Wake up and smell the (mushroom) coffee! After countless frazzled mornings spent downing anything caffeinated to keep awake during early-morning lectures and late-night study-sessions, Andree Werner was only left feeling more anxious, stressed and exhausted. Then she learned about the power of medicinal mushrooms, and her energy was transformed! After experimenting with different blends and mixes Andree, who founded RYZE Superfoods alongside Rashad Hossain, was inspired to share her new-found superfood concoction with the world!

Andree gives Foodboro the lowdown on her background, what inspired the company, beverage trends, how they manage production and distribution, plus her daily habits and some startup inspiration.

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What was the inspiration for RYZE?

The idea for RYZE sparked years ago when Rashad and I were both in college together. We were stressed, and not treating our bodies right. Coffee and caffeine fueled us. As this habit continued post-grad, our mornings were as good as gone. We’d wake up feeling tired and generally unexcited. 

As we started thinking about how to turn this feeling around a few years ago, we stumbled on medicinal mushrooms. They’re these natural treasure chests of healing benefits and they WORK! We started using them daily, mixing them into coffee and experimenting endlessly, making something that made us feel both focused without being jittery, didn’t disrupt our sleep or stomachs, and gave us plenty of energy without a caffeine crash. 

After months of experimentation and admittedly many failed mixtures, we landed on this perfect RYZE blend that has transformed our morning ritual and those of our customers too. In a nutshell, the RYZE mission is really very simple: we want to help you feel amazing every single day. That starts with how you fuel yourself first thing in the morning, and it’s the reason RYZE came to be.

What is your entrepreneurial background?

I moved to NYC for grad school in 2016. It was expensive and I had to figure out a way to support big city life as a full-time student fast or else I was going to be in trouble. I started a tutoring business from my living room. Every day after my courses finished up, I’d rush to catch the after-school crowd and was able to service dozens of NYC families and grew it into a 6-figure business. It’s still going (online of course now) and still helps support RYZE. 

Rashad had a startup in college around journaling and mental health. One of my favorite stories about him is how the entrepreneurial bug finally bit him hard. After college he spent 3 grueling years doing the corporate thing at Kraft Heinz, and hated every moment of it. He had always wanted to do something entrepreneurial and finally in March 2019, while at SXSW in Austin, he emailed his boss and told him he was quitting. That week, spent networking with amazing founders and thought leaders, told him everything he needed to know. If he didn’t take his shot at entrepreneurship he would always regret not taking the chance. So when he got home from that trip, it was finally time for RYZE. 

What were the early days of business like? When did you start?

We launched at an interesting time, March 2020. It was challenging to say the least. But we took it as a blessing in disguise. Launching a business at this unprecedented time forced us to get very scrappy and smart with how we allocated budget and resources. 

How is your product differentiated from other mushroom-based coffee products?

To start, we have more mushrooms in our one blend than any other mushroom coffee brand out there on the market. That’s huge because each mushroom offers unique and valuable benefits. Some of the ones we’re able to offer in particular (like Turkey Tail and King Trumpet) are very hard to find and we’re proud to be able to deliver such high quality in a single cup of coffee. We also include MCT, every bulletproof lover’s favorite. On top of that, the MCT adds a rich taste and creamy texture while helping you metabolize the caffeine slower. For this reason, it’s a very helpful addition to the mushrooms to counterbalance any adverse effects of caffeine. 

Bigger picture than those product differentiations though, we understand how mushrooms and all adaptogens actually help our bodies, and this directly affects how we build our brand. While other companies market mushrooms and other superfoods as a trendy alternative to try, this misses the point of what they do and how they work. They are not a quick fix; they need to work with your body over time to help you adapt to stress, and therefore require repeated, daily use for maximum effect. RYZE messages directly to the purpose of a healthy daily ritual for curative value and longevity, consistent with the ingredients our blend is made of.

Are you sold exclusively online? Any retailers in the future?

We’re only online now through our website. We’re looking to move to Amazon as well. Definitely retail will be in our future, not for a few years, but we have eyes on that down the road. 

Where do you source your ingredients? What does production look like?

We source all our ingredients sustainably here in the US. Our production facility is in California. Our mushrooms are 100% organic, low-grown, full-spectrum fruiting bodies. This allows us to extract the maximum benefits from the whole mushroom’s life cycle. 

How do you manage warehousing and distribution?

We work with a co-packer in CA and our warehouse is in TX. This has allowed us to scale up and meet the growing demand right out of the gate. 

What are your core values as an emerging beverage brand?

Provide good quality at all costs, and deliver an amazing customer experience. On the first point, these ingredients are expensive and a lot of brands skimp out, don’t pick the best sourced or quality ingredients, but package it up so it looks pretty and hope that alone will sell it. That leads into the second point. A brand is about so much more than good branding, something a lot of ecom (especially millennial focused) brands forget these days. We work so hard on making an amazing customer experience. There’s nothing worse than a brand that looks great but has a crummy experience. So we put a ton of effort into this piece of it because it’s every bit as important if not more. 

How did you grow your Instagram following to the # you have?

We started our Instagram long before we launched with product. It was important to us to start building a community from the very beginning. We saw this as a way to communicate with customers and future customers authentically. At this point, I’m not even joking when I say we have hundreds of individual communications daily on our platform with our followers and people who are interested in trying us out. I think this personal touch really stands out for people and they don’t forget it. 

How big is your team? How do you ensure those you work with are authentic and on-brand?

We are 2 employees strong but we have an amazing community of customers and like-minded people that have believed in us from the start, and have helped spread the word organically. They are an unimaginably important piece of this puzzle.

Have you worked with social media influencers? What is your experience with this?

We have! They’ve been a great resource for us and they’re always very curious about the health benefits of medicinal mushrooms. That’s been nice to see. It’s a little tough because we do not have budget for paid partnerships (this limits the reach of some of the people we can access). Product exchanges also force us to give away a lot of valuable product for free so we have started an affiliate program which we’ve seen nice success with so far. 

As a founder, what do you do to “turn off” the daily grind?

Exercise. Every day, before the sun rises, I’m doing a workout to get my day started. Hands down it is THE thing keeps me sane – it is bigger for me mentally than anything else. 

What has been your proudest moment thus far?

The first month that we were profitable felt really good but there’s so much further to go and we’re only looking ahead. I will say, I’m proud of our hustle and how committed we are to do anything to build this business together. Starting and building RYZE has truly helped both of us evolve as people more than anything else.

What advice do you have for other early-stage food and beverage entrepreneurs?

  1. Save money everywhere you can. You’ll need it. 
  2. Never hire an agency
  3. Keep a journal/diary
  4. Don’t be afraid, shy, or too proud to ask anyone for help
  5. Make a habit of starting your day at 6am

Just go for it. Don’t let doubt creep in before it’s too late. You can learn what you don’t know, and I bet you know more than you think. There will always be people out there ready to doubt you, keep going.  If you truly believe in what you’re doing, you’ll find your voice and community. Some people won’t get it but they’re not meant to – no brand can be for everybody because then it’s not for anybody. Making it work is in your hands.

Just go for it.

Any line extensions in the future?

Yes! They’re secret for now but…we did just launch something available to RYZE customers only that we’re very excited about. A text-based gratitude journal to round out your perfect morning ritual. We have practiced gratitude as part of our morning ritual for years. It has made us better and happier people. We were always frustrated with all the complicated apps and paper journal-writing rarely happened for us. We’ve built a simple text-based journal where you receive one gratitude prompt daily by text and your responses get saved to a secure online journal that you can access at any time.

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

Since we launched in March this year, RYZE has only known life in the time of COVID. It has brought its challenges but I think it has made a lot of consumers more invested in their health in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s very fitting timing because RYZE is not just about drinking something healthy once in a while or experimenting to upgrade your immune system. It’s about changing your life and becoming the person you want to be. Train your body to do good things and the mind will follow. We are here every step of the way. 

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