"What it took to build a beverage startup from my kitchen to national distribution"
Over the last two years, I have experienced that building a business from scratch is about hard work, making smart decisions and being tenacious. But the most valuable thing I learned was something else entirely.
My and our company's journey was never been straight-forward, and never predictable. It all started in a very unlikely place and ended with a finding that will drive our business for years to come.
5 years ago I had matcha tea for the first time in my life. I was training Kung Fu with Shaolin Monks - 8-10 hours every day. I had come to China for a martial arts experience, but matcha soon mesmerised me.
Matcha is a powerful green tea powder – it cleared my mind and woke me up, but never left me crashing or feeling like I was drinking something that was producing a strain on my body. I soon got addicted.
Then I traveled to South America. I hiked through the mountains in Patagonia and then hitchhiked 3000 km from Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world to Buenos Aires, the most exciting city in the world.
When I was just starting to miss my addiction, my matcha-kick, I found yerba mate tea. Mate is a caffeine-rich South American specialty. It gave me a similar kick to that of matcha. I soon got addicted.
When I left South America and biked 6000 km from Panama to Los Angeles on a tight budget, my surfboard attached to my bicycle, I went through a tea dry spell. Cold turkey.
Then life called. My big adventure was over. I had traveled the world, but it was time to turn to the serious side of life: get a career. I was holding a bachelors degree in Economics from a renowned University and an office job at a consultancy or a large company was looming.
I decided to add a Master's from Stockholm School of Economics. Immediately upon arrival in Stockholm I looked for mate and matcha tea. I found both, but matcha is expensive and both teas are not conveniently prepared.
It simply didn't match my lifestyle to pause to boil water and whisk matcha. I needed convenient focus help. I was going cold turkey again.
So I got a classmate, Lukas, addicted and we joined forces. Turns out the corporate side, the consultancies and big corporations had to wait. We were destined to be entrepreneurs. Destined to create the first truly natural and effective functional drink for the brain. It seemed I would soon get addicted again...
That was two years ago. We started in my kitchen, and then moved on to produce more than 25 prototypes with different professional producers. The best one is the one we sell as Naka today. I drink it every day and so do our core consumers.
The reception from our core customers has been amazing and their recommendations helped us sign a national distribution deal.
All throughout our journey, when we didn't know where to go, we turned to the consumer. When we had prototypes come in, we asked them, which they liked best. When we designed the label, we did the same. Our first investor, Jon Widegren – the founder of Flippin' Burgers in Stockholm – is one of our most loyal consumers. And when we approached distributors, they had already heard from us through customer recommendations.
So how did we get here? Through hard work, smart decisions and tenacity? Sure, but more even because we involved our consumers whenever we could.
What is next? It is time to scale. So we are taking in some funding now. It is only natural that we turn to our consumers now that we fund, too, and take the next step: turn consumers and fans into co-owners. Last week we launched our crowdfunding campaign and we are more than half funded already.
What does it take to grow this business into an international success? I can only guess it will have something to do with hard work, smart decisions and indestructible tenacity.
But I know that we have the best shot if we never lose sight of our customers!
NAKA is a company founded by four international students at the Stockholm School of Economics. They are members of the SSE Business Lab, sharing offices with other up and coming startups such as Qasa, Vilth and Tankeapoteket. Among the alumni of Business LAB are Klarna and Ung Omsorg. NAKA has developed a tea-based focus drink inspired by eastern traditions and was recently featured in Veckans Affärers list of Sweden's 71 Superstartups.
On VA.se the team behind NAKA will regularly provide insights and experiences from their lives as entrepreneurs in Stockholm, and shed some light on the peculiarities of Sweden and the Swedish way of doing business. In 2016 NAKA rebranded from Akuo.