During a panel discussion at the Wo(men)’s Networking Lunch at Vitafoods Europe 2023 in Geneva, Xu shared her insights on what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur and build a strong brand that consumers align with in the nutraceutical and health space.
We caught up with her to learn more about her career and experiences to date.
What first attracted you to a career in the nutraceutical industry?
“Since 2009 I have been a startup entrepreneur in the food and tech industries and for basically my whole career, I've been launching startups. I'm a big foodie and my parents come from a gastronomy background, so I grew up surrounded by restaurants and food – food connecting people, food nourishing the body, food as a business. Naturally, I became intrigued with everything food related.”
What niche in the market do your products aim to fill?
“HER ONE, as the name suggests, is all about women’s needs. We’re about female empowerment from the inside, meaning we create products, supplements, natural supplements, super foods, and functional foods specifically targeting female health needs.
“We also create products that accompany women through different life stages as some stages are quite unique for women such as menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause. I feel that this is what the market needs; a brand and a company that can address female wellness and human health needs across life stages.”
How important is it that brands design products with the gender of their consumer in mind?
“I’m a big fan of gender neutrality, so I'm not so much the person that says: ‘blue is only for boys and pink is only for girls.’ Looking at scientific data, there is a clear female health data gap. We see across different aspects that women's health has been overlooked. Over centuries, all the studies that have been published are male-centric. Even back in the days of animal testing, male mice were used, for example.
“It's about designing products with female behaviour in mind that are also linked to female health. That's what we are about. Our products don't have a gender: everyone can eat the products. For us, it's about advocating the benefits specifically with women in mind.”
How have your products been received by consumers?
“From what we see and hear, the feedback has been amazing. We are a direct-to-consumer company, meaning we sell everything directly through our own website and via social media, so we have quite a young target audience.
“We get a lot of direct feedback through the likes of Instagram and emails where people share very personal stories with us. There are a few that I have read and really teared up thinking: ‘wow this is what we did, we improved people’s lives.’ This is the most amazing feedback and highest compliment that any company can get, that people’s lives have changed because of something that we did. How crazy is that?”
As a serial entrepreneur, what have your experiences of fundraising and securing investment been?
“I started young - aged 22 and still in university – in a sector completely different but adjacent to food. At the beginning, it was my age that people thought was crazy and was what made them curious - knowing that I was not the intern but the co-founder of a company.
“I built my network through hard work and dedication. There were one hundred no’s when pitching to investors throughout my career but with every no there was always positive feedback and an opportunity to learn how to improve.
“Eventually, we got the first investors on board and that's how I built my network and following startups. I have also had experience with business angels from the Berlin startup scene and some of the biggest German and French VCs in food tech. It's networking, networking, networking; sometimes losing but also oftentimes winning.”
Aside from financial and business skills, what valuable lessons have your entrepreneurial ventures taught you?
“Not to be afraid of failure because failure is part of the journey of being an entrepreneur. I've been through the cycle of starting something and closing something down and have even been through insolvency, which was quite a grounding process. For me, the most important thing is to be 100% transparent. I've had investors that lost money with me in the past and reinvested as they believe in me as an entrepreneur, which is a huge compliment.
“Another thing is to detach yourself from your company. I am not the company, even though I am the founder. When you start as a first-time founder or young entrepreneur, you tend to take things very personally and rejection feels like it was a personal failure. But at the end of the day, there is always something to learn from it.
“My personal credo for HER ONE is to trust your gut. We women always have some sort of instinct and oftentimes, the voices in our head tell us no because it's irrational or because society tells us not to do it. The instincts are there, however, so listen to your gut and trust your gut.”