In the Room with Ben Goodwin

The Room Podcast
5 min readMay 17, 2024


Welcome to the finale of Season 10 of The Room Podcast! In this episode, we’re thrilled to sit down with Ben Goodwin, Founder of OLIPOP, a pioneering beverage company at the intersection of taste and gut health. Ben takes us on a journey through his upbringing and how it shaped his worldview, his pivotal realization about lifestyle changes, and the catalysts that drove him to become a founder.

Join us as we delve into the core product of OLIPOP and its unique approach to promoting gut health through delicious, low-sugar beverages. Plus, we explore the health components of OLIPOP’s offerings, shedding light on the company’s commitment to providing nutritious alternatives to traditional sodas rather than other more risky weight loss tactics.

Some key topics in the episode are; cultivating a community through strong branding and DTC marketing, gut health and beverage innovation of today, and observing consumer trends while maintaining sustainable practices.

Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify now

T1: Cultivating a Community through Strong Branding and DTC Marketing

Ben Goodwin and his business partner David Lester took the leap to roll out their first health drink, Obi, because they saw a need for a healthier, probiotic soda with clinical backing. Despite some investors’ hesitance to enter soda, a market which surged during the stress of COVID-19 and inflation-related pricing bumps but is overall in decline, Goodwin and Lester believed in their product and its ability to incorporate into consumers’ lifestyles. After exiting Obi in 2016, Goodwin wanted to use the two years of work with a microbiologist that had produced a good-tasting fermented culture in his next product. Olipop launched in brick-and-mortar stores in 2018, capturing momentum off of 40–50 pre-sold accounts to do $1 million in sales their first year and $9 million in sales in 2020.

With all of the consumer behavior disruption caused by the pandemic, Olipop’s team was worried about losing the impulse-driven, grab-and-go customers they relied on in retail locations. Their team worked feverishly to build out a direct-to-consumer channel for customers to buy online, and were pleasantly surprised that they overshot sales plans not through DTC online but in retail sales. Customers were buying a week’s worth of Olipop at the grocery store! Their distinctive branding and health basis had already built a loyal customer base: Olipop needed to capitalize on its momentum and make good on the clinical studies that were so core to Goodwin’s science-backed mission.

T2: Gut Health and Beverage Innovation of Today

From Goodwin’s experience growing up in Monterrey, California with limited financial resources, he often drank soda and ate fast food because of the budget constraints for food. Yet, his experience was unusual because his family was surrounded by affluence in that area of California, but didn’t have the same access to consistently healthy food. Goodwin saw how widespread love for soda was, yet also how much disease it caused. Rather than focusing on shaming consumers for having soda cravings, Goodwin wanted to create a product that would taste great to customers and have clinically-backed health benefits.

The boom in fermented wellness drinks comes from the concept of the brain-gut axis: humans produce a majority of their neurotransmitters in their microbiome. There is significant emergent clinical literature in the space, meaning new knowledge adds to our understanding of the benefits of kombucha and other fermented products every day. Ultimately, Olipop’s consumers tend not to understand the microbiome well, but Goodwin is determined to put the science in front of consumers to speak for itself.

Goodwin and Lester originally pitched their idea at universities and generated a scientific advisory board out of those interactions. They work closely with the complex carbohydrates lab at Purdue to understand how they can show a linkage between the cultures in Olipop and an increase in bifidobacteria and short chain fatty acid production.

When asked about the surging popularity in weight loss drugs like Ozempic, Goodwin underscores the need for allopathic medicine, which addresses the root causes of excessive weight retention at the population level. Goodwin, an advocate for clinically-significant longitudinal studies, has concerns about the lack of testing over time for Ozempic-like drugs. Ozempic’s mechanism is an aggressive intervention for people that addresses the symptom of weight retention, rather than considering how better food product offerings and lowering chronically high cortisol levels may address the population-wide problem better in the long run.

“A stressed out society with bad food consumption habits” is the cause underlying the spike in overweight and obese people as Goodwin sees it, which is an issue players in the food and mental health industries can address directly. Goodwin understands how daunting addressing those goals can seem.

T3: Observing Consumer Trends while Maintaining Sustainable Practices

Founders in the modern world are able to hear constant feedback from consumers, many of which have a unique story about Olipop to share. Because Olipop’s mission is so tied into health and presenting a solution for consumers who treat soda as a guilty pleasure, Goodwin believes their loyal consumer base will only expand. Olipop has faced some capacity issues because of this rapid growth: one year alone they experienced 960% growth. Goodwin is understandably frustrated by the years they have been physically unable to produce enough product, as it feels like leaving money on the table. As with any business scaling that quickly, he has to carefully consider the pace of hiring and how it changes culture. There’s a real balance to strike between hiring too quickly and disrupting the culture existent employees enjoy while meeting the real demands for staffing. Production and hiring considerations are all part of what sustainable growth looks like for a business and are completely predictable parts of any entrepreneurship journey.

For founders considering venture capital investors, Goodwin cautions about letting potential investors “fluff your ego” too much, as those are the same investors that will exploit that to break you down during low performance times. Ultimately, founders want any investors with power to be true partners who understand the up-and-down nature of founding and want to constructively work through the inevitable challenges that arise. One of Goodwin’s and Lester’s seed round inventors named Pat invested at the very beginning of Olipop because he believed in the discipline and standards the founding duo carried forward from their earlier work on Obi. This is a story you hear a lot, as serial founders tend to understand what it takes to scale a business in reality.

Looking forward, Olipop has exciting new celebrity partnerships, product launches and continued scaling to look forward to. Goodwin is grateful for the cultural shift around health and beverages he has been able to contribute to through Olipop and is very hopeful for the future of one of the fastest growing US beverage companies ever.


Thank you for joining us for our milestone season 10! We’re so honored for your loyal listenership and community engagement. Be sure to stay tuned for in-person events coming this summer.

Claudia, Madison and team TRP