This Beverage Entrepreneur Got His Start by Simply Asking a Big Company to Let Him Sell Their Products
In this ongoing column, The Digest, Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.
Sometimes, you just have to create an opportunity for yourself. That's exactly what Roly Nesi did -- and it helped him eventually launch Roar, a beverage company that's sold nationally.
Four years before he launched his company, Nesi reached out to a college friend, whose family had started AriZona Beverages, a billion-dollar company. While the company was already popular in the U.S., Nesi saw an opportunity: AriZona practically had no presence in Asia, despite American brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi doing well there. While Nesi admits he had no beverage experience, he was able to convince executives to take a chance on him and sell the brand in Asia. They granted him nonexclusive brokerage rights.
"I was there for a number of years, and it was a crazy life -- three weeks there, a week home, three weeks there, two weeks home," says the New York resident. "It taught me about adjusting the brand to your customer, and while I was doing that, I was learning so much. It was a crash course in the industry, and I just loved the business."
Four years after starting at AriZona, where he saw success with retailers such as 7-Eleven, Nesi got the entrepreneurial itch. An avid Gatorade drinker, he wondered how he could improve on the top sports drink.
"It's that ticking clock," he says about the decision to start a company. "If I don't do this and someone else figures it out, I'm going to kick myself in the ass every day the rest of my life."
He founded Roar Beverages, which had its first product, a sports drink catered to teens, by the next year. During that first year, the company was in an office "closet" in a Long Island town with its warehouse in the garage of Nesi's parents' home. He would deliver every account himself.
The company now has 18 employees in a New York City office and offices in Los Angeles and Texas. This year Roar raised $5 million in funding and is part of the incubator program of LA Libations, a brand funded in part by Coca-Cola.
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Roar drinks are sold in more than 4,000 retail doors throughout the U.S., and the company says it has grown year over year by more than 300 percent with $3.5 million in revenue last year. Roar now has three lines of products: Roar Kids, Roar Electrolyte Infusion (its sports drink) and Roar Organic.
It's that latter product, launched in 2016 and which Nesi describes as "Coachella meets Lululemon," where he sees the most potential.
"I'm looking at the green juices of the world and the drinkable apple cider vinegars and I'm like this stuff is gross,"he says. "I was like, if we can make something taste good and be affordable in the space we can make a lot of money."
It's apparently already seen success. Nesi points out that Roar Organic in five months won over more retailers than his other products did in three years. The first account for the product was Facebook's office in New York City, which goes through 2,200 bottles a week, Nesi says.
Click through the slideshow to see Roar Beverages' ingredients for success -- and what you can learn from them.
Trust your gut.
Nesi is "anal" about Roar flavors, and each product has gone through about 20 iterations. He also doesn't rely on focus groups to settle on the final versions.
"With too many cooks in the kitchen ... it gets a little difficult," Nesi says. "For the most part, we kind of kept [testing] within the walls of the company. We knew what ingredients we wanted, we knew the calorie count we wanted and we knew what flavors."
It's up to entrepreneurs to have a vision for what they want to bring into the world. Customer feedback is important, but you shouldn't let it become a distraction from what you originally had in mind.
Go where the customers are.
It's a smart and common strategy in business to go where your customers are. For Roar, that was bringing its sports drink product to where kids played hockey, lacrosse, baseball and other sports. In 2015, it also had partnered with then New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. as a spokesperson.
"We're a drink with the camouflage label on it. And it's a kind of a take no shit mentality," Nesi says. "That really aligned well with him. He loved the product. We worked together and it was a very big deal for our company."
It's always a good idea to leverage influencers to give you a boost. The partnership has to make sense with your brand, of course, and the partner has to have a voice that your target customer will listen to.
Speak to each market segment.
Nesi knew that the customers for Roar Organic would be very different from the ones for his other product.
"People told us to do an organic SKU within our regular brand, and I was like that's not right," he says.
Instead, he said, the company would create a new brand for Roar Organic, with its own website, brand voice and social media channels.
"You got to look at it and say this has got to be right from the ground up," Nesi says. "You can't leave one thing unchecked."
Rather than fields and rinks, Roar Organic marketed to beachgoers this past summer, specifically at weekend getaway spots for New York City residents. Roar would set up at wellness events, as well as provide free rides to people going to and from parties. This strategy helped reach their target market every single weekend, for a fraction of the price of advertising directly to them in Manhattan.
Look to Roar's example and find creative, and less expensive, ways to market to your ideal customers.
As part of its marketing efforts, Roar created Roar.land, which required people to text a number with a password that was given out on cocktail napkins. It then allowed potential customers to listen to a Roar curated radio station. Nesi hopes that it'll soon be an avenue for people to order more drinks or set up a subscription. The company also set up some experimental social and web campaigns.
"It's just more ways to keep you involved with us," he says. "I don't believe in drinks, I believe in brands. If you want loyalty ... you have to have something more, you have to have a message, a certain DNA that you bring across the board."
With all these marketing efforts, Nesi has lofty goals in mind, such as reaching former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg with Roar's Soda Sucks campaign. The company didn't reach the media mogul, but you need grand ambitions to build a big brand.
"Everything we do, we have a much higher goal for it," Nesi says. "It may not be realistic at times, but if we can we can get an A-minus, we're pretty happy."
Instill loyalty in your employees.
Building a company from the ground up is, of course, grueling. Nesi says that he works more than 10 hours a day.
"I had to put a beer tap in the office to keep people in after eight at night. You have to do what you have to do," he says. "Everybody has to be fully committed and that's why I give my employees equity in the company."
Equity is an increasingly popular workplace perk, as it arguably creates loyalty in employees by literally giving them skin in the game.
Measure success your own way.
Nesi says it's really exciting when he brings in new retailers to sell Roar, but that's secondary to his most important metric: repeat customers.
"It's really sexy to say I'm bringing in all these new stores. Investors love hearing that shit," Nesi says. "But, what's more important to me is the 100 stores that I had are all growing at 25, 30 percent each month."
Creating repeat customers takes all the steps Nesi has taken for Roar: creating a quality product, marketing it so customers will actually try it and creating a brand that keeps them around.