Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Julie Cielo, founder and CEO of Ferm Fatale LLC., located in Venice, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ferm Fatale is a line of wildly fermented zero-proof cocktails in classic cocktail flavors. Probiotic and certified organic, our alcohol alternatives are low calorie, zero sugar, yet loaded with dirt—live enzymes, B-vitamins, good bacteria, and naturally occurring antioxidants and digestive acids that cleanse and repopulate the microbiome.
Our customers are smart and sexy and love luxury but need functionality because they know 'drinking dirty' is the means to living clean. Live Clean, Drink Dirty! Ferm Fatale is a female-founded and financed startup in Venice, CA.
Tell us about yourself
I was sick with a debilitating autoimmune condition that left me unable to drink alcohol in my 20s. A moment at a concert in 2001 led me to raise the first round in 2015, forging a whole new discussion around what I called 'social beverages.' Beverages adults could socialize with beyond alcohol or tonic water. I coined the word 'social beverage' and identified the category on stage at BevNet Live in 2015.
I had a childhood filled with people telling me I didn't fit in, so I felt others probably didn't either. We live in a society that romanticizes a substance that caused more death in 2020 than COVID-19 did. In 2019 I raised more capital with one single female investor and launched DTC in January 2020 after being picked up by Erewhon Markets in LA as the first non-alcoholic beverage on the shelf carving the segment.
I created a line of wildly fermented zero-proof cocktails in custom glass bottles inspired by stories my Italian immigrant grandfather told me growing up with in rural PA. He spoke about peasants in the fields in the summer heat drinking vinegar-based drinks to cool off. I formulated the first shelf, stable yet raw, live, organic artisanal ready-to-drink cocktail inspired by the growing interest in the market, watching my vision ferment, finally becoming manifest. We will soon be filling cans!
I am a founding member of ANBA and speak on panels internationally, spreading the word about minimizing or eliminating alcohol and healing from within— mind, heart, and gut. I personally finally broke up with alcohol this past January, making a conscious choice instead of the decision being made for me after years of using alcohol as a crutch to avoid the pain and loneliness of being single in LA in my late 30's-early 40s after divorce and healing from childhood trauma. I consider myself an example of REAL female empowerment minus pink drinks and trend-chasing celebrities.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Speaking again this past year at BevNet Live as a thought leader in the adult non-alcoholic beverage industry movement dominated by men and fierce competition, helping to found a committee within ANBA to regulate and serve our community of NA drink founders, and support our thousands of customers that have purchased our wildly fermented alcohol replacement zero proof cocktails for the past few years despite packaging flaws, UPS damage, and the many challenges of bottling in glass. Thank you, we love you.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Learning from mistakes and shortcomings and keeping a beginner's mind. I have eaten lots of humble pie and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never fail. I either learn or grow. With success comes getting comfortable with being uncomfortable continuously. This builds mad resilience.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don't spend money in the beginning. Be scrappy AF.
- Surround yourself with people you wish to be like, even if they are not in your industry.
- Get clear about what success means to you.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Ferm Fatale is carried in retail stores that support the growing social movement of people that are taking a stand for having fun sans booze.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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