I had the amazing opportunity of interviewing Joni Hanson Davis, the founder and CEO of Beli. In addition to heading a successful startup, she’s a mother of three and a business leader with an impressive career track record in leading Fortune 500 companies and startups at the executive level.
Due to her own experiences during pregnancy and observing a key gap between nutritional science and prenatal health, Joni has made it her mission to optimize the health and fertility of both women and men. This led her to found Beli with the aim to fully empower and support couples in their journey toward creating, carrying, and birthing a healthy child. Joni has since carried the company from its initial angel investments to become a multi-million dollar company today.
Joni shares her journey and insights in creating Beli. She clearly notes how the company has completely disrupted the vitamin market and how she’s built an active, loyal, and authenticity-driven customer base in the process. She also shares her perspective and tips on staying motivated in her day-to-day life of balancing motherhood, company operations, and team collaboration.
First of all, tell me a little about yourself. Who are you and what’s your backstory?
After a long successful career leading Fortune 500 companies and technology startups to IPO, I founded Beli in 2018 with a personal mission to address the growing crisis of infertility and modernize the stagnant prenatal vitamin market. The fertility market is a $24B market, and yet prenatal vitamins still haven’t caught up with modern nutritional science. 50% of all infertility can be traced to male infertility and nutrition plays a major role in successful pregnancy outcomes and science led Beli to look deeper at how nutrition plays a vital role in sperm health, launching the first modern male prenatal in 2019. Today, thousands of men across the country are using Beli and the company has built a following of loyal customers including heavy-hitter celebrity customers. The success of the men’s prenatal vitamin led Beli to launch an exclusive women’s prenatal in 2021 based on the latest folate and choline research to address both male and female fertility nutrition together. Beli has grown organically to become a profitable company with a multi-million dollar run rate with a small investment from strategic angel investors in the direct-to-consumer space in less than two years. Prior to Beli, I held executive positions with Microsoft, InfoSpace, and Tableau Software.
Tell me a little bit about your startup. What do you do and how long have you been in business?
In 2018, I learned that there has been little to no innovation in the vitamin market in decades and no regulation to ensure product integrity. I never considered that the products I took to nurture me, my husband, and my three babies might be doing more harm than good. Everyone has their own pregnancy journey, but our end goal is always the same: healthy babies. My own journey resulted in the 3 loves of my life, but it was mired with my own stories of miscarriage and breastfeeding issues. Most couples are now having children later in life and fertility challenges are on the rise. I noticed all my friends had their own jagged path to pregnancy and we would look to each other for support and recommendations. Modern science is changing the way we approach fertility and pregnancy, and Beli is proud to be on the precipice of empowering everyone on their own path to parenthood by helping couples be the healthiest they can be to create, grow, and welcome a new little life.
What was your “aha moment” behind launching Beli?
I may have set out to create a line of science-backed prenatal vitamins for women, but something big occurred to our research team along the way. What about men? Would a prenatal vitamin designed to support sperm health make a difference in male fertility or fertility or pregnancy or even the health of the baby?
To make a long story short — yes. A woman benefits from key nutrients in specific amounts for optimal fertility, and the same is true for a man. Even more noteworthy is the fact that a nutrient shortage is the most common reason behind sperm deficiencies. Oh, and another key consideration? A man’s health not only affects the chances of a healthy conception, it has an impact on the health of his partner’s pregnancy and the future health of his baby. In short, it matters.
Today, the idea of men’s prenatal vitamins is catching on. More companies are waking up to the fact that there are two sides to the pregnancy equation, and that covering all the bases means ensuring both parents-to-be are getting the nutrients they need for optimal fertility. And that’s a good thing. Women have borne the brunt of infertility issues for far too long. But infertility isn’t inherently a woman’s issue, and mainstreaming this idea of optimizing fertility for both partners is a game-changer.
When it comes to conception and pregnancy, so much is out of our control. Managing nutrition is one of the few ways we can increase our chances, and doing with a scientifically-aligned prenatal vitamin for both partners shouldn’t be such a novel concept. At Beli, it isn’t. And we’re doing everything we can to make it common knowledge.
The best startup ideas are all about disrupting a product, service, or industry in a scalable way. Can you explain how Beli brings about positive disruption when it comes to prenatal health and vitamins that are currently on the market?
The latest scientific research is changing the way we approach fertility, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and it’s helping millions of couples conceive and carry healthy pregnancies. Most prenatal vitamins on the market today haven’t kept pace with current guidelines and are only kind of aligned with nutritional science. We decided to do things differently when we created Beli because science tells us it takes two – optimizing both female and male nutrition for successful pregnancy outcomes.
Our readers are also startup founders seeking to initially grow and scale their customer base and build strong communities around their solutions. What are some of the marketing channels and practices that have allowed you to effectively target your audience and build a strong Beli community?
We are so fortunate to have an authentic and loyal base of customers. I chose to launch and grow Beli authentically. I took more of a grassroots approach to growing Beli – we didn’t start with splashy paid articles, we grew the business authentically and I truly believe that is what has powered our success to date. It may have been a bit of a slower path, but I was able to scale to $1m+ profitably just starting with 150k in under two years.
The one thing that keeps me up at night is how do I get Beli in the hands of every person who is thinking about, pregnant, or just had a baby. I truly believe that everyone would benefit from Beli’s prenatals for men and women. We continue to reach out to our community through google, social advertising, our affiliates, and doctor networks.
What have been the biggest challenges in growing and scaling your business? Have there been any major pivots? Is there any advice you’d give to a fellow founder that would help them avoid the same challenges?
As we grow and launch new products, it is making sure that we can move fast enough internally to support that growth so hiring is a big priority. Also, I am a big proponent of testing new marketing channels or different strategies and some work well and some flop. It’s having the appetite to try new things while also managing the bottom line. I operate as a very financially sound company, so we aren’t willing to burn through cash to artificially inflate the top line with major impacts to the bottom line, it’s not financially sustainable in the long term.
As a founder/CEO, you have a lot to balance in your schedule. What’s a typical day in your life look like?
First and foremost, I am a mom to three kids, so it is inevitable that being able to multitask is a critical skill. While there is some predictability in the day, such as school times and daily meetings, it is incredibly important to be flexible throughout the day and not stress about staying on a strict schedule. I usually wake up before the kids to get myself ready for the day, the next hour or so is getting everyone off to school, and the next 6 hours are at my desk working and collaborating with my team. My advice is to love what you do and then it’s not a job, it’s also your hobby.
What are some key ways you stay motivated in what you do, even on the toughest of days?
As a CEO, I feel pulled in so many different directions during the day and I wear so many different hats. I am really trying to take the ‘power hour’ approach and block out time each day to focus on just one thing. It does help, but it takes a conscious effort every day. And what keeps me motivated is hearing from our customers and their journey to parenthood. Our fertility is an empowering aspect of our health, and the more we can do to nourish it all during our reproductive years, the better off we will be when you are ready to conceive.
If you can spill any details, what’s next for you and the growth trajectory of Beli?
There is just so much to modernize in the space of fertility, pregnancy, mom’s and babies – the runway is long! We are definitely looking at more science-backed fertility-based products because that is an area that is underserved yet growing exponentially. I would love to see us enter babies and kids. As a mom there are few products, if any, I allow my children to ingest. That area is ripe to be disrupted and cleaned up as well.
The innovative work of a startup company like Beli has the ability to tie into and tackle the biggest societal and world issues. What’s your message to the world in terms of the change you’d like to see on a grander scale?
Fertility and reproductive health is a $23 billion dollar industry and growing at warp speeds but men are often overlooked in the pregnancy equation, despite the fact sperm health is 50% of the equation and plays a dramatic role in not only creating but also sustaining a successful pregnancy.
Despite the importance of the male side of the equation, the vast majority of products in the market have been focused on women. It is surprising that in 2022, women still bear the physical and psychological burden of getting and staying pregnant when science is telling us men’s sperm health is just as important as her egg health.
We need to elevate that message because science tells us this is a big part of the equation that is not being addressed.
To close here, what are the top three tools in your tech stack that you and Beli couldn’t live without in effectively taking care of your customers and team?
Shopify, Gorgias, and Slack are our top three tools.
I want to say a big thank you to Joni for taking the time to share her story and insights. As a startup founder, she is at the heart of innovation and change in today’s world. Her hard work is appreciated and goes a long way toward impacting the lives of many.