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Student Stories

The Startup Life: Meet Kyoku

The vitamin and dietary supplement industry is booming due to the rise of health conscious consumers and aging populations. New innovative companies are entering the thriving space, changing the way supplements get developed, shipped, sold, and consumed.

Enter Kyoku – a company that creates personalized fitness supplements that is tailored to every body type and every fitness goal. The supplements are delivered to your doorstep on a subscription model. The company was cofounded by by rising Academy junior, Harrison Valner and rising Marshall junior Ryan Roddy, who were frustrated with their own experiences with fitness supplements.

“Our inspiration comes from the fact that minimal innovation has occurred within the fitness supplement industry over the past decade. We came up with a list of problems based on our personal use cases and wanted to create a solution to fix those problems.”

Coming on the heels of winning the 2018 IYA Development Prize, Harry and Ryan decided to resign from their summer internships to pursue the company full time. Their focus has paid off. In just two months, Kyoku has raised $150K in seed funding, expanded its team, and set up a new office in Downtown Los Angeles.

Here, Harry and Ryan share some tidbits about what they’ve learned so far from the startup life…



Tell us a little bit about your startup?
In a nutshell, Kyoku is a personalized fitness supplement company and lifestyle brand. We create fitness supplements that are tailored to every body type and every fitness goal. We deliver your personalized supplements straight to your doorstep on a subscription-based model.

What was the inspiration behind Kyoku?

Our inspiration comes from the fact that minimal innovation has occurred within the fitness supplement industry over the past decade. We came up with a list of problems based on our personal use cases and wanted to create a solution to fix those problems. Upon exploring options for a solution, we discovered greater industry-wide pain points that include the following:

> The fitness supplement industry is marketed by a one-size-fits all model, largely tailored to males who weight lift to gain muscle and vascularity.
> New users face a learning curve associated with beginning fitness supplements due to false, misleading, and contradicting information online.
> The GNC/Vitamin Shoppe business model is antiquated and not user friendly.
> Current supplement packaging and branding is inefficient and unappealing.

What’s been the hardest challenge thus far?

Going into it, we didn’t have any background experience or knowledge pertaining developing a food/beverage product. As such, there was a learning curve associated in identifying who we needed to bring onto the team to help us with product development and ultimately, choosing the ideal candidate out of our pool of applicants.


How has your company evolved since winning the IYA Development Prize in April 2018?

Since the IYA Development Prize, Kyoku has come a long way. One week after finishing our spring semester finals, we decided to resign from our summer internships to pursue the company full time. Now, we have a team of seven talented individuals, including:

> Harrison Valner, a rising junior pursuing a major in Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation at the USC Iovine and Young Academy.
> Ryan Roddy, a rising junior pursuing a major in Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business and a minor in Applied Analytics at     the Viterbi School of Engineering.
> Tommy Riggs, a rising junior pursuing a major in Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business.
> Rhys Osborne, a rising junior pursuing a major in Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation at the USC Iovine and Young Academy.
> Angie Wu, a recent graduate of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology with a Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity.     Angie also is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

We also have two, non-USC team members, Chris Jakway who is a rising senior pursuing a major in financial economics at Columbia University, and Kadeem Hinton, one of 2,000 certified food scientists globally, who previously served as a food technologist at Sambazon and as a food safety & commodity specification specialist at the USDA. Additionally, we are working to build out a certified food development lab for organic products at our new Downtown LA office.



What kinds of support have you received in terms of funding, mentorship etc.

We quickly reached our initial funding goal of $150,000, and have recently expanded our pre-seed financing round to $250,000. We have just begun our search to raise the remaining $100,000.

We’ve developed two advisory boards: a general, business-related advisory board and a scientific advisory board. Our general advisory board consists of a diverse group of high-level business people, from CEOs and founders to manufacturing specialists. Our scientific advisory board consists of doctors, researchers, nutritionists, dietitians, and athletic trainers from all over the country.


Kyoku is still in its early phases, but what has been the biggest lesson learned so far?

Back in February 2018, we had the germ of an idea about what a fitness supplement product system could look like in an ideal world. Since then, our initial idea has evolved tremendously as we’ve delved into its nuances. This experience taught us there is far more to creating a company than just the initial idea, such as building an awesome team that is capable of making it become a reality and figuring out solutions to inherent constraints we have faced in these early stages. Also, no matter what you think or plan for, your idea will pivot, whether you like it or not.


Best advice you’ve received that you’d like to pass along?

We’ve received a lot of advice, so that's a tough question. However, one of our advisors, Thatcher Spring, recently told us the key to starting a company that aspires to disrupt a major industry is focus. In order to infiltrate a large market, with many competitors, you have to have a very clear vision of what your initial target market looks like in order to create a successful product and brand which resonates with it.


Thank you Kyoku!