As we process applications for the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eye was VeeV, a Los Angeles-based company that makes a new type of berry-infused beverage.
After graduating from Columbia University, brothers Carter and Courtney Reum took jobs at Goldman Sachs, crunching numbers for the giant investment bank. But in 2007, right before the financial crisis upended Wall Street, the brothers had enough. The money was good—but they craved something more exciting.
"When you're in New York City and you don't know what you're going to do, you end up in finance," says Courtney Reum, co-founder (along with his brother, Carter) of VeeV, a Los Angeles-based spirits company. "But I always wanted to be an entrepreneur."
Still, the brothers had no specific expertise in any one industry. At Goldman, Courtney worked in a consumer products division where he helped young start-ups go public, while his brother, Carter, worked in the industrial sector.
"I didn't know anything about the alcohol industry," says Courtney. "But it just kind of struck that the main categories of spirits out there—vodka, gin, rum—have been around for centuries. There's been very little innovation in the true sense of the word.
"As a consumer, drinking Red Bull and vodka…I was bored, and there were other people like me. That was the simple thought that started it."
The brothers hit the books and started to research the liquor industry. (Their specific research strategy? "Google, Google, Google," says Courtney). Eventually, the brothers quit their jobs to launch VeeV, a spirit containing the antioxidant rich açaí berry, which surged in popularity six years ago when a number of media reports praised the little fruit's beneficial health factors. (In fact, Dr. Perricone, Oprah's go-to doctor, named the fruit the "No. 1 Superfood: Açaí" of 2005.)
As with any product that's heavily regulated by the government, restrictions kept the company to a rigid marketing scheme. Courtney recalls when, on VeeV's first shipment, the company got a last minute call from the government, requesting the company add the word "extract" to the bottle. "The bottles were already on the ship," explains Reum. Eventually, the company founders were able to negotiate a deal to secure the order. Now, the brothers have a bit more leverage.
Since launching four years ago, VeeV will generate about $5 million in revenue in 2011 and employs about 35 people.
Courtney credits the success of Veev to the company's product, its taste, and, perhaps unique for an alcohol company, its nutrition. "Yes, it's still alcohol," says Reum. "But people are becoming more conscientious about what they put in their body."