Becoming an entrepreneur is no easy task. The path to success is filled with twists and turns and achieving success requires a tremendous amount of fortitude. Dino Sarti is the founder Aloe Gloe which has recently partnered with Coca- Cola. I had the privilege to catch up with Dino and hear how he went from working on the Coke truck as a delivery guy to striking a deal to have Coke invest in his company! Here’s what happened:
Jay: In 2012 you founded Aloe Gloe which is water that is certified organic, low in calories, gluten-free, vegan and free of preservatives. In 2016 you completed a deal to partner with Coke. What have you been working on and what’s next for the brand?
Dino: Up until now we’ve been working on bringing Aloe Gloe to stores such as Walmart and Safeway with the goal of making the beverage accessible to every consumer, and we’re also working with Coca-Cola to significantly expand our reach in specific, targeted regions.
Jay: Can you tell me a little more about what it’s like working for Coca-Cola and now having them as an investor in your product? How did that happen?
Dino: It all started when I got an internship working for a local distributor straight out of college. I’d go in at 5am every day to make sure the shelves were fully stocked with Coke. While it was essentially just a job at a grocery store, it was extremely entrepreneurial because I was the front line guy. Running the Coca-Cola section of the store enabled me to understand immediately how well the strategies were working. I also learned how to be competitive by making sure we sold more than the Pepsi guy who was also selling in the store.
Fast forward to 2011, I had built up my rolodex of contacts in the beverage industry and my friends, Danny and Pat, and I wanted to start a beverage company but we had no product to work with. Then Danny was surfing in Manhattan Beach and gashed his forehead open. After getting stitches, the doctor told Danny to not only apply Aloe Vera gel to his scar but to drink it as well. He found it was nearly impossible to find Aloe Vera beverages that weren’t loaded with sugar or didn’t taste horrible. We knew there had to be a way to make Aloe Vera healthy and delicious simultaneously so consumers could benefit from the ingredient’s health and healing benefits. In 2012, after a year of research and hard work, my partners and I launched Aloe Gloe and in early 2016 Coca-Cola made a partnership investment with us through their Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) division.
Jay: That’s an incredible and amazing story! Who have you seen so far to be your target audience?
Dino: That’s an interesting question, because when we started we thought our category was for a specific niche market. Since we’re focused on keeping low sugar content and being non-GMO, we looked for the type of consumers that we thought fit our product best. We initially targeted health and wellness oriented consumers, which have been dubbed as “LOHAS,” which stood for Life of Health And Sustainability, who were typically between the ages of 25-45.
What we came to realize is that the majority of society is actually very concerned with their health, so we decided to expand our market quite a bit. It often seems like my kids, who are just six and nine, know more about the food they put in their mouths than I do. Their schools teach it, their friends are focused on it, and it has become natural to them to make sure what they eat and drink is healthy.
Because of this revelation we’ve broadened our target market to “highly engaged consumers,” who we refer to as HEC. These consumers are present on social media, they’re blogging; they’re in-the-know. Our target consumers actually tend to range from ages 18-50.
Coca-Cola has tremendous traction on so many college campuses and now that we’re identifying with a younger age group, our partnership has enabled us to reach of more of these college-age consumers.
Jay: Do you use a particular advertising channel or find that endorsement possibilities work to attract customers?
Dino: I’ve very glad you brought that up, because I think we’ve taken a different approach than a lot of other brands and here’s why. For me the key to success in whatever you do is 100% authenticity. When I see brands plastering their ads all over the place, or even getting a celebrity to endorse their product, what I see looks artificial or crafted versus being authentic. The millennial generation especially, who are so knowledgeable in the social media space, can smell inauthenticity a mile away. Getting your message out there is certainly important but for me it has to be done completely natural in way that truly represents your brand.
Jay: What are some of the ways that you have found to work that allows you to both get the message out to millions of people and at the same time stays authentic to the brand?
Dino: One of the things I’m adamant about is that all feedback comes to me in one way or another. If a customer is not satisfied, the email comes straight to my phone and I personally reply and make sure the issue gets straightened out. If someone sends a compliment, I make sure to respond appreciatively. If consumers want to engage with our brand directly, we owe them a dialogue.
It’s not just the ability to stay on top of what’s going on with your product that’s so important, it’s also the ability to make sure your brand has a consistent message. If you use an outside media agency for your social media campaigns and consumer feedback, they need to understand your brand and how to speak with your brand’s voice. If they can’t do that, they may actually be hurting your brand more than improving it.
When we hired Sean Andrews to be our community manager, it was because he had spent months meeting people face-to-face at local beaches, marathons, surfing events where he could hand out complimentary bottles of Aloe Gloe to everyone he saw. This experience gave him the ability to understand consumers’ responses and develop a deep understanding of the product and how resonated with consumers. He’s been an amazing fit for us because he knows our brand’s voice. Whatever campaign you run to get your product in front of your audience, the most important key to success is to be completely authentic!
Aloe Gloe is part of L.A. Libations, an emerging beverage incubator that was founded by Danny Stepper, Pat Bolden and Dino Sarti. The three first met while working as merchandisers for Coca-Cola Enterprises and after many successful years in the beverage industry they reunited to create L.A. Libations and in turn their own passion project, Aloe Gloe.