10 Questions: Courtney Reum
While one can argue the health benefits of acai berries after they've been distilled into alcohol and bottled, Reum's marketing skill goes without question. They've developed a sustainable farming program, use wind energy to fuel the stills and hope to plant one tree for every VeeV-based cocktail sold at participating bars until earth day.
Kind of makes you feel good about drinking.
The Chicago native spent years on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs, bailing just in time--back in 2006. That's the year he started VeeV. But does he also plan to end vodka as we know it...?
1. Don't you take all the fun out of alcohol by trying to make it green and healthy?
Yeah, probably. But we give it back a conscience. It's guilt-free drinking.
2. So why acai berries?
When I was working on Wall Street I went 18 months with a single day off. So when I finally went on vacation, I wanted to make it count. We went on a surfing trip to Brazil and just watched people eat these things every single day.
3. Isn't plain old vodka good enough?
Well, we started a campaign called endofvodka.com. It has become a vodka world. And that's fine, if Grey Goose is your drink of choice. But I happen to believe it's what you drink because everyone else is doing it. Basically, vodka is an odorless, tasteless, colorless substance. Do you really want more of that?
4. When you find a new flavor, how long does it take to get it right?
We probably did about a hundred iterations. We went through the basic questions: What is it? Where do we get enough of it? How do we make it stable in alcohol? And then we dealt with the 'it's got to taste good' issue.
5. Then you have to create mixed drinks to market it. How does that work?
Slowly but surely. VeeV tastes like an exotic dark berry, so it's unique on its own. Fortunately, it's also versatile. Start with the basics, like VeeV and soda or VeeV and Coke.
6. A lot of people would like to own a liquor brand, you know. How does it feel?
I'm not complaining. There are a lot of perks. But it's also harder than it looks. It's a weird dynamic when your pleasure starts to be your business. You have to be out basically every night. When I'm with friends, they're having fun. But if I see that VeeV isn't showcased right, that's all I can think about.
7. What's your favorite non-acai spirit?
Oh, that's such an easy question. You support your friends, and a couple of my friends started Ty-Ku. It's an Asian-style liqueur. So that's my favorite.
8. Happy that you left Wall Street at the right time?
In hindsight, absolutely yes. In foresight, absolutely not. At the time I left, my peer group was making a lot of money--a quarter million a year, a half million a year. You're leaving that--but, yeah.
9. How did you manage to keep your hair?
On Wall Street you lose sight of reality. It's Friday at 9 p.m. and of course you're still in the office. The stress level is very high. I'm just glad I did.
10. You're from Chicago, but you don't pronounce it Chi-cah-go. Why not?
I pronounce Chicago wrong because I've lived in New York, Sydney, L.A....I've become a self-made traveling mutt.