Women In Business Q&A: Daina Trout, CEO, Health-Ade

Daina Trout

Daina Trout is the CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha, which she co-founded in 2012 alongside her husband, Justin Trout, and best friend, Vanessa Dew. Daina received her BS from Georgetown University and a Master's in Nutrition and Public Health from Tufts University, where she honed in on her philosophy that health has everything to do with one's happiness, not just the science.

Health-Ade Kombucha came from the shared desire to do something entrepreneurial while bringing REAL food back to the commercial shelf. There lay the opportunity to turn Daina's recipe for the best tasting and high-quality Kombucha into something one could buy.

Health-Ade got its start brewed in a tiny apartment closet and sold at the local LA Farmers' Market, and has quickly grown to be a nationally recognized brand that passionately supports the real food movement.

Daina's enthusiasm and drive to make a difference speaks to the importance of the company's tagline, "Follow Your Gut." When not giving her heart and soul to Health-Ade, Daina can be found spending time with her other baby, Hendriks, while sipping on some Pomegranate Kombucha.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Wow. This is a big one, because when I sit and think about it--every experience I have had, big and small, has made me the leader I am today. But I know you need an answer here that's reasonable, so I'll break it down high level the best way I can.

CHILDHOOD = THERE IS A LEADER WITHIN. I began to experience leadership in its most raw and granular form as a child. I was very active in team sports and group activities, and in these efforts I learned three things very quickly: 1) Every group needs a leader 2) most people want to follow and 3) I generally don't like to follow. My tendency was to step in headfirst, raise my hand first, and find some way to stand out first. I remember wondering--even at age 8--why so many people looked around at what everyone else was doing before they made a move. I always seemed to be the one looking back and saying--"c'mon in guys, the water's warm!" I remember this being one of the first things I liked about myself--something I identified with (THAT, and Paula Abdul, but that's a whole other story). To this day, standing out has always been my thing--it's where I'm comfortable.

EARLY ADOLESCENCE = TEST THE LEADER. By age 15, I knew I was a "natural leader" but I didn't know what to do with it. So, I tested it. I made sure to date the prep school bad ass, sneak out to hang out with the older kids the night before a big exam, or "borrow" my dad's BMW and drive it down the wrong side of the street for fun JUST to say I broke the rules and STILL got straight A's. Looking back now, though there is a lot I did that I wouldn't condone (I think I just realized I was kind of an asshole), it was an important time for me in my journey through leadership. I had to "push" it here to get comfortable with facing fears. Being an entrepreneur and leader has demanded that I put aside fear and take serious risks--the more I do this in many respects the better leader I am. I have my bad-pre-teen-self to thank for this lesson.

TEENAGER = SKILL THE LEADER. Not too much time went by for me to realize that I can't be TOO off-the-charts-crazy-risk-taker-gal if I wanted people to follow me. So my teen-age years were spent scaling back my risk-taking in exchange for a little more charm. I would call that "developing my leader," and my parents--especially my father--had SO much to do with this. My father was also a natural born leader, and he taught me that 1) the raw skill isn't enough 2) you're not as good as you think you are (yet) and 3) you have to work hard to get what you want. This acted as the "reality--check" and I knew that if I really want to be different--to make a difference--I better hunker down and work at it. I have repeat memories of my dad "sending me back to my room" for the um-teenth time to redo the essay and make it even better. I hated it then, but I know now that he was teaching me what I needed to learn: Work hard, work harder. Without question, this has been an invaluable lesson I have taken with me into entrepreneurship and leadership, where I have had to work the hardest I could imagine.

YOUNG ADULT = RE-FIND THE LEADER. I got so good at working hard, that I forgot to take risks. I found myself as a small fish in a large corporate pond, backed by not one but 3 post-graduate degrees, approaching my 30's "following the leader" and asking myself--how did I get here? Let's just say there was a strong voice within and I had to start listening to her again. I basically had to re-learn lessons 1-3 but in the context of my 30's. Same lessons, different teachers. It was important that I re-learn these lessons. It taught me that life is not a dress rehearsal and that you have to change if you want to see change, else expect to be stuck in the same class. So, at age 30+1 day, I made a BIG change.

PAST 5 YEARS = BE THE LEADER. On March 25, 2012, I went against the advice of every soul I knew, quit my job, and started a company with my boyfriend and best friend. We started brewing kombucha in my closet, and soon my entire apartment became a full-on brewery--we didn't have space to live, let alone breathe. Neighbors complained. Meetings had to take place in our Honda Civic, which doubled as a delivery vehicle. Though it was really really hard, I had the most exciting position my entire life prepared me for: CEO of my very own business. And it's in THIS role that I learn every day both 1) how to be a better leader and 2) how far I still have to go. It's like falling off a horse a thousand times a day and having to get back on the horse a thousand times a day. I now find myself leading soon-to-be 60 people across 12 states and running a real multi-million dollar business that is the fastest growing kombucha company in the world. I'm incredibly grateful that I get the chance to be this leader, and I will never take this for granted. I know with every cell in my body that this is the role I was meant to be in since that very first day I realized...I was always a leader. I just had to step into her.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Health-Ade?
Before Health-Ade, I was moving up the corporate ladder at the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world (ironic, considering I am now a die-hard holistic nutritionist and have to be a step away from dying to take a Tylenol). Every position I had in this company has developed me to be CEO of Health-Ade. I started in sales, and that taught me the very important lesson of how to sell (remember our company SELLS kombucha). I moved onto management, and I learned there how important key performance metrics are (aka incentives) AND began to learn how to manage people (I say began because this has been an ongoing life-long lesson). I finished up there in a really cool role, and I think the role that most impacted me: Change Agent. I was charged with improving the engagement of our employees in a region, and it was in this role that I wound up getting trained as an "executive coach." I had the rare opportunity to learn from other leaders what worked, and more importantly, what didn't work. I still rely heavily on the lessons I learned there.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Health-Ade?
Highlights (chronologically): Selling our first bottle (I still have that $10 bill), moving to our first commercial brewery from our apartment closet, getting investment, hiring our first employees, moving to our second commercial brewery (this time with REAL machinery), entering Whole Foods Market, launching NYC (and the East Coast in general), hitting $1MM per month in sales, hiring our 30th employee (I don't know why, but that was a big number for me), breaking ground on our soon-to-be-ready 50K SF brewery, getting a chance to pitch our humble story to Huffington Post (☺). Challenges? Oh boy. Everything has been a challenge. First, the challenge was scaling our kombucha without compromising quality--we knew how to make it at home, but how do we make thousands of gallons (and now hundreds of thousands) and still make it the best tasting and highest quality kombucha you can buy. Next, it was how do we sell more of our product? This meant hiring the right people and building a strong plan. Following that--so we've built a great product--how do we build a great company? I'm still figuring that one out, but we're on the right track.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
My advice to women who want to start their own business is follow these 5 rules: 1) Make sure you (and everyone else) know why the product or service you're selling is different; 2) Don't worry if everyone thinks you're crazy, be confident and keep going; 3) work as hard and as smart as you can muster; 4) ALWAYS improve and change what you're doing. Evolve constantly. Don't get stuck. And 5) (what I'm working on now) REALLY truly understand why you're here and the reason your product/service exists. I'm not talking about the WHAT (The best tasting and highest quality kombucha you can buy) I'm talking about the WHY (To inspire others to FOLLOW THEIR GUT!)

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Don't. Get. Stuck. Keep. On. Going.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
What's that? No, I'm kidding. Of course I have to be kidding because I'm a new mom of a gorgeous and amazing little 5-month-old boy AND I am married to my business partner. I'm not saying I'm super woman, but I still feel good about the job I'm doing as a CEO, mom, and wife. Here's how I do it--and I always have to reset myself here when things get out of balance: BE PRESENT. When you're eating, be present and be just with yourself. Take a moment to enjoy the tastes, the smells. Dare to enjoy. When you're with your son, even if it's just from 6-7 before he goes to bed, be only with him. Give him all the attention you can muster. That hour will feel like 3. When you're with your husband, be with your husband. Don't talk about work. Talk about what you love about him, what you have in common. And you HAVE to schedule time for yourself. I get a massage every week. Of course, you have to eat right and exercise. Manage your expectations here--you can't be perfect at everything. Just do the best you can with what you have.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
100% confidence. I see it time and time again, that women hold themselves back. They are smart enough, they have the capabilities. They just don't believe in themselves as much as men. And that holds them back.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I rely on coaching to do my job right. I pay an executive coach monthly to guide me, and I reach out to my two mentors at least weekly---both high up execs in big companies. Their input helps me make the right decisions--I don't always DO what they say, but what they say somehow helps me come to a decision.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I love Oprah. She inspires every day. She started an empire from scratch.

What do you want Health-Ade to accomplish in the next year?
Our vision for this year is to be the best-run kombucha company in the world. We are focused so much on internal systems in 2016 because we've run out of space in our current brewery and, until our new space opens up in the Summer, we can't make any more kombucha. So, we're taking advantage of this "time" to implement new systems and get prepared for MAJOR growth in the second half of the year (and 2017). We all want to build an awesome company. Besides that, I have a very big challenge on my plate, which I described at the end of question #4: the WHY behind Health-Ade. Everything we do is to inspire people to trust their mind, body and gut--for a happy and healthy life...how do I get the customer to immediately connect Health-Ade with the promise of FOLLOW YOUR GUT? That's the billion-dollar question I intend to answer this year.