48: How CEO Shani Bocian grew Allermi by 800% in 12 months.

e48 Shani Bocian Steinberg

On episode 47 of the First Customers podcast I spoke with Shani Bocian, CEO of Allermi, an allergy care company. Her company has seen significant growth (800% over the past 12 months) and offers a unique product: the world’s first custom nasal spray. We discuss how she started the business, defined her target audience, and found her first customers.

Listen to the First Customers podcast on your favorite podcast platform for more episodes on entrepreneurship, customer acquisition, and business strategies.

Mentions

Highlights

  1. Allermi’s Startup Story
  2. Allermi’s Target Customers & First Sales
  3. Effective Marketing in the Allergy Space
  4. Navigating the Medical Field
  5. Establishing Trust and Authority

Show Transcript

Paris Vega (00:01.148)
Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of the first customers podcast. Today we have Shani Boshan with us. She’s the CEO of Allermi, an allergy care company that’s grown 800% over the past 12 months and offers the world’s first custom nasal spray. Shani, welcome to the show.

Shani (00:20.962)
Thanks for having me.

Paris Vega (00:23.164)
Now this sounds really interesting. Um, my family, probably like a lot of families, we have different allergies, different people in the family. My son has a ton of allergies, basically allergic to everything based on the blood tests and skin tests that we’ve done. Um, I think I have a little, you know, hay fever type, you know, whenever the pollen’s strong, that kind of an allergy. Um, but give us a little more detail about what the company is and then get into your

who your ideal target customer is and then how you got those first customers.

Shani (00:58.146)
So Allermi launched about a year ago in September of 2022, but really it started over 30 years ago in 1992. My dad is an allergist at Stanford, and so it runs in the family. But so when he was a doctor early in his career as an allergist, he started to notice that medications that people were taking for their hay fever, for their rhinitis, for their nasal congestion,

Paris Vega (01:07.584)
Okay.

Shani (01:27.53)
really weren’t effective and patients weren’t getting the relief that they needed to and they still were struggling. So he’s an MD, PhD, is a scientist. And so of course, he started researching and tinkering and inventing. And ultimately, he came up with a new formula to help better address nasal congestion that’s different from any other medication on the market.

But the only way that it could be made was he printed out these long instructions for his patients and he’d have them go to the pharmacy and pick up a bunch of different medications and he’d say, okay, take an empty bottle and do a tablespoon of this and a teaspoon of that and mix it all together and do your own chemistry at home and then you get this magical formula. His name is Dr. Bosin and they started calling it Bosin’s Potions and he became kind of well known for this in the Bay Area. So…

So in about 2020, I realized that there is this amazing opportunity to take what my dad was doing that was working so well for so many thousands of his patients and make it universally available to everyone across the country who needed this kind of relief. So we started Alermi and we said, okay, we’re going to stop having people do their chemistry at home and we’re going to actually utilize an official accredited compounding pharmacy. We’re going to mix the formulas for them.

based on each patient’s symptoms, severity, and medical history. And then we’re gonna send it to them in the mail so that they open their mailbox and inside is this incredible nasal spray that’s made just for them, that works better than anything else on the market. So that was in early 2020, 2021. We officially launched in September of 2022 and we’ve served tens of thousands of patients since then and helped them with their nasal symptoms.

Paris Vega (03:12.884)
So did you already have kind of an existing customer base through what your dad had done before and you just kind of announced it to them that, hey, we’ve got this new version of what’s been done in the past or is this starting totally from scratch and getting new customers?

Shani (03:30.23)
We really wanted to start scratch and get new customers to really test the scalability of this and to ensure that, okay, this isn’t just patients of my dad in the Bay Area who are gonna buy this, but it’s people in Bakersfield and Omaha and the South and the Northeast and people who’d never heard of Dr. Bosch and Bosch’s potions before. So we really didn’t wanna rely on his kind of relatively small customer base to really prove out our concept. And so…

The way that we got our first customers, we ran ads on social media. We went into allergy support groups on Reddit and on Facebook, and we offered our services and our expertise as a source of education and information. And that really helped build up our credibility. And then eventually, we talked about the product and the solution that we were building. And because it’s based on science and medicine, and because it utilizes FDA-approved ingredients, and because it’s allergist-founded, people in those communities

found that really compelling and we were able to use them as kind of our beta testers for our initial customer base.

Paris Vega (04:33.412)
Okay, cool. So how did you choose like which platforms to target and how to kind of filter down and decide on which customers to engage with for the test? So, I’m gonna go ahead and start with you,

Shani (04:47.542)
Yeah, I mean, we’re really looking for people who have tried multiple allergy medications before and not had success with them. So this isn’t your, we’re not looking for your average person who has like a little bit of sneezing for two weeks in April. We’re really looking for someone who has year round chronic, basically severe symptoms. You know, their nose is always congested. They have constant post-nasal drip. They’re always having symptoms regardless of the season.

And that’s really the type of person we were looking for. And those people need help and need support. And so when you go onto these allergy support groups, you find that that’s kind of the predominant user is someone who really kind of desperately needs help because they’ve tried everything and they haven’t found a solution that works for them.

Paris Vega (05:35.3)
OK, so did you post like surveys or how did you collect that much data about people?

Shani (05:42.622)
Yeah, I mean, it was less about collecting data, more about like, here’s Dr. Robert Bochen, a Stanford allergist. He’s here to answer any questions you might have. And some of the questions were like, how do I treat my chronic nasal congestion? And then as a response to that type of question, we would be like, okay, we’ve invented a new product. It contains a microdose of decongestant. It works more effectively to treat congestion than other medications on the market. Like maybe this is something you’re…

you’d be interested in trying. You know, these are alternative options if you’re not. And so really just like an education and an information-based type of early stage marketing ended up being really useful for us because these were people who were really engaged, who were willing to give us a lot of feedback, who were willing to help us kind of iterate and refine our offering. And then we gave them surveys, we collected kind of reports of their experience and then used that to

figure out how to improve and get better.

Paris Vega (06:41.748)
So you kind of went to the places where people were asking the questions that your product was the answer to. So you could just be present and naturally the follow up answer would be, we just happened to sell the solution to what we’re here answering the questions about.

Shani (06:48.278)
That’s exactly right.

Shani (06:58.318)
That’s exactly right. And I think one point that’s kind of important to mention is that people in support groups hate to be sold to. Like, I don’t know, I personally do too. Like, it just feels scammy and weird. And so it was less about going in with like promos and sales pitches and more about going in with education and information. And we had our medical team lead that effort. So it wasn’t me, like the CEO doing that, but it was our doctors. And that felt just a lot more legitimate and credible and was…

Paris Vega (07:06.537)
Yeah.

Shani (07:27.046)
well responded to more so by the kind of target customer we were looking for.

Paris Vega (07:34.072)
Okay. So you went with like an authority first building trust. Um, which platforms did you choose to execute that strategy on? I’d guess something like Reddit or Cora or like what other kinds of platforms did you use?

Shani (07:48.589)
Yeah.

Reddit and Quora were great. There are a lot of Facebook support groups for people who suffer from allergies. Again, being really careful not to be salesy and more about kind of providing information and serving as a resource was really important for us, especially in those very early days when we didn’t have a name for ourselves, we didn’t have a brand, no one knew who we were. And I think that’s probably true for any field, like not just allergy, but kind of any sector in business is that…

Now when we scroll on our feeds, we’re constantly bombarded with ads all day. Every time you read the news, there’s advertisements on the side. And so I think people are oversaturated with being sold too. And so I think coming from a different angle that’s actually helpful and informative really kind of helped us stand apart and build up a good reputation.

Paris Vega (08:26.847)
Right.

Paris Vega (08:40.228)
Okay. So let’s zoom in a little bit to the tactics and details of this strategy because like you’re saying, everybody’s oversaturated. Medical is kind of super sensitive issue. Like if you’re trying to rank in Google for something medical related, there’s more strict kind of requirements as far as how you present the information and whether or not it’s like, uh, edited by experts. And it sounds like you guys have that. You have the authority, the medical experts. Um,

Shani (08:53.187)
Yeah.

Shani (08:59.406)
Totally.

Shani (09:08.631)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (09:09.8)
But what does that kind of funnel look like when you’re, you’re wanting to build that trust and authority, like how many steps in that process does it take before you, you feel like it’s time to present and we actually sell this product. You know what I mean? Like, I know you can’t do it. Your first response can’t be that.

Shani (09:24.498)
Yeah, right. How do you get there?

Yeah, it has to feel natural. And that’s why we really had our doctors be careful about, like, OK, don’t just recommend this to everyone, but really engage and try and figure out if this person is actually a target customer. Ask questions. You know, have you tried over-the-counter nasal sprays? And then if the person says yes and none of them worked for me. OK, do you have congestion? Is that your primary symptom? Yes, I can’t breathe out of my nose. It’s completely blocked. OK, at that point, well.

you might benefit from a protocol we’ve been doing for 30 years that we’re actually looking for beta customers for, you know, and really try and hone down. And then in that kind of exchange, the person feels not sold to, like they’re a part of something. It’s almost like kind of appealing to somebody to be part of a clinical trial, at least in our case. And maybe that’s kind of limited to the medical world, but I think it’s probably applicable everywhere when you’re looking for first customers.

invite people to like be a part of this experiment. And when you have legitimacy and credibility, like our team is, you know, allergists from Harvard and Stanford, they’re like the best. Then you can do that. And you could say like, hey, be a part of this with us. We’re trying to get this started. We’ll give it to you for free. Just, you know, give us your feedback and, you know, use it for three months and let us know how you do, type of thing. And then the majority of those customers,

Paris Vega (10:49.544)
So that, yeah, go ahead.

Shani (10:51.89)
are still with us today as paying customers.

Paris Vega (10:56.16)
So the broader business use case might be calling someone a beta tester, you know, since they might not have like medical trials involved with other types of products or services. But yeah, that does give like a similar kind of transparency and kind of lowers expectations a little bit and makes them feel early and all that by calling them just a beta tester or an early user or something like that. What

Shani (11:04.81)
Yeah.

Shani (11:21.869)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (11:22.76)
Did you keep it on the platform as far as that kind of conversation or did you take it to email follow up or where would that sequence of responses happen?

Shani (11:32.942)
So the first couple exchanges would be on our platform. And we’d say something like, if you’re interested, please reach out to us via email. And then we’d continue it from there because they had to fill out a medical questionnaire. And there was a lot of private medical information that had to be dealt with. Alarm is prescription, so it can’t just be given out. We can’t just send samples. You have to go through an online doctor’s visit in order to get it prescribed. So we would absolutely have to move them to our platform after that initial exchange.

Paris Vega (12:01.328)
OK, so you have a little preliminary conversation and then they would send them a link that goes to like your website to kind of log in or sign up for an account of some kind and give the additional information. OK, and all right, so that’s what you would do to take those kind of social conversations to bring people into your funnel just by joining those groups.

Shani (12:14.51)
That’s right.

Paris Vega (12:29.992)
Did you do any type of, um, kind of cold advertising where you’re just doing display ads or whatever to build awareness? Um, or did you just start with those conversations, um, and then do that type of advertising later, talk a little bit about that marketing strategy, maybe how it shifted from beginning to where you are now.

Shani (12:51.11)
Yeah. I mean, in the very beginning, before we had raised any capital, we didn’t have a marketing budget. We didn’t even have a marketing professional on our team. So none of us knew how to run social media campaigns or display ads or anything like that. So all of our marketing was literally us as the founders joining groups, reaching out to people, contacting local communities, and trying to find like

one person here, one person there, until we’d gathered enough people to have a sufficient beta group. And it was a couple hundred people after some really hard kind of on the ground marketing that took a long time. Oh, that took about four or five, six months maybe. It took months. I mean, at the same time we were building, we were designing our brand, we were working with a chemist on our formulas, we were writing out medical protocol, we were building our platform. So it wasn’t…

Paris Vega (13:26.9)
How long was that period to get?

Shani (13:44.542)
like we were just doing this, but at the same time, we were looking for these beta testers and it was definitely very hands-on to get those initial customers. And then, and we were also, you know, seeking out the medical community that we had connections to, having doctors try it, having their patients try it, et cetera. But then we were, you know, with that beta data, which was very positive, we were able to secure like pre-seed financing.

And then we were able to hire our chief marketing officer, who’s an expert in things like Facebook ads and social media targeting and display ads and Google search and all of that. And then, so that’s when we kind of transitioned from this beta phase into this very early stage kind of marketing phase, where we put out initial ads, kind of highlighting what our product is. We put out a few quizzes that weren’t like a call to purchase, but more like share this information with us so we can build up our email list.

Paris Vega (14:21.18)
Okay.

Shani (14:40.85)
We had like a dust mite allergy quiz where people could answer questions and then we would kind of give them back the likelihood that they were experiencing dust mite allergy. And so again, just like evidence-based educational information rather than just selling, selling. And then we were able to build up a really strong email list from all of that, which really helped us with our initial push at launch.

Paris Vega (15:03.268)
OK, talk a little bit about that manual local outreach. You said you reached out to like pharmacies and other groups. Speak a little bit to how that worked.

Shani (15:15.146)
I mean, we were basically telling everybody we knew about Alermi and trying to get them to test it out. Mom groups, we didn’t reach out to any pharmacies for the purpose of acquiring customers, but we had a big medical community of doctors who we reached out to them and asked if they would be interested in trying it or if they had their family members, friends, patients. Groups on Facebook, like I had mentioned, allergy support groups on Reddit and Quora, family members.

Paris Vega (15:24.477)
Okay.

Shani (15:41.506)
friends, people in the allergy aisles at Target and Walgreens. We were really on the ground doing guerrilla marketing trying to get those initial customers and it was really hard. The difference is these were not paying customers. We were looking for people to give something to for free. That type of customer acquisition where you don’t have a brand, you have a brand new product and you’re literally on the ground trying to get customers to try your product for free is really different than like…

Paris Vega (15:46.857)
Wow.

Paris Vega (15:51.626)
easy.

Shani (16:10.866)
marketing to your first batch of paying customers.

Paris Vega (16:14.168)
Yeah. Wow. So, and I’m guessing you didn’t necessarily get permission to go sell inside of some of these stores or whatever you were just kind of.

Shani (16:24.522)
We weren’t selling. I’ll say, I mean, we definitely were not selling. It was more like I would stand in the allergy aisle and see someone next to me like struggling to find something and they’re like dripping out the nose and I’d be like, hey, I’m actually the founder of an allergy company. Maybe you want to… here’s my card. I think we only did that a handful of times and I don’t even know if anything amounted from that, but it was really that time when we were like, okay, we believe in this product. We really need to prove that this is going to work.

Paris Vega (16:43.444)
That’s all.

Shani (16:53.738)
let’s go find people who are in our target market and like we have to convince them that this is a solution. And yeah.

Paris Vega (17:00.06)
Yeah, that’s great. Going right to where someone’s buying a competitor product and intercepting the sale. That’s awesome.

Shani (17:08.702)
Yes, sounds a little bit, you know, a little sneaky, but you know, that’s what you got to do. Ha ha ha.

Paris Vega (17:16.757)
Yeah, yeah. No, that’s great. Okay. And so the first six months or so was a hard push doing a lot of manual kind of non scalable type stuff. It sounds like. And then talk a little bit about the raising of the money because that’s like another type of customer when you’re kind of selling to the investors. What did that process look like?

Shani (17:26.814)
Mm-hmm, exactly. Yeah.

Shani (17:39.35)
Yeah.

You know, it was hard. We were a brand new business. I have no prior experience working in tech or health care. I come from an education background. I got my master’s in education and was literally a teacher before I decided to quit and start AlarmE. Granted, I do come from the Bay Area. My dad is a doctor at Stanford, so it’s not like I was completely unaffiliated with this kind of VC and tech world, thankfully.

Paris Vega (18:09.216)
Mm-hmm.

Shani (18:12.086)
But going out there as a brand new founder, a young woman founder, and with no experience and no product and no revenue, and trying to get someone to believe in this product that I don’t even have a prototype for by saying, look, my dad is the scientist. He invented this. We promise you it’s going to work. He’s been doing this for 30 years with his patients. Let’s bring this to scale. We had to find someone who just believed in that mission and didn’t need to see.

Paris Vega (18:23.112)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (18:35.86)
Yeah.

Shani (18:41.718)
the revenue data and the metrics because they believe so firmly in the science and the scalability of what we were doing. We were so lucky to be able to find those investors who really, they reviewed the science, they spoke to our medical team, and they really earnestly believed that we were the team to be able to build this to fruition. I don’t think most people are.

have that luck that we had. And so I’m incredibly grateful for that because those early investors are what enabled us to get where we are today.

Paris Vega (19:14.468)
So when you say believe the science and or trust the science of that, I guess the pitch that you had, is that the beta tester data or there? Did you guys do actual like scientific studies with the product where you had some kind of double blind, whatever placebo trials or whatever?

Shani (19:22.029)
Yeah.

Shani (19:32.363)
Yeah.

So there are actually dozens of studies that already exist that look at the ingredients we use, both alone and in combination. And these were the studies that my dad had been referencing to his patients for the last 30 years. They’re superb studies. They prove all of the things that we want to prove with our nasal spray. And then on top of that, we had this data from my dad’s, I don’t know, 25,000, 30,000 patients over the last 30 years whom he’d treated with this protocol. And he was able to speak very

Paris Vega (19:39.633)
Okay.

Paris Vega (19:46.281)
Gotcha.

Shani (20:03.21)
much in detail about his experience with them. And that served as kind of the basis for being able to fundraise, even though we only had like, I don’t know, at the time, maybe 100 real AlarmE customers. But we had this background that my dad could speak upon that really provided us with a lot of legitimacy.

Paris Vega (20:24.004)
Okay. So if it’s okay to talk about it, do you mind sharing like how much you were able to raise with that first round of investment?

Shani (20:32.298)
Yeah, we raised just over a million dollars for the first round of investment. That was our pre-seed. And that’s led by a wonderful investor named Sarah Lucas, who really believed in us from our very first conversation.

Paris Vega (20:46.324)
That’s awesome. And that was six months in.

Shani (20:51.126)
That was… when was that? I’d say that’s probably about a year in that we closed the round.

Paris Vega (20:56.816)
Okay. Cool. So that’s pretty recent. That was okay. So that was a year and then you launched and then it’s been a year since the launch. So it was like a year to build up just to get to the launch point and oh, okay.

Shani (20:58.926)
still pre-market, pre-launch, pre-revenue. That was, yeah.

Shani (21:07.722)
Yes, exactly.

Yeah, we needed that initial capital to order our inventory, to contract with our pharmacy partners, to build our brand, to build our platform, to pay the engineers that were working for us, to pay the chemists. And so that’s what our initial capital went to is to build up towards launch. And then once we launched, we were able to raise a larger seed round.

Paris Vega (21:37.332)
And did you get those beta testers before the launch?

Shani (21:43.658)
Yes, the whole beta phase was before the launch. Yeah.

Paris Vega (21:44.448)
That was okay. Okay. All right. So about six months of just manually getting people to test it. And then at the year point, finally having enough of a story to pitch and get an investment and then he launched and have grown 800% since that point 12 months ago.

Shani (22:04.002)
That’s exactly right.

Paris Vega (22:05.828)
Awesome. So how do, how or where do most of your sales come from now?

Shani (22:11.314)
Now we’re finding most of our customers on social. We do a lot of paid social on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, paid search through Google, and recommendations from physicians. And then a lot of word of mouth and organic kind of wildfire type spreading that we exist.

Paris Vega (22:23.173)
Okay.

Paris Vega (22:28.51)
Yeah.

That makes sense where you could get really good conversions if a doctor is literally recommending it to their patients. What would you say is the, and I guess that would be kind of like a referral type sale. What do you think the kind of ratio is between what you are pulling in sales wise from social media and kind of those external efforts versus the referral sales?

Shani (22:39.744)
Yeah.

Shani (22:43.926)
Mm-hmm.

Shani (22:57.962)
Right now, it’s definitely a vast majority is social media and paid ads. And we do that because we want to be able to track exactly where our conversions are coming from. And when we use social media to make sales, we can know exactly how much it costs to convert a customer, what that customer’s data and background is, where they come from, who they are. When we have

pamphlets in doctors’ offices, it’s just a pamphlet that has a QR code with our website on it. And so we don’t know how that customer found us, where the referral came from. And of course, we welcome that. We love when patients come to us referred to by their doctors, but it’s not hard data that we can trace back to the customer and then use that to refine our targeting. And so in the future, we certainly plan to invest further in a physician referral strategy.

For the initial year that we were in market, it was really important for us to use paid social for those kind of data collection reasons.

Paris Vega (23:55.68)
And looking at your social advertising right now, and there’s always changes happening on all the platforms as far as like how expensive the ads are, how much exposure you get. What’s working right now for you the best? Which platform is working best for you to get sales?

Shani (24:15.586)
TikTok and Meta, which is Facebook, Instagram, are both working really well. We’ve definitely focused on having our doctors present in our ads. They’re true experts. Like these aren’t actors who we put white coats on. These are the founders and inventors of AlarmE who’ve spent decades practicing allergy at top institutions. And so we record them speaking about the product and the disease. And when we use that in ad footage, it builds us up as a really credible and legitimate company.

And that’s been working really well. We have a couple ads running where I’m speaking as the CEO. I just hold the camera up like a selfie mode and talk about the product and that’s converting really well. And you know, when I first started AlarmE, I designed all these like beautiful, perfect ads that I wanted to use. And when our chief marketing officer joined us and he has an extensive background in consumer tart, like social media targeting and direct to consumer ads and all of that, he was like, you have to do ugly ads.

And those are the ones that perform best. And it was so hard for me to stomach an ad that looked like it was kind of chopped together, isn’t taken in selfie mode, and it wasn’t beautiful and perfect. But those are the ads I think that feel most authentic to people and feel most organic. And we’ve definitely found that those are the ads that convert the best.

Paris Vega (25:36.164)
Okay. And what kind of cost per sale are you seeing from social media?

Shani (25:43.246)
So I can’t disclose that. That’s definitely confidential. But it’s low. I mean, it’s much lower than you would expect based on the iOS changes for direct to consumer social media marketing. When Apple kind of updated their privacy settings a couple of years ago, costs for direct to consumer advertising skyrocketed in most direct to consumer industries, whether it be beauty or fitness or food or drink.

Paris Vega (25:45.562)
Okay.

Paris Vega (25:55.283)
Right.

Paris Vega (26:04.691)
Yeah.

Shani (26:11.638)
But with healthcare, especially when we’re dealing with a chronic disease that doesn’t have a good solution, that we have a patented proprietary solution to that’s made by doctors, we found that our customer acquisition cost is a fraction of what we had projected it to be.

Paris Vega (26:28.508)
That’s awesome. Have you done like influencer type marketing? A couple episodes ago, someone mentioned that that’s their main kind of go-to form of social video advertising, where they’ll hire an influencer to talk about their product. You said you do the doctor ads and the CEO ads. Have you done like customer testimonial type influencer ads?

Shani (26:50.142)
Yeah. We have a couple ads that are customer testimonials. They’re not influencer ads. These are real customers who submitted videos about their experience. We’ve never paid a customer to submit a positive testimonial for us. We’ve worked with a couple content creators who you pay them to create a video. I don’t think those performed as well as the real organic videos that we create.

We are launching an influencer and affiliate strategy, but it’s really for people who suffer from allergies and like actually wanna use the Alarmy solution and not just people who will like pretend to use it and talk about it. If you know.

Paris Vega (27:29.677)
Yeah, I think that’s the ideal version of influencer marketing is supposed to be genuine, but I’m sure, like you’re saying, there’s probably a lot of fluff versions of it.

Shani (27:34.996)
Yeah.

Shani (27:39.442)
I think there must be. I mean, influencers are able to make a career out of partnering with brands. And I’m sure a lot of them are really genuine and they actually like the products that they’re talking about online. But when there’s a fee structure, and you’re told to create a video with a certain script, I think we all as consumers of social media have to be really careful about what we believe online. And so we think that the videos and the ad content that really performs the best is those that are actually real.

from real customers who are actually benefiting from our solution.

Paris Vega (28:14.268)
Right. So you mentioned that it’s the first custom nasal spray. So what’s the custom aspect of it? Because it sounds like there’s this formula that your, your father is a scientist kind of developed over time. Is it custom in the sense of depending on what specific allergy you have, it adjusts what the formula is. Can you explain that part of it?

Shani (28:33.31)
Yeah. So it’s less about what you’re allergic to and more about what your symptoms are. So we can take, let’s take two people, for example, who both have a diagnosis of allergy or rhinitis. And rhinitis is the scientific word to mean nasal inflammation. And one person has sneezing and itching and runny nose, and then another person has heavy, intense congestion and like a lot of thick nasal discharge. Both of those people have the same disease, but they have completely different symptoms.

So their nasal sprays are going to have to look completely different. One will have ingredients to target itchiness and runny nose. The other will have ingredients to target really intense congestion and inflammation. And so what we do when we say customize is we pick the ingredients and we adjust the dosages of those ingredients based on the symptoms that each patient is experiencing so that they get much better optimal relief than if they were to buy a one size fits all product.

Paris Vega (29:27.136)
Okay, cool. So this is your first startup, your first company, and given how you’re saying it’s grown so far, are you able to dedicate full-time to this project right now?

Shani (29:40.65)
Yeah, I’ve been full-time working on Alarmay for three years now.

Paris Vega (29:44.296)
That’s amazing. Well, congratulations on that. That’s huge for your first company to take off and work like this. Would you maybe give a little advice for other people who are first time founders or dreaming of starting a company? I think there’s a few people like that who listen to the show, who are listening for inspiration and ideas and trying to figure out how to get something off the ground. Could you talk a little bit about.

Shani (29:48.75)
Thank you.

Thank you so much.

Paris Vega (30:12.316)
Maybe that psychological and emotional process of going from no experience to now you’ve launched in a running a successful company.

Shani (30:22.59)
Yeah, when I was first thinking about Alarmy, it was actually before I’d started grad school for my master’s in education. And I’d had the idea, actually while I was driving cross-country from California to Rhode Island to start school, it just came to me like driving through Utah. I think I must have been deliriously tired. But I had this idea. And when I stopped to meet a friend, and I think it was in Michigan, I told her about the idea. She was like, oh my god, that’s amazing.

The next day I called my parents, I told them, my dad especially was so excited. He hadn’t thought of commodifying his invention before. It was just something he prescribed to his patients and didn’t, you know, there was no business around it. So he loved the idea. But I was starting grad school in like a week and I thought about it every day and I got my way through grad school. I wasn’t that happy, you know, in that field of education, but I stuck through it, got my master’s. And then…

And then I was like, you know what? I want to pursue this startup. This is so exciting. Everyone loves the idea. I was really kind of drafting things during my free time in school, you know, building up a little bit of brand stuff and mixing nasal sprays in my kitchen sink for my friends. And, um, I called up an investor who is a family friend and he was like,

You know what? We have enough entrepreneurs. We have enough startups. We need teachers. You just got your master’s in education. Forget this. Go be a teacher. Like, what are you doing? And I was completely crushed. I was like, I remember crying. I was so upset after that call, but I was so swayed by his words that I listened to him. And I was like, you know what? He’s right. Like, I can’t do this. I’m a teacher. I have no tech background. This is, you know. So I gave up on the idea and I went to go teach and I taught for two years and I thought about Alarmy every single day.

And I was miserable teaching and finally my parents were like, you know what, Shani, like move back home. We’ll support you while you invest in this business and you can pursue it. And then it was from there that it really took off. But so much wasted time. Like there were three years in between when I had the idea and I actually started the company and I regret that really deeply. I think we could have gotten a lot farther if I’d started when I’d had the idea rather than putting it off.

Shani (32:38.11)
And especially rather than putting it off because I listened to the advice of someone who, who was wrong. And so all of that very long story is to say that I would advise someone who has an idea that they can’t stop thinking about, that they’ve been thinking about every single day for a long period of time and they have evidence to believe that it actually could succeed and the passion to bring that to fruition is give it your all. And

They’re going to be people who discourage you, but if you really believe in what you’re building and think that this is something that the world needs, that you can build a profitable business around, go and do it. Do everything you can to make that happen. Because even if it fails, what an incredible experience to be able to do that and to say that you listen to your intuition there.

Paris Vega (33:23.484)
Yeah, that’s powerful. Um, were there any books that you would recommend somebody check out who’s on this similar path of wanting to get it, get a company off the ground? Were there any books that you read or went through as you’re kind of exploring, becoming an entrepreneur?

Shani (33:41.614)
There’s one in particular that I’ll name. I read a lot of books, but books weren’t really my favorite way about learning entrepreneurship. It was more like talking to people and listening to podcasts. But there was one book that I loved that actually one of our investors wrote, and it’s called Nightlife Lessons. And it’s by an author who’s an investor named Shane Neiman, N-E-M-A-N. And he started multiple companies in the entertainment space in New York City.

like the 80s and 90s. And it’s completely unrelated to anything that I do, but it was the most entertaining and informative kind of lesson filled book that I’ve read in years. I absolutely loved it. I recommend any new entrepreneur to read that book. It was so fun. I couldn’t put it down.

Paris Vega (34:28.512)
I’ll have to check it out, especially if it’s on audible.

Shani (34:31.566)
Oh, I wonder if it is. It’s so good. You’ll finish it in like a few days. You can’t put it down.

Paris Vega (34:36.928)
Okay, cool.

Well, this is an inspiring story, given that you went from zero experience and zero customers with the new version of the company and it built something real and successful. And that’s a really interesting point about, you know, not listening to everybody’s advice. And I guess that person who was kind of trying to discourage you, in one way they’re kind of testing.

you know, the level of determination you can have or that you had, because if you’re easily persuaded not to do something, you know, some would say, well, that’s a sign that maybe you shouldn’t do it if, you know, you can easily be convinced not to do it. Um, and the advice they were giving you, it’s like they were looking at from their perspective, what’s good for the world. Yeah. It would be good if we had more great teachers in the world, but that’s not optimizing for your individual, like desires for your, your life.

Shani (35:09.56)
Mm-hmm.

Shani (35:22.55)
Yes.

Shani (35:32.947)
Yeah.

Shani (35:39.597)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (35:39.74)
It’s like optimizing for the system instead of the person.

Shani (35:43.618)
Totally. And I think now if someone were to try to discourage me, first of all I’m in way too deep but there’s not a force in the world that could stop us from what we’re building right now. And maybe the time just wasn’t right if I was that easily convinced by one person. I was probably too naive and too immature at the time and needed to grow up a bit.

Paris Vega (35:49.342)
Right.

Paris Vega (35:53.832)
Yeah.

Paris Vega (36:02.012)
Yeah, because then I guess by the end of that two years of teaching, it sounds like you were way more convinced since you’ve gone down that other path a little bit. Yeah. Okay. Well, this has been a really cool story and I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us. Any other words of advice or kind of perspective you can share with, with people wanting to get something started?

Shani (36:08.638)
I was ready.

Shani (36:29.83)
Yeah, I think just keep at it. You know, if you believe in it, keep going. Don’t let people get you down. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. And if anyone’s bringing you down, listen to them, meaning listen to their words and analyze whether there’s truth. But if you find that you think they’re wrong, just keep going and don’t let negativity bring you down.

Paris Vega (36:55.004)
Yeah. All right. How can people reach out, become a customer or connect with you through maybe social media, LinkedIn or whatever.

Shani (37:06.11)
Yeah, I’m on LinkedIn under my name, Shani Bochen Steinberg. That’s my married name. Allermi is on Instagram under getallermi. You can sign up at www.Allermi.com. The first month if you sign up is free. So you get a free trial. And if anybody has nasal congestion, hay fever, rhinitis, definitely reach out and we’ll see if we can help.

Paris Vega (37:30.488)
Awesome. All right, thanks everybody for listening. We’ll see you on the next episode of the First Customers podcast. Later.

Shani (37:36.95)
Thanks, Paris.

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