How Kori Estrada Is Championing Cleaner Oral Care
Kori Estrada, Co-Founder of RiseWell, is determined to transform oral care products to work with our bodies instead of against them.
After spending years making consumer, technology, and healthcare related investments, Kori developed a passion for transformative companies moving the needle in those industries. From there, RiseWell, an innovative natural oral care company, was born out of a need to be more aware of the products she was putting in her body. Founded on the idea that oral care products don’t have to contain harsh chemicals to be effective, RiseWell products are fluoride-free and use ingredients that work to remineralize and restrengthen teeth.
We asked Kori about her company, the lessons she’s learned in scaling her company while working full time (and being a mom!), and the achievements she’s most proud of.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: How and why did you start working on RiseWell?
A: When my partner John and I were going through in vitro fertilization, we became more aware of the importance of what products we were putting in and on our bodies. We couldn’t find a natural replacement for oral care products that we enjoyed and worked as well as conventional products. We started formulating with a dental team to create products backed by science. We found our main ingredient, hydroxyapatite, in Japan. It’s the gold standard there and has been used for more than 40 years. Research studies suggest it works just as well if not better than fluoride without any toxicity issues. After hundreds of prototypes, RiseWell was born, along with our now almost three-year-old son, Leo.
Q: What makes your product different from others?
A: Most natural toothpastes are about as effective as water and conventional toothpastes contain some questionable ingredients. John and I, along with Dr. Derek, brainstormed to see if we could come up with a toothpaste that was completely non-toxic but also just as effective as conventional toothpaste.
We scoured the world for the best ingredients and came across an ingredient in Japanese oral care that was all but unheard of in the U.S. This ingredient, hydroxyapatite, is a natural mineral that makes up 97 percent of our tooth enamel and has been shown to be just as effective as fluoride at remineralizing teeth. It’s also safe to consume. We also ensure that all of our products, not just the toothpaste, are backed by science and use only ingredients that your body needs. We take out all of the bad stuff and keep only the cleanest and most effective ingredients that work with your body, not against it.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: Yes! My passion for being an entrepreneur started with a corner lemonade stand that my sister and I ran for many years. We would easily bring in hundreds of dollars in a weekend. We didn’t just sell lemonade—we eventually expanded to homemade cookies and handcrafted souvenirs. I knew that being an entrepreneur was the best way to harness my endless curiosity and creativity.
I decided to go into finance after graduating from Columbia, as it would support an eventual path toward entrepreneurship by gaining a broader perspective on many different sectors, hone my financial acumen, and give me a better understanding of the differences between good and bad business. My father also had sage advice: “You might make a lot of money in finance, but you won’t truly be fulfilled unless you can see the difference you’re making with something tangible.” Needless to say, it was a very emotional day for me to hold that first batch of RiseWell in my hands.
Q: What were the most difficult and most impactful lessons you’ve learned starting and running a company?
A: When you start a company, you are choosing to take the unpredictable path, which was very much outside of my comfort zone. There’s no way around it. You’re going to be in weird, difficult, strange, good, bad, and uncomfortable situations because being an entrepreneur is dynamic. You have to take the leap, keep going, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable . Nothing great comes from living in your comfort zone.
When we started RiseWell, we were risking it all when it could have been very easy to stay in our secure finance jobs. When our son grows up, I want him to see us as an inspiration in embracing uncertainty in life—because if things aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. That’s true of businesses and people. I’ve learned to change my perspective of uncertainty as life’s greatest teacher. I want to be able to look back on my life and say, “Wow, what an incredible unpredictable adventure!” not, “I’m happy I stayed in my reliable comfort zone.”
Q: What’s been the hardest and most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A: The hardest part is definitely juggling everything day to day, as I continue to work a full-time job with Axon Capital and work on RiseWell on the side as my passion project. I don’t believe in balance per se but rather juggling. I imagine I’m juggling several balls at once, some are rubber, some plastic, some glass, and I have to choose on a daily basis which ball I’m going to tend to. Sometimes the glass ones do drop, and similar to the resilience required around self-doubt, you just have to be OK with picking up the pieces and resuming the juggling game. It’s not always pretty and sometimes it’s downright messy, but it’s part of the journey.
The most rewarding part is being able to see the change you are making firsthand. We wanted people to know that you don’t have to sacrifice your oral health for non-toxic ingredients as is often the case with “natural” products. Oral health is just one part of the puzzle. When we see people making one small change to their routine, it usually leads to more healthy choices. Health truly does start in your mouth—both in terms of what food you eat and what oral care products you use. The best (and most rewarding!) testament is the positive feedback from our dentists and customers.
Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?
A: There’s a lot for us to be proud of, but two that stand out are 1) seeing our product in action and the recognition it's received and 2) staying true to our mission. We have put in our blood, sweat, and tears, along with years of research into our products, ensuring they are truly best-in-class and not another “all-natural” product differentiated only by marketing. I have admired retailers like Credo Beauty and Erewhon for years, and I have to pinch myself when I see our products on their shelves or in the baskets of customers walking down their aisles. We have also received amazing press hits from publications like Forbes, Shape, Men’s Health, Well+Good, and more. We have done all of this while still having a very small team that is passionate about reinventing oral care and spreading awareness about the importance of what you put in and on your body. It is exciting to see what the future holds.
Q: What have you learned about building a team and a support network around yourself? How have you grown as a leader since starting your company? What experiences have contributed to this growth?
A: The company wouldn’t be possible without our friends’ and family’s support. RiseWell is proudly a family-run business in every way—from my dad being our salesperson for the dental accounts, to my sisters traveling to dental conferences in support of RiseWell, to my brother, Dr. Derek Gatta, a prosthodontist based out of Florida, being our dentist-in-residence and co-founder. We are lucky to have such wonderful people on our side.
It is also about finding fellow women in business who understand and support you. The tremendously supportive female-focused networks like HeyMama, Dreamers & Doers, and Women in VC have been incredibly impactful from their support on social media to their network effect and continual advice throughout our journey. It’s wonderful to surround yourself with those who have a passion to share their key learnings from their own past experiences as well as share in paving a new path together. I am beyond blessed for those who have been with us through the process of building RiseWell to what it is now, because it wouldn’t be the same without them.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: You can’t control other people or situations, no matter how hard you try. You can only control you and your reaction to whatever life throws at you. Happiness is a mindset. It comes from within you, not from your outside circumstances. Even in the toughest situations, happiness is attainable. Create your plan for success, stay focused on your goal and surround yourself with inspirational people. Consciously choose happiness and a positive perspective every day, seeing every challenge as an opportunity and any roadblock as a chance to grow. You're never given anything in this world that you can't handle.
Q: How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences. And would you do it all over again?
A: RiseWell was created to solve a personal problem that we had—finding a toothpaste that was both clean and backed by science. We identified an opportunity in the market that wasn’t being addressed by some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies. We knew we’d be competing against companies with billions of dollars behind them. We’ve learned first hand that success rarely follows a linear path. Sometimes we’ve had to go sideways and even backward in order to move forward. But the key is to be stubborn, never give up, and keep going. Because of that mindset, we’re promoted by hundreds of dentists, barely keeping up with demand, and impacting more people’s lives than we ever could have imagined. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
Kori is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.