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The founder of allergy-friendly brand Partake Foods dishes on her experience leaving Coca Cola to enter the startup world.
Ingestible treats that are good for your skin
Resisting the "VC Treadmill" to build a brand of botanical gummies helping users care for their skin—from within.
Welcome to The Leap, where women and nonbinary entrepreneurs open up about what it took to get to where they are now. In 2018, women founders received just 2.2% of the $130 billion in venture money invested in the United States. Given these odds, it’s time to get real about what it’s really like to be a woman founder. From raising capital to imposter syndrome, we explore what it takes for women to enter the world of entrepreneurship.
Sometimes, the amount of skincare must-haves on the market is enough to make your head spin. Whether it’s a toner, salve, foundation, or exfoliant, many of us are being bombarded by countless topical essentials for our skin. But what if I told you that a new tool for better skin comes in the form of a gummy candy?
Emilia Javorsky was working as a researcher in academia prior to getting the idea for her company, Sundaily. After studying psychology and biology, going to medical school, and working as a dermatology researcher, Emilia realized that there weren’t many options out there for ingestible skincare. Turns out, delivering botanical ingredients in the form of a tasty gummy is a great way for individuals to supplement topical skincare practices. And from this pearl of wisdom, the company was born.
Here, we chat with Emilia to learn what it’s like to go from the research world to the start-up one, what it means to start from evidence, and how to resist the “VC treadmill” game.
Did you go to college? If so, what did you study?
Yeah; when I was in medical school, one of my nephews kindly reminded me that I was in the “21st grade.” I did my undergraduate work in psychology and biology, and then I worked full time and went to school full-time to do Masters of Public Health in health policy and management. It was during that time I really got into research—the idea of leveraging science to help people at scale was really appealing to me. I then went to medical school, and during that time and afterwards was a dermatology researcher.
Give us the Spark Notes version of your career prior to becoming a founder.
Before I was a founder I was in the academic world as a researcher, so the majority of my career has been in translational science–taking ideas into the lab and eventually to the clinic. Sundaily is the first time I’ve worked in the consumer space, but is very aligned in principle with my past, as we really aim to put the evidence at the core of the products we create.
Where did you first get the idea for Sundaily?
The idea originated from seeing how much science had been done around botanical ingredients and skincare benefits. It struck me that there were consumer products on the market for “ingestible beauty” but largely the ingredients did not map to the evidence. These were also mainly pills and powders, which are really hard for people to take everyday. So it became my goal to bring evidence-based ingredients for skin to consumers as an additive tool to the topical toolkit.
I’m a lab-person by training and at heart, so it was really in meeting my awesome Sundaily co-founder and company CEO Chris, who has deep expertise in building consumer businesses and the insight that “gummy” was the way to go, that we started Sundaily.
What did the transition from your previous career to launching this company look like?
I grew up in a family of artists and always wondered how I ended up in the sciences, but as time has gone on, I’ve realized that I inherited their love for the creative journey, it’s just the medium that is really different. So, in many ways, while the day-to-day of launching a company is different than [that of] the academic environment, the journey of translating an idea into reality—with no clear path of how that happens and needing to use a variety of different tools—is very similar.
The financial risk of starting a business is scary for most people, how did you deal?
Spending many years as a student in the academic environment, I’d become accustomed to living pretty simply and also working one or two jobs on the side. This was my approach to co-founding Sundaily—I designed my role and responsibilities to be compatible with generating income through other work. I recognize that I am very fortunate to have this option, and believe that developing new models for financial stability is vital for more inclusive and diverse entrepreneurship.
Even today, I still never changed my "student lifestyle," which helps greatly, financially-speaking. Living simply also enabled me to generate some savings which I used to help start the company. My co-founder and I invested savings into the company to get it off of the ground, and then grew the company from that initial investment via a crowdfunding campaign. I'm not going to lie, putting my work savings into a startup was pretty terrifying, but also is a sort of irrevocable commitment to ensuring the company's success.
How have your conceptions of financial stability changed since starting your own company?
I’ve developed a much deeper gratitude for my privilege to have the option of entrepreneurship. I was fortunate to have gotten a lot of scholarships and work opportunities as a student, so I didn’t accrue the kind of debt that can be a significant barrier to becoming an entrepreneur.
I don’t think we in the entrepreneurship community talk enough about how a hard journey becomes immeasurably harder for those who have debt, family and other financial obligations that make financial instability a much riskier option.
What’s been your plan to profitability—have you been raising capital? How are you financing your brand?
At Sundaily, we believe there is a lot of investor capital chasing ineffective business models and we want to behave differently. Rather than play the “VC treadmill” game, in which each round just artificially props up the next, we’re focused on raising as little money as we have to, maintaining control, and prioritizing non-paid acquisition channels.
We started Sundaily with a crowdfunding campaign to demonstrate demand and finance our first product manufacturing run, and since then have had the privilege of working primarily with angel and family office-type investors who share our worldview and values.
What’s the biggest emotional challenge you’ve faced as a woman entrepreneur?
I’m not sure how the emotional challenges of entrepreneurship differ by gender, as the challenges I’ve felt seem pretty fundamentally human. Because there is no set path to entrepreneurship you’re operating in a highly dynamic environment, with only a few elements within your control, plus the unclear feedback mechanisms, it leads you to constantly question yourself. The constant shadow of “am I making the right decision?” isn’t easy.
What’s currently your biggest business challenge?
Starting with the evidence and communicating it in a way that is measured and faithful to the science has always been a top priority for me and will continue to be so. This has worked really well as a small, niche company, but as we scale, we’re starting to feel more and more pressure to participate in the hyperbole, and sometimes misleading statements, that characterize so much of the claims and marketing copy that we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
We know there is consumer demand for real transparency and evidence based on our company’s growth. So while we believe in the long-term our values and approach are going to be what uniquely positions us for success, it can mean turning down attractive opportunities in the short term that would not be consistent with those values.
What’s been your company’s biggest victory so far?
We’re really proud of having a retail presence in places like Goop and Credo Beauty. We just started into retail late this year and it’s been really exciting to have already been integrated into their offerings.
What does your self-care routine look like?
I’m naturally an introvert, so the solitude of daily meditation and yoga is really restorative for me. I also try to keep part of my schedule always allocated to time with family and friends. I know those are pretty generic wellness strategies, though. In terms of hobbies, I like to do abstract cut-paper and mixed media collage; that is also something that keeps me sane.
What are some resources that have helped you on your journey?
I think it’s really important to continue to cultivate all aspects of who you are and not let them atrophy, as I believe that diversity of perspective and richness is what best positions you for success in the long term. One book that really meant a lot personally was Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. It explicitly answers the question, as a human society: “how did we get here?”
What’s your advice to someone who is considering taking “the leap”?
More so than a specific idea or opportunity, you need to be honest with yourself on how comfortable you are with uncertainty, as uncertainty is intrinsic to everything in entrepreneurship. The other characteristic I think is really important is an ability to, in parallel, be able to simultaneously execute on the day-to-day and the big picture, which are very different ways of thinking and behaving. You always need to be able to evaluate a decision both in terms of what it means for the business today and how it fits into the long-term vision.