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This 38-Year-Old College Dropout Started A $200 Million Soda Business Inspired By His History As An Overweight Teen

Fortune Well December 20, 2023


This 38-Year-Old College Dropout Started A $200 Million Soda Business Inspired By His History As An Overweight Teen

For most employees, unwinding after work with their favorite TV show or leisure activities is the key to separating themselves from their jobs.

For Olipop founder Ben Goodwin, evenings are typically spent plotting the future of his company, from mixing microbiome-friendly formulas to concocting the perfect flavor combination for his next viral sensation. 

The executive also moonlights as his soda brand’s chief formulator and has created more than 30 flavor combinations throughout his entrepreneurial career. Determined to help others make healthier choices, the CEO founded the beverage company in 2018 with a mission to support gut health—a business prerogative he takes personally.

Growing up on the “standard American diet,” Goodwin found himself “overweight and anxious and not particularly happy” as a teenager, he tells Fortune. At 15, Goodwin switched to a vegetarian diet and noticed “revelatory” changes in his emotional stability and cognitive function. Fascinated by the microbiome’s role in digestion, immune health, and nervous system functions, Goodwin dropped out of college to pursue a career in creating products that could feed a healthy gut. 

Fast-forward to 2023, Olipop is a viral sensation on TikTok, a massive success on supermarket shelves, and, according to Goodwin, is poised to bring in over $200 million in revenue this year. In January, Olipop was stated at a valuation of $199.8 million, according to PitchBook. 

“It’s the 17-year overnight success,” Goodwin says. “A lot of the learnings that led to Olipop’s success actually did come from prior ventures that ultimately didn’t end where I wanted them to go.” 

The venture into beverages

After dropping out of college in the early 2000s, Goodwin teamed up with a friend to launch Kombucha Botanica, where he led product formulation and fermentation development for six flavors. This venture marked his entry into the beverage industry and set the foundation for future endeavors. 

In 2008, he started Obi Probiotic Soda, a water kefir drink, where he played a pivotal role in formulating, fundraising, and codeveloping branding, until he exited in 2016. 

The exit paved the way for his current venture. Goodwin now dedicates the majority of his time to advancing Olipop, while maintaining a steadfast focus on his personal health. 

He gave Fortune an exclusive glimpse into his daily routine, which commences with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call, followed by a session in his home sauna and a refreshing dip in a cold plunge. 

Sauna, cold plunge, and the laundry room laboratory 

6:30 a.m.: Goodwin logs in to his sauna app to warm up his machine, which takes about 30 minutes. 

“I fill a big canister of water with electrolytes, lemon juice, and a little creatine, and I go down to the sauna,” Goodwin says. He says he stretches in the sauna for up to 25 minutes to “get a good sweat going” before starting his day.

Goodwin has been using extreme temperature modulation for about 15 years. Sauna sessions have some proven benefits: They may help reduce stress, boost your immune system, and increase cardiovascular health, according to aging and longevity expert Dr. Mark Hyman. 

To complement the sauna, Goodwin braces for a dip in his cold plunge, submerging himself in water maintained at a bitter 42 degrees for four to five minutes. 

7:30 a.m.: Post cold plunge, Goodwin transitions into his workday. He starts his mornings with a protein-packed breakfast and coffee. In an ideal world, it’s hard-boiled eggs and cold brew. He may also indulge in his espresso machine.

“I probably go through an arc of drinking too much coffee as I start my day’s meetings,” he says. 

8:00 a.m.: Starting the workday, Goodwin finds himself immersed in Zoom meetings and phone calls, navigating a maelstrom of activity. Meeting topics range from discussing a multiyear strategy to the intricacies of issues facing certain departments. 

Reflecting on his demanding schedule, Goodwin admits he has “too many meetings every day.”

Over the next nine to 10 hours of back-to-back meetings, he’ll find some time to break away for lunch or snacks. Olipop operates as a fully remote company, allowing Goodwin to work from the coziness of his own home office in the Pacific Northwest.

5:00 p.m.: Most evenings start with fitness. On weekdays, Goodwin alternates between exercising in his home gym and workouts from his health coach. 

“I obsessively track a bunch of health metrics,” Goodwin says. “I’ve been tracking my max VO2, which is overall cardiovascular fitness, and it’s been cool watching that come up over time.” 

Some nights and weekends, Goodwin finds himself in the laboratory that resides in his laundry room, crafting Olipop formulas. Since Olipop’s inception, Goodwin has formulated 20 different flavors, with some not yet on the market. 

“Blackberry Vanilla and Orange Cream are waiting in the wings and are in circulation,” Goodwin reveals. 

Goodwin’s approach to formulation has evolved over the years. Earlier in his career, he would work in the lab until 3:00 a.m. day after day. But now he says he strategically builds most of the formula in his head before actually working on it in the lab. 

Formula testing is also in Goodwin’s hands, leading him to drink a plethora of Olipops in one sitting. He says that recipes “are never perfect,” but he has a unique hack to gauge the near-completion of a flavor. 

“I’ll have a sample. I’ll put it down on the table in front of me,” Goodwin explained. “If I reach for it again, to drink some more without thinking about ‘Oh, I have to try it,’ but I just start to instinctively grab for it, then I at least know I’m now in the territory because it’s creating a self-fulfilling loop that makes me want to keep consuming it.” 

10:00 p.m.: If there is time for relaxation, Goodwin will play video games or hang out with his girlfriend. Some nights he will return to his sauna and cold plunge. Other nights, he can be found mixing music in his studio. 

With two decades of DJing under his belt, Goodwin still finds time to create mixtapes and immerse himself in the world of music. 

“When I was younger, in my late teen years, early twenties, I used to throw raves and warehouse parties,” Goodwin says.

Sometimes, Goodwin will post his own sets on FWD.DJ, an online hub he founded in 2007 that promotes excellence in electronic music. 

He tries to be in bed between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., aiming for at least seven hours of sleep, which he meticulously tracks on his Oura ring. 

“Some mornings I’m really excited by the news,” Goodwin said. “Some mornings not so much.”

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