Valerie Roth | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Valerie Roth

Background:  

Fire Brew is a Portland-based company that makes an apple cider vinegar-based health tonic.

The Mistake:

I would’ve done what I’m doing now 20 years ago. I always knew that I loved product and branding and design and food products. When I was 7, I was making sweet potato chips in a pan. That was before there were sweet potato chips.

But life happened, as it often does, I suppose. Over time I lived in very expensive cities and needed to work. New York City. Los Angeles. I needed to bring home the bacon.

I had lots of ideas, and always worked on the side. But starting a brand and making a product necessitates an all-hand on deck approach. I don’t know whether it was fear or economic reasons or a combination of those two things. But there were always reasons why I felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t strike out on my own.

But the desire never left me. I worked in advertising, digital marketing. I was always working with products and thought to myself, “I see how that can look, how that can happen, how that can work.” And people seemed to think I did good work, but I just held onto that dream and didn’t act on it. I kept it close for years.

My dream is to see the brand everywhere. 

The Lesson:

When we moved to Portland about 10 years ago, I was feeling that I didn’t have to work a full-time job. My kids were little. The desire to have my own space and work on something that I felt super-passionate about, never left. But when we moved to Portland, I felt I had the space.

Still, it was another 10 years of doing business for my dad, a bit of work for myself and raising my kids, before I began to honor my calling. Four years ago, at age 46, I went back to school to become a holistic nutritionist. While I was there, I was learning about the healing nature of foods and how they can help us with so many ailments we struggle with as human beings – inflammation, heart health.

It was a wonderful place for me to discuss all of these ideas. I also learned about a tonic or remedy called Fire Sider. A friend in my class introduced me to it. I said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ It’s got turmeric, ginger, garlic. It’s all-natural, made from whole foods. She told me it’s unbelievable for your health.

I was really intrigued by it. I asked if I could buy it, or get it anywhere, and she said, ‘No.’ I just didn’t understand that. Why can’t I find that? That should be out on the market for more people to have access to it.

That lit the spark.  I was volunteering at the farmer’s market at the time. I told the manager by the time summer rolled around, I wanted to have a product for the market. That product was Fire Brew.

I made it in my kitchen. I got a label, and I got a model. I was a product developer. I had no idea how people would respond to it, but I got some great responses. Three or four months later, I knew I had to get past my fears and take the process to the next level.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I jumped off the cliff and committed to the dream in a real way. I knew this was the time and the place and the product.

After the market, I started going to coffee shops and to people I knew. I found a proper kitchen and obtained proper licensing. I developed the recipe and started asking people about it. Portland being Portland, everyone was really receptive and helped me to give it a run.

People clamored for more, and I added more events and more stores. About a year and a half ago, Market of Choice started stocking Fire Brew, and New Seasons has since followed suit.

After that, I got my first broker, and she helped me get across the state. Now I have brokers in California and the Midwest, the Rockies and the South. We just got picked up by a broker in Canada. We’re really expanding

My dream is to see the brand everywhere. The dream has always been to make a product and a brand and to see that take hold. I only wish I had chased that dream so much sooner.

Fire Brew is on Twitter at: @firebrewpdx