Get ritualistic — consistency is key! Like brushing your teeth, going for bike rides with the family in the morning, reading intentionally for 30 mins/day (social media and bad news don’t count), etc. Make small wins, every day!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kori Estrada.
Kori Estrada is the co-founder of RiseWell, and co-CIO of Axon Capital, an asset management firm in New York. With a focus on consumer, technology and healthcare related investments throughout her career in both public and private markets, Kori is passionate about innovative companies and brands that are moving the needle in these specific industries. She received her BA from Columbia University majoring in Economics and Philosophy. In her spare time, she can be found fishing with her husband and fellow RiseWell Co-Founder John in the North Fork of Long Island, spending time with her 2 year old son, Leo or cooking healthy recipes for her personal blog KoKoButter.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Based on where we are now, you may not have guessed that my husband, John and I have spent the last decade in finance investing for healthcare and consumer companies. Three years ago we thought about having kids which ultimately led us to founding RiseWell, a digitally-native, natural oral healthcare brand. I have a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which can make it more difficult to have kids. Early in the process, I learned I would have to go through IVF in order to have children. My doctor advised that I should focus on eliminating any products that could contain harmful ingredients for me and my growing family. We went through my apartment and threw away almost everything. You don’t realize how many chemicals are in everyday products! The one thing we struggled to replace was toothpaste, which is one of the last products people think about but one of the most important. I learned that conventional toothpaste was full of toxic chemicals like antifreeze and irritants like SLS and Triclosan (which the FDA banned in hand soap). My brother Derek (who happens to be a dentist!) told me that most natural toothpastes are as effective as water due to the fact that although they eliminate harmful ingredients and fluoride, they don’t end up replacing the active, effective ingredients with any alternatives. John and I, along with Dr. Derek brainstormed together to see if we could come up with a toothpaste that is completely non-toxic but also just as effective as conventional toothpaste. We scoured the world for the best ingredients and came across an ingredient used as the gold standard in Japanese oral care but that was all but unheard of in the United States. This ingredient, hydroxyapatite, is a natural mineral that makes up 97% of our tooth enamel and has been shown to be just as effective as fluoride at remineralizing teeth and also safe if ingested at any age. After hundreds of prototypes, RiseWell was born, along with my now 2-year-old son Leo.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
1) Take the leap — nothing great comes from living in your comfort zone. It would have been really easy for us to stay in our secure jobs in finance without risking it all to start a company. We wanted to set an example for our son that there is tremendous power in embracing uncertainty — whether it’s trying new things, meeting new people, taking calculated risks and learning how to move past fear. You can do this by taking things one step at a time, surrounding yourself with peers that challenge you, finding short-term survival strategies (ie meditation, movement, reading, cooking/baking, etc.) and learning to view uncertainty as life’s greatest teacher.
2) To start a successful business — solve a personal problem. RiseWell was created to solve a personal problem that we had and identified an opportunity in the market that wasn’t being addressed by some of the largest CPG companies. This doesn’t necessarily mean a business won’t be successful if it doesn’t solve a personal problem, but for us we had the tenacity, drive and passion to create our ideal solutions. It helped that we spent the last decade looking at companies across many sectors — identifying problems and gaps with existing products and services. Ideas are tough to find, but problems are everywhere!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Brands are relationships, people use the word “influence” or “influencers”, but it’s really about the people — the product users or ideal customers. We spent the first few years of development scouring the world for the best ingredients and coming up with the perfect formulation that was both totally safe and backed by science. It was no small feat to try to solve a problem that the global CPG companies weren’t able to tackle — and they have >90% market share and billions of dollars behind them! I wish we had started building those customer relationships even sooner, and rather than focusing so intently on packaging, products, ingredients, although all very important and key to our brand, the customers ultimately make the brand and I wish we had spent just as much time on that from the get-go as we do now. COVID has been a beautiful silver lining for our business as it’s given us the opportunity to focus on just this — prioritizing our relationships with the people that matter most — our dental partners and customers.
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 about that?
We could not have done any of this without our friends’ and family’s support. RiseWell truly is a family-run business; from my dad being our salesperson for the dental accounts, to my sisters coming to dental conferences in support of RiseWell, to my brother being our dentist in residence / co-founder, teamwork really is the dream work. My incredible brother, Dr. Derek Gatta, a prosthodontist based out of Florida, has been a huge contributor to the brand’s mission — to have the safest and most effective oral care products. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredibly supportive female-focused networks like HeyMama, Dreamers // Doers, and Women in VC, from their support on social media to their network effect and never-ending guidance throughout the journey. Success leaves clues and it’s so wonderful to surround yourself with those willing to share their key learnings from past experiences as well as share in paving a new path together.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
At RiseWell, we were trying to solve a very real problem. A 100% clean toothpaste that you didn’t have to sacrifice your oral health for. Of course, you don’t want to use chemicals, but you also don’t want your teeth to fall out either. So, we created a safer alternative for all people. It is safe for babies, kids, and adults. It is completely vegan and gluten free. We wanted to ensure that all people could use the products without worry. Your mouth is one of the most absorbent places in your body. Therefore, everything you put in your mouth should be safe enough to consume and contain food grade level ingredients. We did just that but also added that active, premium natural ingredient, hydroxyapatite, to protect your teeth!
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Food is the single most important thing you can do for your health. Eat whole foods and high-quality proteins, plus tons of water!
2. Finding ten minutes a day to meditate or just focus on breathing for a few breaths will pay off for the rest of your day. Make the time, and you’ll get back time in doing so; becoming all the more effective and present for the rest of your day.
3. Move, no matter what. Make it a habit and make it fun. Movement should be a non-negotiable, and if it’s not accessible or something you don’t enjoy, you won’t do it.
4. Get ritualistic — consistency is key! Like brushing your teeth, going for bike rides with the family in the morning, reading intentionally for 30 mins/day (social media and bad news don’t count), etc. Make small wins, every day!
5. Get in family time whenever you can and don’t beat yourself up if it’s “not enough”. Every minute counts, i.e. laughs with Leo between calls or facetime with family while walking. It’s beautiful whenever and wherever possible.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would choose to educate communities on how to productively use food as medicine. Education comes before implementation. I passionately believe that the cure to most problems has to do with what we ingest. Brushing your teeth is important for overall health as health truly does start in your mouth, but if we ate an optimal diet (which most of us do not!) then we wouldn’t even need to brush our teeth. Unfortunately, if you drink coffee/tea/wine or eat sugar in any form then you still have to brush your teeth. Instead of rushing to write a prescription when there is an underlying health problem and cause, I wish more doctors would advocate the ‘healthy food, healthy body’ connection. It’s a lot easier to take a pill, but impact from nutrient dense foods is so much greater.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1. Done is better than perfect. This is a quote to live by for all of those type-A people out there (including us!) who are prone to endlessly tweaking projects and never finishing them. This sort of paralysis can be destructive which is why done is better than perfect.
2. Starting a company is as much emotional as it is mental. It will test you, and all those intimately in your life, in unimaginable ways. Read this fantastic article about “The Struggle” from Ben Horowitz.
3. Embrace uncertainty, it’s all part of the process. I want to look back on my life and say, “Wow, what an incredible adventure!” not “I’m glad I stayed in my comfort zone,” because nothing great comes from doing what’s safe.
4. Celebrate the smallest wins, they add up and will keep you energized!
5. Balance is a myth. Entrepreneurship is like motherhood; beautifully unpredictable, wonderfully messy, and wildly worth it. You have to appreciate that the balance is actually about imbalance and cherish every moment regardless of where your attention lies.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is near and dear to my heart. I’ve had and continue to have close family members and friends struggle with paralyzing anxiety and understand the importance of empathy and compassion during these times, now more than ever. With people sheltered in their homes and away from social interaction, I worry about the long-term impacts of disconnection and dissociation. Connection and communities are key to our wellbeing as a species, and directly impacts one’s emotional and mental health. With that said and in witnessing some people’s struggle with mental health challenges first-hand, I have been saddened by how we as a country treat and demonize mental health (the label “mental illness” doesn’t help). Talking about it is as important as normalizing it overall, but beyond that where do people in need go for support without the means or resources to do so? The current accessible and effective options are incredibly limited. So, someone on Medicare for instance will go to their general physician reporting debilitating symptoms and maybe they’ll prescribe medication, but then what? No monitoring and no support for the underlying or initial cause. It’s sad to see that a country so rich in medical and technological advancements has not yet mastered how to support those struggling with huge mental and emotional hurdles. At RiseWell, we as a family and broader community will continue to stay vigilant in supporting and working towards solutions on how best to serve those impacted by mental health challenges. Together is always better, and I have no doubt we will all find a solution!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
We love interacting with our community! We are active on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Instagram @risewellco, Facebook @RiseWellCo, and LinkedIn. You may even learn a thing or two! I also have my own (mostly paleo) food blog where I share a healthy twist on classic dishes. You can see the recipes at KoKoButter.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!