When Bilal Qizilbash was studying for his Master’s Degree in Medical Sciences at Mississippi College, he decided to study the effect of juiced leafy kale on melanoma cancer cells. In vitro (in a petri dish) he found that he could repeatedly get an astonishing result–the kale would attack melanoma cells, while leaving non-cancerous cells alone. Studied at different intervals of time, the results were steady. Eventually, he spoke at conferences on the topic and currently is patenting that research while making plans for further study.
As a result of this work, Bilal came to believe even more fully in the benefits of kale, and became determined that people should get a daily serving of kale because of its many health benefits.
Aware that many people don’t like the taste of kale, or that they don’t enjoy the hassle of shopping for it, chopping it and cooking it, he went to work to create a product that would make it easier for people to get the benefits of kale.
The result was EasyKale–a “gently processed” powered kale that Bilal has designed to remove a lot of the flavor from the kale; powered kale would otherwise tend to be very bitter. While there are other powered kale products on the market, the combination of the relatively flavorlessness, the shaker design and the patented process that Bilal has implemented for washing the kale (it removes up to 90 percent of residual pesticides, something that produce is susceptible to even in an “organic” growing environment), makes EasyKale a premium product. And it’s marketed that way.
As a founder and entrepreneur, Bilal is gregarious and big-hearted–he constantly compliments people, offers bear hugs, smiles and calls out people’s names across the room. As a scientist, he has near-perfect recall, able to talk almost non-stop with potential customers about their nutrition or health challenges, breaking down what’s going on in their body chemistry. Bilal is also a millennial–emojis, cat videos and comic book characters come up a lot. He called EasyKale’s second product–a one-ounce pouch of kale–the “EasyKale Poochie” because he laughs every time he says it.
Bilal also has a strong commitment to philanthropy; every Friday afternoon, rain or shine, he goes to downtown Jackson to feed the homeless as part of his own non-profit’s work. Called “R U Hungry,” the program feeds the homeless a full meal each week with no strings attached. His non-profit, Draw-a-Smile, solicits donations online and a portion of EasyKale’s profits–once it is profitable–will go to the foundation and other non-profit work.
Bilal’s founding partner, Richard Sun, is the “entrepreneur in residence” at Innovate Mississippi and a former chairman of the organization. His mantra is “Let Bilal be Bilal… within reason.” Seeing Bilal as a part of the marketing and the message for EasyKale is something that the startup is thinking about in early stages as they consider strategies similar to the “My Pillow” guy (Michael J. Lindell) in order to grow from local sales to national.
The company settled on packaging early in 2018 and began a strategy designed conduct a great deal of customer research by selling directly to customers at local farmer’s markets and at the Aladdin Mediterranean restaurant in Jackson. EasyKale has recently expanded into the local organic grocery market, Rainbow Co-op, and the company was accepted into the Delta Regional Authority’s I-Fund, an accelerator program for companies working in the region bordering the Mississippi River. The revenue growth–and growth in local awareness—is happening.
Ultimately, the goal will be to settle on a core niche of customers and learn how to sell to them—whether through retail, online, social media or most likely a combination. And by doing the customer research required to learn about customers, including both in settings such as at the farmer’s market and in more formal interviews with people representing the demographic, EasyKale is following the lean-canvas model and doing the due diligence on creating a “customer avatar”–or a model customer to think about–that should serve them well once they expand their marketing.