Plant-based functional drink maker WellWell has closed a $3.9 million Series A funding round led by Sweat Equities, the company announced on Tuesday.
Dallas-based Sweat Equities was founded in 2015 by ex-Earthbound Farms CEO Charlie Sweat, who has joined WellWell’s board of directors as part of the deal. The private equity group also announced an $8.3 million investment in plant-based milk brand Mooala earlier this month.
WellWell, a semi-finalist in New Beverage Showdown 11, originally launched in 2016 with a line of organic juice blends featuring watermelon, tart cherry and lemon. That has since been discontinued, as last March the brand relaunched with a seven SKU line of drinks in 12 oz. bottles, which include functional ingredients aimed at supporting sleep, energy, hydration or recovery, plus two protein-based varieties. The product is currently sold in over 800 retail locations nationwide, including Whole Foods, Gelson’s, Lucky’s and Earth Fare.
Speaking with BevNET on Tuesday, WellWell co-founder and CEO Sagan Schultz said the company had spent all of 2018 in “stealth mode” while overhauling the brand and developing the new products. He also spent that time actively seeking out institutional investment, initially discussing potential investment with Sweat prior to the brand’s relaunch. The company had previously raised funds from friends and family.
“We wanted to get the product out there, show traction and build the company in a real way before doing all the typical things, like press,” he said. “We spent almost no money on marketing and have taken time to validate the product. Now we are entering phase two, where marketing dollars will add gas to the fire.”
With the additional resources, Schultz said he hopes to bring WellWell outside of “the cool bubble of brands in New York and Los Angeles” and scale it nationally outside of the natural retail channel, including mass and club.
“We do a big range of products,” he said. “We have really cool, on-trend adaptogen-based things, and we have stuff that’s literally Gatorade that you make at home, but good for you.”
The brand has also launched a text-to-order fulfillment platform to fill gaps in its national distribution footprint. However, Schultz said his intention is to use non-proprietary technology as a means to “be more inclusive” in offering product to customers outside major markets, rather than the core piece of its business model.
“We definitely sell over SMS, but we also get first-party data and we have real conversations with consumers that we otherwise would not have,” he said. “People are a lot more informal and willing to chat.”
WellWell’s ability to build a customer base without large marketing expenditures is influencing the company’s approach towards growing awareness as well, Schultz noted. He plans to add staff but continue running a lean operation, having hired the company’s first employees in January.
“The most important thing for me is getting the hiring process correct and putting the money where it needs to go,” he said, noting that he has already lined up WellWell’s new COO. “We are looking at making the minimum viable team for what we want to do. Spending less money and getting more is the goal.”