According to Shizu Okusa, founder of Apothékary, the plant-based “farmacy” that’s rooted in using food as medicine, “We are what we eat. Good health is a way of life.”

Okusa believes that self-care is something deeply personal. Anyone can elevate their own wellness using food as medicine. Growing up, whenever Okusa felt unwell, instead of giving her pills, her very traditional Japanese mother would give her weird, black, oozy drinks that were broths of mushrooms and herbs. This created a lifelong belief in the power of natural healing.

Okusa’s goal is to digitize the traditional apothecary encounter where you would walk in, show your tongue and eyes, share your health concerns, and get a customized blend of herbs to drink over a period of one or two months.

“This method is considered a long-term solution and not a quick fix,” she explained in a recent interview with the Goldman Sachs Alumni Network, describing the purpose of her business.  “That is exactly what we’re doing, but at scale and using data to create forward-looking formulas that are personalized for every customer.”

She believes that in today’s fast-paced environment, people have become accustomed to popping into a large pharmacy or drugstore to pick up pills for their ailments. There is no personal interaction while browsing the aisles looking at hundreds of products that might, or might not, address one’s problem, so there is no guarantee someone will get what they truly need.

“Most people are reluctant to talk about intimate physical details such as sexual issues or constipation, but the state of your health depends on many factors, including age, gender, hormones, and diet,” Okusa explains. “At Apothékary, we give people the opportunity to create a detailed profile online, so that we can customize the right blend for each individual using one of our 25 templates.”

Kick-Starting Growth

Okusa, who lives in Vancouver, started her professional journey at global investment bank Goldman Sachs after undergraduate school. Companies were just starting to rebuild after the financial crisis of 2008 and different companies were at different stages when it came to new growth. She worked with primarily distressed companies and investments, including bus companies and book publishers, gaining experience and helping enterprises understand the plethora of new regulations emerging as a result of the crash.

But she soon realized that her purpose in life lay in an entirely different direction. Okusa decided to leave the financial world and traveled to Mozambique, where she worked on local projects supporting banana farmers with a non-profit called Technoserve. Next, she traveled to Bali and stayed for three months to complete her Ayurveda yoga teaching certification. These experiences helped shape her deep passion for sustainable agriculture, a balanced body and mind, and taking responsibility for personal wellness.

“The expression self-care has completely lost its meaning,” Okusa says. “People associate it with going to the spa. But for us at Apothékary, it’s about maintaining mental, physical, and spiritual balance.”

Among the products Apothékary offers is Haters Say It’s Photoshopped, an anti-inflammatory skin care product that reduces redness and signs of aging while promoting gut health. Okusa is accustomed to skepticism when it comes to skincare products. Her approach is to let people find out for themselves if the products work. Before the pandemic, she and her team were opening pop-up shops to drive awareness. Now, they rely mostly on before-and-after testimonials on the Apothékary website as evidence that customers are satisfied with the results.

The Apothékary team itself is a tight-knit group. Six corporate staff, 13 people in production, and a group of contracted researchers and developers create, source, produce, pack, and ship everything themselves. After sales volume spiked 10,000 percent and the company’s fiscal year 2020 budget was achieved in just one month during the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is planning a global expansion in the fourth quarter of this year.

Lessons Learned

The crisis confirmed many things that Okusa already knew. For example, people usually step up in a crisis, but leaders must remain attentive to prevent burn out.

“Most of us at Apothékary have a 360-degree work-life experience because we love what we do and do what we love,” says Okusa. “It’s natural for us to blend work and leisure, but we must still create boundaries between home and work.”

The pandemic also highlighted the need to make fast decisions. Technology played a key part, for example, in fine-tuning the fulfillment strategy. Okusa did not envision changes happening so quickly. For her, the crisis was an opportunity to accelerate the decision-making process. “We had to react quickly on all fronts, from recruiting and hiring to expanding production and managing business channels,” she explains.

Words of Advice

As an experienced entrepreneur, she believes success depends on surrounding yourself with good people. Like with the body, it is also important not to feed the mind with junk. Her advice to young people: Be mindful of what you read and watch on the Internet. Don’t give in to negative feelings; instead, take things one day at a time and don’t take criticism personally. Okusa’s values are rooted in Buddhist traditions. Death is a real thing, and she is convinced that if you come to peace with that thought, then you free your mind to focus on living in a positive way.

“The landscape of the future will just get more complicated,” says the entrepreneur, who also founded a women-owned juice drink company called JRINK, which delivers fresh, locally sourced juice in glass bottles directly to the customer’s doorstep. So it makes sense to take care of yourself and your environment on your personal and professional journey.

The Path Forward is a series featuring trailblazing
women in leadership and their inspiring insights and experiences.

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