Kalen Caughey: Founder of VOKE Tab

My NativeAdVice:


Kalen Caughey, 28, is a graduate of Steamboat Mountain School. Kalen founded Guarana Energia in 2005 to develop and produce natural energy lozenges. In 2010, Caughey founded VOKE TAB, a healthy chewable that provides mental focus and physical stamina with green tea leaf caffeine, organic acerola cherry and organic guarana berry seed. Originally made for adventure athletes, Voke has fueled expeditions on all 7 continents, everest climbs and a global sailboat circumnavigation. Kalen works as President/CEO.

What's Your NativeAdVice:

How did you get into the Health/Energy industry?

In the beginning, I wasn’t looking to make a product or start a company. I had been searching for a healthy energy solution to take during freestyle ski competitions; something portable enough to carry in my ski jacket pocket. I would often drink coffee off the hill, but that wasn’t portable enough to take skiing. Coffee also made me a bit jittery which was not helpful when competing. After searching in stores and online all I could find were unhealthy energy drinks/ shots and sketchy trucker pills at gas stations … nothing natural, healthy, effective and portable. Unable to find the product I had in mind, I decided to create it for personal use. To start off I learned how to make lozenges and began testing out various active ingredients. Fortunately, my Dad is a biochemist and he helped me hone in exclusively on ingredients with peer reviewed scientific research demonstrating physical and mental benefits. The resulting recipe was simple, natural and very effective. As I continued to make and test new recipes over the following years, more and more friends and athletes began using the product. We began distributing to bike/ski/outdoor retailers and then expanded into select natural food grocery and convenience stores. It’s been an organic growth process driven by passionate customers and their word of mouth to get to where we are now.

Tell us about Voke Tab. What is your vision for the company?

Voke Tab is a healthy chewable that provides heightened focus and increased physical endurance. Voke is ideal for daily use, whether that’s powering through the afternoon at work or training for a marathon. Voke helps you keep a level head and continue performing. The energy boost lasts a few hours and doesn’t result in a crash from excessive sugar, vitamins or stimulant ingredients. Each Voke Tab contains a moderate amount of green tea leaf caffeine (77mg ~ roughly equivalent to a small cup of coffee or a strong cup of tea), 100% daily value of vitamin C and a serving of organic guarana berry seed. We were careful to keep the recipe clean, no artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors.  

The foundation for Voke Tab is to provide everything you want and nothing you don’t. Voke is portable, convenient, affordable, healthy and makes you feel great. It doesn’t make sense to consume 16 oz of liquid and 50g of sugar every time you want a little boost during the day. In fact, all those extra ingredients often have the opposite effect, making you feel lethargic and slow.  We strive to provide the right amounts of the right ingredients.  

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Voke Tab's success?

Voke originally started out as a product made by athletes for athletes. Our ambassador team has been the primary catalyst for word of mouth and growth from the beginning. A major milestone for Voke was partnering up with Conrad Anker as Chief Ambassador in 2012. He had discovered Voke and wanted to take a few thousand tabs with him to fuel the National Geographic Everest Education Expedition he was leading. Voke helped them out at altitude and the Sherpas were stoked, calling the tabs ‘Leg’s No Tired’.  Since then Voke has fueled expeditions on all 7 continents and a global sailing circumnavigation. We’ve had a lot of fun working with the team to create and distribute content from pursuits around the world.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

Excessive sugar consumption and the obesity epidemic are huge issues right now.   29 Million people have Type II diabetes in the US. More than 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese. These are solvable problems for individuals and society.   People are fed up with being misled by huge marketing budgets that hook kids on sugar packed beverages that can create lifelong health problems. Voke is one of the best alternatives available in helping people to start living healthier and performing better on a daily basis.  For example replacing just one sugary latte or energy drink a day with a Voke Tab will eliminate over 21 pounds of sugar and 72,000 calories from their diet in just one year. Additionally, they would save nearly $1000.

All of these health issues are sparking a widespread trend towards healthy eating and living better through daily activity. Things like cutting out excessive sugar from your diet and getting at least 15min of exercise per day have hugely positive long-term health outcomes. Voke is well positioned as a naturally sugar free product that provides more energy for active pursuits.

Life Motto?

Persistence results in luck and opportunity.

Voke Tab's Motto?

Live Vitalized.

Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Voke Tab?

It’s exciting to hear stories from our customers about how Voke is positively impacting their lives.  We’ve heard from ER doctors staying sharp on marathon shifts, pilots completing flights safely and athletes who cherish Voke during workouts and competition. I think the greatest success is to be helping people live healthier and perform better on a daily basis.

Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

The most difficult moment by far was rebuilding from a point of near total loss. To get started initially I had dropped out of college and convinced my parents to invest the remainder of the money they had saved for my college education into the company. Considering they had spent their whole lives saving up to afford the cost of college, it was a big decision for them to support my risky venture instead. Their investment funded the first production run of 100,000 lozenges (branded Energia at that point). Then I went to work trying to sell them to college students and athletes. Our distribution model at the time was primarily through student brand reps on college campuses. This proved to be a flawed strategy …college students are good at spreading the word and distributing product, but often not so good at collecting and handling money. At the same time, I realized the product would be easier to eat and more palatable as a chewable tab instead of a hard candy lozenge. This change would mean switching factories and redeveloping the product. On top of all this, it became apparent that I would not be able to trademark the name ‘Energia’ and thus would need to rebrand.   So I found myself at a spot where the business model needed to change, the product needed to be re-developed and the brand needed to be re-designed, all with zero money. That was the hardest moment. To dig out from there I started working restaurant jobs to save enough cash to develop a chewable tab and purchase the ‘Voke’ trademark.  I worked in the mornings or evenings in the restaurant and spent the other part of the day working on new product. This whole process took a number of years and was  full of frustrating moments. That said, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. All of the mistakes provided insights into how to do better on the next push. Failing the first time around was the best thing that could have happened.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

If you have an idea to create something, get started right away and trust in your ability to learn as you go along. You’ll never have all the answers at the beginning.

Describe the ideal experience using Voke Tab.

My favorite times to Voke:

-First thing in the morning.

-After lunch I usually have some food coma, Voke cures it.

-On a long day ski-touring or mtn biking I’ll take a tab at the beginning and then one every 2 hrs, always with a good drink of water.

How do you motivate your employees?

Fortunately, everyone on our small team is exceptionally self motivated. It’s crucial to work with people who take personal pride in doing a good job and get things done without a thick layer of management. That said, we’ve definitely had some big challenges over last few years that put a strain on motivation. We keep ourselves going by fine tuning and communicating the direction of the company, short/long objectives, what we stand for and where we want to go.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

Voke Tab and Water ;)

What literature is on your bed stand?

Currently reading:
Michael Jordan: The Life
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Autobiography of a Yogi

Role model - business and personal?

Elon Musk is changing the world for the better through investments in solar, transport and storage. Very inspiring.

Current passion?

Mountain Biking

Favorite travel destination?

I travel most of the year, so being home in Montana is the best destination. Hoping to spend more time there this year.

What's next for Voke Tab?

The team is focusing on expanding our distribution to keep up with our growing customer base. We recently introduced the Voke Reload program, a membership service that delivers directly to customer doorsteps on a monthly basis. With new customers all over the country including a mix of people from athletes and firefighters to executives and doctors, demand for Voke is outpacing our retail distribution.  We’re excited to quickly scale the Reload program, providing customers everywhere with simple, reliable access to Voke.  Our goal is to soon have Voke available to everyone in the US via both local retailers and Reload membership.