Pinch the skin on your forearm. You just grabbed some collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body. Anything that's stretchy and malleable, like skin and connective tissue, is made up of collagen peptides. Unfortunately, many of these tissues lose their elasticity over time, leading to sagging skin and other visible signs of aging.
Sure, you can smooth those wrinkles with Snapchat filters…until it's time to interact with real people in the real world. No wonder using collagen to combat ageing has become a big business. The global market for collagen is projected to reach $6.6 billion by 2025, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research. This includes applications in healthcare, cosmetics, and foods and beverages, including dietary supplements.
Founded in 2019, Obvi offers collagen-based protein powders, as well as other collagen products. Previously, collagen supplements were sort of like taking medicine: good for you but tough to swallow. Obvi has helped invigorate the market with colorful packaging and flavors hearkening back to vintage breakfast cereals.
I had the chance to interview Obvi's CEO, Ronak Shah, about the company's past, present, and future.
Your experience in the supplement industry predates Obvi. What companies or products were you involved with before starting this company?
My two business partners [Ankit Patel and Ashvin Melwani] and I started our careers at a brand called Shredz, where we were on the forefront of influencer and social media marketing. Typical hours were from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m, go home, shower, eat dinner, and come back in for shift number two from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. We did that 5-6 days a week. It was one of the most spectacular experiences of our lives, building and even incubating a few of the largest brands at the time.
After two and a half years, we went on to create our own boutique marketing agency called Ghost 3 Media. We had the honor of working with great health and wellness brands such as Sparta Nutrition, Aloha, Olympus Lyfestyle, and many more. We also helped brands in the meal prep and coaching space expand their efforts in the direct-to-consumer space.
After six years of running the agency, we felt it was time to apply what we had learned and build a brand for ourselves.
What's the most important lesson or lessons you've taken from those experiences and applied at Obvi?
I have had the honor of meeting some fantastic people in the industry, ranging from seven- and eight-figure brand owners to industry specialists and even athletes. They shared one thing in common: They were in this industry because they were truly passionate about changing people's lives through innovative products or services.
So, the most important lesson has to be: Never stop innovating.The moment you grow comfortable is the moment you lose purpose. With Obvi, right from the start, we wanted to come out with a product and a brand that was first to market. Since our launch, everything we have released and plan to release serves a unique purpose, and that is something we want to keep consistent in our entire journey with Obvi.
The other most important lesson I learned is that no one is going to care about a brand as much as the brand owner will. We have worked as an agency for the brand side, and we have worked with agencies from the brand side. And I've seen in both cases that no matter how much money is involved or how much is at stake, you, as an owner, always have to be on the ball. There really are no days off once you take the dive as a brand owner.
How did collagen first cross your radar as a form of innovation with commercial potential?
After several years in sports nutrition, we had seen a lot of trends come and go—and a lot of ideas that needed to be expanded through other markets outside sports nutrition. We have seen the fine line collagen would sometimes cross when it came to its benefits for performance with joint support. But it was almost always considered "that beauty product" and ended up on the outside looking into the sports nutrition store.
When we decided to build a brand, we wanted to create it around products that have low saturation and high potential for innovation. Collagen had been on our radar for several years, and when we started looking into it as a standalone product—instead of an ingredient in other products—we saw what the market was missing, as well as the countless opportunities for innovation. Based on the science behind it, we decided collagen would be the ideal product for our brand.
Were there some stigmas about collagen you needed to overcome initially?
There were many stigmas about collagen. Frankly, there still are. Collagen has always been seen as a product that you take as a reactive measure to slow down the aging process as it pertains to hair, skin, nails, joints, and even your gut. However, the reality of the science is that your body stops producing quality collagen in your early 20s. After that, your body naturally loses 1-2 percent of its collagen per year. Starting as early as your 30s, you can begin seeing the severe effects of collagen depletion. It is a slow process unfolding over many years, but the idea that you only need to take collagen once you start seeing the tail end of the aging process isn't true. The truth is, collagen is for anyone in their 20s and beyond. It can be used as a preventative supplement rather than a reactive supplement.
Yet another stigma was that collagen supplements are just a fad and collagen isn't able to be absorbed by your body. What we found through our research is that your body can process only a certain amount of pure supplemental collagen, and that influenced the way we formulated our product. We asked, "How can we formulate something that gets absorbed by the body more easily?" So, we fortified our formula with key nutrients and ingredients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, biotin, calcium, magnesium, and iron, all of which actually increase the absorption rate of the added collagen you are giving your body.
Lastly, the one stigma we are still trying to fight is that collagen can't taste good. Collagen doesn't have to be unflavored, like 90 percent of the market produces it. And most of the flavored options on the market never tasted good, either. This left a bitter taste—literally—surrounding both flavored and unflavored collagen. Our focus was purely on flavor first, collagen second.
How did you and your partners come together to form Obvi in 2019?
Once we had studied the science behind collagen, we studied the market. Everything that was leading the market seemed geared toward older generations, with little to cater to the younger generations. The products on the market revolved around dull branding, tasteless/odorless/flavorless product lineups, and very little innovation around how to make collagen ingestion fun.
Right away we saw an entry into the market by coming up with the idea of branding an entire collagen line of products for millennials, moms, and really anyone looking to bring some spunk to their collagen.
We used a flavor system that has worked well in sports nutrition: cereal-flavored protein. It took us six months of back and forth to nail the flavor system, as collagen compounds are hard to mask with flavoring. But once we got it down, we knew we had something that met all of our values: unique, first to market, innovative, and fun.
What does the name Obvi mean?
The name Obvi came to fruition when we seriously assessed our values and also formulated our first product. We wanted to create a collagen brand that not only was innovative but also provided all the right benefits without sacrificing anything. It would have the best formulation, the best taste, and be the most versatile collagen on the market. It would literally be an obvious choice compared to anything else on the market.
We took that word "obvious," which was central to what we kept asking ourselves throughout the R&D journey: What do we have to do to make our product not only the best choice, but the obvious choice in collagen? We went the millennial route with that word and used the slang form, "obvi." Obvi is often said by millennials, and that was our target market.
What was the first product you launched?
The first product we launched was our Obvi Super Collagen Protein Powder in two flavors: fruity cereal and cinnamon cereal. These two flavors were the most popular in the sports nutrition whey protein category, so we chose them for collagen. It's safe to say we nailed it, since we sold out of 1,500 units of each within the first 25 days.
Is there a typical Obvi customer?
The typical Obvi customer is someone who has recognized a need to improve their hair, skin, nails, joints, gut, or all the above. We wanted to give this segment of consumers an easy way to fulfill their collagen needs without having to give up taste and flavor. Our typical customer is a woman between 20 and 40 looking for tasty, creative ways to ingest collagen because they know how important it is.
Our typical customer also misses the nostalgic feeling of eating—perhaps unhealthy—breakfast cereals, but is still looking for a way to have that taste in their diet. They look to us to provide that nostalgic flavor and taste without the added sugar, carbs, calories, and fat!
Speaking of women, what percentage of your customers are they?
Seventy-five percent. Our packaging has a lot to do with it. That said, our product is completely unisex, and safe to take by men and women! Collagen depletion happens in both men and women.
How does a person typically integrate Obvi products into their day and life? Given the cereal flavors, can I assume it's often part of a healthy breakfast?
That's what we expected. However, over the past eight months, we've been amazed at the creativity of our customers. Some are using it to replace their unhealthy breakfast favorites, but others use it to satisfy mid-afternoon sweet-tooth cravings. Some love to use it to replace their dessert craving post-dinner. Some love to bake with it and make pancakes on the weekends, while others love to make dessert frappucinos!
One of the other great things we have also seen is people using it as a recovery protein post-workout. They stack the collagen with their whey protein to boost joint and muscle recovery.
What do you have in the product pipeline?
A few things include ready-to-drink collagen, gummies, and collagen snacks. We also have three new flavors on our current collagen protein and patented fat burners on the way.
We have enough underway to keep the innovation coming for a long time, but we want to do each step strategically, so that each launch is allowed to shine and establish its place in the market. We would rather be steady and slow than come out with something new every few weeks. It takes time for new products to evolve in today's marketplace, and we don't want to disrupt that.
Photos by @AmbientMoments_Photography