Here's the Biggest Lesson I Learned Working for Elon Musk at Tesla
Most great business ideas offer a way to solve problems and cure people’s headaches. CEO Sisun Lee, aims to do that literally with his product Morning Recovery, a drink supplement engineered to help the heartiest of partiers wake up with great memories and zero hangover.
During a trip to South Korea, where drinkers down a mind-scrambling average of 13.7 shots per week, Sisun noticed many of the locals drank concoctions containing dihydromyricetin that helped them function the day after the most epic booze-a-thons. He brought some back to the U.S., gave it out to friends and quickly realized that he might have bottled success in his hands.
What started as something fun to do on the side suddenly got serious after he was able to quickly raise $250,000 with an Indiegogo campaign for his company 82 Labs. A year later, Lee left his day job at Tesla and went all in on 82 Labs, which closed an $8 million series A funding round this April that valued the company at $33 million. (We’ll drink to that!)
Entrepreneur spoke with Lee, a Facebook, Uber and Tesla vet, about how he launched this company, the steps he took to grow it and what those three big names on his resume taught him about running a business.
Idea in a bottle
“While traveling in Seoul, I saw a tremendous amount of people drinking these morning recovery drinks. I thought to myself that there was a market for this in the United States, but no product. So I brought some of the leading brands home with me to the Bay Area, used them myself and started giving them away to friends. Everyone kept asking me how it worked, and where they could get more. So I started researching, which led me to Dr. Jing Liang, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy. Eventually, we partnered and utilized her research behind DHM (dihydromyricetin), which we call ‘the liver superhero.’ Another professor at USC, Dr. Daryl Davies, Ph.D., is helping us to iterate and innovate new versions of the product.”
Image credit: Morning Recovery
“After getting lots of positive feedback and requests for samples, we built a website to try to get it into as many hands as possible. The site got posted on Product Hunt and went viral. Overnight we got 20,000 subscribers. At this point we weren’t yet incorporated, it was just something that was fun. I was still working at Tesla. But when we started an Indiegogo campaign and quickly amassed over $250,000, we saw the big potential here and formalized the company.”
"In terms of sales, we're still mostly direct to consumer. It's available on our website with our own fulfillment centers as well as on Amazon, which takes care of their fulfillment. That makes up about 90 to 95 percent of revenue, the rest comes from retail. And so a big push that we're making now is to get it onto shelves. We’re looking to get placement in nightlife spots, convenience stores, liquor stores, wineries and places like that."
"When I worked at Tesla, I was a staff product manager. Most of my work related to ecommerce -- trying to make it so that it was really easy for customers to purchase a Tesla online without ever having to go to a store. While I didn’t have one-on-one time with Elon Musk, whenever my team had new proposals, we’d review it with him. I was amazed at how fast he is able to switch gears and how knowledgeable he is about every aspect of his businesses. The first time we launched a referral program, he literally launched SpaceX the same day. We were sure he’d cancel the meeting because we were watching it take off live, but 10 minutes later, he was on a call with us talking in-depth about car sales. It seems pretty ridiculous, but it is pretty common when you work at Tesla. His ability to change focus like that is amazing. I wish I could say I learned how to do it, but it takes a pretty special person to know that much about that many things."
"The hardest part of running our business is probably two things. One is just because of what we are, a beverage, the rate of iteration is much slower than companies like Facebook that can simply just launch something online and quickly scale it up or down depending how people react to it. And two, as we’ve grown, we now have 20 employees. I touch a little bit of everything at the company, but I don’t own any particular part like I used to. And at the same time, if anything goes wrong, it is ultimately my responsibility. That can be stressful at times, so I've had to learn to how to delegate and to trust."