Kori Estrada, co-founder of RiseWell, is determined to transform oral care products to work with our bodies rather than against them.
After years investing in consumer, technology and healthcare, Kori developed a passion for transformative companies that are driving the needle in these industries. RiseWell, an innovative natural oral care company, was born out of a need to be aware of the products she puts into your body. Based on the idea that oral care products don’t have to contain harsh chemicals to be effective, RiseWell products are fluoride-free and use ingredients that remineralize and strengthen teeth.
We asked Kori about her company, what she learned from scaling her business while working full time (and being a mom!) And what accomplishments she is most proud of.
Q: Tell us the story behind starting your business: How and why did you start working on RiseWell?
A: As my partner John and I did in vitro fertilization, we became more and more aware of the importance of the products we put into our bodies. We couldn’t find a natural substitute for oral care products that we liked and worked as well as traditional products. We started formulating with a dental team to develop science-based products. We found our main component, hydroxyapatite, in Japan. It is the gold standard there and has been used for more than 40 years. Research studies suggest that it works as well, if not better, than fluoride without toxicity issues. After hundreds of prototypes, RiseWell was born together with our now almost three-year-old son Leo.
Q: What makes your product different from others?
A: Most natural toothpastes are about as effective as water, and traditional toothpastes contain some questionable ingredients. John and I, along with Dr. Derek, brainstormed to see if we could develop a toothpaste that was completely non-toxic but just as effective as regular toothpaste.
We scoured the world for the best ingredients and came across an ingredient in Japanese oral care that was virtually unknown in the US. This ingredient, hydroxyapatite, is a natural mineral that makes up 97 percent of our tooth enamel and has been shown to be as effective as fluoride in remineralizing teeth. It’s also safe to consume. We also make sure that all of our products, not just the toothpaste, are scientifically proven and only use ingredients that your body needs. We remove all the bad things and keep only the cleanest, most effective ingredients that will work with your body, not against it.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Answer: yes! My passion for entrepreneurship began with a lemonade stand on the corner that my sister and I ran for many years. We’d easily make hundreds of dollars in a weekend. Not only did we sell lemonade, we eventually expanded into homemade cookies and handcrafted souvenirs. I knew the best way to capitalize on my endless curiosity and creativity was to be an entrepreneur.
After graduating from Columbia, I decided to go into finance as it would aid a later path to entrepreneurship by gaining a broader perspective on many different sectors, honing my financial acumen, and better understanding the differences between brokered good and bad deals. My father also had some wise advice: “You can make a lot of money in finance, but you won’t be completely satisfied if you don’t see the difference you are making with something tangible.” the emotional day was holding the first batch of RiseWell in my hands.
Q: What were the most difficult and powerful lessons you learned in starting and running a business?
A: When starting a business, you choose the unpredictable path that was way out of my comfort zone. There is no way around. You will get into weird, difficult, weird, good, bad and awkward situations because being an entrepreneur is dynamic. You need to take the plunge, move on, and get used to feeling uncomfortable. Nothing great happens when you live in your comfort zone.
When we started RiseWell, we risked everything, even though it would have been very easy to stay in our secure financial jobs. When our son grows up, I want him to see us as inspiration to embrace the uncertainty in life – because if things don’t change, we don’t grow. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. This applies to companies and people. I’ve learned to change my perspective of uncertainty as life’s greatest teacher. I want to look back on my life and say, “Wow, what an incredible, unpredictable adventure!” Not, “I’m glad I stayed in my reliable comfort zone.”
Q: What was the hardest and most rewarding part of your business journey?
A: The hardest part is definitely juggling everything every day as I still have a full time job at Axon Capital and work on RiseWell as my passion project. I don’t believe in balance as such, but more in juggling. I imagine I’m juggling several balls at once, some are made of rubber, some are plastic, some are made of glass, and I have to decide every day which ball I will tend towards. Sometimes the glassy ones fall, and like the resilience required in self-doubt, all you have to do is agree to pick up the pieces and continue juggling. It’s not always nice and downright messy at times, but it’s part of the journey.
The most rewarding part is seeing firsthand the changes you are making. We wanted people to know that you don’t have to sacrifice your oral health for non-toxic ingredients, as you often do with “natural” products. Oral health is only part of the puzzle. When we see people make a small change to their routine it usually leads to healthier choices. Health really starts in the mouth – both in terms of food and what oral care products you use. The best (and most rewarding!) Testimony is the positive feedback from our dentists and customers.
Q: We challenge you to brag: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: There are many things to be proud of, but two that stand out are 1) seeing our product in action and the recognition it receives, and 2) staying true to our mission. We have invested our blood, sweat and tears and years of research into our products to ensure that they are truly the best in their class and not just another “natural” product that is only differentiated by marketing. I’ve admired retailers like that Credo beauty and Erewhon for years, and I have to pinch myself when I see our products on their shelves or in the baskets of customers walking through their aisles. We also have amazing press hits from publications like Forbes, Shape, Men health, Good + good, and more. We have done all of this while still having a very small team that is passionate about reinventing oral care and spreading awareness of the importance of what you put in and on your body. It’s exciting to see what the future holds.
Q: What did you learn about building a team and a support network around you? How have you grown as a manager since you founded your company? What experiences have contributed to this growth?
A: The company would not be possible without the support of our friends and family. RiseWell is proud to be a family-run business in every way – from my father as a sales rep for dental accounting, to my sisters traveling to dental conferences to support RiseWell, to my brother Dr. Derek Gatta, a Florida prosthodontist, our dentist and co-founder. We are lucky to have such great people by our side.
It’s also about finding women in business who understand and support you. The enormously supportive women-oriented networks like Hello mum, Dreamers & Doers, and Women in VC have been incredibly impactful from their social media support to their network effect and constant advice throughout our trip. It is wonderful to surround yourself with those who have a passion, share their most important insights from their own experiences and pave a new path together. I am extremely blessed for those who have accompanied us in the process of building RiseWell to what it is now because it would not be the same without them.
Q: What would you say to the younger you if you started your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: You cannot control other people or situations no matter how hard you try. They can only control you and your reaction to whatever life throws at you. Happiness is a mindset. It comes from within, not from your external circumstances. Even in the most difficult of situations, happiness is achievable. Create your plan for success, focus on your goal and surround yourself with inspiring people. Make a conscious decision every day for happiness and a positive perspective and see every challenge as an opportunity and every blockade as an opportunity to grow. You never get anything in this world that you can’t handle.
Q: How would you describe your trip in a few sentences? And would you do it all over again?
A: RiseWell was designed to solve a personal problem we had – finding a toothpaste that is both clean and scientifically backed. We have identified a market opportunity that some of the largest consumer goods companies have missed. We knew we would compete with companies that had billions of dollars behind them. We have learned firsthand that success seldom follows a linear path. Sometimes we had to go sideways and even backwards to move forward. But the key is to be stubborn, never give up, and move on. Because of this mindset, we are fed by hundreds of dentists barely keeping up with demand and affecting the lives of more people than we could ever have imagined. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Kori is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that empowers the entrepreneurial endeavors of exceptional women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connections, and access. Learn more over Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly Digestion for top corporate and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.