[I’m the CEO of PathoBiome, makers of BIOHM Probiotics, the first performance probiotic developed to break down digestive plaque and balance the total microbiome.
In this ongoing series, I’m giving Forbes readers a front row seat to what goes into turning an idea into an actual product. In case you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE]
While we had the technology to utterly change the probiotics industry, it was all still conceptual. That all changed the week of October 30th, when things went into overdrive as we started to turn our probiotic, biOHM, into a real product. Here’s what that week looked like:
Sunday October 30th – On the phone with Paula and the Emerson Group, putting the final touches on our retail presentation, tweaking the concept packaging and marketing claims that would be on package.
Monday October 31st – Fly in early to meet with the retailer the next day. Right off the flight, I jump on a call with investors to iron out final terms. Some are pushing for a lower valuation, but my father is willing to self fund if needed. Plus we have others that are fine with valuation, so ultimately they accept our valuation but we add some warrants.
I let our law firm, Baker Hostetler, know the adjustments to make to the investor documents while grabbing my bag off a carousel and hunting down the Uber drive who’s “right here, where you told me” (Full disclosure: My wife is a Partner at Baker Hostetler).
In the car, I hop on the phone with our patent lawyer to answer some follow up questions, and then with Jennifer, our account manager at our manufacturer Norax Supplements. I tell her about the specific container we’re interested in, and she gives me the run down of the capsule we’ll be using for the product. By the end of the call we’ve picked the final container and capsule. I’m pumped that’s done!
At the hotel, I drop my bags off and hope to get a walk in, but just as I’m strutting out of the lobby, I get a surprise call from Walgreens, saying they they want our Oasis Dry Mouth products in their warehouses by February.
Back to the hotel for a phone call with Matt, as we scramble to work through the logistics of getting 100,000 units sourced and manufactured by early January. After a few hours, everything seems to be under control.
FaceTime with my wife and kids as they start getting dressed up for Halloween. I feel bad I’m missing it, but I remind myself why I’m missing it, which is ultimately for them… (but that doesn’t make me me feel better)
I finally go out for a walk, but it’s colder than I thought it would be, and I didn’t bring a coat (which was dumb). I stop by a random restaurant and grab dinner at the bar.
Before going to bed, I boost my Dad’s latest Facebook post. I am asleep by about 8.
Tuesday, November 1st – First thing I do is check my phone. Since the night before, my Dad’s post has over a thousand likes, 150 shares and dozens of comments. “Wow!” That only cost us about fifty bucks so I stop the boost. Every time he posts, the audience engagement is incredible. People thank him, ask him how quickly they can get biOHM and are just very excited. All I can think is “man this is really resonating.” In my gut (see what I did there?), my confidence is really growing that we’re on to something huge.
By 8am I’m in the car for an hour long drive to the retailer’s headquarters. They gave me a half hour (usually it’s like ten minutes) and I walk them through the science and exactly why biOHM is going to alter the probiotic category.
Most importantly to the retailer, I painstakingly walk through how we are going to drive people to their stores through three prongs of promotion:
- Public relations using Blaze PR: the agency that launched Kevita, a sparkling probiotic water which just got sold to Pepsi for a reported half a billion dollars. They know what they’re doing when it comes to getting the word out about probiotics.
- Branding using SpiceFire: a firm filled with former P&G types which specializes in creating branding that moves the needle. Based in Cincinnati, they work with the biggest consumer packaged players all the way down to start ups. They are really cool, genuine and innovative people without the annoying “hey look how creative we are!” vibe. They have given me a totally new appreciation for understanding what it means to create a brand.
- Digital advertising using Noble Digital: a digital agency that meshes intensive research and analytics with beautiful creative work to rapidly grow brands both online and at retail. Run by a creative and very curious guy called Allen Martinez, Noble runs an intense process, but man are we learning a ton about our competitors (big and small), and how we can make our advertising stand out in a crowded field. I’m really impressed by Allen and his team.
The buyer is impressed, but the one thing he does say is that they want the packaging to “pop,” so consumers know why it’s such a breakthrough. If someone is new to probiotics and sees it on shelf, why would they care and not just go with the big brand? The buyer wants to see updated packaging and a mock up of what an in-shelf display would look like within two weeks.
I say “of course!”
As soon as I’m in the car, I’m on the phone with Spicefire telling them we have two weeks to get the retailer updated packaging and a mock up shelf display. They think it’s tight to turn that around, but I explain it’s got to happen otherwise the retailer will just say, “come back when you’re ready.” They get it.
At the airport, I have another conference call with our lawyers about the funding paperwork and the company operating agreement. A couple of hours later we’re all on the same page and they commit to get me everything by early the following week.
I also get a call from my buddy Dan, who has an extra ticket to the World Series that night (at that point Cleveland was still only a game away from winning the whole thing). I’m tired, but my wife convinces me it’s worth going. I do have to be back at the airport at 7:30am the next morning, but what the hell. It’s the World Series!
Dan hides my ticket in my parking garage, and by the time I land and get to the stadium, we’re already down 7-0 after a Cubs grand slam. It was a “blast.”
After the game ends, one thing is clear….I’m not getting home any time soon. Traffic is horrendous. I pull an audible, and since I still have clean stuff from my trip to the retailer, I just sleep on my coach in the office which is right next to the stadium.
Wednesday November 2d – Up at 6am, I shower at my buddy’s gym, Tremont Athletic Club (a design-forward gym that’s in the epicenter of Cleveland’s renaissance). People actually concerned about their fitness look me up and down as I pull my luggage through the locker room.
By 7:30am I’m at the the local regional aiport for a 45 minute flight down to Cincy to meet with Spicefire. Paula meets me there with everything we need in hand. She’s always on top of her game.
The whole day is meant to kick off the branding and messaging process for the brand. We spend the morning telling them everything about the science and the backstory of how my father figured out “good” fungus is important. They think the backstory should be a part of biOHM‘s story.
I also spend a lot of time talking through the claims our regulatory counsel has signed off on, which are very strong. There’s been a lot of litigation and regulatory enforcement in the probiotic space, so everyone feels good that we know which claims we can make upfront.
Spicefire wants to really understand everything, so we spend hours just going back and forth and digging and digging into what biOHM really is all about. It’s a fascinating process.
We have lunch with a partner at a venture capital firm that’s done a lot of investment in the wellness space. I tell her upfront that we have fully funded the seed round, but may be doing a round in the spring. At the end of the lunch she tells me we seem to be “skiing downhill” and she wants to keep the discussion going. That’s never a bad thing, so we agree to talk later in the week about setting up a meeting.
Back at Spicefire, we turn the conversation to how we can convey the science to consumers in an easy to understand way, and what archetypal voice the brand should have.
We also talk about how my father and the brand interact, and after hours, we find an interesting parallel in James Dyson and how he relates to his iconic vacuum cleaner. They love the idea, but want to go back and noodle it. All the messaging will ultimately be tested with consumers, but they want to get cracking.
We also collectively conclude there would be a missed opportunity if we don’t sell directly to consumers. We agree it makes sense to first launch online a few months prior to our retail debut. That puts us at an online launch goal of February.
We try and think of healthcare brands nailing it through ecommerce, and we mention Elysium Health (interesting parallel – MIT scientist behind an anti-aging supplement), Tru Brain and Proactiv.
After a full day, Paula and I head back to the airport for a quick flight home….except it isn’t, because it’s Game 7 of the World Series. Apparently every Chicago Cub fan has a private jet, so we have to circle for over an hour while the airport makes room for us to land. When we arrive, the airport is literally a sea unending lear jets. “One day!” I joke with Paula. Another late night, but thankfully it’s over. I am really tired.
Thursday, November 3d – We have a kick off call with Blaze, and discuss how we’re going to position the brand and my dad as the spokesperson. We also talk about how to approach traditional media versus social “influencers” and discuss the type of influencers we want and don’t want the brand to be associated with.
Dad is getting invited by the NIH to talk about the microbiome and probiotics at various conferences, so we also make the decision to hire a photographer to go to each event to get high quality photos of him that we can leverage for public relations. Paula starts working the phones to line up a photographer to meet Dad at NIH in a couple of weeks. Blaze agrees to fly in on the 15th to get things rolling.
Friday, November 4th – I am beat. Like I don’t want to do anything. Especially after a 5:30am start time with Thomas the Tank and my son. But I’m in and ready to rock after four shots of espresso (which is getting slightly out of control). I have a call with Case Western Reserve University about our licensing agreement. The call goes well, and we collectively agree we’re in good shape, but it’s a process to get agreements like this finalized.
The afternoon is dedicated to working through budgeting and forecasting with Matt for the pre-launch phase, and figuring out how we conserve at least half the round for advertising. Dad stops by the office for an update on the timeline and budget. He’s very pleased and surprised how much is going on!
By 4pm I call it a week. I’m exhausted, but it’s becoming apparent we may be sitting on a billion dollar shift in the probiotic market….it’s hard not to be excited.
In the next post, we’ll visit our manufacturing plant….when a couple of guys named Afif and Mahmoud travel to rural Georgia the day after the election.
Afif Ghannoum is the CEO of PathoBiome, makers of BIOHM Probiotics.
BIOHM is the first performance probiotic developed to break down digestive plaque and balance the total microbiome.
BIOHM balances the total microbiome of bacteria and fungi in your gut. Our formulation contains good bacteria, good fungi and a powerful enzyme that breaks through digestive plaque, allowing BIOHM’s 30 billion live cultures of good bacteria and good fungus to maintain, support and promote the balance of the total microbiome of bacteria and fungi in the digestive system.