Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Unless you’ve been living under a literal rock, chances are you’re familiar with BEHAVE, the low-sugar gummy bears that have earned a reputation for being shockingly good (inside AND out). They’re an essential for us here at TQE, whether we’re taking a bag or three to the beach or a breezy picnic situation.
The woman behind the disruptive brand, Mayssa Chehata, is unsurprisingly whip-smart – and passionate about shaking up the candy aisle. Read on to learn more about the early days of BEHAVE, the unique challenges (and opportunities) she navigated during a global pandemic, and how she takes care of herself and her team while creating everyone’s favorite sweet treat.
I’d love to begin by learning more about your personal background, and what brought you to launch Behave.
Mayssa: I started my career in brand marketing and business development. I was really lucky to work at world class brands at a variety of stages in multiple industries, like the NFL, Uber, SoulCycle, and Daily Harvest. It was while an early employee at Daily Harvest, a health food startup, that I came face to face with how my own poor eating habits – and insatiable sweet tooth – were starting to impact me, both physically and mentally.
I started seeking better options in every type of food and snack, and was excited to find a ton of great options, from low sugar ice cream to chickpea pasta. But when I eventually found myself in the candy aisle, I came up empty. As a consumer, I felt a vast void in an aisle that I realized hadn’t seen innovation in decades. This was the initial lightbulb that inspired me to try to create a product and brand to fill that void.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and pursue Behave full-time?
Mayssa: I sat on the initial thought for a bit, and it was probably after over a year of continuing to search for this type of product and coming up empty that my business brain turned on and I wanted to see what could be done about it.
First order of business had to be, can we create the product I’m envisioning – low in sugar, without using anything artificial – but still tastes delicious. This led me to connect with world-renowned chef Elizabeth Falkner, and we started on the R&D of the product.
After almost a year in various home and commercial kitchens around NYC and 100s of flavors tested, we landed on a formula we loved and selected the 3 flavors for our first product. Once the product and formula were in place, I could see the vision for this brand and product clearly and took the plunge to leave my job and work on this full time.
On a practical level, during that time when we were working on this as a side hustle, I was in savings mode, and was lucky to be in a well-paying role with a bonus component that let me set aside the savings I needed to feel confident leaving my job to launch the business.
What were some of the challenges launching Behave as the pandemic began and transformed our world? I imagine there were plenty!
Mayssa: When the lockdown hit, we were scheduled to go into our first full-scale production run with our factory in a few weeks, and launch a few weeks after that. The pandemic caused months-long delays at our factory and along our whole supply chain, and we ultimately had to delay production and launch to late summer.
We had also initially anticipated launching the business focused on direct to consumer, but also with a handful of select retail partners. With retailers just starting to open back up in late summer 2020 and a lot of uncertainty around if/when consumers would be returning to stores, we took a look at our go to market strategy, and made the decision to launch entirely direct to consumer.
Conversely, did you find any unexpected blessings from launching in such a strange time?
Mayssa: Because of the lock-down, there was a massive spike in consumer comfortability shopping online, especially in some categories that had previously lagged in e-commerce adoption like food. This definitely helped us capture a larger audience then we may have been able to prior to the lock down.
The other benefit that came from launching entirely direct to consumer was that from Day 1, we had a direct channel and line of communication with every single BEHAVE consumer. We were able to talk to them, collect feedback, and hear what they wanted to see from us as a company. We took some of the very initial feedback from our DTC community and ended up implementing a reformulation of our product in the first few months of business, something we wouldn’t have been able to do without that direct line of communication with our community.
Were you cognizant of branding Behave as a candy alternative that didn’t subscribe to diet culture? How did you see Behave fitting into (or completely subverting) what dominated this “sugar-free" market prior to your launch?
Mayssa: Absolutely! When I went to the candy aisle as a consumer looking for a better option, I found 2 things: organic candy – which is often higher in sugar than conventional candy, or “sugar-free” candy, which is usually a direct copy of the conventional version just swapping sugar for harsh artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, like Aspartame. And they are branded for diets, weight loss, and restriction
When we set out to create the BEHAVE brand, we were very cognizant that we wanted to be just another fun, exciting candy brand on the shelf, that your drawn to because it’s going to bring a moment of joy into your day and taste amazing – we want the nutritional attributes to be an after thoughts. That’s why our logo is BEHAVE crossed through - we don’t subscribe to diet culture as a brand or the idea that you need to “behave” around certain foods or sugar. We are about eating “more” candy, not less of anything.
As a founder, how do you take care of yourself and prevent burnout?
Mayssa: I’ve learned with age and experience that the only way to be the best leader and most productive founder is by taking care of myself and my mental health, and I consider it a priority that impacts the business. The same goes for the entire team. We offer mental health days, a monthly wellness stipend, and a number of other team culture pillars that support this and we hope to expand on as the company and team grows.
Some of my go-to self-care practices are gratitude journaling daily, therapy, exercise as a matter of my sanity, getting outside everyday, and trying to have reasonable boundaries with my schedule to allow for free time on evenings, weekends, and vacation days. I find that I actually do some of my best creative thinking or find sparks of inspiration during those times when I allow myself to “shut off.”
What new brands are you most excited about?
Mayssa: I’m loving everything happening in the non-alcoholic beverage space – Ghia’s Le Spritz is my go-to, as I’m always reflecting on and adjusting my relationship with alcohol. I’m also loving WOC-founded and focused beauty brands like Ami Cole and Ceremonia. And I think my fridge is always stocked with Poppi, another low-sugar better for you disruptor in the soda category.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Have a founder you’d like us to interview next? Let us know at email@example.com.