"Don’t Trust The Sizzle Reels, Trust Your Gut!" 5 Startup Strategies With Serene And Pearl, Of Trim Healthy Mama
I had the pleasure to interview the entrepreneurial duo, sisters Serene and Pearl, of Trim Healthy Mama. Serene & Pearl have 16+ kids between them and one on the way. They build their brand out of the needs they saw for their own family's health. Trim Healthy Mama is quickly becoming a household name around the country. From launching the brand from their kitchens in 2013 (with no advertising or marketing $ spent) Serene & Pearl have since released three books (all of which are NY Times, Amazon and Barnes & Noble Bestsellers) sold over 3.5 MILLION products (THM has beauty products, health tips, food ingredients/cooking products, sweetener solutions, skin care, etc.) launched their quarterly E-zine and opened their first retail brick and mortar store. Their latest venture, “TrimHealthy Podcast” premiered in 2017 garnering over 1 MILLION downloads in just 6 months. Serene & Pearl are not just authors, but life influencers & their patented Trim Healthy Mama brand is truly changing lives!
What is your backstory?
Pearl - Funny thing… we never set out to start a brand, it wasn’t even in our brain space. But, we knew there was a huge need, that there were others who felt like us. We were completely done with all the diet advice out there. We’d read all the diet books and listened to all the latest gurus. They all told us to kick out food groups…don’t eat carbs, or cut your fats, or don’t eat meat, or of course… don’t eat too many calories.
Serene – I’d even spent seven years as a staunch raw foodist… I mean, I’d read that veganism wasn’t really enough… after ten years of veganism (no meat or dairy), I was convinced that eating only raw foods was the optimum diet to be on. In the end, I was depleted and run down, and my family was sick of me trying to pass off dehydrated carrot pulp as pizza crust! They wanted normal food! Pearl and I both were just so sick and tired of it all being so hard and pretty much all of the diets we’d been on were far from family friendly. We knew it wasn’t just us who were done with all the diet craziness… so were our friends, so were most of the women we talked to. We as women can put on a happy face but so many of us have a deep desperate longing for a way to be trim and healthy without all the usual awfulness that goes hand in hand with that.
Pearl - So when we developed this way of eating… that embraces all food groups rather than fears them... that focuses on the “healthy” just as much as the trim, that is something the whole family can do together… we knew it would meet a deep longing that so many other women had. They wanted yummy food and a sustainable way of eating that could trim them down but wasn’t a brutal diet sprint that they couldn’t wait to be done with too. We started with a self-published book because we had this gut feeling that a bunch of other women felt the same way. Until that book took on a life of its own, we had no idea just how many! So, the brand was a complete afterthought to the need. It was just a natural extension.
How exactly does your company help people?
Serene - Our natural, blood sugar friendly sweetener line is what we started with and it continues to go gangbusters. Women want sweet food and there should be absolutely no shame in that. We were born with more sweet receptors on our tongue than any other taste sensation. Breast milk is quite sweet so that desire for sweet food stays with us. Sure, it gets warped by too much sugar consumption but the original inclination is pure and good. So, on our eating plan we eat chocolate cake for breakfast if we feel like it. If that cake does not spike your blood sugar, is full of super foods and choc with protein and actually slims you down… why the heck not, right? We sourced the best tasting stevia in the world… no literally… stevia can taste nasty for sure… we needed it to taste amazing. I sent my husband off to the Orient where stevia is grown to find the absolute best. We must have sampled thousands of stevia extracts. We “knew” when we found the one. It was that same gut feeling again. If we loved it… we knew other women would too.
Pearl - We also created a Baking Blend that is a constant in the cupboards of our Mama community. So many of us women get great delight from baking beautiful cakes, cookies and muffins so once again the need was there. Sugar is not the only problem with cake, white flour is crazy fattening and amazingly tough on blood sugar! Replace the sugar and the flour with healthy items and you’ve taken out the fattening, unhealthy components to baked goods. Nothing wrong with the rest of the ingredients like eggs, etc. There are many low carb and gluten free flours out there these days but so many gluten free products are still cruel to blood sugar. They might not contain gluten but ingredients like rice flour or tapioca starch are not really blood sugar friendly. On the other end of the spectrum, there are low carb baking flours out there but they rely heavily on nut flours like almond flour. Nothing wrong with almonds but grind them up and use cupful’s in a cake… it is like pouring hundreds of almonds down your throat… too heavy. So, our baking blend is both easy on blood sugar and light on almonds. What women doesn’t want to savor moist fluffy cake and slim down? It’s all a win, win.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? Maybe something you didn’t expect.
Pearl – Several months after we launched our first self-published book, “Trim Healthy Mama,” we received a phone call congratulating us on being a New York Times Bestsellers.
Serene – But we were like, “What?” We had no idea! We didn’t even know how you get a book on the NYT list! We had spent not one cent on advertising, had no budget whatsoever, had all sorts of spelling mistakes in the book, yet Mamas continued to buy it and kept telling their friends to buy it. We’re still not sure how it all happened. One of those change your life miracles you only read about… yet it happened.
What do you think makes your company stand out? What do you have that they don’t?
Serene - We include rather than exclude. Most diets drop pregnant women like hot potatoes. They say…“Umm… see you after you’re done with pregnancy and nursing.” Trim Healthy Mama says…”Hey come on in.” THM is wonderful for these seasons since we include all food groups and don’t lower calories. Many women actually start their THM journeys while pregnant then just keep going! I think another reason for the success is because it is not just for a certain type either. If you are the Purist type like I am, and want to sprout and ferment your food, use all super food ingredients and cook from scratch… awesome. Let’s do this together!
Pearl – But if you’re not…if you’re like me, and can’t stand the thought of spending too much time in the kitchen, then Drive Thru Sue’s unite! I think the majority of our audience is in this camp although Serene believes it is the other way around…LOL. We include women of all types, from those who are experts in the kitchen to those who can barely boil water. But, THM is not just for women, it’s for men and children too.
And, continuing Serene’s thought on inclusion rather than exclusion…. most diets are kicking something out. We’re not…well, we are helping people break from the bondage of sugar but we include all food groups. Carbs are in… fats are in… calories are not feared… meat is A-Okay, dairy is not shunned. People are so tired of hearing everything being called “bad.” Foods like coffee, butter, even wine (in moderation). How can they be suddenly bad when they’ve been consumed for thousands of years? Nah… we don’t buy it. We’re not doctors but common sense says all that “bad” labeling is craziness. Unless someone has an allergy or sensitivity to these foods, they’re all on plan. Each person can do this plan uniquely and make it their own. This is why it has worked for so many hundreds of thousands. THM allows you to finally being able to sit in the driver’s seat and say… hey I can actually do this… and do it how I want to do it.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Obviously, as sisters, you have each other, but is there a particular person /mentor who each of you are grateful towards that helped inspire you to create this company? How did you find that person?
Pearl – Our husbands for sure. Well, Serene can speak for hers but my husband Charlie was there, packaging and sending out books from our living room when the orders first started coming in for our first self-published book. He’d come home from his job and we’d both be labeling addresses on book packages until late hours every night. Pretty soon, we got so many orders; he couldn’t keep up so we had our teenage daughter helping. Still, we couldn’t keep up so my husband had to leave his job and began the awesome career (LOL) of labelling and sending out our books full time. He’d load up the car until it was bursting each morning and head to our local post office where they’d be waiting on him. Those post office ladies loved being part of such an amazing adventure. But, leaving his job was such a huge step for Charlie… he worried this would all stop any day, he’d be out of work, and we’d lose our home. But, THM only continued to grow. We have not had one day of stop yet.
Now, he oversees the finances for our company…no more address labeling. His career background was never in finance but he cared more than anyone else we could hire and he has this awesome instinctual nature of “sensible.” He knew if we grew too fast, we could crash and burn. He was also determined to keep us debt free. We poured every cent we made back into the company. We didn’t borrow money but paid for everything from our profits. There was a bunch of money coming in but we all lived poor for the almost the first three years and kept it in the business. It has been this wise, conservative approach that’s kept our young company alive and thriving.
Serene – When our original book was released, my husband Sam was working overseas in Kuwait. He couldn’t find work where we live so he was often gone which was super tough on our large family. When he got home, Pearl’s husband was like… we need you full-time here doing this THM thing with us. People are asking us for our own products!
This is when I sent him back overseas to find the ultimate stevia. He flew off to China not knowing one word of the language and not knowing one person there. He’d had no background in food sourcing. We all look back and laugh about it now as he calls it his “trip of silence” since he couldn’t talk to anyone. But, it was during that trip that he somehow found this beautiful, all organic area of China where farmers have farmed the stevia fields there in the same way for hundreds of years. They don’t even use tractors… it is all by hand. He talked to them through a language app and an amazing relationship was cemented. He goes back there every year now and we got to go last year to meet these beautiful people who farm the land. Since then, Sam has overseen the sourcing of all of our products. He’s a dreamer by nature and if someone tells him something can’t be done, it’s just more motivation for him to go do it. Our husbands are the reason we have a running business at all. Pearl and I are the content creators and steer the direction of the THM ship but our husbands make the realities happen.
How do you use your success to bring goodness to the world?
Serene - We feel like this whole opportunity has beyond blessed our families. We remember what it was like to have nothing… to struggle. So, as needs have come up from others struggling like we used to, we have done our best to meet them… but we’ve done it privately. In the last year though, we’ve realized we wanted to establish a public way to give back. We recently started the Butterfly Institute, which is now the official Trim Healthy Mama charity. It is there for people who don’t have the funds or the means to get the help they need to become healthy.
Pearl - Another thing we’ve tried to do is to hire to help. We have given jobs to so many old friends, to tons of family members and to those in our rural community who are seeking work and want better things for themselves and their families. This has been amazing and so rewarding to watch!
What are your "5 things you wish someone told you before you launched your company and why?
1.Don’t trust the sizzle reels, trust your gut! – As our business grew, we got a lot of phone calls from companies telling us we needed them to oversee the growth of our business. At first, we believed this to be true because none of us had experience growing a company with such an enthusiastic customer base. We’d sit there in meetings and watch their sizzle reels and all the mumbo jumbo about early adopters and time lines and what we should and shouldn’t do. We gave them money to help us, but in the end… we let them all go. We had to trust our own gut…we knew our audience better than any outsider with a chart. Not to say these companies are not beneficial to other starters, but they only caused us to second-guess ourselves, which in our case was not a good thing.
2.The sun will still rise! We had so many growing pains early on with demand for our products being bigger than we could supply. We had fulfillment issues, shipping issues, website issues, crashing servers (repeatedly due to high traffic)… you name it. Yes, this was all stressful but we realized our audience was very forgiving and loved being part of the growing process with us, so long as we communicated with them what we were going through. They were so understanding and forgave us for many mistakes we made. There will always be up’s and downs and extreme challenges with any growing company. We had to learn to not take that stress to sleep with us and just let it go. The sun will still rise in the morning became our mantra!
3.Don’t rush it… get it right! Many of our products have taken us so much longer to launch than we had hoped. Some a full year or two later. But, we came to learn that any product we rushed out did not have the same connection. Better to get it exactly right….to work on it until your gut knows it’s ready. Even if your audience thinks you can’t get your act together and give them the products they want…don’t push it out there until it is just right. First impressions and response are everything as our community is very vocal and they tell each other what they think of our products. Their initial response drives popularity of an item.
4.There will be look a likes… don’t hate em! Yes, you have protect your brand but making enemies is not worth it. The blogging world has been both fantastic and scary for us as a company. Bloggers have promoted the THM lifestyle, but to our surprise (at first), many have written their own books around our plan. At first, this freaked us out. We had to hire a legal team to ensure our branding stayed protected but then it kept happening so we realized we could either make a bunch of enemies or all work together. These authors are doing good… they’re promoting a healthy lifestyle even if it is based on something we created. We don’t fight the bloggers who want to write their own books around our plan anymore. We have learned to work with them. We have smart boundaries in place for protection, but we’ve figured out how to all get along (well…mostly).
5.Just cause they say it… doesn’t mean it’s true! Our first self-published book was way too long (almost 700 pages), way too expensive (we valued it at $35) and way too rambling. That’s what people (and experts) told us before we released it. We pretty much believed them but thought what the heck…let’s just put it out there. Probably won’t sell, but if that’s the case, we can give some copies away. But all the “way too’s” didn’t matter in the end. The message connected and that is all that mattered. When it came time to launch our products, same thing happened. We hired a consultant who told us unless we bundled a bunch of products together, we’d never be successful. He also told us you could never make money with the type of quality products we were sourcing… not enough mark up on them. Well, we did it anyway… no bundling…we launched one at a time… and only the highest quality we could find. It has been a wild success for us.