Episode 69
August 31, 2021

From Farm Life to GEM Bites

with Sara Cullen, Founder and CEO of GEM

About this episode

Sara Cullen is the Founder and CEO of GEM, a consumer science company offering plant-based innovations to deliver more efficient and sustainable nutrient solutions to consumers. Starting with a line of nutrient dense bites, GEM is a natural alternative to the supplement aisle. In this episode, Sara shares with us her entrepreneurial journey from growing up on a farm in Oregon, to studying at Cornell University, to joining Venture for America where she worked for a startup for two years, to starting her first company, a functional beverage brand called Plant Water, to building and launching GEM in 2018. She talks with us about what it takes to create a brand, why it's important to build community first, how she raised over ten million dollars and maintains relationships with investors, and why it's essential to ask "Why?" throughout a rebranding process.

This episode is sponsored by

In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • What life was like growing up on a farm in Oregon and learning a lot about nutrition and agriculture and entrepreneurship and how that brought her to study at Cornell
  • Why she started pursuing internships with the government, such as an Oregon Senator, and then in DC working on Capitol Hill before deciding that wasn’t the long term path for her
  • What led her to the entrepreneurial fellowship called Venture for America and why that experience gave her so many learnings to take with her when she would later build her own brands
  • How she traveled around the world for six months after the fellowship ended and what she learned from seeing farms in other parts of the world
  • How her time with an angel group led to being the Co-Founder of a company called Plant Water back in 2016 where she was able to learn about how to build something from scratch
  • Why her learnings from building Plant Water led her to approach building GEM differently by creating an MVP product and intentionally building a community with which to understand, gain insight, and even look at as co-creators developing the product and the brand to meet needs more specifically and successfully
  • How the community first model led to a quick and successful pre-seed funding round that came about very organically and quite differently than Sara had originally imagined
  • What great advice she has about fundraising and building your investor team through communication and relational partnerships
  • How Sara and the team approached a recent rebrand, why they went about it, and what the process looked like 
  • How they have used a simple and small retail approach to continue to gain brand awareness, build a bigger audience, and gather more insight as to how they can continue to do things better and better
  • Why their product is so different and why it matters

To Find Out More:


Use code word ​​STAIRWAY10 for $10 off


“I was always interested in our food system as a whole and how we can continue to improve it. And so I knew that was something that always was going to be a lifelong mission of mine.”

“I learned most of all that it's about the people that you work with. When you get the right people in the room with big ideas and vision,  you work really hard, and you learn that you really can, there's a lot that you can do when you set your mind to it.”

“I learned that a really good leader is one that is always willing to roll up their sleeves and be a maker at any point at the company.”

“The really good leaders are the ones that really understand how important it is to invest in the people and those relationships.” 

“Everything is a relationship and relationships are all about negotiation.”

“I knew that I needed to get an MVP out in the market, and I needed to build a community first and make sure that I understood their problems that I needed to solve.”

“Through that community, I was able to optimize the product enough to the point where we could then commercialize it and get it to market. And so this kind of community-based approach was the best way for me to leanly iterate on our initial product.”

“This community organically really showed like, wow, people are wanting this.”

“Once I realized that the pathway to successful fundraising was to build the relationships with the right investors that aligned with my mission, vision, and values, and when I started to find those and unlock those, that's when it started to become more successful for me.”

“Just as much as they're buying a piece of your business, you are selling them a piece.”

“I believe that the most successful companies are ones that take a step back and look at their community first and invest in customer experience first and foremost early on, not just the brand.”

Read the transcript

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