Ash Baccus-Clark is a Los Angeles & Berlin-based writer, brand strategist, and molecular and cellular biologist.
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BTS of a Fledgling Wellness Brand
After studying neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, Nadine Joseph founded Pretty Mushroom with the goal of simplifying the confusing world of adaptogens.
If you dream of starting a company and want the inside scoop of what it’s like running the day-to-day of the business, you've come to the right place. In our series Startup Diaries, we ask new founders to take us to work for a day, and reflect on what they discovered during the process.
For Joseph, her wellness company Pretty Mushroom was born out of necessity. After experiencing high stress and burnout while studying neuroscience at UC Berkeley, she found herself looking for natural remedies for her health problems.
After experimenting and creating wellness blends to enhance her mood and mind—and cure her eczema—Joseph and co-founder Jeffery Saeteurn decided to build a company that could provide natural antidotes to the stresses of the modern world.
Taking notes from both neuroscience research and the traditional cultures their ingredients come from, Pretty Mushroom formulates plant-based blends with the goal of helping people feel well—from the inside out.
Joseph took us to work with her for an inside look at what a day as a young founder of a wellness brand looks like.
6:15am -- Wake up, get ready for the day! I started with some light stretching.
6:30am -- Walked the pup! I have a one-year-old labrador, Cora, who I walk every morning. I like to take this morning walk as quiet time for myself. I usually don’t bring my phone with me.
7am -- Gym. Today I did spinning on Peloton!
8am -- Showered, then put on a bentonite clay mask. Went downstairs to prepare a smoothie. Today I had a Matcha Blueberry smoothie with our Happy Mushroom blend in it. I set the smoothie, some prepped lemon turmeric tonic, and some frozen blueberries on a portable platter. I currently work from a home office, so I brought all of my food/drinks up to the office.
9am -- Before settling in to answer emails in my office, I wash my face mask off. On my computer, I open up my to-do list, email, and all of our social media platforms. I spent some time answering emails.
10:15am -- I had a brief call with my uncle, who is a real estate and startup investor.
10:40am -- Influencer outreach. Lately, I’ve been interested in topics surrounding self-care and wellness. The term ‘self-care’ is starting to become an overused buzzword in marketing and news outlets. Separating out what self-care means for me personally means ignoring a lot of marketing jargon and messaging. I think we all have to remember that self-care doesn't have to be expensive or exclusive. Given that, I am starting a new series on our company blog where we ask people what self-care and wellness means to them. Today, I focused on reaching out to women of color in the wellness space that I have long admired from afar.
11:25am -- I was introduced to a WeWork Labs Manager via email, so I scheduled a time to meet with her on Friday. Then I did some research on their accelerator program and food labs membership. I also evaluated whether or not this would be something that could help grow our business.
11:35am -- I was so engrossed in that research that I didn’t notice that my dog was eating the broccoli microgreens that I have growing in my office. I currently have three 10”x20” trays growing in coco coir besides my desk. Cora demolished one of the trays and there were bits and pieces of dirt and half eaten broccoli sprouts all over the floor. It took some time to clean this up; I tossed the ruined greens in the compost bin.
11:45am -- I reconciled some expenses that our bookkeeper had issues classifying from last month via Bench Accounting. I also signed us up for automated sales tax filing for next quarter (I used TaxJar, our sales tax filing software).
12:15pm -- Photoshoot of our products. Experimented with colored water and monochromatic forms and shapes.
1:20pm -- Prepped lunch (microgreens salad with avocado and tahini sauce) and brought the lunch up to my office. Since my schedule is a bit booked today, I ate while I worked.
2pm -- I had a brief call with a consultant for our sales and distribution strategy. I put down on my to-do list to talk to Jeffrey, my co-founder, about the pros and cons of moving forward with her.
2:50pm -- Nap! Sleep is definitely a priority for me.
4pm -- I received a delivery from our local printing company for an order we placed. This reminded me that I have to place another order for product inserts. I spent a bit of time redesigning the product inserts then sent it to our printer.
5:15pm -- I talked to Jefferey about the pros and cons of moving forward with the consultant I talked to about our sales and distribution strategy earlier.
5:50pm -- I have been training my assistant, Marshanette, to reach out to potential stockists and send samples over to them. I reviewed some of the emails and DMs she sent out and gave my critiques. I also wrote up a document for her on Basecamp.
6:30pm -- I took Cora for a short walk.
6:50pm -- I got back to the product photoshoot. I uploaded and edited photos and sent them to my assistant to upload to Instagram.
7:40pm -- Showered, got ready for bed.
8pm -- Usually Jeffery and I will watch an episode of something on Netflix, but I want to retire early today. I’ve been fighting a headache all day so I just wanted to get some rest. I made a lavender latte with genius mushroom and grabbed some frozen blueberries and fresh strawberries and went up to our room to settle in with a book (Michael Pollan’s Food Rules and The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks). Not feeling a full-blown dinner tonight (yet).
9:45pm -- I finished Food Rules and decided to save Rumi for tomorrow. Going to slather on some body oil, take my before-bed vitamins, and do a 15-minute guided meditation before sleeping.
So, how did your day compare to your ideal one?
Usually I wake up at around 5:30, yesterday I kind of slept in just because it was a Monday. Yesterday was characterized by a lot of jumping around. Mondays are usually pretty packed for me and I think, as a Monday goes, this one went pretty well.
Ideally, I would wake up on time and on a non-ideal day there are usually sacrifices to my own wellness. I wouldn’t have the time to go to the gym or take my dog for a walk, or do that reading before I go to bed. But [this day] I had all of it down. I think, ideally, what I would have wanted to improve was not to be distracted by things that occur.
What was it like keeping track of your day?
At first, I kind of had to make a conscious decision because usually at the beginning of the day I try not to have my phone on me. It was interesting because I got in the rhythm of using it as a pre-to-do list.
I keep a pretty extensive to-do list on my laptop and so every time I open up the to-do list I just had a Google doc right next to it so it was nice to have all of the things I was doing segmented out. It made me more aware of how much jumping around I did, too.
How do you stay organized and on task?
I use an app called To-do Cloud. I segment mine into marketing, business management—I have segments for each thing. I had a friend who looked at my to-do list and was really overwhelmed because there were hundreds of tasks on there. But I just focus in on one thing and take it one step at a time. That really helps me in simplifying my workflow.
Also, when things happen, for instance when I get an email or something and have to add it to my to-do list, adding it to my to-do list makes it so that I don’t have to think about it in the moment. I can just schedule it for later and my mind can rest assured that I’ll get to it.
You don’t usually have your phone with you in the mornings. Can you tell us more about that?
Because I’m a wellness founder it’s really important to me to be focused on my own wellness. I don’t think that’s negotiable. And so, one thing that’s important to me is really having a balance in the time I spend on my phone or on the internet in general because it does tend to make your brain more scattered.
I try to not have my phone on me within the first hour in the morning and then the hour before I go to bed. I’ll keep my phone in my kitchen overnight because I’m really not a fan of the whole waking up and looking at your phone first thing in the morning. That’s kind of my policy.
How does your life as a founder compare to what you thought it was going to be?
I think there’s definitely been a glorification of what it’s like to be a founder in this past decade.I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, and so I think I had a more realistic picture of what it would be like than some other people.
I grew up with the mindset of being a jack of all trades and really getting down and dirty and doing things yourself, or if you don’t know how to do them, learning how to do them. So, especially because we’re still in the growth stages of this company, me having to wear a lot of hats and sometimes pick up on some aspects of graphic design or really learning about email marketing and ads and what not, that’s something I don’t think a lot of people when they first get into it know that’s what they are going to have to do. That they’re going to have to wear those hats at first until you can take on teammates that can work on these things.
[Having] an idea of how it would be going in definitely benefited me because I wasn’t surprised when I had to do all of this stuff. I’d seen my aunts and uncles be in the same position.
Why did you decide to found your own company?
I was at UC Berkeley studying the neuroscience of stress and its effect on learning, and while I was there I was dealing with a lot of stress myself. I had the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue; a lot of headaches, I was really tired all of the time. And I wanted to figure out some ways in which I could help myself. It kind of launched me into this huge personal research projects where I stumbled upon adaptogens and started learning about them.
I’m the kind of person where if I discover something really cool I like to do a lot of research about it. That’s kind of what I did and became obsessed with the idea of adaptogens and really sourcing high quality herbs and mushrooms. And so I did all of this grunt work, you could say, of just learning about it and making formulas that helped me become less stressed and heal my eczema.
Going through that process I realized I should probably make a company about this or make it more available to other people because I had all of these friends and family members asking me about it. I feel like when you look at the space of adaptogens right now it can be pretty confusing. It’s also pretty exclusive, price range-wise. Marketing wise, you’ll see it’s also pretty exclusive. So I wanted to build something that was a little more inclusive.
Have you ever thought about doing an incubator or accelerator program?
It’s something I’m looking into at the moment. Things that give me pause are giving up a chunk of my company for a program that will only have about six months of influence on my company. There are a bunch of things to consider, like I would have to align my goals along with what the incubator’s goals are, which may diverge in some places.
The pro, on the other hand, is that [I’d] be surrounded by other entrepreneurs and have this expansive network of people, networks, advisors, and people who have also graduated from that incubator that could be invaluable. There’s a lot of things to consider.
What are your current fundraising goals?
Right now, we are 100% boot-strapped. I don’t feel that we’re at the stage right now to really go forth with fundraising, but it’s something that I would definitely consider in the future.
Any final reflections on your experiences as a startup founder so far?
I think one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve gotten was [when I was] on the phone with my dad a while ago and expressing my frustration with him that we weren’t receiving as many emails back from stockists as I would have liked. He said to me that consistency and persistence [are] key. I feel like every time I am kind of not feeling the startup life I always think about that. If you just keep on persisting at something, you can’t help but succeed. I feel like anyone who is thinking about going into starting their own company should really have that advice at the back of their minds.
Ash Baccus-Clark is a Los Angeles & Berlin-based writer, brand strategist, and molecular and cellular biologist.