Meet Matt Renie, co-founder of Kultured Kombucha, a small-batch kombucha business based in Indianapolis. A consultant turned kombucha evangelist, read on to see how Matt has turned his love of kombucha into a business.
What did you do before starting Kultured Kombucha?
Matt Renie started his career in strategy consulting in Chicago. After a few years, he moved to Indianapolis where he entered the startup world at High Alpha. Today he supports the Zylo sales team as a solutions consultant, moonlighting as a kombucha maker at Kultured Kombucha alongside Ali Serpe.
What is Kultured Kombucha's origin story?
“After working at High Alpha and taking advantage of the kombucha that was on tap in their office, I grew a deep love for the beverage,” Matt said. “I’ve purchased a significant amount of it over the past few years. When COVID-19 hit, my consumption levels skyrocketed because I was at home all the time. I knew I needed to reduce my kombucha budget.”
“At the same time, I had recently started dating my girlfriend, a fellow kombucha lover.” One evening, they decided to buy a homebrewing kit from the Kombucha Shop. They began brewing a gallon each week to share, but they found themselves going through it quickly. “We upped our personal production to five gallons per week. In the midst of all of this, we tinkered with different flavors, using my juicer to juice our favorite fruits and our secret ingredient, ginger.”
Matt and Ali began posting their kombucha production on Instagram. From there, close friends reached out about purchasing their homemade kombucha. Friends and family provided feedback and encouraged them to move forward with the business. “I was inspired by other local Indy food artisans, like Sidedoor Bagel, and thought it would be fun to bring on a few customers. Next thing we knew, we had 15 to 20 customers reaching out every week and we were selling out!”
He had always been intrigued by the idea of starting his own side hustle, and Matt felt that kombucha could be the right fit. Today, he sells nearly 100 bottles per week as Kultured Kombucha.
How would you describe your product in one sentence?
The freshest kombucha on earth!
Kultured Kombucha uses only freshly juiced fruits and no artificial flavors or ingredients. It’s delivered the day after it’s bottled to ensure freshness. Some brands buy fresh-pressed juice and add it to their kombucha, but Kultured Kombucha does it all themselves.
What's your favorite way to enjoy your product?
Matt’s favorite way to enjoy kombucha is very cold from the fridge or over ice.
“I have been known to use it as a cocktail mixer. I’m still working on perfecting the Kombucha-rita and the Gin and Booch.”
Who is another cottage cook or food entrepreneur that you follow and support? What do you love about their business?
“Sidedoor Bagel. I love that their product speaks for itself,” Matt said. “Their marketing is very real and they include you in the process of making their bagels, but it's not the marketing that keeps you coming back. It's their product. Taste is king.”
Matt also admired Big Lug Canteen and Sun King Brewery, two Indianapolis-based breweries, as well as Coat Check Coffee, for their branding and successful growth. “They’re not biting off more than they can chew, and they seem to be expanding intentionally.”
What's the best thing about this job?
“Getting to connect with friends and family, getting people to try a new drink and seeing their reaction when they like it, and of course, when people ask if they can buy more next week.”
Matt describes the kombucha making process as a zen experience for him and his girlfriend. “We’re continuously working to improve the process and recipes. It’s fun to see how even things as small as how we position our bottles on our counter make a difference in our efficiency.”
“My career has been spent in Excel and Powerpoint. This is a fun way for me to use my hands and harness my creativity. There’s still some mystique around kombucha, people are still a little afraid of the unknown, but I like introducing people to the concept.”
What's your best piece of advice to share with food entrepreneurs who are getting started?
Track every dollar you spend and really understand your fixed costs and margin on your product. “For me, this is so much fun, but time is limited and it needs to stay profitable. The food business seems like a never-ending treadmill of thinking ‘if we only had X, we could sell 50% more product.’ We've grown modestly over time and have made sure that we’re profitable along the way. We try to make sure we're still having fun and the business isn't putting undue stress on our day-to-day!”
Matt also recommends that aspiring food entrepreneurs understand their next steps before making them. “Before making the next step in production, know what the next step truly means. I’ve been so close to making big steps before I was ready, like renting a commercial kitchen. Test things before making things too quickly. Don’t turn it into your job before it can really sustain you as your job.”
“Some of the most fun businesses were never meant to be one,” Matt said. “We just started Kultured Kombucha because we love kombucha.”