by Melanie Camp
Health-Ade Kombucha Co-Founder & Chief Sales Officer, Vanessa Dew, misses the early days at Brentwood Farmer’s Market, but not the early mornings. “I can say I don’t miss waking up at three am and carrying coolers full of everything and driving the truck into the market,” she said reminiscing.
It has been a fast and full seven years for Dew, building a beverage company with her two best friend husband and wife, Daina and Justin Trout.
The idea to sell kombucha at the farmer’s market is something the Trouts and Dew brewed up in an entrepreneur club the three started. Dew said the initial idea for the club was that it be a social think-tank to, “mastermind the next big opportunity.”
The trio put invitations out for friends and family to join the unofficial club. But Dew said, “at the end of the day, it was really just me, Daina, and Justin around the dinner table sharing a great bottle of wine and dinner and brainstorming different ideas.”
That next big thing turned out to be something Daina Trout had already been making for years to help Justin with digestion issues. Kombucha.
“I remember distinctly, our first customer. His name was Richard, and he bought two bottles of original,” said Dew of their first day at the Farmer’s Market.
Today, Health-Ade Kombucha is in some 26,000 stores across North America, including Canada and are on track to sell over 4M cases this year. Plus, Crunchbase figures show that in July, Coco-Cola invested $20 million to secure Health-Ade’s future growth.
“I don’t know in the last seven and a half years when I’ve ever just coasted. There’s never been that moment of just chill, coasting mode. To be honest, I think that has got us to this point and enabled us to grow so fast,” said Dew.
She remembers the day she quit her job at a pharmaceutical company to throw herself full-time into the Kombucha startup. While in hindsight the decision appears an obvious no-brainer, Dew said it was not an easy choice. “My palms were sweaty; there was a pit in my stomach saying, ‘am I really doing this?'”
Her mother was against the idea, presenting Dew with a spreadsheet comparing the long-term security of a job with a big company versus the risk of a startup. And, being an engineer and executive, her opinion carried weight.
While her mother may have put up a good fight against Dew taking such a career risk, she also played a part in being the one to inspire Dew in the first place.
“She influenced me a ton,” Dew said of her mother. “Being an immigrant, being one of the few Asian females within a grad school engineering program, and then, even one of the few female Asian executives at her company,” she said.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to create your own future you have to bet on yourself,”– Vanessa Dew
Dew said it is not inherent in Asian culture for a woman to “go against the grain.” At a conference in Singapore, earlier this year, she said she was surprised to find female Asian entrepreneurs underrepresented on a global scale, with most coming from the United States. Dew said, “if you’re going to create your own future, you have to bet on yourself.” She hopes the growing success and potential international distribution of Health-Ade might act as an inspiration to fellow female Asian entrepreneurs.
Inspiration aside, Dew believes momentum is the best way to overcome apprehension. “There’s a lot of doubt that can creep in, that can cause this paralysis moment, and I think it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and marching forward,” she said, adding, “anyone who says they don’t listen to fear and doubt is lying because it creeps up.”
Following gut instinct is something Dew has honored throughout her entrepreneurial journey. Making the Health-Ade catchphrase, “Follow your gut!” apt in more ways than one. “We were following our gut, feeling there was something greater than what we were doing at that time,” she explained of the drive behind the trio taking a leap and persevering.
One mind-blowing “stamp of approval” for Dew was meeting two people that, “actually tattooed the Health-Ade anchor and our characters onto their bodies,” she said.