The Rise of a Plant-Based Powerhouse: A Conversation with Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle, Founders and Co-CEOs of Sakara Life

July 13, 2021
We speak with Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle, co-founders and co-CEOs of Sakara Life, who started the company with $700. Now, Sakara Life has delivered millions of organic plant-based meals nationwide, enabling customers to transform their lives through the power of food as medicine.

A decade ago, Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle pieced together $700 to launch Sakara Life, which provides plant-based, organic, ready-to-eat meals with the goal of transforming lives by empowering people to be in control of their health and vitality. Since then, the company, which started as a bicycle delivery service, has delivered millions of meals nationwide, and it completed its Series B fundraise earlier this year. We recently spoke with Duboise and Tingle about starting and scaling the business, the company’s mission and values and the steps we can take today to start improving our health.

What led you to found Sakara Life? Was there a triggering event, or did you identify an unmet need in the market?

Sakara started when we both hit rock bottom. Danielle had been suffering from a poor relationship with food, and Whitney had been struggling with cystic acne for years. We couldn’t find a solution that focused on finding the root cause vs. treating symptoms, healing from the inside out and taking a holistic approach to our health. We developed Sakara as a nutritional program and lifestyle built around our proprietary 9 Pillars of Nutrition, including “Eat Your Water,” “No Calorie Counting” and eating for abundance to fuel and nourish your body. It’s designed to give you boosted energy, clearer skin, improved digestion, reduced bloat and increased focus. Through eating this way, we completely healed ourselves and experienced a physical and emotional transformation that we knew we had to share with others. From that moment on, we made it our mission to help others transform their lives through the power of food as medicine.

You started off delivering meals on bicycles and have now delivered millions of meals nationwide. Talk about scaling the business.

From bootstrapping the business with $700 to recently completing our Series B fundraise, we’ve never been more aligned and inspired to continue on our mission to transform lives. We started making meals from our own homes, and through word-of-mouth from clients, a little bit of good press (thank you, DailyCandy) and staying dedicated to our mission, we now have over 200 team members working together to provide science-backed, plant-based food, functional snacks, best-in-class supplements and more across the U.S. We learned to lean into challenges and let our creative brains lead us to the next evolution of our business and ourselves. It’s been exciting to see Sakara grow tremendously over the past several years, impacting the lives of millions. We’re feeling especially grateful to have been able to reach our clients and community over the past year during such a challenging time when our health has become more important than ever.

At some point, you decided to raise outside capital. Tell us about the decision to do so and any challenges faced along the way.

We started with $700 we raised from friends at a dinner party and built a profitable business model that allowed us to continue to build without outside capital. Many first-time founders raise too much and are left owning very little of what they’ve built, so we set out to focus on getting enough revenue and raising only what we needed to grow, so we could continue to own the majority of the business for as long as possible.

We closed our Series A funding in 2015, three years after launching Sakara Life, which took our nutrition program nationwide and launched our functional product offerings inclusive of granolas, bars, teas, protein and powers. In March 2021, we announced the close of our Series B funding, which is propelling our product innovation, enhancing our tech capabilities and our newly launched app, expanding our talent pool and supporting our endeavors to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Seeking funding as women is not easy. In 2019, only 2.8% of funding went to women-led startups and in 2020, that fell to 2.3%.1 However, we feel lucky to have incredible investors that believe in our mission and support achieving our goals through sustainable, profitable growth.

Sakara Life seems to be very mission-driven. What is the company’s mission?

Sakara’s mission is to transform lives. We aim to give you the tools that empower you to be in the driver’s seat of your own health, to turn your thoughts into things and your dreams into reality. We are building a global wellness movement with a community of joyful and inspired Sakaralites, achieving optimal health and vitality.

What guiding principles, or values, do you lean on when making business decisions?

Our mission to transform lives drives everything we do, and our values and beliefs help guide us to make decisions to ensure we are always in support of that mission. Our values include:

  • Transformation: Always seeking growth for our clients and ourselves
  • Science and Spirit: Relying on balanced decision-making and a holistic approach to wellness
  • S Factor: The intangible, creative essence of our brand that evokes emotion and makes you feel something
  • Service: Being of service to our clients and community, the planet and each other
  • Joy: One of the greatest nutrients, always making time to celebrate and be grateful

Diet culture has been getting a lot of heat in the media these days. How is Sakara Life reshaping what it means to “eat clean”?

Life is all about balance, and at Sakara, there is no such thing as a “no list” of food you can’t eat. One of our mottos and the title of our first cookbook is “Eat Clean, Play Dirty,” because while it’s important to eat clean, organic plants most of the time, we also love to eat food that might be considered “dirty,” like french fries and croissants. It’s all part of living the Sakara Life – if something gives you joy, you should have it. Joy, after all, is the most important nutrient. Rather than focusing on deprivation, Sakara nutrition focuses on eating an abundance of nutrients, which puts you in control of your health to make decisions based on your own body intelligence, not just what a diet tells you to eat.

What sets Sakara Life apart in the industry?

Sakara is a nutrition program and wellness lifestyle that promises transformation. Our life-changing nutrition is backed by science and traditional healing wisdom to give your body what it needs to thrive. Our chef-crafted meals are made with superfood rich, plant-based, organic and sustainable ingredients you can trust, all conveniently delivered ready-made to your doorstep. Sakara’s proprietary nutrition philosophy guides everything we create:

  • No calorie counting (eating should be joyful and abundant, not stressful)
  • Plant protein
  • Eat your water
  • Greens
  • Good fats
  • Eat the rainbow
  • Nutrient density
  • Sulfur-rich vegetables
  • Body intelligence

In just one week of our program, your body will be flooded with:

  • Over 100% of your daily requirement for protein, essential vitamins and minerals
  • Six to eight cups of leafy greens daily to heal your gut
  • More than 100 disease-fighting, youth-promoting phytochemicals and antioxidants
  • 200% of the fiber you need to support digestion
  • More than 70 unique plants for ultimate health

For people looking to improve their health, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. What’s the top thing you would encourage women to do who are looking to take better care of themselves?

Sakara provides the tools necessary for you to sit in the driver’s seat of your own health, and we start with your plate. Over 90% of Americans aren’t eating enough plants every day, and it’s the No. 1 thing we can do to support a healthy microbiome and ensure your body is functioning optimally. We believe nourishing yourself with whole, plant-based foods is the highest form of self-love and the top thing you can do to take better care of yourself. We encourage everyone to harness the healing power of plants by following Sakara’s proprietary 9 Nutritional Pillars, including a few simple tips to start with below:

  • Nutrient density: Make sure to have a variety of plants and colors. Opt for trying a new fruit or vegetable every time you shop!
  • Plant protein: Quinoa and hemp seeds are our favorite with all essential amino acids.
  • Greens: Eat four to six cups of leafy greens a day (aim for the full container you get at the grocery store).
  • Good fats: Add in clean, virgin oils, such as olive, coconut, macadamia and avocado.

How do you lean on and support other female entrepreneurs?

We’re lucky enough to have an incredible network of female entrepreneurs as friends and confidants. There is no roadmap for being an entrepreneur, so surrounding yourself with people who understand what you’re building is so powerful. We make time to celebrate one another, share advice, trials and tribulations and support each other’s ventures. When we do a partnership for a Sakara campaign or program, it’s often stemmed from a personal relationship or connection to an entrepreneur friend. That’s one of the best parts of our jobs – being able to create a community of like-minded people to support each other’s missions and impact as many lives as possible.

2020 brought the challenges many working mothers face into the spotlight. As mothers yourselves, and as leaders to a team that includes many working mothers, what lessons did you learn from last year that you are bringing with you as we exit this crisis?

We’ve been reminded that when women unite behind a single mission together, they’re unstoppable. We work with a powerful team, many of whom are mothers themselves. In the past 12 months, every member of our leadership team has given birth and taken maternity leave. Women have such incredible strength, and we embrace and encourage that resiliency to serve as an example for our entire team.

What’s next for Sakara Life as we look at the rest of 2021 and beyond?

We will continue to deliver on our mission of transforming lives by expanding the tools we offer our clients and community on their health journeys. We recently completed our Series B fundraise to continue to grow our consumer packaged goods business alongside our newly appointed board chairman, John Replogle, former CEO of Seventh Generation and Burt’s Bees. In recent news, we just launched our Sakara Life app and are continuing to grow our bicoastal team. We’re excited for what's to come!

Danielle and Whitney, thank you for your time and thoughts.

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