Balance data & instinct. Most entrepreneurs go too far in either direction — they use data to make all decisions or they ignore data and consistently trust their gut. For us, if we only looked at data, we would have seen that there are hundreds of vitamin companies selling children’s vitamins, so in terms of market share, it would be nearly impossible to break through. Yet we trusted our instinct that parents were looking for a better option, even if the initial tests we ran didn’t prove that thesis.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Litt.
Darren is the Co-Founder of Hiya Health, whose mission is to reimagine children’s health and end our collective addiction to sugar. Hiya’s first product is a sugar-free, junk-free multivitamin delivered in eco-friendly packaging on a pediatrician-approved schedule. Each order includes a refillable glass bottle and stickers to decorate it with, making Hiya good for the environment and good for your kids looking to learn healthy habits.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a tech entrepreneur, I’ve built a career in finding solutions to tough problems. When I became a parent and saw that the world of children’s vitamins had not evolved much since the 1980s, my instinct was to say “there has to be a better way”, which is an ethos that has served me well in the world of tech. I created Hiya as a way to keep our kids healthier.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My background is in tech, not health, so when I began looking into the problems with children’s vitamins, I had no expertise besides a general curiosity and desire to build something better. The result was that so many people I spoke with said what I was trying to build wasn’t possible — kids vitamins are this way for a reason so don’t try to change it. I instinctively knew that was wrong, yet when you’re new to an industry, it’s tough not to think perhaps they know something I don’t.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My desire to build Hiya came from an authentic place — wanting to end our kid’s addiction to sugar and keep them healthier. So it’s easier to drive forward when you’re motivated by helping your kids, not just building a sustainable business.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We launched Hiya earlier this year and it’s taken off like a rocketship. We’re already the fastest growing children’s vitamin brand.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started Hiya, I had no background in vitamins and instead knew the only way to build the best product was by bringing in the best minds — including leading pediatricians, scientists, and nutritionists who I knew were motivated by the same mission of reimagining children’s health. Yet when I started I would ask some of the smartest experts in the industry questions that were so dumb in retrospect that I cringe even thinking that’s what I asked. The lesson though is you don’t start out as an expert — stay curious, ask dumb questions, work hard, and pretty soon you will know as much as anyone.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’ve built our business around the message that those sugar-filled gummies most parents give their kids are more candy than vitamins. Most parents instinctually realize sugary gummies aren’t good for their kids, yet as parents, they’re too busy and stressed out to make another choice.
When we first launched, we put out an ad where we walked the aisles of Whole Foods, picked up various vitamins, and just read off the amount of sugar that was in the most popular vitamins. The CEO of one of the country’s largest vitamin companies repeatedly wrote us to complain about our ad, yet our response was always the same — all we’re doing is reading ingredients you put on your label…we didn’t choose those ingredients, you did. If you think we’re misreading an ingredient, please let me know.
The CEO stopped messaging us. And it was at that point, we knew we were onto something big.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Try to find what you’re good at and gives you energy. Then if possible, delegate the rest. For example, I hate accounting and don’t like dealing with inventory — both cause huge drains on my energy. So I make sure to delegate those tasks and concentrate on what I’m good at.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I worked for a start-up in New York City as one of my first real jobs after grad school. What I learned from the CEO was when it comes to start-ups no one really knows what they’re doing — you just do it. If the answers were easy, everyone would be doing it. So just keep moving forward, don’t get down when you screw up, and fail fast.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Hiya is dedicated to uncovering the truth about children’s vitamins, which is that most of them are sugar bombs filled with artificial dyes and gummy junk that may not even hold the nutrients listed on the label. So we hope that by building Hiya, we’re also causing Big Food (and Big Vitamins) to be more transparent and honest with customers, especially parents, about what they’re including in their products.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t overthink it. I have a tendency to over-analyze, which helps in some respects, yet can be a great hindrance as an entrepreneur. I spent months and months analyzing whether it was right to start Hiya. The reality is all the time I spent thinking about Hiya could have been spent building the company.
- No one has all the answers. As an entrepreneur, I’m approached all day by people asking me questions. The reality is I don’t always know the answer. But then again, most of the time no one does. So trust yourself and take your best guess.
- Learn to say no. So much of running a company is being presented with opportunities. The bigger you get, the more other companies want to work with you and the more optionality you have. So you have to learn to say no, which is against my nature of being curious and always wanting to test ideas. Yet by saying no, you hold out for the best opportunities.
- Avoid vanity metrics. An example of a vanity metric is how much money you raised. There are other companies in our industry that raised tens of millions of dollars and are now bankrupt because they over-raised in part because it sounded good. So be diligent, avoid trying to impress, and good things will happen.
- Balance data & instinct. Most entrepreneurs go too far in either direction — they use data to make all decisions or they ignore data and consistently trust their gut. For us, if we only looked at data, we would have seen that there are hundreds of vitamin companies selling children’s vitamins, so in terms of market share, it would be nearly impossible to break through. Yet we trusted our instinct that parents were looking for a better option, even if the initial tests we ran didn’t prove that thesis.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So much of education nowadays is outdated and impractical. I’d be interested in a movement that teaches kids more of the basics, whether that means helping them understand a food label or more broadly teaching how to pay taxes, do basic coding, how to spot bias, and all those other items we take for granted.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Hiya blog: https://hiyahealth.com/blogs/news
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!