Nov. 8, 2022

E2: Wheatgrass strikes! (Ideation)

E2: Wheatgrass strikes! (Ideation)

Brian & Russ talk about the lightbulb moment when it becomes clear a wheatgrass beverage is the differentiator MAKA needed.

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Making MAKA is a recap of the leadership team's personal journey & experiences, your entrepreneurial journey will and should be different, so please take this podcast for what it is, war stories, not specific recommendations or guidance.


Brian Hill  0:02  
Brittany and my mother-in-law Kim, we were up in in New York City. And Kim had never had wheatgrass before. So we're just like, let's go to a juice bar and try one. So walking down the street there are juice bars everywhere in New York and we just walk into one. We get a shot. And we cheers. Try it. I love it. Very fresh. tastes delicious. Her reaction was incredible. I remember to this day. She takes the shot. She makes this really like horrid face. groans and then maybe 10 seconds later goes Actually, that was pretty good. And that's when I was like, oh, boom, okay, we need to make wheatgrass tastes good for everyone. And really, the way to do that is to make it so you can't taste the wheatgrass.

Brian Hill  1:03  
Hello, everyone, you're listening to making MAKA a podcast about a startup beverage journey into launching and scaling a CPG brand. I'm Brian Hill,

Russell Hirshon  1:12  
and I'm Russell Hirshon.

Brian Hill  1:14  
And we're your hosts. In this episode, we tackle the most important aspect of starting a business, finding your differentiator.

Russell Hirshon  1:28  
So many people ask me, what led you to create a beverage? What was it? What was that moment? What was the the inspiration?

Brian Hill  1:39  
I wish I could say that there was like a singular lightbulb moment where I was just like, ah, time to go. It really kind of started. I have to go back to when I first started dating my now wife, Brittany was vegetarian when we started dating. She had been vegetarian for several years. What was amazing about her is like, she was vegetarian, she let me know it, but didn't care that I need to even cook meat for me. Like it was incredible. So never pushed that lifestyle on me at all. For her own personal reasons. Like she's no longer vegetarian we can get into into that later. She's going to be on episode talking about it. 

Russell Hirshon  2:19  
I would interject to say that Brittany is not only beautiful, but she's incredible shape. She's incredibly fit. To me, she comes across as incredibly healthy. Did she affect your mindset, just like being with her?

Brian Hill  2:37  
For sure. So that's a very valid point. In high school, I was I was a tremendous athlete. I was into wrestling, lacrosse, wrestling really was my sport. I was top six in the state, very good shape. I then go off to college, stop working out, blow up a little bit. Working out was not my thing anymore once I was in college slash post college. So when I started dating, dating her she really wasn't into it into that, but for every reason that you were you're talking about, I was like, Okay, I need to I need to get back into shape again. So not only did she have me reevaluating my diet, but as well as my my healthy habits or lack thereof at the time. So yeah, a big contributing factor.

Russell Hirshon  3:28  
And I would add that, you know, as we get older, you know, we go through the cycles, I wrestled in high school, I sucked. I never was in that kind of fitness shape. But if you know when we get to this, you know this age where you're you're you're still attainable goals, you can literally pivot and so you're you're you're with Britt, she's healthy and what was that moment that inspired you to to make this big change?

Brian Hill  4:02  
Yeah, yeah. So we we were sitting around just just watching TV shows and movies and all this other stuff. And I just click on on a documentary and we'd watch a few the everyone knows about the these documentaries, they try to kind of shock you into vegetarianism or veganism. They have a lot of great points of Food Inc. Its premise is agribusiness is unhealthy. It's environmentally harmful and abusive. And what they try to do is is shock you a little bit by showing how the animals are abused and all that other stuff that never really moved the needle for me when it when it came to like modifying my diet. Another interesting one was Vegucated and that's when you follow three people that are avid carnivores, you watch them transition into veganism. Veganism is not for me. It's not something that I think is particularly healthy considering, like Oreos are vegan, like, there's, there's a vegan products out there that to me are not healthy products, I didn't want to go down that path. The one that moved the needle for me was actually, it's, I want to say was Cowspiracy. if I'm remembering correctly, this was not about the shock factor. I think there was some some in there. But its primary focus was on the environmental impact of agribusiness and, and how we're just decimating the earth, trying to feed animal proteins that we then consume. So that's when I started toying with the idea of challenging myself to be vegetarian. It was also very timely, because as you know, I have all these ideas about creating businesses, many of them didn't take off one of them at the time that I was watching this documentary was about vertical farming. The book I read at the time, it was called the "vertical farm" by Dr. Dixon Despommier. And I was in real estate at the time, so I was just like, oh, this is brilliant, I can go out, find a warehouse, set up one of the first urban farms now now they're kind of all over the place. But at the time, they didn't exist, except as a thought in this in Dr. Despommier's head, but it came to realize it was not realistic. Like, I wasn't going to be able to change the food systems. At that time, the real estate was too expensive. The technology didn't exist in a real way. So the best I could do was change my own diet. And that's when I challenged myself to be to be vegetarian. And for me, that wasn't a small thing to do. I challenged myself to do triathlons at one point. And when I start something, I tend to go all in good or bad. I ended up doing seven triathlons that year that I that I challenged myself, and I ended the year with a half Ironman up in Maine. Awesome experience. 

Russell Hirshon  7:14  
That's crazy. That's crazy. 

Brian Hill  7:16  
Yeah, yeah. I really enjoyed it. So I only bring that up to say like when I when I challenged myself to become a vegetarian. It went from challenging myself for a week, and then turned into a month. And now we're well over seven years.

Russell Hirshon  7:34  
I'm super curious. Did you have any pictures? I'm the diet. I'm very curious to see after all this triathlons and the Iron Man, what you look like because I know what you look like now. But um, I can imagine for what it takes to do any of those events, it is absolutely physically life changing, you know, in all aspects. If you haven't showed me any of your photos from back then.

Brian Hill  8:02  
Yeah, no, I'll just show you something, I probably look very similar. I was definitely in better shape, endurance wise. But when you are doing endurance events like that your body is in constant inflammation. So you want to start incorporating antioxidants and all the other stuff to like, clean out your system, clean out your blood and all that stuff. Because you're, you're pushing your body too hard all the time. And you have to give yourself a break. I would say a lot of triathletes are they're in tremendous shape. But then internally, there's something going on, 

Russell Hirshon  8:38  
tell me what your diet was back then. Like your your your highest level of performance, what was your diet at that time

Brian Hill  8:46  
I was vegetarian at at that time. So it was largely plant based. And I was doing some of the not so healthy stuff like eating bars that probably had some overly processed ingredients and other things like that gels while I'm on the bike, trying to give it an energy boost or while I'm running. In large part it was it was very healthy, healthy diet. And I was reading up that a lot of vegetarians supposedly are missing out on some micronutrients. Because in theory, you're not getting them because you're you're there are some micronutrients that are largely sourced from animals, some of your B vitamins. So I was getting concerned about that. And I was just like, man, in theory, I'm eating healthy, but I'm wondering if I'm harming myself by doing so.

Russell Hirshon  9:43  
Where were you getting your protein from? Back then?

Brian Hill  9:47  
Protein was largely like, tofu seitan, like those type of things.

Russell Hirshon  9:54  
Yeah. Were you taking any supplements while competing?

Brian Hill  9:58  
No mainly because My personal belief just based off some, some research that I've done is that for the most part, your body can only consume so much and, and a lot of supplements or it's just expensive pee. So, like your body is only taking so much the rest is going out. So he's like, okay, that's, that's not the way that I want to supplement my lifestyle. So I started researching different ways and I came across wheatgrass. Wheatgrass was very interesting to me. And I started incorporating it into my diet. 

Brian Hill  10:35  
I think what we'll do now is we'll just take a quick break, we'll talk about wheat grass when we return from our sponsor message here. 

Brian Hill  10:43  
Our mission here at MAKA is wheatgrass for all one can at a time, your first gain is on us go to Select your flavor of choice and check out with the code MAKING2022 to enjoy your free can. 

Brian Hill  10:58  
We were just starting to talk about wheat grass and why I want to incorporate it into my diet. And it largely came out of as I had mentioned research into getting more nutrients into my life. Some of the key benefits from from wheatgrass that really resonated with me contains all known vitamins and minerals. It has great chlorophyll, all that green goodness that comes out of the wheatgrass as your chlorophyll loaded with phytonutrients phytonutrients think of like antioxidants, immune support. All this contributes to what I would say to me feels like a great sense of well being. When I consume wheatgrass. There's also there's a lot of I don't want to say pseudo science, but there's a lot of claims out there around wheatgrass. So you need to be careful of for me and for MAKA. And I would say for us, we are only looking at what is the nutritional benefit for consuming this superfood. And it's the vitamins the minerals, the chlorophyll, the phytonutrients.

Russell Hirshon  12:07  
So So juicing is best, like if you can juice you should juice there are limitations on the amount of wheatgrass juice you can drink. And and so we do have people that come up and say, Why should I switch? And I'll tell them why you shouldn't stop juicing wheatgrass if you find it pleasurable if it's if it fits your lifestyle. Please continue juicing it's you know, But therein lies the rub that within this beverage, the benefits of wheatgrass exist and it's less time consuming. It's readily from the refrigerator. It's it tastes good.

Brian Hill  12:51  
Yeah, those are all the benefits of what we created. But the purists out there, and I was one for a while would say, Forget convenience, we're trying to get the best and most benefit out of this ingredient. And if you're putting on the purist hatw juice it, consume it within like 30 seconds of it coming out of your machine. That's when it's supposedly going to have the most vitamins, the most nutrients, the most enzymes. And that's what I was doing. The the process to do this, though, is really what changed my mind. And really set me down the path of where we are today.

Russell Hirshon  13:36  
You were telling me you were you were you were you were growing this in your house. You were and then the other options are, of course, going to the store and buying a tray or going to a juice bar and get it but because it's expensive, because driving to the store isn't always convenient. And then growing it you weren't you were doing these things at home in your house? 

Brian Hill  13:59  
Yeah, yeah, I would say the most cost effective way is to do this at home, the most convenient prior to MAKA coming out was going to a juice bar and just having someone produce it for you. That's expensive, though, you're talking about $4 for a one ounce shot of wheatgrass, for the most part. So that's that's not that's not necessarily an affordable way for a lot of people to be consuming this. But what I can tell you what I was doing and what a lot of the purists do is not feasible for the vast majority of potential consumers. And the way the way I was doing this was I was I had trays in my house my wife was so mad at me for awhile. I had several trays it was on rotation. So so the way this works is it takes six to 10 days to get the wheatgrass to the optimal height. for harvesting, optimal height is anywhere from seven to 10 inches. If you go past 10 inches, then there's just an interesting fact. The the wheat grass blade starts splitting, once it splits, the nutrient value drops, it also starts forming gluten. So you want to cut it before it splits. It's naturally gluten free at that moment, and it has the most nutrients. So you harvest it. You take out your juicer, in my case, it was a manual juice press, because that's what I could afford at the time.

Russell Hirshon  15:33  
Yeah, well, these, these are expensive. I mean, the one I saw that you had,

Brian Hill  15:40  
yeah, and trust me, that's the most affordable option that you have. Outside of that you can go electric, and then you're talking about 1000s of dollars, just to juice this conveniently, but then you have all the cleanup and all that stuff. So in my case, I had had the manual juice press. So you would cut it pretty quickly, Soon thereafter, you would want to juice it. So you're manually juicing this thing, it probably takes five minutes just to create one ounce of wheatgrass juice,

Russell Hirshon  16:11  
and it creates that it creates that little tail that comes out if you're juicing it drops drop after drop, and you're watching that fiberous tail come at the end of a hand press juice

Brian Hill  16:25  
comes out the bottom and then on the side, the wheatgrass is kind of balled up together, it does look like a tail coming out of the machine, which is pretty funny. Yeah. So it's actually it's a pretty messy process. Brittany quickly instilled in me, the need to clean up after myself. 

Russell Hirshon  16:46  

Brian Hill  16:47  
I had to clean up as well. So So you're talking about like 20 minute process to create one ounce of wheatgrass juice. And if you are truly trying to get benefit out of wheatgrass, you need to consume more than one ounce a day, you're ideally you want to get up to eight ounces in a day. So I had a full farming operation in my house for for several months,

Russell Hirshon  17:15  
what was the most wheatgrass you consumed in a day, because I can't imagine ever drinking eight ounces,

Brian Hill  17:20  
I was getting up to eight to 10 ounces, it took like a month to get to that point. There's reasons that you have to build up to it, which we can get to in a minute. But it's also a taste issue. Like for me, I personally enjoy the taste of wheatgrass. I think it's sweet. It's a little floral, if it's fresh. If you have wheatgrass, that's a little past ideal harvest time, they will taste grassy, you won't taste very good. So it has to be you have to really target the harvest time to have a good tasting shot.

Russell Hirshon  17:55  
Yeah, and that's just it, it's I think the flavor of it will vary by the individual. Also, besides when it's harvested my experience, ironically, you know, I don't come from as healthy background, although, of course our you know, growing up, we our parents tried to instill eating a proper diet. But when I did the my first shot of wheatgrass was actually at your house and I got to watch you go through that process of cutting and juicing and you made a shot and I did it. And I was like it to me. I was like well, you know, I can do a shot at tequila we shot a wheatgrass is it's certainly not worse. And it went down down very smooth. And I'm like that's something

Brian Hill  18:44  
What do you think about the the taste there though?

Russell Hirshon  18:46  
The taste was it's kind of smooth it did the taste did not you know wasn't it wasn't shocking by any measure. It was just healthy. You know when I say it tastes healthy. It's like you know, it's kind of sweet like grass like you know it no sugar and of course I consume far more sugar than then likely is good. It wasn't the immediate taste like I you know, some people have said, Oh, I did a shadow wheatgrass, I felt nauseous or I hated it or it didn't taste good at all. And I didn't have that issue. But it was my body was not used to consuming something so organic, healthy, natural in that state. So I literally for the next two or three hours as like kind of measuring my body's reaction to this. I can't say that. My My first thought was I can't wait to get another one. It was not that it was not. And with you I had that opportunity. I could have gone back and said oh my god, Brian, that was amazing. It was a life changing event. I need to come back to your house and do another shot. It was everything but that

Brian Hill  19:58  
Yeah, and I think There's a lot of people out there that have visceral reactions with wheatgrass, whether it's the smell, it's the taste, one of the funniest stories that I can think of when it comes to this is, we have an investor that when I was first sharing the drink with him, he goes, I have to tell you, like, I have a very visceral reaction to the smell of grass. Because my parents used to make me go outside with a pair of scissors and cut the grass. So it was level he goes, I absolutely despise the smell of grass. To me That was exciting, because after trying our drinks, he was just like, This is amazing. I want to invest. And if you can get someone that has that type of reaction to wheat grass, or the smell of grass in general, to invest in a wheatgrass company. That means we're on to something that was really exciting.

Russell Hirshon  21:00  
Yeah, and that's that's not a singular story. I mean, we often get you know, the benefits of we mentioned it before, but when we go out and sample is we're getting one on one contact with individuals who may or may not have had experience with wheatgrass, one form or another and and they will say the same they either it will be a positive experience a negative experience or no experience. And and then they're just waiting to hear. Why should I drink this beverage? Why should I drink wheatgrass explained to me they know nothing about wheatgrass an individual last night said they had never heard of wheatgrass. And then he came back and said, I google that. And I feel inadequate. I should have known this. I can't believe it's a superfood. So

Brian Hill  21:46  
yeah, and there's some people that are not aware of it, I would say it is one of those ingredients that most have heard of it. But they might not know why they want to consume it. 

Russell Hirshon  21:56  

Brian Hill  21:56  
for all the reasons that we talked about earlier. It's interesting, because once they learn, they're just like, Okay, this is something I need to be consuming. This is a superfood that I want to incorporate into my life. And luckily, we've created something that tastes great. 

Russell Hirshon  22:12  

Brian Hill  22:12  
And incentivizes people to consume it.

Russell Hirshon  22:15  
So eating healthy is something that goes back to our childhood, it's like my parents would, would put us at the table. they are old school back in the day, and you wouldn't be able to leave the table until you ate your vegetables. And in our case, you know, there wasn't a lot of seasoning going on. And so the peas would would pretty much sometimes they're a little cold. And you know, a cold pea that's been cooked is there's nothing good about that. It's just something. So we would, you know, we want to leave the table, there's things we'd want to do, like go outside and play kickball. But we would make the vegetables disappear into the plants around the dining room table. And you know, I think my mom discovered it sometime a year later. And it was probably an ugly sight. We she laughed about it. But we just found a way to avoid the vegetables. And I think I think for people, people would like to be healthier. It's just difficult sometimes because you were asking yourself a question. Do I want to enjoy what I consume? Or do I want to be healthy and not enjoy it?

Brian Hill  23:28  
When you were talking about peas, I was laughing internally, I have a very close relative I won't name names, because I still want to go to family events. But this person, when when they were a kid hated peas so much like you. They just had a different way of hiding it. They would hide it in their nose. so many peas ended up in the nose that this person ended up passing out and they had to manually remove them. That's what we're trying to avoid. Right. With MAKA. There's no reason to go in and hide your wheatgrass because it now tastes great. And that's what we're trying to do with our product. 

Russell Hirshon  24:12  
What was the lightbulb moment? I mean, you've you know, what was that that moment that you've that that you thought I've got to make this an opportunity? I want to I want to this to be a better tasting experience. 

Brian Hill  24:25  
Yeah. Yeah. And as I was saying earlier, like there was not one specific moment it was actually a series of moments in the first one was okay, I just want to get more nutrients into my life. The second was that I distinctly remember now that I'm looking back. I brought Brittany and my mother in law Kim, we were up in in New York City. And Kim had never had wheatgrass before. So just like let's go to a juice bar and try one. So we're walking down the street there are juice bars everywhere in New York and we just walk into one we get a shot And we cheers. Try it. I love it. Very fresh tastes delicious. Her reaction was incredible. I remember to this day, she takes a shot. She goes, Oh, and she makes this really like horrid face groans and then maybe 10 seconds. Let's go, oh, actually, that was pretty good. And that's when I was like, oh, boom, okay, we need to make wheat grass tastes good for everyone. And really the way to do that is to make it so you can't taste the wheat grass, you still have optimal amounts, but you just can't taste it. So that was that was another lightbulb moment for me that set me down this path. I would say another one. And whether you want to get into this or not was your first shot? I think you you told me that it affected affected you in adverse ways, 

Russell Hirshon  26:02  
a multitude of ways. Well, this is this is what I, you know, again, sampling, I'll hear this from people, they'll they won't even mince words. They say, I don't feel like shitting myself. And you're like, I need to I need to set your expectations that how this is produced, you will you won't have an issue with your system reacting adversely. And it's how it's prepared. But, you know, when I did my shot, I did feel a rumbling of discontent of which was on my radar. You know, and and believe me, I don't need any more reasons to cause havoc in my in my gastro system. So with me, I was that probably played a factor in deciding, I don't think I want to do a second shot. Because I'm not up for it. But

Brian Hill  26:56  
so what that leads into is, is that was another light bulb moment for me, where unlike you were I had months, building up to the level of wheatgrass that I was consuming, that was your first shot ever. And what people don't realize is, it's live enzymes. There's live enzymes, when you are consuming, unpasteurized foods or juices. It's the enzymes that are causing gastro issues. For a lot of people. It's not the ingredient itself. So there's different pasteurization methods that you can use to stabilize the product. And one that that I thought I wanted to do initially is called high pressure processing, or HPP. When you go into really any any store, but largely natural grocers, you'll find cold pressed juices, those are still pasteurized, but they're pasteurized in a different way. They're packed into their bottle, they then use this high pressure squeezes down the cans and the product. And what it does is it actually breaks the cell walls of the bacteria is really what you're targeting, but it breaks down the cell walls of any cell it's in there. But sometimes you don't break down all the enzyme cell walls. So you could still have issues with HPP. And I just wanted to make sure if someone's consuming this, we don't want to have adverse reactions. So the ultimate process that ended up with is is full pasteurization. So tunnel pasteurization, where you heat it up, we kill the enzymes. The next question that you probably receive a lot is okay, well, what does that do to the nutrients? We have studies that are showing pasteurized wheatgrass, with the method that we're using reduces nutrients, maybe 10 to 20%. But it actually increases chlorophyll. So you're actually activating the chlorophyll cells for whatever reason I couldn't get into the science behind it. But the takeaway here is minimal impact to the nutrient content. No enzymes, so no issues that's why you can consume our drink that has the equivalent of eight shots a wheatgrass and not have your untenable issues that you felt with your shot.

Russell Hirshon  29:25  
I would add that from that one shot experience. I find myself consuming multiple cans a day and not having issues 

Brian Hill  29:35  

Russell Hirshon  29:36  
so that's a big lead. 

Brian Hill  29:37  

Russell Hirshon  29:38  
that's that's winning.

Brian Hill  29:39  
I think they tell you not not if you're a drug dealer, don't consume your own product. Consume my product Yeah. At the tune of three to four cans a day so I can confirm no issues. 

Russell Hirshon  29:52  
There we go. 

Brian Hill  29:54  
But But that leads us into our next episode, knowing that that wheatgrass is an incredible superfood for its nutritional benefits. Also knowing that we had to come over that taste hurdle. And then we wanted to make sure that there was minimal to no in our case, no gastro issues. I started wondering if there was a way to reimagine how to consume wheatgrass. So that's what our next episode is going to be about. We're going to explore what it takes to create a compelling formulation and flavors. And what really started me down the path of creating a beverage company. 

Brian Hill  30:36  
That brings us to the end of this episode of making MAKA. If you have any questions, comments or ideas about our episodes, please send an email to If you like what you hear, I'm making MAKA. Please share the podcast with friends and family and review us on your preferred listening platform. On behalf of MAKA, thank you for joining us on this journey.