Business 30 October 2017
Like many female businesswomen, Soo-Ah Landa left an important high paying job at a Top Fortune 100 company to raise a family. After two years of being a “stay at home mom extraordinaire," Soo-Ah received a wake-up call when her 9-year-old son was asked by a teacher in school, "What does your mom do?" and his response was "She cooks and cleans for us."
Having grown up in a Korean culture where having kids and raising kids is a traditional role for women, Soo-Ah knew it was time to make a change. She comments, “I realized I had a responsibility to teach my two sons that women do more than cook and clean, and can actually start companies too!" Fast forward two years and Soo-Ah's son wrote in his 6th-grade essay that when he grows up he "wants to start and build a successful company like my mom." (Priceless, right?) This journey to launch the only 100% organic bone broth plus juice company on the market, however, was not an easy one. Soo-Ah tells SWAAY about her biggest challenges and mistakes along the road.
Going back into the workforce after motherhood is not easy, and in exploring this, Soo-Ah sought out a community with similar challenges and launched Project 8, a group of eight women who mentored each other for eight months and created accountability to reach their goals in jumpstarting or creating new careers. While motherhood was amazing in its own way, it wasn't enough for this group of women. Project 8 was where Soo-Ah met her co-Founder and where BRU Broth launched.
The biggest challenge for Soo-Ah was learning how to create an entirely new beverage category: RTHD (Ready to Heat and Drink, or “Sip" in the case of BRU.) Despite a phenomenal education from MIT and a second degree black belt in tae kwon do."
“I knew nothing about how to start a beverage company and raise capital, nor how on earth I was going to find investors who would be willing to take a gamble on a product that didn't exist yet," she says. “Even grocery store buyers had no idea where to put us. We were a meat product that looked like a juice."
When we asked Soo-Ah what her biggest mistake was, she laughed, and talked about how there were so many, but primarily, underestimating the time, money and resources required to successfully get a brand on shelf and get the initial penetration needed to then go out and convince people that they should give you more time, money and resources. It was a journey of long hours, challenges, tears and travel, but the hard work eventually paid off.
Soo-Ah's milestone moment came when she was able to move production from her home kitchen and driving around with kids in tow after school delivering bottles throughout the Bay area, to a bottling facility alongside distribution management under a major national distributor.
While many women entrepreneurs have faced challenges along the way, Soo-Ah loves that her brand and product is making a difference in the lives of others. Together with her co-Founder, Mary Butler, Soo-Ah started BRU Broth because she felt there was a need for a sugar-free, nutrient dense warm beverage that went beyond coffee and tea. “I experienced firsthand the healing aspects of bone broth when my mom was making gallons of it for my dad to help him in his struggle with colon cancer," she says. “Bone broth is delicious, but it heals. My (Korean) Grandma was 100% right and it's why I grew up drinking bone broth. I want everyone on the planet to be drinking bone broth everyday because it is that good for you."
Bone Broth has now been trending for a couple of years (everyone from the Kardashians to P!nk to Tom Brady drink it), but here's why BRU stands out: It is the only 100% organic, pastured and grass-fed bone broth that adds cold-pressed vegetables, roots and spices.
While there are competitors that sell juice, plus broth formulations, BRU is truly bone broth (it's the first ingredient listed), with a touch of juice, so that you are truly getting the benefits of the bone broth. It's farm to bottle, and exceptional for on-the-go, for recovery, for health and even for cooking. BRU features delicious flavors and enticing names such as Turmeric Ginger, Hug in Mug (Bone Broth, veggies, coconut aminos), Hot Greens (Bone Broth with greens and a hint of jalapeno), and will be launching Broffee (Bone Broth plus coffee), later this fall. Imagine the benefits of bone broth with the energy and satisfaction of your cup of coffee. Yes, ladies, you are welcome. This is the innovation that Soo-Ah is after.
What advice does Soo-Ah have for other women looking to start their own companies and/or those who are struggling with the launch of a brand? First, Soo-Ah says, “You will never, ever, be fully prepared before you jump off that cliff, So don't wait for that to happen, that's just procrastination. Just go for it and know that yes, you might fail, but at least you have a chance of success by persevering through." As a mother of 2 boys, Soo-Ah likens this to the quote from Star Wars' Yoda: "Do or do not. There is no try." Second, “Do not fear saying, "I don't know" or "I need help." Many women entrepreneurs once had big corporate jobs and have other impressive credentials, educations and background, but then we find that becoming an entrepreneur makes us vulnerable all over again, which is an uncomfortable place to be, initially, when you might have once managed a large organization and a $500M+ P&L at a Fortune 500 company!" She assures us that it's ok to ask for help and advice. Lastly, “use the sisterhood because it's a strong network." Seek these women out at school, through alumni groups, through peers. This is why Soo-Ah founded her mom's group called Project 8: eight women, eight big ideas, eight months (basically during the school year) where they detailed out an eight-month plan with tangible goals, mentored each other and held each other accountable to their goals.
So raise a glass, toast and sip to Soo-Ah and BRU!
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.