Entrepreneur Interview - Kaitlynn Fenley - Cultured Guru
Recently my doctor informed me that I should seek out fermented food to eat, in the effort to reestablish my gut flora as it had been quite impacted by a stomach cold I had. Not knowing much about such foods I scoured the internet and came across the Cultured Guru and immediately fell in love with their photos and blog posts. It was then that I realized what a great opportunity it would be to share Kaitlynn and Jon’s story as small business owners. In 2016 the duo started their company selling fermented: foods, kits, supplies, and salt and spices.
If you’re curious to learn how to make your own fermented foods at home, check out their super easy kits where you all you do is add the vegetable of your choice, water and the salt/seasonings that come with the kit.
The goal of these entrepreneur posts is to provide you, as a reader, with the encouragement of following your own dreams and making them a reality. What better way than to satisfy a passion (mental wellness) than taking that leap of faith and stepping into a new realm filled with possibilities?
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture and how did the idea come about?
The entirety of Cultured Guru, and building it from nothing has only been possible through teamwork with Jon. We’ve brought such different skillsets to the table in equal measure.
I graduated from LSU with my degree in Microbiology. I had always thought I would become a physician, but when the opportunity arose to go to medical school I just knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted so deeply to stay connected to microbiology, to lab work, to microscopes and petri dishes.
Jon got his degree in digital advertising, and afterwards was miserable working for ad agencies. He had this passion, talent and love for photography and desired an outlet to grow in that.
I began pursuing a second degree in clinical microbiology, and at the same time Jon and I started our passion project: a blog called Microbial Universe. He loves photography and I love the natural world of microbes… and we just wanted an outlet for our passions that we were not finding in careers. We started posting recipes on our blog for making fermented foods at home – the right way, focusing on the microbiology of it. One day I came home from school and said “I think I know what we should do with our lives… wanna start a business?” and Jon said “yep.” Long story short now we are here.
I mean… can you name a better duo to start a fermented foods company? A microbiologist + a photographer with a degree in digital advertising… who both adore their fields of study… we were built to do this.
What are the benefits of consuming fermented foods?
The list of benefits is quite long. The most immediate benefit is gut microbiome health. Everyone has a gut microbiome. The species of microbes present in your microbiome as well as the species richness and diversity of your microbiome all play a role in the health of your gut. The health of your gut microbiome translates into the health of all of organ systems including your brain and skin.
Here’s a link to a TedEd video I love that explains the gut microbiome: https://youtu.be/1sISguPDlhY
A healthy microbiome is vital for proper nutrient absorption, mental wellness, immune function, and digestive health. The best way to maintain a healthy population of good microbes in your body is to regularly eat wild fermented foods. The best part about getting your probiotics through fermented vegetables is that the probiotic species of bacteria in fermented foods are acid tolerant microbes. They thrive at pH 3 and can survive for up to two hours at a pH as low as 1. Since your stomach acid is about pH 2 and food only stays in the stomach for about 30 minutes, they are more than adapt to survive the digestive journey and they will make to your intestines to become part of your microbiome.
What is the process of fermenting food?
First thing is first: not all fermented foods are created equally. Not many people who make fermented foods and instruct others to do so on the Internet utilize a safe and proper recipe.
The correct way to ferment foods is explained on our website here:
And you can learn more about our process of fermenting on a large scale here: https://cultured.guru/fermented-foods/
Describe/outline your typical day and how many hours do you work on average?
We work about 15 hours a day. Currently the entirety of our business is created and maintained by just Jon and I. We run the whole business, design all the pretty labels and marketing materials, take all of beautiful photos, ship all the packages, answer all the emails, ferment all the foods, and deliver all the foods to grocery stores, amongst other things. It’s a lot. That whole “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” thing is a total lie.
I work more that I’ve ever worked; the only difference is that now I have purpose, and what I do truly means something to me.
The average day begins at about 7am in our apartment. We make breakfast and usually take a photo of it to post on Instagram. Then around 8-9am we take our dog for a walk and talk about things we need to get done for the day. From about 9:00 -11am we answer emails and ship packages. If we have grocery store deliveries scheduled, or meetings scheduled with people those happen first and sometimes can last a full day.
We try to go to the gym everyday for an hour and that happens somewhere between 9 and noon. We have to take care of our bodies, because without us there is no Cultured Guru. Around noon we make lunch and photograph it. If what I’m making for lunch is a blog recipe we have a process photo shoot that takes about an hour.
After lunch time photos, Jon edits them and we pick one to post on Instagram around 2.
From about 2-4 I do office work type things: Inventory, ordering supplies, organizing our schedule, coordinating deliveries, paperwork type things etc. Between 2-4 Jon is usually designing something we need: Instagram stories, Pinterest pins, marketing materials, catalogs, wholesale materials…The list goes on.
From about 4-7 currently, we work on paperwork and ideas for our commercial kitchen space that we are renovating, answer Instagram messages and more emails, and possibly photograph our dinner too if we are feeling up to it. We try to end our day at 7 and stop working… but we usually end up still piddling with work stuff here and there until 9pm. If it is a day we produce in our current rented commercial kitchen space, we chop vegetables or jar finished ferments until about 2am. If we aren’t producing we go to bed around 10:30
Has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Thankfully, our families have been kind enough to help us a lot with our business. My grandma, dad, mom, and sister have been a vital support system physically and emotionally. Jon’s parents and my sister, Madelynn, have been there every time we needed help producing our products and every time we needed help delivering to stores or going to the farmers market. Every time we jar our products my mom helps me hand label every single jar. (We will buy a labeling machine soon haha!)
Currently, we a renovating our new commercial kitchen space and my without my dad, Gordon, it wouldn’t be possible. His words gave me the courage to start a business, and his support and skills are vital in the growth of Cultured Guru.
I think our business has brought our families closer. We’ve all gotten to know each other better through working on Cultured Guru. It gives us something positive to talk about and share with our families.
What motivates you?
Green Tea? Haha. Besides my two to three must have cups of green tea a day, I enjoy autonomy in life. I love to think for myself, innovate new ways of doing things and to work with Jon. I’m so happy with our business. I don’t think I could ever be happy doing something else with anyone but him. That keeps me going. I’m also an extremely competitive person and honestly, I like to be the best.
How do you generate new ideas?
A lot of people have told me that this has something to do with my astrological sun sign? I’m a Virgo so maybe that has something to do with my uncanny ability to overthink and innovate? …Can you believe in astrology as a scientist? Haha.
I naturally overthink everything, over plan everything, and innovate new ideas every day. I’m extremely observant and I’ve been told that the way I think is classified as anxiety. But I love the way I think… new ideas come naturally, and anytime I’m inspired I write it down in my notebook.
The best way to generate new ideas is to observe the world around you and to open your ears and listen.
How do you define success?
Success is waking up everyday and loving the life you have built, while having integrity and passion in what you do… whatever it may be.
How do you build a successful customer base?
There are many different ways, but we take a transparency approach. These days people care about who is making a product. They care about what the product is, but they want to know the people making it, and they want to support products and services created by people they can trust. We show our customers exactly who we are and what we do in our day-to-day lives with social media. This would be the main thing that has built our successful customer base.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I wouldn’t say that anything is a failure if it is a learning and growth experience. If something helps you to grow as a person or a business owner, then it’s simply not a failure. So in that case I don’t consider any of our experiences failures thus far; just opportunities that have allowed us to practice problem solving and intuitive thinking in order to grow.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Is thick skin a skill? You definitely need thick skin or the ability to not take things personally.
- Problem solving capabilities are a must. You have to be a problem solver. If you can’t trouble shoot, be introspective, and innovate solutions you probably shouldn’t start a business.
- Learn to be patient. You have to learn to accept that things are not always in your control or on your ideal timeline. A lot of what you do today pays off 6 months from now, not immediately.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Tough question. I think Jon and I have different satisfying moments. Mine would have to be when the American Society for Microbiology featured us in the careers issue of their national publication: Cultures. They featured Jon’s photography and the story about my self-made, unconventional career in microbiology. To be recognized in my field of microbiology for our work… that was innovated and created from our own minds, was extremely rewarding.
People say don’t do things for the glory and praise… but I have to admit that praise from one’s intellectual peers is quite motivating.
Any words of advice for my readers?
Do not start a business to get rich quick, and do not start a business because you hope to sell out to a big buyer. Those are disingenuous reasons to sell people goods and services, and it will reflect in your product.
Also, don’t be afraid to try new things and to leave your comfort zone. You won’t know what your calling in life is until you’re already doing it.
If you are interested in learning more about the Cultured Guru or ordering Kaitlynn and Jon's products, you can reach them via the contact information below: