Creating a Drink Mix Market and Helping Others

by Paul Frankenberg on April 24, 2013

Kyle McCollomKyle McCollom

Vanderbilt University, BA, Enterprise Health and Society with a minor in Chemistry
Graduated June 2011

How did you pick the college you attended?
I didn’t really know much about Vanderbilt and I had not previously considered living in Nashville. I didn’t fully understand how good of a school Vanderbilt was and is, but I applied because of the school’s Ingram Scholarship Program. I am very thankful for that to Vanderbilt and to the Ingram family for creating the scholarship and for offering it to me.

What or who influenced your decision?
Because of the Ingram Scholarship Program offer I decided on Vanderbilt and I don’t regret the decision or the experience.  The scholarship is offered to six incoming students each year.  The program created a community around you made up of people who are trying to make the world a better place. Each student is very ambitious. Recipients are granted access to resources and funding to carry out personal initiatives and to provide the education to learn how to make the world a better place in a more efficient way.

It is not just service; it is community development. It is coming alongside a community and building capacity with that community rather than saying, “I’m going to come in and help you by giving out food!” That education was what I gained and desired.

What did you go to college to study?
I came with the intent of becoming a primary care physician and establishing a practice in which half of my clientele would be high-income professionals who desire premium healthcare services and access to the best specialists. The other half would ideally be patients who would not be able to afford primary care otherwise; who maybe did not have insurance; who ideally lived in a neighborhood close to the other demographic. I wanted to be able to use some of the premium prices that my other patients would pay to subsidize the cost of healthcare for others. I would try to connect these two communities.

Did you change majors in college and why?
Yes and let me explain how and why.  I had been doing service work at a half-way house called the Dismas House, starting in my sophomore year. The Dismas House is a 501c3 with three house operations, located in Nashville, South Bend, IN and Cookeville, TN.  A good friend invited me to visit the Nashville house. It was essentially cooking a meal and sitting down to a home-cooked meal with the residents at the half-way house and developing relationships through conversations.

It was only two blocks from campus. A college student was not going to say no to a home-cooked meal, so I kept doing it. Eventually, I moved into the half-way house to get to know the residents better and to better understand how I, as a college student, could help these guys assimilate back into society.

Eventually, I decided to leverage my network to create jobs for the residents of this half-way house. As a college student, my friends were leaders in student organizations. They were making decisions about custom t-shirts. I thought about where I could find the most capital, the most market potential, the most revenue and harness that to create jobs.  Jobs are the number one factor in keeping former offenders out of prison.

I founded this company called Triple Thread that makes custom shirts and employs former offenders.  The business took off. I decided that I didn’t want to go to medical school anymore. I could create hybrid organizations and models and solutions.  Instead of going to med school, I decided that I wanted to get involved in business.

Paul asked more about moving into the Dismas House.  “Moving into a half-way house is a true commitment. What were the reactions of your friends and parents when they learned you would move into this house? What was their pushback?”

That is a great question. To give a little back story there, I had spent summers in foreign countries and spring breaks in foreign countries or other cities working on community development projects. I was trying to do it in a sustainable way, in a long term way.

I kept getting frustrated and felt like I was teasing the community and not really helping them by flying in, being a part of it, getting entrenched in it, and then leaving, at times without being able to create any kind of change. It would just frustrate local people by rallying resources and then leaving.  That was a big motivation for getting involved in Dismas House because it is only two blocks from campus. It was something I could continue to stay involved with. It did not feel like I was actually hurting a community when trying to help it.

Moving into it was certainly a concern for my parents. Friends were like, “What are you talking about? This is ridiculous!” I had been involved in the community for two years. I had fundraised for the community and rallied other volunteers to be a part of that community. The Dismas House was started by college students and in the beginning, college students were residents of that half-way house. There had been pioneers before me.

Then it really dropped off and there really were no students living there. Every once in a while there would be one student living there, but it wasn’t really part of what they were doing anymore. It was such an important part of what they were doing because college students and former offenders, as different as they are, are at somewhat similar points in their lives.

Former offenders have a lot of life lessons and college students have a lot of motivation. Those two things need to be shared between those two demographics. By living in community, I was able to develop trust among the residents. Trust is an issue with ex-convicts. They have lived in prison culture and life for so long and trust is not something you develop or cultivate in prison.

If I was to come in and say, “Hey, I want to do something big to help you guys. I want to start a company and employ you guys,” they would think, “What’s the catch?” They still thought, “What’s the catch? How are you going to take advantage of me?”

It was like a frat house. You had chapter every Monday night; you had meals together; you shared chores; you sat on the porch and watched people walk by on Music Row. Through that you develop relationships and you are able to identify with people who live in the house who would be good candidates for employment. You then hire them and make them be a part of the very beginning of this company.

Moving into the house created a story that is very compelling and interesting. Honestly, it enabled me to rally more resources for Triple Thread because I was perceived as committed and dedicated and kind of crazy, as someone who would actually do this.

If a foundation was like, “Okay, I don’t know. This is a college student. We want to use our $15,000 wisely,” the fact that I decided to move in to the house showed my commitment.  Plus, the Dismas House CEO was in full support.  It made people interested in telling our story and putting the word out there more so than they would have otherwise.  Dismas House Nashville runs Triple Thread and it has been operating for about two-and-a-half years now. The General Manager, John White, manages it and we have been able to create over 35 job and job-training opportunities for the residents of Dismas House. We’ve sold more than 30,000 t-shirts.

What activities did you engage in and what internships and / or jobs did you have while in college?
Through the Ingram Scholarship, I spent a summer in Uganda working in a HIV/AIDS clinic there. I interviewed all of the different clinicians and managers there to determine how they thought their patient inflow system should work. Patients would come in from rural areas, spend the entire day’s wage on travel, and lose a day’s wage to get in. They had just been diagnosed as positive with HIV. They were scared to death and the process for them to get into the system at the clinic was pretty chaotic and hard to navigate. People would come in, sit on a bench the whole day, and not get any treatment.  By listening to the members of the organization, I developed a step-by-step patient to streamline the process and, supposedly, reduce many patients’ wait time by half. Hopefully, we would capture those patients who were not being funneled into the system.

That is what I did my first summer when I was interested in medicine. My second summer I spent in D.C. working as a lobbyist working on tax codes for hospitals so that hospitals that have programs that do community outreach for preventative measures, instead of giving away free asthma inhalers and free asthma checkups to the local community, could actually go into a community and remove the allergens that cause children to have asthma.

Then I spent my second summer living in the Dismas House and launching Triple Thread with the help of organizations like the Clinton Global Initiative University. CGI has three annual meetings, one globally, one in America and one at the university level. They structure their community around commitments to action. Everybody involved usually makes a commitment to action: “I will carry out this project.” You get big corporations committing to something; celebrities committing to something; prime ministers committing to something that will make the world a better place. They announce it and then partnerships are formed within that community of others who can help carry out that commitment.

As a college student, I made a commitment to start Triple Thread. I then received an Outstanding Commitment award which they gave to some of the commitments which involved grants from the Wal-Mart Foundation. With the backing of the Clinton Global Initiative, we started Triple Thread and then leveraged that to gain additional grants.

Then I stayed involved in the community and they were asking us to come and talk at their annual meetings about social enterprise, about students, about creating employment for those who were left behind in our society and about meaningful work.  I talked about my generation of college students and what they will do after they graduate, not only finding jobs, but finding jobs that they connect with and how we as a society have an obligation, a responsibility to find meaningful work. If we are not connecting behind the purpose of what we are doing, then we are probably not making our world a better place. Therefore, we are being irresponsible with our time and our skills.

Tell me how you landed your first job out of college?
My second semester of my senior year I built out a concept for the “Clif Bar of drink mixes” for two different classes—a marketing class and an entrepreneurship class.  This was inspired by a canoe trip I had taken the summer before my senior year.

I didn’t really intend to start this drink mix business. There was an opportunity there and I got really excited about it because Triple Thread was a regionally-based service and I wanted a product that could scale nationally, that was very much consumer-facing. Triple Thread is Business-to-Business and I wanted a Business-to-Consumer company.

After graduating, I got involved in a tech start-up here in Nashville at the Entrepreneur Center in their accelerator, Jumpstart Foundry. Through that I really got to understand the Nashville start-up space. I learned everything from raising capital to financial modeling to creating a pitch deck to a lot of other entrepreneurial skills.

After finishing my commitment to that start-up, I stepped away after the accelerator. I and my friend Chris Cole decided that there was an opportunity for this “Clif bar of drink mixes” in the market and that we had a compelling story around it and that it was worth pursuing, especially because we had spent the summer developing the skills necessary to launch it.  We figured, hey, we’re young, we’re cheap to keep alive, we are highly motivated, and there is no better time than now to step out and try something. If we fail, we learn a lot and we become a lot more interesting potential hire for an employer one day.

The company is called Everly, and we sell drink mixes made right. We are taking the rapidly-growing natural food trend to the artificial drink mix market. We sell a drink mix made from the best ingredients. We hole-punch our drink mix packets so people can hook them onto their reusable water bottles, making it easier to break away from plastic bottles that create waste and cost more.

And, for every packet of Everly that we sell, we give an equivalent amount of life-saving, oral rehydration salts to children suffering from waterborne disease to rapidly rehydrate them. Ultimately, we want to become the Clif Bar of drink mixes.

In your current role, what are you responsible for?
I am responsible for raising capital. That is everything from financial modeling to pitch deck to investor relations. That is the most concrete thing I can tell you that I am in charge of. I do a lot of operations and initially I was doing a lot of the supply chain.

A lot of what I am doing is strategy, so I am talking to mentors, understanding the market, understanding trends in the market and interpreting those trends and figuring out ways to get around the old, archaic components of the industry. Once we launch, I will be in charge of sales.

We will be pre-selling Everly on Kickstarter this Spring.  Then we will launch retail sales in July with natural retailers.

Go back to your sophomore, junior or senior year of college.  Does your current role fit with the professional passions you identified in college?
It is completely different. I think it still has the same heart and the same overall worldview and motivation behind it. I wanted to be a doctor and use a hybrid practice to deliver healthcare, not just a nonprofit that did not generate any revenue. I wanted to use revenue to do good. This is a completely different execution of that.

I did not expect to be in business. I thought business was bad and that it was too profit-focused. I wanted to be involved in medicine to change lives.  My mentality about that was completely changed by people pioneering and popularizing the concept of social enterprise. 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you provide to a current college student?
I would say that the most important thing in the long term is to find meaningful work. It is what they are going to spend the majority of their waking life doing. If they do not believe in what they are doing, they are not going to find a recipe for happiness. They have a responsibility to find meaningful work. Otherwise, they are probably not making our world a better place.

A lot of them already know that and a lot of them are already running after that. Really, there is no better time in their lives to find meaningful work. We’re young; we’re cheap to keep alive; we’re highly motivated; we are ambitious. It is the perfect time because we don’t have responsibilities anchoring us down. It is the best time to take a risk and try to find that meaningful work whether it is through start-up work or through employment.

Interview conducted February 2013
Kyle’s comments were audio recorded, compiled and condensed by:

Paul Frankenberg
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