Lessons learned in CPG

Why Michelle pivoted her business, how she pitches journalists, getting media coverage, raising capital

While balancing her roles as a corporate professional and a fitness instructor, Michelle Razavi navigated a challenging relationship with food. "I had a lot of gut health issues," she recalls. "Most of the packaged food products that were available at the time made me tired and sick."

Michelle ambitiously tried to fill this void by producing a high-protein and gut-friendly protein bar. Unfortunately, her first product line fell short of her high expectations. However, this initial setback laid the groundwork for ELAVI, her successful superfood brand.

So when most other founders would throw in the towel or keep pushing forward, why did she swiftly pivot? In this Founder Secrets episode, we're going to unpack the lessons learned from her first product line and see how Michelle smartly applied this knowledge to rapidly steer ELAVI towards success.

What went wrong with protein bars

When launching her first product line, Michelle's main focus was to create a product that was both delicious and kind to her gut. While she achieved this initial goal, she faced many operational challenges that prevented it from evolving into a sustainable business.

Reflecting on the hurdles they faced, the biggest mistake was a lack of involvement in the supply chain. “We were working with a partner that had an in-house food scientist,” she explains. “They didn’t allow us to be involved in sourcing or even see the cost of ingredients. My biggest advice for CPG founders is to own your supply chain from day one and deeply understand your unit economics.” Indeed, increased costs led to higher prices, which made it difficult to compete at scale.

Product formulation also posed significant challenges. "Our products had high-quality chocolate in them with no shelf stabilizers or other added ingredients to prevent melting. But due to high temperatures, we couldn't ship in the summer because of melting," she recalls. This meant that they couldn't sell their products for the three hottest months of the year. Recognizing these challenges, Michelle and her co-founder, Nikki Elliott, decided to pivot, using these insights to craft a more robust and adaptable product line that would help them achieve a closer path to profitability with innovation and efficiency.

A strategic pivot

After navigating the complex tides of her first product line, Michelle was ready to apply her strategic insights to launch a new product line that was positioned to succeed quickly. She knew that to compete at scale, she had to develop an innovative product, but ensure the supply chain and business model was designed for sustainable growth.

First and foremost, Michelle & Nikki took complete control of the formulation process, prototyping in their kitchen, experimenting with countless versions, and iterating until they achieved perfection in taste, texture, and color.  With this new product line, they made sure it was not susceptible to high temperatures so that they could optimize for sales and distribution. 

💡 Michelle was so kind to also launch a special discount for readers of Founder Secrets! By utilizing the code FOUNDERSECRETS on their website, you get a 10% discount on all their products :)

Furthermore, Michelle didn't stop at creating a functional product and a sustainable business; she wanted ELAVI to be a trendsetter in terms of innovation. One of the standout features of ELAVI is its visually striking appearance. By incorporating naturally colored ingredients like blue spirulina, Michelle & Nikki brought to market a vegan, gut-friendly, shelf-stable dessert cashew spread that popped on shelves with its strong visual appeal.

Raising capital

When Michelle was looking for her first check back in early 2021, many investors hosted live pitch sessions on Clubhouse. Michelle tapped into this resource, finding her first major lead on the platform. “Whether you participate or just watch them,” notes Michelle, “pitch sessions are a great place for founders to get real-time practice or understand what goes into a strong pitch and how investors respond.” They are also a good place to find investors whom you can contact privately.

Securing the first investment check marked a turning point and set in motion a more straightforward path for subsequent fundraising efforts. After raising from prominent angel investors in the CPG space, Michelle and her co-founder Nikki stepped onto a larger stage—the “Elevator Pitch” show by Entrepreneur Media. In a format reminiscent of the popular Shark Tank, they were given the chance to pitch to well-known angel investors, including Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.

Despite being seasoned public speakers and presenters, the unique format of the show, and the brevity of the pitch added layers of challenge. “It was such a great experience,” recalls Michelle. “But it's high pressure. You only have one shot and it's just 60 seconds.” In addition to securing an investment from Kim Perell, their appearance on the show also provided them with significant press coverage and millions of views across various social media platforms.

Mastering media and PR

Michelle's approach to securing PR coverage for ELAVI is a masterclass in strategic communication and authenticity. She has been successful in garnering attention from major outlets like Bloomberg and Forbes and she didn’t do it through a PR agency or in-house marketers—she pitches journalists herself. “I think there's this authenticity that comes through when founders are directly pitching versus having a PR agency doing that on your behalf,” she explains. This direct approach brings a level of genuineness and personal connection that can be hard to replicate through third parties.

Michelle outlines several key strategies for effective media outreach. First, she emphasizes the importance of personalization. “For every journalist that I reached out to, I look at the past articles they’ve written. I try to understand their style, the topics they cover, and what excites them.” The second key element is focusing on the story, not just the product or the company. “I don’t pitch them on myself,” she notes. “I pitch a story that’s great for them and their audience.” The key is to position your company within a narrative that is both engaging and newsworthy.

Another important tactic is making the journalist’s job as easy as possible. Michelle advises, “Present the story to them. Don’t make them do the hard work. Make their lives easier. Pitch them a narrative that is ready to go. Brainstorm on cool angles of how to present your business as a story. Spin up ideas using ChatGPT. Keep a notes file on your phone to note down ideas.” By offering a well-thought-out story, complete with unique angles and ready-to-use content, you can significantly increase your chances of getting coverage.

Finally, it’s important to keep it short. Michelle explains, “Journalists get pitched all the time. See if they’re interested and be respectful in your follow-ups. You don’t want to spam anyone. And if they don’t respond after a couple of times, you move on. It is a numbers game.” And that’s how a founder’s direct involvement in the process, coupled with a well-researched approach, can open doors to significant media opportunities.


Reflecting on the challenges, successes, and the continuous learning curve of her journey, Michelle leaves us with one last, powerful piece of advice. "Don't limit yourself," she says. "Get rid of all the negative thoughts, imposter syndrome, and any creeping doubt, insecurity, or fear. Nurture your own mental mindset and don't be the one to tell yourself 'No'. Give it a shot, put yourself out there." A good reminder that there is no founder who doesn't go through moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. However, it's the ability to push beyond these barriers with a resilient mindset that truly defines our journey.