How did she do it? A Q&A with Sharelle Klaus, CEO and Founder at DRY Soda Company
Peggy Wallace, Managing Partner of Golden SeedsMay 9, 2019
As a busy mom, she wasn’t going to let a lack of wine or cocktails stop her from having a great beverage. So, she crafted a clean, carbonated, celebratory drink, minus the alcohol. Now she and her all-female executive team are creating a new beverage category.
Golden Seeds’ Peggy Wallace discussed with Sharelle Klaus how her company is taking over celebratory occasions with non-alcoholic sparkling beverages.
PW: Tell us about the origins of your company.
SK: I love celebrating. Being out with friends, connecting over a meal or celebrating the wins in life has been my thing. But 14 years ago, I had four incredible children under the age of seven and didn’t feel like drinking fit as part of my lifestyle. The catch is, I still wanted to feel a part of the party, raise a toast and treat myself. So, I got to work in my own kitchen, creating bubbly drinks with clean, botanical flavors and DRY Sparkling was born. I wanted a drink that would pair as perfectly as wine with food, but almost more unique, elevating botanical flavors like lavender and cucumber.
Feel free to pinch me, because here I am 14 years later with a nationally recognized brand that is available in over 10,000 locations in North America, working with an incredible team of all-female leaders, and elevating what non-alcoholic drinks can be from an afterthought to an experience.
PW: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from the way others have addressed this need?
SK: This year, alcohol sales in the US are down for the third year in a row. Americans are drinking less and less, which is creating an opportunity for non-alcoholic celebration beverages. We are working to fill that space with a product that was created with adults in mind. We think that design and intention matters. Our botanical flavors, short and simple ingredient lists (four ingredients), and Non-GMO verification are table stakes, but we work to elevate flavor over sweetness and believe design matters. For example, we put a tremendous amount of effort into our brand and packaging, so each bottle feels like its own celebration. We work with some amazing artists on our bottles. We sell single 12-ounce bottles that are glass and also offer celebration bottles that are 750ml.
PW: What challenges have you encountered along way? How have you overcome them?
SK: Building a business is hard. Period. Of course, the beverage industry comes with its own complexities from giant players, to an ultra-competitive landscape, to being crazy fragmented. It is also a quickly evolving marketplace and figuring out how to be true to your purpose and be responsive to the market causes friction.
I’ve learned two huge lessons:
1) DRY is who it is because it has a clear vision and mission. We are fanatical about our purpose and do not sway from it. For instance, we were created to be a non-alcoholic option, but during my first sales meeting, a bartender wanted to use it as a mixer. Soon we had a cult-like following of mixologists. We started to market ourselves as a mixer but that is not what we are and while it is great people want to use us this way, we got off our own message by chasing an opportunity. If you are resource-restrained from a marketing standpoint, stay focused on what you’re trying to get done with your target consumers, so that you don’t spread yourself too thin.
2) People make it work. The right talent will help you problem solve, which is important in the beverage industry. The industry is one big challenge after another, so our culture is extremely collaborative. My team is bright, creative and loves solving problems. If you are bothered by problems, you can’t work at DRY Soda Company.
PW: What’s coming up next for your company?
SK: We have two new marketing campaigns we are excited to launch in 2019 — one this summer and one focused on the holidays. The campaigns involve our entire portfolio of products and support the idea that, in social situations, non-alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be an afterthought, they should be a must-have. I am most excited about the messaging and marketing around hosting “celebration occasions” and that our 750 mL celebration bottles will have thousands of new points of distribution. This is becoming a big opportunity for us and it’s taking off. We will be extremely focused on this over the next 24 months. Of course, there is flavor innovation as well, which is always fun.
PW: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
SK: Surround yourself with talent that complements your skillset. Be aware of what you’re not good at and figure out how to find that talent. I often felt as CEO I had to have all the answers, and if I didn’t have all the answers, I couldn’t expect my team to have them. But I learned that it’s the complete opposite — it’s okay if I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I have a team.
The other thing that can be difficult for founders is parting ways from the original team who was there from day one, but founders have to be rigorous about making changes when it’s time. I think founders struggle with that because we are so thankful that anyone wants to help us with this dream of ours, but you owe it to the business and to your investors to make these tough decisions. It’s painful but it has to happen.
PW: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
SK: DRY was one of the first companies to be supported by Golden Seeds. This is such an incredible group of people who believed in me. I was a brand-new CEO and I felt like I had this amazing network from Golden Seeds. In fact, some of my original investors are still good friends of mine who I’ll reach out to and they really encourage me. I felt like Golden Seeds had my back from day one.
Over the years, Golden Seeds has grown exponentially and its bank of knowledge, resources and network are invaluable. The group’s purpose of wanting to make hardworking women into successful entrepreneurs is palpable all the time. The insights, connections, and support are delightful. I have met so many brilliant people through Golden Seeds, which I am forever grateful for.
One of the reasons that DRY Soda Company now has an all-female executive team, which is highly unusual in consumer product goods, is based off this early excitement and inspiration I received from Golden Seeds. I had always been in male-dominated industries, so Golden Seeds was my first experience being around so many brilliant women. They showed me the importance of bringing together female perspectives and how insightful and knowledgeable it can be. Now, we are the only all-female executive team in the beverage industry, and I credit Golden Seeds for that.
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