On brand design, unit economics, and startup hiring: a conversation with Sara Cullen, founder of GEMFeatured

I spoke with @saracullen, founder of GEM which creates real, sustainable products designed holistically to help humankind nourish differently. The average supplement is not built for modern wellness with inadequate absorption, toxic fillers, and misleading label claims. GEM is creating the first real food multivitamin. It is soy free, corn free, vegan, gluten free with 100+ phytonutrients and with high bioavailability from real food. GEM’s products give people greater energy, balance, clarity, and beauty. Prior to founding GEM, Sara co-founded a CBD beverage company and has generally been incredibly passionate about innovation in the science of nutrition, inspired, in part, by her own health experiences that brought her to an intimate recognition of our broken food system. Through GEM, she hopes to democratize access to nutrition, reinvent the multivitamin through harnessing the value of algae, and create a line of non-processed, wellness focused products to help people feel their best. GEM aims to be a platform for healthy habits, changing how people nourish themselves. Sara shares her advice on growing consumer brands, nailing strong unit economics, and hiring. Utilize user-first design methodologies. As GEM expands to new markets, Sara underscores the importance of co-creating products with customers by capturing data at every touch point in order to scale intentionally and gradually. It’s critical to really understand your existing customers needs & wants and how those evolve to grow your community. For example, GEM is a vegan product yet most of their customers identify as plant-based, not vegan. “Vegan” vs. “plant-based” appears to resonate with similar demographics, but in actuality, represents consumers with distinct priorities. These nuances matter as you expand the product line and consequently the consumer base without alienating or overwhelming your existing consumers. Focus on unit economics from the start. GEM did an incredible volume of due diligence on each ingredient from the start not just for its quality in nutritional value and supplier sustainability and ethical practices but also in determining whether the ingredient could scale. From the very beginning, they sought to balance quality with accessibility to achieve a gross margin that would allow them to reach more customers. Doing so has allowed them to scale more seamlessly and efficiently. Think of your hiring system like a product development roadmap: one that is iterative, agile, and can adapt to new information. Every early employee at startups ends up wearing many hats and utilizing their skills to take on a range of tasks, including ones only partially related to their initial department of focus. Every role you hire for can go in several directions and it is important to keep team composition in mind: a good ratio of generalists and specialists and most of all, early on hires who are fluid thinkers and doers who focus on their core competencies versus their specific prior experiences or titles. Listen to your gut, and your gut instinct will develop over time. Through more experience, your gut instinct gets more accurate. It is shaped by conscious and subconscious learnings over time. There is no shortage of advice, so you need to learn how to navigate it with yourself and your perspective as a north star.