More than ever before, food brands are crossing categories and boundaries to create innovative new products. A Boring Life is one such startup, combining plant-based nutrition with CBD for a functional wellness product. A Boring Life’s new line of flavored CBD nuts is thoughtfully crafted, with appealing branding and chef-created flavors. We spoke with co-founder Serafina Palandech about her previous successful ventures, intentional growth, and the challenges and opportunities of the CBD industry.
How did A Boring Life begin?
I live on a lavender farm with my family in a town called Boring, Oregon. About a year ago, I was between business ventures. My wife and I had been the co-founders of an organic chicken company called Hip Chick Farms. We had started it, scaled it quickly, and then exited. Between ventures, I found myself bored for the first time in years, and I was unnerved by that. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and decided to lean in and experience it for what it was, and discovered that it could be a great thing to be bored. These moments of quiet could spark inspiration and be a respite to modern life.
Around the same time, Jen and I had both started taking CBD for natural relief from anxiety and sleeplessness, and found that it worked. I became obsessed with learning everything about hemp. And Jen is an incredible chef who worked with Alice Waters, and the Getty Family, and she’s been a guest chef at the White House. So we know food.
We wanted to pair nutritious plant-based proteins with CBD to create a super easy and convenient way to incorporate hemp into everyday life. That was the genesis of A Boring Life.
It sounds like you’re pretty suited to the entrepreneurial life. Have you always felt that way?
Well, it definitely took me by surprise. Before starting Hip Chick Farms, I worked in nonprofit fundraising, raising millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations throughout the country, primarily in HIV/AIDS. The tools that gave me was the ability to accomplish great things with incredibly limited resources. There was no money to do anything, so we just figured it out. Then, when Hip Chick Farms ended, I asked myself if I wanted to do this all over again. And I couldn’t not! It’s 100% in me now.
Given that Hip Chick Farms was nationally distributed and grew quickly, what is it like to be back in startup mode?
We grew Hip Chick Farms from inception to 7,000 points of distribution in five years. But now, I’m doing things really differently. We’re taking the lessons of the past, and not repeating old mistakes, but still using all of the wins that we had.
The biggest win was in creating great relationships. We really put the band back together with A Boring Life! This whole team we had grown at Hip Chick Farms: myself, Jen Johnson, my sister, Anne Murray in marketing and PR, our controller, and our creative agency. One great piece of leverage is that we all know how to work together. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which helps us to move more quickly and nimbly.
The first time, I had no idea what I was doing. This time, I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I have a whole network of resources to help us to grow and an accelerator for our business.
What are some of those lessons you’ve learned and brought with you?
Hip Chicks happened at the right place at the right time. We innovated a mass-consumed item that kids love. And we had a really delicious product and interesting creation story. But we had really low gross margins, and really low turn velocity, and a frozen product is difficult to move around. So we just needed to constantly raise capital to support the growth.
This time around, I spent a lot of time thinking about what category we wanted to be in for efficiency in supply chain, freight movement, and storage. I spent a lot of time thinking about operations in formulating our brand, our brand identity and how we wanted to launch our product line. So we chose a category that was the convergence of other emerging categories: CBD, plant-based proteins, and snacks. They have high gross margins, high turn velocities, and they’re shelf stable. And secondly, I think it’s incredibly important to build a team of people who are smarter than you are. So that’s what I’m trying to do. We have an incredible team that I’m proud to be a part of.
How was the accelerator experience, and what does their $130,000 investment allow A Boring Life to do?
It allowed us to hire staff, and the majority went into filling orders and marketing efforts. It’s a cannabis-focused accelerator, so they gave us the opportunity to meet with and bring on mentors from a group of 60 available mentors.
It’s been a very rigorous curriculum. Every week is a different focus, like pro forma, but we do daily stand-ups, pitch practice multiple times a week, and they introduce us to investors which gives us the opportunity to raise additional capital. They gave me a lot of tactics I didn’t have, like Slack – I didn’t even know what that was. So I feel like I just got a 90-day mini-MBA that pushed everything forward more quickly.
Does A Boring Life identify more in the cannabis category or as a food product with CBD?
I see us as a food brand that features cannabis as a superfood. But CBD and hemp are so new, we’re at the very beginning. There are unique challenges and opportunities that are incredibly different from the natural foods industry.
The development of the regulation is so slow, and some producers seem to prefer the “forgiveness, not permission” model. How do you approach the risk?
I saw the market opportunity, and we are risk-takers, so we wanted to be one of the first to market with a strong brand identity in order to capture the opportunity. That being said, I know there is a significant amount of risk for what we’re doing. But we come from a highly regulated industry, in that we were USDA organic, so I understand good manufacturing processes and we have an FDA consultant.
We’re taking steps to mitigate the risk associated with a shifting regulatory environment. We’re very nimble, and we’re self-producing, so we can make adjustments as they present themselves. But it changes day to day. I think that the FDA will issue the regulations by the end of the summer, and I think they’ll be similar to what we’re already doing. We feel confident in our positioning today.
One thing that comes up a lot is the challenge of sourcing partners and service providers, like payment processors. How do you handle that?
One of the most shocking factors when entering the hemp/cannabis industry was my inability to secure a bank account or merchant processor, and the tax implications of the time. And not being able to post onto Facebook, not to be able to run ads. My social marketing campaigns are very different that anything we’ve done previously, because you can’t advertise. Even though we’re not a Class 1 substance, and hemp is federally legal, we still can’t advertise on Facebook.
We did secure a bank account, and larger providers are moving into the space, so we’ve recently added a significant banking partner. We were Elavon customers, and they dropped all of their hemp and CBD businesses a few months ago. So we lost merchant processing, but then we got into the Square Beta program. It’s for select CBD companies, and we’re one of them. They did diligence on us and our team, our backgrounds, and all elements of our business. We’re very rigorous in our testing, so there’s no flags there. Now, we have merchant processing for our online business.
What is your day-to-day life like?
I wake up at 5am, I care for our animals and 8-year-old, and I start working around 7. I have lots of meetings to drive investor relations, sales, and our team has a daily standup meeting for 15 minutes where we talk about what we’re doing and what obstacles are in our way. Then it goes from there. We have goals and OKRs, and right now we’re growing quickly and there’s a lot of opportunity in front of us so as we finish this accelerator, we’re looking at what opportunities to pursue and not pursue.
It’s important to keep narrow, but there are so many opportunities and it’s very exciting. The easiest thing to kill a startup is cash and access to capital. So we’re being very thoughtful about how we bring in new products. But we will certainly continue to innovate.
How do you and Jen resolve disputes about the business?
We always think the same thing. It makes it easier! And I have no opinion on a taste profile, or how she produces, or any of that. I don’t care, and I don’t want anything to do with it. And she certainly doesn’t want anything to do with my side. So we always agree on the big picture items, and then we have our separate lanes.
What kinds of tools and services do you use to run A Boring Life?
We are using HubSpot as our CRM. We use Trello for our project management tracking, and we use Slack to communicate. We don’t have an inventory tracking system, but we’re talking to some interesting startups in that space. We use desktop Quickbooks, but it’s not a good tool for inventory management.