Hitting The Mark
Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success
with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter
EP023 – Raquel Tavares, Founder & CEO, Fourth & Heart
Fabian sits down with Raquel Tavares, the founder and CEO of Fourth & Heart, an artisanal food brand based in Los Angeles, set on a mission to modernize ancient pantry food staples – starting with a line of grass-fed, flavored, pure spreadable butters known as ‘ghee.’
A fascinating story on how to make it in the food business while coming from a marketing background, how to utilize branding to introduce a product in a category unfamiliar to many shoppers, why crafting messaging from your heart is key, and how to juggle family and entrepreneurship.
This marks the beginning of 3 back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. All 3 of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve-balls that is hard to make it in: the food industry. And out of sheer co-incidence, 2 of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm.
We kick it off with Raquel Tavares, the founder & CEO of Fourth & Heart, who migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early 80’s. She currently lives in Los Angeles and is a mother of two young boys. Raquel is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of 4th & Heart, which also happens to currently be the 4th fastest growing Food & Bev company in the country.
If this quote by Eckhart Tolle, which appears on the Fourth + Heart web site, speaks to you (as much as it inspired me), then make sure to not miss this episode: “Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.”
F Geyrhalter: Welcome to episode 23 of Hitting the Mark. This is also the beginning of three back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. The only exception will be a very special episode, that I will sneak in between, which will mark the one year anniversary of this very show. All three of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve balls, that is hard to make it in, the food industry. And out of sheer coincidence, two of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm. We kick it off today with Raquel Tavares, the founder and CEO of Fourth and Heart, an artisanal food brands based in Los Angeles, set on a mission to modernize ancient pantry food staples starting with a line of grass fed flavored, pure spreadable butters, known as ghee. Raquel a devout Ashtanga Yogini, snowboarder, lover of all things food was born in Brazil and later migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early eighties.
She currently lives in LA with her family and is a mother of two young boys. She is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of Fourth and Heart, which also happens to currently be the fourth fastest growing food and beverage company in the country. She prides herself on the ability to tackle family, work, self and play. She wants to milk each minute of each day. And that being said, I’ll make the most of each minute while I have her on the show.
Welcome to Hitting The Mark Raquel.
R Tavares: Thank you for having me.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. I rarely have locals on the show, so this is fun. My company actually started out of a garage in Venice Beach on Rose Avenue, which I believe is also your stomping grounds and we don’t even know each other. So I read about you in Forbes, I believe, but ever since I reached out, you also made it onto the Inc. 5,000 list on number 70 with a three year growth rate of 4,279 percent. So first off, congratulations on your tremendous success.
R Tavares: Thank you. Thank you so much.
F Geyrhalter: You’re one of those few startups that must have found it so much harder to launch since you’re not only introducing your brand, but you also had to educate a fair amount of your potential customers about ghee, what it is, its benefits. So please share the power of ghee with our listeners. What is it, what makes it so good and what makes it so good for you?
R Tavares: Well, when I was thinking of what I wanted to do, and eventually came to me and what I thought of ghee or what I thought ghee could do is basically do what coconut oil has done as an ingredient. Meaning all of a sudden coconut oil went from being something that we’ve put topically on her skin and then all of a sudden you see it as an ingredient in chocolate. Then people are popping popcorn with coconut oil and then came MCT oil. So, so on and so forth. And then of course it went into beauty as well. So I loved ghee because it’s shelf stable and lactose free and dairy free. And I really just thought of it as a shelf stable butter, which is what it is.
And some of the other benefits, the health benefits are that it’s easier for your body to digest because it doesn’t have the lactose in the dairy. It has a unique fatty acid in it called butyrate, which is something that’s found in the lining of your gut and helps your body to assimilate nutrients. And over time what happens is people eat a lot of processed foods and that starts to kind of deteriorate in the lining of your gut. And therefore this replaces that. And really, I just call it the golden ingredient, the gift that keeps on giving really.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah, we’re actually using it at home. It’s a very smart choice, but how much education about ghee did you have to include in your launch? Did you launch locally here in LA where obviously the thirst for wellbeing is pretty unquenchable or how did it all start off?
R Tavares: Yeah. So I started drafting the business plan in 2012 and it really took a while to get through the iterations of the different flavors that I wanted to do. Eventually in 2014 is when I sold it for the first time at the Echo Park Craft Fair and it was in Christmas and that was the first time I had it in front of consumers. I was able to hear what they had to say about it. And it’s always important to see it live because you know if it’s authentic, then at that that weekend we sold about 3,000 dollars in ghee.
F Geyrhalter: Oh my God.
R Tavares: Which was so much money at the time and it really blew my mind. So that kind of gave me the beginning feeling. I had a proof of concept. So then after that I sold it into different stores in Los Angeles. So yes, I launched it locally, initially selling everything myself. And then it was in, later in 2015 where we got our first distribution, national distribution.
F Geyrhalter: And when you sold it yourself, was it just basically in jars and just hand labeled or like laser printed or how did you sell it? I mean it must’ve been very, very low key at that point, right?
R Tavares: No, actually, yeah, it wasn’t. If you know me, I don’t like to take anything for granted when it comes to aesthetic.
F Geyrhalter: There you go.
R Tavares: Pretty much holds true and if you come to my home, everything is merchandised effectively. Same thing with the product. I really wanted to bring forth something that would be marketable at a grocery store level because I did not intend on selling it at farmer’s markets. I intended to go directly to buyers because I felt buyers of grocery stores would know if that, if it had legs to stand on. So it was branded and in the jar, the same jar that it is today and they were Italian jars that I sourced, beautiful packaging. It was a different variation of the packaging, but nonetheless, it was still beautiful under the brand name Tava which was the first brand name. But I had to change it to Fourth and Heart after getting a cease and desist.
F Geyrhalter: I was curious about that. Is that how it happened? Okay, interesting. Very interesting. Well that’s a curve ball you didn’t necessarily expect.
R Tavares: No, not at all. But the branding was so important because ghee, it does have the education curve. So when you have that beautiful packaging and branding, at the very least it piques the curiosity and it increases the odds of someone wanting to try something as what can seem like a very obscure ingredient. So that was just so important to have beautiful packaging.
F Geyrhalter: And it’s interesting because even when you were still, working on the Tava brand name, your packaging already won awards. I saw it on Dieline, which is a pretty big, packaging design website. So you were very, as you said, you were very, very design focused. But then with Fourth and Heart, you also did a complete redesign of the entire branding, right?
R Tavares: Yeah, I did. Originally, when I first founded the company at my yoga studio, there was a young guy that I met there and we started talking about packaging. He was starting a beverage company. He then said that he really loved this agency in Boulder, Colorado called Moxie Sozo. And I called them and they were out of my price range at the time, but I made a note and I said, okay, we’ll go back to that. So when I got the cease and desist, we had just done a small friends and family round and I was able to afford a rebrand. So at that point I thought, you know what, let’s take advantage of this situation rather than fight a cease and desist and create something even better than we have now, that would be even more marketable to the masses. So that’s how Fourth and Heart came to life.
F Geyrhalter: I see. And let me read some of your brand’s copy on your website. Fourth and Heart is an ode to the heart chakra. It’s the intersection where most of us get stuck. We think through everything and we really feel our way through it. Our intellect gets in the way. I find the most lasting decisions are heart choices, not hard choices. Fourth and Heart hopes to inspire others through the passion we put into our product and to inspire heart decisions, not hard decisions. We move forward with bold intention and with your hearts in our hearts in mind, we want what we put into our product to move you, motivate you, inspire you.
So the brand name is rooted, I suppose in Hindu yogic and chakra, Buddhist tantric traditions. You also ran a successful yoga studio as you mentioned, which you sold in 2008 was the Yogi tribe also your first audience? And was it kind of inspirational to a lot of, not only the language that you use in the name, but also some of the design aspects of your brand?
R Tavares: Yeah, I think it just comes natural to me that I think that way because I’ve done yoga for such a long time. I’ve been practicing yoga for going on 25 years now and so it’s kind of in my veins, in my bones, if you will. So it wasn’t that the yoga community was my first audience really. It was just that the art and science of yoga is kind of part of my fabric and therefore it just spills over into the brand because the brand is very much a part of me. And I effectively, I wrote that copy for the website.
F Geyrhalter: Oh great. That’s awesome. I love to hear that.
R Tavares: Yeah. I’m a writer. I love writing too as well. So I thrive on writing and I thrive on creating and it just so happens I’m lucky enough to be able to put all of my favorite things to do into Fourth and Heart.
F Geyrhalter: And you have a marketing background, correct?
R Tavares: I do. Yeah, I well, I was a marketing director of marketing at a telecom company way back, well, way back now in San Francisco. And I ran a partner marketing department there.
F Geyrhalter: Which doesn’t sound quite as inspiring as Fourth and Heart.
R Tavares: It was a great, amazing job actually. I love marketing but, and gave me a good of flexibility. So it was great. But no, of course Fourth and Heart is for sure my passion and one of those things that I’m fortunate to be obsessed with because they say you have to be obsessed with what you do in order to really be able to do it well and every day.
F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely. And I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who actually quit their careers and you were at a good point in your career, but you quit it to launch a brand and then especially I have a lot of respect for those who actually go into retail. And then even more so who are not afraid to deal with the FDA and go into food and beverage, which is really, really difficult. But on top of it, you’re a woman, you’re a mom to two boys. You recently though closed a successful series C round, raising 7.6 million. How do you do it? Like your brand has health and self care at its heart, no pun intended, but do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all and suffer some minor anxiety attacks like so many founders do or do you have a trick? Do you have a trick on how you balance mind and body while running your brand and your life and I guess the life of two others? Right.
R Tavares: I wish I had a trick that was a one size fits all.
F Geyrhalter: Yes. That’s what we need. That’s what everyone needs.
R Tavares: I wish there was an answer for that. I absolutely have bouts of anxiety and it is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d say it’s as hard as being a parent is because it’s something you create so it’s like an emotional piece of your person, but at the same time you have to be able to run it like a business. And you can’t, you have to actually be able to remove yourself out of that attachment, so to speak. But I would say the way I handle stress and anxiety and balance, everything is with a lot of help. So like I have people helping at home, I have people helping me in the office. It’s not a one woman show by any means.
So I would say it’s me leaning on people and listening to people, sometimes taking advice, sometimes not taking advice, and it’s usually, it comes in a wave. So it’ll be full throttle, running a thousand miles. And then you know, I always say it’s like you’re running through the forest and then boom you hit a tree and then you have to sit down and probably just take a beat and then get back to it. Because sometimes there’s like a lull and it’s calm and everything’s going well, and those times I have to sit down and really appreciate those times. Because cause I know the other uphill is just around the corner and there’s a lot of unforeseens in food. So it’s important to have that downtime where you really meditate and do yoga and take care of yourself. I would say that’s the foundation of being able to deal with the accompanying anxiety.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And it’s beautiful that it’s part of your entire brand messaging, right? So even when you work, you can kind of be reminded by those thoughts. One of those beautiful quotes you have on your website, which you didn’t write it’s by Eckhart Tolle, who I’m also a fan of myself. He said life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be. And I think that’s kind of a nice summary of what we have just talked about. Your tagline is fuel happy. How did it come about? I mean obviously it sounds like most probably you came up with it, but how did it come about? What made it the guiding light for the brand, fuel happy?
R Tavares: So full disclosure, I did not come up with it.
F Geyrhalter: Yeah, perfect.
R Tavares: My branding agents actually did come up with it, but it was definitely a team effort and a lot of brainstorming involved. But I liked it because it was really just about, I always believe that food should be first fuel for your body, and that basically what you put in is what you get out and effectively, pardon the cliche you are what you eat. It’s true. So I felt like that embodied all of that messaging, which I find to be very true.
F Geyrhalter: And it’s great. It’s punny, right? The idea of feel happy, fuel happy, and there’s a lot in there in two words and as a brand strategist, I can appreciate how much you can get out of two words. It’s really great.
R Tavares: Yeah. Not easy to do. Right. We have to appreciate that work, that’s for sure.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Yeah. Talking about one or two words, and I know you knew that this is coming because I usually warn my guests of this one, but what is one word or two words that can describe your brand? I call it the brand DNAs. So Everlane would be transparency. For SAPOs, it would be customer service, or Tony Hsieh would call it most probably happiness. What would it be? What would Fourth and Hearts one word or two word be that could actually describe the brand in its entirety?
R Tavares: I guess at this current stage where the brand is now it would be wanderlust.
F Geyrhalter: Huh.
R Tavares: Or wonder or wonderer, because the brand, we really want the brand to evoke a sense of curiosity and following your bliss. But who’s to say where the brand will go?
F Geyrhalter: Right, right. But I like that. I think that’s really interesting. And I think it’s interesting because A, the way that the company is currently the brand is expanding into a lot of different, sub product, and I saw a lot more products on the website yesterday than I did a couple of months ago. And I also liked that idea of you actually having to be someone with an open mind to try those type of products and actually exchange some kitchen staples for something totally new. It’s a great brand mantra and I agree it doesn’t need to stick around forever. Right.
What was the big breakthrough moment? Obviously we talked about when you tried out your product at basically at the market, which you didn’t really try it out as in like here it isn’t in a self made jar, but you already had it designed, it was ready, you just needed to get feedback. But what was that one big breakthrough moments where you just figured, you know what? This is turning into a real thing into real brand, into a major player. When was that moment where you just patted yourself on the back and said, you know what, I think I just made it now?
R Tavares: Well, I don’t know that I feel like I’ve just made it because I feel like if I embody the feeling of making it, then it will potentially trigger something. It’s like if you repeat something over and over again or if you tell something to someone that something has happened that you start to think it did happen and then you won’t make it happen. I don’t know. It’s like this weird theory. So there was a moment where I thought I feel like this has legs and it was probably after 2000 and or a full year of revenue in 2016 and we were in all Whole Foods. So I feel like after we completed a full year of revenue and I knew that the product kept moving, that’s when I knew that it had legs.
But I always like to feel that there’s so much more to grow into then not disguise the possibility for the brand. So it’s kind of like a… I think of it in two ways, but sometimes I have to actually remind myself to think of how much we’ve done and where we’ve gone and how incredible it is. Because sometimes you get lost in the weeds of the work day. So it’s important to sit down and remind yourself of the accomplishments.
F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Sometimes you should listen to the intro that I say on the podcast for instance, and actually let it sink in rather than, oh, that’s the staple. That’s always like that. I mean, seven million dollar funding, you’re in Whole Foods, all kinds of stories. It’s remarkable and it’s especially remarkable while you still have two boys and there’s a lot going on. So I’m very, very impressed. Food and beverage founders that I talked to when they know, when they get through the Whole Foods challenge basically, and when they see that after a couple of months at Whole Foods that it’s actually picking up and people are repeat customers. That’s pretty much it. So it sounded like it’s a lot. It’s that that was very, very much how it was with you as well. What does branding mean to you? It means a lot, I know, but what does it mean to you?
R Tavares: Well, it means identity. It means communication, education. There’s so much that, inspiration effectively with our brand. That’s what I want to do is the, to inspire, to educate, to build the brand identity and so people can also identify back with the brand, and form a connection with the brand as well. And I feel like we’ve accomplished that so far with existing group of consumers that we have and fans and family and all of that the next phase is going into not, away from the low hanging fruit, so to speak. But I feel like we still have a lot of work to do with our existing community as well. So, yeah, I would say the brand means those four pillars. Educate, inspire, communicate and build identity.
F Geyrhalter: I love that. And how do you engage with your tribe, so to speak? I know you’re doing recipe videos, which are like unscripted, fun, quirky and I know you’re extremely active in on Instagram. What are some ways where you feel like there’s a really good dialogue going on between you and the people who actually appreciate your product?
R Tavares: I would say social media would be number one. I will go in myself typically on weekends and just start responding to people, correspond with people there and I’ll just usually let them know that is me, if it’s me speaking. So I would say there, sometimes I’ll go to live speaking engagements at the consumer trade shows as well. I’m communicating often with the consumer. And I would say those would probably be probably be the three times. And then, if it’s just an external dialogue wherein I’m just speaking, it’s typically on podcasts.
F Geyrhalter: Right. I see that. I hear that.
R Tavares: Well, yeah, we do do videos as well. It’s just that we paused last year a little bit on the marketing front because we had to focus a bit internally. However, next year we’ll be kicking that up again. And my goal is to create eight potentially an IGTV show where I’m doing interviews myself, short interviews with some of our investors or fans or influencers, something that would just be quarterly, to keep it manageable. But we’re going to be kicking that, taking that off next year, early next year.
F Geyrhalter: That’s fantastic. That’s really cool. What is a piece of brand advice, if you have anything like on top of your mind for founders that might be following your footsteps that might go into a category like food and beverage or just brand advice for any founder as a takeaway? What have you learned in the last years of making your brand into a reality?
R Tavares: So advice I would give to new new entrepreneurs, I would say that if you’re a creative and you have a feeling that you know what you want, that I would be very authentic in your voice and go with your intuition and try to get the message across of what you want to see with a really great professional who can design what you have in your mind and put it on paper. I often actually just sketch it and then I give it to a designer to bring to life.
And then if you can also, if you can afford it, I would recommend doing a small consumer study to understand what messaging is important to the consumer to see on the front of the packaging, the back of the packaging. If not, it’s not that important. You can probably Google it and then if you’re not, if you’re a finance operational type, I would find your favorite brands out there and pulled them all together and figure out who did their design, and go to that agency and tell them what you like and what you don’t like and get your vision through that way.
So I feel like it really depends on what kind of founder you are and lean into that where you can and get support where you need it.
F Geyrhalter: Great advice. When you talked about consumer studies, do you actually hire a company to do consumer studies or is it something where you basically just say, like you go out there and you just interview people?
R Tavares: No, we do, we have, it’s kind of like a hybrid situation. But yes, we have done consumer studies now that we have more at stake. So, and now we’re really curious as to what the consumers are thinking.
F Geyrhalter: For sure.
R Tavares: For example, we have a chocolate spread called Chocti, right. And on the packaging, I wanted it to be a hybrid between adult-like and child-like. But at the same time, I didn’t really think about how is the consumer going to use this? How are they going to see it? Is it going to be a family, is it going to be a single person? And what we found out after we after the fact, is that probably should have done something more fun and bright and white. And there was probably some hiccups that I could of solved for if I didn’t just go with my own wish. Right. So that’s kind of an example where I could’ve probably used some more pragmatic research in the design of the Chocti. But we were still pretty young when that came to life. So, it’s just kind of growing pains, but if you can hit it on the front end, that’s what I would say to do. Even if it’s just like your own, 12 of your best friends in a room with 10 good questions. That could work.
F Geyrhalter: Totally. Yeah. If you have to bootstrap it, bootstrap it, but if you can afford it, the more information you can get upfront, the more success you will have quickly. Absolutely. Where can me, myself and I find that the chocolate spread and more important, where can our listeners find your products?
R Tavares: Well, you can find everything in Sprouts. And Whole Foods has all of our products as well. Kroger or Gelson’s and Wegmans if you’re in the East coast, Publix and then Amazon, of course. Amazon has everything.
F Geyrhalter: Perfect. Very good. Excellent. Well, thank you Raquel, for making the time to swing by the show. I really appreciate your thoughts on branding and marketing and the entrepreneurial advice that you shared with my listeners.
R Tavares: Well, thank you so much. I’m honored and flattered to be here and I love what you’ve done as well, so thank you so much for your time.
F Geyrhalter: Oh, thank you. And thanks to everyone for listening. Head on over to patreon.com/hittingthemark to show your support. Just like Florian Felipe of Los Angeles who joined this community on the Brandster level, and Devroni Liasoi Lumandan from Malaysia for upgrading to the Co-Brander level. Join the group and learn about the many perks you receive for supporting the show at patreon.com/hittingthemark.
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