Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Laura Briesenick, Co-Founder of ūmmi kombucha, located in Lisbon, Portugal.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
ūmmi is the first alcoholic kombucha on the European market, a refreshing, vegan, gluten-free, organic, low sugar, 6% alternative alcohol. With the organic food sector booming with diverse new brands, Europe's alcohol space lacks real innovation, with no options that cater to health-conscious consumers living an active lifestyle like us.
We wanted to enjoy a būzz that wouldn't slow us down the next day, and our customer base values exactly that. We have been told that the transparency around our drink, the cleanliness of the ingredients, and our community approach to launching a business have inspired that loyal following. They were craving a convenient drink in a slick well, designed, beautiful can where they can trust that they are drinking something that gives them a fun little buzz but without weird additives. We assured certifications were in place early on; it is 100% fermented, so kinda good for you - good for your soul, most certainly, and much better for your body than the majority of the alternatives out there.
Tell us about yourself
I have always worked in food-related businesses ever since I was a student. When I first came to Portugal, I started one of the first specialty coffee shops in the city, along with two other female founders. It was a tough crowd back then, introducing a different taste and process for coffee (and price ;) to what the local community was used to. With humility and persistence, we pushed through; I exited that business before it became a chain with now a handful of shops in Lisbon alone. Bringing something new to the market in the F&B space is challenging but so rewarding. What you put into your body is essential for a happy, healthy life; it feeds your body and literally feeds your mind too. I believe we have an issue in today's world when we spend more money on clothes and makeup than on the actual nourishment to stay alive. And the big Food companies take way too many shortcuts to transform the products for more convenience and, most of all- as cheap as they can in its making.
Much of the cost savings go to the big giants themselves, and the public is left with products full of preservatives, thickeners, homogenizers, and generally too much sugar and sweeteners. Luckily, the transparency and story behind what we eat and drink become ever more important, and this goes from the founding story (community first, including our groups of investors/co-owners), to our producers (a wonderful brewery in the middle of the forest near Porto), to our suppliers (our tea comes from the oldest remaining tea plantation in Europe, run by two kick-ass ladies). What motivates me is to be able to build a product where the right people are plugged into that value chain that I am attempting to create from a community of bold, amazing investors to good honest organic suppliers and knowledgeable, passionate brewers to consumers that understand and utilise the voting power that they carry in their purses.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Very difficult question to answer; I believe launching and persisting with a new product in the food space is so much more about persistence on a daily basis rather than big accomplishments. You can manage to sell five pallets of cans in a day or sign a new distributor for a new market and be happy about that for a second, but in the next moment, there might be a global virus paralysing the restaurant industry that you depend on for your product launch :D
You can't predict the future, but you can direct its course, proactively pushing through to your clearly defined goals and then reacting to whatever stuff gets thrown at you. It's a marathon. If you don't give up or disengage when things get hard, but dig even deeper, then you've succeeded a little bit every day.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Never able to shut it all off completely. Ever. I am constantly (lovingly) reminded to "take time off," specifically by people that have worked in a hired position for the majority of their lives. Obviously, there is a balance to be found, and that is essential to surviving as a business owner. That said, shutting it off completely just does not work your life is your work and your work is your life. It all depends on you.
In my case, I do this not for the big bucks but for the big change, as cliché as this may sound. I still get a little high in seeing our beautiful silver cans on tables in Lisbon, knowing we've designed that can, made that label, sourced those ingredients, produced that liquid, and brought this amazing new drink to that table today. A clean, wonderful drink that is supposed to disrupt the beverage space a bit. That happiness is magnified by the many sacrifices I am making to get it there, the little sleep, the 80h weeks, the times I want to hang out with my kid but end up showing up as this ball of stress for my daughter to have to endure. Those are the harder times filled with doubts. I can only hope she understands why I am doing this and gets inspired by her crazy mum.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Persist. Always. And pivot if you need to. I once heard the saying, "there is no failed business, just an entrepreneur that gives up" I try not to use it too much since there is always the risk of falling into that category, but there is a lot of truth in that :) And back it up with routines to keep focused. There is so much flux that you will have to endure; the routines are something to hold onto for that.
- Test your concept, and discuss it with all people from all walks of life that might have something to say. Listen to what they have to say, then scratch the majority of it off your strategy and follow your own intuition (but at least now you can brace yourself and improve your concept even more.)
- Silence the ego. Once you hold onto a concept or a strategy too hard because it was your idea or because you think you are the best at deciding what that could look like, you become blinded to real change and solid improvements of your model.
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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