Who are you and what is your background?
We are Hannah Crum & Alex LaGory aka Kombucha Kamp. Both of us are from the Midwest, Chicago & Cincinnati respectively. Hannah’s background is in education and the arts, and she speaks Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and enough French to get by. Alex has been a writer, performer, and film producer. We met in Venice Beach at a job interview in 2002; Hannah applied for a job to translate Chinese to English for a documentary Alex was editing, and a 6-hour first date conversation launched our relationship.
Your current job:
Hannah Crum Founder – Kombucha Kamp Founder / President – Kombucha Brewers International Author – The Big Book of Kombucha
Alex LaGory President – Kombucha Kamp Founder / Chairman of the Board – Kombucha Brewers International Author – The Big Book of Kombucha
Collectively: Brewmasters, educators, researchers, and bacteria farmers.
In which city:
(La ciudad de la reina de) Los Angeles, CA
Where does your interest in Kombucha come from?
15 years ago, we were introduced to Kombucha through a friend. Though we didn’t have a chance to sample their brew, we were intrigued. Hannah bought the first bottle and the sour-power punch electrified every nerve. Our thirst outgrew our budget so Hannah got her hands on a SCOBY and began to brew.
What prompted you to start your company?
The immediate drive to start Kombucha Kamp was simply Hannah’s desire to teach and share this great drink. At the time she was first getting into making Kombucha at home, Alex was attending an Artist’s Way at Work session taught by Mark Bryan for a documentary project. Intrigued, Hannah signed up for an Artist’s Way class at UCLA, and during that process birthed the idea for a “camp” in our small house where people would come to learn all about the booch.
Those classes lead to online videos and occasional press. After starting a blog and shipping cultures by request around the world for a few years, Hannah became frustrated at the lack of good information and quality products available for making Kombucha at home. With a motto of “Trust YOUR gut” and a mission to “Change the World, One Gut at a Time” (plus several gourds of yerba mate!), we decided to team up to create videos and a full website that would dispel the myths and provide a safe (and fun!) place to learn about Kombucha.
One video series became a massive internet hit, generating millions of views, and cementing Hannah as “The Kombucha Mamma”. Since then we’ve written Amazon bestseller The Big Book of Kombucha (over 100,000 copies sold), 400 pages and over 400 recipes all about the booch, which is the culmination of that mission to make clear information available to anyone. And we’ve added milk kefir, water kefir, and JUN to our offerings as we believe diversity is the key to health and success.
Kombucha Brewers International, the trade association that we founded in 2014 for bottled Kombucha, was likewise borne from a need to educate, as well as a desire to work with a community. Personal relationships with GT Dave, the market leader who pioneered the bottled Kombucha category in 1995, as well as the founders of the 2 other main brands at the time, High Country Kombucha and Kombucha Wonder Drink, put us in a unique position.
When the withdrawal issues occurred in 2010 at Whole Foods (Kombucha was temporarily removed from shelves over concerns about trace amounts of ethanol, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process), we saw how badly our friends and the whole industry suffered without organization or leadership. Some of them went from thriving to out of business in weeks. It was devastating.
After much planning and cajoling, we launched KBI as a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association, partnering with 40 brands from all over to work together to promote and protect bottled Kombucha around the world. Today our membership includes almost 275 breweries around the world and around 100 affiliate members from industries that provide services or equipment to Kombucha producers. Each year we have hosted KombuchaKon, the KBI industry trade show built around educating producers on best practices and business success in the Kombucha category. 2019 marks the 6th annual conference, which grows each year, and we aim to add a consumer day as well as travel the event to locations outside Southern California.
What makes your product unique?
At Kombucha Kamp, we provide kits and cultures to make Kombucha and other fermented beverages at home. (We don’t currently sell a bottled Kombucha product). When it comes to our cultures, they are always living and bagged fresh, which is superior to lackluster dehydrated cultures.
And all of our cultures are produced in an FDA registered the commercial facility with 100% organic ingredients. We are the only company that ships Kombucha, JUN, water kefir and milk kefir cultures worldwide that meets those standards. Most importantly, the cultures make delicious brews!
But we are most unique in our care and customer service, which is at the core of who we are as people and educators. Kombucha is scary to the uninitiated, and we are there to be your brew buddy through the process. We invent our own custom products such as heaters and covers that serve the needs of homebrewers. And we answer every email we receive with as much help as we can offer. Hannah also handles most phone orders when she’s not traveling. Most of all, we listen to our clients and try to adjust our offerings to their needs.
What do you want to convey through your brand image? Design: how was it designed? By who?
Hannah’s color is purple and Alex’s is green, so those are the colors you will find in the Kombucha Kamp logo and our branding. Purple and green appear together so often in plants and nature, we feel they are deeply intertwined. Green also represents success, while purple stands for luxury. The butterfly is comprised of two K’s back-to-back, representing Kombucha Kamp and stands for transformation, both of the brew and the person drinking it. The bubbles convey motion and evoke the natural carbonation.
For the Kombucha Brewers International logo, the green represents tea, with a literal tea leaf “I” created in the negative space between the K and B.
Both logos were designed from our sketches, using designers for hire.
What are the main challenges in your company?
Probably the primary challenge is maintaining the highest quality cultures. Because we offer 4 types, there’s a lot of daily care that must go into the various farms. And even then, adjustments are always being made in response to how they are performing, our needs, changing seasons, and a lot of potentially unforeseen factors. Unlike most business, the product is alive and requires constant attention and a skilled caretaker.
The second main challenge is communicating to consumers the value of our brand over others, in particular why it’s better to invest in quality cultures and supplies. As with all products, there are a range of options. We’re not the most expensive, but we’re not the cheapest either. Consumers understand that quality costs a bit more. It’s our job to tell make it clear to them why ours is the better choice. Most clients find the cultures to be a bargain after they brew. And we try to keep our prices as low as we can. In fact, we haven’t raised the cost of our SCOBYs since 2010!
Another challenge is managing the misinformation that continues to be spread about Kombucha. Because it is not well understood and has a short history of widespread use, it is easy to forget that Kombucha is simply food and not a miracle cure or dangerous bacteria. Our book and online resources have done a lot to help correct those misconceptions.
What tools are essential for your work (app, software)?
Google Docs, HelpScout, Dropbox, Paypal, WordPress, Quickbooks, Messenger, Skype
A word to define what type of worker you are:
Yeast & Bacteria. Hannah is the wild and crazy yeast and Alex is the structure of loving bacteria. Alex is methodical and persistent yet ready to put out fires at the first sign of smoke whereas Hannah has a harder time staying focused due to her many roles and does best in short, focused bursts. Together we get it all done!
What does your office space look like?
We each have our own space where we work, so we can make calls and concentrate on writing without interruption. We also have access to an area where we can grab a quick sun break together a few times as the weather allows, or have a brief meeting, which really helps break up our typically long work days.
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
Monday mornings are for customer service and cleaning up from the weekend, plus organizing for the week. Monday afternoons are focused on project work. Tuesday and Thursday are for consultations and errands. Wed & Fri (half day) is dedicated to KBI and Friday afternoon is for Kombucha Kamp cleanup. Early mornings, before normal office hours, are key for writing or projects that are best accomplished without interruptions. We also sometimes have a late evening writing session, if the mood strikes. Most days we finish by 6 – 7 pm so we can go out to meet friends or relax and enjoy the evening.
What tips would you give to improve productivity?
The earlier you can reasonably get to your desk in the morning (while also taking care of yourself), the more you will get done. Nothing beats early hours for productivity. Then, take short but frequent breaks throughout the day so the mind can relax and refocus more easily. Change your location and environment completely if possible. Productive breaks include quick tidy & gardening. Relaxing breaks include eating and sitting in the sunshine.
What is the best advice you have been given?
“Be quick, but don’t hurry.” ~ John Wooden
Can you give us a tour of your local Kombucha scene?
LA is loaded with Kombucha! You can find it at so many shops and restaurants, with more all the time especially on the west side of town in Santa Monica and Venice, that it’s nearly ubiquitous.
How do you control the growth of your company?
Because our market is the globe (we ship to anywhere), our growth is theoretically unlimited. However, as mentioned, competition is always coming. Our first and best tool is always word of mouth via our unmatched customer service and the book. Beyond that, we rely on good old, innovation, marketing, affiliate relationships, and quality SEO as the foundations for growth.
What is your strategy for making your brand known? (tastings, festival, etc.) Why this strategy?
Early on we traveled to most any event that wanted to have a Kombucha expert speak, which included food festivals and conferences as well as places like libraries and museums. Kombucha is a bit more known, so Hannah has been even more in demand. And since it’s release, The Big Book of Kombucha has become our biggest calling card. Many people find our website from either buying the book or seeing Hannah speak live or on a summit online. We also have an affiliate program for people who want to work with us to help their readers learn about Kombucha. It all comes down to connecting with them so that they know they can trust our products, information, and service.
What are your end-of-day and early-day routine?
Early day – feed & walk the dog, silent meditation, journal or reflection End of day – shut down computer, cross off day on calendar, turn off lights & close the door – creating that healthy boundary of completion especially for a home-based business is key so that one isn’t tempted to stray back into the office. – walk & feed the dog, make dinner & unwind!
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a Kombucha company?
So many people have started a brand just because they love the booch, it’s a wonderful thing about this industry, we are made up of true believers! But before you get started, know this: it is a labor of love – emphasis on the labor part. We’ve helped over a hundred brands get started or scale up or solve their brewing issues via our commercial consulting services, so we’ve seen just about every story. Find partners who share your vision and are willing to invest their energy into the brand. Get proper help/consulting to avoid the pitfalls you won’t see coming. Then when it comes to launching, educate, educate, educate. The more your consumers understand your product, the more they can spread it around through word of mouth.
Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget cannot you do without?
Personal Back Massager – releasing tension is key to reducing stress
Upcoming products or projects?
● The Big Book of Kombucha is launching in Spanish in May – Hannah will go to Spain & Mexico to promote the book.
● The Kombucha Kamp website is currently undergoing a complete redesign and integration, with plans to launch in the fall.
● KBI continues to lead the commercial industry in lobbying and educational efforts. As part of our federal lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry, KBI has introduced The KOMBUCHA
Act to Congress. The bill proposes to adjust the federal codes to exempt low alcohol Kombucha from unintended taxation, and free producers to make an authentic product without worry of unnecessary regulation. As with any change to the law, the challenges are large, but we continue to educate our lawmakers and the public about this traditional, healthful drink so it can remain accessible to everyone.