Luis Manta: Founder & CEO of Seoul Juice

Episode 460

Luis Manta, Founder and CEO of Seoul Juice, was searching for the perfect, great tasting beverage that didn’t have all the sugar. Juice drinks with electrolytes, he found, were not great tasting and had loads of sugar or sweeteners. Creating the perfect, premium hydration beverage made from Korean Pears has been a journey and you are going to love the honesty that Luis shares with us about what he has learned along the way. I can’t wait for you to hear all about Luis’s journey thus far and the future for Seoul Juice on this episode of #The Kara Goldin Show.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest here. We have Luis Manta who is the founder and CEO of Soul Juice. And if you have not heard of soldiers, you have to immediately do a little Google search for it. Find it at your local store. It is so so good. He started this company while he was in school. Initially, we’ll get into that he took a little hiatus and then came back to it. But it’s a premium hydration beverage made from Korean pears and Korean pears are sort of somewhere a mixture between apples and pears. So if you don’t like pears, don’t give it up. I happen to love pairs. It’s also an hydration beverage. So think electrolytes and and that whole category of drinks yet many electrolyte things that are beyond electrolyte water, actually have coconut, which I happen to be allergic to soy, it really piqued my interest. And it’s absolutely delicious. So definitely, definitely should give it a try. And I’m so excited to have Luis here to chat a little bit more about his journey. He’s also from Arizona, we just figured out too. So what is not to like about the sky. So really, really love it. So welcome. Awesome.

Luis Manta 2:12
Thank you so much for having me fan of you fan of the show. And been a fan of hint for a really, really long time now. So it’s kind of a full circle moment for me to from telling people about hints. When I was in college, following the story going, Hey, I think I can do something like this. And then now being on your show and meeting you. It’s really cool for me, so thank you for having me.

Kara Goldin 2:33
I love it. I love it. So before we get into hearing more about soldiers and your journey as an entrepreneur, Where did the name soul juice come from?

Luis Manta 2:43
Yeah, so because it was made out of Korean pairs. That’s actually the first thing I came up with before I even decided to start the company. I heard about the Korean pair. I was looking for Korean pear juice. And I was like, they should call this soul juice. And then I just I was in class I remember vividly going, Oh, I gotta do this. Now. It was like a it was like that name is perfect. I it was a necessity for me. So the name actually came first before the product, the name, which I know is very unusual. You know, a lot of people go to branding agencies and get help. Mine was the name was what kind of drove the entire product. And that’s just hold it up. That’s right there.

Kara Goldin 3:26
I love it. So great. So how would you describe the brand to people?

Luis Manta 3:32
Yeah, so soldiers is clean hydration. And that’s what I’m trying to get to the world is like clean, transparent, functional hydration. So as you spoke about with him, and you tell people you wanted a non preservative water that helped that tasted good so that you would stop drinking diet coke. My big thing was I wanted to stop drinking sports drinks. So Gatorade and Powerade had an allergic reaction to one of them. And I hated coconut water. And to me when I was looking at the functional hydration set, there wasn’t really anything that was natural besides coconut water. And I didn’t like the taste. So it was like, Hey, how can we be the functional, great tasting beverage brand, similar to what palm is for pomegranates and invita cocoa is for coconut water. I want soldiers to be what introduces the world to Korean pears. And

Kara Goldin 4:24
so you were in college. Can you talk a little bit about what you were doing and why you wanted electrolytes so much.

Luis Manta 4:34
Yeah, so similar to probably a lot of the audience. I was intrigued by business, but I was a soccer player. So I went to college, to be a soccer player was getting my business degree. And my sophomore year, I had an allergic reaction to a very, very common sports drink. And it made me realize, hey, this product I’ve been putting in my body my entire life probably isn’t the best thing to be putting in your body. And so the athletic trainers were having me drink coconut water every day. And I complained about it every single day. And they finally were like, Luis, if you want something else, go find it. And we’ll start getting that for you. So that led me to that class where I was. It was right after practice. I wasn’t doing my classwork. And I was like, Alright, let me Google most hydrating fruit, there has to be something similar to coconut water on this planet. That doesn’t taste. I think coconut water kind of tastes, I get the laundry room smell in my head when I drink it. It just throws me off. So I came across the Korean pear. My mother grew up in Asia. And that’s when I was like, Oh, I already know I liked this. Let me order this. What to go buy it. It cost me $50 to ship to, which wasn’t feasible as a college student. So I said, Alright, I know these pairs are in grocery stores. Let me start blending it and making it for myself. So it wasn’t even a business. At that point. It was more just me making it for myself and my friends. And a kid on the swim team actually from Arizona as well named TJ Decker was like, Luis, I’ll start buying this from you. And I was like, oh, and that was kind of when the light bulb clicked. Like, I can start selling this and making money and turning this into a business instead of just giving it out for free and having fun making it. That’s

Kara Goldin 6:12
so funny. So you were it’s one thing to enjoy a drink and you were kind of goofing around with it. You’re trying to finish school? Did you ever think about how hard it would be? Or were you just like, Okay, I’m gonna go and create this. And I’m going to be off to the races.

Luis Manta 6:34
So that I know you talk a lot about people going into it ignorantly I went in fully knowing, which I think that makes me kind of crazy. Because I knew right away how difficult it was going to be. I talked to a lot of beverage vendors right off the bat. I went and found a test kitchen to start making it and like the first thing I realized was, I have no idea what I’m doing. And I have no money because I was a college kid and I the more people I talked to the two things you need is one you need to understand the industry with distributors and retailers and trade spend and, and contract manufacturers and all the issues that we talked about earlier. There’s a lot of there’s a lot of hard things that go into starting a beverage brand, especially in how competitive it is. And then I learned how much money a lot of people need in order to scale these these beverage brands. So I learned pretty quickly. And that’s actually what made me get into the industry. So I after realizing I wasn’t able to do it on a college budget. I went and worked as a broker and sold mass in clubs. So I went immediately to the dark side and started working in food and beverage.

Kara Goldin 7:38
That’s crazy. So what were you doing?

Luis Manta 7:42
So I was selling everything on chicken nuggets, bakery items, frozen foods, deli items. So it was everything under the sun to Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Kroger, target. So I threw myself in. I knew I needed I really wanted to do this, I was really passionate about Korean pear juice, I knew there was a space for it. So it was like Well, let me learn and let me like really vet this out and get experience from other people and figure out if this is gonna work. And if not, I kind of fell in love with the food industry, right? So it got me my foot in the door, it got me this cool brokerage shop, I wouldn’t have been able to get without starting sold you. So I was like, Alright, this is kind of my my life now. So that’s how I got into it. And from there, it kind of just took hold. I’ve found a venture studio we’ve been working with closely and made the transition from selling items to building brands. So I went from negotiating shelf space trade, spend getting new items on shelf at retailers for line reviews, to a retailer coming to our venture studio saying hey, we need a cake for our bakery set that has XYZ ingredients can you formulate and launch a brand for us. So that for me was cool, because I learned everything from idea to formulation to getting a product on the shelf and branding it and that’s what I knew I needed in order to create soldiers so

Kara Goldin 9:03
smart that you sort of took your passion, and then decided to go and learn for others for a while, and then came back to sort of what you ultimately wanted to do. What do you think was like the biggest thing that you learned during that time that you didn’t know?

Luis Manta 9:23
I think the biggest thing for me was sourcing. So contract made for people who want to get in the food industry. A contract manufacturer is a facility that manufactures for other people, so they do a bunch of different items. So we’re a beverage company a bunch of different beverages, use our current contract manufacturer so that you don’t have to spend all the money on mechanics and machines and everything you need to produce an item. And I highly suggest anyone listening that wants this sort of business go into the industry and learn because and as you’ve you’ve talked about and you know there’s a lot Like left hooks, and especially, or there’s a lot of gatekeepers in the industry that just want you to pay, or will make things more difficult. Or you can you can end up spending a lot of money or even losing your business just because you don’t understand the industry and people aren’t being fair or transparent with you. So that was a big thing for me was just learning the lingo to and learning what could go wrong and who to contact and what to pay for and what not to pay for. It was just really navigating how to scale a business in that particular industry.

Kara Goldin 10:32
Yeah, definitely. And you also worked with some the in the venture studio to you’re working with some different celebrities that you were bringing in to some of those drinks. Do you think that that’s something that eventually you’ll want to do with your product?

Luis Manta 10:49
Yeah, so So we recently just did it I just took so I kind of have been deploying my skill set from the venture studio slowly throughout. So at the venture studio, I launched Eva Longoria is first CPG brand. We did a bunch of cakes and salsas in heb and Kroger, I did tasty buzz feeds first food brand at Sam’s Club. Chef John Howe, who you might know I don’t know how much of the audience knows He’s a chef out of the Northwest. He is Jim Senegal, the founder of Costco, his restaurant partner. So I launched their item in Delhi. So a lot of these two was just building credibility for myself, that hey, I can take an idea from idea to on shelf and executed properly with brands that that work. So yeah, I’ve taken that celebrity kind of negotiation that I learned at the venture studio, and we now have the Cavinder twins, who are big, tick tock and basketball players. Prior at the University of Miami, we have a very female dominant audience and consumer base. So the twins are actually reaching out to other college girls and giving them opportunities through soldiers to get their first brand deal and learn about NFL funding and what to do on social media and how to navigate. So it’s really cool because when I was looking for celebrity partners, I wanted people to come on as investors and Equity Partners rather than just paid advertisements, which I think a lot of people see. paid ads don’t come off as well. anymore. You want the celebrities involved to have buy in to actually care about the product and align with your vision and values and help scale the brand. So the twins have been awesome. They’re part of it. Sam Howell is the quarterback of the commander’s he is Korean American. So that’s a great reach for us. He’s one of three ever Asian American quarterbacks. So he helps one with our cultural aspect and being a Korean brand and helping reach those markets. And then our last partner who I grew up playing against so it’s special for me is Jordan Morris on the Seattle Sounders soccer player who has type one diabetes, and sold us what’s cool about it is we’re a complex carb, as opposed to a simple carb, simple carbs spike your blood sugar, so you get 20 grams of sugar, you go up straight, 20 grams, and you need insulin to bring your blood sugar back down. Soul juice is complex over the three to four hour time frame. It slowly goes up like a bell curve and goes down so you don’t need that insulin to bring you back down. So Jordan drinks at a halftime so he came on as a partner to so we have very strategic equity partners on board that help us grow the brand.

Kara Goldin 13:26
That’s awesome. And so where are you available currently? I know you’re sitting right now in St. Louis, can you talk about that?

Luis Manta 13:33
Yeah. So St. Louis, we have a big presence here. We’re in C store, grocery like Dierbergs. We just launched at Sam’s Club here in Missouri this last week. In the northwest, we’re up in so Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. We’re in Costco, West Coast, Bristol Farms, a lot of independence. And on You can find our store locator and we’re on Amazon. So we ship to every single state. And if there is a store, what we’ve noticed and this is just other founders to hear from is that I tell customers if you want to see us in a certain store, go tell that store because we’ve actually launched in quite a few stores because customers have gone and been like I want to see this.

Kara Goldin 14:17
So you are doing these partnerships, which I think is really smart really focusing on the athletes and the influencers that are out there. How else have you gotten the word out about soldiers?

Luis Manta 14:31
Yeah, so I mean a lot of word of mouth and thankfully people like you that are so nice and give back to the industries right so like you were have been extremely successful. You know how the grind is and now you’re giving people like myself a platform to tell our stories and help spread the word about our brand. So one very grateful to you and people in the industry that have helped me that way. It’s mainly press. We had we’ve had very little marketing spend I haven’t raised about To money to get to where we’re at. And that’s part of being an from the industry. So I was able to use a lot of connections to help us scale as, as opposed to having to pay. And because of that, we really leaned into organic marketing word of mouth. And we’re helping people that I’m sure you knew. I know you’ve talked about running into someone on vacation, who was who saw you drinking ahead and was raving about wanting to try it, you gave it to her, and I’m sure she told 10 other people. So that’s my big thing is just telling as many people as we can helping people out. And when you’re helping people they’re going to, they’re going to tell people about how you help them. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 15:35
no, absolutely. What’s it been like creating a new category within a category? I guess, is the best way to say it. Because electrolytes is not new to people, you definitely have people who understand that now versus I don’t know, 10 years ago, maybe they didn’t really understand electrolytes, but people get it now. But you have to educate them. I mean, everything around, you know, how is this different and unique versus coconut and the sugar? And the, the way it spikes? Or doesn’t spike all of that sort of stuff? Like how do you educate the consumer around this?

Luis Manta 16:13
Yeah, so that that’s probably the hardest part. And it’s a double edged sword, because we’re the first Korean pear juice brand in the US, which is good, because we have the first mover when people are looking for it, they look for us. But we also have to educate and let everyone know what it is. And I’m sure you know, from creating a category, it’s, it’s better to be and one item than it is, it’s easier to be than one item, because there’s already a buyer for the category, there’s already a set, you can show how you’re comparable, as opposed to explaining to the retailer, hey, you need to you need to carve out new space for for this new item, because it’ll bring incremental business. But it’s it’s been a lot of fun. The way I the way I tell people is we want to own this commodity. So when people think of the Korean pair, we want to introduce it to the US explain to them what it is. And when people think Korean pair we want them to think sold us. Similarly to what when people think of palm, they think of pomegranate juice, and that’s the player in the space. So we want to do something really similar where we’re functional. People trust us as the experts in Korean pear. And they know when they’re grabbing a product off the shelf as soldiers, they know they’re getting just fruit and water. And they know there’s going to be a functional aspect to what they’re drinking. And they could trust us to help them with whether it’s hydration or these other skews that we’re going to be launching soon, that provide other benefits that will help them in their daily lives.

Kara Goldin 17:40
So capital raising, I mean, you talked a little bit about the that this is definitely a money intensive industry for sure. How have you raised capital so far? You’re still early, right? But But I’m so curious, like, how has that been? And how have you thought about it? Yeah,

Luis Manta 18:02
and I’ll try and provide as much benefit to for other people trying to do it because I the first year and a half did not get a single dollar. I did it myself. So that’s why I went and worked in industries I just saved. So I suggest anyone that’s like, I can’t raise money. I don’t have any family with money. I don’t have any friends with money. It’s like, we’ll go work at an industry, learn from someone who’s awesome. Take all their skill set and just save money. Because that’s how, like, if you want to bet on your like, if you’re gonna bet on this and put your time, energy and effort, like put your money behind it to and really help support yourself. So that’s what I did. So my car, cashed my 401k out. In between when I was trying to get it up and running. I was stocking shelves at Walmart as a merchandiser. So I was doing everything, just putting my all behind it to try and get some traction and see, right because it might the other thing, too, is asking people for money. You have to it’s very risky, especially in a startup. So you have to explain to them why it’s worth taking the risk on your product, as opposed to the 1000s of others that launch every year. So my big thing was finding product market fit. So if you’re starting, if you want to start a company, start really small, go to your local farmers market, go to your local bodega, put it on a shelf, see if people pick it up, see why they like it, what they’re looking for your feedback, and then rinse and repeat. And so my process of raising was I just started like that started. We launched online, we launched in Bristol Farms, a local grocery store, got some feedback, it worked. We sold really well. Scale, got a couple other grocery stores in Illinois, tested it in other parts of the country. And then I just started asking everyone I knew like, Hey, I’m looking for capital grow. These are my metrics. These are the numbers we’re hitting. We’re having a lot of success. And I got lucky that I got in contact with a guy named Bob sirmans, who’s actually was at AOL, so I have no idea that there’s crossover there for you. But he was he He’s called like a serial Angel. So he joined Jason Calacanis is the syndicate very early on and knew him from AOL. And he heard about it was a fan and was like, Oh, by the way, so I’ll tell some people in my network about this. And he helped me raise. I called my friends and family round. But being 28, I don’t have a lot of friends that are accredited investors. So that I had to go to angels. And it was honestly pitching. I probably told hundreds of people about this for since I started in college. So it took me six years to get my first grocery store sale and seven years to get my first investor. So it took, it didn’t happen overnight. I feel like people see that we’ve grown exponentially in two years since we launched but it took a long time to get to this point. So just continue to tell people. Yeah, and so we did our first round. I did some podcasts, actually. And got Glen Cliff moolah. Glen crest global VC firm came in for that round two, just from hearing me do a podcast. So things like that just word of mouth telling people about it. And we are now we just closed our second round of funding too. So it’s mainly I mean, once you do, you’re the first time is always the hardest, getting money and getting that first check. And then if you continue to utilize it properly and grow and keep telling people you never know. And I’ve had investors pass that then eight months later called me back up and was like, Luis, I made a mistake. I want to get in kind of thing. And sometimes you have to say no. And sometimes is the right fit. And you can say yes. So that’s the big thing. Just telling everyone is my advice.

Kara Goldin 21:34
Yeah, no, I think that’s, that’s really, really, really good advice. I love the ones that pass. And then years later, they actually say, you know, sometimes it happens earlier. But years later, they come to you. And they’re like, oh, like, I remember like, you know, and I screwed up and, and I should have done this. And and those are the best. And I’m like, at least they’re admitting it right, that they screwed up. And and you don’t have to think about looking at them and thinking, Oh, wow, they really don’t remember the story correctly. Right? It’s, it’s so funny. So what have you enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur? Um,

Luis Manta 22:18
so I think you have, I don’t, and this is kind of controversial, I don’t think I don’t think it’s for everyone, I think you have to really enjoy. You have to really enjoy it. So I know a lot of people that are very smart and very good workers and, but that there’s a lot of risk. So you have to be very comfortable with risk, you have to be very comfortable with not having as much of a social life, you have to be very passionate about what you’re doing and your industry and want to be talking about it all the time. You have to have the right family dynamic. I’m lucky because I’m a single 28 year old dude that doesn’t have any responsibility outside of my company. Whereas there’s a lot of entrepreneurs I meet that have families that they have to take into consideration with a lot of the decisions they make, you have to be on the road a lot. So I enjoy all that I enjoy telling people about it, I enjoy going to like I was in Sam’s Club all weekend, this weekend, just talking to customers walking by telling them about the product. I like going to like high school sporting events and passing bottles out and talking to people about that. I am really passionate about it because it helped me I had a problem. I had an allergic reaction, I meet parents every day that have kids with the same problem. So for me, I just really enjoy what I’m doing. And I like the creative aspect of it. So I’m a big, I really like building brands, I really like coming up with new stuff. So this allows me to do that. Whereas at a typical, maybe like a fortune 500 Food Company, it takes three years to develop a new SKU and 100 people have to touch it before it before it finishes. So you have less freedom on that. And so I enjoy a lot of that stuff. But as I’m sure you, you know, there’s a lot of risks. There’s a lot of late nights, there’s no vacations and so you really have to enjoy it. You have to be passionate about it. And that’s why I tell people go work at a startup first go, be in that startup atmosphere, see what it takes, learn from the person starting it, and then figure out how to do it yourself or whether you even want to do.

Kara Goldin 24:35
Yeah, it’s so true. You know, it’s interesting. I didn’t, I didn’t do gymnastics in college, but I did it all through high school. And I always tell people that, you know, there’s a lot of similarities and being a competitive athlete versus an entrepreneur because I think that you’re constantly wanting to better yourself, right? Like you’re never you, the really, really smart athletes are the ones that recognize that they pick out some people that they aspire to be, right, like, they do things better than I do. And, and they keep kind of upping their game, right, they keep sort of, you know, breaking their stride in order to go back down to the bottom again, and try and redo things. And that may be in, in your case, new flavors, or new packaging or whatever you’re just never done. Right. And but I think like having that mindset from being an athlete, I think there’s just a lot of similarities, where those are the entrepreneurs that I think sort of stand apart, if that makes sense. It’s not to say that you have to have been an athlete in order to be a successful entrepreneur, but you’re used to getting back up again, right, you’re used to surrounding yourself with people that are better than you at something. And I think that that’s how you’re going to be better. And you sort of have grown up in that, would you say that’s accurate?

Luis Manta 26:08
Oh, 1,000%. And like, 90% of my business opportunities have come from people that I did sports with, or know, via that sports kind of network. So it’s, it’s been great for me, like you said, you’re around like minded individuals. I get in trouble about this with a lot of the venture firms, I talk to you because they go Luis, what’s your goal, and I go, I want to take Pepsi, coke, Dr. Pepper snapples. But every day I just like waking up and competing with them, which they don’t love that answer. They want to know numbers and things like that. And I’m like, I just want to go to retail and have X amount of velocity that I know is better than them and gain that I call it the the open shelf space right that these grocery stores have on the floor that isn’t dedicated to anyone that they just like putting items that sell really well at. So I get motivated by the competitive aspect of it. I like especially when like, you know, this having a better for you item that helps people, it’s so much more motivating than selling something that’s just a commodity that people use for pleasure that you know, is hurting, hurting their health and hurting them personally. So just I just am so motivated one to compete and to to bring better things to people and make people’s lives better. So for me, it’s a super motivating factor, it motivates you more to compete. And like you said, being around really cool people like in sports. I know. In gymnastics, you have like team events where everyone’s scores combined. And that’s a big thing for me, too. And building your company is having really cool people work for you work with you. And they’re learn from in order to scale like most a lot of the people on my team are way smarter than I am. So I get to learn from all these cool people and help build our brand with them as well. That’s

Kara Goldin 27:50
awesome. Very, very cool. Well, Louise, so great to have you here. So many lessons to learn and inspiration for sure. On this interview, so you are off to a great start soul juice is amazing. And everybody should definitely give it a try and and we’ll be looking for you personally and some of these stores because I know how you’re really sweating it out, getting in there and helping people realize how good this is. So that’s the sign of an incredible founder as well. So really, really terrific. So thank you again, and thanks, everybody for listening.

Luis Manta 28:31
Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 28:32
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight? Send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening