening. And if you're, if you're seeing on YouTube, he's nodding, but if you're not, he's nodding. And so just to comment, I'm gonna frame the question a little bit for people aren't familiar. So the the premise of the book is the blue ocean is your you're in a market where there's not a lot of competition, and you can go in there and you know, you can acquire clients and it's great. The red ocean, the sharks are out for blood, it's a lot of competition, it costs you more money for market penetration. You, usually in a red ocean, people are going to spend more on sales and customer acquisition costs and so forth. So you launch KOIA in, I'm not going to call it a red ocean of plant based drinks, but let's call it a pink ocean. Like why did and I, you know, I'm, I, I've always been, you know, a fan of, of what you've done and, and to look and go, he launched this in like, this is not a new market. There were other, there were sharks in the water was. So what made you think this is the direction I want to head?

Chris Hunter 23:10
Yeah, it's

Chris Hunter 23:10
funny you say that I remember as I was transitioning away from Fusion and looking at what I was going to do next. I remember talking to some people, and I was considering a bunch of different things. And I was considering another alcohol product, and it would have been an alcoholic tea. And they said, Yeah, you should go into that. It would have been easy, right? Theoretically, Nothing's ever easy. But theoretically, it would have been easy. And I just felt drawn to this idea of this plant based protein drink because it organically aligned with me and my lifestyle. So what had happened between the inception of Four Loko and my life at this point was, I was I had grown up, I was older, I was married. I had two kids at the time. My wife's a nutritionist, so our definition of health around eating specifically became vegan, drinking became very different. And, and my second son was born dairy intolerant, we didn't know at the time, but we figured it out, are lactose intolerant. And so we became a dairy free household. So this keep in mind, this is 2014 ish. This is before Oatly and Impossible Burger and California Farm all these things. And so this idea of plant based was interesting, because vegan to me was very much like an exclusive, I was never going to be vegan. I didn't believe in it. I didn't that wasn't aspirational for me. And it felt like if a product was marketed as vegan, then it wasn't for me. But this idea of plant based was very inclusive, like I can eat a steak of high quality steak one night and I can drink a KOIA in the morning and not feel like it's not a fit. So that was intriguing to me. So those two things. And then the third was I had invested in what I'll call the proof of concept of KOIA. It was called Raw Nature Five, essentially it was the same it was a plant based protein drink. Bad name, bad package, but it got a little bit of buzz in about 20 stores in Chicago. And it's a tough category. As you mentioned, it's it's perishable. So it's even more difficult and expensive. And so there was an opportunity for me to come in and essentially fund and Co-found and pivot this this company, which I decided to take advantage of. Now, I will say, I thought this, my first goal, was, I will be a co-founder and a one year interim CEO. And here I am seven years later, still in the CEO seat, because it's never as fast or efficient as you plan on on it being. I raised money really quickly in this venture. And I felt an obligation to my investors to take it across the finish line, whatever that means. So to answer your question directly, I think it's just like an alignment with what I'm doing and building to my personal lifestyle and an easy understanding of what it is.

Susan Sly 23:14
And that's what it seems like your life's opus, in terms of your work, is very much of whatever you're building is a reflection of where you are in your life. Right now, you're not the college kid drinking a case of Red Bull a week, right? You're, you're a dad, you're like, so proud of the boys and what they're doing in their endeavors. You've learned your lessons. And you're also at a different time in stage in your life, and you're looking at health, you're looking at longevity. And the reason I mentioned the red ocean is because KOAI made some very significant market penetration. And these are not the easy deals to get into Starbucks, as an example. Right? And and what is one of the, you know, what is one of the deals that from the outside might have looked impossible, you don't even have to name the customer. But you managed to get it done. And how did you get it done?

Chris Hunter 26:32
Yes, I

Chris Hunter 26:35
think patience, tenacity and clarity in terms of who that partnership, who that partner is, what that partnership looks like, and why it's valuable to both sides. And so I will use Starbucks as an example. Because I think it's a good one. We always felt that KOIA would be a great fit for Starbucks. Because they are people are going there for something on the go relatively quick, right often skewed towards the beginning of the day. So breakfast on the go would make total sense. That's one of the core usage occasions for for KOIA. We also knew that there was this trend towards not only plant based but low sugar, many of the, you know, Legacy drinks at Starbucks didn't have that option. So we always felt like this would be a perfect fit. It took years, seven years for us to get that opportunity. And we launched as you mentioned in Starbucks nationwide, and in October of last year, but then where the real value came in was when we when we uncovered the truths behind the partnership. So a vast majority of Starbucks revenue is driven from sales behind the bar, right, their coffees, their lattes, all that stuff, the stuff in front of the bar is a nice to have. And it's like a complementary product, but it will never move the needle as much as behind the bar. Well, what we discovered is there's an opportunity to merge those worlds. And so we noticed this trend. It's on social media, it's hashtag coffee, #proteincoffee, and it was gaining a ton of momentum, quarter of a billion views. And people were using our product in it as well as others. So we went to Starbucks, and we were talking about how we could collaborate. And this was a great opportunity, you can order two shots of espresso, in a venti cup of ice, you can buy a KOIA, or you can pour it over low maintenance or low lift for the person working behind the bar, upsell for the consumers and for the retailer themselves and gives the consumer an option, a new option. And so I think, unique angles and creative kind of approaches, the partnerships really matter. And I think that's why we've been successful there. But how did it happen? A lot of it was patience. And it was also talking to all of the investors and advisors that we have around the table and telling them what we're trying to accomplish. Because ultimately what happened is one of our investors had some relationships with people in inside of Starbucks, who got the conversation started for us, helped us navigate who we should even even be speaking to, to get the ball rolling, right? Sometimes that's the hardest part.

29:15
Well into that point. Founders the statistic is founders that speak to their advisors at least once a month are 38% more profitable for as operators than those who don't. And so that is that's a credit to you to say, Hey, this is a vision we have, we don't necessarily know how to get there but we're going to leverage you're obviously a high D in the DiSC, but we're obviously going to leverage this these relationships and see who do you know, who do you know, who you know? And lastly, I want to switch gears to the book. You have been so vulnerable in the book from selling drugs, to Ayahuasca, to you know, like to put yourself out there especially at a pivotal time when you're building valuation in a company. My question for you is a lot of people wouldn't have the courage to do that. What made you decide that now is the right time?

Chris Hunter 30:06
Yeah,

Chris Hunter 30:06
great question. Um, I had been casually, I had casually gotten the comment over years of oh, you should write a book. But I never took too much that never took put weight in into that. Back in 2020, I was talking with a friend, like one of our really close family, friends, and she was struggling with something and I shared a story, I try not to give advice. I try to share stories that may be relevant. And I shared a story. And she said, that really helped me and you should really write a book. And under that heading of, hey, maybe your stories will help somebody, I found inspiration to say, let's do this. Let's bring it to life. I will say that it was a four year project ,way longer than I expected. There was a lot of therapy involved in theme in your life much longer than I expected.

Susan Sly 30:51
That's your next book title.

Chris Hunter 30:52
Yeah. Thank you. Right. Gosh, I'm glad you noticed that theme. Now I can try to change it.

Chris Hunter 31:00
But I almost didn't put it out. And then because there's a lot of question, self questioning about what you just said. Is the right time, should I be this vulnerable? Should I expose myself? Is it going to have a negative impact on the companies? And ultimately, what I decided after meeting a kindred spirit here in Miami, and him reading it, he shared that it helped him and so I set the goal of if this stone, if this story, any one of them that's in the book can help any person, then I've succeeded. And within a week, somebody shared that, you know, one of the stories that helped them in a family situation. And so that was the reason to really put it out. You know, I questioned it, but you know, you have to think about these things. My kids will one day read this book, and they will learn those things, my parents or my in laws would read this book, and have, but the reality is that I'm not perfect, and none of us are, and we, we don't act like we're perfect to our kids. And we just felt like it was probably a good example to highlight, you know, that fact that and give ourselves and them a little permission to, you know, you make mistakes, you learn from them, you grow.

Susan Sly 32:10
Yeah, absolutely. And, and I want to, you know, and kudos to you because that, it, it takes it takes guts to do. And a lot of people will write a book after an exit or an IPO or something and you're like, you're still in it, you're still operating, you're still doing it. And, and I want to thank you. And so I want to encourage everyone to get Blackout Punch. Everyone on this entrepreneurial journey. As I said, you can't go it alone. It just as you know, Chris has shared. Not only can you not go it alone, but you actually, you know, it might take longer. Patience has been a big theme of this, this particular show. Yeah, but, and I want to, I want to wish you every success, I'm KOIA fan. And, and I think that what you have done in a market is is just incredible. And to to be so resilient, and a lot of people would have given up and and either pivoted or taken a job or something, and you've just kept on going. So thank you for being on the show.

Chris Hunter 33:19
Yeah, thanks for having me. And as a KOIA fan, you should know, you know, our existing product as it shows up as a perishable refrigerated product. We listen to our customers and our fans. And the number one request was how do I get buy in bulk? And the number two requests was how do I get it delivered? And so this month, we'll be launching our first multipack on Amazon, so you'll have to check it out. We'll send you some over. Absolutely,

Susan Sly 33:43
yes, I probably spend a lot of money on Amazon. That's why I buy shares in Amazon because I need to feel validated that having some kind of benefit. Well, thank you again, Chris, for being here. And to all the listeners, drop us a, you know, drop a share on social media. Give us a five star review, make sure you are subscribed to these episodes. If you have a comment about this episode, you can always go to Susansly.com. I read all your comments. And with that, God bless. Go rock your day, and I will see you in the next episode.

Susan Sly 34:17
Well, hey there if you are listening, I hope you had an amazing experience hearing Christopher's story and I hope you ordered his book Blackout Punch. I know that I did. And if you are watching on YouTube for Startup Diaries, I just want to welcome you to this episode. And today I recorded two shows. So yes, I'm wearing the exact same thing I was wearing before. And it's it's been a day. And today I want to talk about in this diary, handling challenges that you're not expecting. So as an entrepreneur, you go okay, well, this is what I want to create and this is what I want to build and I have a plan and it's all well and good. And until something disrupts you. And so I want to talk about today the difference between goals and your vision. Because they're not the same thing. So, as an entrepreneur, it's important to have a vision. The vision is, what is it that you're creating? And why are you creating it? Who is it going to impact, what changes are going to make, and you don't have all of the pieces. That is why it is called a vision. It's like a dream, you don't necessarily know how you are going to accomplish it, you just know that there is a bigger destination for you to get to. And in thinking about that, in thinking about things like Tesla, Elon Musk, getting into electronic vehicle space, he had a vision of what Tesla could be. SpaceX, he had a vision for what that company could be. Steve Jobs had a vision for what Apple could be . What the Macintosh could be when he was working on that project. If you haven't read Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs, it's, I highly recommend it as an entrepreneur. Even friends of mine who have started various companies, they all have a vision. And then as you have your vision, you begin to set these goals about how you're going to get there. And in the engineering world, we might call them sprints. It's like, okay, where do I want to be? I'm at Sprint Zero. Okay, where do I want to go to next and then you get into the aspect of how you're going to get there. If your vision is clear, when you are derailed, because you're in a sprint, and you have a goal, and something happens, you will figure out a way to circumnavigate around that and you know what, guess what, you'll probably even figure out an even better way to get there. But when you're in a place where you're so focused on the goals, and you've lost sight of your vision, that's where your company becomes exhausting. Because you're so focused on the tactics and these minor steps, that you you lose sight of that thing that got you up in the morning. And that gave you that that in French would say that is what the Wii is the joy of living that gave you that excitement. And, and when you lose sight of vision, there's a saying, you know, without vision, the people perish. When you lose sight of that vision, your if you have employees, if you have your customers, your family members who are watching you do this, they all suffer. Your job as an entrepreneur, is to be the chief visionary officer. And I know sometimes in large companies that the original founder will bring in a chief visionary, visionary officer because they're feeling flat, or maybe they've already accomplished their vision. And, and they're feeling a little stuck there and a success come and that's perfectly okay. But if you're starting a business, you've got a newer business, you've only been at it for a few years. reconnect with your vision, if you're feeling a little flat, and I know for myself, that with what we're building at the pause, I have such a clear cut vision of how like, it's going to make an impact and what it's going to be. And then when I get into the engineering meetings, and I hear things like, oh, we can't do that in v1, or this isn't going to work. I almost tuned it out, because I will challenge the team to go back and say what is the alternate way? What is the plan B we are still creating this vision. Because there are so many women out there millions and millions of women who want this particular piece of technology that we're going to build and the impact and the end result and what it can accomplish. And so, stand on your vision, my friends, that's what I want to say to you like it's hard, you're gonna be exhausted, you're in a wall kicking moments, you're gonna, like, have tons you want to, like pull your hair out, like I'm in Yeah, I'm 51 years old. I probably you know, yes, I color my hair, or whatever. My hair is probably really, really gray beneath all of this because, you know, there are so many stressful times as an entrepreneur, but reconnecting with the vision and sometimes I'll just say, you know, sometimes for me, I need to just like put on music and go for a hike or go for a walk or go do something quietly by myself and reconnect with that vision. So I can reground myself because as the CEO, I am the chief visionary officer and if I'm faltering on the vision, then the whole team will too. So that's my diary free this week and if you You're on YouTube, drop a comment below. I want to see your comments. And if this is helpful, I'd love for you to share. These diaries just come from my heart because they're really something that you know I was looking for, especially as a female founder. I wasn't seeing it out there. It isn't all perfect. The road is messy and bumpy, but oh my gosh, it's worth it. And so please comment below and like and subscribe to the channel.

Susan Sly 40:26
Hey, this is Susan and thanks so much for listening to this episode on Raw and Real Entrepreneurship. If this episode or any episode has been helpful to you, you've gotten at least one solid tip from myself or my guests. I would love it if you would leave a five star review wherever you listen to podcast. After you leave your review. Go ahead and email reviews@Susansly.com. Let us know where you left the review. And if I read your review on air, you could get a $50 amazon gift card and we would so appreciate it because reviews do help boost the show and get this message all over the world. If you're interested in any of the resources we discussed on the show, go to Susansly.com That's where all the show notes live. And with that, go out there rock your day. God bless and I will see you in the next episode.

Susan Sly

Author Susan Sly

Susan Sly is considered a thought leader in AI, award winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker, best-selling author, and tech investor. Susan has been featured on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime, ABC Family, and quoted in Forbes Online, Marketwatch, Yahoo Finance, and more. She is the mother of four and has been working in human potential for over two decades.

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