Office Hours: Poppi Co-Founder Allison Ellsworth on Creating a Healthy Soda Alternative

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Allison Ellsworth

On today's episode of "Office Hours." we talk with Allison Ellsworth, co-founder of Poppi, a soda alternative that promotes gut health. Her company picked up distribution from Whole Foods and made a splash on ABC's “Shark Tank."

Ellsworth grew up in a family of entrepreneurs — her father worked in oil and started his own company; her grandparents and sister were entrepreneurs as well. She was familiar with risk, opportunity and the need to be tenacious in growing her business. She’d also seen her family members fail at one venture -- and get back on their feet.

"It's interesting to see those things where you see someone [who is] really, really successful fail – and then be successful again, and it gives a lot of hope,” Ellsworth told Office Hours host Spencer Rascoff. “You know, success can be scary -- but it doesn't have to be."

She added that both she and her husband left behind their jobs in the oil and gas industry to make a bet on their idea: a health-based soda alternative they initially intended to brand as Mother Beverage. This was Ellsworth’s brainchild; she suffers from a sensitive stomach and had been looking for a beverage that was good for her gut health.

She discovered apple cider vinegar, a 400-year-old tonic that helps with gut health, but Ellsworth felt it tasted awful. She started experimenting with new flavors, while staying focused on creating something healthy. FInally, with the help of friends and family, she landed on the right formula.

“It tasted amazing. And so we really feel like we cracked the code,” she said.

The real vote of confidence came when, after just three weeks testing out their idea at a booth in a farmer’s market, the two were approached by Whole Foods.

“[They] said, ‘this is fantastic. You guys have to be in Whole Foods’,” Ellsworth said.

The couple sought the help of friends and family to take their business to the next level.

"Mind you, we just bought a house. I was three months pregnant. I was convincing him: ‘Let's quit our job. This is how much I really believed in this’," said Ellsworth.

Two years later, their company had expanded into multiple grocery stores, and Ellsworth realized they needed additional investor funding to grow. The duo pitched their idea to investors on “Shark Tank” and landed a deal with marketing veteran and former Coca-Cola executive Rohan Oza.

With the help of Oza, the company renamed itself Poppi.

Launching right as the pandemic took hold, Poppi found success by creating a new category of healthy soda alternatives. Ellsworth added that if the company didn’t find its roots in Dallas, Texas, it might not be where it is today.

She added, "I've always said this and truly believe it: If we would have started anywhere else, I don't know if we'd be so successful because Texans love Texas products, and they rally and they get behind and they love local.”

Want to hear more episodes? Subscribe to Office Hours on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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