By Mariah Mell, Community Manager

Bond Collective Loop members, John and Cameron, share their path to creating their company, liina. liina is a first of its kind, spirulina products company with the mission of sharing the miracle of spirulina with the world. Spirulina is a natural-occurring blue green micro-algae. It is one of nature's most nutritionally dense superfoods and also one of the most sustainable.

MM: To start, how did the two of you meet and what inspired the idea for liina?

Cameron: I actually grew up with John’s sister. When I came out here to Chicago in 2016, I didn’t know that many people and John’s sister recommended that John and I get together. We hung out a few times and about 3 years later, we began kicking around the idea of starting a company. We had a lot of ideas, not all good ones. Then I ended up doing a triathlon in Argentina and read a book by an endurance athlete which outlined his training, recovery process, and use of spirulina. The author detailed the multiple instances he used spirulina and all the different types of health benefits. I thought it was interesting and started to do my own research on Google. I found spirulina supplements and drinks, but there just weren't a lot of products. I started talking with John and we went to Whole Foods to buy the spirulina powder. We started to make smoothies with it and quickly realized that it just tastes… bad [laughs]. It smells like, if you ever had a goldfish, you know the fish food flakes, it smells worse than that. So we knew if we could figure out a way to be aesthetically pleasing, we would have something. We originally went down the path of making it into a drink and worked on that for the better part of two years on the side while still working our jobs in finance. As we were still complaining about our finance jobs, we kept at our idea and realized the drink business was going to be pretty challenging given the amount of resources you need in the beginning.

John: It also is something we both use a lot, it's not just something we are trying to sell so I think we will be the biggest advocates of how it helps you. At this time, Cameron was still doing Ironmans and I was playing college basketball so the health benefits were something that really helped us personally. That was most important to me, having something that I can personally vouch for. If you really believe in it and you have really seen it help you, then you will be the best person to tell others how it can help them. It has really improved my quality of life in a meaningful way. Having been an athlete my whole life, you have to take a lot of different supplements and powders. Some of it takes you backwards more than it takes you forward and with spirulina I immediately started feeling the benefits. I experienced an increase in energy. I have always had bad knees and a bad back from playing basketball, I slowly started seeing an improvement on that. It is definitely something that we both believe in and use, again, I think that is critical to being able to share those experiences with others.

MM: For sure, it is important that you believe in it before you can expect others to do the same. Back to the origin question, did you two know that you wanted your business to be in the health industry? Or did your background in finance make you interested in starting a business together? It is an interesting shift.

John: No, we did not. I can tell you confidently I did not think I would be trying to sell algae one day. It makes a lot of sense in retrospect because I have always cared a lot about the environment. I didn’t really know how to have an impact besides what everyone does like recycling, turning the water off when you brush your teeth, things like that. Yes, those things have an impact but to create a product with a sustainable ingredient, now that can really move the needle. It takes a lot of different things going right to have a big impact but that’s not an excuse to not do your part. It wasn’t until we were further along in the process that I realized and once I did, it really motivated me to make a shift. Cameron and I would text every morning about our dreadful walks to work. When we both quit our jobs, it was the first time I didn’t feel like I was just waking up for a paycheck but instead for reasons that could have an impact. I am waking up for something that is going to take time to get there, and it's a day-by-day process, but it is a rare spark that I don’t think many people get to experience. In that regard, I feel lucky to have that.

 MM: You have touched a little bit on why spirulina is a great ingredient. What would you say differentiates liina from other health drinks and supplements in the market?

John: As Cameron mentioned, the only way you can buy spirulina now is in the raw powder format. There are a lot of barriers of entry for just anyone to access the health benefits of it. You have to be someone who is more on top of these kinds of things, since it is not as mainstream yet. If you do know about it, you have to be willing to find ways to make it taste and smell good to get access to the health benefits. You can think of liina as removing those obstacles out of people's way so that you know about it and it is easy for you. The health benefits will take care of itself. That is the main distinguisher.

Cameron: It’s unique because it has been around forever but no one has put it into a mainstream mechanism. We look at Vital Proteins a lot because they were one of the first companies to take collagen and market it in such a way that everyone now knows it as being good for your hair, skin, and nails. Something that people see as a necessity in their everyday routine. Even though collagen has always been around. We looked at spirulina as an ingredient that is unique and that not a lot of companies are focusing on. We are able to market spirulina in a similar way to increase awareness. That makes us more unique than if we were to start another plant based protein, or whey protein, etc. as there are already so many in the market.

MM: You do have a unique advantage with being one of the first to bring the ingredient to the market and how sustainable of an ingredient it is. We need more products that are both good for us and the environment.

John: Yeah for sure. Our goal is to make spirulina mainstream and I think that if we are good at marketing liina, there will be other companies that try to come in and make something similar. Yes, we want to be the only company, but the reality is that’s not how the world works. Our mission is to make it more mainstream so having other companies with similar products will work towards that mission which is very exciting to us. While we are just starting out with one product, there may be someone down the line who creates something different such as a yogurt with spirulina. There are many ways liina can impact the industry and make spirulina a commonly used ingredient.

MM: That is very exciting. Which leads to my next question, how do you view liina in 5 years from now? Do you want to be on store shelves, traveling the country to give talks about how great the product is, or something entirely different? What is the ideal route for spreading awareness?

Cameron: Yeah, I would say all of it.

John: A Ted Talk would be nice.

 Cameron: It’s one of those things that when you start something, you have a vision in your head of how it is going to go but it doesn’t always go exactly as planned. Two years ago, I envisioned that we would be on the news, in local stores around Chicago, raising a ton of money, and more. The reality is you may not always take the initial path but you still end up getting to the goal result. As for five years from now, just more awareness about spirulina and liina in general. Why we named it liina, as it is a direct play on spirulina. If we can accomplish that in any future form it happens, then all the wildest dreams can come true.

MM: Absolutely. I can say that I had never heard of spirulina until I met you two. When I shared your company with my colleagues, some of them were familiar and were so excited to see this product. Their immediate reactions were, “Why has no one done anything like this yet?” and that they would use it but it didn’t smell or taste so great. I love how it is such a bright natural blue color in the powder. We are excited as a team to create more awareness in our Bond Collective community nationwide. That being said, our final question, what made you choose Bond Collective as the space for you to work on and eventually launch liina?

John: It just felt like a good home base for us. We toured several other coworking spaces, a lot of them felt too crowded out. They also didn’t seem to have the resources of Bond Collective, like this blog feature we are doing now. The other spaces felt more like a get in, get out cycle rather than a community feel like we have here. On top of that, the look of this place is incredible. We have tried our best to make our brand feel premium and Bond Collective feels like the perfect match. So hopefully we reach a point one day where we need this 20-person conference room to hold our team meetings in. Bond is a great place for us to establish ourselves while also looking like a more put together brand than just Cam and I behind the scenes. I think that goes for anyone considering Bond Collective. Additionally, some of the other spaces we looked at didn’t have many windows, they were just dark spaces in the corner whereas here there are a lot of windows. I think that says something about the kind of company Bond is. It feels like you are walking into a CB2, telling our visitors that we are doing a lot better than they may initially think. Eventually, our company will be in a position where people expect the caliber of office Bond provides and we are excited to share that.

MM: Thank you two so much for your time and for choosing Bond Collective as the home for liina. We are so excited to watch your company grow!

Follow liina on Instagram @liveliina
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