Hey Vitalfit Community,
We wanted to introduce you to another Boston brand working to innovate in the health and wellness field. We are proud to share the story of Juan Giraldo, a friend, colleague, and fellow entrepreneur. Juan is the co-founder of Waku - a brand focused on bringing the ancestral drink of Ecuador to the United States. Juan grew up on this beverage and it is popular throughout South America for its health and healing properties. Whats more, Juan has returned to his homeland, sourcing the ingredients from local farmers throughout the region. Waku really is the total package - a social venture helping local industries while introducing an incredible product to a new market - sharing culture and wellness routines in the process. Follow along as we ask Juan wide ranging questions to understand his story, motivation, and goals for the future!
What inspired you to start Waku? What are some of the core ideals of your brand?
In the first semester of 2016, me and my friend Nico explored several business ideas through which we could achieve our dreams as well as contribute to our country, Ecuador. In 2017 we founded a company called, Waku, that was the result of our dreams and motivation to share our culture and help Ecuadorian independent farmers to thrive, specifically those in a southern Ecuadorian community, Chuquiribamba.
Waku wants to preserve the cultivation and development of natural products of Ecuador and other countries of Latin America while sharing its high nutritional value with consumers all around the world who want to improve their life quality. Our core values are:
Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing? Where did you grow up and what was your home and school life like?
I was born and raised in Quito – the capital city of Ecuador. It is beautiful city right in the middle of the Andes Mountains. At 17 years old I moved to Belgium to learn French and explore the world. Growing up I was passionate about the European Union so I wanted explore it before going to College. After living in Belgium for more than a year I returned to Ecuador where I got a bachelor in business from Universidad San Francisco de Quito – a liberal arts school based in Quito. While an undergraduate student I was part of a exchange program in the U.S. for one year as well.
I know my culture has a lot of influence in my life and what I do but I must say I am proud to feel a global citizen after living and studying in 3 different continents.
What sparked your move to the states? Was it a lifelong dream or did it happen serendipitously?
I decided to come to Babson College to do my MBA when I was 19 years old (I am 28 now) Yes, that’s right - I love to think long term! I started my first company at that age and I felt in love with entrepreneurship and business. So I set myself the goal to be in the best entrepreneurship program in the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your team at Waku? What’s the working dynamic like?
The Waku team is conformed by people from Ecuador and the United States. In Ecuador we have our CMO Nicolás Estrella, Valeria Torres our creative director, and Sofía Estrella our community engagement and storyteller. And here at Boston we have Jenn Tormey our business developer, Josh Sui in charge of operations and controlling and myself.
Working dynamic is great – I would describe it as a very millennial group of work. We all work remotely having constant communication via Slack and organizing our activities using Asana. I must say we are lucky to have a team of people really committed to build our brand and believe on our mission and products.
Why Babson? How has it helped you build your brand? What have some of the key learning’s been and how have they impacted your business?
I love Babson – honestly I don’t see myself anywhere else. I really like our open and collaborative culture. From classmates to professors and staff members – they are all willing to help!
We were part of the Summer Venture Program (summers 2017) – Babson College Accelerator and last semester we got some seed funding from The Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.
Can you tell us about the product itself? What makes it special?
Waku is natural and refreshing herbal infusion made from more than 20 herbs and aromatic flowers sourced from the Andes Mountains in Ecuador that delivers diuretic, digestive, and anti-stress properties. This thirst-quenching blend, traditionally known to the locals as “el agua que cura”, has all natural, organic, and non-GMO ingredients.
Some of the ingredients of Horchata are well known herbs and flowers with which you are likely familiar, such as mint, chamomile, lemon verbena, lemon grass, basil, roses, violets and carnations. And some others like congona, red-root amatanth, fennel, cocklebur, and sweet-scented pelargonium are particular from this part of the world and may be not so popular among American consumers. Waku is the only beverage in the market with these many plants in the same beverage!
What does it mean to you to be able to support the farmers in Ecuador? How has Waku had a tangible benefit on their lives?
Supporting Ecuadorian farmers has been in our DNA since our very beginning. One of the main reasons we decided to start this company is to be able to give back to our country and this truly is a drive force for all the Waku Team. All of our ingredients are ethically sourced from the community of Chuquiribamba – meaning we buy directly from them (not intermediaries) at fair prices. We also support them on training regarding best agricultural practices to increase the quality of their yields.
Where can people find your products? What is your growth plan moving forward?
Waku is available in around 25 stores in Boston, MA, including Cambridge Naturals, Wildflower Pantry, Montrose Spa, Paris Creperie, 4A Coffee, Pemberton Farms, , Baccos Fine Foods,etc. Just to name a few. Also, you can find our product on our webpage livewaku.com
We are building our distribution in the Boston area focusing heavily on velocity. We are talking to a couple of local distributors right now and hopefully will be giving you good news soon!
Where is the product produced? Why do you think this farm to beverage strategy is important in your industry?
All the herbs come from Loja – in the southern part of Ecuador and we manufacture our final product in Quito. I think using fresh and clean ingredients (not concentrates) makes a huge difference in product quality and taste.
Where do you see yourself and/or Waku five years from now?
We have ambitious growth plans for the future – in 5 years Waku will definitely have nation wide distribution with diversified portfolio of products. Also, our impact in Ecuador will expand to other regions and hundreds of more farmers.
What are some of your lifetime goals? How does Waku help you accomplish them?
My goal is to be the CEO of a successful mission driven organization that will create a brand that really connects with consumers at a deeper level. Waku is definitely crucial for my lifetime goals.
Who is Waku’s target market? Who should drink this and why?
People that drink Waku care about their health, and promote long term-wellness. They have natural tendencies and are very aware of the nutritional information. Also they care about society and environment, and how a brands are working for helping it.
People should drink Waku because is a beverage that fits in all these categories mentioned before. Waku is a natural and refreshing herbal infusion made out of more than 20 medicinal herbs and aromatic flowers from the Andes that are great for the body. Also, Waku is helping to improve the livelihood of Ecuadorian farmers who cultivate Waku ingredients by buying all the ingredients at fair-trade prices.
How are you receiving customer feedback and implementing it in a meaningful way?
We are constantly gathering feedback – both form stores and consumers. After 2 months in the market we realized our label needed some improvement, based on the market reaction we re-design our labels and our new image will be in the market soon, stay tuned!
What are some of the products in the pipeline for the future?
Right now, we developed a new formula that our consumers were asking for, Waku unsweetened. Even though the original formula has a very few amount of sugar, we know that an unsweetened version is a perfect fit for many consumers. The new formula is coming soon this year, so keep posted for news about it!