I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Afif Ghannoum, the long-time CEO, now chairman, of BIOHM Health, for an in-depth interview. Our wide-ranging conversation covered the fascinating story of how he transformed his father's groundbreaking microbiome research into a thriving consumer product line.

Afif shared valuable insights into BIOHM's approach to innovation, product positioning, and the marketing mix that's fueling the company's impressive growth trajectory. He also opened up about the challenges of scaling a science-based startup and his strategic priorities for the road ahead. Here are the key highlights and takeaways from our enlightening discussion.

From Research to Revenue

Afif has successfully bridged the gap between academia and commerce by commercializing his father Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum's trailblazing research on the complex interactions between bacteria and fungi in the human microbiome. "My dad is a scientist, but he's not a formulator," Afif explains. "Really, when I saw where my kind of niche expertise is seeing a gap. And so to me, I thought this is really interesting that, you know, fungi has really never been promoted in a big way in gut health."

Identifying this untapped opportunity, Afif set out to create a product that harnessed Dr. Ghannoum's findings. He dove into the formulation process, developing a unique blend of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and enzymes. The finished product was put to the test in Dr. Ghannoum's lab, with promising results. "We saw, oh, we are actually able to break down these biofilms," Afif recounts. From there, he leveraged his previous experience in the oral care space to navigate the supply chain and bring BIOHM to market.

Differentiated Positioning

In the increasingly crowded probiotic marketplace, BIOHM has carved out a distinctive position by emphasizing the crucial role of both bacteria and fungi in gut health. Afif sums up their unique value proposition in one crisp sentence:

"We're the first one that's designed purposely to balance both bacteria and fungi in your gut."

Rather than getting bogged down in the science, BIOHM focuses on this simple yet powerful message to differentiate themselves from the competition.

They also heavily leverage the credibility of Afif's father Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, who "has been called the leading microbiome scientist in the world." By combining a strong, scientifically-validated product with the authority of a renowned researcher, BIOHM has built trust with consumers in a category where confusion often reigns. "A lot of people, we've heard them say, I don't really understand all the science, but I trust Dr. Ghannoum or I trust your dad," notes Afif.

Educating the Customer

For a cutting-edge, science-based product, customer education is absolutely critical. While probiotics have gained mainstream awareness, Afif points out that "even though it's an established channel, it's a very young category." The average consumer is still fuzzy on the details, so BIOHM places a major emphasis on crisp, clear communication. It starts with product names that spell out the key benefit, like the "Gut Brain Connection" line.

Packaging is also vitally important. Since BIOHM doesn't have the marketing muscle to pull customers to the shelf, they make sure their products stand out and tell a compelling story once shoppers pick them up. Afif's father Dr. Ghannoum is featured prominently, and the bacteria/fungi angle is hammered home. This messaging is echoed consistently across the brand's advertising and content, with the goal of cementing BIOHM's unique position in consumers' minds.

Multichannel Marketing

To fuel growth and drive both online and retail sales, BIOHM has embraced a diverse marketing mix. While Facebook remains "the monster" channel, Afif and his team complement it with a range of other tactics, both traditional and digital. They've tested everything from smart TV advertising to direct mail circulars to in-store promotions. Influencer partnerships have emerged as a particularly powerful tool.

"One of our biggest influencers, we pay her tens of thousands a month in commission. She really drives a lot of volume,"

Afif shares. However, he's quick to note that not every influencer delivers a strong ROI. To build an effective program, BIOHM has experimented with different commission structures and focused on authentic, long-term partnerships where the brand is a natural fit. They've also leveraged their PR efforts to drive buzz, racking up over 750 million impressions in the first three quarters of the year.

Priorities for Growth

As BIOHM scales up, Afif is laser-focused on two key priorities: winning at retail and optimizing operations. He's particularly bullish on the Walmart opportunity, noting that

"60% of supplements in the US are sold at Walmart."

Nailing that relationship is priority number one. At the same time, he's working to streamline the company's complex supply chain, which involves live probiotic organisms, and carefully manage cash flow to support sustainable growth. While BIOHM will continue to launch new products, the cadence will be guided by the company's clinical trials and data rather than a set schedule. "We'll always introduce a handful of products a year, but a lot of our innovation is driven by our clinical trials, our data," Afif says. "Really we're at that stage of the business where it's scaling now versus innovation."

My conversation with Afif offered a compelling glimpse into the world of microbiome-based health and the challenges and opportunities of scaling a science-backed consumer brand. By staying laser-focused on a core story rooted in rigorous research, while continually optimizing their marketing mix and operations, Afif and the BIOHM team have established a strong foundation for long-term growth.

With their category-leading innovation pipeline, marquee retail partnerships, and capital-efficient approach, BIOHM is well-positioned to stake out an even greater share of the fast-growing probiotic market.

At the same time, Afif's journey is a powerful reminder that success in the startup world requires grit, adaptability, and a willingness to charge headfirst into uncharted territory. I'm deeply grateful to Afif for so generously sharing his time and hard-won wisdom, and I'll be eagerly tracking BIOHM's progress in the years to come.

Collab with brands and creators. Request your invite at collabs.io