Courtney Nichols Gould has spent her professional life in start-ups across a variety of industries. Her experience over the last 20 years, helping to get ideas off the ground, varies from large Ad Networks (24/7 Media) and Publishers (CNET) to software services (Easylink). She also served as COO helping to build and run a company that provides a fast pass for airport security (CLEAR/Verified Identity Pass).
For the last 5 years she has served as Co-Founder & Co-CEO of SmartyPants Inc., a leading preventative health care brand known for making nutrient dense gummy vitamins that you don't have to be ashamed to eat. She is also an advisor/ board member/ donor of Blue Planet Run Foundation and charity:water, dedicated to addressing global water crisis.
How did you get into the health and wellness industry?
Happened rather organically- the cofounders were talking about shared frustrations around kids health and how hard it was to provide consistent health solutions for them and us- and how the entire topic of health had become one associated with guilt and stress.
Tell us about SmartyPants Vitamins. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
We shared the experience of most people-standing in the vitamin aisle trying to make our doctor's advice a reality, paralyzed by all the options and conflicting information and just thought, there has to be a better way. Our vision is simple: We want to put greater health in the reach of more people every day. We do that in different ways depending on our audience. for people with access to a relatively healthy diet but have consistent gaps we focus on making a product that eliminates the obstacles we ourselves faced: we created a product that ensures people get very quality ingredients that are bioavailable, are tested and then combined (for easy use) and put in a very tasty package to make it likely someone takes them every day and therefore gets the benefit. We leave out all the things they associate with gummy vitamins (artificial flavor/colors/preservatives, non organic sweeteners etc). For those who would benefit most from supplementation due to chronic deficiencies but can least afford it, we donate life saving Vitamin A and/or multivitamins through our matching grant program. For every bottle we sell, we donate a year's worth of nutrients to a child in need through our partnership with VitaminAngels.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to SmartyPants Vitamins's success?
I think being accountable to those who would most benefit and can least afford supplementation has been a big part of our success. It keeps us connected to why we do this and makes everyone who works here very proud of what the company does. Our partnership with Vitamin Angels has yielded almost 750,000 matching grants to date and we have a new goal of reaching 10mm in the next 3 years. The other key strategy has been our initial launch online which allowed us to get direct feedback from customers that we were solving a real problem and to build organically a substantial review base that serves as a very effective word of mouth platform between like minded or interested people who may not live close to one another but are trying to solve the same problem.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
People are looking for simplicity and honesty. Those happen to be core values for us.
Be here now. there is magic in every moment if you can open your eyes wide enough (lots of work left to do on that one!)
SmartyPants Vitamins's Motto?
Respect the Gummy
Your greatest success as founder of SmartyPants Vitamins? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
I think actually doing what we set out to do (hopefully for more people as we grow)- making it easier for people to be a little bit healthier every day.
Most difficult: Firing someone. Its pretty typical when transitioning from start up to small business but it never gets easier. Some people can grow with the company and transition to the new higher level of play, but some just can't. Some people are really well suited for start up mode but can't make the leap. The trick is to identify who can make it and who is best served by finding their next start up. I have kept people at the company longer than was appropriate out of a sense of loyalty when it wasn't really serving the company or them - but part of being a leader is making sure every player is in the right position. I think of myself as a coach and am more proactive now in addressing these transitions right away instead of wishing it would resolve itself. I read The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz at the right time (sent to me by an investor, bless him) and it reminded me of my obligation and motivated me to take action.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
1) Know what you are getting in to. Its not for the faint of heart, the fan of sleep or the ambivalent. Its NOT "better" than any other job despite our culture's romanticizing the role. It is fun but its a constant roller coaster. It happens to suit me a great deal - i love risk, i love change, i love dynamic situations.
2) Be prepared to not make money for quite a few years. We went 4 years without salary. Its very unfortunate that its set up that way but investors expect to see you working for free as your compensation is equity. So have some money saved or a support network or a partner/sig other who can carry the load for the first little while until you have demonstration of concept.
3) Only raise the money you need. Its a marathon not a sprint if you are building a lasting brand. You have two options: grow slowly and need less money, own more at the end of the day or grow fast, need more money and own less. Know your priorities and take the approach consistent with that outcome.
How do you motivate your employees?
We try to make it a fun place to work, we pick people who we know will flourish here and will appreciate the very fast growth, high expectations and pride in what they do. We prioritize preventative health and so do some atypical things like investing in meditation training, unplugged retreats, healthy free snacks, coaching. We provide equity to any employee who has been here longer than 6 months and is doing a great job- not just the executives. We all get higher salaries and more equity if we keep hitting our goals. We invest in our connection to each other and take the transformation of the individual very seriously. We want SmartyPants to be a place where everyone pushes themselves to become their best self.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Wow. Water and seaweed just because its the most nutrient dense and I would feel really good most of the time. If I was only going to live a week and therefore it didn't matter if I felt amazing, I would choose an absurdly beefy cabernet and fried okra.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Our bed stand is ADD in action. Its whatever fiction i am obsessed with at the moment (most recently Donna Tartt's Secret History) + one nonfiction (russell brand Revolution at the moment) + one thing to turn to in hard times (Joseph Cambell Companion Essential Krishnamurti)
Role model - business and personal?
Jane Fonda is a total and utter badass who is controversial, funny, humane and driven. If i could meet one person to get some life advice from, its her. Also Sam Simon who is dedicating his last months on earth to using his many millions to save as many mistreated animals as he can. I love that he balances big strategic donations to organization doing foundational work with saving specific animals at great expense because it gives him the ability to see the transformation first hand.
I am obsessed with cardio tennis for some reason. I chase balls like a labrador. The time flies. Also: anything with fur - i am embarrassingly devoted to baby animal videos much to the amusement of my kids- we are slowly building a pippi long stocking type situation at our little house in venice. Someday, i will fully indulge and rescue any thing i can get my hands on. .
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
this: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/cnn-don-lemon-crosses-line-bill-cosby-rape-accuser-article-1.2015825 The anchor's quote about being able to avoid rape makes me want to punch someone, namely, Don Lemon. I love that these idiots can't hide anymore. here's to MissRepresentation.
What's next for SmartyPants Vitamins?
We are really just getting started. Its to remain focused on our mission: more people, more health, more days of the year. We want health to be fun, inspiring, rewarding not a source of stress and guilt. Its a big goal but I know we have the team to do it.