Q & A With CEO and Co-Founder Shari Coulter Ford
Shari Coulter Ford’s journey to a successful career as an equity investor and entrepreneur was not a linear path. She started out in journalism school with the dream of traveling the world writing for National Geographic. Instead, she was fortunate another way when she landed a job at PR Newswire, a fast-growing, innovative company in the mid-80’s. Shari became enamored by financial news and the “business” of growing the company. As a result, she started the International Business unit of the company, opening offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Her dream of traveling the world was realized, just in a different way than she imagined. Shari went on to run a Venture Capital backed company in New York and later found herself on the investors’ side of the table, leading healthcare related investments for the lead investor in the company. Fast forward a couple chapters and she’s currently living her latest dream building Tohi Ventures.
Q: What has being an entrepreneur taught you about how you should pursue opportunity?
A: The words cautiously and advisedly come to mind! Seriously, that’s a hard question. Part of what distinguishes entrepreneurs is their ability to define and recognize opportunity. The pursuit is the tricky part and where it becomes such a personal journey. Opportunity implies a positive outcome. But being an entrepreneur is fraught with risk. You must define your own metrics for success and establish your floor on failure. I’ve found that self-awareness is as important as self-confidence in the process.
Q: Have you always wanted to own your company?
A: An emphatic yes!
Q: What made you decide to launch a line of healthy beverages?
A: I was on a personal quest to find the perfect ready-to-drink, healthy afternoon refreshment. I wasn’t satisfied with what I found on the shelf – so I thought I should create my own. I was a little obsessed with the Quantified Self | Precision Wellness space and thought there was an opportunity to create something unique.
Q: What do you believe makes Tohi unique from other healthy beverages?
A: Definitely the core ingredient- Aronia Berries. As I was doing the initial research, I quickly realized how under-utilized Aronia Berries are in consumer products. I found that surprising since their nutritional metrics are astoundingly high – especially the antioxidant content. We believe we’ve just scratched the surface of how to capture and communicate the nutritional value of the Aronia Berry. Tohi Ventures wants to be at the forefront of innovation around this core ingredient and we want to be a partner and a catalyst for emerging commercial farmers.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge of launching a new line of beverages and how did you motivate yourself to move past it?
A: Startups are hard – no matter what industry you are in or what problem you’re trying to solve. Every day presents a different challenge – supply chain, resources, talent – just be ready for the unexpected. There is no question that resilience and self-motivation are two key personality traits of any entrepreneur. Be thoughtful but be relentless.
Q: What has been the most rewarding or surprising aspect of creating Tohi?
A: How much I’ve enjoyed the total immersion in the CPG space. I’ve never created a consumer product. So, learning the language of a new industry is only half of the challenge. I found there are no shortcuts. You can surround yourself with navigators to help mitigate risk – but ultimately you must make decisions about everything from branding to supply chain. It’s been rewarding to find another level of capacity for learning something new in a compressed period.
Q: What is your favorite Tohi flavor?
A: As the founder, I feel like I shouldn’t have a favorite. It would be like favoring one kid over another. I love all four flavors at different times of the day. Aronia Original to start the day. Blackberry Raspberry is a great mid-morning snack. Dragon Fruit provides the afternoon spark. Ginger Lime makes a great Tohi After Hours mixer.