Startup Spotlight: XOI
Startup Spotlight: XOI
Meet Linh Tran- CEO and Founder of XOI, a a superfruit nutrition and beauty company with a social mission to support Gac fruit farmers and suppliers in Vietnam!
GH: What is XOI?
XOI is a gac fruit company committed to true nutrition for real beauty on a mission to support Gac fruit suppliers and farmers in Vietnam. Gac fruit is a skin healing herb from traditional Vietnamese herbal remedy, also known as “the fruit from heaven”. Our first product line is a Gac fruit skincare beverage, made of Gac and other fruit and herbs, providing an n incredible source of carotenoids to enhance beauty regimen, boost skin hydration, and general immunity.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did XOI get started?
In the summer of 2013, as a sophomore at Brown University, I embarked on a trip to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to research on ethnic inequality as a part of my study. During this trip, I stayed with a community of the Ede ethnic minority group. While observing and participating in some of their daily activities, I learned that they have been selling their agricultural produce at a very cheap price, and through multiple layers of middlemen buyers. Despite their aspiration to bring their produce to the market, they remained a majority of the Poor in Vietnam.
During this trip, my host mother showed me a Gac fruit that grows in her backyard, asking me to help her bring it to the market. Inspired by her entrepreneurial spirit, I started researching gac fruit and ways to introduce it to the US market. In the summer of 2015, after graduating from college, I decided to start XOI to pursue my host mother’s dream and bring her idea into fruition.
GH: How did you build your team?
We currently have a crew team that produces our beverages at a commissary kitchen in Dorchester, MA. We also have a part-time sale rep. I’m currently looking for a team member who has industry experience in food/ beverage or natural skincare to join at a senior position.
We are advised by a small but wonderful Board of Advisors, comprising of management and industry experts.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
We are committed in providing clean nutrition for true beauty from within. We care about people deeply, both our farmers, our customers, and our team. We want to challenge the beauty conversation, shifting the focus to what’s inside rather than what’s outside. Thus, the company is people-driven, real food- driven, and equality-driven.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
One of the failures that I always remember, and it still affected our company until today, was that we failed to perfect a good branding before entering the market. A year ago, I took the lean startup approach and launched an earlier version of our product line. The purpose of that was to receive customer feedback and use the feedback to adjust and make changes with the product. It was a great process to receive feedback, however, because some of our clients are Whole Foods Market in the region, it was not ideal to implement changes. For a big retailer, a brand that keeps making iterations is not an appealing situation. They almost took us out of the set even though we were performing better and better. I immediate took the initiative and visited every WF buyer to convince them, negotiate, and assure them of our increasing performance. I continuously visit all the buyers every week for a month until they are happy with the changes. On top of that, we provided double the demo effort. With that, I was able to secure our position with the stores.
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
We started out as another Gac superfruit beverage. We learned from our very first customer(s) that such branding would not be enough to differentiate our products within a very crowded space. We needed to take a step back and do more scientific research on Gac fruit. During that process, Gac fruits’ traditional use as a skin healing herb in Chinese and Vietnamese medicine, as well as the relation between the carotenoids inside gac fruit and skin health, pointed us to the direction of creating a line of skincare beverages. Supported by science, the increasing demand in natural skincare, and the growth of the ingestible skincare segment, XOI was rebranded with a new formula to provide healthy skin and body in a bottle.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
We are currently part of the Babson WINLab program – an accelerator dedicated to support women entrepreneurs. In addition, the network of women entrepreneurs from WeBOS, SheStarts, and Branchfood have been organically supportive of helping each other and sharing knowledge in running a food business.
I also actively attend a lot of events like ones organized by The Capital Network. Those workshops are extremely helpful for me, as a first time founder, to learn more about what running a startup entails. During those events, of course I was able to network and connect with others in the startup ecosystem in Boston. I think that in overall, Boston provides a lot of events, workshops, and opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn, connect, and celebrate.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
As a minority women entrepreneur, I find that there is not a lot of support for asian/ minority founders. I do find great support from the network of women entrepreneur supporters (Babson WIN Lab, WeBOS, etc.), but still feel that such network is small and fragmented. In addition, it is hard to approach funding opportunities that are friendly to my position/ situation.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
There is no worst advice, in my opinion. I think every advice has its own value, but we have to take it with a grain of salt. The best advice that I have received was to stay humble, keep your head down, and focus on yourself and your startup. It is easier, especially for women founders, to be distracted by other people’s success and to have an imposture syndrome. However, every startup is different, thus requires different timeline, strategy, and resources to grow. It is important to learn from others in the ecosystem and to know about competition, however, it is necessary that a founder knows to focus on your own growth, strategy, and goals.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
The best thing that happened to XOI was our acceptance to Whole Foods Market. It was a major milestone, as we only just launched our beverage line into the market for a very short time. It was a big validation to our product’s value proposition. Even though there were a lot of challenges and mistakes following our launch with Whole Foods Market, it was still one of the biggest milestones that we achieved last year.
GH: What does the future hold for XOI?
Our vision is to become the biggest Gac fruit supplier, with multiple products line spanning from beverage, to food, topical skin care, and vitamin supplement. In the short run, we are looking to raise capital to take the company to the next level. The goal is to expand our brand recognition in the North East region through the retail channel, as well as a potential launch of a topical skin care product a few year down the road. Last but not least, we are hoping to add to the team an industry expert who is thirsty for the challenge to maximize the economic potential of Gac fruit.
Learn more about XOI!