How I Started A Seven Figure Superfood Brand [From Nigeria]

Published: August 11th, 2021
Dr. Unoma Ndili Okorafor (PhD)
Founder, Herbal Goodness
Herbal Goodness
from McKinney, Texas
started June 2013
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Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Dr. Unoma Okorafor, founder and CEO of Herbal Goodness - the #1 manufacturer of premium quality, unique Superfoods, and herbs to support healthy living and impact lives.

At Herbal Goodness, we source and manufacture premium quality superfood products including herbal extracts, teas, supplements, nutraceuticals, and smoothie powders. Our signature products are our organic Papaya seed and leaf extracts, Guava leaf extract and tea and Gymnema leaf tea. At Herbal Goodness we recognize the meaning of phytonutrients and the versatility of nature’s superfoods and herbs working synergistically as a whole and not just isolating individual components. We focus on unique, nutrient-dense herbs from ancient wisdom such as Papaya Leaves, Seeds, and the Green Papaya fruit, Guava leaves, Graviola (Soursop) leaves, Guayusa, Cat's Claw, Gymnema and so much more. Many of these are not well known in the US but have been used for centuries to support healthy living. Collectively, they offer many health benefits for the digestive system, immune system, blood platelet, metabolism, sleep and relaxation, joint health, stress support, beauty, and more.

Papaya leaf extract, for example, contains the super enzyme papain which helps digest proteins, wheat, fat, and carbohydrates and speeds up metabolism. Our Papaya leaf extract is a glycerin extract made using the whole organic papaya leaf herb and contains nutrients that provide better bio-absorption. Papaya Seeds, often overlooked, are especially beneficial for protecting our kidneys and promoting intestinal cleanse. Green Papaya contains powerful antioxidants that may protect our skin and heart cells from damage as well as improving digestive health.

In line with our goal of making superfoods readily available for health and wellness for everyone, (children, teens, adults and the elderly), we are exploring new lines that include CBD Extracts and our Children’s Line of Supplements; two sensational, tasty and healthy products that are potent and of the highest quality.

Herbal Goodness started as a little dream in Texas with only a single product on sale but has expanded to several beneficial superfood products. We are WBENC certified 100% Women and minority-owned, giving 10% of our profits to support the education of girls in Africa, through our partnership with the WAAW Foundation.



What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I would say that Herbal Goodness, which started in 2011 but was formally incorporated in 2013. While pregnant for My third child, I was eager to eat healthier to give my son the best start in life. A good friend in Nigeria mentioned that I should load up on papaya as it is rich in Vitamins C and E and will improve my baby's skin and overall health.

Trust your instincts, if you feel a person, product or approach is not right for your business, trust your instincts even more and do what is right for your business. Be unafraid

I started searching for papayas but the ones I found in the stores tasted much different from the organic papayas of my youth. When I grew up in Nigeria, everything was organic or wild-grown. I ate fresh papayas, mangos, grapefruits, and Guava every day!. This made it relatively easy for me to spot the difference between the amazing fruits I grew up on and the genetically modified variants abundant in the stores. I became passionate about showing the world the real deal and Herbal Goodness was born.

Knowing the amazing health benefits of truly organic papayas, I started searching grocery stores and natural health food stores for any products that compared to the papaya of my youth but was surprised to realize such products did not exist. This set me on a journey to source and provide the best quality products, I started solely with Papaya and have since then been expanding into other beneficial, nutrient-dense superfoods.

The moment I knew this was something I wanted to do; my “AHA'' moment as you would call it, was after my thorough search of stores, tasting and noting the difference between the organic foods I was used to and the GM (Genetically Modified) variety foods that were available; there was a glaring nutritional void to be filled. I wanted to do something about it and stayed up late one night creating our first website.

Our first product in 2011 - Papaya Leaf Tea, was a bold move! At the time I actually had no clue how to manufacture the product. I stayed up late to create a website and the tea as a test product mock-up, set up a google ad with a budget of $10 per day, and went to bed at 5 am. I woke up at 10 am to find 5 orders! I was able to refund all but one order. The one gentleman requested to have the product even if he had to wait 4 months. And that is how the company got started.


The knowledge that there were people out there like me, looking for healthy, organic, papaya leaf tea - and willing to pay, and wait 4 months to get the real deal - fueled my resolve to make this product available.

Before Herbal Goodness, I had no real expertise in managing a brand. True, I had started several businesses over the years including a supermarket (When I was 18 years, I started Legacy Supermarket in my home town of Asaba,Nigeria. The supermarket ran for over 15 years!) and a furniture company which I shut down after 3 years. During my days in college and afterward, I dabbled into various businesses from selling clothes and jewelry to selling wholesale food produce. During my Ph.D. I ran a web and software development company for a few years and even dabbled into FinTech.

With each business, I learned most importantly what I did not want to do. For example, the furniture business taught me that I did not want a service business so I only focused on products. From a young age, I knew that I was entrepreneurial and enjoyed the thrill of creating opportunities. I have the gift of being able to see business opportunities in almost any situation.

Formally, my Ph.D. is the best educational experience that I leverage today. It taught me the power of to start from a vague idea and build upon the work of others to create something new. While my research was in Computer engineering, the basic skills of Ph.D. carry over to all aspects of life.

I have also participated in several short courses and executive programs including the Social Entrepreneurship program at The Stanford Graduate School of Business and the INSEAD school. In the last 5 years, I have attended several small business development programs including the 10KSB program (By Goldman Sachs and Dallas Community College), the Emerging Leaders Program for Small businesses sponsored by the SBA (Small Business Administration), The Capital One Catapult Program, aimed at elevating small business, the Toyota Small Business Program and more recently I have been part of several programs by the WBENC (Women Business Enterprise National Council) and the MSDBC (Mothers Supporting Daughters with Breast Cancer). In the past, I have worked with our SCORE coaches and the SDBC local office. This year, I have been able to start working with a personal coach, an executive coach from the LIFTFUND and an advisory board. There are so many resources to help SMEs grow and I have taken advantage of many of them - They have all been hugely impactful and helped our business grow significantly.

At the time of starting Herbal Goodness, I had a secure six-figure salary job and had managed to put away over a year's worth of living expenses as savings. I quit my job in 2008, right in the middle of the economic meltdown at that time so many thought it was the worst time to launch a startup. But I loved what I was doing, was focused on the need I was meeting and the thrill of creating something new.




Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

As mentioned earlier my entire educational background in Computer Engineering as well as my experience as a researcher with a Ph.D. has proved invaluable. I acquired web development skills as a graduate student, which I used to create our first website, company logo, and product mock-up. I designed our first website on the eCommerce platform called Magento. Then I realized I needed more professional help - and hired a graphic designer and a Magento developer as we grew. While I use professionals, I continue to handle many aspects of our web design to date.

My love for research helps me a lot. I am curious and able to learn new tools quickly. I also have a knack for finding the right people. The book I read early on that helped me the most is “The Four-Hour Work Week”. It opened me up to several ideas including contract manufacturing. I found a great one early on in California, with a minimum order quantity of 1000 units of our products, at a cost below $3000. Voila. We were in business!

Sourcing our ingredients wasn't really a problem for us as a startup, we were a single ingredient product brand at the time. Our very first ingredient then was just Papaya leaves and our manufacturer had it in stock in their ingredients supply so all we did was purchase them but in teabag cuts. I would say we were really lucky on that front as beginners.



Prototyping was a bit more complicated. We went back and forth with the supplier and package manufacturers about three or four times. The supplier (a contract manufacturer) was our first port of call, they gave us specifications of what we should have in terms of packaging and introduced us to a packaging manufacturer that we ended up working with. In terms of figuring out what we wanted, a lot of looking at what was already existing in the marketplace happened. We looked at the packaging of our potential competitors, people who were doing similar things in the market. We kind of mimicked and improved on what they were doing. From the very beginning, we wanted packaging that was possibly recyclable, made of biodegradable materials, that was part of the things that guided our actions and inclinations. I did a lot of the prototyping on my own, mostly in my kitchen, getting a product, packaging it, looking at it, re-doing it. Did several cycles of that before I ended up with something I really liked. Have a peek at our manufacturing process.

Registering the business name with the county at that time cost $20, I also registered the business with the state of Texas as a limited liability company. I felt this was a good move for the company and where we were headed. I had a lot of guidance from a lawyer, who also happened to be a friend, in that regard and also my past experiences with my small businesses came into play. All these played a part in helping me know how to structure the business legally. A few months later, I realized I needed a strong CPA (Certified Public Accountant). I also enrolled in a free accounting class offered by my local SDBC office. That class - is the BEST class I ever took for my business. I finally understood cash flow, revenue, expenses, cost of goods, inventory management, and more. I still use that knowledge every day!

When it came to finding and locating manufacturers, believe it or not, I turned to Google for help. I found most of our manufacturers online. Like I said earlier, I had read the book “the four-hour week” and it had given pretty extensive instructions on how to find contract manufacturers and I really followed that book to the “T”. It is one of my best business books, the book helped me launch the business successfully. One of the things I did early in the business was visit trade shows; a way of networking and scouting for manufacturers. In our first year, I went to the Natural Products Expo WestTradeshow in California. I didn't go with any products to exhibit but mostly to observe. Just to see what other people were doing, meet suppliers and vendors. Google and going to the Expos were the two things that really helped us find contract manufacturers and build partnerships early on in the business.






The process of launching the business.

Funding the business largely came from personal savings and assistance from relatives. I had saved aggressively for two years and also got a major capital investment from my spouse. These were used to set up the business and so far we have not had the need to borrow money. Our growth has been steadily increasing on these foundations.

Getting customers wasn't really an issue. Even before we started the business, as I said, we already had pre-orders so the product started selling from day one. Most of our advertising at the time was from referrals, testimonials, and word of mouth. However, it took three years to see real traction. I remember our second year when we hired employees and we couldn't afford to pay them a lot but they were very encouraging and brought a lot of soul to the company. It wasn't until the fourth year that we made serious progress and I could draw a salary for myself. We grew slowly, spending the first few years adding new products, refining our vendor relationships, trying to get our products to be profitable

As a brand, we were big on the advertising front, using Google, Facebook, and Digital advertising. We also got on Amazon, which was a crucial move for us as a selling platform. And these moves yielded immense results, every single year we grew. By the end of the first year, we made about $300 but by the end of the second year, our revenue was at $30000+ and has been growing ever since.

The one lesson the process of our launch and our early days taught me was to be patient, see things through to the finish. It taught me to hold on even when it didn't seem like there was progress and keep laying the groundwork as effectively as possible. It was in doing this that over time, I saw growth.



My Advice

My advice for aspiring founders would be:

  1. Be consistent, give it time. I see people who start a business for a year or two and are like "it's not working". Sometimes, the marketplace wants to know that you're here to stay. After they have seen you stand the test of time and know you're in it for the long haul, they actually start taking you seriously. So be consistent. You can pivot or change your business approach/strategy but stay in the game, don't get yourself out of the game. Don't quit.
  2. A business is only as great as its team. Hire the right team that takes your business as their own and pushes it to heights they foresee for their own business. Make sure the vision for the business is clear to them.

Maintaining and bringing back customers relies mainly on defining what differentiates us in the marketplace in our products, values, and sales practice as well as having a strong social impact and mission of giving 10% back to support education of girls in Africa.

We mostly use email campaigns, a lot of follow-up emailing happens. We do a lot of target emailing which targets customers that may have left our shopping list. Discounts could be offered as well as points that could be stacked and used to get slashes on purchases.


Our marketing team focuses heavily on SEO and Ads to drive traffic as well as utilize our social media platforms effectively. Lately, my team and I have been geared towards a goal of 5x ROI on all investments. One of our priorities is growing our email marketing lists to build our marketing funnel audience for cost-effective retargeting and follow-up. Aggressive digital marketing efforts and selling online on platforms such as Amazon have helped us grow.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our future looks amazing and we are poised for significant growth. The new interest in herbal supplements to support healthy living especially after the pandemic has helped to point people to companies like ours. Being a women-owned and minority business has also been a good thing for our company. Adaptogens are huge for stress and immunity. Try out our free samples.



What I have learned through starting the business.

I have learned how to hear and trust my gut instincts, deep down we all know what is right for us. Also, I have learned to seek out the best talent and empower them to always do the right thing. We have learned to hire based on our core values - and Integrity is one of them. We hire slow and fire fast. When someone does not fit into the team and your company culture, do them and yourself a favor and let them go. Working with mentors and coaches, and implementing the EoS system this year has been a huge game-changer. Getting certified as a women-owned and minority-owned business has opened so many doors for us as well. I always approach life with gratitude.

One final lesson I have learned is to pay attention to data, most times numbers do not lie. Using a company scorecard helps keep track of progress, and empowers us to make optimal decisions.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

A book that I have found instrumental in my growth as a business person and brand would be “the four-hour week” by Tim Ferriss. It helped me successfully launch my company as well as sustain it over time. Another book I have found extremely helpful is “Traction” by Gino Wickman.


Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

My advice for other entrepreneurs that are just starting are:

Trust your instinct and your guts. Sometimes when you're starting you feel like you're unsure, like you need other people to tell you what to do. Trust your instincts, if you feel a person, product or approach is not right for your business, trust your instincts even more and do what is right for your business. Be unafraid.

Go deep and figure out what you're very passionate about. Doing something you're passionate about is the thing that will tide you over those dry seasons and it will make it exciting. Find something that really makes you come alive and do it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We at Herbal Goodness are a group of driven, highly creative, fast-paced individuals constantly exceeding our own expectations. We are looking to hire someone that models our values to join our family. We are always looking for people to join our team.


Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Dr. Unoma Ndili Okorafor (PhD), Founder of Herbal Goodness
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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