Who are you and what is your background?
Hi, I’m Alexandre Vaianu Bertin, I’m 33 years old and I was born in the small French city of Besançon, bordering Switzerland. I am now happily living in Guadalajara, Jalisco since 2010 with my wife Mónica, our lovely 4yr old daughter Gaia and 8 roommates from all horizons (we live in a community in a huge old colonial house in downtown Guadalajara). I have a big sister (graphic designer) and 2 younger brothers (one is a saxophonist, the other a software engineer - both living in California).
Both my parents are doctors, with my mom specializing in homeopathy. We’ve grown to a particular point of view regarding health, being raised with a Chinese medicinal philosophy rather than the Western method and their modern prescription-drugs-industry. I got the chance to study a different career; completing a masters degree in civil engineering – Construction/Promotion laws and Regulations in Bordeaux, France. While studying, I would work part-time in the food industry - either as a waiter in small restaurants, a delivery guy for a pizza & sushi joint and as a prep-cook in a crepes restaurant. After graduating in 2008, I took 2 years off to take advantage of the green card (which my dad won the green-card lottery back in 2005) and kept waiting in restaurants in California: Santa Barbara in the summer and Mammoth Lakes in the winter seasons. In early 2010, I received a phone call from a close childhood friend who had moved to Guadalajara; and asked me to be his daughter’s godfather! I had moved to Guadalajara without a plan and started to help my friend with his Crepes joint, making crepes for a few months. Then with 2 other friends, we opened a small restaurant in Tlaquepaque (one of Guadalajara’s boroughs) where we would sell crepes and Pulque (an ancestral fermented beverage from pre-hispanic Mexico, made out of the agave’s nectar). After 2 years we decided to leave the restaurant to one of the associates. I went back to selling crepes on the street for 3 years, while also directing 3 total-house-make-overs projects (old colonial houses, downtown Guadalajara, thanks to an Italian friend who had faith in my skills), and started considering dedicating the rest of my life to construction. Until rethinking it thanks to Kombucha...
Your current job:
My wife and I have a long-lasting project together in renting accommodations to international students and young workers: we actually rent the house where we live and have spent the past 6 years remodeling it bit by bit (we’re not the owner!) to make it a home sweet home for everyone. Making Kombucha has started to take more of my time over the past 12 months and is now my main activity (though we still welcome students and backpackers at home!).
In which city:
We live in Guadalajara, Jalisco in Mexico. It is the second biggest city in Mexico with an estimated 7.5 million inhabitants within its metropolitan area. It is a beautiful city to live in, particularly downtown, where the pace of life is still Mexican: colorful, safe and cheap! The center has a 500-year history, amazing colonial houses, with each neighborhood having a “small-town” kind of vibe and access to everything in walking distance with the rest cycling. People are wonderful, kind and pleasant, I feel very honored and thankful to live here.
did you discover kombucha?
Thanks to my family, I was taught from a very young age about the benefits of consuming fermented foods and beverages: Choux-croûte, cheese made out of raw-milk, wine, cider, beer, etc... When I first came to Mexico, I was first introduced to pulque (see the first paragraph) which my wife, Mónica, had studied as part of her thesis (she was preparing her degree in Food Sciences) and I was amazed by the potential benefits of the sacred beverage such as its content in probiotic microorganisms, history, culture and great taste of course! Mónica also introduced me to the process of making water kefir at home and having always fresh kefir in the morning. In 2013, we visited my brother who was then living in San Francisco, and he suggested that I try and drink Kombucha after telling him about a digestion disorder I was having (I was working part-time in a café at that time and would drink 5-6 expressos a day, which can lead to disastrous consequences regarding the intestinal flora).
And after the third bottle of Kombucha, I knew I had found a remedy; delicious, quick and effective! Back in Guadalajara, after weeks of research, we found a Kombucha lover who provided us with a starter kit. Since I was also still running my friend ́s crepes-stand on weekends, I started to bring Kombucha once a week to offer it to our customers along with the traditional Cuban-coffee and Italian soda. We quickly realized the interest for Kombucha among some customers and we would eventually have people coming to enjoy a freshly made Kombucha rather than to order crepes.
What prompted you to start your company?
Mid 2015, the local government started to make changes in its policy regarding street- food joints and that was the end for the crepes ́ adventure. I still had customers contacting me regarding Kombucha so I started to bottle them (we used to serve it by the glass out of a 1-gallon glass jar) and designed a very humble label for them to recognize us. Frankly, at that time, our Kombucha was sour and vinegary and could get little to very bubbly, so I wasn’t satisfied with the quality. I, therefore, directed all my efforts and research to standardize the quality, finding the best providers, the best teas, and doing empirical tests in search of the greatest taste through my family and friends.
Late 2015, I started to spend Sundays selling Kombucha ̈CASA BELOT ̈ at a farmer’s market, and eventually had the chance to share a stand with the owner of ITACATE, a small organic & local grocery store who invited me to offer Kombucha in her shop. I then started to be contacted by other all-natural stores and had the opportunity to slowly and organically grow the brand while always seeking to improve the quality of our Kombucha. Late 2016, we had 5 distributors when a Dutch student contacted me, very enthusiastic about Kombucha CASA BELOT. She had tried many different Kombucha brands throughout her peregrinations in North America and rated ours as the champagne of Kombucha and was convinced of its potential. She offered to promote our brand within the bloggers ́ community and she eventually started to offer it to more stores. I was always holding back on promoting our Kombucha, thinking it wasn’t ready, it needs more and more improvements, she made the move for me! In January 2017 she went back to continue her studies in Holland after adding about 12 additional stores to our list of distributors. Between January and August, without any promotion, we ́ve had stores contacting us and finally summed up a total of 37 distributors as of today.
What makes your product unique?
Through 4 years of continuous tests and improvements, we have developed our own process divided into 2 main steps: • a first fermentation process, involving a combination of 3 types of the finest organic teas: green, oolong and black tea. • the second step implies flavoring and carbonating: we extract flavors from either fresh ingredients (ginger, mint spicata) or dry ingredients (hibiscus, apple, peach, mint piperita, etc...) and combine it to our fermented Kombucha in carbonation tanks and let the magic happen. By using mainly green and oolong teas, we assure a low caffeine and theine content while providing high polyphenol (antioxidants) levels. We offer a line of 6 different unique flavors; we employ natural ingredients rather than commercial extracts, our carbonation process is spontaneous, we employ as little sugar as our mother cultures can handle without starving. Thanks to our selection of teas, our Kombucha develops a fresh and elegant character, crisp and bubbly like champagne, with apple cider aromas and floral notes.
What do you want to convey through your brand image?
We’re looking for excellence, our goal is quality over quantity. We have established our highest standards: Kombucha CASA BELOT will always remain handcrafted, hand bottled, socially responsible and respectful to the environment. We use glass bottles, implemented a recycling program (MXN$5 discount per bottle returned), collaborated with a local company to recycle the caps, use a low emission vehicle for deliveries and compost our organic wastes.
What are the main challenges in your company?
So far standardization of our product line has been our first and main issue.
What tools are essential for your work(app, software)?
We rely on an excellent CRM by Zoho that manages our customer database, orders, inventory, etc... And an accountancy program as well. We use WhatsApp to receive orders and Outlook as an email manager.
A word to define what type of worker you are:
What does your office space look like?
A typical Mexican “equipales” round table, 4 chairs on one side, 3 sofas, a long coffee table and a big bookshelf on the other side, a fridge full of Kombucha, nothing fancy, full comfort!
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
I usually plan next day the day before, then start the day tasting Kombucha with my collaborators: we go over up ideas and confirm plans.
What tips would you give to improve productivity?
Use a CRM, delegate accountancy, and to focus on improving the process line.
What is the best advice you have been given?
To use a CRM.
What are your end-of-day and early-day routine?
Early day: meet all together, enjoy kombucha and chat. End-of-day: meet all together, enjoy kombucha and chat.
Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget cannot you do without?
My Bluetooth earphones.
Upcoming products or projects?
Within the next month, we’ll have radical changes: a creative studio is giving a new look to our branding and our website should be completed. We are also working on implementing effective deliveries to other cities and we’ll add a 7th flavor soon!