Recently, I came across a really neat business – King Kava. It brought kava to Whole Foods shelves around New York City. And their founder was kind enough to grant an interview. As always, I find that successful business enterprises are based on two premises – 1) passion for the product and accept no compromises, and 2) know what you’re bringing to the table (to the consumer and potentially to the retailer, depending on your business model).
So, saw you in Kickstarter… and kava tea making seems like a complex / expensive operation, can you share your story of how you guys got started? Beg, borrow, steal? We were able to raise about $20,000.00 from friends and family that allowed us to start King Kava. We operate out of the Organic Food Incubator in Long Island City, Queens and use their equipment during production runs. Working out of an incubator reduced the cost of starting up because we can use the kitchen space whenever we need it and we didn’t have to buy very much of our own equipment.
Did you worry that American’s won’t accept kava? I am confident that there is a large market for kava in the United States, the difficult part is getting the right execution of a product with kava.
When you first approached Whole Foods, did they ask “what is kava”? Why did you think King Kava would be a good product for Whole Foods? Kava is well known enough that Whole Foods was aware of what kava is. King Kava is both organic certified and locally made, two things that Whole Foods looks for in products.
What are some of the most common questions you get from the shoppers? A lot of people are concerned kava will make it hard for them to work/make them too tired, but even though kava helps fight stress and anxiety it won’t really make you tired.
Your tea is flavored, how many recipes did you go through before landing on the final flavors? How much time did it take for you to develop your current flavors?We have probably tried like 100 different flavors! It took a lot of time to experiment with different ingredients and ideas before we got the flavors we have today. We have a bunch of great recipes that we are developing to be our next flavors.
Lack of awareness for kava is a challenge for you guys, what tactics have you tried and how have those worked? Social media? In person demo? We do a ton of in person demos. I think demos are the best way to raise awareness of a new consumer product.
How important is organic in the whole equation? We want to give our customers the most quality, sustainably farmed ingredients we can, and to us that means buying organic.
What’s next for King Kava? Do you have plans for beyond NYC? We want King Kava to be sold nationally, but we have a lot of work to do in NYC before we start selling anywhere else.
So, congrats. Your Kickstarter successfully funded. How long before we can see the new flavors on shelf? Hopefully we will be able to release some new flavors in mid June or so!
To any other young entrepreneurs out there who may be thinking about pursuing their passion, any words of advice? I don’t think anything can prepare you for the challenges of starting a company, so my advice would be to just go for it, even if you don’t totally feel you are ready. I also recommend the book Lean Startup by Eric Ries for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.
King Kava – Delicious Drink for a Stressful World. King Kava is an organic herbal relaxation tea based on the traditional kava teas of the South Pacific. Each bottle is hand filled in Long Island City, Queens. Learn more at www.kingkava.com
Recently, I went to a lunch. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the event hostess. The host also stopped by to introduce himself. He showed us to the bar and offered me a drink. As the last guest arrived, we were ushered into the dinning room and an amuse-bouche was served.
Did you think I was describing a personal party? That was how it felt. I felt welcomed, and I felt connected to the hosts and the guests. But in fact, I was describing a loyalty member appreciation event hosted by Esquared Hospitality at one of their restaurants.
It was a “cooking class” for their loyalty members. Well, we didn’t do too much cooking. The
Chef demonstrated the cooking at his house inside his kitchen. The chef showed us how each dish of the meal was to be prepared. Then, we sat and enjoyed the meal and took home the recipe. Throughout it all, we chatted with the Chef, the General Manager (the host), and the Program Manager (the hostess). We all left with full bellies and the Chef’s secret recipes.
Many restaurant may offer a loyalty program. But that’s typically just a discount card for people who was going to stop by your restaurant anyway. (The same as loyalty card for grocery stores, etc.) It’s a glorified discount program, but there is no real loyalty cultivation. What Esquared Hospitality did here was to actually let their loyalty customers into their “home”. They let us know their names. Let us know them as people – not just a business. Ultimately, people like to buy from people, not business entities. Even the loyalty card arrives in the mail with a personal note from the company President.
As you think about your business, how can make your relationship with your customer personal. It may be a “cooking class”. It may be an online chat. It may be a lot of things. How can you invite them to your “home”?
Recently, I caught up with a food entrepreneur to discuss branding over lunch. Having been a Brand Manager for Fortune 500 companies, it was intriguing to hear the perspective of a small business owner.
She produces chia granola in NYC. It is currently only distributed in a handful of retailers. So, she thinks she’s a small brand. This mentality has raised a few questions on her branding initiatives:
- Is branding important on packaging, if no one really know our brand yet?
- Do I really need broad base marketing campaigns to build brand awareness if I am just now trying to build sales?
- Do I really need to think about brand loyalty when I am just starting out?
All these are great questions and made me think of the phase "act as if".
Now, of course I am not suggesting that she would have the same resources as say Coca Cola. But everything a Coca Cola brand manager does applies to even the smallest brands. It’s simply a matter of translating the scale.
- Branding is still important for a small brand. First of all, a small brand still has aspirations to one day be a big brand. Therefore, there is no better time than now to start building the brand. Also, brand implies a brand promise. Brand implies a certain guarantee of quality. You put your stamp on it. You stand behind it. Check out this packaging from King Kava. You may not know who Ben or Nick is. But somehow, you know they wouldn’t have put their names on it if they didn’t think they are giving you an amazing product that you will love. You may not put your personal name on it, but brand name provide that same reassurance. Consumers know that you wouldn’t risk tarnishing your brand by putting it on an inferior product.
- As for mass advertising, that’s a trickier question. Now of course I am not suggesting everyone should be buying TV spots. That is incredibly expensive. But the truth is you have to somehow generate consumer demand. Mass advertising works because you never know where you will find your next consumer. You never know when he/she will be in the market for your product. That’s why you need to reach broadly in order to uncover your next consumer. But resource constraint is a factor. There are a few work-arounds. First, define your target market. Be as specific as possible. Don’t worry about you want to appeal to everyone because you want everyone to buy your product. Bottom line is you can’t afford to effectively market to everyone anyway. So, if you can very specifically define your target, then you may know where he/she may be found. Maybe you know he/she most likely read this magazine – then an ad there may make sense. Maybe you know that he/she world very likely attend this event – then can you hand out samples there? Maybe you know that he/she would read this blog – can you reach out to that blogger for a product review? All of these initiatives fall under the umbrella of building brand awareness. It is always a good idea to build in a way to measure, so maybe consider a unique promo code so you can track effectiveness of your tactics and start to understand how brand awareness may affect your bottom line. However, know that not everyone who eventually make a purchase would use the promo code (because they may not have it with them at the time), but you can still have a good sense of success.
- Finally, let’s talk about brand loyalty. Yes, you may not have loyal consumers yet. But you would like to have them, right? So, why not start cultivating that loyalty today. Social media has created a new world of reaching your consumers. Long gone are the days when you don’t know what happens after you put your products on a store shelf. Of course, major retailers have a lot is data on their shoppers and you could ask them to share that data with you. But even without that, you can proactively build a direct link with your consumers. Include an invitation to join your Facebook page for exclusive deals, for example. Small businesses nowadays are usually very sophisticated in identifying a market niche. This means small brands are typically tapping into a consumer segment that is incredibly passionate. This may be on the topic of being green. This may be on the topic of being gluten free. The fact is they are already a community and if your brand offers them a forum to connect with each other, they will appreciate it. And you now have a forum to reach and talk to them directly, which is the first step toward cultivating loyalty.
So, no matter how small your revenue may be today. Think like a big brand, and it’ll lead you to big brand successes.