Baylor Alumnus Blends Up Recipe for SuccessMay 3, 2018
Mooala team members Jordan Campbell, Jeff Richards, Sean Sundby and Zach Stanke
By Kelsey Kaigler
It’s no secret that a Baylor education can be rigorous. Baylor alumnus Jeff Richards is well-acquainted with the discipline that goes into earning a diploma from Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. And he would be the first to attest to its valuable return.
Richards graduated from Baylor with a bachelor’s degree in Finance in 2007 and began his career in investment banking. During his 10 years in the banking industry, he developed a lactose intolerance, leading him to begin exploring plant-based dairy alternatives. Yet as Richards started re-inventing his grocery list, he discovered a void on the supermarket shelves.
Like many lactose-intolerant consumers, Richards started shopping for almond milk, only to find that stores sold either low-quality generic brands or premium organic options priced around $8.
“There was a missing segment in the market,” he explains.
Combining the need for a quality, reasonably-priced organic almond milk with his background in finance, Richards set out to solve the problem. Alongside fellow Baylor graduate and eventual business partner Zach Stanke, he conducted research that quickly led him to discover he was not alone. In fact, 30-50 million other American adults are lactose intolerant.
After learning about the sugars and artificial ingredients included in most non-organic almond milks, Richards began experimenting with organic recipes in his kitchen to create a beverage that would meet consumer needs. The resulting almond milk was a simple, yet delicious combination of water, organic almonds, organic honey, sea salt and gellan gum.
“It was the first organic almond milk that was positioned for the mainstream consumer,” Richards said. “Plus, we use real almonds and real ingredients. We try not to use non-food flavors.”
And so Mooala—the first beverage company of its kind—was born.
“Believe me, it was a risk,” Richards says. “I decided to go through one last year with my bank, and then I just took the step out. I basically drove a refrigerated van around for three or four months selling to small, local grocers and eventually got enough of those to say yes that we got picked up by a distributor.”
But he didn’t stop there. As Richards continued exploring plant-based, allergen-free milk alternatives, he discovered a substantial need for dairy alternatives that were also nut-free. So he began toying with the idea of making milk with bananas.
“Bananas are the number one selling item in grocery stores,” he explains. “There is so much opportunity with bananas because people like them so much.”
Always up for a challenge, Richards returned to his kitchen for more tedious experimentation. And it worked. Today, banana milk is not only Mooala’s top-selling product, but also the first banana milk ever created.
With a product like banana milk to differentiate the brand from other organic beverage producers, Mooala’s products have become wildly popular and are now distributed in 1500 stores around the nation, including grocery store giants such as Whole Foods, Central Market and Costco.
Looking back on his journey thus far, Richards attributes much of his success to his Baylor education and the practical training he received at Hankamer School of Business. In fact, Dr. Bill Petty’s Entrepreneurial Finance course marks him to this day.
“Dr. Petty’s Entrepreneurial Finance class was probably a turning point in my Baylor education,” Richards recalls. “I am convinced that if I hadn’t taken that class I wouldn’t be doing any of this. It didn’t just teach me how to finance a startup, but how to succeed as a business leader. I think it’s integral for anyone who wants to start their own business.”
Though he no longer teaches Entrepreneurial Finance, Petty has fond memories of teaching Richards.
“The class requires a lot of engagement on students, and he was an engaging student. It was obvious that he certainly was prepared and participated,” Petty recalls. “When you have good students like Jeff, it’s easy to teach.”
Reflecting on the class, Richards laughs, “Dr. Petty’s exams were terrifying. I’m not a genius. I don’t love studying and tests. But what I learned was that I could apply myself and see results. It made a significant impact on my confidence in myself.”
Petty admits that while he’s never been one to accept anything short of excellence in the classroom, he pushes his students because he cares.
“I tell my students, ‘It’s your class. It’ll be as good as you make it.’ I really do challenge them, and I expect a lot of work,” he explains. “I would invite them into my office two at a time just to learn about who they were, their dreams and their families. I think doing that allowed me to push them harder, because I showed that I cared about them.”
It’s that kind of devotion that breeds stories like Richards’. Upon graduating, Richards walked away not only with superior skills and an unshakeable work ethic, but an understanding the importance of faith in business, as well.
“It’s all been very faith-driven,” he concludes. “You do everything you can, but you do it with integrity. You battle your way onto the shelf, and at the end of the day somebody’s going to buy it or they’re not…It’s scary, but at the end of the day it’s God driving the process.”