Live Purely with Sara Cullen

Sara Cullen from GEM: Reinventing the Multivitamin With All Food and No Filler

We take a big bite towards wellness this week as Elizabeth is joined by Sara Cullen, founder of GEM, a nutrient-dense food company focused on whole foods and sustainability. A pioneer in the food and beverage space, Sara shares her journey building GEM after discovering her own nutrient deficiencies, and the challenges of fundraising and product development as a smaller business. They discuss GEM’s science-backed formulation featuring superfoods like algae into one bite without any added fillers, building community engagement, and how small steps in nutrition can positively impact your day.

Use code: livepurely30 for 30% off your 1st month of GEM.

We worked with a holistic amount of disciplines and perspectives to build a product that really speaks to all of you and not just parts of you. And that was important in the formulation of this bite.
- Sara Cullen

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Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 0:00
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 Sara Cullen, founder of GEM, a consumer health company reimagining daily nutrition. Sara has spent a decade building and collaborating with startups, nonprofits, and sustainable food networks all over the world. After years of dedicated research, Sara realized that the answer is in food, not pills or gummies made with synthetic fillers, which led her to create GEM a nutrient-dense bite packed with 20 plus whole food, vitamins, minerals, pre and probiotics for holistic foundational health, and ultimately resulting in the first ever real food multivitamin. In this episode, we talk about Sara's journey building the brand inspired by her health challenges, and the lack of suitable alternatives. Sara shares her experiences and tips for fundraising, and how she collaborated with a diverse scientific advisory board to formulate her products, to fill nutrient gaps in people's diets. The sustainability and nutritional benefits of algae are one of her key ingredients, in how she's building her brand through the community. And lastly, how small steps in the morning can positively influence the rest of your day. Keep listening to learn more. And if you want to try her real food nutrition, use code LIVEPURELY30 for 30% off your first month at Enjoy.
I have some super exciting news Purely fans. I am so thrilled to announce that our newest product line of cookie granola is finally here. We've created a one-of-a-kind recipe where a delicious cookie meets our wholesome granola. It's made with organic gluten-free oats and coconut flour 100% hole Grains baked with coconut oil and almond butter and only six grams of sugar. These snackable granola clusters have all of the flavor and crispness of your favorite cookie recipe, but an indulgence you can feel good about. It comes in three flavors to obsess over. Chocolate Chip, double chocolate, and my personal favorite oatmeal raisin find our cookie granola at Walmart, Whole Foods, Publix, and on our website at To find the store near you use the link below in the show notes. I hope you're as obsessed with this new product as I am. Enjoy.
Sara, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to meet you. I love what you're doing and can't wait to hear your story.
Sara Cullen 2:55
Thank you and likewise.
Elizabeth Stein 2:57
I’d love to start with your background. What were you doing before you started GEM?
Sara Cullen 3:03
I started another company before I started GEM. And it was a CBD beverage back in 2016. So I was a pioneer at that time. But have always been interested in this plant-based food and beverage space. And so I had founded that with a group of other angel investors. And before that, I was in an entrepreneurial fellowship called Venture for America. I've lost 10 or so years of my life in the world of startups and building things, and have long been passionate about this healthy food and beverage space.
Elizabeth Stein 3:41
What was the Venture for America program?
Sara Cullen 3:45
So are you familiar with Andrew Yang?
Elizabeth Stein 3:51
Sara Cullen 3:52
He ran for president at one point. Some people know him from that point in his career. But when I graduated college, he had started a new program. And it was modeled after Teach for America, which people are quite familiar with. But instead of sending recent grads to schools, you're sent to startups and typically in cities that don't necessarily attract all the talent. So Cincinnati, New Orleans, which is where I was based, Las Vegas, Detroit, and you go work for a real startup is what I say because I think people have lots of ideas of what startups are. And these are very much on the ground, like two or three people. It's incredible because you get this fellowship, this mentorship, and you are surrounded by other people who are super smart, and also interested in building things. But you get this great experience as well. I wouldn't say it's a derisk way but it's quite derisk and a lot of ways because you have this fellowship supporting you and helping you find a job for two years. And as in the startup world, they can go under in under two years. Nice to have that experience so early on in my career.
Elizabeth Stein 5:01
Yeah, must have been amazing. So what were some of the biggest lessons, I guess that you learned that, kept you wanting to be in the startup world because he certainly could have experienced that and said, I'm running the other way, I want somebody super stable, or be what, what helped to propel you to continue down that journey and go into the direction of food?
Sara Cullen 5:24
Well, so I grew up with a father who is an entrepreneur in the food and agriculture space. So I think I had this bug from a very early age of just wanting to build things and moving fast. And it was exciting, I was never bored, my first two years after college I had a lot of friends who worked in management, consulting, and investment banking, and these jobs were a grind and didn't necessarily have the same velocity and, and so I was grinding as well but in very different ways. I felt like I was being able to make an impact. And that feeling of being able to make an impact so young at such a small company is very invigorating. It's very addicting. And so I love that. And I wanted to keep making an impact. So curious, actually how I would thrive in a big company. I've never really worked before. And I'm like, I wonder how I would do. I did internships in college, at the UN and the World Bank and these larger organizations, and I found myself just suffocated by them because they were so slow. And it had such an amazing mission. And I've always been attracted to these types of missions. But it's the impact that keeps me coming back to this daily grind of startups and building things, I guess.
Elizabeth Stein 6:38
Yeah, it is such a different experience, I think about that often of how I could survive in that world, and it is a different world. So tell us a little bit about how you were starting their CBD line. And what happened after that, that eventually led to the inspiration for GEM?
Sara Cullen 7:00
Yeah, I was like, 25-26, I think starting that first beverage company, and that's a whole podcast in itself. I learned a lot, I was super naive. My biggest learning from that was how to negotiate for myself. I was working with four other guys who owned 80%, I owned 20%. They were gonna do all the fundraising, I was gonna do all the sweat equity. And then I ended up doing it all. And then I just naively thought, oh. Then I'll just get the company after that. And we can just move forward. And that's not how life works. Learned very quickly, the importance of setting up good operating agreements, and negotiating for yourself. And then, of course, all the tactical things with building a company, how to break unit economics to scale. I learned about the retail world, what it's like to sell in and sell through, and all of those things around just building a food and beverage company. So super valuable lessons there. Around the time that I left that first venture, I was having my kind of health experience. In my late 20s, I was very stressed out living in New York. And I had a series of what I think now are allergic reactions, I didn't know what they were, they were like random swellings and things which led me down this path of figuring out. I had a bunch of allergy tests, I did a bunch of nutrient-deficient tests. And I found out I am nutrient deficient in these certain things. I am allergic or food-sensitive to corn, soy, wheat, and peanuts. So I started going through a lot of diet eliminations. And that's really what led me to the supplement aisle for the first time because I always believed, ironically, in getting your vitamins and minerals from Whole Foods. I didn't believe in the vitamin necessarily. But here I was on this health journey, and I was like, wow, I actually thought I ate well, I need to fill the gaps in my diet. And that's when I looked on the shelf. And I was like, a lot of these things are pills and capsules, and these processed supplements, these gummy bears, candy, a lot of them had soy, corn, wheat, and peanuts does try to weed out a lot of them had a lot of other dirty ingredients and process things. And I was like, this doesn't feel right. And so I started creating my concoction in the kitchen. They were super green and got really into spirulina and algae and other sustainable plants. And I felt a lot better doing this. And eventually, it morphed into this funny-looking bite that's now GEM. And in the very early days, it was a very green bite. It has a long way. Bless all the customers who have been with us since day zero. We've evolved, but I didn't even think of it as an alternative to your multivitamin. I just thought this was something that made me feel great every day. It's kind of my daily nutritional insurance. I started a small community on Facebook groups, ended up sampling out the product, and quickly realized this value proposition and, oh, it is the alternative to your daily multi. And then it kind of blossomed into a company from there. I ended up raising venture capital pretty early on through that beta community group that I started, and then I was just off to the races.
Elizabeth Stein 10:04
Amazing. So what was that like for you raising money at that stage?
Sara Cullen 10:11
Very challenging. In hindsight, and I often talk about this, I wish I didn't spend so much time on fundraising. Of course, it's way easier said than done. I wanted to do a crowdfunding campaign when I first started this company GEM. But what happened was that I had a network of investors, particularly from the previous beverage company, and I had invited them to this beta group that I had started, I invited them to this community. So I ended up getting knocked on the door of being like, hey, we're interested. But I was planning on not at I love Sara Blakelys of the world. Like, No, I didn't want to read, I didn't want to be on this venture capital hamster wheel, I wanted to be self-funded, I wanted to build a profitable company. But I think I was in a personal financial position where I needed the cash as well, at the time. So I ended up taking that first round and proceeded. And then once you're on that hamster wheel, like I say, you're on that, and the first $3 million, I think is the hardest to raise. We just closed our Series A last year. So now we have 22 million raised. But those first 3 million took up probably a good year and a half of my life, raising and focusing a lot of maybe too much time on that.
Elizabeth Stein 11:31
So any tips that you have to share for people who may be at the early stages of starting a company? And how do you spend less time on that, or anything that you can share with our audience?
Sara Cullen 11:44
It's such a good question. I think it's important that before you go into it, you ask yourself if you need it. There are a lot of companies that aren't necessarily a fit for venture capital, they're fit for other forms of financing, whether that's crowdfunding or debt financing. And so I think it's a question of actually asking yourself first is this a business model that's a fit for venture capital? And then, of course, it's asking yourself personally, where are you in life? Like, do you need it? Or is it possible for you to work another job and start this? So I think it's just being thoughtful about that, and having a real plan in place. Unfortunately, you have to fundraise money. I wish I could say here's how to do it so efficiently and make sure that you do it in under a month. But it's not always like that, sometimes you get lucky. But I think it's just being super intentional and thoughtful. I think it's stabilizing, now the market, but there was a period when a lot of entrepreneurs were just raising money for the sake of raising money. And I feel like that's kind of gone away a little bit, which is good. It's a healthy mindset that's going away. But I think there's a period where it was almost like a badge of honor just to raise money. And I think that that's just the wrong mindset for us. And you definitely should not go into it just for the sake of raising money.
Elizabeth Stein 13:08
The market has changed so much that it's so hard even to raise money if you need it. It's that difficult. So it's probably, of course, correcting through some of the nature of that. And I think the real important thing is certainly having a product or brand that is so differentiated, that you're going to get those investors interested in the first place. And you've done such a phenomenal job, bringing something truly unique to the market that didn't exist. So let's get a little bit into the product. And as you said, it started as this green thing. Then for those who are not familiar, tell us what it looks like today, what that formulating process looks like, and how you got to where you are now.
Sara Cullen 13:58
Sure. Well right now, it looks like a bright orange bite. It's no longer green.
Sara Cullen 14:03
I'm guessing people told you the green was a little bit of a turn off.
Sara Cullen 14:07
Exactly. This beautiful, tangy sweet buy is made with 20 different whole foods, superfoods, vitamins, minerals, and herbs. And it's this is chewy, kind of almost like a little bar by and it's real food. Right? So it's with this ethos of food is medicine, it's better absorbed in your body. And that was the idea behind this form factor. We're reinventing the idea of a multivitamin, of course, what it looks like instead of a pill capsule or gummy bear it's a real food bite, but also what's inside of it. It's not just like 100% of everything of all of your vitamins and minerals because you do eat food. You just need to fill the gaps in your diet. So really how we approached formulation was looking at okay, what are the key nutrient deficiencies in our diet today? And then what are our lifestyle demands that we need to make sure that we meet? So for instance, we're all very stressed out. When you're stressed out, you run through B vitamins. And so you might need some extra B vitamins. We all work indoors, most of us. So we might need some extra vitamin D. So that's how we approached it in terms of formulation. And I started forming a scientific advisory board early on and have continued to expand it. And one of my methodologies for doing that was to have a different perspective. So I didn't just want one Western medical lens, we have an herbalist, we have a functional medicine doctor, we have a neurologist, we have a biologist, we have a registered dietician on our board. And so we worked with a holistic amount of disciplines, and perspectives to build a product that really speaks to all of you and not just parts of you. And that was important in the formulation of this bite.
Elizabeth Stein 15:51
How was it finding this advisory board? And how did you go about picking these key influential people?
Sara Cullen 16:01
So I started with a food scientist herbalist and functional medicine doctor. And really through my network, I had worked with some food scientists in the past and my previous venture. So I started there, and our functional medicine doctor is our first kind of founding Scientific Advisory Board member, if you will, was one of the founding doctors actually at Parsley Health. So I look to other fellow startups, they're way bigger than us. I don’t know if I should call them a startup. And also to my network to begin finding them. And then I ultimately ended up hiring a registered dietician, actually to help me continue to recruit and build out the board. And that was successful as well. We're still adding to it today, as we continue to release new products, depending on what that product is, we go out and find a discipline that makes sense for that product and bring them on board.
Elizabeth Stein 16:56
Amazingly, you're able to put all of those key vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and herbs in there and make it still taste great. How hard was that process?
Sara Cullen 17:09
Really hard. And that's why I joke about it being this super green bite in the early days. I'm obsessed with algae, we still have algae in every single bite. And it's challenging to create to put all of these nutrient-dense superfoods into one bite without any added fillers, sugars, or processing agents. My life would have been a lot easier if I had just started a gummy bear company. It took a few years. And I also because I wanted to launch the company, I wanted to be on the path to profitability, we launched super lean, we launched super quickly. And it was really important to me that I evolved with the customer. And I wanted the customer to be at the heart and center of our product development. I didn't want to go do product development for two years by myself in the corner and not really be working with the customer on that. And so that's how we continue to evolve it. And we've had this very test and learn and iterative mindset from the get-go. B I brought in a pastry chef, for instance, and worked on the taste profile. I brought in two pastry chefs. So I started to add to my board not only the scientific minds but also the taste minds very well. And how can we create not only the healthiest bite but the most delicious bite without all those added sugars?
Elizabeth Stein 18:34
I think that's a really important thing that you decided early on to not just as you said, sit in a room and formulate, and bring in your consumers because I think it's such a great lesson, even just in life, like everything doesn't have to be perfect. And if you sit around waiting for it to be perfect, a) you may never even launch in the first place. But b) in this case, really listening to your consumer to get that information can help. Just that improvement and that connection that you have with your community. So how do you continue to build the brand and the community today?
Sara Cullen 19:12
Great question. We still have the original Facebook group that I started that continues to grow and you can still go and join it today. I don't even lead that now. It's completely customer-led people who share their stories as their tips, share advice on all things health. So there's that digital platform. Of course on organic socials, we have that as well. Then our team started something really special last year called GEM Breakfast Club, where we work with different chefs in different cities, all rooted in this food are medicine and ethos, and we create this delicious spread of food that typically speaks to our product as well. So there are ingredients that synergistically work together. Some ingredients are reflective and inspired by our GEM bite. For instance, there are a lot of turmeric-based egg dishes and fun things like that. And then we invite a lot of the community to that. And we just have a great conversation, we celebrate a sustainable future together with this delicious spread of food. So I love the real-life events and some of the digital activations. We're still very much a startup. So we're working from a microlens. We're doing these all like I would love to create bigger and bigger events and bigger communities to scale. But I think right now, we're focused on just creating genuine moments of connection with people in different channels and kind of building those microcosm communities.
Elizabeth Stein 20:46
I love that.
I'm so excited to announce that we have launched two new superfood cereal flavors, chocolate, almond, and cinnamon raisin almonds. Our cereal is intentionally crafted with whole food ingredients you can see and taste like sorghum, oats, chia, and quinoa. Each spoonful of our superfood cereal combines crunchy ancient grain flakes with delicious granola clusters for irresistible taste and texture. Plus, they are an excellent source of vitamin D, a good source of fiber, and have over 30 grams of whole grains per serving. You can find these new flavors along with our existing flavors, honey, peanut butter, and vanilla blueberry almond at your local Whole Foods and as always, on
What are some of your favorite stories that you hear from the community as far as how the GEM by itself impacted their lives it's certainly something that I'm sure people write in amazing comments and share stories of changing with food as medicine.
Sara Cullen 21:48
It's beautiful. We have a lot of older customers, particularly, those who grew up on Flintstone vitamins.
Elizabeth Stein 21:55
I forgot about Flintstone vitamins.
Sara Cullen 22:00
And they've tried every powder mix, every supplement, there's falling handfuls of pills, and they're just exhausted by these routines. And they found GEM and it makes them feel amazing. And it's a delightful routine to add to their morning. And so I think that those honestly, more mundane stories are maybe just like, hey, I've been exhausted all my life. Thank you so much for building this product that just makes it easy. And I get all the nutrients and I enjoy it. And I don't have to swallow these handfuls of pills and gag on them. So I love those. But I'm sure you know this owning a food company. But people attribute sometimes. I don't even want to say on this podcast, because they're like medical, they're like, wow, I had XYZ ailment, GEM solved it. And I'm like, I don't know if we can share that. Like, I appreciate that. GEM certainly isn't the panacea for everything. But of course, even touched by those stories as well. I think when people take care of themselves and feel good, it has equity effects on their lives. And so it's cool to see that and be a part of that.
Elizabeth Stein 23:12
Yeah, that is cool. Also, I love how you say that it becomes like this little part of their morning habit or ritual, which is all about having those little steps in the morning that then lead to how you live the rest of your day. And so it's that ripple effect that you're helping your community with. So in addition to the GEM bites, you also have some bonus bites, which I love how you have had different functions. How did that come about? I imagine it came from the community. But if you could talk a little bit about what those look like.
Sara Cullen 23:46
It came from the community. We are always asking what else would you like from us, we're very focused on our gem citrus, Ginger bite the reinvented multi-or hero kind of product that's like really the foundational product that we're focused on. And we're not a company where I want you to take 20 bites in a day, like swallowing 20 pills in a day. That kind of defeats the whole purpose of it being easy. But there are a few fun areas where people might want to switch it up I always say you might want up to three bites in a day. I, of course, take more but I'm biased. And we tried to fill the gaps in some areas where it depends on your situation. So for instance, our sleep bite is an incredible bite and people have great sleep and they don't necessarily need it every night. But if you're a melatonin user, you might know that melatonin can cause groggy hangovers, your body naturally produces melatonin. And so when you take it, you know artificially what happens that your body gets addicted to it and stops producing its own. So we created a natural alternative to that. We use valerian root, L-theanine, GABA, the natural holistic herbs and roots, and we put that into this beautiful Chocolate Cherry bite. So it's kind of like a delicious treat at the end of the day to wind down. And you can kind of take that as you need. Another bite that we have is a calm bite, which has a lemon balm in it, which is incredible for stress, but also magnesium. And magnesium is one nutrient that I recommend mega dosing on the most. So we don't have enough of it in our foundational bite. So we recommend if you want extra magnesium take our calm bite. Magnesium is kind of the wheel for your machine so to speak. It's amazing for all kinds of things stress, constipation as well, headaches, for sleep. We also have magnesium in our sleep bite as well. So those two bites are awesome for different reasons and different needs. And then our latest bite that we just launched is an Energy Aid bite. This has some natural caffeine from green tea extract as well as some L-theanine. So all of that energy without the jitters, one bite is equivalent to half a cup of coffee. There's also kelp, which is incredible for metabolism, and ginseng, which is an incredible adaptogen for blood sugar stabilization and stress. So this is a really fun kind of holistic energy aid bite. For me, I love to take it actually, I’ve been weaning off of coffee recently, not caffeine. So I bought this bite in the morning and then I work out and it kind of gives me that pep in the step. And yeah, it's kind of a nice morning treat.
Elizabeth Stein 26:40
So as you just talked about kelp. I'd love to get back into the GEM bites and talk about algae. So for those who hear about algae, but maybe don't know so much of the benefits of algae, I feel like algae is the best superfood on the planet. Would love for you to share all of its amazing benefits and why we should be incorporating it into our diet.
Sara Cullen 27:03
Like 3 billion years ago, spirulina was the first living organism on Earth. So algae was our living organism. It's what our ancestors ate. It truly is the most sustainable source of nutrition. So spirulina is one type of algae. There are all kinds of macro and microalgae. Kelp is a macroalgae. But if we look at spirulina in particular, it is a microalgae, for instance. It has all of the vitamins and minerals. Most of these microalgae and macroalgae have a rainbow of vitamins and minerals, so to speak. So they have all the vitamins and minerals that you kind of need, even some of the macronutrients, proteins, and things like that all in a very sustainable source of protein. There's incredible data around this where it's six of the water use of traditional land, crops like soy, corn, and wheat. It can grow way more abundantly than those crops in much smaller spaces. It emits oxygen, because they're like, a forest of the ocean. It's a cool kind of plant ecosystem, so to speak. There are just a lot of really cool applications for our health. We're just tapping into it right now. But you're starting to see it crop up in different superfoods and things. And for us, we would love to continue to invest in innovation around how can we derive more vitamins and minerals from algae and more sustainable sources. So we have this wonderful prebiotic fiber in our GEM bite called Beta Glucan. That's from algae. Our vitamin D is actually from an algae type as well. We have golden chlorella, which has incredible health benefits. I can go on and on about every algae. And that is also in our Calm bite. So we tried to incorporate this plant into different bites. But I think there's a lot of really cool things happening in the food innovation ecosystem around this. And I'm excited to continue to invest and be a part of it.
Elizabeth Stein 29:08
I love that you're using it. And for us, I am always looking for ways that we can use algae in it. We use a d3 in our cereal that comes from algae as well. It's a tough place because in cereal, if you talk about algae, I think people get a little bit grossed out so we try not to talk about it too much. But at the same time, people should know that that's where it's coming from. So I think it works a little bit better for you in a supplement bite in this.
Sara Cullen 29:41
That's what's so challenging about being a food product and disrupting the supplement if we have the same kind of challenges that you do with taste and perception. That's one of the reasons why algae is the heart of my story behind GEM and why I wanted to start GEM and use more sustainable ingredients. And it was my inspiration in many ways for starting this company. And it's a delight to talk with you about it because often I don't get asked questions about it. And I don't often talk about it enough because it is quite a scary thing. It ends up making people feel like oh, well, what am I going to like the taste, right?
Elizabeth Stein 30:25
We need to change the narrative.
Sara Cullen 30:28
It doesn't have to be scary. It's really cool.
Elizabeth Stein 30:31
Yeah. And it's beautiful. Blue spirulina is a beautiful algae.
Sara Cullen 30:37
Yeah. And awesome things are happening with different algae like spirulina, blue spirulina, green spirulina, and food dyes. Astaxanthin is another beautiful microalgae that we use as well. It's super potent. It's the strongest antioxidant out there and it has this gorgeous red color. So people are using this not only for health benefits but also to dye their foods naturally and provide health benefits. A lot of really cool applications.
Elizabeth Stein 31:08
Yeah. So as you're talking about this allergy, I know one of the cool things that you do as a company and brand is your Give the GEM program, which is working with some algae farms, I believe. So talk to us about that.
Sara Cullen 31:23
Yeah, we have an amazing program that my team set up and 1% goes to four different non-profits that we have set up. And you can opt in or out of this. So it's completely your choice, we give you this choice after you purchase, we say do you want to donate 1% to any of these non-profits, and we give you some information about it. But one of them is working on kelp reforestation, which is super cool. So it's going to kelp farmers and helping contribute to really cleaning our oceans, replanting kelp. Kelp, you can think of it as like the forest of the ocean, essentially. So the more kelp that you have in the ocean, not only the more food that we have, but also the cleaner the oceans, and it goes towards the productivity of those farmers as well and ensuring that we have farmers out there. So their livelihoods are included in this. It works across the food system the environment or ecosystem as well, and cleaning up and helping with our climate impact. And then, of course, the livelihoods of these farmers. And it's mostly in the northeast of America where a lot of these kelp farmers live. But it's cool. A lot of information about it on our site, and some other non-profits as well, that we're working with.
Elizabeth Stein 32:48
So cool. So as you've been building the business, what have been some of the most challenging aspects for you?
Sara Cullen 32:56
So many. I think the challenging aspect, certainly was the development of the product, to our best-tasting hero product and evolution at that.
Elizabeth Stein 33:12
How long did that take to go from when you first started to the final product?
Sara Cullen 33:16
Two and a half years. We were building the company, and COVID-19 hit during those two and a half years. So a lot of challenges along the way. In addition to the product iteration, we were also iterating on the brand, I was a big believer and not investing too much in the brand until I understood Product Market Fit, until I had product market fit, and until I understood the customer. And so we didn't start investing in the brand till a year after launch, and to use the community to build the brand, to build the emotional resonance part of the brand. So in some ways, I like to say that we're like brandless in the beginning. I didn't want it to be about the brand, I wanted it to be about the product about you, and the customer. So building all of that, iterating as you're running the company as well, it's those reasons why a lot of people remain in a kind of “pre-launch” and stealth mode for a couple of years. And I can see the benefit of that. So it was challenging. There are a lot of advantages, I feel like I was able to move a lot faster. I was able again, to have that customer at the heart of what I was building and iterating and have that feedback loop set up. But it was certainly a lot harder.
Elizabeth Stein 34:36
Is there anything that you wish that you knew at the beginning? Or maybe you did it differently?
Sara Cullen 34:46
I mentioned earlier about not wanting to spend too much time on fundraising. But I think that's an easy thing to say in hindsight, I don't know if I could go back and do that. We need the money, chicken, and the egg situation. I knew a lot about the product and how to build a product to scale the formulation part of it, I was very competent in those areas. I would say resourcing, hiring, and building out a team org chart development. I never worked at a larger company because I never had that experience. That was challenging. And I wish I invested more time in really understanding that and building more advisors and mentors around that. I still get entrepreneurs that come to me today. And I wish they asked me different questions. Often the first thing and the only thing they ever asked me was about fundraising. How can I raise my first dollar? How do I do that? What's the approach? And it's always about investors in the next round. And it's great, I understand. But I was the same way. To my mentors and advisors, I focus so much on that. And I wish I had asked other questions that eventually I have learned and continued and am learning. But I wish I invested more time in asking those questions earlier on.
Elizabeth Stein 36:16
What do you wish that more entrepreneurs asked you at the beginning stage, instead of about investing?
Sara Cullen 36:22
I think about hiring, resourcing, recruiting, building an org chart to scale, setting up growth and brand teams, how you think about product market fit, messaging, positioning, alignment, and setting up good operations. There's a lot on the desk, you know with the food side of things. How you think about co-manufacturing, that whole setup, actually more tactical questions across the business and that way.
Elizabeth Stein 36:51
So of all of those, what keeps you up at night the most? Because it's all about those day-to-day tactical pieces, right?
Sara Cullen 37:01
Truthfully, right now, it's the operations. We are the first ever of our kind of pioneering the world of this first-ever real food vitamin. It's incredibly challenging the type of bite that we make, how many nutrients we fit into it, the quality around that takes a lot of TLC, a lot of other capsules and pills, and the supplement companies out there are white labeled, they don't create the product themselves. So we are like a food company like you. We create our product, we manage our entire supply chain ourselves. We have our relationships with our suppliers. So we've had pretty complicated operations back end for just a simple one-bite product, so to speak. I know we have other bites too. And that keeps me up at night. Because being a pioneer has its advantages and disadvantages. And one of them is that we're always doing something new. There's a lot that I don't know I don't know. And I'm learning every day.
Elizabeth Stein 38:00
As you have been through this journey now, I'd love to talk a little bit about your kind of day-to-day in the business and just not juggling, but how you structure your day and show up as the best version of yourself. Because it certainly is not easy by any means. One day is a roller coaster, one amazing thing can happen. And then a horrible thing happens on the same day. So how do you kind of deal with all of that and show up as the best version?
Sara Cullen 38:35
Well, I think for any entrepreneur, you have to have a healthy dose of optimism. I like to say delusional optimism. I don't think I would survive without an optimistic attitude. I do think there has to be something at your heart and soul just like your intention every day when you wake up, I want to have a good attitude and look at things half a glass bowl, looking at things with an optimistic attitude. I think that's important. That's just a mindset shift. I think it comes maybe a bit more naturally to me because I happen to be a more optimistic person, for better or worse. But I do think that's incredibly important. Because, as you said, there are incredible highs and incredible lows. And that can happen within three hours in a day. So being able to be steady to have that mindset as your anchor is important. I always hearken back to the basics of wellness, like food, water healthy food, of course, GEMbite, water, sleep, getting some movement, even if it's just a walk throughout your day and getting up and doing some jumping jacks or something to keep you sane. I do that.
Elizabeth Stein 39:48
What's your morning routine like?
Sara Cullen 39:50
It's changing a little bit lately. I'm pregnant right now. I used to be a bit more active in the morning, I would say I'm really into long walks in the morning at the moment. And I eat breakfast like first thing. Used to be a little bit later, but now I love breakfast right away. Your cereal is like my biggest craving. I'm not just saying that to you, that's an honest thing that's happening to me. So I love your cereal in the morning. I found this incredible yogurt that it can go with.
Elizabeth Stein 40:26
What's your favorite yogurt?
Sara Cullen 40:29
Greek yogurt that I found at a farmers market here in Los Angeles. It's called ARIS natural yogurt. And they have different kefir cheeses, I think as well. And it's like a lot of different probiotic-type yogurts. But it's delicious. If you didn't find this, you can order it online. I know they're out at Erawan and some of these types of grocery stores but I'm not sure about their distribution at the moment. But I am just completely obsessed with this yogurt. I love to have breakfast with my GEM bite. And then I try to get at least an hour's walk in with the sunshine. I live in Venice, California. So I am lucky that it's sunny quite a bit. But I've tried to get that hour of sunshine outside. I think that's so good for you. But the sun hits your face to get out and move your body for an hour. I do try to drink at least 30 ounces of water every morning when I wake up too. I’m a huge believer in water. Our body is chronically dehydrated. And we might be a little bit happier if you were just a little more hydrated.
Elizabeth Stein 41:41
Alright, we're gonna move into some rapid-fire Q&A. Three things that you're currently loving. In addition to that yogurt, it could be a product, podcast, book, or anything.
Sara Cullen 42:00
Well, yeah, so definitely your cereal on this yogurt is one. Now that I'm pregnant, I've been kind of exploring the non-alcoholic space and it's really exciting. I found Ritual’s one non-alcoholic spirit that I made like a really good mocktail. So I was proud of myself. They have different spirits actually, they have a non-alcoholic tequila like whiskey, like different ones. You can kind of put some bitters in there, and some lemon or rosemary something and make an interesting cocktail. There are so many brands now that are incredible. So I always love discovering and trying out and experimenting with new things in the kitchen. So that's kind of my latest on the mocktail front. I think my third thing is not necessarily new. I've been doing it religiously, for almost four years now, which is Taryn Toomey’s The Class. I started it during COVID. And I don't know if you're familiar with it, but…
Elizabeth Stein 42:59
I am. I started during COVID too.
Sara Cullen 43:03
Yeah, kind of basic. It’s like a modern aerobics class. But I have a studio near me. And it's my workout. It's also my meditation. I love to just dance and kind of statically move my body. And so this very much resonates with me. It's a little obnoxious that it's called The Class. But I am obsessed with it. And I've done it religiously. And I'm still doing it even now pregnant.
Elizabeth Stein 43:33
Love it. Favorite words to live by.
Sara Cullen 43:39
So many. I think there's one that I'm not even sure who has said this. I'm sure a lot of people have said that are wise, but embrace what you don't know. Because what you don't know can become your greatest asset. As an entrepreneur, who and not know a lot, I live by that.
Elizabeth Stein 44:01
Yeah, that's perfect. Favorite productivity hack.
Sara Cullen 44:06
It's the simple things again. So for me, unfortunately, for better or worse sitting here at my computer doing 10 at least Zoom calls all day, if I can take at least one or two of those while walking, it will make the rest of my day so much more productive. When I'm walking and talking, I think better. I come back to my desk refreshed for the next meeting. So if you can integrate just little moments of movement in between meetings, or if you can take a few meetings at least walking, it's actually like a great productivity hack that doesn't take any time if you do it right.
Elizabeth Stein 44:40
Totally. A favorite book or podcast for growth.
Sara Cullen 44:48
I don't have favorite books. Well, one of my favorite books that inspired GEM is called Whole by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and I highly recommend it.
Elizabeth Stein 45:00
And what's it about?
Sara Cullen 45:01
He talks a lot about the science behind food as medicine. And he advocates for a plant-based diet. But mostly what is beautiful about the book is that he talks about the various things that make up the ethos of GEM, of why eating an apple versus taking a handful of pills, even though it might not have the equivalent of that vitamin will do so much more for you because of the antioxidants, and the phytonutrients and the biochemical processes. So he goes into that, and he shares his research around it. He had a very famous book before that, I think in the 90s, or 80s, called The China Study. That was the book that preceded this one, too. It's a growth book for me and my company. It's not the quintessential business growth book necessarily, but I love it. And I gift it to all of our team members.
Elizabeth Stein 45:58
I love that. Favorite business moment.
Sara Cullen 46:00
Oh, there's been so many. I think my favorite moments are, recently, we just released a new evolution of our packaging, we finally have the picture of our bite on our packaging. It's very special because as we've talked about in this podcast, it's taken me quite a long time to get to this best tasting, highest quality product. And also on the packaging side, just getting to a place that speaks to our products, speaks to our ethos, which I think is representative of the brand. And our community is something I'm really proud of. And that's it beautiful moment that happened very recently in the last couple of months.
Elizabeth Stein 46:42
Well, the new packaging looks gorgeous. I love it. I love the simplicity, and how clean it is. Lastly, what is your number one non-negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Sara Cullen 46:56
I think I have to say water after my water speech earlier.
Elizabeth Stein 47:02
So how much do you have in a day?
Sara Cullen 47:04
Over 100 ounces.
Elizabeth Stein 47:07
Wow, that’s impressive. I know we're supposed to have at least half of our body weight in ounces. So you're going well above that.
Sara Cullen 47:15
It might be because I'm pregnant that I'm doing a bit more than usual. I'm not sure but yeah.
Elizabeth Stein 47:22
Any tips for consuming more water? Do you do just straight water? Do you put lemon or anything in your water?
Sara Cullen 47:30
Lemon is awesome. Whenever you can activate your water, lemon, or any kind of citrus, I think that's great. Depending on your active level and where you are, some of these electrolyte packets like LMNT are awesome. Cure is another one. So occasionally those and I flavor the water as well if you're looking for that. I have a Berkey filter. So I use filtered water. And sometimes I activate it often just with lemon and keep it pretty simple. And I just have a huge jar, which our listeners can't see but you can see. I just keep it with me and straw. A straw is really the hack.
Elizabeth Stein 48:05
I think the straw is the hack.
Sara Cullen 48:10
Straw really helps you. There are all kinds of water bottles out there. The huge ones with the straws, so no shortage.
Elizabeth Stein 48:17
Yeah, I fell for it. But it really does help. I think it's all about straw for sure. In closing, what is next for you other than that you're pregnant?
Sara Cullen 48:30
As I shared, I have a personal journey ahead of me. Taking care of this baby and also taking care of my new baby.
Elizabeth Stein 48:39
That's gonna be a whole other podcast.
Sara Cullen 48:42
Exactly. So I have two other babies. And that's really what's ahead of me. And I'm excited to continue to grow GEM.
Elizabeth Stein 48:49
Amazing. Where can everybody find you and GEM?
Sara Cullen 48:52
You can find GEM at And our Instagram is @daily_gem.
Elizabeth Stein 49:02
Sara, thank you so much for being here. So great to meet you.
Sara Cullen 49:06
Nice to meet you.
Elizabeth Stein 49:09
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.