Rocketlane CEO

 Founder Spotlight

Jerome Tse of Berri Organics

Want to know what it is really like to start a company? In our Founder Spotlight series we have candid conversations with real founders about the good, bad and ugly of getting your hands dirty and building a business.

Meet Jerome Tse of Berri Organics. Jerome was thriving as a college athlete when he was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. During his full recovery, Jerome created Berri Organics with clean electrolytes and minerals, as most commercial brands’ drinks were too over-processed for him. Learn more about Berri Organics and their incredible products. 

What’s your story? How did you get here?

My story began when I was in college. I was a former division three rower at Cornell University in upstate New York, and when I got to college my freshman year, actually on Christmas Eve, I was hit with a cancer diagnosis that really shook me. It came out of nowhere. It was definitely a traumatic time for me and my family, but it did turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I converted my diet altogether to an all organic plant based diet that I credit for beating the disease and staying healthy and now cancer free for over over 13 years. That journey is what inspired me to start my company.

When I was sick and tried to find a healthy drink option for myself to get electrolytes and minerals and stay hydrated I couldn’t find one, so I started making my own in my own kitchen. I eventually gave some to my friends and colleagues to try out and they gave really positive feedback in the Cornell community.

From there, I wanted to really test the idea and see if it would be commercially viable. That’s when we did a couple of test markets and a few stores in Whole Foods and really found the demand for a healthy sports drink. Other consumers were also noticing the problem that the options in the market were either chemically laden or had excess sugar.

What problem are you trying to solve?

As a former college athlete, I noticed a major problem in my industry, where sports drinks targeted towards athletes and towards kids were filled with artificial chemicals and ingredients that were detrimental for individuals and families. 

We wanted to take a stand against that and that’s why the Berri Organics Mission was born: to create healthy, organic nutrition that’s accessible to families through true nature products – meaning they’re clean, organic and plant based.

When you went out for initial funding, how many pitches did you have to give?

We’ve given what feels like hundreds of pitches since the inception of our business. I would say at the beginning, somewhere around maybe 30 or 40.

Pre-launch we bootstrapped. We really just primarily focused on R&D of the product, initial label development and packaging development. We also used funds that we received from applying to pitch competitions at Cornell. Eventually, we presented our product at Whole Foods. Well, we didn’t actually have a product, we had a photo of a rendering of the product. That’s all we had – that and some samples in case they wanted to try the product. Really, it was mostly a business plan at the time, but they were convinced that there was a real addressable problem. Once they gave us business, we then went out and got funding because we were able to go to investors and show that it’s not just a product, but we actually have a potentially big customer in Whole Foods that already authorized our items.

What keeps you up at night?

The economy. The last three and a half years have been evolving from adapting the business during the pandemic to adapting the business during inflation, and its impact on supply chain and consumer behavior. I think what continues to keep us up at night is thinking about the next economic situation that’s going to impact small businesses. We’ve always tried to be nimble and adaptable in case something happens with the economy. 

What is your favorite beverage?

Berri Organics of course!

 Is there a particular flavor?

There actually is. We recently launched a line extension of electrolyte solutions that is primarily for kids as an alternative to Pedialyte. Adults have also been enamored with it. It’s actually over 80% of our revenue today. It’s the fastest growing brand in the category called Berri Lyte. A new flavor that we recently launched called Organic Strawberry is my favorite. I actually have a weekly subscription order of that flavor. It’s one of my favorite products.

Would you consider yourself a risk taker or how did you learn to embrace risk taking?

I definitely was not a risk taker. I would say I’ve had to learn to embrace it. I think just being able to manage the daily stresses of being a young CEO, being more comfortable being uncomfortable, I think it is a necessity as an entrepreneur.

Have you had to pivot since your initial solution?

We’ve definitely pivoted. I would say by accident. In 2019, we decided to launch a spin-off product Berri Lyte, which goes head to head with pedialyte. It’s great for cold and flu symptoms. Then, 2020 came and the pandemic came around and that whole category just took off. Everyone was looking for advanced hydration solutions to treat cold and flu symptoms, COVID, and really all types of dehydration. That category never stopped growing for us, and it’s now the majority of our business. So I think we pivoted by accident. 

What is something that fits into the “If I knew then what I know now” category?

I think that in the market category, the celebrity influence of products has been particularly more effective than other categories – we are beginning to look more at that. If we could go back I think we would do it sooner. That can be a double edged sword though, because if you partner with the wrong celebrity, it can take down a brand.

What are your passions and interests outside of work? 

I would say my passion is definitely fitness. I love exercising. I’m a frequent customer of CrossFit and Orangetheory. I also love to try new foods and new restaurants. Here in Los Angeles, there’s a lot of different restaurants that pop up. I definitely have fun. 

What do you think is a misconception about being a founder? 

I think that on the news you hear the good stories, but often times, people don’t hear about the bad. Most of the time it’s a really big grind and a lot of hard work. A lot of sleepless nights. There’s that misconception that a lot of times, jumping, taking that leap into becoming an entrepreneur is only fun. And it is fun, but I think it’s a lot of passion as well to help overcome some of those tough, tough nights.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Definitely test market the product before trying to raise capital if you can. I feel that the longer you can delay having to raise capital, the better. You can always increase your valuation at that time and you can have less dilution to your shares. So test marketing – and constant testing. Even after so many years of being in this business, we’re still testing and learning. That process never stops. Look at some of the companies today, from Google to Amazon to Facebook, they’re constantly testing new products. I think that concept is sometimes hard for young entrepreneurs to be okay with. That would be my biggest advice.

The Founder Spotlight Series focuses on the entrepreneurial journey. At Buzzy Rocket we are passionate about helping entrepreneurs share their vision. Interested in participating in the Founder Spotlight Series? Contact the Buzzy Rocket team. 

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