Live Purely with Kori Estrada
Kori Estrada of RiseWell: From Finance To Founder and Embracing Failure
Elizabeth is joined by Kori Estrada, Co-Founder of the natural oral care company RiseWell. In their conversation, Kori first talks about her background in finance, and how that influenced her mindset as a founder in RiseWell’s desire to maintain control of their own decisions and destiny. Kori needed to make sure that RiseWell’s products were safe, effective, and completely science-backed so that all dentists, including her brother, could feel confident recommending it to their patients. She explains what hydroxyapatite is and why it’s a safer alternative to fluoride, some of the less than ideal ingredients in current toothpastes on the market, and why it’s time to disrupt the $5 billion oral care industry with a new twist on oral health.
Discount Code: Use code LivePurely10 at RiseWell.com for 10% off.
We're really science first. I do try to be thoughtful about - does this really work, and is this really clean? Those are the two core questions that we ask with everything we do.- Kori Estrada
Podcast transcript below:Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey.
This week's guest is Kori Estrada, co-founder of RiseWell, an all-natural, sustainable brand that is disrupting the oral care industry with safe ingredients and transparency. Driven by personal experience with celiac disease and the IVF process, Kori’s dedication to overall health and wellness led her to create dentists-formulated products that are free from harmful chemicals like fluoride, sulfates, and synthetic additives. In this episode, we discuss the controversy surrounding fluoride and how Kori discovered the power of hydroxy apatite during research in Japan, which has become the star alternative ingredient for RiseWell products. We also discuss what ingredients to avoid in that only toothpaste but also floss. Kori shares how her experience in finance has helped to shape the business and her vision for transforming the oral care industry. Finally, we talked about her personal experiences as a mother, founder, and investor and her strategies for balancing all those roles. Keep listening to learn all about Kori and RiseWell. And if you want to try her products, you can use code LIVEPURELY10 at risewell.com. Enjoy.
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Kori, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to have you on today and to hear your story.
Kori Estrada 02:22
Thank you so much for having me. And I'm excited for our conversation.
Elizabeth Stein 02:25
So we'd love to start with your journey. And certainly, you haven't always been doing RiseWell. So that's to go through what you were doing in your career before launching the brand.
Kori Estrada 02:37
I went to college in New York City, and my parents sent me to college with very little money. And it was about a $ 20-a-week allowance, which doesn't get you very far. So quickly started doing all sorts of different jobs. I was able to get an internship at an investment firm and realized there that I loved finance dissecting companies and understanding different sectors. That's why I did that internship. And I knew that that's the path that I wanted to go on. And they recommended doing investment banking before going back to a hedge fund. So, I did that after college for two years, right during the financial crisis. Perfect timing, but I kept my job. So that was a good thing. And it was extremely informative because I entered right as things were still really good. And then obviously, the world took a turn for the worse from a macro perspective. So I got to see both sides, which was helpful from a career perspective. Then two years later, went to work at a hedge fund, and left that one. I'm still at the second hedge fund that I worked at called Axon Capital. So most of my career has been as an investor and I invest across sectors and geographies and also all different asset classes. That's really where my experience lies. So starting a toothpaste company wasn't necessarily something I would have predicted back in college.
Elizabeth Stein 04:08
Yeah, absolutely. What has been one of your favorite things about the financial career that you've had before getting into RiseWell?
Kori Estrada 04:17
It's the people that you work with. I think for me, I love it's a very meritocratic environment. If you're smart and do well, you get rewarded, there's not a long corporate ladder to climb up. And that's not something that I was interested in. And also, honestly, from an intellectual perspective, it's really fun to have a scoreboard every single day, I know how I'm doing. There's no, you have to wait until your end. It's like there's Monday through Friday when the stock market is open. I can tell you if I'm in a good mood or a bad mood, depending on how my companies are doing. That actually can be mostly fun, but obviously can be challenging as well. But I've always been somebody that looks forward to challenges so I think it's a good thing. But there's never not a learning moment in finance. We're always being challenged in different ways and learning about new companies and sectors that are new. And we're just actually looking at a cement business recently. That wasn't something that I had looked at before. It's always learning, learning, learning, which I think is great. Part of what gave me the confidence back when we did start our company eventually, having looked at so many different management teams and different types of companies, when you have that broad perspective, it's beneficial.
Elizabeth Stein 05:35
Absolutely. So what was then the impetus? You're certainly looking at all sorts of brands and companies and sectors of the market. Where did the idea for RiseWell evolve?
Kori Estrada 05:48
It must have been 2017 or 18. My husband at the time, John, and I were going through IVF. And we were starting to think about everything a bit more holistically. We wanted to make it a success, as many people do. It's not something that's inexpensive to go through that process or it's certainly emotionally trying as well. And our doctor sat us down fairly early in the process. And this was a more progressive doctor because I don't think many doctors are giving this advice during the IVF process. But I said, “What can we do to make this a success?” And he said, “Obviously, following all the rules that I outlined, and the right medications.” And there were some supplements that I was taking, as well, and, and he had some recommendations on the food side, but also said, “Be careful with the products that you're using.” So we went home that night. And I think I turned the entire bathroom upside down. I found this great app where you could scan every product that you have, and it tells you if it's good or bad, meaning whether or not there are ingredients that one should be concerned with. And 90% of everything I had had some yellow or red flag. So, I tossed all of that. I was able to find replacements for most of the items that I threw out whether it be makeup shampoo or body wash, there were lots of great alternatives. But the one product we couldn't find a great replacement for was toothpaste, which seems like that's not possible, because you have lots of natural companies that have been around for a long time. But the added wrinkle is that my brother happens to be a dentist, he's an orthodontist in Florida. And I was looking for his advice. I said, “What's a good natural toothpaste brand that we should use?” And he said that we might as well just brush with water because there are no effective ingredients in natural toothpaste. because essentially, they take out the fluoride and they take out some of the more harmful other ingredients. In some cases, natural companies still leave them in. But that's another question, I'm sure. They don't replace the fluoride with anything that protects your enamel. So that was the lightbulb moment for us where we asked how we create something that my brother the dentist could get behind, but it's also safe enough to eat. Because the other realization we had in this process is that your gums are actually like sponges. And so most people think that, “Well, I'm not swallowing toothpaste, I'm spitting it out. So I don't need to be worried about what ingredients are in my toothpaste.” But the truth is that because your gums are sponges, even though you're spitting your toothpaste out, there's some percentage of your product two times a day that's getting into your body. For instance, sublingual medications are something that many people have to take. You put it under your tongue, it's one of the fastest ways into your bloodstream. So it does matter what's in your toothpaste. And we treat our products like food as one should, I believe. But that was also really important for us. So those are the two problems that we set out to solve, which was how can we create a product that's natural and works? And number two, treat our ingredients to be safe enough as food.
Elizabeth Stein 09:02
That's a great founder inspiration story, and seen that hole in the market. So curious about you with your background. Have you ever thought, hey, I want to start a brand or that was never in the back of your mind? And you were happy in the path that you're going?
Kori Estrada 09:19
Yeah, that's a great question. I think that when I went into finance after graduating from Columbia, my dad had been in the textile industry for a very long time. And he was really happy that I had this great job and I was going to be self-sufficient. So that was all good. But I remember him noting that there might be a lack of fulfillment at some point because I didn't have something tangible to hold in my hands. And I don't, even to this day, still 100% agree with that because I think there are other ways of finding satisfaction from one's career but I think that there is some truth to that that you didn't grow a company where we have products that I now use every single day and other people are using And there is an element to that, that I would never have received from my career in finance. I had that in the back of my mind. It was lurking, like, I wanted to start my own thing at some point. I think John, as well, he was the same thought processes, both of his parents were doctors, and I think he always had dreams of having a business of his own as well, he has a finance background as well. So I think both of us had that in the back of our minds, but we weren't sure what that thing would be.
Elizabeth Stein 10:31
So putting your investor hat on, which is certainly different than like a lot of founders starting up, what was the path from this idea in your bathroom to launching the brand? Did you have a business plan? Because you knew so much of here's how things should be where I think most entrepreneurs don't, which could be good or bad. So we'd love to hear the path that happened from there to launch.
Kori Estrada 10:55
So a lot of consumer companies and not all are marketing companies at their core. And that can be a great thing. There are many valuable companies from a market cap perspective. Estée Lauder is a great example. Do they have differentiated products, maybe you could argue some have a little bit different products. But at the end of the day, it's a red lipstick, or it's a lotion, and there's not big differences, that they're amazing marketers, and both John and I knew that that was not our expertise. We would have to hire obviously, other people. And we have a great marketing team now, and they're amazing. But the two of us knew that we weren't going to win just on being the prettiest toothpaste. So, we wanted to make sure that we could solve those two big problems that I noted before, which was finding an effective replacement for fluoride, again, something that was safe enough to eat, and clean ingredients, so that if we had a child that ate a whole tube of toothpaste, we didn't have to call poison control. So if we couldn't meet those two requirements, we weren't going to start a company. So that was the first mission. The second part of it was if we were able to solve those problems, then how do we go about designing this company? And I think that's where a lot of our experience in the finance side and looking at companies for many, many years came in handy. And frankly, even being able to take a step back. I've looked at the publicly traded companies that happened to also sell toothpaste, I don't need to mention any names. But there is publicly available information. So you can look at their financials and they have earnings calls. And you can go through all of that. And it was very interesting to us, as investors to see that this was a sector. So the toothpaste market, it's about $5 billion in the US. So it's a pretty big market. And it's essentially 90-something percent owned by two companies which is incredible. There are not many other examples in consumer where you have that consolidation. And that's not a new dynamic. These are companies that have had that market share for a very, very long time and market share like that outside of the US as well. So that to me, while can be intimidating to some was a really exciting opportunity, because it felt like when you have two players that own 90-something percent of the market, they have a lot to lose by changing or innovating. And we didn't. We're a small company where we can take more risks and do things differently. But effectively, the big companies that own the market haven't changed things since the 1950s. So it was really interesting for us to say like, well, now we can actually do something that the market hasn't seen before, and solving those two issues of effective, but also clean. So that was the first part of starting the business, is solving that. And the second piece was also finding people to fill in the holes where we didn't have experience. We weren't consumer people by background, I've invested in consumer companies for a long time. But that's very different than starting a brand. So hiring a great marketing team and also a great chemist to meet the requirements that we had in mind. And we frankly, outsourced a lot of that in the beginning. And we still have a very small lean team now. Another thing that was helpful with a finance background is that we started the company with the mindset of an investor, meaning that we didn't want to be dependent on outside capital. That was super important to us because we knew that would potentially lead to bad decisions in terms of what's right for the consumer and the best product. And we didn't want to have to be beholden to anybody. So we had to design the company with that in mind, knowing that we weren't going to have to do all of these capital raises and being flush with cash and thinking in an unprofitable way. We knew we needed to get profitable very quickly. So that's always been something that's in our DNA. So there's a lot of parts to it. But recognizing that we didn't know everything, and being able to find people that did was also an extremely important thing to do quickly.
Elizabeth Stein 15:08
I think that's important for people to hear, especially people who don't have any experience, feel that paralyzed, perhaps, and then even to hear someone like you who had experience in the investing world and seeing all these other CPG brands. And yet, you're still saying, hey, I know my faults, I don't know everything. And so I need help with this. The other key point, I think, for anyone who is listening and starting a brand is certainly in this day and age right now, where profitability is so important, starting a brand, and being able to be the master of your destiny as much as you can, as you're talking about not bringing outside capital. So anything further that you want to talk about, as it relates to where the world is today, and starting a brand in this economic place that we are?
Kori Estrada 15:54
Yeah, it's interesting, because I think this profitability question when we were first tinkering with the idea in 2017, it was not in fashion to even use the word profit, like that was not something that was discussed. And this was a few years after the big success stories of like, the ways and native and there was a few case studies that everybody was following. These companies that were first to market on the direct-to-consumer side figured out Instagram and how to monetize that and get consumers cheaply. It didn't peak until probably 2019. But still, at that point by 2017, everybody was using the same playbook. And it was raising as much money as possible, dumping as much money into the market to grow revenue as quickly as possible. And that's all frankly venture capital cared about, too, their discussions around profit didn't happen until much later on, maybe when IPOs were being considered. But I think we certainly were lucky in having some foresight there. But frankly, I don't think that what the market was doing would have changed the way that we thought about the importance of profitability, because we wanted to control our destiny, in terms of how we designed the products and how fast we wanted to grow the business as well. After all, that's something too that there are always trade-offs. A lot of fast revenue growth can be great. But if it comes at the expense of sloppiness, or working capital issues, or cash constraints, that can have negatives as well, or the ability to change products quickly, if you're left with a huge amount of inventory because you thought you're growing at a certain pace, there can be risks as well. So I think that's something that founders just need to be clear with themselves on what their goals are. And for us, the goal was to create a great product. It wasn't to sell the business in a certain number of years or to raise another round at a higher valuation. We didn't have to worry about that. And we didn't want to worry about that. We wanted to focus on executing the business. So I think it's a personal decision for us, focusing on profitability, I still think was the right decision. I think now, the market is probably on that side very strongly. But there are a lot of examples of consumer companies that are still primarily focused on top-line growth. And it's hard to find a lot of direct consumer businesses that are super profitable frankly. I think the market has changed too. And when native launched many years ago, they were acquiring customers for 50 cents. And today, most consumers, probably know the multiples better than I do. But I think that people are spending anywhere from $30 to $70 for customer acquisition costs, which means depending on your basket size, and for us, we're selling toothpaste. We can't spend $60 to acquire a customer that just wouldn't make sense. These are all new things that I think people are learning and recognizing and having to adapt to. And also think more omni channel as opposed to just purely direct to consumer as well.
Elizabeth Stein 19:08
Yeah, those are all such great tips. And overall to me, it's that ability to be able to control your destiny, I think, in whatever it is in life and have the maximum amount of flexibility and option nowadays that is so critical. That's happened to some of those key ingredients, and that path to finding what was an effective replacement for fluoride. Maybe just give us a quick background reminder of what is fluoride? Why are we looking for an alternative?
Kori Estrada 19:40
So the latter question is a controversial one. I try to be as objective about this as possible. Because I think another big part of our company that we knew was solidly in our DNA is following the science. And I think shockingly, that's very differentiated versus many natural come. They focused on what is perceived to be the most natural first as opposed to actually working and being effective. And we believe that you can do both. But sometimes they can be different skill sets. With fluoride, it does work. And how it works is it essentially hardens the enamel you have. So it can't add extra enamel if you're missing enamel, but it can pardon it. And that can help as it relates to cavity prevention. So that was the quick thinking on it. I should note though, that it's only effective when applied topically. So when it's in water, it doesn't affect your teeth. That's maybe known to some but not to others. The controversy with fluoride, it's essentially a fertilizer byproduct. In the fertilizing process, fluoride comes out in the process. And at one point in time, it used to leach into the ground and it was causing issues, was even going as far as killing animals nearby, in some of these factories. EPA got involved and said that they needed to properly dispose of the fluoride. It was a great idea in the 50s to put into place because they found, as I mentioned earlier, which it did, it was helpful when applied topically to cavity prevention. People also thought it might help with water supplies. But that's since been disproven. That was really how this all got started. The issue with it is that it is toxic at not even that high doses, the recommended levels, many of us are surpassing that, especially in your water supply. So if you're drinking lots of water, and also using fluoride in your toothpaste, you're likely consuming too much of it. Many people, if you've ever seen people with white spots on their teeth, that's fluorosis. So that's caused by too much fluoride consumption either in utero or when they were a child that causes that. If you get even higher fluoride exposure, it can lead to more lead to more serious issues like bone structural issues. Then obviously very high doses can be poisonous, which is why there's a poison control warning on the back of toothpaste. That's why there's controversy. There have also been some studies that have shown populations that have fluoride in their drinking water, have lower IQs. For a whole host of reasons, none of those that I mentioned sound very fun, if one can avoid it, my view is that I would like to avoid it. If you have serious dental issues, and it was your only option, then you might want to use it topically maybe not drinking in water. But the great news, leads to your first question, which is how did we find a natural alternative? John and I were traveling in Japan, we were over there for work. And everywhere we went at this moment in time, we were researching how other countries are doing oral care and how other companies are. We were perusing the aisles in a Japanese pharmacy, which is very difficult because it's all in Japanese. And I don't speak Japanese. But there's a translator app on your phone. So, we're doing that. We saw that there was this ingredient that kept popping up, which was hydroxyapatite, which doesn't sound all that natural, but it's 97% of what makes up your teeth enamel at 70% of your bones is made of Hydroxyapatite. We sometimes call it HA for short just to be easier. And the cool story about hydroxyapatite is that in the 70s, NASA realized that astronauts were coming back and their enamel was weakening from being in space. They asked a very logical question, which was, how do I manufacture more of this hydroxyapatite with what makes up your teeth enamel to help these astronauts who are coming back with weakening enamel? So in the 70s, NASA figured out how to chemically manufacture Hydroxyapatite. Very quickly after that point, the Japanese said we're putting this in our toothpaste and so they did. They've been using it since the 70s which is pretty neat. So we have data for over a 50-year point that shows it works just as well or better than fluoride with zero safety issues, which was the big important point. As I mentioned, hydroxyapatite is abundant in your body. So you could consume big piles of it and nothing would happen that's bad. There are no neurotoxin effects like there are with fluoride. And you might ask, well, why don't all the other companies use it, which is a very logical question. When you are a fertilizer byproduct, you would want to give it away practically for free because you have to find a way to dispose of it. So it's very, very inexpensive and probably why it's in our water too, but that's just speculation. And with hydroxyapatite, ours comes from mine in France. We also use the synthetic version as well in our pro line of toothpaste, which I can get into later. It's more expensive. So when you're manufacturing a very, very inexpensive tube of toothpaste, the price of every ingredient matters. For us, we were trying to solve the problem first, which is we need a natural alternative to fluoride, that and also super clean, and we're willing to pay more for that. And so, we do. So that's the reason it's not more widely used, but you can find it in Europe. They use hydroxyapatite instead of fluoride, obviously, in Japan, most of the market is there. And some many more countries and companies are picking up on it, which is great. So we hope that over the next 5 to 10 years, we're all using hydroxyapatite instead of fluoride.
Elizabeth Stein 25:48
Amazing. So in Europe, is that the majority of now of what they're using there?
Kori Estrada 25:54
It depends on the country. In Germany, it is. There's a company there that about 10 years ago brought it to the market. So it's slowly creeping its way in. And I think Europe tends to be ahead of the curve for these sorts of things versus the US. Interestingly, the one challenge that we and any other company have in the US with hydroxyapatite is we can't make FDA claims for anticavity. So far only fluoride can put that label on toothpaste. But in every country outside of the US, because we have so much data, there's been an immense amount of clinical studies done testing it head to head versus fluoride, and showing its efficacy, every other country allows you to make anticavity claims. So we can just look outside of the US to know that this is an anticavity ingredient.
Elizabeth Stein 26:48
So how do we get the FDA to be able to allow you to say that?
Kori Estrada 26:51
Great question. Unfortunately, it involves spending about $30 to $40 billion on clinical trials after which you'd have no proprietary ownership. I don't know who would step up to the plate to do that. Because it's not as if you'd be owning anything special at the end. For us, it's about pointing people to everywhere else in the world that supports all of the many hundreds and 1000s of studies that have been conducted on this.
Elizabeth Stein 27:19
Yeah. Maybe eventually one of those big toothpaste companies when eventually consumers stop buying their product, and they realize like they have no other choice, we'll have to do that work.
Kori Estrada 27:32
Yes, that would be the hope.
Elizabeth Stein 27:34
So in addition to fluoride, are there any other key ingredients that are in most toothpastes that consumers should look out for and that you guys are doing differently?
Kori Estrada 27:42
Yeah, if there's anything in toothpaste that isn't food or edible, I think that's the bar for us at least. I think some people are probably less intense than us. And that's fine. But some of the big culprits for anyone to avoid are foaming agents. Essentially, those are detergents. And I think a lot of people have heard of SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate. Unfortunately, a lot of the natural toothpaste brands are actually, they're not as strict with themselves just about how clean they want to be. And so they've come up with SLS alternatives, that funny enough have still SLS as the acronym, but they're not sodium lauryl sulfate, which is the main one. It's like sodium coco… it's essentially the same thing. If it foams, it's a detergent, which is too harsh for your gums, because your gums are very gentle. It can cause anything from dermatitis to sloughing in the mouth. It can create a host of issues that you would want to avoid if you can. And then there are really big culprits like triclosan, which is a less known one, but the crazy story about triclosan is that it's an antibacterial agent, so it helps to kill potential germs that might cause things like gingivitis. So it sounds like he has a great reason for being in toothpaste. The FDA, many years ago, probably seven or so, banned triclosan in hand soap. Because they found that it was causing cancer in lab rats. And it's still in toothpaste. So that's an interesting one. Your skin is a decent barrier. So the fact that it would be something in hand soap would be banned, but not in a sponge-like environment in your mouth. I still haven't been able to recognize that and then there are other less bad ones. But things like propylene glycol, it's the main ingredient. And antifreeze is found in a lot of conventional toothpaste, and things like natural flavors or flavors. The quick punchline on flavors is that in most cases, you don't know what the flavor is or what's inside of it. There could be natural flavors that are harmless. But there also could be ones that have things inside of them that they don't have to disclose. We were at the beginning of the company, we were thinking about what flavor we wanted to make the kids' toothpaste and a lot of people kept saying you want berry or watermelon. Unfortunately, there's no natural way to put berries or watermelon into a toothpaste. So, you have to go to these big flavor houses. And they'll create a synthetic version of watermelon or berry. And then when you ask them, well, I need to know exactly the ingredients that are in this because I want to be transparent with my consumers, they will say no, because that's part of their proprietary business creating these flavors. So they can't tell you. And unfortunately, we had to not pursue that path. Because we can't sell a product where we're saying it's safe enough to eat, but we don't know what's in the ingredient. So that was something really important for us to avoid. So we're one of the very few companies that we know where every one of our flavors comes from, what's in everything. Vanilla is vanilla extract. It is one of our most expensive ingredients because it's real vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is very expensive. It's even more expensive than our Hydroxyapatite. And that's what makes up our kids' flavored toothpaste. So we call it cake batter. But in essence, it's just the vanilla extract. So, it's just more fun for kids. Those are just a few of the ingredients that I would avoid. But then there are things too that you want to have in your toothpaste that you don't find in conventional toothpaste. For instance, we use some sugar alcohols, like erythritol, and xylitol. Xylitol is very bad for dogs, so don't give our toothpaste to your dogs. But it's great for oral health. And the quick story of it is that you have lots of good and bad bacteria in your mouth. And essentially the bad bacteria feeds off of sugar. And sugar leads to cavities. So if there was a way to target just your bad bacteria and kill those and not the good bacteria, that would be great because you want to get good bacteria into your gut. That's the whole gut microbiome. The challenge with things like mouthwash that use alcohol is that the alcohol wipes out all of the germs in your mouth. So you're killing all the good stuff that you're working so hard to harvest, and then also killing the bad germs. But the sugar alcohols actually, pretend to be sugar, the bad germs in your mouth go to eat it thinking it's sugar, and then they die. It just targets the bad bacteria, which is awesome. So keeps all the good guys and kills the bad ones without taking a scorched earth approach, which is what alcohol mouthwash does.
Elizabeth Stein 32:41
It's genius. So you also have tooth floss which I was really surprised to learn about because I feel like people aren't talking too much about, like what's wrong with the tooth floss? It seems pretty benign. But that's not the case. Let's talk a little bit about that.
Kori Estrada 32:56
Yeah, it is. You’re right. This is true a little bit with toothpaste. However, most consumers have no idea what ingredients are in their floss because the FDA doesn't require companies to disclose products like floss. It's also true with feminine hygiene products as well. The manufacturers don't have to disclose ingredients. So when you're buying your box of floss, you literally don't know what's in it, you'd have to do lots of research. And probably some companies still don't disclose the ingredients in their floss. But lo and behold, most companies thought it was a good idea. And I'm sure a lot of people have tight cracks in some areas of their teeth. And it's hard to get floss in between. And so to get it to glide between your teeth, they coated it with Teflon. Maybe 20 years ago that wasn't an issue or probably longer whenever Teflon was banned but it's still in floss. And that's usually problematic because like I said, gums are super absorbent. And it's not lightly touching your gums, you’re wedging it up in there and running it back and forth and doing that hopefully two times a day. So for us, we disclose it right on the box. We're very clear about the ingredients that we put in it. But even with conventional toothpaste, for instance, a lot of people don't know the ingredients because they only put the ingredients on the box. So you open the toothpaste, you throw out the box, and you're left with your tube and after listening to this podcast, you might go back and be like, what is in my tube of toothpaste and realize the ingredients aren't even on your tube of toothpaste. So for us, that was another big thing too, like we have to also put it on the tube. So we have the ingredients on the box and then also the tube as well so that it's right there and we have nothing to hide. But that's not something that's adopted by the rest of the people in the industry. But I think with floss, for us, we also want it to go back to our core ethos, which is having an effective product. We use all-natural ingredients with our floss and we put hydroxyapatite in our floss as well. Essentially when you use it, you might notice that there's a white powdery stuff that comes off at times when you're using it. That's the Hydroxyapatite. And the reason that we did that is that when you use it, especially in the cracks of your teeth, that's actually where most cavities start. It helps to get these crystals deposited in those hard-to-reach places. So hydroxyapatite is just a crystal. The way to think about it is your enamel is 97% Hydroxyapatite. So it's a bunch of crystals all put together. When you use toothpaste or floss, it has more of this crystal that already exists in your body. And the crystal is essentially attached to the other crystals that make up your enamel. And it's adding an enamel, which is cool. And this was back to the lightbulb moment of when we decided to start the company because we said look, we can solve this, realize that this is the super ingredient. Because unlike fluoride, and remember I said in the beginning, it doesn't add to your enamel. So fluoride just thins what you have. So if your enamel is continuing to erode, you're never going to get that back. But with hydroxyapatite, it isn't adding the huge thickness that you're seeing. But my brother, the dentist, has many stories of patients who have spots that are lesions that are potentially becoming cavities at some point. And he tells them, to take the toothpaste, put a glob of it, put it on their finger, whatever they want, and put it on that area of their teeth that has the pre-cavity area. And every night put the big blob of toothpaste again, no safety issues, you don't have to rinse. Leave it there and do that every single night. And you can fill in small holes, you couldn't fill in a huge hole in your tooth. But small places that are on their way to becoming cavities, you can fill in those holes, which is cool. A big advantage versus fluoride.
Elizabeth Stein 36:54
Amazing. So what would you say, as you've been building the brand, and maybe in current times right now, what's been some of the biggest challenges that you faced or are facing?
Kori Estrada 37:05
Yeah. Like any startup, we've had all sorts of challenges. While I try to be an open book with founders, because no, there's certainly never a linear path upward path. But for us, I think COVID-19 was an extremely challenging time because it was a good problem to have. But I think a lot of online businesses saw this, just keeping up with demand was extremely challenging at the same time. Just getting enough tubes to make your toothpaste, we manufacture everything in the US. All of our ingredients are sourced globally, but mostly in the US and Europe. When you're dealing with all these different countries, and if you're missing one ingredient and you can't make your toothpaste, that was a very challenging time press. But also good too. We grew a ton at that point as well. And when we first got started, another big issue was just getting the word out on Hydroxyapatite. We are companies almost five years old at this point. I remember in the beginning, having to go to dental conferences and explain to dentists and they know what hydroxyapatite is because it's biology and part of your teeth. But they just aren't aware of it as an ingredient in products. So that took a lot of learning. I think the good news is as people are catching on to it, I think consumers every year become more and more scrupulous with ingredients, which is a good thing for us. It's just helping to grow the overall market. And I think if hydroxyapatite can grow, that can continue to be a good thing. So it helps that there's more awareness about it. Certainly, there are much shorter discussions with dentists now than there were when we first got started, which is helpful. And we have a lot of relationships with dentists. Nearly 1000 dentists carry our products, which is exciting. And that was important to us, too. I think I mentioned a comment earlier just about the difference with so many other companies is that we're science first and that everything I do, we try to be thoughtful about, does this work? And is this clean? Those are the two core questions that we ask with everything that we do. We wanted to be the cleanest toothpaste that's out there and the most effective because the bar was that if my brother couldn't recommend it, then we didn't want to create it. Because dentists have a lot at stake. It's not another red lipstick, where nothing's gonna happen. It just might not stay on, it might not work or look great, but you're not going to contribute to your patient's teeth falling out. That's why I think in this space, in particular, the science angle is really important.
Elizabeth Stein 39:40
Yeah, for sure. They're going to have a right in front of them, whether their patients come back in with a cavity or not. It's going to be very crystal clear if this is this efficacious.
Kori Estrada 39:50
Yeah. And that's why I think for us while we recognize that John and I are, at our core, weren't marketing geniuses. We could find other people that would help us with that piece of the puzzle. If we could find something that was truly differentiated as a consumer product, that sells itself. And so that's a big piece of advice for I think people starting consumer businesses in particular. If you know you're a marketing genius, like follow that path, hold on to that make that the core of your DNA. But I think for the other group of people, where you just want to have a different product, and that isn't on the market today, that can sell itself, in some cases, even more than great marketing can. One example of that is actually when it comes to teeth sensitivity, which is something that impacts a lot of people, especially if you've done teeth whitening in the past. But essentially, what happens is when you're doing something like teeth whitening, or if you just have a diet where there's a lot of acidity, and it's stripping away your enamel, which happens, I certainly don't have a perfect diet, then essentially, when your enamel is stripped away, you start to expose the tubes in your teeth. There are little tubes within your enamel. When those tubes are exposed, that's what causes the pain with teeth sensitivity. So if you buy a conventional toothpaste on the market that's a sensitivity toothpaste, it has an active ingredient in it that numbs your teeth. So you're applying something that's numbing your teeth so that you don't feel the pain of your tubes being exposed. Well, welcome to Hydroxyapatite. The cool part of having these tiny crystals that not only do they stick to the enamel on your teeth, but they also fill in the holes in your tubes so that you don't experience sensitivity, which is fixing the problem from the inside, not just putting a band-aid or numbing agent on the outside so that you can eradicate sensitivity. If you continue to wear away your enamel, then it could disappear again. But the point is that you're solving the problem and not putting a numbing cream on it, which is cool. So that's something where the patients, if they don't have sensitivity anymore, and they don't put numbing agents on their teeth, they'll keep coming back for more because they never want to experience sensitivity again. So that can be enough to have that consumer retention longer than a generic consumer business.
Elizabeth Stein 42:15
Absolutely. Yeah, that's amazing. So I would love to get a little bit into your life personally and how you juggle, I never like to use the word balance, how do you juggle everything in your life? What tips do you have for managing being a mom, a founder, also investor all the other things in your life?
Kori Estrada 42:37
Well, the short answer is I don't juggle at all. I think I'm just honest with the fact that I try my best, but I'm certainly deficient in I'm sure many areas, but always a work in process. And I think for me, I still have my full-time job investing, so I'm still an investor. We have a great team at RiseWell. John is the CEO, he does it full time, my brother is also both a dentist and involved with the business. So we're all juggling a lot. I have great help at home for my kids. I have a five-year-old and a one-year-old. And John and I are no longer married. But we're great work partners. We share our child. It's funny because I think that most people would say that they couldn't work with their spouses, let alone an ex-spouse too, which can be extra challenging. But honestly, both John and I have two babies, we have our son, Leo, and then we also have our business. And I think it's helped too honestly, in many ways. We're really good friends, and there's a lot of juggling that always has to be done. But we all have good health around us. And recognize too that like I never wake up and tell myself I need to juggle it all. Because some days, I can be a great mom to my kids and be present and other days, we have an emergency that we have to deal with that whether it be with stock that we own or at RiseWell. And then I've got to allocate, wear a different hat, and focus on that. And it's almost like a simple thing with kids almost that it was that moment I realized I'd have battles now and then with my son about taking a bath. And I realized who cares? I liked him to have a good routine, but if he doesn't take a bath, he's not gonna die, he's gonna be fine. So I think embracing the fact that like, you can't control everything and some things don't matter that much, and letting go a bit I think helps. Because if one is holding on to the aspirations of perfection, that can be disappointing day in and day out. At least it would be for me. So, that's how I don't juggle it.
Elizabeth Stein 44:51
I love that. Are there any things that you do in your day, whether in the morning or evening or just throughout the day, that are non-negotiables for you to show up as the best version of yourself?
Kori Estrada 45:04
For me, I don't work out as much as I would like to. I haven't got into things like meditation yet, but I've always been super passionate about health and wellness generally, and specifically with food. And this is a good connection to a lot of the oral health stuff that we've talked about. I think that it can be overwhelming for people, especially if they're new to the health and wellness journey and replacing products and foods. There are companies marketing everything out there, like better carpets, mattresses, and pans. And you feel like you have to replace everything that you own. The way that I've always thought about it is that first off, your skin's a good barrier. So one can use products on their skin, and it's not going to impact you too much. But things that you put inside of your body are really important. You are what you eat. People have always said that and I believe that to be true. I have a gluten allergy. So I experienced that firsthand a decade ago when I found that out. But I second to eating right. Your oral care products, unfortunately, you have to put them in your mouth. And so, they're second to food. And then there's everything else below that for me when it comes to health and wellness. So at least that simplifies how I streamline priorities as it relates to that. But I love cooking my food and cooking nutritious meals for my family. That's such a passion of mine. That's a non-negotiable. Because I know that if I'm eating right, and my kids are eating right, that we’ll feel better, too. And that's a huge part of it. And then hopefully sprinkling exercise and other things around, but the foods are big non-negotiable.
Elizabeth Stein 46:42
Alright, we're going to jump into some rapid-fire Q&A to end the show. Three things that you're currently loving.
Kori Estrada 46:56
I guess it's not too rapid-fire if I'm not answering that quickly.
Elizabeth Stein 47:04
It could be a TV show podcast, or product.
Kori Estrada 47:07
Okay, I'm on the podcast side. I love the All In podcast is great. TV show, I just watched Sons of Anarchy. Highly recommend, very good. On the food side, I just discovered a great new website for recipes called The Big Man's World which has tons of great Keto Recipes that are awesome, and the best Instagram account ever.
Elizabeth Stein 47:34
Oh, I’ll check it out. Favorite words to live by.
Kori Estrada 47:38
Embracing failure. Specifically, when you start a company, you have to embrace the idea of failing fast and accepting that that will be okay and will get you on that path of success eventually. But not being afraid of failure is so important.
Elizabeth Stein 47:56
Love that. A goal that you are working on personally or professionally.
Kori Estrada 48:03
Being more present all around. I think with the juggling that you mentioned before, it's really easy to get caught up in always doing and thinking about what's next and not being there in the moment.
Elizabeth Stein 48:17
Any tips on how to be more present?
Kori Estrada 48:21
Work in process. Not yet.
Elizabeth Stein 48:26
Not easy. Yeah. A productivity hack.
Kori Estrada 48:27
I am a big fan of task lists like things like Monday where you can streamline and have different buckets for everything that you have to do without it getting lost, but can also tag other people involved and deadlines. I think that's hugely efficient for me from a productivity perspective.
Elizabeth Stein 48:51
A favorite book or podcast for growth?
Kori Estrada 48:55
Podcast for growth, I love Mel Robbins. I think she's awesome. Her podcast on the Let Them Theory is a must-listen for everyone. I've listened to it 20 times.
Elizabeth Stein 49:10
What is the Let Them Theory?
Kori Estrada 49:12
The Let Them Theory very quickly is most of the uneasiness or angst that we experience as humans, it has to do with trying to control things that are outside of yourself. You can only control your happiness, you can only control what you do, and how you act, and you can't control other people. And so for instance, if your friends are having a dinner and they didn't invite you, her advice was to let them. If they wanted to have dinner together, they're not leaving you out. Like you don't know the whole story. Just let them. You can't control them. That applies to everything in life. Even as parents, I mean she has certain boundaries if there are things that are harder non-negotiables of course we need to set boundaries. But with other things like for instance with my son and not wanting to the bath, let him. Who cares? The safety is not impaired, he's gonna be fine. He might be stinky and he'll learn the consequences when the kids make fun of him the next day for having mud on him. So it's just letting people do what they need to do and finding rock bottom or whatever they need to themselves and not you telling them what to do or how they should be living or whether they should go to school isn't actually how people learn to change.
Elizabeth Stein 50:26
I have to listen to it well. Lastly, your favorite business moment.
Kori Estrada 50:31
My favorite business moment was more recently when I had a call. And this was for my investing job with someone from a company. And I was giving them a quick background on myself. I told them, I was co-founder of RiseWell, and he just totally lit up and was like, “Oh my god, I love your products. I use them all the time.” And it was a random person but on a management team of a company that I looked up to, and it was just really cool. I've had that happen a lot of times in more little instances. But it was really neat to just hear how I was impacting him and his life. So that was a cool moment. It's like all the hard work is worth it when you hear those little stories.
Elizabeth Stein 51:16
Totally. Well, in closing, where can everybody find you, and what is next?
Kori Estrada 51:21
We are mostly online. So you can find us at risewell.com. We're also on Instagram, of course. But we are available in select retailers like Credo, Nordstroms, and Urban Outfitters, there's a whole list that we are at from a retailer perspective. But also, you might find us that you're a local dentist as well. We're in almost 1000 dental offices. So odds are that there's probably a dentist near you who also sells our products.
Elizabeth Stein 51:48
Amazing and anything next that we should look out for?
Kori Estrada 51:52
We are always on the hunt for different things, potentially different flavors. The kids' line has been really important for us because of the safety angle of Hydroxyapatite. And with kids, it's very beneficial to not have to worry about what's in your toothpaste as many parents know. So that's been an important segment for us. So we're always focused on new things both for our dentist because they want both versions of their products that they can use in the office. After all, a lot of people still go to their dentist to get fluoride treatments, for instance. So having an alternative to that would be something that I think a lot of people would like. And we also have our mints as well which are awesome. I love our mints. It's funny, they remind me of those after-dinner mints that you used to get at Chinese restaurants, but healthier. But you can also use that as toothpaste. You could bite down on it and brush your teeth with it. So they're very versatile if you're traveling. So we've always got new things in the hopper. So excited to hopefully come on again and talk about new things oral care related.
Elizabeth Stein 52:54
Amazing. Kori, thank you so much for your time today. It was so wonderful to meet you and hear your story.
Kori Estrada 53:00
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Elizabeth Stein 53:04
Thanks so much for joining me on Live Purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate, subscribe, and review. You can follow us on Instagram @purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.