What if our journey toward success wasn’t about shrinking ourselves but embracing pleasure, self-love, and confidence?
In this episode, host Tori Dunlap engages in a powerful conversation with Michelle Razavi, founder of Elavi, known for its gut-healthy nut butters and dessert spreads. They dive into topics of entrepreneurship, self-love, and the power of redefining the relationship with food and business. Michelle shares her insights on fostering a business built on trust and integrity and resisting the pressures of diet culture. They also explore the importance of nurturing women’s well-being and encouraging them to show up as their full, authentic selves in all areas of life.
Paving a path
Michelle learned at a very young age exactly what she didn’t want out of life. After watching her mother endure physical, financial, and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, she decided that she would break that cycle and be the financially independent woman that her mother could not be. “My mom told me at an early age, don’t let a man control your finances. Don’t be like me. And at that point, I knew I wanted to be very financially wealthy and independent, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there.”
Michelle and Tori discuss the early years that set the stage for her entrepreneurial journey and the power of persevering through failures. Michelle emphasizes that embracing mistakes was and is essential for growth. She encourages aspiring business owners to start somewhere, understanding that the journey is not always linear.
“My advice is to start and to be okay with making mistakes…as long as you have a growth mindset, you’re winning.”
Decrying diet culture
From applying to the CIA to starting a health and wellness company, Michelle details her early journey and subsequent pivot into the health and wellness industry, where she fairly quickly observed the toxic diet culture that preys on women, promoting unrealistic beauty standards and self-doubt. Both Michelle and Tori highlight the harm it causes by making women feel miserable and unsatisfied. They express their commitment to rejecting this culture and express the importance of supporting women’s health and self-confidence and allowing them to live and lead in their own unique ways.
“I want to show up in spaces as my full self and love my life and have a very pleasurable life. Anything that’s holding me back from that, it’s just bullshit.”
Building a business her way
Rooted in her personal struggles with an unhealthy relationship with food and eating disorders, Michelle and her business partner Nikki sought to create a brand focused on trust and integrity. They recognized the vital need to establish a positive, self-loving approach to food, especially in a world so hell-bent on making women feel insecure about themselves. From their branding to packaging and messaging, they have been very intentional about changing that.
“We don’t want anyone to ever feel bad about food. And that starts with the messaging, the packaging, that starts with everything. It’s like, the whole goal is food should help you feel good, right? Food is something we want you to love, you know, food is fuel. And I think for me personally, I really wanted to personally heal my own unhealthy relationship with food and redirect and redefine it.”
Michelle’s advice for building a business and persevering:
Just start somewhere
Be ok with failing and making mistakes
Nourish yourself physically and mentally
Have a growth mindset
Michelle and Tori talk more about business, growth and resilience in this week’s episode.
70% of purchasing decisions are made by women. Women want to buy from women because it’s not only empowering to them, but it’s empowering to their daughters, to their sisters. They want to see more women out there in sea-level positions growing companies, because it builds a better ecosystem for the next generation of women, for leadership, for business, financial, equity. And so when I explain that to investors, I’m like, “Our consumers are mostly women and women want to buy from women. Us as business owners who are women understand our consumers.” So it’s this kind of circular, symbiotic relationship.
Hi Financial Feminists. I’m so excited to see you. If this is your first time, welcome to the show. My name is Tori. I host the show. Obviously, I’m also a money expert. I am a millionaire, a New York Times bestselling author, and I fight the patriarchy by making you rich. We teach you everything you need to know about money, but also through a feminist intersectional lens talking about how money affects women differently, and what we can do to use money as a tool of protest, and power, and change. So welcome. And if you’re an oldie but goodie, you knew all that, welcome back to the show.
All right, today we have a incredible story and a incredible guest. Michelle is not only a friend of mine, but also a co-founder of a business that I have angel invested in. And angel investing is a whole other episode that we can talk about. But basically, speaking of using money in terms of power and influence, now that I do have some money and have built a business, I want to be able to support other business owners, especially women, women-focused businesses. And we tell more about how we got connected in this episode.
But we were just so excited to have her on today to tell us more about her story, her product, as well as how we connected, and really how to stand out as a woman entrepreneur, and how you can play the game as much as possible in order to start changing the game.
Michelle started ELAVI in her kitchen creating high performance collagen protein bars to fuel her 16-hour days juggling working at Sephora corporate and teaching fitness classes at Equinox. She needed quick nourishing clean fuel, but struggled to find protein snacks that were also gut-friendly. They don’t usually go hand in hand. And she worked with her best friend and fellow fitness trainer, Nikki, to bootstrap a gut-friendly snack company to solve their needs, weathering a pandemic, trademark lawsuits, supply chain delays, and zero marketing budget in their first year. Their resilience to push through a competitive category with limited resources comes from Michelle’s relentless passion to bring transparency, integrity, and better representation into the packaged food industry. That passion turned into the thriving food brand ELAVI, now available in over 300 locations, including the Equinox Studios where they teach, Life Time fitness, Google, Lululemon, experiential cafes, Central Market, tech offices, and Amazon. Michelle and I drove into her why behind building her company, and what she learned as a first time entrepreneur about how to show up in this very male dominated space, as well as how to get funding. We get a lot of questions about that from you all of, “I want to be a business owner, I’m going to have to seek funding, venture capital. How do I do that?” Michelle talks about how to stand out in those interviews.
We also get into how Michelle overcame her fear of being cringey to source funding for her business, and what she’s learned building her first business from the ground up all during a global pandemic. This is a great episode if you’ve ever wanted to start a business, are interested in learning more about either finding angel investors or becoming an angel investor, how to advocate for yourself as an entrepreneur, or if you just love listening to stories of business owners and what they go through to build their companies.
I will also say there’s a reason I invested in her and Nikki. They’re incredible, passionate, so incredibly driven and ambitious women, and those are my favorite type of people to be around. But also, their product is fucking good. We’ll link it down below. They have these nut butters that oh my god, they taste like Nutella, but they’re not as sugary as Nutella. It’s just like cashew butter. And then there’s this one that’s bright blue because of spirulina, and it just looks great on top of smoothies, or smoothie bowls, or toast, and it’s so yummy. And that was one of the biggest reasons I invested is I found it really good and I was like, “I want to keep eating this.” And she’s just great, the product’s great. And I’m just really excited for you to hear this episode. So without further ado, let’s get into it. But first, a word from our sponsors.
Michelle, I’m so excited to have you. We found in our research one of the things you wanted to do for work was work for the CIA. Can we talk about that?
Yeah. So fun fact, I speak three languages. I studied political science and international relations and Spanish at UCLA, and I was growing myself for a career in foreign service, because I saw a combination of seeing it in the movies and in TV. It looked very fun and glamorous, and I was good at foreign relations, it looked exciting for me. And I went to UCLA with all intention of joining the CIA. I went to all the workshops and was preparing for that. I never touched alcohol, or drugs, or anything at college because I knew they went through crazy drug tests and lie detector tests. I was so, so straight edge.
And I applied two times, got rejected. And at that point I was like, “What am I going to do with my life?” And I took a diet and nutrition course in college, and it was one of those organic moments where I was naturally so good at it, obsessed with it, set the curve for the class, and it was a science class. And I was studying political science, not even real science.
And I knew at that mom
ent, “Wow, I really resonate with nutrition and health,” and I really helped heal my gut health issues by taking that class. I learned about food intolerances and elimination diets, and dairy, and gluten, and how it’s so inflammatory for a lot of people, including myself.
And so that was really what kicked off my gut healing health journey and really closed the chapter on working for the CIA, because I realized my passion, my true calling was in health and wellness.
Was entrepreneurship part of that plan for you? Was that ever a dream of like, “Yes, I’m going to be an entrepreneur someday,” or did that come to you naturally as you started investigating more about what your interests were?
Yeah, so you’re going to laugh when you hear this. I loved money as a kid. I loved saving money. I had my little safe box with a little code.
We love that.
And every year for Persian New Year, I would hold onto my money. I loved to be a banker, so I loved money, and I loved the idea of financial wealth. And I grew up with a household where my dad was both physically, financially, and emotionally abusive to my mom. So I really saw that in an early age and I was like, “That’s not going to be me.” And it was a very formative experience because my mom told me at an early age, “Don’t let a man control your finances. Don’t be like me.”
And at that point, I knew I wanted to be very financially wealthy and independent, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there. And entrepreneurship really became something that was tangible when I was living and working in San Francisco, where you see startups everywhere, people are always chasing ideas and starting new things. That energy was really coming to life there, but I didn’t necessarily start out with, “I’m going to start my own business,” more so I want to be very wealthy and have a lot of independence.
Can you walk us through the journey of nine-to-five more traditional employment, to now exploring, “Okay, I’m going to potentially be a business owner”? What did that transition look like for you, and how are you thinking about it even now?
I love this question. So nine-to-five has its pros and cons. So you essentially turn off at five and that’s it. You can explore their hobbies, you can have more of a social life. But for me personally, I felt like I had untapped potential. I felt like there was a ceiling on me. I felt like I wasn’t making as much money as I could have.
And to get to that mindset for entrepreneurship, I really had to do a lot of internal work, and listen to podcasts, read books, really find expanders that were not in my physical realm, but really pursue that digitally. And that’s what I love about this day and age is that you can find inspiration and mentors without even ever interacting with them, just by watching, and observing, and self-teaching yourself. So I made it a point to really get my brain neurologically ready for entrepreneurship, because I knew I didn’t have expanders in my physical realm.
But that being said, you kind of don’t know until you are in it what to expect. And I think to a certain point, the naivete that I had about getting into entrepreneurship was a good thing, because knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I would do it. I for sure would just because I love the freedom and the flexibility, but the amount of work and sacrifice I think is not communicated. And I think it’s very glamorized, especially if you don’t have a safety net or that network that a lot of entrepreneurs do when they start out.
And so preparing for that was really having honest conversations with myself, making sure that I had my own savings saved up. Because you don’t know if you’re going to sink or swim, you don’t know how long it’s going to take to start seeing that next possible check. Because you go from stability and a little bit more security to completely in the wild west.
But I think for me, the anchor point was, look, any employer can fire you in California at will. So job security is pretty much non-existent. So when I had that conversation with myself, I was like, “Look, I trust myself more and I’m going to bet on myself more than an employee will bet on me.” And I think that was always my come to Jesus moment of, “Look, there’s no such thing as real security. Anybody could fire me, so I might as well put myself in the driver’s seat and choose my own destiny, because I know I’m going to bet on myself and I know I’m going to do well.” So that was really the shift that helped me get to entrepreneurship.
I think for me, the interesting thing about entrepreneurship, to your point, it’s the only thing where you’re like, “I will willingly work for double the time if it means I don’t have to work for somebody else.” And what is it? I’ll work 80 hours for myself so that I don’t have to report to somebody else for 40 hours.
And like you said, I think even with myself, the first couple of years of entrepreneurship, I loved it. And now I’m starting to feel the feeling where I’m like, “Actually a nine-to-five job kind of seems interesting.”
Pretty nice, right?
Nine-to-five job is… Yeah. Because there is that level. Your brain never turns off. And you and I have talked about this a little bit privately, but just the demands on your time when you’re responsible for it are both the best thing ever, because you get to drive this at the pace you want, doing what you want with it, and betting on yourself to your point. And that’s how I felt where I was like, “I can be doing more. I know I’m capable of more. Let me see what I can do.” It tests you being an entrepreneur of just like what are you capable of? But then on the flip side of that, of course you’re also like, “Oh God, all I do is eat, sleep, and breathe this business.”
Right. And it becomes your identity and the lines are very blurred of, when do you take a break? And you have to be very disciplined about it, and I’m still struggling with that.
But yeah, I would say with entrepreneurship, I think I would always tell myself in the back of the head is like, “Look, this is your one time in your life where you don’t have kids, you’re not married, you don’t have a mortgage. You could always go back to working a corporate job. You have the skills.” So I think relieving myself of that pressure of like, “This is your MBA on crack. View it as an opportunity of just learning, just be curious and just learn.” And I think that has released me from that anxiety of, we all have our paths. There’s no right or wrong way, but for this moment in time, this is mine, and I’m going to ride it to the fullest.
< p class=”” style=”white-space:pre-wrap;”>Tori Dunlap:
It was very similar for me too, where I was just like, “Okay, I have no commitments other than to myself,” which is a privileged spot to be in. But I was like, “Okay, it’s time. If I’m not going to do it now, I’m probably not going to do it. So let’s see what we can make of it.”
You started your business in January of 2020, whew, but you also pivoted very quickly. And used Clubhouse, if anybody remembers Clubhouse, which was such a hot moment during that time. RIP, RIP Clubhouse, but that’s how you found your first investor.
If somebody’s listening, this is really what I want to dive into of if I do have a business… I self-funded HFK, we don’t have outside investment, but there’s plenty of businesses, and I have friends who are business owners who have had to seek funding or wanted to seek funding. What does that look like for you? And especially, what does that look like for you starting a business basically right before a global pandemic?
Yeah, brutal. I would not recommend it. At that time… So we launched January 2020, we had no idea. The world looked totally different, and we did pivot a lot, just like you said. But I think it’s having those honest conversations with yourself.
So my co-founder and I, we knew we had to bootstrap from the beginning because we were first time founders. We didn’t have a track record for building and scaling a business. We had corporate backgrounds, but the industry we were also in, consumer product goods is also very competitive, very capital intensive. So we self-invested our own personal capital to get the company up and running. And we did that both out of necessity, but also out of a little bit of pride and ego where, we want to prove this out first before we take any money from anyone. And that really was such an invaluable experience, because as incredibly difficult as it was, Tori, I was on unemployment insurance full disclosure. I got furloughed from multiple jobs that I was working at in health and fitness because gyms closed. All these other contractor positions, they were cutting hours. So I had to go on unemployment insurance, and I had to get a real, real hard lesson in terms of managing my money.
And so my co-founder Nikki was working full-time, and we were both self-funding every single dollar in. We were looking at it with a sharp eye. And I think that mindset is now serving us, as we’re in this very difficult fundraising environment that we still have the DNA of capital efficiency, looking at every single dollar as if it’s our own. And that is how to run and scale a business profitably. You want to make sure you’re looking at every single dollar in and out.
And so while it was extremely difficult and a revisiting of my scarcity mindset that I’m still working through, it made us stronger, more resilient founders, and helped us build our case of, we did a lot with very little, here’s the case study of what we will do with your capital as if I’m speaking to an investor.
And so that made fundraising a little bit more compelling, that we were able to put our skin in the game with our personal capital, show that we can do something with the little capital that we had. And that makes fundraising a little bit more compelling to the investor on the other side that they know how to take risks, they know how to spend, they know how to be efficient, and they can take a bet and do well. So it was a moment that was difficult and challenging, but I always say growth happens in discomfort. And so that’s what happened for us.
If I am in the shoes of a listener thinking, “Okay, I want to start this business,” or, “I have this business and I want to start seeking funding,” what are some tips or tricks, or things that you realized in your journey to start getting investors to start growing the company? Explain it to me like I’m five, in terms of, how do I seek funding and how do I go about actually getting somebody to listen to me?
Absolutely. So number one, be very clear of where that capital’s going to go, because that’s the number one question investors are going to ask is, “Why do you need this capital?” And so you don’t have to build out a full-blown business plan, but give a clear indication of is this going for inventory, is this going for hiring, is this going for development of an app? Or whatever your business model is. So be very clear of where that capital is going. How much do you actually need?
And then from there, talk about why you, or your co-founder, or your team are the best equipped to do this role. Right? Then that’s the next question of why you. Then the third is the market, of why now? Why does this product or service need to exist? And what’s the total addressable market or TAM? What’s the opportunity for that investor? You really have to hone in your storytelling skills.
And I think that’s the big thing is how can you distill information in a compelling way? Because you don’t want to overwhelm anybody on the other side when you’re pitching to them to invest, but you also want to make it very clear.
So once you get those three things across the line, then you start preparing your documents, what have you. So I would, depending on what stage you’re fundraising with, get really familiar with the different financing instruments.
So if you’re early stage, you’re most likely going to do a SAFE note. That’s a simple agreement for future equity that you can download off the Y Combinator website, read through it, go through Carta, understand what pre-money, post-money, what valuation caps mean. I didn’t know any of this. And I remember I felt so embarrassed. I was on a call and an investor was like, “What’s your valuation cap?” And I had no idea what to say, and it was just one of those moments where I’m like, “I need to go, and before I have any conversations, teach myself as much as I can,” about essentially a new language when it comes to fundraising.
And there’s so many resources online, there’s YouTube channels, there’s podcasts, there’s so many great ways to learn. I think it’s so great to educate yourself, and so really kind of understand, how are you going to fundraise, how much are you going to fundraise? Setting that all up.
Then there’s a deck that you can build. Again, you can build this on Canva. It doesn’t have to be super complex. And your deck, I’m just going to give full disclosure, you’re going to iterate multiple times. And when you think about fundraising, I wouldn’t go to your first choice investor right off the bat. You have to get some reps in. You want to practice with your inner circle, with friends that you trust. Maybe you have a friend that works in private equity or financing, or somewhere adjacent that can look at your deck, give some feedback. So you want to kind of get that experience, that practice. And that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.
And then from there, I would really try to follow, maybe interact with some other early stage founders and watch their story. I think that’s such a great, expansive way to understand what did they do to get to their point.
And lastly for preparing for fundraising, is just having a really honest conversation with yourself and your loved ones of, what is this going to look like for you? You might have to take a salary hit or go without a salary. Do you have money saved up in your bank to go without one? And really making sure you’re financially to pursue entrepreneurship.
Typically, what I recommend is have your full-time job, treat your startup as a side hustle, get it to a point where it could be generating revenue without losing the financial security of a job. And then once it starts hitting a point where you’re like, “I need to focus,” that’s when you make the transition.
I did a little bit differently. I pulled the rug underneath myself and I was like, you swim, but there’s no right or wrong path. And I think knowing yourself is ultimately the key thing before you enter this, because it is a emotional and physical roller coaster to go through fundraising.
That was super helpful, thank you. One of the things that you mentioned that I think about a lot as someone who is educating people about investing in personal finance is that there is this other language, and I think you said that, right? It feels so complicated, and it is largely, my not so conspiracy, conspiracy theory is that it’s that way to keep the boys club, keep the cisgendered straight white men boys club. And you are not only a woman, a woman of color. What are these conversations like with you and with Nikki, where you’re going into a room that’s stereotypically going to be, or statistically going to be a bunch of men, a bunch of white men in suits? How do you navigate that?
I think the way I’ve approached it is they have their skillsets, and I realize it’s just pure numbers. It’s not like they’re out to get us. I think that mindset helps, but they won’t understand your consumer the way you do. They won’t understand your product like you do. They won’t understand your company like you do.
And I think growing that confidence is so key, because I’ve had investors try to make me question myself, question my company, question my worth, question my credibility. And I think building that self-confidence where I’ve had investors be like, “Your product doesn’t make sense.” I’m like, “Well, actually I have validation that it does,” and that confidence you build as you continue building your company.
But the number one thing I say is look, 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women, and not many women are business owners. Women want to buy from women because it’s not only empowering to them, but it’s empowering to their daughters, to their sisters. They want to see more women out there in C-level positions growing companies, because it builds a better ecosystem for the next generation of women. For leadership, for business, financial, equity.
And so when I explain that to investors, I’m like, “Our consumers are mostly women, and women want to buy from women. Us as business owners who are women understand our consumers.” So it’s this kind of circular, symbiotic relationship. Once I walk them through it, the statistics don’t lie. And when I explain that, that does really make sense, and resonate, and land.
And I think humanizing ourselves too helps make the conversations easier, because there are very different worlds. They won’t understand us, and we can’t ever understand their experience. And I think trying to find points of unification or trying to find areas where we can’t align on, or it’s like, “Look, health and wellness, it’s an issue that affects everyone.” And once I kind of explain it in a very logical way, that really lands.
I will say I do have to tap into my masculine energy a lot in these calls. I would say Nikki’s more of the softer feminine energy. And I have to really be so hyper conscious of making sure I don’t say likes, ums, I don’t have an uptalk in my voice. When I say something, I say it deliberately and concisely. I make eye contact.
So there’s so much body language stuff that I am self coaching myself to do, and really, really practicing conciseness. And I coach both Nikki and I to really focus on this, because when you overtalk, that tends to show that you’re not confident, that you have to overexplain. So I’m trying to work more on answering concisely on my investor calls, because that shows confidence. So it’s just all these different things that go into these meetings that you wouldn’t think about.
And it comes with time. And I just want to say, this has been a byproduct where I’m talking right now is for three years of putting in the reps, and the time, and failing, and falling flat on my face, and not being taken seriously. And so you have to start somewhere, and that’s what I want the message to be is you have to start somewhere. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I know that sounds cheesy, but right now is the best time because there’s so many resources out there that the boys club did hold back, that were done in meetings or different areas that were closed off to women, but now we have the internet. And so I think that democratizes things a little bit, which is so exciting.
It sounds like you’ve gotten comfortable playing the game. And I often think about this, because there’s plenty of times that I play the game strategically. And once I’m in the game and once I have some power in the game, then I try to change it. But sometimes, that feels weird to me because I’m like, “I shouldn’t have to change the way I speak for you to respect me more. I shouldn’t have to change the way I dress or the way I present myself for you to take me more seriously.” Does that ever feel weird for you?
That’s such a great question. I would say no, because I think big picture. And for me, I just view it as a different side to me. Not changing myself, but just this kind of alter ego that I can tap into. And it’s fun to tap into that.
In addition to running a company, I’m also a fitness instructor. I also teach yoga. And you would not guess taking my yoga class that I’m a CEO of a startup who has a very alpha personality. When I teach a yoga class, my voice is very grounded, and slow, and people are like, “Wow, you’re so calming.” I’m like, “You do not know me outside of this room.” And so I feel like that’s such a cool thing about being a human, is that you can have different sides to you. We’re not just one dimensional. And so I just find who I am or the way I represent myself in these investor calls is just another dimension, because it’s a cool thing to celebrate that we can be multifaceted women.
I would love to talk to you about the way we connected, and also get it from your perspective. I am an angel investor in your incredible company, and one of the things that truly I tell entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs is it’s like the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and you have to be your own advocate, because no one else is going to do it for you. And I think especially in this modern era of very cringe and, “You’re trying? That’s kind of lame.” I think it’s so ridiculous to think that way. No one’s going to do it, but you.
I know when I was a finalist and when I received the Forbes 30 Under 30 nomination, it was really interesting because a lot of the pushback when those come out every year is, yeah, they’re kind of bullshit and bogus, but a lot of people are like, “You have to submit yourself to that, and that’s really lame.” And I’m like, “You have to submit yourself for a Grammy, for an Emmy, for an Oscar. You have to submit yourself for any award that you want to win someday.” Very few awards just pick you from whoever’s available.
So let’s talk about this comfortability or this, we have to get comfortable with this feeling of putting ourselves out there all of the time. And I would love to talk about how we met.
Yeah, so I think someone just randomly pinged me because they knew I was fundraising, which first of all, when you’re fundraising, tell everyone. Don’t be shy about it, don’t be quiet about it. It’s kind of like when you’re, let’s say looking for a partner, be like, “Hey, I’m dating. Do you know anyone?” It’s same thing. It’s like, “Hey, I’m fundraising. Do you know anyone?” Because you never know where that might go.
And so I was openly telling anyone, from our co manufacturers, to our 3PLs, to anybody who would listen to me. I’m like, “Hey, I’m fundraising. Do you know anyone who’s investing?” And so had our previous 3PL, 3PLs are third party logistics provider, randomly Slack me your LinkedIn post saying, “Hey, she angel invests in women owned brands. I think you should give it a shot.”
And so I saw your post, and there was hundreds of other people pitching you. And I was like, “So many other people pitch, she doesn’t know me. I don’t have a direct connection to her. Why not? I have nothing to lose.” And so I commented in all caps, I made sure I thoughtfully read your post. And I think that’s really key too is whenever you’re pitching, do a little bit of research on that person. What are they about? What are they saying that they focus on? Because I hear so many investors who are like, “I have men pitch me and I say exclusively I invest in women, and I don’t know where they come from.” So if men are doing that, you can too.
But yeah, I did as much research as I could on you very quickly, and I was like, “Okay, I got to stand out.” So I all caps was like, “Hey, I perfectly fit what you’re looking for, woman owned, woman of color, minority. I’m building this really incredible gut-friendly snack company, and I would love to have you on board and tell you more.” And I think I included a couple key exciting metrics just to stand out. And you commented, “Send me more info, let’s set up a call.” And I did.
And just a couple things. One, I could have not commented and been intimidated, but I did because I was like, “Shoot your shot.” Two, I could have not prioritized emailing you. I could have chickened out, gotten scared like, “She’ll never respond,” but I did again, shoot your shot.
And then we set up a call and we hit it off. And I think the fact that there’s so many points where I could have just dropped off, I think that’s really telling. You really have to follow up, and be on top of things, and make time, and do it in an authentic way. And I’d love to hear your thought process of how you were perceiving me, but 100% I agree with you, is no one’s going to advocate for you other than yourself. And if someone views me cringe for championing my company, then we have a lot of work to do. But for me, I’m just like, “This is my job. I need to fundraise for my company and I need to put it out there.” And it’s a great mission that we’re doing, so I’m proud to do that. So it’s one of those things where fortunately, it worked out. And then I had to follow up, because you were coming out with your book tour.
I was very hard to get ahold of for a while, and I deeply apologize for that. The post was Adam Neumann, infamous from WeWork, had just raised all of this money for this new company, and I think he is a bogus scam artist. And so I went on LinkedIn and I was just like, “Hi, I have built this business now to the point where I have some money and I want to do something about it, and I want to support either women owned or women-focused businesses that are making a difference.” And you commented on that post.
But yeah, it was not the most opportune timing, because looking back on it now, I probably should have waited, but it worked out great. But I was literally about to release the book and I was just like, “I’m so sorry. I’ll get back to you next week.” And then it would be three weeks later, and you would follow up, which was great, which is exactly what you should do, the squeaky wheel. Right? There was this period of time where I was really difficult to get ahold of because we were launching the book, and you very kindly and patiently, but were like, “Hi, I’m still here. Hello.” It’s a reminder. And it worked. It was great.
No, you were super sweet. And yeah, that thought obviously does cross my mind in my follow-ups of like, “Do they find me annoying?” But at a certain point I’m like, “Well, hopefully they respect it,” and that’s finding the right investor, that they appreciate tenacity and persistence. Because you know, “Hey, she’s going to be that persistent with retailers, with other investors, with other parts of her business.” So that carries over, and hopefully you appreciate that, and you did thankfully.
I do the same thing. I always joke with getting on Good Morning America. The Today Show is the big one that I wanted for a really long time. And I just quietly, I knocked on people’s doors until they let me in. And that’s what you have to do. And that’s kind of what I was getting to before, which was great. Thank you, is not only do you need to pitch yourself, but you need to be the person who is following up politely, and not in a harassing way, but just like, “Hi, I’m still here. I’m still cooking. Here are the new updates.” That’s what you have to do as an entrepreneur, especially when talking with busy people, trying to get on a TV show or some sort of press outlet. You have to do that. You have to follow up over, and over, and over again. And I’m sorry you did with me.
No. And look, people are busy and that’s okay. And as soon as you don’t internalize that as they hate you, and the best piece of advice I got from someone when you’re pitching retailers is until someone says, “No, stop reaching out to me.” You keep following up. And obviously, you’ll pick a reasonable cadence. You’re not really overwhelming someone, but follow-ups are okay. And I just want to shout you out separately, there are so many women who say, “I support women. I want to invest in women.” You actually put your money where your mouth is, and I just want to truly, wholeheartedly appreciate you for doing that. Because there’s so many women investors that want to, maybe they can’t, or maybe they have LPs that are breathing down their neck, and they have strict guidelines that they have to follow. So not blaming those women
particularly, but just the overall situation, it’s so hard to get women investors on your cap table.
And I really appreciate that you saw an issue, which is very true, that men are messing up in their first companies, second companies, and they’re still getting funding. Whereas women make a mistake because they’re human in their first companies, and then just get torn apart in the media.
And I so appreciate you making that message of, “I want to invest in women. I’m tired of seeing men given opportunities, and I want to put my money where their mouth is.” So I just want to bow down. Jokingly, but also generally because it sets the example that even an angel check is so meaningful, and it gives business owners me confidence, and my peers confidence that there are women out there who will bet on us.
Well, I appreciate that, but I mean that’s our jobs. It’s like if we have climbed the mountain, it is our job to throw a rope down, to lend a hand, to get other women up the mountain too.
I wanted to highlight, you asked from the investor angle… And again, I’m not a venture capitalist. I don’t have the millions of dollars to invest. I wrote a pretty small check, but what I really saw was that persistence, truly. Like you said, people will see the persistence and be like, “Cool.” I love your product. It’s really about you. It’s about you and Nikki. What I saw really, your product’s great, but it was about you, and it was about Nikki, and how you approached the situation, and how you kept responding. Your tenacity of that and how professional you were. And we all watch Shark Tank, always on Shark Tank they’re like, “It has to be a good product, but you’re really investing in the founder.”
And so when I go through my seasons of I’m still a little baby angel investor and learning a lot on that side. And what I look for is really, who is someone who is not going to stop pursuing what they want until they hear a definitive no? And sometimes, maybe that no is just a not yet. It’s a not yet.
So I think that that was a huge part for me was identifying, who has a great product, who do I connect with in a way that I’m going to be able to help? And then also, what are the founders like, and how are they going to showcase their product and showcase their business?
Yeah, that’s super helpful to hear the lens of an investor, what you look for. And I’m hoping it would be expansive for other entrepreneurs too as they think about fundraising what goes into that decision-making process from just evaluating the founder.
Yeah. You have mentioned before, and I have mentioned before many times on the show that being a founder, being an entrepreneur, especially a woman entrepreneur can feel extremely lonely and extremely isolating. And I think that’s something a lot of people in our community share when they start small businesses is this feeling of isolation. And nobody will fully get it or fully understand what the challenges are, and what the responsibilities are. What has that been like, and how have you found ways to connect and reintegrate yourself?
Gosh, that’s such a good question and something I’m still struggling with. I would say-
Me too, me too.
I would say conversations like this, podcasts like this, you don’t have to directly connect with someone to feel less alone. I would listen to, and I still do listen to a lot of entrepreneurship podcasts and read books about memoirs from entrepreneurs, to really get into the brain and hear their insecurities, their vulnerabilities, their doubts, their fears, their struggles, because it helps you feel less alone and it helps validate your experience.
So I would say just trying to digest other experiences really, really helps center you and really help you understand that you’re not alone, and that this is an experience that’s very unique, but it’s not just isolated. And so I would say that’s one thing that I do, and I am fortunate to have a co-founder to ride the wave with me.
But it’s still isolating. Your romantic relationships, your parents, your family, they don’t understand it. I went to this local concert with my boyfriend last night, he forced me to go. And I was literally sitting in the corner messaging influencers and checking my emails, and I just can’t turn off.
My partner is also a civilian and often does not understand. He’s so great about it. But yeah, there’s times where he’s like, “Tori, I need you to get off the phone.” And I’m like, “I need to respond to this one thing.” And he’s like, “Okay, but then you need to get off the phone.” And I’m like, “I know, I know it’s good for me. I’ll get off the phone.”
Exactly, exactly. So I guess to your point, yeah, surrounding yourself with people who love you and you care about your mental and physical health, to sometimes force you to take those breaks. And finding hobbies outside has also helped me really navigate that aloneness.
So as I mentioned, I teach fitness classes, and sometimes investors are like, “You still teach?” I’m like, “It is so vital for my mental health,” and it gives me a source of creativity. Having a side hobby has been so great, because I get to connect with people in a setting where they don’t know me as the founder or the CEO of a company. I get to be another version of me that can really connect with people and build community.
So wherever you can, find community. Even outside of entrepreneurship, that can be sometimes great to just take a break mentally. And that space allows you to think creatively in other ways that you could take back into your company.
And lastly, having other founders that are in similar stages I think is helpful, but also stages above you and below you as well, so that you can both have a peer dynamic where you can commiserate and share experiences. Again, someone that you can ask for advice or for help, and then ideally pay it forward. And you can mentor some earlier stage entrepreneurs that you can feel that you are kind of importing your wisdom. And so I think that’s a great way to also think about building your community is how can you serve, how can you expand, and how can you build around?
I don’t have a co-founder. I have people that I can rely on in our team. We have a C-suite to bounce ideas off of and to make strategic decisions. But at the end of the day, the general vision of Her First $100K is something that I dictate as CEO and founder.
Talk to me about running a business with somebody else. What does that look like? How are you having these conversations? When you disagree, what happens? That’s a world that in many ways, I’m glad
I’m not a part of. And speaking of isolation, in many ways, I wish sometimes I had somebody else to directly shoulder the burden of entrepreneurship with me.
Totally. Gosh. And it’s always grass is greener, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a solo founder, and there’s this glamorization of, “Okay, I get to call the shots. There’s no one I have to check in with.” This gets to be truly an extension of me. I don’t have to think about this other person.
But to your point, it can be scary. If you want to take a vacation, there’s not someone who can break you for intents and purposes. Or if you get sick, I can understand, and I still feel this even with a co-founder of if I get sick or if something happens, what’s going to happen to the company? That persistent anxiety. But having a co-founder is such a unique experience as well. I would say try to find a co-founder that is complimentary to your skill sales from a business standpoint.
So my co-founder, she’s really, really adept at finance, and accounting, and operations, logistics, spreadsheets. Great. She loves that. I don’t. And I love marketing, and content, and partnerships, and sales, and I love talking to people and networking. So that’s what I focus on.
We are very, very different people. So naturally, different people are going to clash. But I would say if you’re exploring having a co-founder, just curious how to really know you have a good dynamic is are your values aligned? And I think that from day one, our value system has been aligned of how we prioritize the company, how we want people to feel when they engage with our brand and our product. We never want to put anyone down or make anyone feel less than or excluded with our brand and our vision. And so I think that’s always been unified.
But yeah, it’s something we’re still figuring out. We both are in therapy. We both have read different co-founder books to manage this dynamic, because when you think about it, you’re in such a pressure cooker, especially when you’ve taken any sort of investor money, that this expression of you kick the dog closest to you if you’ve ever heard of it. Sometimes, you just release your frustration out onto someone.
And so you have to be very, very mindful of how your energy is impacting someone, how their energy is impacting you. So it’s one of the most intimate relationships I’ve ever been, in terms of we share a bank account, she knows my social security. That level of trust has to be so, so strong, but also the communication has to be also equally strong, and it’s something we’re continuously working on. And I think no dynamic is perfect. But as long as you can both commit to a growth mindset and afford a direction of prioritizing the company and prioritizing our mental and physical health, prioritizing our relationship, that’s the recipe for success.
Because candidly, a lot of founder breakups happen. A lot of companies shut down because of the founders disagreeing, because there’s ego, or inequities, or just different aligned visions.
And so I think it’s really important to have frequent checkpoints. We try to have conversations frequently if we disagree on something. Or if one of us triggers the other person, we try to come back together and talk it through. And I think it’s an evolution for us and probably for other founders. But ideally, you’re building something together, and you’re celebrating your wins, and helping each other through the lows.
It’s a very unique dynamic, but I think it makes you stronger. I think as a business, it de-risks you a little bit too, because you have someone else to not only add their expertise, two brains are better than one. But it also emotionally gives you that mental health piece too, to share some of the burden.
One of the things I’ve always wondered is I run a very online digital company. We have a podcast, we have digital products. We work with brands in an influencer capacity. The only physical product I have is a book, and it’s through a major publisher. It’s not just my product. On the other hand, you make a physical good that ships, that you have to create, that is sold in stores. What are the challenges, but also the opportunities of running a directly commerce based, create a product kind of business?
That’s such a good question, and I’m trying to think of how I want to answer it. So it’s a blessing and a curse candidly, because it’s a blessing in terms of, how cool is it that I can tangibly interact with you and my product, right? That I can gift you this product, that you can have an experience around it. That you can taste it, have a sensory dynamic with my product. And I think that’s so cool to create something physical and to curate an experience around it.
At the same time, there’s so many logistics that go behind it. Especially if it’s something that’s consumable, you have to make sure that it’s food safe, make sure that you’re following all the regulations, make sure that you’re prioritizing human health above all else. And we don’t take that lightly.
So it’s just such a crash course in terms of understanding logistics, supply chain, ingredient sourcing, shelf life. It’s such a wild thing when you think about, and it’s been so eyeopening about our food system, is so many of the products that you see, they use preservatives, they use cheap ingredients, because these larger companies, they need to prioritize profits. They don’t care about people. That’s secondary.
And so it’s really an eyeopening experience of, what does our food system look like? How does transportation look like? What are industries that you never thought even existed just out there to support A to B?
I would say that it’s rewarding, but it’s also such a… I’m not sure if I can swear, but it’s such a mindfuck too, that you get to think of an idea, bring it out into a product, a physical, tangible product, and then think through all the different ways of, how can you get it to different hands? And you can pull different levers of digital marketing, retail activations, partnering with influencers, the capital that it takes to source the ingredients. And it’s just so many moving pieces all at once. I think sometimes I’m just like, “How is my brain able to catch up with all of this?” Because we’re not just a physical product, selling the store. There’s also a digital piece. We sell on Amazon, we sell online, and we have to fundraise.
But I think the dynamism of it is also what makes it so exciting. And I think the opportunity for innovation is also really cool, that I’m not beholden to software, or a developer, or technology. The innovation is how to play with different ingredients and feel like a crazy scientist sometimes in a kitchen, of pushing boundaries in food, or what we think of food, and dessert, and things of that sort.
It’s such a cool experience. But I would say that especially for food, it’s something that you want to be very thoughtful of as well. And really finding your niche in that space is also really critical, I found, is really what makes you stand out, understanding your market, understanding your customers.
But it’s such
a cool thing where you can have that one-to-one engagement. And what keeps me going personally is when people write in saying, “I had this, it’s so cool. I took it on my vacation,” or, “I gave this to my kid and they loved it. They normally don’t eat healthy stuff.” So it’s really cool to be able to build an experience around a product that you created, and to see how you can impact so many other people through it.
That was one of the reasons I chose to invest is it’s so fucking good guys. It tastes so good. It’s so good. It’s like a Nutella dupe that’s healthier for you, and it’s a nut butter. And then the blue, you can drizzle it on toast or on smoothies, and it’s just so good. And then the little travel packs, you know I sent you the picture. I was in Paris, and again, my partner wouldn’t stop eating them. He would turn to me and he’s like, “You got any more of those nut butter packets?” And I’d be like, “Here you go.” And he’d just stick the whole thing in his mouth, because he’s a little Nutella fiend. They’re so good.
They’re so good. I would love to talk briefly. One of, again, the reasons that I really respect what you do and why I chose to invest was that you’re in the fitness space and you create this gut healthy, lower sugar, more healthy product. And it would’ve been very easy to play into the diet culture, weight loss marketing of a product like that, and you intentionally didn’t. And I really fucking loved that. So talk to me about that intentional decision of, “Yep, we’re not going to play into the diet culture shit here in order to sell this thing.”
I’m so glad you said that. And I really appreciate you saying that because look, it could have been very easy to do that. And I see companies making… There’s this one company, I won’t name them, I’ll tell you offline. They made $55 million in four years Tori, by preying on diet culture, weight loss, making women feel insecure about themselves, promising weight loss. And it makes me sick to my core.
And for me and Nikki, we had eating disorders in our early twenties. We had unhealthy relationships with food. Mine started with orthorexia, then went to a binge-eating disorder, then it played with anorexia.
So having gone through that experience and the evolution of that fear of food from will it make me sick, to trying to control food, trying to control my life through food, it’s not only an isolating experience, but what’s crazy is it impacts so many different women in so many different capacities. I saw my mom had unhealthy body image issues and she would starve herself. And it generationally comes down to younger and younger.
And so for me, when I was starting this company and when we were very intentional about our branding and our mission is we don’t want anyone to ever feel bad about food. And that starts with the messaging, that starts with the packaging, that starts with everything. And our mission is not to ever make anyone feel bad, or restricted, or ashamed, or anything. It’s like the whole goal is food should help you feel good, right? Food is something we want you to love. Food is fuel.
And I think for me personally, having gone through my relationship with food as fearing it, I really wanted to personally heal my own unhealthy relationship with food, and redirect, and redefine it. And as a byproduct, I realized that Nikki also had unhealthy relationship with food, and that there’s more and more women that also struggle with that.
And so for us, if it meant not growing as fast, if it meant not making as much money upfront, we were committed to that, because change happens by taking those risks and by standing for something that you truly believe in. And hearing that validation, hearing other journalists even saying, “I really appreciate how you don’t talk about this, or that you don’t use this languaging,” it really validates that women are tired.
I think we’re tired of being marketed in a way that makes us feel bad about ourselves or that we need to deprive ourselves. And I think women are finally feeling more vocal. And you see this in media as well too, which is so great that there’s a little bit more representation. Not completely, but a little bit more representation of all different shapes and sizes, and what a great thing.
And for us, food is something we need to consume every single day. It’s something that people have different relationships with. And at the end, gut health is really what we chose as our through line, because that was the source of my personal eating disorder is I had so many health issues, I was afraid of food. I didn’t know what foods I could trust.
So to create a brand around trust and integrity was really important to us. And because we put ourselves in front of the company a lot, we put ourselves in social media, we put ourselves on the website, we couldn’t stand behind a brand with integrity if we didn’t use copy or marketing, or had any messaging that conflicted with our value system.
And that’s really what we’re excited to do. And ideally, lead in the space that food is something that nourishes you, that gives you energy, that satisfies you. And that’s a great thing to celebrate.
Michelle, I just really appreciate everything you just said. Again, I think that one of the reasons I started HFK was I learned about money from my parents and had this story, and then was realizing like, “I can do something about this. I can do something about the way we are educated about personal finance, and talking about money and systemic oppression with that.” And I think a lot of solutions for entrepreneurs come from our own lives or come from our own experiences, and our thoughts and feelings of somebody else has to be feeling this way, or somebody else has to be dealing with these same issues, and how can I work to solve their problem?
1000%. And I’m glad you touched on something that I wanted to also talk about, is the diet culture, the marketing that you see and has been continuing for the past 20, 30, 40 years, it’s all focused on shrinking women, on keeping women small, on keeping women a certain size, feeling like they’re less than, not good enough. And that messaging translates over to other areas in the business world, in their careers. “Don’t speak up, don’t be too loud, don’t be too big. Don’t take up space.” So that’s subliminal, but also intentional, I believe. And even with fundraising, even with starting a company, even with all these microaggressions that women experience, they’re all designed, I firmly believe this, of keeping us small.
I could not agree more. I’m emphatically nodding my head over here. My book, we did a lot of research actually on the weight loss and diet industry. And my friend Vic Garrick Brown was on the show before to talk about it. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry trying to sell you something that is actually unobtainable, and to keep you small, and to keep yo
u miserable, quite frankly.
If you go on this diet and you’re miserable, you can’t show up as your full authentic self in your life. I’ve talked about this on the show before, but the word pleasure, that’s what I want, is I want a pleasurable life. I want a pleasurable, joyful life. And anything that robs me of that joy or pleasure is not worth my time. And to your point, the not so conspiracy conspiracy theory, is it’s like that has been perpetuated to make sure that women are miserable, and overworked, and tired, and it’s just that they hate themselves.
And I don’t want that anymore, for myself or for any other woman on this planet. I want a life of pleasure, and any company or brand that is trying to make me feel small or hate myself, that’s not pleasurable. I don’t want myself or any other woman feeling like I have to hate myself in order to do this, in order to get into the body that is deemed perfect or the ideal body. And of course, that’s bullshit. And it’s just like I want to show up in spaces as my full self, and love my life, and have a very pleasurable life. And anything that’s holding me back from that I think is just bullshit.
1000%. Yeah. Because if you’re hungry, if you’re depleted, if you don’t have energy, you can’t lead, you can’t succeed, you can’t take up space, you can’t do good. And women need to be nourished. Women need to be confident. Women need to feel empowered, because then they can be in their power and they can do good, and they can share that good. Because I generally believe women are more altruistic and they want to protect the planet. They want to empower other women. They want to make sure our economy is more stable. So it has this huge trickle effect as well.
If someone is listening who either wanting to start a business or who is starting and just feeling like, “Gosh, I am trying and no one’s seeing it,” what advice do you have?
I would say you have to start somewhere, and it’s not going to be perfect the first time. I would say I’ve pivoted like 20 million times, and that’s okay, right? You have to fall a little bit, and be okay with failing, and always contain that growth mindset. And at the end of the day, if you don’t quit, you don’t fail.
And so removing that pressure off yourself I think is so key. And nourishing yourself not only physically with the right things, but also nourishing your mind as well with podcasts like this, with books like yours, with resources, with community that can uplift you, inspire you, encourage you, is so, so critical.
It’s a journey, and I think that’s with anything, right? Instead of seeing it as a one direction or a linear kind of path, I think for anyone starting out who’s having some issues or struggling and fumbling a little little bit, that’s okay. Everybody starts at zero. And I think as soon as you get into that mindset, that helps make it easier. Whoever you’re seeing is so successful, they started somewhere.
And so my advice is to start and to be okay with making mistakes, and almost try to make mistakes, because only learning can come from that. And as long as you have a growth mindset, you’re winning.
I couldn’t agree more. Tell me where folks can find more about you, get the nut butters. Tell me everything.
Yeah. Our website is ELAVI, E-L-A-V-I.co. We’re also an Amazon, where you can get our new dessert cashew butter jars. We have packets. We have more stuff launching in the new year, some big retail launches in the new year. You can connect with us on both Instagram and TikTok at hey H-E-Y ELAVI. That’s ELAVI with a V.
My personal Instagram is my first and last name @michellerazavi. And yes, ELAVI is from the last names of my co-founder and I, if you haven’t guessed that already. We’re very active on social, so please, please, please reach out, say hello, check out our products. And thank you so much Tori for having me on, and just such an incredible conversation.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you so much to Michelle for joining us. You can learn more about her as well as her amazing company and brand ELAVI linked below in the show notes. You can also go to ELAVI E-L-A-V-I.co to order some nut butters, and to learn more about their company. Thanks so much for being here Financial Feminists. We appreciate it. As always, I hope you have a great rest of your week. Okay, bye.
Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, associate producer Tanisha Grant, marketing and administration by Karina Patel, Sophia Cohen, Kahlil Dumas, Elizabeth McCumber, Beth Bowen, Amanda Leffew, Masha Bachmetyeva, Kailyn Sprinkle, Sumaya Mulla-Carrillo, and Harvey Carlson. Research by Ariel Johnson, audio engineering by Alyssa Midcalf, promotional graphics by Mary Stratton, photography by Sarah Wolfe, and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound. A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests, and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.