UpDog Kombucha: From Dorm to Distribution

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Many of us have been there. You’re in college and you scheme the *best* idea to start a business with your friends, but after realizing that you can hardly afford pizza, and you have the attention span of, well, a college student, nothing every really takes shape.

Against the odds, this was not the case for Lauren Miller and Olivia Wolff, owners of kombucha microbrewery, UpDog Kombucha. Classmates at a New Jersey high school, Miller and Wolff both coincidentally attended Wake Forest University where their brewer journey began. When the business first started, Wolff a senior, and Miller a Junior, spent the remainder of their collegiate lives leveraging university resources, and their entrepreneurial gumption to launch and grow their kombucha business.

What started as a dorm-room hobby, UpDog Kombucha is now distributed throughout the Southeast, with no signs of slowing down. Read more as Co-owner, Olivia Wolff tells CBRbiz about their journey, challenges, and sights for the future.

CBR: First thing’s first: what exactly is kombucha?
Olivia Wolff (OW): Kombucha is fermented tea that is rich in digestive enzymes and acids that are great for the digestive and immune systems.

CBR: When did you start making kombucha?
OW: I was inspired to start making my own kombucha as a home-brewer during my senior year of college. Though I was selling it to friends very casually, it wasn’t until Lauren and I began to collaborate that our business was jump started.

CBR: At what point did you realize you wanted this to become a business?
OW: During winter break of my senior year at Wake Forest (Lauren’s junior year), we decided to launch our brand over Instagram. We were making all of the kombucha in the dorm room kitchen, and made every bottle to order. We took orders from students over Instagram direct message, and set a time and place for them to come pick it up during the week. By the end of the semester, we were making 160 bottles per week just for students.

CBR: When you were getting started, what resources did you find most helpful?
OW: We decided to reach out to the entrepreneurship department (CICE) at Wake Forest for some guidance and resources. We were quickly welcomed by the CICE, which really helped us excel in building a business while being students simultaneously. When I graduated in May of 2016, I decided to pursue UpDog Kombucha as my full time job.

Also, our professors from the Entrepreneurship Department have really been such valuable resources to us as we grow. They expose us to different ways to think about business.

CBR: What advice would you give someone who was looking to package and distribute a product?
OW: I would definitely warn that, as hard as you think it’s going to be, in reality, it’s going to be ten times harder. I don’t say this to discourage anyone from trying to package and distribute a product, but there are always bumps in the road that are out of your control and you have to learn to roll with the punches!

CBR: What have been your biggest challenges for growth?
OW: Our biggest challenge for growth is definitely distribution. At the moment, we make all of our own deliveries which will only become more challenging as we start to increase our production to meet demand.

CBR: If you could give advice to your past self about starting a business what would it be?
OW: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and use your connections to their fullest! Also, work hard but don’t forget to maintain a balanced lifestyle. As a woman (especially a young woman) in business, sometimes people don’t take us seriously. It’s important to just keep moving forward when people are trying to put you down.

CBR: What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year for your business?
OW: We are looking forward to growing and expanding more within North Carolina and the Southeast region!

CBR:And finally, if you had to choose, what is your favorite flavor?
OW: Though Mojito is my favorite of the six signature flavors that we make, Apple Spice is my current favorite because it’s seasonal!

Well, there you have it! Thank you, Olivia for sharing your story, and reminding all of us that the entrepreneurial spirit knows no age. To learn more about UpDog Kombucha, visit them online at updogkombucha.com, and be sure to follow their success story on Instagram @updogkombucha.