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Big interview: Scott Lerner, founder and CEO Solixir

Solixir CEO: The secret to a successful start-up, slapping consumers in the face, and the rule of six…

By Elaine WATSON , 18-Jan-2013
Last updated on 18-Jan-2013 at 15:05 GMT

Lerner: 'A growing proportion of the population is migrating to products that are less sweet'
Lerner: 'A growing proportion of the population is migrating to products that are less sweet'

If you’ve trudged around any industry trade shows recently, you’ve probably seen your fair share of prototype product concepts targeting the key ‘need states’ created by ‘modern life’: Wake up! (in energizing oranges and reds), Focus! (in royal purple), Rejuvenate! (in earthy greens), Relax! (in calming blue)…

What makes Solixir unusual is that while it neatly mirrors these concepts - its products are called ‘awaken’, ‘think’, ‘restore’ and ‘relax’ - the formulations are far from predictable.

The brainchild of former Pepsi executive Scott Lerner, who drew heavily on the skills of world-renowned herbalist Amanda McQuade Crawford PhD and dietitian Susan Kleiner PhD, Solixir contains a serious dose of 1,400mg of standardized active botanicals in every 12oz can, no added sugars, no sweeteners (artificial or natural), no preservatives, and no acidulants.

A growing proportion of the population is migrating to products that are less sweet

The products, which are marketed as dietary supplements - although the word ‘drink’ features on the front of the can - are typically sold for $1.99 to $2.29.

Awaken, the energy offering of the group, contains Yerba Maté Leaves (which contain 30mg caffeine), Asian Ginseng Root, Wood Betony Leaves, Angelica Root, Turmeric Root, Ginger Root, Cinnamon Bark, Nutmeg Seed, carbonated water, white grape juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate and natural flavors.

It has 55 calories and is designed to keep you awake, rather than give you a mega dose of sugar and caffeine that will have a stimulant effect, says Lerner, who scored a slam dunk in the start-up stakes after securing nationwide listings for Solixir at Whole Foods Market within a year of launch.

“We could have just gone to a flavor house and asked them to spit out a ready-made energy formulation. But I didn’t want to go down that route”, adds Lerner, who was senior brand manager for Naked Juice at Pepsi before he set out on his own.

The products are not as sweet as soda - deliberately so - says Lerner: “A growing proportion of the population is migrating to products that are less sweet, although some people are still shocked when they first try our products!”

We realized that people didn’t know about the herbs as much as I had thought

So what’s the secret to his success? And what advice would he give to other budding entrepreneurs looking to stand out from the crowd?

First, build a compelling proposition and know your target consumer, says Lerner, who recently changed Solixir’s packaging to move from using botanicals-focused imagery to a cleaner, more modern look.

“The formulation hasn’t changed, but based on feedback, we realized that people didn’t know about the herbs as much as I had thought, so we changed the way we presented the brand.”

The rule of six…

Solixir is available in Whole Foods Market stores across the country

Next, secure enough funding to support your brand - with which you’ll have to “slap consumers in the face” if you want to gain their attention - he says.

Like most entrepreneurs, Lerner started by tapping friends and family for cash, before approaching angel investors and more sophisticated investors. But if there’s one thing he has learned, it’s “the rule of six”, he adds.

If you think you’ll need one million, or whatever the amount, you’ll actually need more like six times that.”

So has he made a profit yet?

No. But he will, says Lerner, who acknowledges that while Solixir is "never going to be as big as Coke or Pepsi", it nevertheless sits within a category of natural functional products that could easily comprise a decent chunk of the market.

While Solixir is currently listed in Whole Foods Market, Vitamin Shoppe, Walgreens and scores of independent retailers and c-stores, it could also work well in a broader range of outlets, from natural vending machines, libraries and workplaces to more mass market grocery stores, he predicts.

As for geography, nowhere is really off limits, he says.

“Of course there are going to be more customers for this type of product in LA, but I am convinced that there are also people in Toledo, and all over the Midwest, that are looking for something that is natural and efficacious.”

Click here to read more about Solixir.

Click here to read Lerner’s blog.

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