A Major CEO on the Secret to Success: "In Every Single Mistake Lies a Lesson"
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Have you always dreamed of starting your own company? Do you sit at your current job each day and wish for that lightbulb moment to happen so you can fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur? Well, what if that one thing you should be doing—that bright idea you always wish you had—is right there staring you in the face? Perhaps you're just not paying attention. This was the case with Daina Trout. The nutritional biochemistry grad worked at a major pharmaceutical company, climbing the corporate ladder before she stumbled on the idea that would change her life, both personally and professionally.
It wasn't until she was sitting in her living room with close friends brainstorming a winning business idea while sipping on her homemade kombucha that the lightbulb finally went off. Fast-forward five years, and she has now brewed up a multimillion-dollar company as the CEO and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha, one of the fastest growing (and top-performing) brands in the category. Here, she shares some of her most powerful lessons learned during that process, what it takes to grow a company to this scale, and the secret to moving past your own fears to embrace change and pursue your passion.
I've learned that the faster I can let go of fear or doubt that doesn't serve me, the more success I see. There are risks and courage I have to grow into every day.
MYDOMAINE: Tell us about your first career path?
DAINA TROUT: After graduate school in Boston, where I heavily studied nutritional biochemistry—specifically omega-3s—I moved to Los Angeles and looked for a job outside the lab that would utilize my knowledge and skill sets. I was recruited by a pharmaceutical company to support its newest product, a nutraceutical and medical grade omega-3, and it made sense. So I spent the next five years working my way "up the ladder" at one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies. Along my journey there, I realised that while there were so many great things about this company (including a great leadership development program), working in pharmaceuticals was not the right fit for me.
I was a foodie and a holistic food lover, and I wouldn't even take pain meds for a headache. This "something" that was off in my career started as a small voice, and after five years, it was so loud I couldn't do anything but listen. There was a bigger and more aligned mark I wanted to make, and though I didn't know what it was just yet, I had to go find it. This new search started in early 2012, which ultimately would become the year we started Health-Ade.
MD: How did you make the transition from your last career path to launching Health-Ade?
DT: In early 2012, I put all my money (which wasn't much) into starting an entrepreneur club. The goal was to find what this next big idea could be, and I invited all my friends to participate. Justin, my boyfriend, and Vanessa, my best friend, who worked at the same pharma company, were the only ones who would come, and ironically we would sip on my kombucha (that I had learned how to make back in graduate school) during the meetings. The three of us would discuss all kinds of potential businesses, but we eventually found some traction when we started on the path to find a solution for hair loss. Because Justin had been told by his hairstylist that he was on his "last hurrah" and was losing his hair, he was very motivated to find ways to protect that asset.
In our research, we found that the culture used to make kombucha, also known as the SCOBY, is used in parts of the world as a mask to regrow hair. Since I knew how to make kombucha, and therefore how make these cultures, I started to brew a ton of kombucha in my tiny L.A. apartment. I would bottle the kombucha and keep the SCOBY for the upcoming planned hair-loss experiments. Soon enough, we had cases upon cases of delicious kombucha overtaking my apartment, and we started to give it away to friends, neighbors, and anyone who would take it.
Something very cool happened. People came back. They came back a lot. They loved our kombucha. They wanted more of it. They said it was way better than what was sold at the store. They were starting to pay us for it, and we soon saw that he had an incredible opportunity with the kombucha. Vanessa was the first to call it—Why don't we just sell this? And we all agreed. Two weeks later, on March 25, 2012, we showed up at the Brentwood Farmers Market with as many cases as we could fit in our beat-up car, and we sold out in an hour. Though it wasn't until seven months later that we all quit our comfy corporate jobs to pursue this risky opportunity full time, Health-Ade was born that spring.
MD: Tell us about your current career path/business?
DT: Today, I am the CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha, the fastest growing and top-performing brand in the category, and I am joined by my co-founders, Justin (COO) and Vanessa (CSO). By the end of this year, we will be available in 10,000 plus markets, retailers, cafés, and restaurants in all states and in Canada. Our team is about 100 strong, and I've never been busier, more fulfilled, or happier.
MD: What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers, and why?
DT: Being a CEO means you have to be good at multidimensional problem-solving, so this is a really hard question to answer. I think the biggest challenges have been the ones where I was in my own way. For whatever reason, we all carry "baggage" from our past experiences, and as we mature, we discover that some of this "baggage" doesn't serve us. We learn that it's there often because we put it there. It's there because we keep it there.
Hopefully when we learn this, we let it go. And this is usually a painful and challenging process, whether you're a CEO or not. As a CEO, though, you have to do this fast and often. I'm a better CEO the less "baggage" I carry. And I've learned that the faster I can let go of fear or doubt that doesn't serve me, the more success I see. There are risks and courage I have to grow into every day.
Three words: Follow your gut! That's why it's our company tagline. I'd like to inspire that in others. You have all you need to make the right choice.
MD: How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
DT: It's hard. You've just got to do it. It's not perfect. Just do it. You will figure it out. I remember feeling like I was blind in the beginning, second-guessing myself every step. But I still took that step, even if it felt very uncomfortable. That's the important part, though. You have to take the first step and jump. No matter who you are, there is a big risk you have to take in the beginning. That's the price of entry to play the game.
MD: What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
DT: Every mistake along the way ended up helping me succeed. In every single mistake lies a lesson. If you take the time to adopt that lesson and apply it in your work, you have succeeded. I always tell my team they should be making a ton of first-time mistakes.
MD: What triggered your need to change this time around?
DT: A feeling that I wasn't fulfilled. Finally, I listened to the voice that had been telling me all along—there was something more.
MD: Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
DT: I have always been a natural leader, an achiever, and eternally enthusiastic. Being a CEO of your own creation requires these things. When making tough decisions, I often rely on what I have had my whole life at my disposal: me.
MD: What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
DT: Three words: Follow your gut! That's why it's our company tagline. I'd like to inspire that in others. You have all you need to make the right choice.
I remember feeling like I was blind in the beginning, second-guessing myself every step. But I still took that step, even if it felt very uncomfortable.
MD: What do you love most about your current role, and why?
DT: It's the polar opposite of boring. Sure, it can be very demanding and stressful—and I'm always grappling with how to manage that better—but I absolutely love that I come home at the end of the day having challenged every aspect of my intellect and capability. I gave it my best shot, and usually I feel pretty good about that.
MD: When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
DT: No regrets. At times, I am regretful that I carried some of that "baggage" I spoke of earlier a little too long, but then I realise it is all a part of who I am: follower, leader, and everything in between. I realise I did it exactly right.
Right now the brand isn't available in Australia, but shop some of our favourite kombucha brews here.