Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi — I’m Camille Varlet, the founder of Mouth Off, the first-ever dissolving gum that actually eliminates bad breath versus just temporarily masking like all other products. We’re about to launch, and it’s been a 2-year journey, with many challenging moments, and exciting wins. We’re excited to be disrupting the $7B fresh breath category in the US, and finally solving a problem that affects over 100M people every year. Mouth Off does more than just cover up the bad breath molecules and trick you into thinking your bad breath is gone; our patent-pending formula is activated as you chew to bind to and clean them away, and lasts for 4 hours.
I believe everything starts with a clean breath. We’re focused on destigmatizing bad breath, which is why we’ve called our brand Mouth Off. If you’re living (eating, drinking, working out, etc.) you likely have some bad breath- as many of us have come to find out since wearing masks and getting to smell our own breath. With Mouth Off, we want you to no longer have to worry or wonder about your breath, and instead focus on being you. We’ve had great momentum this year, including being part of ERA (Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator), the Columbia Startup Lab, we’re about to close our pre-seed round of financing and getting ready to launch in a few weeks.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Bringing Mouth Off to market has been a 2-year journey. I’ve been really lucky to have worked both for large CPG brands and had a previous startup in F&B, as that experience helped and informed how I’ve gone about creating the Mouth Off brand, product, and our strategy.
After my MBA, I worked in brand management at Dannon and L’Oreal. There, I got to create and launch brands from scratch including Dannon’s Greek yogurt, did a lot of product innovation and development, led cross-functional teams and agencies, worked with legal and regulatory, developed and executed in-market strategies, and of course managed the business. This was all really useful for Mouth Off.
I’d also launched a beverage brand before starting to work on Mouth Off — All Beauty Drink, a functional beverage formulated to help nourish and hydrate skin from within — and that taught me the challenges and opportunities of creating and launching a brand outside of a large organization, like speed to market, ability to pivot quickly, figuring out how to get stuff done with very limited resources and support, working with distributors and brokers, and too many other things to list.
Mouth Off started after that when I was working in innovation and brand consulting through an innovation studio called Pre hype. After All Beauty Drink, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I couldn’t have imagined that while I was consulting, I’d get the idea for my next business. But that is exactly what happened and in the last 2 years a lot has happened; I negotiated an exclusive partnership with one of the companies I met on an assignment, then I hired a team of food engineers, we created a formula, I submitted patent documentation for our formula, conducted testing, completed an accelerator program, found a contract manufacturer, raised a pre-seed round and am getting ready to launch in a few weeks.
While I never expected I’d be launching a product that eliminates bad breath a few years back, the stars aligned and I fought to secure the opportunity that presented itself. I couldn’t be happier and more excited about what we’re doing with Mouth Off; I believe that with Mouth Off, gum and the fresh breath category will be changed forever.
My ingredient partner is very large biotech. The active ingredient in Mouth Off is built around plant-based science, has undergone significant testing, including a clinical. Results show this ingredient removes sulfur compounds, the stuff that causes breath odor, and it works for at least 4 hours. No other ingredient exists that can do the same thing. All other products in the category are only able to mask the sulfur compounds. I knew this would be a true differentiator in the market and that Mouth Off would disrupt the fresh breath category. It’s hard to believe that there is no product today that actually works and delivers on its promise, and that finally, we will bring a real solution to people who need clean breath throughout the day. The benefit we can bring people is relevant to all occasions throughout the day, starting after you brush your teeth in the morning, to when you brush them at night before going to bed.
I picked gum as the delivery mechanism for this ingredient for many reasons. There has been no real innovation in this category in decades, yet it's a very familiar format, light/easy to ship and carry around, discrete to use. Plus chewing has built-in oral care benefits. Once I’d come up with the idea for Mouth Off, I had to figure out how to execute and make it happen. I went and learned a ton about how chewing gum is made. After research and interviews, I realized there was a lot to improve on with this format, it was time to create a product that not only delivers on the promised benefits it should provide, but also deliver a formula that was in line with today’s consumer tastes, needs, and preferences. This is how dissolving gum came to be, and why we made the formula plant-based, sugar-free, and with no artificial ingredients.
I started with a small investment from Pre hype, which helped to get us started but wasn’t enough to cover the R&D work needed. There was a moment in time when I wasn't sure how I was going to pay for the formulation work I’d started, but believed I’d find a way... I felt that once I had some samples in hand, and people could experience the efficacy and difference in format, it would open up additional investment. I was right, thankfully, but it could have easily gone the other way. I got another angel investment as well as the business changing news that I’d gotten into ERA (Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator). And I have raised more since for my pre-seed round. And to think this is just the beginning.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
For Mouth Off, it initially started with the active ingredient. Prior to working on our dissolving gum, our ingredient partner had conducted in vitro and human studies. These showed almost a complete removal of sulfur compounds when used, how well it performed against other gums and mints already in the market (as you can imagine our ingredient was the only one to get rid of the sulfur compounds), and how long the benefits lasted.
Then I hired food engineers to start working on the dissolving gum. We first created the formula, tested it for chew, texture, mouth feel; I got testers who tried and rated the various early formula variants. Once we had a texture we were happy with, we moved to the next step: incorporating the active ingredient into the formula, which is harder than it sounds, given we had to take certain limitations such as temperatures into account. Once we tested and saw efficacy results were as expected, the team moved on to the finishing touches such as coating. In general, making a completely new formula is tough and it took months.
White labeling would have been easier but then we wouldn’t have created a better product, and something ownable for our business that could truly differentiate us and add value to our customers. We then worked with a contract manufacturer (took months to find them, as this type of formula was so different from anything being made today, we had a very hard time finding anyone with the capabilities we needed) to optimize the benchtop formula for large scale manufacturing. This included some minimal lab work and a small batch pilot to make sure everything was ready for a full production run.
We for sure picked the harder road, and now, seeing the results and what we were able to make, I’m so proud of the entire team involved over these last few years, especially all the R&D people who worked so hard at getting Mouth Off to market. We did it! We created a dissolving gum, plant-based, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors, that is actually able to get rid of bad breath.
Where we started:
In parallel as we were working on the formulation, I also did as much testing and consumer research as I could to help guide us with the overall concept, positioning, branding, logo, packaging, pricing, and claims. I started consumer interviews, to learn how people thought about bad breath, products they were using, what they liked, what they didn’t, what they looked for, etc.
These gave me insights to build some hypotheses, which we then tested through Facebook, using ads and landing page conversion data to help give us a sense of consumer interest as well as a very early directional idea of what our expected CAC could be. We did a lot of additional quantitative testing along the way using a company called Alpha to get to where we are today at launch. Once we’re in the market, we will continue to test, optimize and adapt to what we learn.
Packaging where we started:
Describe the process of launching the business.
We’re about to launch and put together our acquisition plan as I write this. It will be a combination of paid acquisition (FB/Insta/Google Search), influencer campaigns, and brand partnerships. We also have an email and social media strategy in place and we plan to kick this off in the next 2 weeks. We’re really going to focus on traffic and growing our top of the funnel at launch. We are planning on testing messaging and visuals to learn, see what works and converts, and then doubling down on these. I’m a full believer in testing, which is now so easy to do across all the paid platforms, and then optimizing for the best conversion and results.
In the next few weeks, you will see our new website launching as well. While we have a 1-time purchase option for someone who just wants to try Mouth Off, we want to make it as easy for our customers as possible to make sure they can Mouth Off and Live On, which means never running out, and will send monthly supplies. You just tell us if you’re a 1-2 piece of gum a day, 2-3 pieces or more and we will send you the corresponding monthly amount. Cancel at any time, of course, but we are confident that once you’ve tried Mouth Off and seen how you can Mask On, Date On, Get your Social On, etc. you won’t want to spend another day without it.
We also just had a photoshoot in LA last week, and now have amazing assets and photos to use - you’ll be seeing all of these on our website and social in early 2021.
Old placeholder site:
Launch site: Coming soon!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re about to launch so right now we’re focused just on that. Mouth Off is launching with a peppermint flavor and in the coming year, we plan to expand to additional flavors and will look to our customers to tell us what they want to see.
Additionally, we believe dissolving gum is the future of delivery functionally to people and will continue to innovate to bring active ingredients through dissolving gum as the delivery mechanism to consumers. We’re all about superior efficacy, convenience, and eco-friendly formulas, and believe dissolving gum is the new way to provide functionality. Also in an easy and light to ship, portable and discrete format. Look out for what’s next in our product portfolio!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We’re still at the beginning of the journey, so I know I have a lot to learn, but a few valuable things are the following:
Test and learn.
We all have our own great ideas, get valuable feedback/opinions from mentors or investors but I always need to remember each person’s opinion is just 1 point of view. I don’t believe in focus groups made up of one, and as Mouth Off has come to launch, have looked for as many opportunities to test and get feedback as possible. I hear it over and over again, then that’s something to pay attention to, and work on.
I test all the time - just this week I participated in a product jam for Columbia startup Lab, of which I am a member, to get feedback on our launch website copy and images. This pushed me to make some significant improvements. I started by showing the new lead panel for our site and creating a survey. One of the participants then said to me: “what if I don’t like any of them?”. I took that opportunity to better understand from the group, what they didn’t like, what was missing, what they would want to learn in that space, what would make a difference and get them to buy. I got such valuable insights and they have impacted how our site will launch.
Streamline and simplify the message.
We have a lot of great points of differentiation to communicate, from efficacy to an improved format that dissolves, then plant-based, sugar-free, etc etc. Trying out and testing different ways to position and speak about the product have helped really simplify the main message. As I always say, there is a “front of the pack” copy, and then a “back of the pack” copy - sorry I come from a consumer products background so that is how I think.
What I mean is, there is only so much text that can fit and be noticed by a potential customer on the front of the back. All you need is to grab their attention and interest. If they want to know more, they will pick up and turn to the back of the pack for the additional info. Nailing that front of pack message is critical. It took us multiple tries to get it, and being part of ERA (accelerator program) and pitching every week, then getting honest feedback, was a big part of getting us there. Here we also had the freedom to really experiment with different ways of introducing the brand and learned from the feedback we heard over and over again.
Get trusted investors, mentors, and other founders to support and help you.
No one can do this alone. I rely on many people to get through every week. I am lucky to have found my support group and would urge everyone to find a few key people they can trust and who can be a resource because it’s been said before and it’s true: founding a business can be a very lonely and challenging road. And I love company!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My site has been built on Shopify. We’re using Klaviyo for email. We will be using Facebook/Instagram for initial ads and Google Ads for search. For communicating with mentors, investors, and other founders, I’ve found Slack and FB groups to be the best. I’m sure I will have more to add in the coming months.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I don’t know if I’m ready to start giving advice just yet! What I can say is that I fully believe in the brand and business that I’m building and consider it a privilege to be bringing Mouth Off to market; I think you need this to have the energy and optimism to wake up every day and face the challenges involved in launching a startup. I also made sure to create a brand and product that is actually solving a real problem, and that people are willing to pay for the solution.
Then, I asked myself: is the market big enough? This is important if you want to get an investment. It was really critical to me that we had some type of “moat”, which’s an exclusive ingredient and patent-pending formula to protect us and actually differentiate us from everything out there. I’ve worked with some beautiful leading brands in both food and beauty categories. It’s hard to compete, especially if you aren’t truly differentiated and bringing real value to your customer in a way that can be easily understood and articulated. Then I tested as much as I could to get early data to help shape our positioning and confirm that people want our solution.
I made changes and let go of certain ideas based on learnings or existing limitations to get something to market (such as the type of packaging my manufacturing partner can run on their line, Covid, etc), to launch because I know that I will learn so much and continue to make changes and optimize, once Mouth Off is in market.
Finally, the business and unit economics need to work and will continue to improve as we scale and grow.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now we’re looking for interns with social/digital/PR experience, influencers, and anyone interested in featuring us in their blog, etc.
We’re looking for brand partnerships.
We’re also looking for any guest speaker opportunities for conferences, podcasts, etc.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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