Career Profile: How Two Entrepreneurs Are Working To Make A Niche Superfood Mainstream
The confounding thing about tigernuts is that they’re not tigers or nuts, but vegetables with a sweet coconut taste and crunchy texture (yes, this means serious education cost for consumers…). Historical documents show that Egyptians not only cultivated them, but that pharaohs’ tombs were filled with these “sacred roots.” Somewhere along the way, however, the root fell out of mainstream and now two entrepreneurs – Mariam Kinkladze and George Papanastasatos – are spearheading their re-introduction with their USDA certified 100 percent organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan, and raw range of tigernut products called Organic Gemini.
We chatted with Papanastasatos to find out how he got into the superfood business, navigating the competitive organic superfood marketplace, and getting over the hurdle of education costs.
Name: George Papanastasatos
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Title: Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer, Organic Gemini
Educational Background: B.A. Accounting
Name: Mariam Kinkladze
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Title: Co-founder, Organic Gemini
Educational Background: B.A. Political Science, Columbia University
Were you always diet conscious? Let’s backtrack a bit. Can you tell us a little bit about how your career got started and your ambitions early on?
Believe it or not, I have always been diet conscious even though not in the extreme that I am today. I was used to eating whatever I wanted, but I would still start my morning with a fresh juice and would eat clean and healthy during the day. I grew up at a house where nothing artificial was allowed; no sodas, no chips or candy, only organic homemade meals. I believe this is also the reason why my career has been focused into natural food and beverage companies. More specific, I started as a Merchandiser for an Organic Energy Drink company in NYC; then I got promoted into sales, moved to a natural recovery drink before ending up self-employed consulting for several startups in the Natural Food Space.
At what a point did raw-vegan enter the picture?
At 28 years old I made a switch and followed a strictly raw, vegan and, gluten-free diet. This diet also worked as an alternative cure when my fiancé got diagnosed with a cancerous cyst. It was a drastic change of lifestyle that led to a remarkable improvement of my overall well-being.
What made you think that an organic superfood company would be a viable business with so much competition out there?
When I discovered TigerNuts, I immediately realized that we were dealing with so much more than just another superfood. Between the connection to our Paleolithic ancestors’ diet, the drawings inside the tombs’ of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, and the modern science that analyzed the micronutrient profile, we were compelled that TigerNuts were an ingredient strong enough to become a platform for many different products. There is no ingredient out there with as many health benefits as TigerNuts!
Your core product, tiger nuts, is something most people aren’t familiar with. How did you overcome this “education” cost?
Consumers’ education has been and is still today our biggest challenge. A lot of online press that we generated by simply mailing samples to Editors and Food Bloggers was the best way to create awareness and to drive attention to this new superfood.
In tandem with that what were some of the hardest things about starting the business and how did you work to overcome those struggles?
The hardest thing about starting the business was building a strong and good team. It hasn’t been easy to find the right people to work together with. We had to make some mistakes before finding the right match!
Can you tell us about how you initially marketed the brand and what platforms have been helpful in spreading the word?
Working with truly passionate Health Coaches, Bloggers, and Editors has been the best and most successful way to spread the word on TigerNuts out there. Word of mouth from happy and excited customers has also been very helpful to generate awareness to our products.
It’s not always easy to work with partners. Were there ever disagreements along the way and if so how did you go about solving them?
Fortunately, I never had disagreements with my partners. We are only 3 shareholders in the company – my fiancé, her stepfather, and I – and we always got along pretty well.
Most challenging part of running the company?
The most challenging part of running the company is that you can never stop!
How is your day-to-day life different since starting Organic Gemini?
Since starting Organic Gemini my day-to-day life has been exciting and motivating. Our strong mission of providing customers with nutrient dense products to support a healthier body for a healthier life – has been rewarding and empowering to me. Looking back I won’t change any single thing!
I’m sure it’s complex, but in brief can you tell us about how/when you decide to launch new products?
At Organic Gemini, we never stop doing R&D. We are constantly improving our formulation and looking for a healthier way to produce our products. We love listening to customer’s feedback.
Networking and mentorships are a huge part of most people’s success stories. Can you tell us about how each played a role in your career?
Unfortunately, I haven’t received a lot of mentorship, but networking has definitely been crucial in my career. I have met truly inspiring people during trade shows such as Expo East and Expo West.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Trust your gut feeling!