After noticing that many protein supplements did not emphasize health benefits, two USC seniors wanted to create a product of their own. Harrison Valner and Ryan Roddy launched Kyoku, a workout supplement company which helps users looking to maintain energy levels.
Valner, a senior in the Iovine and Young Academy, and Roddy, a senior majoring in business administration, met through Lavalab, a student-run incubator in the Marshall School of Business. They immediately became best friends and began carpooling to the gym they both frequented off campus. Realizing they both had a passion for fitness, they decided to create a business around it.
“We knew if we just created another protein powder or supplement or superfood shake that we would not be able to compete out there,” Valner said. “We had to do something that stood out that was different and unique.”
They created their product to make sure that it would fit people with a wide variety of fitness goals. In an effort to expand their product’s concept, the duo sought out different grants for projects through the University.
Kyoku works with dieticians and doctors to create personalized active nutrition plans for customers, and delivers shake supplements in single-serve packets monthly.
Valner and Roddy found that the Iovine and Young Academy provided grants for select student projects. However, the application was due the same night they discovered the opportunity.
“I had gotten … a reminder, I think it was that afternoon, it was like ‘Just a reminder, applications are due at 11:59 p.m.’ and I remember Ryan and I sat down for literally four hours straight and put together a business plan, built a deck and really built the entire idea of the company,” Valner said.
Once they received the grant, the pair spent their summer developing Kyoku and expanding their business model. Kyoku was able to raise nearly $100,000 after gathering funds from friends and family.
“We soft-launched the business in early July and have spent the time since then in beta. We’re on track to hard-launch the business in early 2020,” Roddy said. “I think just getting ourselves to market and positioning our company sort of in a very fundamental way was the most pivotal thing to get the brand to market and set us up for success in the future.”
One of the company’s main investors is Science Inc., a consumer products-focused venture capital fund based in Santa Monica that focuses on pre-product companies. They were able to raise an additional $1.5 million with Science Inc. to be used for production and marketing.
Valner believes that what makes Kyoku different from other supplement companies is that they pride themselves in being comprehensive and detailed.
“If you’re going to the market, you’re buying a cup of protein, there’s just gonna be protein in that, whereas for us, our formulas range from 40-60% protein and 40-60% organic whole foods [such as] kale, spinach, beets, quinoa,” Valner said. “There are 25 different ingredients we work with.”
The company also emphasizes sustainable sourcing and uses sustainable packaging materials and ingredients. According to Kyoku’s website, the plant-based ingredients the company uses produce fewer greenhouse gases and all packaging is recyclable.
Sean Stevens, a senior majoring in business administration, is a customer of Kyoku and has known Roddy since freshman year.
“I’ve seen when it was just a flowering idea to kind of now their more rigorous day-to-day operations,” Stevens said. “I was definitely someone that saw that as something that they could change [protein supplements as we know it.] … I originally was using dairy-based protein powder and it would make my stomach upset and cause more breakouts with my acne. So Ryan explained the science behind and the pros and cons of the plant-based post-workout shake. And I was [like], ‘Yeah, you guys should do it!’”
For students who are interested in starting their own business, Roddy recommends that they have three important elements.
“A lot of people in the venture capital community, they really look for the product, the market and the team,” Roddy said. “Those are the three things that really are the determinant as to whether or not they’ll invest in a product or company. So I think it’s important to hit those three things in some fashion.”
The duo said that having those three things, along with passion and a mission, will help people find success in their business.
“Even if you have a great product, the market opportunity is there, and the team is awesome, [there are] going to be moments in the journey that are just too hard for you to keep on going on if money is your biggest motivator,” Roddy said. “There just needs to be something else that gets you up and motivated out of that, beyond external motivators.”