The Taste of Sweet Success
Episode 74
October 5, 2021

The Taste of Sweet Success

with Mayssa Chehata, Founder and CEO of Behave

Mayssa Chehata is the Founder and CEO of Behave and is reinventing the candy experience with low sugar, low net carb sweets featuring elevated flavors and all-natural ingredients that let you feel good about indulging. In this episode, Mayssa shares with us her journey from growing up in Virginia, to working in marketing at Uber, to running business development at Daily Harvest and SoulCycle, to finally launching her own company, Behave. We talk about imposter syndrome, the importance of having a positive mindset, how she partnered with a pastry chef, and how sometimes things that go wrong are just great blessings in disguise.

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this episode sponsored by

In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • What her childhood was like and how she has always been a leader and had many interests and passions from an early age
  • What changed her focus from International Relations and Economics and perhaps leading to work in the State Department to working in marketing at the NFL instead and what she learned during her time there
  • What profound takeaways Mayssa gained during her time at Uber, Daily Harvest, and SoulCycle and how they have helped her today as a Founder/CEO
  • Why the idea for Behave came to her, what started her on the path to dig deeper into the idea, and what the first steps were
  • Why Mayssa was frustrated with the traditional R & D approach to product development and had the genius idea of finding a pastry chef to help her
  • What fundraising was like for her and what advice she passionately offers to those who are looking to build a business and raise funds
  • What lessons she has learned as a leader that have helped her enjoy her role and breathe life into her team as they continue to grow
  • Why Mayssa believes that even the hardest challenges can lead to good things that help the company in the long run and what advice she has for other Founders

To Find Out More:

EatBehave.com

Quotes:

“Trying to do things that were more entrepreneurial and really owning projects and owning initiatives from start to finish, built a solid foundation for what it was going to look like to have an idea out of nowhere and turn that into a business and launch that business.”

“You're pitching the partnership, but you're also pitching the business.”

“I think in a partnerships role or a business development role, you almost have to take on that external speakerphone for the company in a lot of ways.”

“Through all my experiences and through having built my career in a business development and partnerships function, for the most part, I've always felt that actually most business gets done just through friendship.”

“My philosophy is that you will get so much more done by people liking you than by paying them or feeling like you have something to offer them.”

“I knew that if we were going to do healthier, better-for-you candy, it was still going to have to taste amazing. When people reach for candy, it is an indulgence. It’s a moment of fun and joy, and I just knew that compromising on taste wasn't going to be an option.”

“You have to go into it believing that you're going to raise the money. Actually, a lot of fundraising for me was shifting my own mindset.”

“It's so easy to get trapped in this whole, very confusing web of what am I supposed to be doing? And I think the sooner that you can surrender and just say whatever feels right to me is what's going to be right for the business... And now I feel so happy that I was able to kind of let go of a lot of those shoulds.”

“You have to also acknowledge that every other business that looks like it was built in a perfect Excel spreadsheet straight out of Harvard Business School was probably also a burning dumpster fire on the inside. You just don't see that.”

“Just having people that are in the boat with you... I wouldn't have been able to get this far without that network and that support system.”

Lee: [00:00:03] Welcome to episode 74 of the Stairway to CEO podcast. I'm your host, Lee Green, and today I spoke with Mayssa Chehata, the Founder and CEO of Behave. Behave is reinventing the candy experience with low sugar, low net carb sweets featuring elevated flavors and all natural ingredients that let you feel good about indulging. In this episode, Mayssa shares with us her journey from growing up in Virginia, to working in marketing at Uber, to running business development at Daily Harvest and SoulCycle, to finally launching her own company, Behave. We talk about imposter syndrome, the importance of having a positive mindset, how she partnered with a pastry chef, and how sometimes things that go wrong are just great blessings in disguise. If you like what you're hearing on the Stairway to CEO podcast, don't forget to click subscribe. Or text me at 310.510.6044. That's 310.510.6044 To get special discounts from some of your favorite brands or even win free products. Yes, that's right. I might give you some free, amazing product, so shoot me a text. Tell me your favorite brand, or just say, Hi. I'm so excited to hear from you, and I hope you enjoyed this episode.

Lee: [00:02:11] Hello, Mayssa. Thank you so much for being on the show today. I'm super excited to hear your story in building Behave. Thanks for joining us.

Mayssa: [00:02:19] Thank you so much for having me.

Lee: [00:02:21] And I'll say your name again because I feel like I said it funny. It's Mayssa, right?

Mayssa: [00:02:27] Yeah. You said it.

Lee: [00:02:28] Ok, so let's start from the very beginning. Where are you from originally?

Mayssa: [00:02:33] I grew up in the DC area in northern Virginia.

Lee: [00:02:36] Great. Did you have siblings or what was childhood like growing up?

Mayssa: [00:02:39] I had a younger sister and childhood was, I think, I hate to say it, but just very typical suburbia. And I think growing up, I always felt very eager to kind of like break out of the suburbs. But looking back on it, it's obviously just like a great childhood. I have great friends. I've played a ton of sports, but definitely that very typical American suburban experience, I think.

Lee: [00:03:04] And eager to get out into the big world. I was the same, grew up in Delaware and couldn't wait to get out. But it was a great childhood. You know, suburban life is good. So what did you want to be when you grew up? When you were little, what was the big dream?

Mayssa: [00:03:23] Oh, great question. I honestly, I have always just cycled through dreams and cycled through just kind of what I see for myself. I think even as an adult, I'm very much still figuring it out.

Lee: [00:03:37] Yeah.

Mayssa: [00:03:38] So I was all over the map. It's not like I had one thing growing up that I really wanted to do. I know at one point it was like fashion designer. At one point it was doctor, lawyer. Like, I think I kind of filtered through everything and I just always had a lot of energy and I would get really excited about something and then I would just like, dig into it, but then also very easily distracted.

Lee: [00:04:01] Are you an Aries? I feel like we're very similar in that way.

Mayssa: [00:04:06] I'm a Sagittarius. So, yeah, maybe that can't hold me down. Can't pick one career path type energy,

Lee: [00:04:16] Is that a fire sign?

Mayssa: [00:04:18] Fire sign.

Lee: [00:04:18] That's what it is. You know, I'm very I'm fiery like that, too. I get fired up about stuff.

Mayssa: [00:04:24] Yeah, yeah. Same ever since I was a kid, for sure.

Lee: [00:04:28] That's funny. So things change. Yeah, I totally agree with you. Dreams change all the time. I feel like it changes with me still, too. So were you entrepreneurial as a kid? Did you have a lemonade stand? Were you trying to sell stuff to your classmates? Do you have any kind of entrepreneurial stories from back then?

Mayssa: [00:04:49] Yeah, you know, I think definitely some like entrepreneurial things, whether it was like doing a yard sale or I don't think I ever had a lemonade stand per se, but honestly, like less that I wouldn't say I was like out here making money as a kid. But I was always like putting things together, like whether it was I feel like there's like TikTok memes about this now... When you're a kid and you are at dinner at a family friend's house and you're like, "Let's organize a talent show for our parents," or like, "Let's organize a fashion show," and just like always kind of rallying the whole crew. And then just the other piece that I always just kind of look back and laugh at myself for is I always was hoarding money as a kid. So if my parents gave me, if I was going to the school basketball game, my parents gave me five dollars to get like a soda and a slice of pizza while I was at the game. I would buy like a bag of chips instead of a slice of pizza, so I would spend like 50 cents and then I would save like $4.50. And the next thing I knew I just always had like all this cash and I would like hide it all over my room. It was kind of strange.

Lee: [00:06:02] You liked cash money. I mean, who doesn't, right?

Mayssa: [00:06:05] Right. And I mean, now as an adult, maybe formed some bad habits around hoarding cash versus like investing or something.

Lee: [00:06:13] But like, I still stash cash in the couch.

Mayssa: [00:06:17] Yeah, don't check every corner of my drawers. There may be some hidden cash. But yeah, and I always liked having that independence. And I think even just from a young age, understanding like the value of that and the value of just kind of like being able to put, I didn't like need a slice of pizza every time I went to the football game. So like being able to put money aside and and do with it whatever I pleased when the time came.

Lee: [00:06:47] Totally. Have you ever taken a personality test like that one that's called 16 personalities?

Mayssa: [00:06:53] Yes, I have.

Lee: [00:06:54] Are you an ENFP? Are you the Campaigner?

Mayssa: [00:06:59] I think I'm an ENFJ, but it's actually been a while since I took it, but I'm pretty sure I'm an ENFJ, so very close.

Lee: [00:07:06] Because when you were talking about doing this, like rallying of the kids, I was very similar and I am a Campaigner, the ENFP. And that's so funny because I was like, I wonder if you're the same exact personality, these campaigning and rallying the troops. "Let's go," you know, towards this vision and goal. "Let's make it happen together."

Mayssa: [00:07:25] Oh, and I'm still like that today. I don't know if you feel this, but if it's organizing a group dinner for my friends or organizing a trip, I'm always like, I mean, I was literally just in a group chat 15 minutes ago like, "All right, Saturday..." And everyone's kind of wavering. And I'm like, "Saturday, send the calendar invite, hold your calendar, make the dinner reservation." So I definitely kind of have held on to some of that energy.

Lee: [00:07:48] Totally. I'm the person that's been on every lease. I find the roommates. I take on all the responsibility. I've always done that for some reason. Yeah, I'm the same way. If we're going anywhere, it's going where I have planned, or I'm probably not going.

Mayssa: [00:08:04] I know, and a part of me is like, that's great, because then... Well what I was going to say is my therapist would say it's a control issue,

Lee: [00:08:14] Yes. I have to drive too. I hate being passenger. Are you like that in the car? Because I get really nervous with other people driving. I have been in a car accident so that's a part of it.

Mayssa: [00:08:27] No, I like driving. I really like driving by myself, really, and putting my music on and stuff. I don't mind being in the passenger seat, but this is so off topic, but I fall asleep, so I'm a terrible like road trip guest because I will just knock out. If we're on like a highway or something, I'm out.

Lee: [00:08:46] That's funny. Yeah, I've always got one eye open. You know, if someone else is in the driver's seat in any type of thing, I'm like when I open, like, "What are you doing?"

Mayssa: [00:08:55] What are you doing? Yeah.

Lee: [00:08:58] Designated driver. Every time we went out with the girls, you know, I'm like, "I'm driving, guys. We're taking my car. I'm driving," and I won't drink and I play it safe. So yeah, anyways, back to the topic. So where where'd you go to school? What did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

Mayssa: [00:09:14] Yeah, so I went to school at William and Mary in Virginia, in colonial Williamsburg, if anyone has been there. And I studied International Relations and Economics. I totally was on like a very specific track that I think is not uncommon for, like growing up in the DC area. My parents originally came to the US through working with the Tunisian Embassy, and I had a lot of exposure to kind of that world, and I was really on a track to maybe go into the State Department or the United Nations. Most of my internships were in that field. And then I just found it a bit slow and even just through internships found it very bureaucratic. A lot of red tape, a lot of money being spent on seemingly just kind of optics and keeping the lights on versus like a true action and impact. I found it really frustrating. And then I kind of shifted my focus my senior year of school and with my last internship before I graduated, and I interned at the NFL, so I got into kind of the sports and the marketing world through that. And then ultimately I kind of shifted my direction in that way. And then in terms of first jobs, I mean, of course, like babysitting all that stuff throughout high school. I played a lot of sports in high school, so it was kind of I never had like a job job. But then when I was in college, I think my first job where I was like a W2 or a 1099, I don't know what it was employee, was at Abercrombie and Fitch. So I have like PTSD from the smell of that perfume, and there were like five songs that played on loop. And if I hear any of those five songs now, it's just like, flashes me back. I mean, I had a great time working there. It was kind of like a winter break, summer break type thing. And then, yeah, internships. I was really eager to intern every summer of college. I interned from my freshman summer and I was like so proactive in seeking out internships again my first few years. I really wanted to go down this international relations path. I worked every person in my network. I think my first internship came through my uncle's wife's sister's husband, like, literally, and he sort of connected me to this amazing internship, and I did two summer internships that were overseas in Europe. So that was really great exposure to just almost being able to study abroad, but while actually working and getting paid from those internships. And then again, my last internship before I graduated was with the NFL, and then ultimately, I went to work at the NFL after I graduated college.

Lee: [00:12:07] Cool. And what was your experience working for the NFL? What were you doing there?

Mayssa: [00:12:13] Yeah, I mean, I'm so grateful for that experience, and I really I don't know how common these programs are anymore, but I joined the NFL out of college in a rotational program, so they sort of bring in... I think our class size was probably like eight or 10 people and we rotated departments. It's a two year long program. You do six month long rotations, and you hit four departments over the course of two years. So it's just such a great way to get exposed to just working. Frankly, I think everyone gives you a little more leeway. Everyone kind of knows who the members of that program are. Obviously, they kind of know that you're filtering through their department for a short term kind of trial run, you could almost call it. And you get exposed to so many different parts of the business. So I was really, yeah, I just feel really lucky that that was my first foray into work versus just getting really thrown into the fire, maybe in a startup or like friends I have that did consulting and banking, and you really just get so thrown into it. I think there was just a little more of a transition period, and I think part of it is transitioning to obviously the job itself and learning marketing and learning strategy or learning whatever the role is that you're actually going to do. But I think there's also just so much transition when you leave college to just working, like being up at eight and sitting at a desk until six or seven, like your body has to adjust to that, you have to adjust to that mentally. And again, I think like some of these programs, just give you a little bit more time for that adjustment. I mean, I remember even just people or one of my managers, I think through the program, they was like, "Hey, when you sign off emails your emails are coming off super formal. It's like too formal." And it's just like feedback like that that maybe you wouldn't get if you're just like thrown right into the mix. But I think, you know, as part of this program everyone at the company was really there to help train us up. And so, yeah, we just got a lot more kind of hand-holding and support, and I'm super grateful for that.

Lee: [00:14:25] Yeah, that's awesome that you had that kind of support. I think back to the emails I used to send and it's like, whoa. I mean, I used to work in the fashion industry and especially as a model, you don't really learn any of those things about professional emails. You're used to just emailing your agent with lots of XOs, XOs, and you kind of have this different relationship with your managers and then you get into this work environment. And I'm noticing I'm putting a lot of XOs on my emails. This is actually never happening back to me. I probably should adjust this. Yeah. But anyway, so I saw that you worked at Uber and marketing, and Daily Harvest, SoulCycle doing business development. What are some of the takeaways that you've learned in those different positions or roles that have helped you as a Founder?

Mayssa: [00:15:19] Yeah, so I went from the NFL and I left there to join Uber, and I think the thing that I really loved about my time at Uber was how entrepreneurial we were able to be within a bigger company. So by the time I joined Uber, we weren't like a small startup anymore. I think they'd raised probably a couple billion dollars at that point. And so we had the resources of a small company. But the culture and the way that our teams were run and the way that our functions were kind of operating, there was still so much room for autonomy and ownership. And I think I came in there coming from a much bigger, much more formal, traditionally run organization like the NFL and that was really like more getting thrown into the fire and like throwing a little bit into chaos. But then I think after some adjusting, really learning how to thrive in the chaos and actually use it to your advantage to where when everyone is kind of figuring out what to do and we're all part of figuring out like what is Uber? What does our brand stand for? Where do we get involved? Where do we not get involved, from a marketing and a brand perspective? There was just so much room to raise your hand and say, "I think that Uber and music are synonymous," or "I think that Uber and travel are synonymous, and here's my idea, and I want to take this project on." And just, yeah, I felt really lucky, at least the stage that I was there in the business that we were given a lot of leeway. But then we still have the backing and the resources of a bigger company where if we needed budget for something like sometimes that could be available or just we could tap into our investor network or just the network of Uber in general and lean on the back of the brand too. Because at that point, Uber wasn't really a global brand. And I would say like that really started to be cultivated in my role at Uber. And then I brought that with me through all the subsequent positions that I was in where if you join a company and you kind of get to your desk on day one and put your pencil and your notebook down and wait for someone to tell you what to do, it's just not going to... You may be able to get away with that. I mean, I think people get away with that for years in certain types of organizations, but it's not going to be fun, and it's probably not going to be rewarding and really push you forward. And so, yeah, that was definitely the learning that I would say I've just taken through. And then, of course, [00:17:58] trying to do things that were more entrepreneurial and really owning projects and owning initiatives from start to finish, I think really did, without me knowing it at the time, build a solid foundation for what it was going to look like to have an idea out of nowhere and actually turn that into a business and launch that business. [00:18:16]

Lee: [00:18:17] Interesting. So is that some of the things that you would say you also learned at Daily Harvest? Like do you have any kind of key takeaways, you know, in terms of maybe even management leadership that you've taken from those experiences?

Mayssa: [00:18:30] Yeah. So again, like went from Uber, joined Daily Harvest at a really early stage. I think when I joined, I was one of a two person marketing team and basically I really had ownership over a lot of the brand side of the marketing business. And then my counterpart had ownership over performance marketing. And so that I would say the takeaway from there was very much just early stage startup Boot Camp 101. And it was such a different experience from Uber, actually. A really, I would say, the best learning from Daily Harvest is when, like I said, by the time I had joined Uber and I was coming from the NFL, I was working in BD Partnership brand marketing roles where we were really going out the most... The bulk of my roles were always working with external partners. How is Uber partnering with New York Fashion Week? How are we partnering with the film industry? How are we partnering with movie studios, musicians? That kind of thing. And we would go to them and we would reach out to them or get connected to people, and everyone knew what Uber was. Then I joined Daily Harvest, and at the stage that I was joining, it was definitely starting to have more credibility and awareness. Especially, I would say, like in New York and LA, but most partners I would reach out to and talk to probably didn't know what we were. So I was having to really evangelize the business and the product and figure out... I almost felt like I was constantly pitching our business right. If if we got in touch with, let's say, some big company like a Nike or someone and maybe one or two people in that room knew what Daily Harvest was, but there were seven or eight other people who had no idea. So [00:20:16] you're like pitching the partnership, but you're also pitching the business. And that was such an important learning for me just to learn, how do you get that pitch really concise? How do you get really clear on explaining what your product is, what your business is doing, what your values are? And I think in a partnerships role or a business development role, you almost do have to take on that external speakerphone for the company in a lot of ways. [00:20:46] And that was just such a good learning, again, that I obviously have brought with me into launching my own business where how are you talking about your product and how are you explaining your business to someone who has never heard of you before?

Lee: [00:21:01] How do you position the brand in their minds, among other competitors or just in general in the market? That's an excellent skill to have and definitely is required. I think a Founder, because you certainly have to do that with your own company to be able to quickly explain what you do and get people to understand it and have it resonate. And so what about SoulCycle? I know you were there as well doing business development. Do you have any takeaways from that one?

Mayssa: [00:21:29] Yeah, so, oh, man, this is like a trip through Memory Lane. I love it. So left Daily Harvest to join SoulCycle. I was brought into SoulCycle to basically, like launch a centralized business development and partnerships team. Basically, when I joined, a lot of partnerships were really happening out in the field, every studio kind of overseeing their own partnerships, doing really a lot of locally based partnerships, which is really what we needed at the time, I think, as building the business, it was so grassroots, it was so community based. But we had reached a point almost a hundred studios when I was joining, where there was definitely also a need and an opportunity to centralize some of that business development work and really drive some of that strategy from headquarters and then work really closely with the studios or with the instructors or with whoever the stakeholder was to actually execute those partnerships. So that was sort of when I was brought in. And, you know, again, like not to just come back and repeat the same answer, but it was just a very entrepreneurial position, right? It was not a function that had previously existed. And I think actually maybe what I would say, that was a really key takeaway at SoulCycle, and it kind of comes again with like being an entrepreneur within the corporation or the company that you work at is in a way I was on an island when I joined. So I was reporting into someone who was like, I think her title was SVP of Strategy. We were sort of a small team that were reporting directly into the CEO, and we had a very specific mandate of what we were supposed to go out and do in terms of building this business development and partnerships team But we were, it was kind of just us really ideating, and eventually we built the team out further. But in the early days it was us. So we had to really go out within the organization and build rapport, build relationships, literally build friendships with people all across the organization, whether it was the creative team or the marketing team or the apparel team. Because, you know, if we're part of a conversation with, I'll just say Nike again as a hypothetical, if we're in a conversation with Nike and they want to do a huge blowout event with SoulCycle and work with our instructors and build a 360 campaign, we are also then going to need to get the apparel team on board. That's going to ultimately be designing those products and be merchandizing that product in the studios and really be supporting the partnership from that regard. So I think it was a really good learning of how do you get to know everyone across the organization and build really strong relationships across the organization, especially when you're kind of coming and knew you don't have that foundational relationship with everyone there, you haven't been there for years and build those friendships? And again, and that just comes back, I think, and I would say that's been true in a lot of the organizations that I've been in. But it really comes back to how do you sort of get anything that you want done in business? [00:24:46] I think a lot of people's approach is business as a quid pro quo. I'm going to give you something and you're going to give me something, whether that's interacting with an external partner, interacting with someone internally within your organization, whatever it is, it's just this like exchange of resources. But I've really, through all my experiences and I think through like having built my career in a business development and partnerships function, for the most part, I've always really felt that actually most business gets done just through like friendship. [00:25:20] My philosophy is that you will get so much more done by people liking you than by paying them or feeling like you have something to offer them. And yeah, so again, just kind of like bringing that into how I was kind of trying to navigate SoulCycle, the organization internally, and then of course, bringing that to all the relationships that we were building with external partners as well.

Lee: [00:25:44] Yeah, that's interesting, I mean, it really does involve so many groups of people within an organization to make things happen and to have someone, it's a really tough role or a position to fill to have that person who can be the glue among all of those moving pieces and keep it moving on time and on schedule and manage that whole process. It's something that sounds, I think, so easy. But really doing it is so challenging, can be super challenging, to keep alignment across so many different moving pieces.

Mayssa: [00:26:19] Yeah. And I think the reality too in bigger organizations, and I think I was really lucky at SoulCycle. I really just felt everyone that I worked with was, just the whole team was so smart, so capable. Everyone really was so bought into the mission of the business and really wanted to propel that forward. But I think the reality and a lot of organizations is that it's very easy for teams to almost become so siloed that you almost forget that you're all working for the same business and it can become this like battle where it's like, "Well, that's your project, and I don't have time for your project. We need to move our project forward." And so to your point of how do you get everyone really rallied behind that common goal and timeline and just really be on the same page and be aligned? I think that really was a great experience being at SoulCycle because again, Daily Harvest when I joined was so small. We were just more like a rag tag team of get shit done and figure it out. Even Uber being such a big organization, we still operated a little bit more that way. Soulcycle was just more mature and a little further along, I think, in terms of the maturity of the organization. And so there was definitely more of that just kind of like rallying everyone and getting everyone really excited to be working together. And just that constant reminder that we're on the same team, we're working towards the same goal.

Lee: [00:27:50] That's great. So I'd love to hear how you started Behave. What was the initial thought or how did you come up with the idea?

Mayssa: [00:27:58] Yeah. So the idea initially came to me while I was working at Daily Harvest, so kind of working in the health food space. And I would say I also kind of had like a personal shift, just really wanting to clean up what I was eating and eat a little healthier. I've always been a huge junk food eater, sweets eater, massive sweet tooth. And so, you know, I sort of joined that organization and was like, "This is a good opportunity to just kind of rethink what I'm eating." Definitely starting to notice, especially as you get a little older, I think, how certain foods are impacting you, and sugar was a really big one. Not just like sugar, obviously, you can get a sugar rash and a sugar crash and a headache and a stomach ache. But I was even experiencing like anxiety after if I was like bingeing on sugar or having like a big candy haul from the bodega on a Friday night. And so just becoming more aware of that and trying to shift my own eating habits a little. But at the same time, [00:28:55] I've just never been a restrictive eater. Any time I've tried to cut something out or change my diet with rules in place, it just never works for me. [00:29:05] And it's also just not how I want to live. Frankly, I like to just like if I'm at a birthday party, I want to eat the cake. If I'm at the movie theater, I want to get a massive Slurpee and a bag of candy, and I don't like feeling that restriction. So as much as I was trying to clean up what I was eating, I was still always like grabbing that candy, grabbing those sweets. And yeah, I just sort of on that journey was like, are there alternatives in candy? There's alternatives in so many other categories. And as I started looking into it and really just doing research as a consumer and wanting to find something for myself, I realized that there has been a lot of progress and innovation made in almost every aisle of the grocery store, and candy had just remained completely stagnant. There had been almost no innovation. There were very few low sugar options. The low sugar that was available was all artificially sweetened, and it was mostly branded towards kind of like diabetics or grandma, that kind of thing. And so, yeah, just really saw that space and again, just really wanted a product like that for myself as a consumer. Ultimately, the idea kind of came a couple of years ago while I was at Daily Harvest, I obviously took another role, but it just stuck with me and I would always just kind of check in on the candy aisle any time I was in a store or a movie theater or an airport, really realizing like as a couple of years past that that innovation was just, I still wasn't seeing it. And so ultimately I decided I wanted to see if there was a way to make this product and maybe bring that business to life.

Lee: [00:30:42] And so what were some of the first steps that you took? I imagine you probably had to start with product development or even just testing the concept. So what were some of the things that you did to get things going on those ends?

Mayssa: [00:30:56] Yeah. So I would say the first two steps were one, can we make this product right? So my kind of vision for the product was a low sugar candy that still tasted amazing taste like as good as the candy that you loved to eat as a kid. Doesn't taste like green juice or spinach or celery or anything like that, but that doesn't use any artificial sweeteners. So I wanted to focus on sweeteners like monk fruit and plant fibers and just naturally derived sweeteners. And so and I knew I wasn't going to be the one to make it. I so admire food founders that are like, "And then I just got in the kitchen, and I ordered a bunch of stuff off Amazon, and I just made it." Also I knew I wanted to do a gummy. And there's a lot of kind of like food science that goes into making a gummy and making the texture right and making it bouncy and making it gel and all of that. So I just kind of knew I wasn't going to be the one to make it. And so I reached out to a bunch of R&D labs just kind of starting to like, explore what it would look like to get this product made. And I was really turned off actually by the approach of these kind of R&d shops. The way a lot of them operate is basically, you give them the list of yes ingredients, list of no ingredients... As in like, yes, you're willing to use. No, you would not want to use at all. And then like, sort of get roughly what you want the nutrition panel to look like. And they almost were like, create your recipe in Excel before they ever like, get in a kitchen, put anything on a burner, actually make anything and taste anything.

Lee: [00:32:33] Yeah.

Mayssa: [00:32:33] And I just was like, "This might be why a lot of health food stuff just doesn't taste that good," because you're like optimizing for the nutrition panel before you're optimizing for taste. And [00:32:42] I knew that if we were going to do healthier, better-for-you candy, it was still going to have to taste amazing. People, when they reach for candy, it is an indulgence. It is like a moment of fun and joy, and I just knew that compromising on taste wasn't going to be an option. [00:32:57]

Lee: [00:32:58] Yeah.

Mayssa: [00:32:58] So I kind of pivoted my approach and ended up reaching out to some chefs. So I literally threw a Google search. I think I searched like "best female pastry chefs in the US" because I figured someone with a pastry background would know sweets and candy and stuff like that. And I just quickly connected with an amazing chef named Elizabeth Faulkner, and it was just one of those very serendipitous things where, I think we got on the phone, I told her what I was working on. She loved the idea. We got coffee. We clicked even just like on a personal level. And then I think within like a few days, we had ordered a bunch of ingredients to her place and she had started working on the development. So that was step one on the product development side. And then I think the other question to validate, just as I was starting to put some time into this, just on the side of my full time was, does anyone want this product? I kind of want this product...

Lee: [00:33:54] Who else wants it? Yeah.

Mayssa: [00:33:55] Yeah. And what do they want to see from the product and what's important to them? So I ran a survey and I just posted it in every Facebook group that I'm in and Instagram and just all over social media, and we got I want to say a couple of hundred responses and just really dug into like how much candy do you eat? If you had a low sugar candy option would you eat more of it? What are the important attributes to you when you look for a better-for-you product? Things like that. And that was just really informative. First off, validating. I think just the numbers really spoke for themselves that adults have generally really cut back on eating candy and they feel guilty and they feel bad and they feel like it's a forbidden fruit that they shouldn't eat.

Lee: [00:34:41] And it's like a kid thing, like I used to have that as a kid, I could afford those calories, but not anymore.

Mayssa: [00:34:47] Right. It's a kid thing. And then even like as we were speaking to adults, so many adults saying, "Well, I don't even want to feed my kids candy anymore." But then like, you don't want to deprive your kid, you don't want your kid to be like the only one at the birthday party that can't have the cake and is like a weirdo.

Lee: [00:35:01] Like, "Sorry, friends. I can't." {laughter}

Mayssa: [00:35:04] Right. And like, so that was the thing I heard from so many adults that were like, I just don't eat candy anymore because I feel like shit every time I eat it. Sorry, I don't know if I can curse.

Lee: [00:35:19] Yeah. It's alright.

Mayssa: [00:35:19] And so it's just not worth it. Not worth the calories, not worth the sugar, not worth the psychological guilt trip. And now I'm struggling with my kids that want to eat candy, and they come home from school with bags and bags of candy, and they want to go trick or treating. And I'm just sitting here like, "I don't want you putting all this in your body."

Lee: [00:35:39] Right.

Mayssa: [00:35:39] It was, yeah, really again, just really kind of an early validation. Again, it wasn't like a massive survey. It wasn't a massive super statistically significant scientific study.

Lee: [00:35:51] What about fundraising? I know that you raised some money. We actually have a mutual friend who's invested in your company. David from Idea Farm Ventures. But in terms of fundraising, how much have you raised so far and what challenges have you faced along the way in raising capital?

Mayssa: [00:36:05] So again, like just to take one step back, went through that R&D process, reached a product that we felt really good about, and we're like, "This is a product people will want." We tested it. We had people try it. We surveyed people with, "Do like it? Does it taste good? What would you change about it? What would you pay for this?" So got validation that way and that was ultimately when I left my full time role at SoulCycle and decided to focus in full time on Behave. And in that process, I sort of left and then very shortly after raised an angel round of funding, and I am very... I try to be very self aware of just how much privilege there is and being able to fundraise. I was really lucky in that I had held a number of positions and the way that my career had just taken me. I had mentors, and I had people that I had worked with in the past that at Uber, a lot of people made a lot of money working at Uber, so I had mentors that had come into money that were now angel investors actively. And I was really able to round out sort of the capital that we needed to get the business off the ground and to launch in that way. And we really focused on angels, people who had experience in the food and beverage space or the CPG space or the direct to consumer and eCommerce space and just people who we felt would, I say we, I'm so used to saying we, but it was really just me at the time who I felt would be able to support us building this business and who would be with us through highs and through challenges.

Lee: [00:37:43] Yeah. And what advice do you have for those Founders tuning in looking to raise capital for their idea or for their business? Do you have any advice on the fundraising process?

Mayssa: [00:37:55] Oh my gosh, so much. I mean, I this is a topic I really love talking about because I want to see more people who don't have maybe traditional access to capital or to friends and family capital, which I didn't. You know, I had some friends and family come in just very supportive with very small checks, but I wasn't going to be able to raise all this money just through that. So I want to see more people who don't have that access raising money. I want to see more women raising money, more people of color raising money. So tangent. But I just love speaking on this subject. I could go on and on, but I think I'm trying to think like, what is the biggest takeaway? I think one that I would really say is [00:38:34] you have to go into it believing that you're going to raise the money. Actually, a lot of fundraising for me was shifting my own mindset, it was literally working with my therapist, unblocking some of my own limiting beliefs around, what am I capable of? Am I capable of building a business? Is my idea good? Do I have what it takes to do this? Do I have what it takes to raise this money? And so you have to kind of really start with some foundational work of also what are my belief systems around money, [00:39:06] right? If you grew up believing that money is dirty or harmful or it causes problems or it makes everyone in my family fight or people who have money are greedy... I had internalized some of those messages just from my upbringing being from an immigrant family, so I had to work through a lot of that stuff, just foundationally to believe that money is good and that money is going to help me build a business.

Lee: [00:39:29] It's so funny that you bring that up. My sister and I were actually talking about this this morning on our walk. She's in town from Germany and she's actually, you know, a tapping kind of coach.

Mayssa: [00:39:39] Oh cool.

Lee: [00:39:40] She helps people literally unblock these type of limiting beliefs. And it is so fascinating. And I'm glad that you're bringing this up because I think that this is a topic that a lot of people don't really like to talk about. And some people don't have any blocks in this way or maybe won't admit it, you know, or kind of just like bulldoze through them and they like, don't think about it. But it really is true that it takes a very specific type of mindset to be able to even allow yourself to be successful in general. No matter what you're doing, you have to know that it's possible. And being aware, self-aware, enough to know that these are blockers is like the first step to try to get past them. So that's amazing.

Mayssa: [00:40:22] Totally. And my therapist also practices some tapping in like some of that unblocking stuff. So I really believe in that. But so I think unblocking some of that baseline stuff. And then once you've done that, you really want to go into the fundraising process with a core belief that you will raise this money, and so much of fundraising is about energy, and I don't mean that in like a woo-woo sense. It's like you're either going to bring, I don't know if I'm allowed to say this, you're either going to bring Big Dick Energy to your fundraising process or you're going to bring, like insecure....

Lee: [00:40:58] I've never heard of that type of energy before, but that is a very interesting term to use to describe energy.

Mayssa: [00:41:04] You haven't heard? So BDE... Oh, it's like a whole thing. All the Gen Z, you know, you got to get in on it on Instagram.

Lee: [00:41:10] All right. Well, thank you for bringing me in on this BDE situation.

Mayssa: [00:41:14] BDE is basically just like, you know, "I'm here. I know what I'm doing. You can get on board. You let me know if you're in or you're out because I'm raising this money one way or another." And again, like kind of goes back to some of that unblocking blocking. I remember just kind of talking to my therapist early on and being like, "Well, I don't want to take people's money or I don't want to ask people for money..."

Lee: [00:41:38] What if I lose it?

Mayssa: [00:41:39] What if I lose it? And then she was like, "What if you make them so much money? What if?" People who are investing typically have capital set aside that they want to invest. They're actively out there looking for great Founders and great business ideas to put their money in because they don't want that money to sit in a bank account.

Lee: [00:41:56] Right.

Mayssa: [00:41:56] So you are actually offering investors an opportunity.

Lee: [00:42:00] Yes.

Mayssa: [00:42:00] So it's just so much reframing. I can just go on and on about it.

Lee: [00:42:05] It is. You are actually making them money and they should be eager to invest in your business instead of coming from a place of desperation, which I think is where a lot of the challenges come in. Yeah, it's important to have that confidence and like, "Hey, I'm driving a train right now, you either want to get on or get off. What's the deal? Let's go. I'm not stopping for you."

Mayssa: [00:42:27] And I just tell a lot of Founders I'm talking to you that are going through fundraising, I really think like to distill all of my ramblings into one piece of advice. It's know that you're going to raise the money. You will raise the money. Of course, there are bad ideas and maybe Founders that are not qualified. Or maybe they're not going to make it through the fundraising process. But if that's your destiny, you're going to end up there one way or another. So you might as well give yourself the best shot possible, and you need to start this process with a hundred percent certainty that you are going to raise the money that you've gone out to raise because you will bring... I mean, I remember I would like journal while I was fundraising. Like I have raised X amount of money. I have the best business that is on the investor circuit right now. People are dying to get in on my business. And then I was literally writing these affirmations and then that's what started happening, where people were almost clawing to get into the round, and I never would have imagined that happening.

Lee: [00:43:26] Did you do any visualization? Because I know I definitely did with one of my first rounds, and it came true. Like it happened, and I think visualization is actually a very powerful tool.

Mayssa: [00:43:36] Totally. Yeah, I mean, visualization... Yeah, I would say in this journey to start this business, I have really brought on a lot of those tools, whether it's manifestation, visualization, down to vision boarding, down to like a lot of different types of journaling. The book that I read that I would say really started me on this path was You Are a Badass. It's like a little bit... It can come across a little bit as like cheesy teen book. I think they sell it at the checkout stand at Urban Outfitters. But actually, it was such a great, concise introduction to a lot of these concepts that we're talking about, unblocking your limiting beliefs, replacing your limiting beliefs with belief that you can kind of do anything. There is some, I think, you have to acknowledge that there is a lot of privilege that is built into manifestation, and I do want to acknowledge and recognize that. Again, I know that not anyone can just wake up one day and manifest fundraising a ton of money from amazing investors that are plugged into the business world. There's a lot of privilege that led me to be able to do that. But I do think it's just such a good foundational starting point, and I really recommend that book to everyone.

Lee: [00:44:56] Yeah. So even before that book, there's a book called Manifest Your Destiny by Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Mayssa: [00:45:02] I don't know it.

Lee: [00:45:02] That's probably like the first book. It's called Manifest Your Destiny, and it's probably like the OG version.

Mayssa: [00:45:09] Yeah, I love it. I love it.

Lee: [00:45:12] So, you know, before we kind of wrap up here, just a few more questions. What's the biggest thing you've learned about becoming a leader and managing a team?

Mayssa: [00:45:22] Oh my gosh, to trust your gut and that you have to accept that this is your business and you are going to build it the way that is right for you. And you will know internally and inherently what to do at every turn. I think something that is just very easy to get wrapped up in, especially... Again, I'm a solo Founder, so I was alone for the first sort of year of building the business behind the scenes, and then I brought a few people on later on. I was working, of course, with Elizabeth, our chef, but that wasn't kind of like a full time every single day type of relationship. You're doing your own thing, right? And you're just like rolling with the punches and making every decision yourself. Kind of a lot of them on your own. And then you start bringing people into the team and then it's very easy to start to say, "Well, how would someone else do this?" How am I supposed to be doing this, I think is just the most common thing that was that would come up for me. How am I supposed to be talking to my team? Can we talk about personal lives? Should we? Maybe I shouldn't be talking to them about their personal lives, because maybe that's not how I'm supposed to be as a leader. Should I be close to them? Should I be distant from them? And [00:46:35] it's so easy to get trapped in this whole, very confusing web of what am I supposed to be doing? And I think the sooner that you can surrender and just say whatever feels right to me is what's going to be right to the business... And now I feel so happy that I was able to kind of let go of a lot of those shoulds, [00:46:52] how you should be doing things. Should I be letting people... Like am I letting people take too much time off? Are people not taking enough time off? Should I be letting people work flexible hours? Should I be putting us in an office and forcing us to work there? The minute I was like, "I'm just going to go day by day, and I'm just going to let things flow with my team..." Especially that changes as your organization gets bigger. But at this stage, with a small, full time team. For me, what feels natural is to let things flow and to let things just kind of come about more organically. And now I look at our company culture and our team, and I'm just so happy and so proud because I think we're just so in sync, and it's so in tune with me as a person. So it makes running this business so much easier because I haven't created all this false process that I felt I had to create. And that's what was happening early on. I was like, I need a Monday.com project management task list, and I need to get really, really tuned into all the details of project management. And that's just not me, though. And we haven't had any project fall through, but we're managing them in a way that feels natural to me. So I think for leadership, I would say definitely trusting yourself that whatever you feel is the right way to manage your team and lead your team is ultimately going to be what's right.

Lee: [00:48:12] Yeah. Do you think that's something that is not like imposter syndrome, but like, do you think that that's... Because I think that's a very common thought and feeling that a lot of Founders have. It's like, "I want to make sure I build this rocket ship the right way with the perfect polish on it," and you're just like, you have this high expectation on what you think building of business looks like. And when you start to realize, wait a minute, maybe I'm not like that, maybe it's like these tools that I'm supposed to be using. And does that mean I'm not going to be good at my job? And what does that mean in terms of my employees thinking about me? Are they going to think I'm not capable of running this company? Right? Like all of this stuff starts coming through? And I think that kind of points to imposter syndrome a little bit. Do you agree?

Mayssa: [00:48:54] A thousand percent. I think imposter syndrome flows through a lot of these, just like fears that come up as you're building a business. And I think also you only see other businesses built from the outside. That's as you're starting your own business, you really start to feel that because people are coming to you being like, "I saw this and I saw that and it looks like this. Oh my God, that was so amazing." And you're like, "Oh my God, that was chaos. I'm glad I looked amazing to you, but it was complete chaos on this side." So then [00:49:23] you have to also acknowledge that every other business that looks like it was built in a perfect Excel spreadsheet straight out of Harvard Business School was probably also a burning dumpster fire on the inside. You just don't see that. [00:49:35] They all are. So you have to like, give yourself some grace, but the imposter syndrome is is so real. And I think it's just something you have to constantly be working through.

Lee: [00:49:43] While we're on that topic because it's something that I like to have every Founder talk about and every guest on the show is like that biggest challenge. What was the dumpster fire experience so far? I know there's lots of them, but what's the big one that sticks out where shit really hit the fan?

Mayssa: [00:49:59] Yeah, you know, and it's actually such a perfect example of like what's going on internally versus how the outside is perceiving you. It was definitely selling out. So we outperformed all of our projections when we launched, significantly, and then we were not able to get on the schedule of our factory for a pretty extended period of time. They were just booked out for months, kind of backed up from COVID and increased demand for some of the products that they were making. So we ended up being stocked out actually for a pretty extended period. It was almost two months. And everyone on the outside is sitting there being like, "You're sold out. Oh my God, you can't even get your product. That's amazing." And I'm just sitting there like, "I do not want to be stocked out." Like we were doing everything we could to just try to expedite, expedite, expedite. We were just running into so many blocks. And it was really challenging. I mean, it was psychologically challenging, too, because you feel like to your point of how should I be running my business? You're sitting on your hands a lot when you're stocked out. I mean, of course, there were so many things we were moving forward, but you're also kind of waiting on a lot of things, waiting on manufacturer, waiting on ingredients. And so that was, I would say, that has definitely been the biggest challenge. But it's one of those things that I'm trying to get better about this when I'm in a fire to be like, there's always something good that's going to come out of this. [00:51:17] That stock out period actually gave us an opportunity to take in so much feedback from our customers on that first version of our product. And we actually ended up reformulating, making some changes to our formula and really taking in that feedback. And that extra time that we had allowed us to make those changes. If we had been able to just get right on the schedule at our factory, we probably would have just kept going with the original formula or maybe wouldn't have had the time in the space to kind of look back and really take in deep customer feedback. Because people loved the product. It's not like we desperately needed to reformulate, but it allowed us space. S [00:51:54]o every dumpster fire, there's like a...

Lee: [00:51:58] Rainbow at the end.

Mayssa: [00:51:58] There's a rainbow at the end.

Lee: [00:51:59] It's a blessing in disguise, I guess.

Mayssa: [00:52:01] Exactly.

Lee: [00:52:02] Yeah, that's very true. That's a positive way of thinking about it. And you can definitely turn lemons into lemonade. I think that's part of the job also as a Founder, right?

Mayssa: [00:52:13] Absolutely.

Lee: [00:52:14] Always going to have bumps in the road. How do you make the best of it and keep pushing through? So what final advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs tuning into the show?

Mayssa: [00:52:24] Yeah. I mean, the advice that I just always give people is build your network within your industry and find other Founders... I think for me, something that was so important to me, even being able to get just from one step to the next step in those very, very early stages was finding Founders that were especially just six months ahead of you. I think that's really the sweet spot, like six months to a year ahead of you because they recently remember what you're just going through. If you go to Elon Musk, and you ask him how to incorporate a business, he's going to have no idea. If you go to someone who incorporated their business six months ago, they're going to be like, "Here's the lawyer that I use, or here's the online service I use. It costs this much money and these were the pros and these were the cons." They just went through it. So that was really key for me when I kind of decided I wanted to dig into this idea further. I just started asking everyone I know if you know someone who has started a food or beverage company, can you please connect me? And there's... Maybe I'm just very lucky. Maybe this is a food and beverage thing, but I think it's really true across so many industries and just across Founders and entrepreneurs that everyone has this pay it forward. I think everyone when they were starting had someone a little further ahead of them that had helped them. So people were really open and willing to take like a 30 minute or hour long coffee with me. Just talk through like what those early steps are going to need to be. And they just become your cheerleaders. So many of those early coffee can I just pick your brain type meetings turned into real friendships and people that just have cheerleaded me through every step of the process, and they know that they got through that challenging thing, so when I go through it, they're like, "You're going to get through it. Don't worry, I thought I wasn't going to or I was also super stressed out. But you do get through it and you're on the right track." So [00:54:12] just having people that are in the boat with you, I think is really, I wouldn't have been able to get this far without that network and that support system. [00:54:22]

Lee: [00:54:22] It's so important. So important to have that support, for sure. Well, thank you so much for sending me some of these gummy bears. It's so cool, I love the tagline of "Seriously good gummy bears," and "We're good, so you don't have to be." That's super cute. They taste amazing. And if you're tuning in, you definitely have to go to EatBehave,com to check it out and order some gummy bears.

Mayssa: [00:54:47] Awesome.

Lee: [00:54:47] Thanks so much for being on the show, Mayssa. I really appreciate your time and sharing your story. It was awesome speaking with you.

Mayssa: [00:54:54] Yeah, thank you so much, Lee. I really enjoyed this.

Lee: [00:55:00] Thank you so much for listening to the Stairway to CEO podcast. Once again, I'm your host, Lee Greene, and if you have any burning business questions, please feel free to reach us at StairwaytoCEO.com. We'd love to hear from you. And if you like what you hear be sure to subscribe to the show, tell your friends, leave us a review, and follow us on Instagram @StairwaytoCEO. Until next time, guys, keep on climbing.

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