How Dry Soda Co. Became the Fastest Growing Soda Company in the United States, with Founder and CEO Sharelle Klaus
DRY Soda Co. creates sparkling beverages for people seeking culinary experiences in their everyday lives. The full line is available in nine flavor-forward, crisp, unexpected varieties. With a clean ingredient panel and artisan flavors, DRY Sparkling is worthy of gourmet food pairing and premium mixology. According to Richard Blais, "Precision is key in finding the right balance between sweetness and acidity while preserving the aroma and intensity of the featured ingredient." Dry Soda is this such beverage.
In this interview, you will learn how Dry Soda Co. became the fastest growing soda company in the United States. It all started with an idea to make a better, healthier beverage that would really elevate the soda experience.
Sharelle Klaus is the founder and CEO of the Dry Soda Co. operating out of Seattle, Washington.
Founded in Seattle, Wash. in 2005, DRY Soda Co. creates sparkling beverages for people seeking culinary experiences in their everyday lives. The full line is available in nine flavor-forward, crisp, unexpected varieties: Fuji Apple, Lavender, Blood Orange, Rhubarb, Vanilla Bean, Juniper Berry, Rainier Cherry, Ginger, and Cucumber, plus seasonal flavors. With a clean ingredient panel and artisan flavors, DRY Sparkling is worthy of gourmet food pairing and premium mixology.
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Javier: Hey there beverage enthusiasts. My name is Javier Morquecho and I'm the founder of specialtysodas.com where you can find the largest selection of craft soda and specialty beverages anywhere in the US, as well as this Specialty Sodas Podcast where ambitious entrepreneurs and leaders in the beverage industry come to share their story. My mission is to build a community within the beverage industry so we can all meet and learn from one another and connect for meaningful relationships.
I'm joined today by Sharelle Klaus, the founder and CEO of the Dry Soda Company based out of Seattle, Washington. Since 2005, Dry has been creating sparkling beverages for people seeking culinary experiences in their everyday lives. These beverages are available in a number of flavor-forward, crisp, unexpected varieties like lavender, blood orange, rhubarb, vanilla bean, juniper berry, and cucumber. So with a clean ingredient panel and sophisticated flavors, Dry Sparkling is worthy of gourmet food pairing and premium mixology. So hi, Sharelle. Welcome. Thank you for being here.
Sharelle: Thank you and hi to you as well.
Javier: Yeah, so in today's episode we'll learn how you grew Dry Sparkling to become the fastest growing carbonated soft drink in the United States and what lessons we can learn from your experience. So let's start off with you telling us a little bit more about the company. So what is Dry Soda and why did you create the company?
Sharelle: So Dry Soda Company is a company that has created what we're calling Dry Sparkling, which is a line of beverages that I created to really elevate the soda experience. I love pairing food and wine. But back 10 years, 11 years ago when I started the company I wasn't able to be drinking wine because I had a lot of kids and I kept getting pregnant, couldn't drink and I thought it would be really amazing to actually be able to pair something that wasn't wine with food. And so that was the genesis of the idea was to create just really unique, culinary style flavors and something that really would go with food and be able to create some great cocktails. So that's really, that was the start of it.
And so Dry Soda has created these great flavors. We started with four, we now have nine. And we also do summer seasonal flavors. And because I created these in my kitchen, they're very clean. So there's only four ingredients, there's only a quarter to a third of the sugar in regular sodas. You're not getting added sugar flavored soda, you're actually getting really it's all about the flavors.
And then, of course, we use these really unique fun flavors that you know, have been inspired by chefs or from my garden. So you have lavender, you know, rhubarb, our new Fuji apple and we have some of our summer seasonals which are well, Malali Watermelon and Serrano.
Javier: So yeah, you covered a lot of things that I wanna go into some of those topics about why you started it and how you grew it, how you experimented in your kitchen and used ingredients from your garden. But first, let's talk about the first things you did in your journey of Dry. So you reached out to people and then... so once you had the realization that you wanted to create a beverage company, you reached out to people in the industry who could provide advice on how to create a soda. So your husband worked at DaVinci Syrups at that time and you contacted almost anybody and everybody you knew at the company. So is this correct?
Sharelle: Absolutely. It was, you know, I got the idea and once I had the idea and realized I did some research and saw that this was really the time to do that. Carbonated soft drinks were declining, there hadn't been any real innovation. I got really excited and when I get excited, I move really quickly. And so it was just about trying to find as many people in the industry that could help. And it was talking to the food scientists at Davinci, the sales people, the marketing people, and just learning as much as I could.
Javier: Yeah, and so one person in particular that really helped was a food chemist that you started learning, you asked him how to start making sodas at home. So he said you need a couple of things. A soda...
Sharelle: Yeah, that was a funny call. I called him one Saturday hoping that he was gonna meet with me and come down and show me how to do everything but instead he just gave me 60 minutes on the phone and basically said, "These are sort of the things that you need. You need to have a pH balance." There was just all these different scientific stuff that he told me and the things I had to buy like a refractometer and a pH balance meter. I mean, this is stuff I had never done before. I was in high tech.
And I started just with experimenting with different herbs and stuff in my own kitchen and then reached out to different flavor companies and got extracts and then just started mixing. And mixed in my kitchen and mixed it in the spare bedroom, went over to my mother-in-law's house and mixed there and just, you know, wherever I could do this and just started experimenting with the flavors.
Javier: Yeah, and so you said you need a pH balance meter, a refractometer, you got flavorings from different flavor companies and you needed a certain kind of water?
Sharelle: Yeah. I'm trying to remember now. So there was certain pH balance water I had to get. I think that was you know, this was 11 ago. It's funny, I still have the box of all that stuff. We just moved offices so they gave it to me. So I still have it. I just took it home. I mean, some of the original extracts I got, all these stuff. So, yeah.
Javier: And so it would be nice to take a photo of that just for memories just in case.
Sharelle: Yeah, yeah. You know it's really funny too was I was a stay-at-home mom when I started the company. And I was doing my daughter's piano lesson. We were supposed to sit there and take notes. And on these notes for her piano I have all these flavor ideas along down the side. And we did take a picture of that recently because I found it and I was like, "See, I was constantly thinking of Dry."
Javier: Yeah. Because the thing I wanna get is like for an entrepreneur out there who wants to start a beverage company, just to give them an idea of what are some of the things that you needed to get in the very early days, you said it was all under $1000, which was good. So the other thing is flavor. You contacted the flavor companies and you got the flavorings but you also mixed in fresh herbs too?
Sharelle: Well no, what you do is with those are just extracts I was getting. So you take a natural extract then you have to add, you know, sugar and water and phosphoric acid or whatever acid you're gonna use to get the right recipe. And what Dry was doing, what I was trying to accomplish at the time was I wanted something that was going to be able to actually, I mean, it wasn't going to be like wine but I wanted it to be able to pair with food. So I also had to educate myself completely on wine and food pairings and how different acidity levels were. I met with a chef who was great and really helped me with that as well.
And so when I created these flavors I had to create not just the sweetness levels but also the acidity levels so they would pair with food. So that's why even today still Dry has varying acidity levels and sweetness levels within each one. So Dry ranges from 45 to 70 calories per bottle depending on the flavor because all I care about is getting that flavor exactly right so that it does pair with food, that it is the greatest flavor experience you can have out of a bottle. And so that's where it sort of all it became, I mean, I literally had to do... like on lavender itself I had to do like 1500 separate tests. I mean, it was grams of sugar just trying to figure out the perfect way to make that flavor shine.
Javier: And how did you get the carbonation right when you were first starting out?
Sharelle: So then the carbonation you're really working with your co-packer. And there was a specific style of carbonation I wanted. And I knew that and I knew that would be, because of my experience what I had learned through wine and champagne and how we smell things and how the whole package works, so to speak. I knew there was a specific carbonation level I wanted. So I worked with the co-packer.
Javier: Yeah, so we'll talk about that too. But one thing you mentioned is that you had to do 1500 tests. So the chemist told you that you'll need at least 1000 tests per flavor but you were able to do that in just a few weeks, right? Or even might that have been a few months?
Sharelle: Yeah, like I said, I didn't sleep very much the first six months because from the time I started the company to when I actually launched it with our first bottles was six months. Which is why I pushed the team here really hard on timelines. Every time they give me a hard time I'm like, "I started the whole company in six months." So anyway, yeah. And I think it was probably 8 or 12 weeks of testing on those flavors before we went to the co-packer. That did take a while. And it was you know because it was a thousand tests on each flavor and lavender even took longer. And then I wanted to do juniper berry at the beginning and I couldn't get that one right. So we ended up working with the chef a few years later to help me get that flavor right.
Javier: Yeah. So let's just take one example, lavender. How many different extracts of lavender did you need to test out? And how did you go through the whole process?
Sharelle: So there was a lot. There was probably, I probably went to five or six different companies. Because they do, every company will do their lavender extractions differently, where they source their lavender. And so that makes a difference. And then it's about finding really that right recipe. And it is really challenging. It is. And partly because I had a picture in my mind for each of these flavors, what I wanted them to taste like or feel like too. Like with lavender it was like that soothing feeling I get when I'm around lavender but I wanted it to be mellow too, I didn't want it to be harsh and medicinal.
So there was a very specific taste profile I was going for with each one of them. I suppose if you didn't have that you could do this in a much shorter timeframe. But I wanted this to be perfect. And so it definitely challenge my ADD and challenged, you know, it's my ADD fighting against my perfectionism about trying to get this right. So.
Javier: So how were you able to sustain trying all these flavors? Like what quantity were you making, like one cup at a time? Or...
Sharelle: Yeah, you just make little tiny batches and I would just taste and taste and taste. And I could do, you know, 50 tastes in a couple of hours or about 3 or 4 hours. And then I also brought other people in, it wasn't just me. Once I would get some stuff right I would have people taste. I remember, I have kind of a distinct memory of being at my mother-in-law's house and doing some testing there and I asked her to taste it and she was like, "No, this is terrible." I was like, "Okay, that's harsh."
But it was bringing other people in. At the time I had four little kids and two, two of my daughters, I had my daughters tasting it. Well, they were little so it was kinda funny to get their feedback. But it's just about, I mean I knew what I wanted and so then I was just trying to get it closer and closer and to have people taste and give me feedback. So it was a lot.
Javier: Yeah. So the thing is this is like the craft part of a soda company. So how did you know when it was the right flavor? When did you say, "Okay, I'm done. This is good enough and I wanna start the next process."?
Sharelle: Well, it was funny because I have the co-packer on like I said, "I need you on a kind of like a timeline because I wanna make sure I get these right." So I had a bit of a deadline but I also said I'm not gonna do this unless I can get it right. So I got... that's kind of funny you say that because I remember it was the last night before I was, I thought I had everything correct. I had worked on it. I'd got it to where I wanted. I had taken it and tested it with some chefs. I tasted it with a group of friends, a couple of different panels and got their feedback and narrowed it all down. And then really it was, for me, it was like, "Do I think this is good enough? Is this what I had in mind? Am I proud of this?"
But the night before I was going to the co-packer I remember sitting there and I just wanted to do the recipe one more time on lavender because that was the one that was so tricky. Then I tasted and I'm like, "No, that wasn't it." And I burst into tears and I was like, "Oh my God, this is the hardest thing to do ever." I mean, it's one of the many times I burst into tears overdrive in the last 11 years but that was the first big one. I was like, "Oh no." But then I kept working at it late into the night and I got it back. Again and so then we went to the co-packer the next day it worked.
Javier: So let's talk about your ingredients. So you chose four. So Dry Soda only contains four ingredients per line. Purified carbonated water, pure came sugar, natural fruit, flower or herbs flavor, and a clean preservative. So what is meant by a clean preservative?
Sharelle: Basically that's an acid. So you can... I knew what the components I had to have in this beverage are. And at first, it was just what are the components I need in this beverage for it to taste good, not to bottle it and sell it? And it was acid, sugar, and water, and that natural extract. Those are the four things that you would do in any recipe. So getting that right and then understanding then the science behind that is if my acid, I can also use my acid as a preservative. So that's why Dry doesn't have to have any preservatives in it because it has the right pH balance with the acid.
Javier: And so why do you think other beverage companies use so many ingredients when you just boiled it down to the main four ingredients?
Sharelle: Yeah, I've never understood that. I don't know. I think some people are starting to get that. But it's, you know... a lot of it, though, to be perfectly honest, is about how much sugar people are putting into their sodas and their high fructose corn syrup. So sometimes you need more of a preservative because of that. So because Dry is as clean as it is and has that little sugar then it's easier. But I think a lot of times people are trying to cover the taste of certain things. So like almost all your products that have Stevia in them have a lot of stuff in there trying to overcome that bitterness. As with Dry, we don't have any of that. It's super clean so you're not trying to cover anything up.
And then also if you have a load of sugar in there what you're really tasting is the sugar and so they're trying to cover that as well. But we're doing the exact opposite. We're peeling all the layers back and saying, "No, it's just about this flavor and how do you make this flavor perfect."
Javier: Yeah. So you're bringing the drinks back to its core levels?
Javier: And so you mentioned that the acidity levels are tweaked across the range of depending on the flavor and the type of food you wanna pair it with. So for example, with lavender, I think you said it's the least acidic whereas one of your flavors that you had was kumquat, which was most acidic and it was more versatile. How do you determine which flavor you should have for the acidity level and for what kinds of foods you want it to pair with?
Sharelle: Well, it comes I think some rules along like the vanilla bean that's gonna be really creamy and smooth. So you think about the tones that you want and you work it that way. So like vanilla bean, I want it to be creamy and smooth, I wanted lavender to be very smooth. Then you're not gonna have a high acidity.
Some flavors are going to lend themselves to be more acidic, right? So you've got, you know, blood orange now which is, oranges are very acidic. So that's how it's gonna lend itself to be more acidic. You just, you work with whatever that fruit or herb extract is. What is it in its natural state, and you try to mimic that. And then you pair it with food, you don't do it the other way round. You mimic what it's gonna be like in nature. So if I bite into a cucumber, how acidic is that? What does that taste like? Because our natural extract's a part of that. And then it's just about trying to get it just like it would taste in nature, basically. And then you worry about what it's gonna pair with.
Javier: Okay, cool. So I wanna take a moment to actually show people what the Dry Experience is. So you said you want Dry to be an event and so I have some Dry beverages here. So how does one enjoy a Dry Sparkling beverage? What emotion, senses or feelings are you trying to create? So I have your bottle, your can and then I have the different flavors. The blood orange, lavender, rhubarb, juniper berry. And then also your two new flavors, the watermelon and the serrano, the cucumber and some more. So how do you enjoy a Dry? How do you make an event?
Sharelle: Well, for me when I first started the brand it was in white table cloth restaurants, it was in champagne flutes. So that's one way to enjoy it. I definitely, when I drink a lavender, I always put it in a champagne flute. Partly because for me that's kind of this elegant experience and I feel this elegant and relaxed when I'm drinking a lavender. So I'll be honest, I always put lavender in a champagne flute. Right now I'm drinking Fuji Apple out of the bottle because I'm just enjoying sipping that right now on its own. And then the cans, so this is interesting. I really prefer blood orange and cucumber I like to drink out of the can because those are ones that I just, they're just more chuggable if you will. But they're really refreshing when you're drinking them, you know, for me anyway that's the way that I drink them. Everybody has it a little bit different.
But I think the idea really is if the flavors are that good you can feel really good about what you're drinking and just feel special. It's not just you know, some regular beverage you're just downing just to down. So I don't know. For me the way I enjoy it is definitely lavender in a champagne flute. I drink a lot of the other ones just on their own or I pair them with food, like if I'm having lunch. Like I just had chips and salsa and ceviche for lunch. So I did the vanilla bean with that this time because the vanilla bean helps smooth out the acidity of the salsa. So that was really good. And I just drink that one straight out of the bottle.
We, around four o'clock on Fridays around here, do cocktails so that's the other fun thing, is you can start to mix. But I think as an event, I think one fun thing is to try them out of champagne flutes because part of Dry is about the aroma. That's a very important part of any food experience or beverage experience, is the aroma. So try it that way...
Javier: So the thing is I'm actually gonna try that now. So I have the Dry.
Sharelle: So try it out of the bottle first, and when you drink it out of the bottle, because I think you'll notice that when you drink it out of the champagne flute you actually can taste it a bit better because you're getting more of the aroma.
Javier: Okay. So first I did smell the lavender smell but now that I've already smelled it I don't smell it anymore.
Javier: I think I got used to it.
Sharelle: Now try the champagne flute, you'll probably taste the lavender a little better. There is a flavor like Fuji Apple, it's a bit more acidic and less, it does have a really strong aroma but it's a bolder taste so you can just drink it straight out of the bottle and get the same flavor.
Javier: Then also the carbonation, you have it like the champagne-type of carbo.
Sharelle: Yeah, the champagne-style carbonation, yeah, which just makes it just like a little bit more of an elegant experience.
Javier: Oh, I see. Yeah, because since the air and the bubbles are popping in that range where you can also breathe it, it brings out more of the flavor.
Sharelle: Yeah. It also depends on the occasion, like when are you drinking it? Are you drinking at a party, are you drinking it at your desk, are you drinking it in the evening? There's a lot of people that like to just sit down at four o'clock and have one. There's a lot of people that will use this in place of alcohol even. There's people who will take Juniper Berry and they're, "I love gin but I don't wanna be drinking so much gin." So they'll serve it in the same way they would drink their gin but it's Juniper Berry.
Javier: And you're right. I do prefer it in the champagne flute. It does bring out the flavor more. But what about larger...?
Sharelle: Yeah, so. And I think that's more with lavender and some of our lighter ones but for sure we do the high-balls with... and I really do like all of the can ones, I like drinking out of the can. I never pour the can ones into that because it's part of my enjoyment. There's just something a little bit different for me out of a can. It's got a little bit more of a bite to it.
But for sure sometimes we use, I always do a dry January where I don't drink so I don't want wine. So a lot of times I'll take any of those flavors and put it in a wine glass, it's just also really nice. But also just the regular glasses are good. But I also don't suggest ice with Dry. We suggest chilled because the ice can water down the flavors a bit and since they're light you want... and the way that we create it was to be exactly the way it is, which is it's the right amount of water and flavor. So if you add ice it can melt all that down a little bit. Although some people say that they're fine with it over ice. I personally am not.
Javier: The thing is, are the flavors, so for the cucumber, for example, is the recipe exactly the same when it's in the can or in the glass?
Sharelle: That's proprietary.
Javier: Okay. Okay, I'll try from the can.
Sharelle: You tell me what you think.
Javier: Okay. Okay, I have the flavor.
Sharelle: You're making me thirsty watching all this.
Javier: I would guess that they are different.
Javier: Or it could be because maybe the aluminum has some component that it brings into the flavor. And maybe that's the taste that I taste because it has a little bit sharper.
Sharelle: So I will tell you that they're pretty similar.
Javier: This is softer.
Sharelle: The recipes are the same.
Sharelle: But what the deal is, is like you're right. With the can, it brings a little bit different flavor to it. So it's one of the reasons why Dry has to be very careful about what kind of packaging it goes into because we don't try to cover things up. So it's exactly the way it is, which is why the glass bottle is a really good place for the drink. So there might be some that aren't ever going to work in the can for that very reason. And we just won't put them in there because for us it's about, first and foremost, it's about these flavors. And we want that to be a consistent experience for everybody and one that's always pleasant.
Javier: Yeah, for me I feel the glass bottle has a smoother taste. But the can is also...
Sharelle: Yeah. So we have the Rainier Cherry that's in the can and I love that in the can. It just gives me a bit of a bite that I like. So there is some of that, for sure.
Javier: So it does bring a slightly different flavor. But it just really depends on the mood, the occasion, and what type of flavor you're drinking.
Javier: Because, yeah, with the lavender It does taste better in this. The cucumber, yeah, you can drink it straight out of the bottle. And then like you mentioned, some of them taste better out of the can because it has a little bit more crisp flavor to it.
Javier: Okay. Yeah, so now that we've got the flavors out of the way and how to enjoy it, we'll go back to your story of building the company. So when you started, before you even had the product in hand, you worked with a design company, which was Turnstyle Studio.
Javier: And then you had a public relations company in Seattle. I'm not sure if it's the same one you have now which is the Rachel K, a public...
Sharelle: It's a different one. It was Richmond Public Relations.
Javier: A different one? Which one?
Sharelle: Richmond Public Relations.
Javier: Oh, Richmond Public Relations. So what help did you need from these companies early on?
Javier: So I knew that I wanted Dry to be a discovery brand for people. That this is gonna be something that they really needed to read about and learn about because it was a new category. I mean, we're actually talking about paring a soda with food, that's just crazy, right? Because we're used to everything being wine and food and you're not used to seeing sodas elevated into a restaurant.
And I knew that was a really interesting story. So I wanted a PR firm that had a lot of experience in the restaurant scene in Seattle. 11 years ago, the restaurant scene was booming in Seattle. Tom Douglas was getting on to the national scene. And so I just looked around and said who's getting the most press and I'll hand it over to him. Tom Douglas was getting a lot of press. And so I wanted to make sure that I could meet with a firm like that that could really help me. But they actually took it a step further. They were amazing to work with. They actually went out and got me my first 30 meetings with chefs because were... so they knew all the chefs in the city and they set up meetings for me.
I would go from nine in the morning till six o'clock at night. And they would set up these meetings and I would just go and meet with all these chefs and have them try Dry. And I didn't get a single no from any of those chefs, it was amazing. So I knew I was on to something. Plus they were obviously able to get me stories and we wanted to get the story out pretty quickly about Dry because we knew it was an interesting story. And then obviously the design firm came up with the entire branding of my company and they took my vision of what I wanted and made just magic with it.
Javier: And so you started it with $100,000 initial investment. You took a home equity line of credit.
Sharelle: No, I didn't have $100,000. It was just that home equity line of credit. And then I did end up getting an SBA loan after that of $50,000. It wasn't 100,000, where did you find that?
Javier: Oh, no. Because you said that you got $51,000 SBA loan. I think it's $15,000 in the home equity credit. And then I read somewhere online that it was $75,000 that you used initially that went a long way. And then you have, but it was $100,000.
Sharelle: It wasn't really $60,000 it was $61,000 total, is what I got to start the company before I had investors.
Javier: Okay. So the thing is for those people who are thinking of starting a beverage company, do you need to have that kind of investment to start?
Sharelle: Yes. Yeah, I mean I did it. I don't even know if you could do it with that little anymore. I mean, I got my design firm to do, it was amazing. They were a newer design firm. They agreed to do this for this teeny tiny fraction of what they would normally, a fraction of what they normally would have cost. But just saying, "I believe in this. You guys are new. I know I'll help your company if this brand really works." And it did. Our business relationship worked out exactly as we had both wanted it to. Their business just went booming. Because of it, they won multiple awards.
I did the same with my PR firm. I'm like, "I can't afford these big retainers you're talking about. This is what I can afford." But that was where I put my money. I put my money behind the design, very little of it, and then into the PR. And then, of course, you have your first you know, your first production run, obviously you have to pay for it. And so I paid for all of that with that first line of credit and some credit card. I guess it was some credit cards definitely probably as well. And then we went from there and then got the SBA loan to be able to do the next round of product production.
Javier: And so how were you able to have these companies take a chance on you when you were just starting out and they wanted more retainer and more fees?
Sharelle: Yeah, well you just have to sell the story. I mean, you're selling the story and the idea of what you're doing. I mean it's what I still do to this day. Everybody you talk to, from buyers to investors to our vendors, you have to get them behind the story and what you're trying to create. And you know, one thing that's great is I live in Seattle and people in Seattle are very creative, they're risk-taking. They've seen it all happen here. They have seen Starbucks happen, Microsoft, Amazon. They are used to this kind of thing.
And so... investors as well. I have a lot of investors from the city and I think it's just so lovely to be in Seattle and to try to do something like this because I feel like it really wasn't that hard. There was a lot of people listening to what I had to say. I mean, it's that you're selling an idea and you're selling a story of what is gonna happen. And the good news is everything I said was gonna happen happened and it happened basically when I said it was going to. And so it worked out.
Javier: Yeah, so that's really good. And it's good that what you were creating reflected the culture of the area that you were in so people were able to support you and build a community around and want to help because that's the culture of the Seattle area.
Javier: Yeah, so whether you realized it or not at the time, you were starting a brand new beverage category. So Dry Sparkling is a mix of craft, artisanal, and adult beverage. So did you know this and what kind of beverage is Dry?
Sharelle: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I knew. I said that was my very idea. Is I'm like, there has to be a whole new category of sodas. And I called them sodas at the time. We refer to it as sparkly now because we think that better helps explain to the consumer what we are because it's not a sparkling, like a seltzer water. It's an between a seltzer and a soda, with the flavor profiles and the sugar level works. Because nobody was doing a soda with a third of the sugar or a quarter of the sugar. No one was doing that. They were either going to use base, artificial sweeteners or full sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
So we really saw you know, over the last few years, we finally realized we really needed to change the name just to really name the category. And so we believe that Sparkling is a category. And I think you're gonna see a lot more people doing really unique flavors, which we already are and realizing that you don't need to add all these chemicals in there, you don't need to be artificially sweetened because sugar is a great thing as long as it's in moderation and it does what it's supposed to do, which is to help boost the flavor not overpower the flavor.
So for sure, I knew what I was doing. I said this is a new category and it's what I've told my team from the start. It's not easy, right? You're not just building a brand but you're forging a whole new category.
Javier: Yeah. And so you mentioned... yeah, when you're pregnant with kids and you're going out and dining, you felt excluded from the dining experience. So you created Dry to solve your own problem of wanting to experience gourmet meals and going out and when you can't have an alcoholic option. So beyond yourself, how were you able to find out who your customers were and how did you stay focused on this market?
Sharelle: Well, I think what was fascinating is that like when I would go out you would talk to the chefs and the chefs would get it immediately. They'd be like, "Of course, we are going to have a group of consumers that can't drink wine, don't wanna drink wine for whatever reason and their experience should be just as strong as those that are drinking wine." Because these chefs are working really hard. Now admittedly this Moyet that were not as keen when I first came in they're like, "I'm not gonna talk about soda. My job is to pair wine with food." And I challenged them every time, I'm like, "No, your job is to pair beverage with food. And you know, what is better than chocolate chip cookie and milk?" You know I would say that and then it was like light bulbs would go off and it was like, "You're gonna have consumers, it's lunchtime, for whatever reason they're feeling excluded."
And it just, you know, once the chefs got behind it and you could explain it to sommeliers, it just took off. And it still is to this day, it's for me, it's not just about people that wanna pair their nonalcoholic with food, it's about people that really do expect high quality and true flavors in what they're eating and drinking. And it's all these trends that came on, right? People with farmers markets and expecting organic produce.
And people really want high-quality products now. And I think soda was the last place, right? It was like we're all just gonna still keep drinking the same high fructose corn syrup with the same flavors, you know? I think this is the chance to say, "No we're not. We're not doing it. I mean, we're not doing it in juice. I mean, you have all those fresh pressed juices now. There's all these different categories, beer. And so it just gave me absolute reason to believe that there absolutely is a new category here. And it's growing and it's growing significantly now and fortunately we're leading that. But it will continue to grow, I think, very quickly.
Javier: So your background was not in the beverage industry. So while you were entrepreneurial from a very young age, you came from a political science, aviation consulting, internet technology startup background. So if you can sum up your experience in a few sentences, what about your background made you the right person to start Dry?
Sharelle: Well, I think one, it has to do with my relentlessness. I knew that I wanted to build a brand. And it's what I enjoyed and even all my work that I did even when I was an airport consultant, I worked on different brands within airports, it was my passion. Marketing and it's just what I wanted to do. And I'd had a company in the late 90s that I started that was a secured internet portal for tweens and what I realized what I enjoyed in that process was about building that brand. But I knew I wanted to build a brand that I was passionate about.
So I think what made me the right person was I knew I would be passionate about it and I knew I would be relentless. I don't give up. I knew I wouldn't quit and I knew I wouldn't stop until this got done. And so I think I've proven that. We went through the recession, which was really challenging and now this really is a category. And it was gonna become a category, I don't care how long it took, I knew it would become a category. And I think it's about having that belief.
And then I think the other reason is I know how to bring really smart people around me. I'm really well aware of what I don't know and what I need to have around me and attracting really smart people and getting people from everywhere, not just my own team but like I said with the PR firm and the design firm, getting people to believe in your vision. If you can do that, I think you can find a lot of success. But you have to 100% believe in that vision. And I do. I do from morning till night, I believe in that vision that there is room for a new category of sparkling beverage.
Javier: And so you considered yourself a foodie at the time and yeah, you said you're really passionate about this new category in the beverages and what you were doing. But as mentioned yeah, your background wasn't necessarily from the beverage industry. So how did that not knowing the rules of the beverage industry help or hurt you?
Sharelle: I think it mostly helped in the first few years because I forged my own. I didn't know there were things you weren't supposed to ask a retailer. Well, I'll tell you one thing I didn't know, I went in and I said all the stories at QFC and then two weeks later Coke came in and took it all out because there were step captains. And I'm like, "What's a step captain?" I was just freaking out. But fortunately the store buyers were behind us and they made Coke put everything back. But Coke loves it when I tell that story.
But I think it's just I have this insatiable need to learn and so I wanted to learn everything I could. But when you don't know you just go in and you relentlessly push for what you want. And I definitely had distributors say to me, "All right, we're gonna take your product but we don't want you come to the office anymore because we know how much..." My expectations were so high and the thought of paying a slotting fee, I was like, "Never, I would never do that. That's ridiculous." And I just never did it.
Now obviously you know, you do some different things but when you're new and you don't have money you have to try understand where everyone is coming from. And I think not knowing also helped me go into it and really ask the question of the person behind the desk. Like what is it that you're trying to get done and how does that fit with what I'm trying to get done? Because I wasn't making any assumptions about what a store is trying to get done or what a distributor is trying to get done because it was all new to me. So that part was good. The bad part or the flip side is that I probably spent a few more years spinning my wheels in ways that if I had someone that really knew the rules, I maybe wouldn't have had to do. So there's been absolute benefits to it and definitely some cons.
Javier: So when you were just starting out and you didn't know certain things, how did you find out what the other person wanted? Like you said you wanted to make sure your goals aligned. How did you figure that out?
Sharelle: Well, you ask. And then you also sell your vision. So I got a great story about, there is a buyer, her name is Mary and she's based out of HEB. And I would go see her and I would share with her my vision of what I was doing. And she got behind it and she was one of these just visionary buyers. But she would say all these things to me like, TPRs and what's your promo calendar and what's your, you know, all these acronyms. And I had no idea what she was talking about. And I'd be like, "Okay Mary, okay Mary," and I'd be writing all this stuff down having no idea.
And she was so patient with me. So there was buyers like that they were just patient and they would help educate me. And she still is to this day one of my favorite buyers because it's like she gets it. And we laugh about it because now obviously I bring my VP of sales who knows everything. But you ask the question. I mean I'd ask the buyers, "Okay, I'm new to beverage so can you explain to me what it is you're trying to do with this set?"
And I think one of the things that was missing for me there was a bigger perspective of what was going on in beverage. For me, it was like, "This is a brilliant idea. Why don't you just put it into your sets tomorrow?" But I didn't understand there's things like, well, they do set, they do them once a year and they, you know. I was like, "What, we're doing this now. We've got to do it now. We've got to do it now." And that helped because I would just go in and I'd say, "I'll go put it all in myself." And sure enough, I would drive around and put all the bottles in the stores myself and just get it going that way.
Javier: And so when you said that they wanted a slotting fee and you said you're not gonna pay that, how did you overcome that?
Sharelle: Well, you just basically, "I don't have it." I'm like, "I don't have it but I believe in this and I believe we'll get the turns that you want." Is what I thought and that was well you know, we want certain volumes to happen. We want this pulled off the shelf. And I said, "I can assure you that will happen." And it did. And when you do what you say you're gonna do then it's all good.
And I think again, it goes back to there are certain buyers out there and stores that are so great about innovative products and they will take a chance on you. And so many amazing buyers took chance on me and took chance on what I was saying and Dry and then we were able to do that. And I promised them I'll grow and I will make this soda a profitable thing for you. So you have to hand it to these are really innovative buyers out there. Not all of them are like that but there's definitely a big group out there. And I think that's just gotten even better in the last 10, 11 years because they've seen all these different categories grow. So I feel like it's a whole different game now and it's a lot more fun because buyers are creative and they're thinking about the future and they're thinking about how to make their sets better. And it's really fun, I mean, for me now because I get to understand what their overall goals are.
And my distributors were great with me. Everyone, I just have to say educated me. They were like, "Oh Lord, here comes Sharelle again. She does not know what she is talking about," but they would really help educate me.
Javier: And so when you said that you were gonna guarantee they get a certain volume, how did you do that? Was it the PR? What caused that kind of sales?
Sharelle: Well, I think Dry was such an anomaly when it started. Nobody else had seen a lavender-flavored anything, right? That was so new to the market and so we got the pulse. And then it tasted good and people loved it and so they bought it. And there was a lot of word of mouth. I mean, that's always big. We have these amazing consumers that have been with Dry from the start and they are so passionate about it because it was so different than anything else that was on the shelf and it met a need. When you're meeting a need that's out there, that's the key, right? We were absolutely meeting a need and we were bringing a lot of people back to the soda aisle, which the buyers loved.
And we still do. I mean, I think we're converting a lot of people that have given up on soda and they're coming back and saying, "Now this is what I would call a soda. This is what I would want in a soda," which is you know, really good flavors and a quarter of the sugar and a clean green appeal.
Javier: And so how did you get certain shelf space spots? And were you also doing lots of in-person demos?
Sharelle: Yeah. The first big retailer I went to was QFC, which is a Kroger store here in Seattle. And God bless the buyer Dale. He said to me, he said, "Here's what I want you to do. You go sell it in all my wines storage stores, store by store. And if they take it then we'll put it on the shelf." So I went store by store. So now obviously you go in and you get you put... we got to Kroger nationally and we get put in a set and so you're guaranteed all the space. But I had to go sell it in. And that was the best way to do it because I was talking at the store level with each of these wines stores and buyers and managers. So I knew what that store needed as well. So that was part of my education. But yeah, I mean, it was store by store. And it was me with my car, driving around, and then coming home to four little kids who needed dinner.
Javier: And so when you were going store by store, what I think... oh go ahead.
Sharelle: No, go ahead.
Javier: Oh yeah, when you were going store-by-store, I know you said you shared your story and you shared your vision and your passion but was there something else that you felt really made the store want to have the Dry product?
Sharelle: Yeah, they tasted it.
Sharelle: I did tastings. I did tastings with every wine store in the back of the store on the case boxes. And I would pull out my champagne flute and I would taste them just like I did the chefs. And we have a really high conversion rate when people taste Dry so when we do samplings in events and demos all that kind of stuff we have a really high conversion rate, which is why we think that's a good spend. I mean, I just rarely got a no when I would get people to try it. Now the trick sometimes is convincing that wine steward to let you take 10 minutes of their time to try your products. And that's where my sales skills had to come in.
Javier: So how did you get their time when they're so busy?
Sharelle: Well, again, I'm relentless. So I've been called that many, many times. I think it's just, it's the passion with which you tell your story. I mean, I obviously believed in the story so much and I was so excited. I mean, I was truly excited to share the product. And then asking them what do you want? And they're like, "Okay, well we want you to demo it," and I'm like, "No problem, I will demo it for you." And I personally would go in and do demos.
Javier: Yeah. In the early days, you really had to be like, they say feet on the street and you're really getting the product out when you're working with smaller distributors. Then you ended up getting a larger distributor, the Alaska distributor. And eventually you got two more major distributors on the West Coast and you started growing. You did about 10,000 cases of sodas at the time. What was different from the first scale of smaller distributors and you doing it personally to the larger distributors? What was different?
Sharelle: So there's that difference is that you have in theory you have at sales force that's gonna go out and help sell your product. So now it's about it's not gonna be you individually going out and doing all those sales. Now you've got to go and teach these 30 people to be just as passionate about your product. And so that was the big difference. Is about getting them to understand the value because it's a new brand. And so for them, they have to understand what's the value of me taking my sales person who can go and sell 60 cases of the champagne like that and then have them take that same 5 minutes and talk about your product? And so it's about selling the story and the vision of where this is going and what it's gonna mean for their company.
And I think I would have to admit if I was really honest with myself that I didn't do that well enough in the sense that I just thought everyone should be so excited because it's so brilliant. But to try to truly understand why it's brilliant for them if I had this to do all over again I would better tell that story to all these different sales people that were gonna sell my product. Because I just was like, "Well, why wouldn't you? This is brilliant," and not really understanding, "Oh, I get it. Because you make more money selling the champagne you know you can keep selling," or whatever it is. And it's just getting to understand that.
Javier: And so with that challenge, how did you incentivize the sales team and how did you get them to share your vision? Because yeah, you were passionate but how did you get them to be passionate about it?
Sharelle: It's about spending time with them. I would go out and do ride along with them. It was about doing meetings. I would do big view sales meetings. We would do food pairings with it. We would talk about all the ways they could use it. I didn't have money to do incentives for them, which was problematic. But I would say, "I'll come down and I will ride along with you." You know, at that point I had gotten investors and so I was hiring people and I had other people that can do that as well with them. So it's just showing them that you're really investing. You can show them you're investing and helping make their jobs easier.
But I will admit, I went to a big distributor about a year in. A big line, I won't say where or who. And I at least appreciate their honesty but basically said, "We're gonna do nothing and you're gonna sell all this and then we're gonna take the credit." Everything up front. I didn't end up working with them but that in some ways is how it works. But it does take a while to get their attention and that's one of the reasons why sometimes you see a producer say, "Could you not come back to the offices? Because we just know you're just gonna nag us and be on us." I tried to be charming when I did it.
Javier: But I think that was really good that you did that because it helped you to where you are today. And so yeah, now you started experiencing really explosive growth. You got series A funding. I think you originally wanted $750,000 but you got $1.5 million in that first round and you started hiring people. So we can talk about two things, the experience of raising money or also creating a culture of generosity within your hiring process and what happens when you do that and what happens when you don't do that. So maybe we can talk about both a little bit just...
Sharelle: Okay, most people always wanna hear how I raise money. I think that raising money it goes back to, it's about understanding what is it the person across the table from me was wanting. What are they hoping to achieve with this investment and what can you provide them? What can you show them? And so anytime I meet with anyone that asks me advice about this, I am super keen on saying, "Know your numbers and be able to prove your numbers." Because you get one chance with an investor and if your numbers are fluffy or you can't really defend your numbers, they're not gonna listen to you.
And I think you know, there's again... and it all goes back to passion. Do you believe in this vision and can you show them how this is gonna get done? And it's also really at the end of the day, it's about finding one person who's really gonna believe in you and invest because usually if you get one investor you can get more. But you wanna get an investor that people respect. So I think that's the main lesson I learned here because it wasn't just that I raised $1.5 million but I did it in 3 weeks, which is also some kind of record, I think, in Seattle here. But it was because I had had an investment.
Somebody came to me, a family friend, and wanted to invest in the company and at the 11th hour changed the terms and I said, "No, I don't want your money because I can't work like that. If you're gonna do that to me now I just don't trust how this is gonna go in the future." And I truly believed in what Dry was gonna do and I knew I didn't need to just take the next dollar even though I desperately wanted that. I needed that money to do my next round and I'd already hired some people that now weren't gonna get paid. It was a tough, tough time. So I very quickly raised that money in three weeks through sheer just like, this has to get done. I believe in this and we're showing some good numbers.
So that happened. And then you have to prove, you keep having to prove yourself if you're gonna raise more money after that. And that's about bringing good people to the table. So if we talk about, you know, bringing that culture of generosity, I think what I really mean by that is this culture of ownership as well where people truly feel passionate about your brand and feel an ownership are gonna work just as hard as you are. And if you know the person next to you is gonna work as hard as the CEO founder then you're gonna work that hard and you're gonna trust each other. Because I think that culture of generosity just enables us to have such trust with each other and that generosity means you're working really, really hard and giving all of your skills and talents.
That's one of the things we like to talk about here at Dry, is are you utilizing all of your talents for Dry? Are there are other ways or things that we could be using it for that we don't know? And it's just about working really hard and being really passionate about what you're doing here. And I feel like that's, you know, we've had moments when that hasn't been the case when I've just brought somebody in that was kind of an industry expert. But they weren't that way at all and it was very detrimental to the company. And you know, we went through a tough time after one of those hires because they hired a lot of people that were like them, not like what I was trying to accomplish.
So you just have to make sure you're really clear about your culture. And we care a lot about that here. I mean, my executive team and I just have lunch to just talk about it yesterday. We try to meet once a month just to talk about the culture of the company and are we getting done what we wanna get done and do we all feel good about what's going on?
Javier: And I think one cool thing that you do is when you're making a decision you go around your team and you say, "You are the CEO for the next five minutes," and so that makes everyone feel empowered and makes their feelings and their voices important.
Sharelle: Yeah, exactly. And I think it's a struggle to always make sure to maintain that because things can get really busy and you can't keep moving really quickly. But it's like still taking that time to make sure everyone feels like they understand, you know, and that they have a voice, for sure.
Javier: And the other thing is that when you raised money did your experience with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs Group help with the fundraising or did you get it outside of the group?
Sharelle: Well, actually I did get it inside the group. It was with what became my lead investor was the woman that had actually started it up here in Seattle. And I served on the board of that with her and then she hired me to run it. So then when I started Dry I went back to her, Melissa Widner, and I said, "Hey, this is what I'm doing," and she said, "I love it. Believe in you, Sharelle, I believe in this. I'll help you find investors." So she was what was called the lead investor.
Javier: And so then that's nice because you're, you know, your networking and your involvement with the women entrepreneurship group helped.
Sharelle: Yeah, and that's again because I think it goes back to just there are some really amazing groups out there that are investing in women companies and we ended up getting one called Golden Seeds out of New York. But also just here in Seattle that just, it's such a collaborative and wonderful community here, especially of investors.
Javier: Yeah. So the other thing is so now that you've fundraised money, you have a team, you started going on to the East Coast and then rolling out nationally. So the next challenge is how can you scale your passion and your experience and the motivations of other people in a new region? Are they as embracing as your first region is or is there something different, region by region you need to do?
Sharelle: Well, it's challenging, I'm not gonna lie. Your home base is obviously the easiest one. You're here, you know, your network community is supporting you. It is about going in trying to find... and within each region really, it is different. It's like how are people going to respond here? And I think if you try to take just a national approach and think that exactly what works in the Seattle area is gonna work in Texas and is gonna work in New York and is gonna work here, is different.
And it is really about really being regionally expert in each of those areas and appreciating who the retailers are, who the consumers are, what they want, what they don't want. And so yeah, I think that's, I think it's really key. I just spent two days in Scottsdale doing a Costco road show where I talked to where we would talk to like 5000 people. And it was one of the most valuable experiences I've had as a CEO, where I just sat and talked to people for 12 hours straight, "What do you want?"
And it's very different. It was different in Arizona. And that Costco shopper is different. And I think the more you can, I mean, it's just that just shows that for me even different channels, the shopper experience is different and what their expectations are different. So I think it's always a good idea if you're a CEO or a founder of a company that you're talking to as many people as you can and listening. Which is why we have Dry store for a long time. We had a Dry storefront in our offices and people would come in and we'd be able to hear it. We don't have that now, we had to make some changes. But that was great for the first 10 years. I mean, I was able to hear on a daily basis people coming in and talking about what they like about Dry and tasting and stuff.
Javier: So back in the early days you believe that after year three of starting Dry that it would be an attractive acquisition offer but that it would also be a great cash business too. And then you said by your 2nd year, 3 million in sales by your 2nd year and then 30 to 40 million in sales by the end of year 5. So were you overly optimistic about your revenue figures or how do you feel about this topic today?
Sharelle: Yes, I was very overly optimistic. And it's so funny because I look at people's, sometimes people will send me their stuff and I'll look at and I'll be like, "This is overly optimistic." Everyone's I look at, you're always overly optimistic. The way that we look at it now obviously is we really actually build very realistic expectations and forecasts. I think it is what you're trying to do in beverage is very difficult and you have to prove success before it will grow and you can't short change that situation.
And I think we got excited because we were proving such success. But even though we were so successful in the North West, it took so much money to then move it from region to region. The bigger answer probably really is it takes so much more money than you think it's going to take, so that's one. And you have to be very careful about that. And as I learned very painfully, not everyone is on your timeline.
So it does depend upon the beverage because you make it a successful task but it's gonna be a year before you're gonna get rolled out and maybe you're rolled out into a second test. And you really do have to prove yourself very quickly now. If you get put into a set, if you're not performing within the first 90 days you're out. So you just have to make sure. You don't wanna expand too quickly. So it just all takes quite a bit longer than I would have thought. And then, of course, we also had a recession in the middle of that that didn't help the situation. And then that, you know, you have to pull back so significantly because you can't get financing then it slows everything down.
Javier: And so the other thing is that you're saying it's so much money involved and expanding out regionally and even building within your own region. At what point do you become profitable? Or at what point did you become profitable in your business?
Sharelle: Well, I think that can go up and down for anybody. It's about how much are you investing in marketing in your company. So that's part of the challenge. I mean, you can be profitable or not profitable, it depends on how much money you're gonna put into the company.
So first off, margins are difficult in beverage. So you have to make sure you have really good terms so that you are managing cash flow and you can get those margins up so you're even making any money. And then it's about how much do you want to invest. And when I say this is expensive what I mean is, if you wanna just stay in one region you can probably do it without a ton of money. But are you gonna be able to be relevant and stay relevant? Because there are competitors coming up all the time. And it's very expensive to keep investing in your brand because building a beverage brand, I mean, you're talking about you're going up against people that are spending billions of dollars.
I mean, I don't ever sugarcoat it with anyone. I'm like, "I wouldn't start a beverage without a lot of money or without knowing that you're gonna be able to have access to a lot of money." Because it's just more expensive than you think it's gonna be.
Javier: And by a lot of money, just give me one example. For example, if you're opening in New York or just any other or Arizona or something, $1 million or?
Sharelle: It's several million dollars in New York. But it just depends. It comes on as a hard question to answer. They used to say it takes $25 million dollars to build the beverage brand. I think they say it's closer to $50 now. But it's because you have to, as a matter of fact, I think I heard 75 recently, which is a lot and that's more than I'm willing to spend.
I think it's just about how you're reinvesting and are you, what kind of? Like because we have to do experiential marketing, which means you've got to be doing sampling and that's very expensive. You have social media now, which is certainly helpful and it's not nearly as expensive. So there are ways of doing it. But you just have to remember that everyone else on the shelf is gonna be trying to get money and the more money they spend the more competitive advantage they're gonna have. Because again, more feet on the street. I mean, just all these different things you can spend money on.
And retailers are working hard at getting more and more dollars out of you too. So it's like you have to be willing to invest with the retailer too. Not be discouraging but it does take a lot of money. But if you have a good idea and you've created it in a small environment and you think you can take it then my suggestion always is try to raise money to do that.
Javier: And the other thing is you mentioned social media and your online presence. How has that helped? And what return are you looking by your online presence?
Sharelle: Well, I think for me personally the biggest excitement that I get out of social media is that I wanted Dry to feel like, everybody that was a consumer that they had some sort of ownership or stake in this company. I really did wanna listen to what everybody had to say. And we get so many of our flavor ideas from our consumers. I wanted to know what people wanted and so the ride with social media has been amazing for us, right?
I mean, I'm so excited because we actually get to have that one-on-one conversation with our consumers through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Because when we first started it was just emails. They would email and they'd say, "Oh, I love your brand." And we'd get to be able to talk them that way. But now you have this just access to all these people who are excited about your brand and you can find out what more is it that you want from this brand. What are you looking for, not just as a product, but as a brand? What is it that you're expecting? And just getting to know them. And so for me, that's the value in social media.
Obviously, there is you know, this is a great way of getting word of mouth, I mean, I think where that's becoming bigger and bigger and so it's a great way to get your brand awareness out there, which is definitely part of what we're doing. But for me the value of it comes on those one-on-one conversations we get to have with our consumers and truly build real life, modern brand advocates for Dry.
Javier: Yeah, I wanna come to the close of the interview. And I know we're coming close to the time so I wanna wrap up with some final questions.
Javier: It felt like 10 minutes just letting you know like, it didn't feel like...
Sharelle: I could talk about Dry forever.
Javier: It felt just like a few minutes. But yeah, I wanna just maybe have a few quick questions. So what are you most proud of working at Dry?
Sharelle: I'm really proud of the brand that we've created. And I think that we have created this brand and product that people really want and we have stayed true to who we were 11 years ago. The reason we started this company is still the reason that we're here today and it's still what we're creating. And we've really listened to our consumers and tried to continue to elevate this brand and make this brand something everyone can be proud of to drink.
And I think the most fun thing for me, maybe not, and you know, I would say most of fun and most valuable is the team I get to work with. It is the greatest feeling in the world to work with such smart, passionate, dedicated people who are trying to make your dream come true. Personally that is, I can't even tell you what that feels like. It is just so amazing. And I learn something new every day, which is super valuable to me just being around everybody. Every single person in this company teaches me something weekly. And I get to talk to all of them all the time and I just, I love that.
And I'm just so proud to be able to share Dry when I go out. And I travel a lot. I travel the world. I travel the country. And being able to say, "I work for Dry," is for me is huge because I'm so proud of this brand that we created and staying true to who we are. Because there's a lot of people that will try to push you in different directions but staying true to the core of what we are and what we're trying to accomplish.
And it's interesting because there's a lot of people copycats now and you're like, and sometimes it upsets the team if you get people that are directly copying what you've written or your marketing messages. And for me now it's like you know what, we obviously created something that people. So, of course, people are gonna try to copycat that. That's okay. I mean that's, you know, that's not what I would wanna create a copycat. But that's good news. It means that we're doing something really right. So I'm even proud of that.
Javier: And so the other thing is you've been in this for over ten years. What have you had to sacrifice for your success?
Sharelle: I have sacrificed a lot of time with my kids. That is the first thing I'm gonna say coming right off. But I wouldn't trade that. I mean, I think my kids have learned a lot from watching me do this. I know that they really respect what I've done. My daughters, one of my daughters' boyfriends actually is an intern here. And my daughters have worked here. My daughters that are 18 and 19. And they've spent you know, their entire growing up seeing what I've done. And I think it's given them a lot of belief in what they can do.
But I travel a lot. I miss different events and different things. I definitely try to be there as much as possible. But that's about it because I feel like I've gained so much from this experience. I really have. Dry has given me more than I can possibly imagine. So the biggest one would just be trying to always balance the time I have with my kids and the time that I give to Dry. And it's getting better. I mean I got two off to college now so it's just getting easier.
Javier: And so the thing is what is your biggest challenge right now and what are you gonna do to solve it?
Sharelle: I think the biggest challenge is always going to be just building that brand awareness. Because we have the buyers. The buyers are there, we're getting the pull but you want more and more and more pull. I want this to be a new category. And I do want those competitors that are coming in because I believe in this whole category. And so for me it's about is everybody in this executing the way we should? Is it all happening? And are the retailers all executing as they should?
Because one of the things that you learn in beverage is that you can't control. There's so much you can't control, which is definitely challenging for me. And so it's about can the retailers keep up with the growth of this category by executing correctly? Can every other competitors? And then for Dry, how do we just continue to tell people about Dry and just build brand awareness, though? Because there are still people that don't know about Dry, you know, and we wanna make sure that we get the word out and people are trying it.
Javier: And so the thing is when you're starting a company you can't always do it alone. So are there any people, companies or beverage associations or trade journal groups that you felt were instrumental to your success and you wanna thank?
Sharelle: I think the beverage industry actually, in general, has been great. So I got to participate in a group called The Founders Forum that the Coca-Cola Venture and Emerging Brands group did. That's probably the most valuable thing that happened to me in the last ten years as far as... it was a group of other interrupters but beverage and snack that came together. We were together for two years and we were trying to solve some really sticky problems. So I definitely thank the VEB people for sure on that. I think you've got to hand it to Beverage Life and Bevnet. I mean it's just such a great industry. They bring together really good conferences. And I feel like we kind of know everyone and I really appreciate that.
And there's just a lot of individuals within beverage and CPG in general that have been super great with me, that are mentors to me, that I can call anytime and just say, "What about this? What about this?" and give me some tips and advice. So I think beverage is a great industry and it's full of some really creative, cool people. And the people that have made it are so generous with their time. Like Seth Goldman from Honest always will take a call. I mean, I don't call him that much but he's, you know, he's always there and open and available. And there's a lot of them like that that I just think are super, it's just a generous group of people, I think, far more than I expected it to be.
Javier: So the mission of the Specialty Sodas Podcast is to share the stories of other entrepreneurs and leaders in the industry because there's great value in learning from each other, just as you said. So is there someone that you admire and would like to see as a future guest on the show?
Sharelle: Oh, gosh you know, Tyler, Tyler Gage from RUNA has a great story. I think always hearing from him is fascinating. And then there is James Mayo who has a brand called SOS Rehydrate, which is actually a powder that you put into water that's a hydrating product. And he's newer into the industry but is just a wealth of information and just super inspiring, his story of what he's created.
Paddy Spence from Zevia I think is always full of really good advice. And him and I usually think in a similarly in the way that we look at things. Even though their product is very different than ours I think I've always really admired Patti. So those are some great ones that I recommend.
Javier: Okay. And so if anyone wants to reach out to you, how can they do that?
Sharelle: firstname.lastname@example.org They can reach out. Yeah, and they'll get any of those emails to me.
Javier: Okay, and then finally, if there's only one thing people need to know about Dry, what is it?
Sharelle: Well, it's the best beverage you can buy. I think that it really will surprise you that it's really special. What it is, is super special in the bottle and it really will elevate your experience of what you think soda is.
Javier: Okay. All right. So once again this is Sharelle Klaus, the founder, and CEO of Dry Soda Company. It's based out of Seattle, Washington. And since 200,5 Dry has been creating sparkling beverages for people who are seeking culinary experiences in their everyday lives. As mentioned, they have a number of flavor forward crisp varieties like Juniper berry, rhubarb, cucumber, blood orange, vanilla, so many more, and seasonal ones like watermelon and even jalapeno. So it's a clean ingredient panel, just four flavors. It's a sophisticated drink and it's worthy of gourmet food pairing and premium mixology.
So if you enjoyed this conversation, please feel free to like and share the episode. You can also subscribe to Specialty Sodas Podcast in iTunes or Google Play. And you can join our email list to stay connected. And please don't forget to leave us a comment in the discussion box and we look forward to continuing the conversation with you. So thank you, Sharelle, for being here. And thank you, everyone, for being a part of the Specialty Sodas Podcast. All right, see you next time.