Rasa Founder Lopa Van Der Mersch on Building a Loving, Sustainable Brand

 
Rasa on Wefunder 2021

Summary

For many Americans, a steaming cup of coffee is key to getting through the day. But the caffeine in coffee can cause a number of health problems — including headaches, insomnia and high blood pressure.

To help consumers start their day in a healthier way, Rasa offers an herbal, caffeine-free coffee alternative. The company’s product is designed to provide energy without causing negative side effects like jitters and stress. We reached out to founder and CEO Lopa van der Mersch to hear more of the story behind the company and Rasa’s emphasis on heartfelt support for others.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Kingscrowd
In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Rasa is the world’s first energizing, caffeine-free coffee alternative. The herbs in our roasty, rich, delicious blends provide nourishing energy rather than the depleting energy of coffee. Our blends are formulated by a clinical herbalist, and the sustainability of our supply chain is a focus and pride of ours.

Kingscrowd
What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

2015 was my own personal 2020 — incredibly stressful, having just left a cult; emergency back surgery; moving across the country; having a fallout with my family; and then I had a baby. I knew coffee was a dead end, and I knew enough about herbs to know there could be something better. I was amazed to discover nobody had done this yet, that all the coffee alternatives on the market were boring flavors without function. And so I began to dream of all the functions that I could put into a robust morning cup.

Kingscrowd
Who is on your team and how did you come together?

My co-founder, Ben LeVine, was going to be head of sourcing for Celestial Seasonings. He was sourcing 1 million pounds of herbs a year — just of chamomile. We met at an herb school fair, where Rasa was sold for the first time. He has a deep passion for adaptogens, and he started helping us with supply chain questions, and eventually, he joined us full-time. Our general manager was supply chain director for Charlotte’s Web, supporting that company from single-digit millions to over $100 million. He is very dedicated to working on impact-focused brands and wanted to work for Rasa so badly that he took a 55% pay cut to join as a fulfillment manager.

Kingscrowd
How is rasa transforming the coffee alternative and adaptogen industry?

We created the world’s first energizing, caffeine-free coffee alternative. Coffee is the original functional beverage, but caffeine is an extremely sloppy way to stimulate your nervous system. It works by stimulating your body to produce cortisol and adrenaline. In the same way that oxytocin is the love hormone, cortisol and adrenaline are the fear hormones. When you drink coffee, you are giving your body the neurochemical equivalent of fear to wake up. We think that’s a terrible idea, and the long-term health consequences of coffee overconsumption bear that out. 

Adaptogens build up your energy reserves while supporting stress resilience rather than wearing it down. This is a way healthier approach to supporting ourselves. People still crave a robust, rich, delicious morning beverage, and we give that to them but with herbs other than coffee, formulated with love, science, and traditional wisdom. We think the world should be drinking a lot more adaptogens than coffee.

Kingscrowd
How is rasa creating a sustainable company?

Our supply chain focuses on sustainability everywhere we can. Organic is table stakes for us, and we practice relationship buying rather than price buying, which sets us up to support our suppliers for their long-term development. For example, we recently paid for a large date seed producer in Jordan to become organic certified. Because of that, this date seed producer is selling organic dates and date paste as well. Because he is grateful for our support, he has kept his pricing to us the same as before receiving organic certification. It’s a win-win. We’ve also worked really hard (only with partial success) to get into compostable packaging. By demanding that suppliers provide compostable packaging, we support the research and development that will ensure that compostable packaging comes to market. We are also leading initiatives to ensure that several of our herbs are harvested sustainably.

Kingscrowd
What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

The competitive landscape is coffee. The market there is genuinely massive, among the largest markets in consumer goods. We’ve seen other players emerge with similar ideas to ours. None of them are formulated by a clinical herbalist, and the most popular of them we would criticize for having an imbalanced formulation and causing anxiety similar to coffee. It also has caffeine. We wonder about the sustainability of their supply chains. And to be candid, no other products in the space taste as good as Rasa, either. On our branding, we are very unique and show deep love for our customers in everything we do, from our product development to our customer care, to shipping, and to the honesty and vulnerability we share when we market.

Kingscrowd
Do you sell overseas? where do you plan to expand in the future?

We’ve sold in more than 40 countries. We regularly have international distributors approaching us. We have a direct presence in four countries and could easily expand that if we wanted to — we have clear traction in many places. However, we believe we still have a massive growth opportunity in the US and want to remain focused on that.

Kingscrowd
How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Having bootstrapped ourselves to this point, we have tremendous low-hanging fruit across the business. We’ve never paid for a real public relations agency. We’ve historically tremendously underinvested in digital advertising relative to the long-term value of our customers. There are numerous marketing opportunities we have not been able to exploit because we didn’t have the resources. Despite having 700 business-to-business customers, we’ve never had a salesperson. This round is all about investing deeper, where there is proven return on investment, expanding into new channels, and for the first time having the budget to hire the professionals to help us do this.

Kingscrowd
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

We pour our hearts into producing an amazing product that changes the lives of our customers and making it with a sustainable supply chain that we hope to someday turn into a regenerative supply chain. Rasa loves you. And because of that love, we have amazing customer retention that should allow us to create a huge, highly profitable business. We understand that the best way to produce impact at scale is with a huge, highly profitable business.

Kingscrowd
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?

We have a wide range of options. We’ve already been approached by three strategic investors as part of this fundraising. A partial or complete exit to a mission-aligned strategic buyer is an obvious exit. There are other options around employee ownership, community ownership, and the company buying back shares from investors. One of the reasons we are so enthusiastic about crowdfunding is that it opens up more possibilities for these types of innovative exits. We have lots of friends and family and customers invested in this round, so we are committed to finding liquidity for our investors.


We look forward to seeing where Lopa and her team take the company. Rasa is currently raising on Wefunder.


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About: Yasmin Sharbaf

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