Rosa Li grew up drinking her grandmother’s home-brewed herbal tonics that kept her and her family healthy and thriving. When Li graduated from business school, she knew she wanted to explore entrepreneurship but in a way that was close to her heart. And so Wildwonder was born. Today the San Francisco, California-based entrepreneur runs her sparkling pro-biotic beverage company made out of real fruit and herbs in a variety of flavors familiar to the American consumer. And while Li may have launched her company during a global Pandemic, by March of 2020 she already had her Wildwonder drinks in all northern California Whole Foods.
Li’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
Growing up, my grandmother brewed tonics with wild herbs, rare spices, and medicinal plants. Health-wise, they worked wonders, from boosting my immunity to calming my stress. But taste-wise, they were hard to swallow. After I graduated from Stanford Business School, I wanted to do something I’m personally passionate about, which in my case meant making functional ingredients that naturally heal our body but in a fun and accessible way for the masses.
I embarked on a mission to make Asian inspired herbal remedies by combining ancient herbal wisdom with modern tastes in mind. Before Wildwonder, I built a loose leaf tea business and traveled around Asia to source the best teas and herbs. Because our lives are so busy, it’s a tall ask to get consumers to brew their own functional drinks. So, I decided to make ready-to-drink beverages that are both delicious and beneficial. If there’s one thing we take away from the pandemic, it is that immune health is critical to our daily lives, and 70% of our immune system is in our gut. Nowadays, we don’t only see food as something that feeds us, but also as something that can heal. Gut health and immunity are top of mind for consumers these days, and probiotics are the fastest growing segment within the functional ingredient market. Wildwonder is a bubbly, delicious, and nourishing beverage that prioritizes function as much as taste.
How do you define success?
Building a healthy and sustainable business that celebrates diversity and equity. Success means using our platform and business to uplift other women and marginalized communities.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Our biggest success to date was launching in all Northern California Whole Foods in March 2020.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Wildwonder is a rebrand (formerly known as Tea Crush) that we launched two weeks before the Pandemic – so our biggest challenge has been launching a brand during a global Pandemic. We rebranded to Wildwonder to expand beyond tea and build a bigger wellness platform. The current products are focused on gut health, which is also critical to all aspects of our health such as our immunity, brain health, energy and mood. We’ve been focused on creating content that motivates and inspires, and definitely see a boost from our rebrand, fresh and whimsy packaging, and new products, including PR and new retail launches.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
When I started Wildwonder, I saw an entrenched food and beverage industry dominated by a few large conglomerates with very little female and minority brand representation. Being a food fanatic, I wanted to level the playing field (or play a small part in it) while bringing innovation, mission and purpose to an industry I feel passionate about. So I gave up a lucrative career in finance to build Wildwonder.
Who is your most important role model?
My grandma. She didn’t get to go to school but her curiosity led her to educate and teach herself how to read and write. She ended up taking various leadership roles after she raised her four children, and even started learning English at the age of 65!