Nikki Blank: Switch to Switchel — An Entrepreneur’s Journey In the Mindful Drinking Space

By DC Startup Week

Living in a career-oriented city where everyone is always “go, go, go” it’s not uncommon to supplement the long office days with happy hours and bottomless brunches. DC is a work hard, play hard city and we’re all constantly trying to find that perfect work-life balance. Sunōmi Switchel, founded by Nikki Blank, is a local non-alcoholic beverage company that believes that we can work hard and play hard — but just be more mindful in our habits and choices. We had the chance to meet with Nikki this week and talk to her about how to break through the noise in the competitive food and beverage industry and the lessons she’s learned along the way.

1.What do you love most about the DC Startup Community?

I love how helpful, friendly, supportive and open everyone is! Perhaps it’s a “we’re all in this together” mentality, but I truly feel like I am a part of a community, and that these people have my back. People are willing to share their experiences and what they’ve learned, and they’re willing to be vulnerable and open about their failures and successes.

2. Tells us a little bit about yourself and your business.

My name is Nikki Blank, and I’m the CEO and founder of Sunōmi Switchel, a mindful drinking company based here in DC. I started the company as a reaction to DC’s work hard play hard drinking culture, and have been on a mission ever since to help people drink mindfully, in the same ways they eat and exercise mindfully. To enact that mission, we make switchel: an all-natural apple cider vinegar and ginger based drink that’s been around since Ancient Greece, and is loaded with electrolytes and probiotics. It’s an awesome alternative to sodas, kombuchas, sugary cocktail mixers and mocktails, and artificial sports drinks.

3. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

It happened a bit accidentally, but looking back, I think I’ve always had the skill set for it and the drive to do something of my own. I’m endlessly creative, and pretty relentless when I’m passionate about something. So it took picking an idea, and seeing a gap in the marketplace for me to pull the trigger and start my own company.

4. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you first started your business? 

Wow, so many things come to mind. But the big ones are: Choose the right partners. Double check everything related to legal paperwork and trademarks. Have a support system, and be fully aware of the mental toll of being an entrepreneur. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Take care of yourself first.

5. You’ve been in a few different pitch competitions recently, what have you learned from them?

I’ve learned to use every pitch competition as an opportunity to tell my story and share my brand. Win or lose, a stage is a stage and you never know who is going to be in the audience or who your story will resonate with in that audience. That being said, pitching can be a time suck, so make sure that you are ready to put in the time to nail your script and practice. 

6. The food and drink industry is pretty competitive in DC, how do you separate yourself from the pack?

The industry is extremely competitive in general, and also pretty male-dominated. I try to stay above the noise, and not compare myself to others and what they’re doing or where they are in their journey. I try to remain focused on my brand and product line, and my vision for it. Otherwise it’s easy to fall into comparison traps, or to feel and look like everyone else on the shelves. Basically, being my authentic self and remaining focused has allowed me to do something different in the space. 

7. We understand you have a background in marketing, what advice can you give other entrepreneurs in solid a good marketing strategy?

So my background is actually in digital and political news. I had a brief career at PBS and the Harvard Business Review, where I helped produce stories for TV and digital, wrote digital content, ran social media, and created content strategies. Having a solid marketing strategy is key – but it isn’t a science. Be creative, understand your audience and target market, and be nimble and willing to change things up regularly. I think a lot of people fall prey to very expensive marketing and PR agencies, and a lot of good marketing comes from passion and a good story. As a founder, you are your company’s best marketing tool.

We totally agree, Nikki! Creative storytelling is the bread and butter to any successful marketing strategy and when you believe in the mission of your brand, it’s much easier to win over your target audience. Want to hear more about Nikki’s journey with Sunōmi Switchel? We’re excited to have Nikki as a panelist during DCSW 2019! Registration is officially open — sign up to hear inspirational stories like this along with several others. Thanks, Nikki!