Tell us about yourselves! How did you get started? How did Swoon come to be?
JR: I am a Co-Founder of Swoon, which was started as a direct response of being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was six. Beverages are the number one added sugar-packed item in the average diet so I wanted to shake up the industry, which has such a direct correlation to diabetes and so many other health problems, by offering zero-sugar drinks that still taste like a treat.
CRB: Also a Co-Founder of Swoon, my journey to the founding was a little different. Jen and I met at Harvard Business School and we started testing out how we could offer no-sugar cocktail mixers. The concept eventually evolved to ready-to-drink beverages, especially when I started my family and realized how few healthy and tasty options there were that we could all enjoy. Once COVID-19 hit, we pivoted much more to that ready-to-drink space and now focus on our canned lemonades and half & half.
You both met in business school! Could you tell us more about what that the experience at business school was like?
Beyond being an amazing learning experience and a ton of fun, it was the perfect place to start a business because of the access to resources, mentors and frankly time. We were both in the same section and were seated next to each other because both of our last names are Ros(s) and became good friends before the idea of a business even came up. Given that neither of us had any experience in the food and beverage industry, we really didn't know where to begin so we first started by tapping into alums and professors who had been in the space to help guide us. People were beyond helpful in giving us their time, making introductions and just a general source of knowledge!
Jen, you were diagnosed with T1 Diabetes from a young age, and Cristina, you’re a mom of three, how have your experiences shaped Swoon?
JR: Since I was diagnosed when I was six years old, I really spent my entire life searching for zero sugar options so I know a lot about the space and different sweeteners etc. But what really got me going was knowing that I could help so many people make small changes in their diets that would have huge impacts on their health for years to come. Plus, I want to make it enjoyable to make this healthy choice.
CRB: We all know what's healthy and what we should not be putting in our bodies, but once you have children, you do what you can to uphold those health standards even more than you had for yourself. I want to make the choice of beverage an easier one for families; something that kids and parents will actually want to drink that won't be their biggest source of sugar for the day. My kids are also very honest taste testers to ensure their age group will actually enjoy it.
What's the biggest transition or change that you have had to make since the beginning of the pandemic?
The pandemic was actually a pivotal moment for us. We spent a lot of time perfecting our Swoon simple syrup and introducing it to customers via our coffee shop and restaurant accounts. When food service came to a devastating halt at the beginning of the pandemic, we turned our focus to our at-home consumer and launched our new line of ready to drink beverages, which were the same lemonade that became a favourite way for us to showcase Swoon simple syrup - one part lemon juice and one part Swoon simple syrup diluted with water. The nostalgic, straightforward comfort of a childhood classic made healthy turned out to be just what customers are looking for now. Lemonade is one of the fastest growing beverage categories and our lemonade was top 10 on Amazon the week it launched.
What’s one thing they don’t tell you about starting your own company?
C: So much! One surprise is how much of a challenge it is to realize that the company or product isn't synonymous with you. Everything can feel so personal since you pour every waking moment into the business - anytime someone takes a sip in front of me I hold my breath and eagerly ask, "What do you think?" As much as I think there's a value to this passion, it's also important for me to keep remembering that the business belongs to many other stakeholders and is in service of our customers. I liken it to being a mother: our kids are their own people and exist outside of ourselves, our role is to support them.
J: It's a balance between being constantly open to feedback, while sticking true to our company beliefs - and not taking any of it personally. Cristina and I like to keep a running list of feedback and another list of things we won't change and review periodically.
As you know – we think community is everything. How has your community helped you navigate your personal and/or professional life?
J: Community IS everything. That was a big challenge for product development in quarantine Spring-Summer 2020 for our new line of teas and lemonades. We believe in building community via our team, customers, retailers, suppliers, agencies. We go to them to help us improve everything from formula to packaging to positioning - and always ask for complete honesty.
C: As much as we can ask questions over the phone, there's no real substitute for watching people experience the product and react to it. So, we really turned to our families and closest friends. Everyone on the team sent our beta cans to 10 friends and family. We also set up a bit of a zoom coffee roulette at the beginning of quarantine for team members to speak one-on-one once a week to just be human together. We also reach out constantly to other founder friends - and encourage our team to do the same with teams in the food and bev space. We all have similar challenges and questions and are better when we tackle them together.
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