SVP Blog Series: Waku
As featured in Bostinno, Bevnet, BeverageDaily.com and FoodNavigator-USA, Waku (formerly Wanku) has been described as a “healthy, natural, aromatic” and “delicious” drink. Derived from a traditional recipe of an indigenous people in the Andes Mountains, this is a beverage with an impact. Prior to Waku, there was little market access to the drink, and people in the region were not able to benefit much from the product beyond local sales. Now, Juan (interviewed here) and Nicolas sell Waku in many stores around Cambridge and Boston, as well as on Babson’s campus. The company was part of the 2017 Summer Venture Program through Babson’s Blank Center.
When did you initially have your inspiration for this business?
There is a drink in the Andes Mountains the locals call “El’agua que cura”, or “healing water”. My business partner and I decided we wanted to share it with the world. It contains twenty herbs and flowers, fifteen with analgesic properties, thirteen with digestive properties, and twelve with anti-inflammatory properties.
How did you get involved with the Summer Venture Program?
I actually knew about it before Babson, because an alumni told me. When I heard about it I remember thinking, “I really want to do that.” We didn’t get accepted to the early application, because we needed to show more progress on the business. We did get accepted later, however, when we re-applied.
Do you feel like you missed out on anything this summer?
Both my co-founder and I thought it was the best summer of our lives. We actually said that. We spent eighty to ninety hours per week working on the business, and the progress we saw was amazing. During the summer we raised capital through crowdfunding, and through friends and family, bringing us to about $120,000 total.
Are you surprised you’ve raised so much money so quickly?
I’m not surprised that we raised this much capital – it’s actually necessary, since food & beverage businesses are capital intensive. We expect to raise a Series A next summer.
Were there any particular programs or workshops that helped you,
Last semester Doug Fox gave a talk at the Blank Center about branding for entrepreneurs. Then I had the opportunity to meet him again during SVP, and he was really helpful. Waku went back and forth with Doug over email, and eventually we were able to come up with our positioning statement, no small task!
Did SVP grow your network? How?
The advisors, such as industry experts, lawyers and investors, were super helpful. In particular David Chang, the SVP director, and Antonettte Ho, were always ready to help. For the record, I want Waku to be the official drink of the Blank Center.
Did you experience any failures in your entrepreneurial process? Did you have a moment when you were frustrated?
We are replicating an indigenous tea, which presents a lot of challenges because it takes a special process to make. We realized that, for the moment, we aren’t going to be able to replicate it in the USA, and decided to produce it in Ecuador.
Was there anything that the Summer Venture Program provided that was indispensable? That you couldn’t have got anywhere else? That was particularly “Babson”?
I learned how to network well over email, and how to follow up. This skill can be a big gamechanger. Nico, my co-founder, also gained some huge insights on customer development.
Was it the outcome you were hoping for?
It was even more. As a company Waku has gained more structure, more confidence, and an amazing network through SVP. For instance, SVP got us into the Boston Investors network.
What do you think your business will do going forward?
We expect to have four more products out by 2018. Also, next year we will be expanding across the Northeast, likely with investment capital that we raise. It’s really exciting, but we are most excited about having an impact on Ecuador. The growers and harvesters directly benefit from Waku – we want what is normally the middleman’s cut to go to the farmers. Also, we are helping farmers get USDA Fairtrade certified; we expect to see a jump in farmer’s income and in families impacted.
Comments on doing the SVP Showcase at the end of the program?
We were able to present our venture in front of over 400 attendees and put our products in hands of dozens of consumers. Two angels investors approached us after our presentation and showed interest in investing on us in the future.