[00:00:44] A.J. Lawrence: Well, cool. I love, and I jokingly call it an origin story for entrepreneurism, but yours is not exactly- actually it is an origin story. You have an interesting origin story. You’re a professional athlete in tennis. You had some great internships and that traditional finance to business consulting. You were over at Accenture and then things changed. Do you wanna maybe, and I know you’ve talked about this a lot, but I think it’s such a great story about why Your Super came about, why you and your wife, you and your partner kind of created this.
[00:01:17] Michael Kuech: Yeah, of course. It’s very personal and that’s why we’re so mission driven because it’s so personal. As you said, I was on this business school investment banking consulting track, and I used to be a tennis player all my life. So, [I] studied in the US with a tennis scholarship.
[00:01:36] I’m originally from Germany, as you can tell from a terrible accent, and I come from a very small town in Germany, meat heavy background, eating a lot of meat and not really care about my lifestyle. Because I was an athlete, and I thought I’m fit. And it’s 10 years ago now to this day, where I was sitting in a doctor’s office and got diagnosed of cancer – testicular cancer. And there was obviously shock.
[00:02:00] I had just finished my masters. I was traveling with Kristel, my wife and co-founder in Sri Lanka when I felt something and I went back home to Germany. Got it checked out and it ended being cancer. So, that trajectory obviously changed my entire life. I was on this trajectory to wear a suit all day, become a consultant investment banking corporate career that got pushed aside for various reasons because when I went through this first surgery and then chemotherapy, I was only thinking about survival. And nothing else was important for me. Let’s get through this.
[00:02:37] They caught it very early, so I was lucky. And so I went through that and after that I was like, why did I get sick? Why? What’s the reason? Why did I get sick? Why are people getting sick? Why is there so much going on in our world in terms of chronic diseases, which cancer is part of it.
[00:02:55] And when I started researching, what I found out completely shocked me. And I didn’t have to look far. I was just Googling, tell me the reasons why people are getting sick and cancers. And the World Health Organization was one of my resources. I just googled there and found that 50% of cancers are caused by several risk factors. Among those risk factors is food. And I was like, oh my God. I can’t control everything on this list. Sometimes we’re stressed while we live in big cities, we’re doing stuff, but I can control what I eat. And I came through this and there was this aha moment where I was like, I never wanna go through this again.
[00:03:31] I never want to get sick again. And I can’t control everything, but I can control how I eat and change my lifestyle. And that was the moment where I changed. Where I said, okay, I’m gonna try to eat as healthy as I can. I became plant-based in the process and started looking at different foods as medicine. And my wife and back then my girlfriend, Kristel, she was giving me all the superfoods.
[00:03:56] And I was like, what in the world are superfoods? I’m from Germany, I have no idea what wheat grass is. I know [intelligible], I know beer, potato salad and she was like, no, you have to try out spirulina. You have to try out wheat grass. And I was like, what in the world are superfoods?
[00:04:12] And then I started also researching, that’s just how who I am. So researching about superfoods and figured out these have been around for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years as very potent grasses or vegetables or fruits in all areas of the world, as food as mediciine. And I’m like, Wow. Nature is amazing, right?
[00:04:33] This makes it so much easier for me to get all my minerals and vitamins in. And we started using them by myself. It was all for myself. And then people would ask me, Hey, what are you taking? You have so much energy, all of a sudden, what’s going on? Kristel was making me one mix and people were asking. And I remember we were in Whole Foods this first time in London and she was like, okay, you need to buy now.
[00:04:56] A.J. Lawrence: I know that one.
[00:04:57] Michael Kuech: Yeah, you need to buy spirulina, chlorella asahi, wheatgrass. And I was like, I’m not gonna buy all these different ones. There needs to be an easier way. And that sparked us to actually come out and say, no, we want to make it easier for people to eat healthier. And that became a mission, right?
[00:05:14] Going through that sickness and cancer, going through my tests with Super foods. I was like, I wanna make sure that people have it easier to eat healthier, and if I can help the person not getting sick as a consequence, that’s all I wanna do.
[00:05:31] A.J. Lawrence: Well, very cool. I’d love to come back to that, but first, you’re almost one of the poster childs of like that grown up direct consumer. I’ve seen you in Target. You’ve made that jump from sort of niche to mainstream, and you’ve just had a really nice A round, if I remember correctly. And more importantly, you have a very incredibly cute child now.
[00:05:58] Michael Kuech: Yeah.
[00:05:59] A.J. Lawrence: I was seeing some of the pictures. Where do you see yourself as an entrepreneur these days?
[00:06:06] Michael Kuech: I think, in the beginning obviously you wanna do everything at all times. So in the beginning, we bootstraped for a long time where we just went to all different farmer’s markets and expos and really learned a ton of business, right? Business and experience with customers, et cetera.
[00:06:24] When we first started, I didn’t know anything about business. I studied business and finance, but starting as an entrepreneur and studying finance in university is two different things. I didn’t know anything. So it was a long time for us to learn all of it, make all the mistakes you can think of. And once you find something that works, and that was 3-4 years in when we moved to the US with the business. So we started first in Holland. Because my co-founder, Kristel, and my wife is from Holland, and then we moved to Germany with an office. And then 2018, we moved to the US because to be honest, it wasn’t really working well in Europe.
[00:07:00] It was maybe ahead of its time and we were like testing all these different things and somehow we couldn’t really figure out to really grow. And so we are like, okay, let’s look where our customers are from. And we figured out already 10% of our customers came from the US without even being in the US, just because through social media.
[00:07:20] And so we started calling our customers and asked them, why in the world are you buying from us? We’re a Berlin-based company, you have to wait four weeks, you have to pay in Euros, and we know people don’t like to pay euros in the US and, and you have to pay 30 bucks for shipping. And what we heard was very interesting.
[00:07:40] It was always, Hey, your products are so much cleaner than what we have on the market. We don’t wanna have the stevias, or the fillers, and the sugars in there. I was like, okay, that’s interesting. You guys have this transparent supply chain, you have this giving back component, all the things we were standing for. People thought were different. And that’s was the reason why we said, okay, let’s go to the US and try it out there. And then once we figure that out, that we can actually sell in the US, we actually start growing. And the role changes then a little bit once you start growing, once you have a team.
[00:08:13] I’m much more focused nowadays on the vision, where do we want to go? On the strategy, what’s next for the business? Versus in the beginning, you do everything. From packing packages and talk to customers all day.
[00:08:27] So the role changes and, and responsibility changes a little bit, but passion stays the same. I’m still as passionate as ever, and I love to talk to customers. It’s my favorite thing.
[00:08:36] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, you’ve kind of come so far and then as this role has changed, I mean, you even had a book coming out, if I’m correct here.
[00:08:44] Michael Kuech: Yeah, our book is coming out April 18th. It’s called Your Super Life. [I] can highly recommend it because it’s a cookbook and lifestyle book, and we wanna teach people how to eat healthy and make it easy for people. We always say, and it’s in the book, food has to be healthy, easy, and delicious. Otherwise we’re not cooking. Otherwise we’re not eating. Right? Otherwise, we just take out and eat everywhere. And that’s not the healthiest. We know that. And we’re all busy. You have a ton of things going on and I have a ton of things going on, so it has to be more easy for us to eat healthier. And that book really can help anybody to start eating healthier.
[00:09:22] And that’s the evolution also we have in the business, where we feel like we can get even to more households if we make it even easier with the cookbook, with the how-to, and with different products, right? We have now 12 products and we’re coming out with new product also in next few weeks. So we’re always evolving into and listening to our customers and what do they need, right?
[00:09:46] And that’s evolving of a business, I think. If you’re close to your customers, they gotta tell you what you need to do next. And they told us, Hey, we need more recipes. We love your products but how do you do this? How do you make a salad? How do you make an oatmeal? And that’s what sparked us to actually come up with a book as well.
[00:10:06] A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. Now in this growth, in this kind of moving towards more of a overall lifestyle versus the early products, what has been the most difficult transition for you as an entrepreneur in this growth? As you were going along, what did you not expact to be difficult that ended up being difficult for you as an entrepreneur?
[00:10:34] Michael Kuech: I think when you start something, you have a certain idea about how things are supposed to run. And when you get larger and get a bigger team, you have to be open to new ideas and not be stuck to the ways that that it used to be happening and used to work. And I think that transition was hard for me. To see, okay, there’s other people with experience, they come in and they have good ideas. Which ones are good? Which ones are not the right fit for us? So I feel like I’m constantly learning now to let go, delegate, and not be kind of really micro, right. Micromanaging people, which is hard because I’ve done every job in a company.
[00:11:16] And as a founder, you feel like, oh yeah, you have done this, you know. But I think for successful business to really adapt and to change, because as a business you always have to change, you can’t be complacent and think things just going the same way forever. I think that’s, one of the biggest things is to learn to have other people give you guidance, give you help, other experiences and really change. Be open to change.
[00:11:41] A.J. Lawrence: And it is interesting. Still working on my capability of doing that, but it is always like, wait, you’re doing it that way? But oh, it’s working. That surprise.
[00:11:53] Michael Kuech: Yeah, surprising. And you sometimes get so stuck in your own ways, right? Because you feel like, ah, it has been working, without then actually acknowledging, oh no, there are better ways of doing this or other ways of doing this. And I think that’s a challenge I hear from a lot of people, it’s certainly true for me, to really have that capability.
[00:12:13] And it’s a balance too, right? And I think that’s a struggle sometimes we all have. It’s like you don’t wanna completely rely on everybody else to do everything because you still know the brand the best, I know the products the best.
[00:12:27] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, has to come from you.
[00:12:28] Michael Kuech: Right? So it’s like the balance between, yes these things can change and should change, and the other one, you giving the direction and the vision and the strategy for the next years. And that balance is, I think, you can always learn to do it better.
[00:12:42] A.J. Lawrence: Kind of imparting the direction. Working on the business to move it forward, not working in it to keep it running. But that is a difficult. As someone who has floundered and sometimes kind of somewhat gotten past that realm. What helped you the most in sort of learning how to handle that? Or to at least become a better entrepreneur in handling that?
[00:13:07] Michael Kuech: One thing is reaching out to other people in similar situations. I think early on, I was like so focused on myself and I’m so busy in doing my thing. And once I realized asking for help is a superpower and asking around for people who have done it before. I think a lot of things changed. And having a really good group of people, I’m still working on it too today, to reach out to people who have done it, who can help, who have had the big experience before, to learn from.
[00:13:37] I feel like I’m learning, constantly learning now. It doesn’t matter how big you are, there might be always somebody who has done a better, faster, more prominent. Unless you’re maybe Amazon, but probably they can talk to Apple. I don’t know. Who knows, right. You can always find somebody.
[00:13:52] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. There’s someone.
[00:13:53] Michael Kuech: There’s someone right where you can learn from and I think asking for help is a huge advice I’m giving people and giving myself all the time. Even if sometimes I feel like, oh, I’m too much in the weeds. Sometimes we have weeks, and I’m sure you have that too, where you’re like, oh, why didn’t I call anybody to ask for help? Or like why I was just working and down in the sand. So, it’s a constant right? It’s a constant learning too.
[00:14:21] When things are going crazy, it’s actually then you gotta look up and say, okay, who can I call? Who can I call? And I’m still working on that.
[00:14:28] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I find it always when there’s like, oh, maybe this could help, but nah, it’s not gonna. And then you talk to someone who has done it and they go, yeah this is the dopest thing, but it’s X. And you’re just like, I sat there for two months not doing this because I felt it was dopey. It’s just like as soon as you hear that someone else has done something, I think it just takes the, Oh my God. Yes, you have to do unique things for your business and you have to make it, but sometimes knowing someone else has done something, that is half the game. Just like, oh wait, it is possible. Okay, okay, okay.
[00:15:05] Well, finding peers, were you looking at like peer groups, masterminds, or were you just literally just going and saying, okay, does anyone know people? I know some literally just go in like, alright, I’m looking for these types of people. If you could introduce me just so I can chat, that’s great. Some focus on masterminds or peer groups, depending on how you call them. What was your route? What did you find to help you find other people in the similar space?
[00:15:34] Michael Kuech: I think over the years, obviously, other founders that’s founded in similar time who are still around after a few years. I try to get in touch with some other businesses in Germany, where you’re like, oh yeah, kind of the startup scene so you get to know some people, some other founders. That was helpful, as well as some of our investors. They have seen it and could introduce me to other founders.
[00:16:00] I wasn’t part of a mastermind or any formal group. But I’ve always try to have a lot of founder conversations, even if they were smaller or bigger. It doesn’t matter because they will all go through the same things at all times and it doesn’t matter what figure you actually in. It’s always a similar problems. And so I always try to have a lot of these conversations even on expos or on trade fairs, to talk to other founders and expand my network that way.
[00:16:28] A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. Well, I kind of wanna step back as you talked about, you started you were kind of going through. This is so personal for you, looking at vegetarian, vegan sort of foods. But you guys have taken it a step further. This is not just sort of, oh we’re gonna do this, this is my social mission. You guys are an actual Corp B. And maybe it would be interesting cuz now you are a big company, I know there’s hopefully much, much, much more growth for you guys, but now you’ve kind of crossed that chasm into sort of the mainstream.
[00:17:06] But let’s step back. This has been pretty important to you guys, I remember hearing about it and like I said, I think it was just around that point you started coming into the US market. It was around the time that I first heard, cuz I had a team that was in Germany when I moved to Spain. And I think that was how I was introduced to your product while I was living in Spain. And I know that was something I was hearing about even back then. While it is very important, your health and that thing, how did you push it to make it even further? That mission for Your Super?
[00:17:43] Michael Kuech: We had a couple of early experiences that pushed us to look over our own plate and said, okay, we need to look at not only kind of our shareholder value and customers, but also like what is the overall impact of the business. And that was in the height of Toms back then and Warby Parkers and all this more social business that also came in US, very online-driven.
[00:18:11] And we’re very inspired by the Patagonias, the Toms, and we’re like, this is fantastic. But the experience that we had was early on, we figured out where do we get superfood from, right? How do we deal with distributors and where do we source this? And we will never forget we had wheat grass that we ordered from China and we had wheat grass that we ordered from Germany.
[00:18:35] And the wheat grass from Germany was 10x more expensive, literally per kilo, than from China. Both organic and we’re like, this is crazy. One is coming from across the world is 10x cheaper than the one coming from a 100 miles down the street here. And when we then compared, one was green and smells like grass and one was yellow and didn’t taste like anything. And the one yellow being from China.
[00:19:02] And we’re like, okay, wait a minute. We’re maybe onto something. It’s so important where things come from, how they’re grown, especially if we have fruits, vegetables, grasses, fresh in there. And we’re like, okay, if this is coming from China, who knows what’s in there and you don’t even know if it’s wheat grass. Versus here in Germany, I can just drive down there, and we did it, and see the field and know this is the best quality we can get.
[00:19:25] So we then said, okay, we need to have the transparency because if in our products there are superfoods on, they need to be superfoods in, right? They need to be something potent, there’s something fresh, we need something with all of it, and vitamins and minerals. And that’s how we got started on the transition to really a transparent supply chain. And once we did that, we were like, okay, how are these people paid? Are these people that are paid fairly? Are we doing the right thing there? Sourcing from mostly poor countries, poorer countries than in the western world, what is our impact there?
[00:20:01] And that’s another major passion for me because I think, well, you mentioned the B Corp and the whole idea of a B Corp is using business as a force for good. And I truly believe that is the way. It is the way of participating in the global economy, but really uplifting everybody on this value chain with us. And we have been in Brazil, we have seen our farmers, and we’re doing that with our dollars or euros that were sourced there. These people are uplifted. They can send their kids to school. They have now fridges and electricity they didn’t have before. And so everybody wins.
[00:20:39] And my true belief is everybody can win, if we’re doing the right thing. And that’s where Your Super wants to do more as well because it’s so important to do the right thing. And you can still make bond and money as a business and do the right thing.
[00:20:55] A.J. Lawrence: I think this is always where a lot of entrepreneurs kind of balance on. They either decide they wanna do something good, but it’s just the concept of the doing good, versus, once again, some assumptions on your brand, externally familiar with it, all this. But what I think is really interesting is you are positioning and sort of the value prop is very inherently about all the different pieces.
[00:21:22] On the quick little blurb for your Corp B, you talk about the nutrition bars, buy one, someone gets some food. But it is about taking on aspects of fair trade, taking on regenerative tactic. Inherently to the brand, it is the concept of making the world better through the concept of commerce.
[00:21:43] Michael Kuech: Yeah, exactly. And I would say, we’re not perfect and nobody is perfect, but everybody can do the right steps a little bit in that direction. And every bit helps, I think. And I think for us, it’s important to make that connection. And we found out that it’s a USP for us, right? So people want our products because we’re doing this. So it’s actually a business advantage we have versus other companies in the same industry.
[00:22:13] So I would encourage everybody to think about how can they bring some transparency in their business, doing something in the right direction. Because I truly believe the customer’s ready for options. And if they don’t have options, they can vote with a dollar. And we heard that now a million times, but I think people wanna vote with a dollar. They just need more options. And it’s up to, I think, us as business owners and founders to give them more options. So I feel like it’s very important for us to have these options out there in the market so people can make a choice. And, I think that’s where business is beautiful.
[00:22:49] A.J. Lawrence: because of your transparency and the effort, and I know the effort you put into the transparency is not a low expense effort. from going through your materials, from being familiar to the brand, there are choices that reduce "profit opportunity". You may create profit elsewhere, but you know, the typical equation it’s like, but you must maximize these things.
[00:23:15] Michael Kuech: Exactly. Yeah.
[00:23:16] A.J. Lawrence: But what’s interesting is I think when you talk about giving people options, it is really important except I think there’s so much noise around what is possible or what is the right choices. The amount of time and effort your brand, Your Super, has put into this, I think helped break that noise.
[00:23:37] Michael Kuech: Yeah.
[00:23:38] A.J. Lawrence: Once again, I’m an external viewpoint on this, but I do think there’s a lot of people pushing health-wealth management et cetera, but they don’t put the time and effort that Your Super has put into showing the value that you’re bringing into the marketplace. And I think that helps because yes, I know other people like literally have said, oh, have you tried that? I’m like, yes, I know about them.
[00:24:03] It is funny when you see a brand kind of become alive, if that’s the right term. But when you know it early and then all of a sudden you see it break out, to me it’s always fun. It’s like, oh yeah, I knew about them back in the day. It’s like finding the band before they hit it big. Sorry, I’m a business geek.
[00:24:23] Michael Kuech: I agree. And I thin you’ve bring a couple of good points. I think it’s the long-term value of some of these things we’re doing as well, right? So we learned as I said in my example, we could save 10x the cost in the wheat grass if we would source it somewhere else. But we have such a strong relationship now with our farmers, so we can be price-wise or even in the US, we can be competitive with other competitors but still have that great transparency and the partnership.
[00:24:57] And ultimately these partnerships will help you, not only gain more market share and actually sell more, but also in in crisis mode. In Covid where, right in the shutdowns where supply chain was a nightmare, we didn’t have any problems because our partners were so loyal to us, right? To make everything possible, to get us raw ingredients, our Brazilian supplier he drove almost single-handedly these trucks over the border from one state to another because they shut down one state and we could fly it out on the other state.
[00:25:29] Similar to India, they, not, smuggled is the wrong word here, but they somehow got it to a different state because they wanted to help. They were helpful and it’s hard to quantify that. But, it obviously tremendously helped us through the last few years to get through stuff because we had these relationships. They could trust us, paying the right and fair pricing, and we could trust them, right? And that’s something that’s so valuable for a business that you sometimes can’t quantify in a P&L.
[00:26:04] A.J. Lawrence: I don’t think you can quantify, but I do think there is a directional value generation from walking the walk. There are people who do it for lip service and maybe a little bit of benefit, but the reality is the people who put the time and effort, and this is the fun of having other entrepreneurs like yourself come on the show, it is really talking to people who all have spent not just a few months in coming up with some really cool mission statement that looks good, but people who’ve spent the years putting in the effort before anyone even knew they existed. And seeing that they’ve created value, not just because they’ve done it, but because they did it.
[00:26:46] It’s like literally that choice made their value even higher. And I think that’s always an interesting thing as an entrepreneur. Like sometimes the harder choice ends up moving you further along, sorry, little ranch to the side. We were joking before the show or chatting before the show about, you’re looking at maybe moving back to Europe so your child can experience that and then maybe when they get older, moving again and all that. You have a book coming out, you raised around. You guys are now hitting the mainstream, like I said Target, and you’re selling in a much wider, more mainstream way. How are you going about defining success for yourself as an entrepreneur? Not running of Your Super, but you as an entrepreneur, someone who has created a business out of this. How are you defining your success and where do you want to take this?
[00:27:46] Michael Kuech: I’m so driven by trying to help people. And that’s for me, the definition of success would be if I can help more people eat healthier and not getting sick, not getting obese, having heart disease or something down the line, then it was all worth it. So you can see that with the book, where we want to have a wider audience with Your Super, with any other project I’m gonna undertake at one point. It always has to be on my mission to improve people’s health with the power of plants.
[00:28:17] That’s my mission. I look at it every day, write it down most of the days nowadays for the last few months just to center me and say, okay, is this on my mission? Is this important for me to do or it’s not? And then I can pretty quickly say, no, these are things are not important. These things are important.
[00:28:33] And that’s what I’m excited about doing and that’s for me, success is if I’m on my mission and do what I love to do and helping people along the way.
[00:28:42] A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. So where do you wanna take it then? Where’s this gonna be?
[00:28:47] Michael Kuech: We talk about millions of people. We had like 10 million people to help. Well, that’s kind of our North Star in terms of how many people we want to impact, maybe more, who knows. In my lifetime, hopefully more, and then we’ll go from there.
[00:29:01] A.J. Lawrence: Very cool. Well, I think it’s been really cool and I’m pretty certain you’re gonna hit the 10 million. You seem on a pretty strong trajectory here for this.
[00:29:12] Other than obviously going to yoursuper.com or going to Target and many other stores, how can people find out more about you and the journey and also the incredibly cute Instagram you have with your daughter and your wife.
[00:29:27] Michael Kuech: They can go to yoursuperfoods on Instagram. They can go to kristelandmichael.com, it’s us as just as founders and people. If they want to get in touch and ask me for advice or vice versa, please get in touch on that. It’s kristelandmichael on Instagram. The book is called Your Super Life. If somebody’s interested, it’s a great present for yourself or for anybody else who needs to hear that, what we have to say. And for anybody who doesn’t have time, that book will help you to eat healthier and make it easy. And yeah, please reach out anywhere what I just said, via email or Instagram DM or something. Reach out, happy to help anybody who’s on a journey and on their entrepreneurial career. Love to compare notes.
[00:30:11] A.J. Lawrence: Great. Well, I’ll make sure that all that is in the show notes, folks. In the email, when this episode comes out, you’ll see it and then also in our socials.
[00:30:21] Michael, thank you so much.
[00:30:23] Michael Kuech: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
[00:30:23] A.J. Lawrence: I really appreciate it.
[00:30:25] Michael Kuech: Really great chat with you.
[00:30:26] A.J. Lawrence: No, this was a lot of fun. All right, everyone, thank you so much for listening to Michael and I chat. I think Your Super, as I said, it’s always a great experience to see a brand grow and to have known a brand before it made it. So this was a lot of fun for me. Please, if you enjoyed this episode and you think there’s another entrepreneur who would like to hear this story, share it to them.
[00:30:55] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.