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Trevor Ross never had plans to run his own business. The Austin-based founder of Live Soda, a soda business that makes natural health beverages, went to school for engineering and spent most of his career working at technology companies as a product manager. As he got more experience the idea of business ownership wasn’t such a wild idea. As well, in 2005 his sister passed away from cancer at 34 and that helped spur him into entrepreneurial action. “It altered my perspective on life and health and wellness,” says Ross.
As an engineer, Ross is used to fixing things and while he knew he couldn’t find a cure for cancer, he thought that by giving people heathier food items, including snacks with less sugar and more nutrients, he could at least help prevent the onset of certain diseases. His first business, protein bar business Boundless Nutrition, was a success - he sold it in 2016 - but he had grander plans.
In 2012, when he was running in store promotions for his protein bars, he came across Kombucha, a funny-tasting fermented drink that some say has health benefits, including cancer-related ones. He started drinking them on his breaks and while he liked the flavor, he knew others, including his soda-loving father, wouldn’t. That’s when the lightbulb went off. “If I could get my dad to replace his cola habit with Kombucha, then I could change the world,” he says.
Over the next several months, Ross created different drink recipes using spices, essential oils and extracts to create a health beverage that tasted great and would fool his father. And trick him he did. “He asked me to get him a soda, but I poured my drink in the glass instead,” he recalls. “He drank it and liked it.” Ross knew then that he was onto something.
Paying with points
It’s hard enough to create a soda-like drink at home, but it’s another to produce a variety of sodas for mass consumption. The biggest challenge? Buying all the equipment needed to create large batches of his beverage. While some money from his protein bar operation was used to fund his new venture, Live Soda, it wasn’t enough.
To help with the financial burden, Ross began using business credit card reward points, which he had been accumulating for years. To earn these points, he put as many businesses expenses as he could on his Chase Ink® business credit card. He then used those points to buy computers, televisions, plane ticket and even cash gift cards, which he would give to employees as a thank you for all of their hard work.
He continues to use his card for everything he buys, including for equipment purchases, such as hoses, pumps and other industrial items. Nearly everything is put on plastic. The only place that doesn’t take credit is his bottling business. “It would be nice if they did,” he says.
Ross thinks of his points almost like cash - when he has enough, and if he needs something, he’ll use them to buy the item. “There’s no big strategy around using points,” he says. “If I need something I’ll go get it. We have so many of them, that if something’s available we’ll use our rewards.”
Beating big soda
Over the last few years, Live Soda has grown into a formidable operation. He has 40 employees and while he doesn’t want to disclose revenues, he says they are doubling year-over-year. As exciting as that is for Ross, he has bigger goals. He wants everyone switch from traditional sodas to health drinks, just like his father did.
“We want to take on big soda,” he says. “It’s a lofty goal, but we want to bring down big soda. We want to offer people options and have people replace their soda with a natural drink that’s better for you.”
How can he take on the established players? By innovating, being smart with his money and being good to his employees. The business is constantly coming up with new flavors and products - it has nine kinds of Kombucha drinks and four vinegar ciders - and Ross is always finding ways to be efficient with his finances, including continuing to use points for purchases.
“We use our Chase Ink card for everything we can,” he says. “It’s a win-win because we get points for what we buy on it and then we can use those points for things we need in the office. It also speaks to our motto of innovation and to always question things. We believe in continuous improvement and being quick and nimble. That’s how we’ll take on the big guys.”
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