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Feb 28, 2020

This week, we’re joined by Tommy Kelly and Salim Najjar, the co-founders of Sound Brands, a fast-growing company that markets carbonated, unsweetened iced teas and tea-infused sparkling waters made with herbal and botanical ingredients.

Launched in 2015, Sound has been at the forefront of an emerging market for sparkling teas. Hailed by Bon Appetit magazine as “The New LaCroix,” Sound products are primarily distributed in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and also available at several chain and independent retailers across the U.S. 

During our interview, Kelly and Najjar explained that while they’ve made several costly mistakes over the years, their perspective that “a failure is really a lesson if looked at properly” has been essential to the brand’s development.

“The first year, I’d probably classify it as a bunch of failures, from spending way too much money on an initial product, to spending way too much money on an outsourced sales team,” Najjar said. “They all led us to where we are… and our current strategy, in terms of spending money and how lean we are.”

Also within our conversation, Kelly and Najjar discussed Sound’s origins and overarching mission, how complementary skill sets have supported their working relationship, why getting up to speed on industry terminology is critical for early-stage entrepreneurs, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how corporate sales have been a boon for the brand.

Show notes: 

0:40: It’s All About Popcorn & Pickle Salsa, #CBDMike and Eating Your Veggies at Expo -- The episode began with a chat about John Craven’s West Coast extravaganza and Mike Schneider’s kombucha-soaked visit to London, and discussion about recent office visits from fresh pickle and CBD snack entrepreneurs. The hosts also riffed on a few products sent to the office, including premium popcorn, non-alcoholic spirits and cocktail mixers, and shared tips for a successful experience at Expo West 2020.

18:00: Tommy Kelly and Salim Najjar, Co-Founders, Sound Brands -- Taste Radio editor Ray Latif met with Kelly and Najjar at Sound HQ in Manhattan for a conversation that began with their transition from nuclear power plant engineers to beverage entrepreneurs, how they identified white space for a sparkling tea brand, why they eschewed added natural flavors and sweeteners and a critical error in the company’s original name. They also spoke about the trials and tribulations of their first year in business and why it was costly to hire retail consultants without having a clear go-to-market strategy, the importance of defining brand positioning, why it took years to make their first hire and how their retail strategy has evolved, particularly in Sound’s home market of New York City. Later, Kelly and Najjar explained how corporate sales have become a key component of the company’s overall business strategy and why they regret being hard on themselves during challenging times for the brand.

Brands in this episode: Sound Brands, Nora’s Snacks, Belgian Boys, From The Ground Up, Maya Kaimal, Jarr Kombucha, Pip & Nut, Grillo’s Pickles, Farmhouse Culture, Big Swig, Alta Goods, [Popped] Artesian Popcorn, Lyre’s, Seedlip, GT’s Kombucha, WithCo Cocktails, Sir Kensington’s