Kipkosgei Magut, founder of Tribendurance, grew up in an agrarian village in Western Kenya. But in 2006, upon receiving a full running scholarship to Belmont University, he relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.
Magut, an athlete raised on a nutrient-dense diet, quickly realized that most of the energy products available in the United States contain just as much sugar as a candy bar. “I was frustrated,” he says. So in 2011, he put his degrees in accounting and information systems management to good use and created Tribendurance and its flagship product, the Moringa bar—a nutrient dense, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO nutrition product with less than half the sugar of leading protein bars.
I sat down with Magut and his marketing talent, Brandi Bruns, to ask a few questions about Tribendurance, moringa and Magut’s entrepreneurial journey.
Q: So, why moringa?
A: If you compare a gram of moringa to a gram of a banana, it has about 4 times the potassium as a banana and 3 times the vitamin A as in carrots. So it’s a very, very high-nutrition ingredient.
There’s also a lot of things that moringa can do, and a lot of farmers now are starting to tap into it—extracting oils, using it as a vegetable and using [the powder] for fortification purposes.
Q: How is using moringa in your products helping to promote sustainable farming methods?
A: Where I come from, there are two cash crops that farmers grow just like the US: corn and wheat. For corn and wheat, every year you have to plow the land, buy the seeds, buy the fertilizer, buy the herbicides. Then you have to rent a tractor to use to plow your land. At the end of the day, when you do the calculations… it ends up being an unprofitable venture.
But if you grow moringa, it’s a one-time crop. You till the land, plant the tree and it starts growing. And you can eat from the plant for up to 10 years before you have to grow it again. I’m not for mono-cropping. We’re trying to diversify the crops and bring something that is more nutritious and something that could give them more income so they don’t have to till the land every time. And moringa doesn’t use a lot of water, so that’s also a benefit.
Q: How did you come up with the recipes for your moringa bars?
A: I basically went to my kitchen and created the recipes myself. My wife came home one day and was like, “What are you doing?” And I’m like, “Making nutrition bars.” It’s not what I would recommend entrepreneurs to do. But I got a product out, and I got people to try it and give feedback from it. Now I have somebody who helps me with development of the bars.
Q: What resources have you used in the process of starting your own business?
A: I love being at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and I participated in a business accelerator they had. It really helped me to get my messaging right. I’m still learning that even now, and I think it’s very, very important. There’s a tendency for entrepreneurs to have it all in their head, but it’s important to be able to put it in a sentence and capture it. What differentiates you? Why should I engage with your company, and why should I buy your product? I think being a part of that accelerator helped me a lot in my messaging and being able to deliver that.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a founder?
A: First, finding a co-packer. But one of the challenges that I had initially when I formulated my product was that it was oiling out. The first product we launched was peanut butter, and the way the peanut butter was gelling with all the other ingredients meant the oils were not binding in the bar. This was, apparently, a challenge that a lot of other huge companies have faced. The formulator I found had worked on a similar issue with a big corporation, so she knew exactly how the oils were mixing and what was making the peanut oil leak out of the product.
Some of the challenges I still face today—and this is to every startup company—is being able to raise capital. The seed money you have, you have to make it last as an entrepreneur with the assumption that nobody else is going to give you money.
There’s some good and bad in us not having a lot of investment at this point; the bad is that we’re always thinking about how we’re going to get through the next day. But the good is that we’ve been able to use the little money that we have and think in terms of product and really form a great product.
Q: Where can people currently find Tribendurance Moringa Bars?
A: We are, in total, in 60 locations. Whole Foods is one of them, but Kroger is our biggest retailer right now. And we are selling at a number of other independent stores like the Juice Bar, so we’re hoping we can grow with them. We sell on Amazon as well.
Q: Where do you see Tribendurance in 5 years?
A: Everywhere. I would love to be across the world, but our goal is to have distribution across the U.S. in the next 3 years. Hopefully that leads to distributing it in Canada, Europe and even Africa.
Q: Anything new in the works?
A: (Bruns): We have three new bars that we’d like to produce later this summer. The two new ones will retire out two of the older ones, and then we’ve improved the peanut butter.
(Magut): The two new flavors are peanut butter chocolate chip and bittersweet chocolate.
Q: Any words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs?
A: Business is not about money, it’s about solving a problem… If you’re solving a problem, a problem where people will pay for whatever you’re doing to fix it, then money’s going to follow. If you’re solving a problem, everything is going to be easier. It’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be easier.