Venture Corner: bcalm Gets its Start in the Beverage Industry
There’s a calm taking HBS by storm. One day soon, out of the corner of your eye when walking by Spangler, you will notice a green and silver glimmer in a section mate’s hand thanks to Dan Rumennik, founder of bcalm. I wanted to learn more about the beginnings of this beverage start-up, so I sat down with Dan to learn more.
Courtney Davis: So bcalm seems to be tapping into an entirely new need-based market. Where did you come up with this idea for a calming drink?
Dan Rumennik: The first seed was planted nearly two years ago on a beach in South America while I was living there over the summer before HBS. One perfect day with my friends, while the sun was setting and the beach was lively, I stumbled upon this cool new drink. The combination of the moment and the vibe of South America created this perfect feeling of peace and calm in a mental state that I will never forget. Of course, I immediately wanted to bring it back to the US to help me survive the stress and craziness we all experience in our young professional lives.
CD: I think I speak for most people when I say that I have very little experience with drinks that reduce stress. I’ve heard of a few brands, but never tried them. Can you tell us about bcalm and the product in general?
DR: bcalm is a natural wellness drink for stress-relief and mental clarity. Through research and development, I came up with a proprietary blend of botanicals and amino acid that really works. Further, using clinical data, studies, and homeopathic remedies, I found a way to get an effective, great-tasting product with some innovative ingredients.
The brand is open, transparent, inviting, and calming. We want to be where people need our help instead of trying to “sell” bcalm more broadly. This is our product, our team, and what we believe in. We hope people get a real health benefit and feel better by drinking it. And based on our work so far, we think we are well-positioned to do just that.
CD: As a founder, you’ve probably gone through your share of ups and downs leading up to what looks like a pretty successful product launch thus far. If you had to pick the toughest part, what would it be?
DR: I’d definitely say coordinating the production was really challenging. I was single-handedly passing off information on the drink’s formula and packaging between lawyers, developers, ingredient buyers, can manufacturers, and the drink makers. The real challenge though overall is making decisions – knowing what to choose without real data. It was just a really interesting process picking a name, final formulation, and packaging based on my gut feeling and my friends’ survey advice.
CD: With so many HBS start-ups focusing on tech, it’s interesting to see an actual product in the food & beverage industry. Can you talk about the differences in launching a company in this space versus tech or other popular start-up industries these days?
DR: It’s great to stand out in any way, whether that is in the eyes of consumers, the public, or investors. However, your speed is much slower across the board. The time it takes to put a product out there on the internet, get feedback, and then iterate can be measured in days, if not hours.
With a food product, it takes months, and more likely, years. You have to deal with the FDA, a byzantine organization in my opinion. Much of what the FDA publishes is guidelines – not hard, clear-cut rules. A lot of what I had to do was read between the lines, interpret its guidelines to the best of my ability, and hire a seasoned legal team to advise me every step of the way.
The fundraising ecosystem is also much harder to navigate. While there are institutional food & beverage investors, they are more generally looking for businesses with some traction (i.e.,~$1 million in sales) to even get your foot in the door. As such, many people turn to friends, family, and angel investors to get the ideas through prototypes and first production runs.
CD: How can a consumer actually get some bcalm to try it?
DR: Right now we are selling online through our e-commerce store at http://drinkbcalm.com. We are in the process of signing up some large initial distributors and retail partners, too. The goal is to have a few locations near HBS in Harvard Square where the product is initially sold. We would love to have it in the HBS cafeteria as soon as possible as well.
For those interested in learning more about bcalm, “Like” bcalm on Facebook, follow @bcalm on Twitter, and check out the bcalm website mentioned above.