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Daniel Scharff Of Machu Picchu Energy: 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand

Photo Credit: Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Great taste. No matter how big your dream, you won’t accomplish it if you don’t deliver something people love.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Scharff.

Daniel Scharff is the CEO of Machu Picchu Energy — organic energy drinks with a strong social mission helping kids. Products will be available in May online (link http://machupicchu.energy), through retailers including Gopuff, Central Market (TX), Erewhon (CA), and major distributors (UNFI, KeHE, Real Soda, Azure).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

As a sixth grader, someone’s Dad, a ‘businessman’, ran a stock market simulator for our class, and I was hooked. That’s what I wanted to do. I got after-school jobs, internships (even at NASDAQ when I was 17), and then finally after college managed to get into the business world. At the same time, I was always excited to give back. After college working in finance, I founded the company’s flagship community service initiative, an interactive workshop teaching kids the benefits of savings and investing.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food or beverage brand you are leading?

Our founder and former CEO of AmBev, global head of sales for AB-InBev, Bernardo Paiva, inspired me greatly when he shared his dream to build a company that can inspire people to go outdoors, and also do good by helping children.

The energy drink market is huge, and growing, driven by artificial drinks with synthetic caffeine and a back-of-throat burn. I believed in his vision to launch the first truly craft energy drink — organic, natural caffeine, that because of the quality of the ingredients and the latest organic technology, would be the best tasting drink on the set.

The outdoor inspiration was key for me (if I don’t go for a hike or get in the ocean on the weekends, I’m not balanced), and the prospect of helping kids throughout the US and globally, with education and outdoor opportunities was a dream come true. Machu Picchu Energy greatly embodies its tagline, “Feel Good, Do Good,” by producing and formulating a better for you organic energy beverage while inspiring and encouraging our customers to get outside and be active in life and community by helping others. It’s gratifying knowing we are offering something people will enjoy, feel good about purchasing and putting in their bodies, as well as encouraging them to think outside of themselves too.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I traveled to Peru to work with our NGO partner, Alto Peru, operating a community center for kids in an underprivileged area in Lima. I had never surfed before, so they invited me to participate in Surf Therapy. After we cleaned the beach and took off our shirts, I looked around and realized I had my wetsuit on backwards! It was embarrassing, but I love sharing this photo, and talking about the tough times these kids have, and how much NGOs like Alto Peru can help them. I’m really proud to work for a brand that will do everything possible to help these kids and others like them.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Have absolute clarity on what you’re doing and why. For us at Machu Picchu Energy, we’re here to inspire people to connect with the outdoors, do good by helping kids, and provide delicious, healthy energy beverages. We say no to any opportunities (product, branding, sales and partnerships) that won’t help us accomplish those three things that we strongly and passionately believe in as a company, and every day when we show up to work, we know why.

Don’t take shortcuts. Along the way, it’ll be easy to compromise on taste, quality, mission — but don’t let yourself. You can find the brands that did — look for the expiring product in the back of the grocery shelf.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle

If you really love it, you won’t have trouble starting — you won’t be able to stop yourself. The tough part will come next — the grit to see it through. It won’t be easy, some days you’ll spend with your stomach inside-out but if you really believe in your dream and have grit, you’ll find a way.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Even Apple relies on a lot of other vendors to make the iPhone. If you aren’t a product developer, find a great one. Spend time learning your category and give them very specific guidance and feedback.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I’m a fan of bootstrapping until you really need the capital to fund growth. When you realize the idea is just too good, and you have to go faster, that’s a great time to throw fuel on the fire.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

I’ve learned that with all of these partners, relationships are important. We take time with every one of them to explain our dream, and that is what has helped us find ones who are mission-aligned. After that, it’s a lot easier to work through the challenges together.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for 5.)

1- Great taste. No matter how big your dream, you won’t accomplish it if you don’t deliver something people love.

2- Strong branding. If you don’t get your essence through the package, you won’t have a chance to impress them with the taste.

3- Authentic passion. Buyers, consumers, all of us — we know when someone believes in what they are saying. If you believe in your product and can tell people why in a genuine, compelling way, they will listen.

4- Great marketing. You need a good strategy to get noticed — online, on shelf, or other places! Clever digital ads, influencers, ambassadors, guerilla marketing — figure out your plan, and do it! 5- Be paranoid. There are potential operational nightmares lurking at every turn. Have a healthy paranoia that every piece of your supply chain could fall apart — this will lead you to find backup suppliers, double check your final ingredient arrived safely, and triple check your specs Creative problem solving and good communication help a lot.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

For our new organic beverage brand, Machu Picchu Energy, we wanted to deliver a product that didn’t just deliver the best taste and quality, but also could form a strong emotional connection with consumers and inspire them to join us on our journey to do good by helping kids.

We believe people will love not just our product, but also our values. To help us connect to consumers and drive awareness, we are really fortunate to have Feel Good and Do Good ambassadors who share our energy. We’re proud to work with John John Florence (2x world surf champ, US Olympian), and Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (first Peruvian to summit Everest) to share our message.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Machu Picchu Energy’s dream is to bring “Feel Good, Do Good” energy to people’s lives through inspiration and action. We believe in the power of the outdoors to help you connect with nature and yourself, and we also believe in empowering the future generation through education and development opportunities. We’ve partnered with UNESCO in Peru to support Machu Picchu (an UNESCO world heritage site) and cultural infrastructure in Peru, which has been decimated by loss in tourism dollars from reduced COVID tourism.

The organic beverage company also partners with NGOs in Peru and Brazil to sponsor children’s community centers in underserved areas, and here in the US, Machu Picchu Energy launched a unique beverage simulator initiative called BevLaunch. Over the course of 8 sessions, students learn entrepreneurship fundamentals like product development, branding, and they even pitch their concept to local investors. We partnered with Miami Public Schools on the pilot, and are so proud to double the percent of students who planned to attend college based on their enthusiasm and participation. We’re on a path to take our program nationally to be able to reach, inspire and educate as many students as possible through Machu Picchu Energy’s commitment to doing good by helping children.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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