Business ideas can come from anywhere. In the case of brothers Courtney Reum (left) and Carter Reum (right), it all started with a surfing trip to Brazil, where they happened upon a tasty and healthy fruit known as açaí. “It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007,” says Courtney. “Now we’re introducing Veev VitaFrute Cocktails, a line of organic and all-natural cocktails.” VeeV is available at such bars as Sons of Essex in New York and The Fat Cow in Los Angeles. We chatted with the duo to find out what led them to create their innovative elixir.
Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kinds of things were you into as a kid?
Courtney Reum: I was born and raised in Chicago and I’m the oldest of three – my brother Carter, with whom I co-founded VeeV, is the middle child, and our youngest sister Halle used to work in our Events and Sponsorship Department. My hobbies are the same as when I was younger. I’ve always been into outdoor sports, especially soccer, and I love to travel. We took some amazing family trips throughout the years I have fond memories of.
What kinds of jobs did you have prior to launching VeeV, and how did they prepare you for the challenges you faced?
Courtney: I had several odd jobs throughout college, but my most impactful job that prepared and inspired me to launch VeeV was my job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York City and Sydney, Australia. There I worked on consumer products and beverage clients such as Procter & Gamble, Under Armor, and glaceau’s vitaminwater. I was also a part of the Pernod Ricard / Allied Domecq merger in the spring of 2005, which served as the catalyst for developing VeeV. Working with spirits brands helped me recognize there was a lack of alcoholic beverages with “better for you” ingredients that embody healthier qualities.
Carter Reum: My experience that best prepared me to start our company was with Champ Ventures in Sydney. It was there where I worked with several entrepreneurial start-ups and really understood the hard work, dedication, and tireless energy necessary to get a company off the ground. I helped to execute their investments and watched as so many grew to healthy, profitable companies. Being involved in the development of those companies helped to pave the way for our work on VeeV and how best to do the job.
How did you come up with the idea for VeeV? What about it made you think açaí would make a good ingredient for a spirit? What was it like coming up with the recipe?
Courtney: My brother and I first experienced the açaí berry during a surfing trip to Brazil, where it’s known as “purple gold” because of its superfruit health properties. We hadn’t heard of it before but being it is the staple food of Brazil we quickly became familiar with it (and fell in love with it) while we were on our trip. It was there that we conceived the idea to bring açaí home in the form of a superfruit spirit and launched VeeV in 2007, before the açaí trend emerged stateside. We left our investment banking careers to create VeeV and five years later we’re introducing VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails, our first line of organic and all-natural cocktails made with VeeV.
How difficult was it to launch your company? The spirits market is very competitive, was it hard to get noticed in a crowded field?
Courtney: It was very difficult for a number of reasons. Our only experience in the liquor category was through our work at Goldman Sachs, so in order to learn the ropes quickly we asked a lot of industry professionals for guidance. Then there was the fundraising part. Our brand story, who we are as a company, and the taste and quality of VeeV makes us stand out among competitors. We helped bring a form of açaí to the U.S. with the launch of VeeV and were at the forefront of the trend before it became a phenomenon. In addition to being the world’s first açaí spirit, VeeV is also the world’s first carbon neutral spirit.
How’s the business going now? Have people responded well to VeeV? Do they like the cocktails you’ve come up with? What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?
Courtney: Since launching in Los Angeles in 2007, VeeV is now available nationally at major food and liquor retailers and dining chains. It is also served in many of the country’s trendsetting restaurants and hotels such as Disney Properties, W Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, LongHorn Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday, on Virgin America flights, and the open seas of Celebrity Cruises. Sales are strong and continue to grow. We’re proud VeeV was ranked amongst the 250 fastest growing companies and brands in the U.S. by Inc. magazine and was recently profiled by CNBC as a ‘company and brand to watch.’
What’s your favorite VeeV cocktail?
Courtney: Believe it or not, my favorite cocktail is simply VeeV on the rocks with some water and a slice of lime. We call it The Brazilian Holy Water.
Carter: My favorite cocktail is one of VeeV’s most beloved, the Superfruit Margarita. It’s a refreshing twist on the classic margarita made with VeeV, tequila, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice, and served as the inspiration for VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails.
What was the idea behind VeeV VitaFrute cocktails?
Courtney: Our most popular VeeV cocktails are the Superfruit Margarita, Açaí Lemonade and Açaí Cosmopolitan. We’d hear from consumers all the time requesting these specific recipes and others. After conducting research, we realized how popular these cocktails are and decided to bottle them in ready-to-drink form so our fans can enjoy the first organic and all-natural superfruit cocktails at home. We launched VeeV VitaFrute Cocktails in the three popular varieties and stores nationwide. It’s very important to us as a brand and a company that we make products and business decisions that are sustainable and “better.” Our tagline is “a better way to drink” which we believe encompasses who we are.
What’s an average day like for you? Do you work in an office or travel around a lot?
Courtney: Every day is different. Recently I have been spending a lot of time with our distributors to introduce VitaFrute to new markets and retailers. I try to be in the office a few days a week, but right now my office is really the open road or an airplane (so glad they serve VeeV on Virgin America!).
What’s your favorite part of your job, and what are some of the biggest challenges?
Courtney: My favorite part of the job is staying on top of industry trends, learning from them and trying to anticipate what’s next. When we meet with chain retailers we present unique cocktail strategies that are innovative and on-trend before the trend hits. By the same token, it’s extremely important to remain true to our brand’s core and not neglect our loyal consumers, so determining that balance is fun and exciting, yet challenging too.
What’s it like working with your brother? Do you have different roles in the company, different areas of expertise?
Courtney: My brother and I are very close but we have distinct personalities that have shaped the company and the direction we have taken with VeeV. I tend to approach VeeV with grandiose, big picture ideas and Carter is great at making me take a step back to analyze. We have a great working relationship that has brought us closer together as brothers.
Carter: Courtney and I have a great dynamic that has lent to some incredible ideas and work that we’re proud of. We balance each other so that we achieve the big picture thinking within our parameters and budget. We’re never afraid to challenge each other but it also helps we share the same determination for success. We equally embody what VeeV is and have the same vision for the future.
Do you have any secrets to your success that you can share? What advice would you give to a younger person who is interested in following in your footsteps?
Courtney: My advice is to be patient with the evolution process and know everything isn’t going to be right on the first go. As time went on we further defined the brand and learned to more clearly communicate to consumers. Developing a brand from scratch is kind of like developing as a person. You go through all the awkward stages before realizing who you are and how best to present yourself.
Finally, what do you like to do with your time off? Do you have any hobbies or leisure activities that help keep you balanced?
Carter: We have a sustainable garden in the backyard of the house we share in LA which has become a passion of mine. On the weekend, I’ll tend to the herbs and fruit in season which we use to make garden-to-glass cocktails from. We bring some to our LA events as ingredients for VeeV Cocktails.
Courtney: I’m an outdoors guy and love hiking, biking and really anything that involves exercising outdoors. I also enjoy trying out new restaurants with friends and family. VeeV never strays from my mind though because when I go out, I can’t help but wonder if VeeV is on the back bar or the cocktail menu.