As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roly Nesi, Founder and CEO of ROAR Organic. Roly has a decade of experience in the beverage industry, helping to build the AriZona Beverage Company’s business in Asia. Spending almost 5 years between Hong Kong and New York, Roly learned firsthand how to build beverage brands in untapped markets one case at a time. Using his experience with AriZona, Roly identified an opportunity to create a brand to fill the need of an underserved consumer — the millennial hustler — and created ROAR Organic, a line of USDA Certified Organic electrolyte infusions with antioxidants and B vitamins.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
One of the best sources of inspiration is personal experience. I noticed that all of my friends and family (note: I’m one of those millennial types I felt was underserved!) were extremely active and trying to be healthy, all while balancing this drive to create their own unique paths for their lives and careers. It was all about the hustle culture. Health was no longer about just working out to stay fit or lose weight…it was about overall wellness, mind and body, and sweat-working. Boutique fitness studio concepts were popping up everywhere and tapping into this new ethos.
However, the beverage choices didn’t seem to be keeping up with these trends. If you looked at the electrolyte beverage options that were available at the time, all of them were very masculine, aggressive in appearance and marketing, and really centered around team sports. None were focused on this evolution to maintain overall wellness and being your best self. I wanted to create a beverage that was designed for the millennial hustler…and this is how ROAR Organic was born. I wanted to make a drink so millennials could ‘hustle harder and make moves’ throughout the day, whether that be at WeWork or at the fitness studio. It’s unlike other options on the market that are full of artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and a ton of sugar. ROAR is USDA certified organic, low sugar (2g or less per serving), low calorie (10 calories per serving) with functional benefits coming from electrolytes, antioxidants and b-vitamins and it is inspired by athleisure brands, not the team huddle. With that inspiration, ROAR went from being an idea to my side hustle to today, where it’s my full-time focus.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In the entrepreneurial environment, you have to have a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality if you want to survive. As an unknown brand when we first started, it was challenging to find someone to distribute ROAR. In that situation, you have two options. Either you pick up your ball and go home, or you find a way. We chose the second and self-distributed…and not in the most typical fashion. We towed our first product run in an open landscaping trailer across the George Washington Bridge and it almost fell into the Hudson. We warehoused the drinks in my Mom’s shed and would have to pay for new gravel every other week because the truck would destroy her driveway. We were working 14–16-hour days, taking home no income, and realizing how much less we knew about the business than we thought. Looking back, I would not have done it any differently. You learn a lot that way and those were some of the best times of my life.
Where did you get the drive to continue even when things were hard?
For me, this was my passion and the tough times came with the territory. Whenever you follow your dreams, passion or side hustle, you have to accept that it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be damn near impossible, but not nearly as hard as living with the regret of never trying.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We are growing extremely fast and working on some exciting campaigns and new launches for the brand. We recently announced our ROAR Models digital campaign, which is aimed to celebrate innovative female entrepreneurs who harness their influence to make moves and be heard and positively impact their communities. We partnered with four inspiring hustlers, including Create & Cultivate’s Founder & CEO, Jaclyn Johnson, Peloton’s Vice President of Fitness Programming & Head Instructor, Robin Arzon, Multimedia Artist & COVL Founder, D’ana Nuñez, and Producer, DJ & Founder of PWR, Lauren ‘Kittens’ Abedini, for the campaign. We’re also holding a contest for millennial hustlers to share how they are making moves in their own communities, and winners will be awarded money to put toward making their side-hustle their main hustle, as well as a trip to NYC for our Entrepreneurship Month Event where they’ll have a one-on-one mentor session with the ROAR Model of their choice. We also just launched Kids ROAR, a new line of USDA Certified Organic electrolyte beverages with Vitamin C made just for kids, and we have more fun launches coming soon! We’re expanding nationally as well and are on track to be in 10,000 stores by this year’s end.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most electrolyte beverage brands focus on the sports industry as their target consumer, but we feel that proper hydration is critical for everyone, whether you’re working out or not, and ROAR is the perfect drink to be enjoyed during all parts of our consumers’ days — from an early morning gym session to long hours at the office.
While ROAR Organic is an electrolyte infused beverage, which means it hydrates you faster than water alone, it also features antioxidants to help support your immune system and B vitamins which help convert what we eat to energy. And our beverages are also USDA Certified Organic which means they’re NON-GMO and have zero artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives. It’s also gluten-, soy- and dairy-free and only has 10 calories and 1–2 grams of sugar per serving depending on which of or 6 delicious flavors you’re drinking, so you really can drink them all day without any worries!
And our team is made up of our target consumer. Everyone in the company is a hustler. They live and breathe the ethos of the brand. We hire on passion and attitude as much as skills. It takes a hustler to know a hustler.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Balance is key, but also know what you can and cannot control. This way, you can actually enjoy the chaos. When I first started ROAR, I was a family of one. Now I have a family and they are the best cure for a long day, week or month. I’d love to tell you to turn off and detach when you are with your family, but let’s face it, that’s not an option. Obsession comes with the territory.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There have been so many people in my life that, without their support, I would never be here. It started with my parents who showed me at a young age that you can do it your way and still provide a great life for your family. My wife, Ashley, has always had my back and never encourage me to give up, which is so important in a business like this. Andrew Zambratto, my partner, who rolled up his sleeves and saw the vision.
We also have great investors, advisors, and friends who worked for free when we needed them to. When we decided that we were going to totally pivot to ROAR Organic and basically abandon the brand that got us started, many were worried, but our investors had faith in our vision and allowed us the space and time necessary to succeed.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are really excited about our ROAR Models campaign that recently launched. I have been blessed to have been able to turn my side hustle into my career, so I really wanted to help others do the same. We worked with four amazing female entrepreneurs, who have been successful in four totally different paths and utilized their platforms to help others. By highlighting their stories, not just the successes, but the hard work and failures along the way, we are hoping to inspire more people to follow their dreams.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me
- Work hard
- Work hard
- Work hard
- Work hard
- Play hard, appreciate your team, and culture is everything.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There are no right answers. Find your path. Do your thing. Be happy. This has been my journey and I am hoping to reach others with a similar message, which is the idea we are bringing to life in our most-recent campaign, ROAR Models. We hope the stories and advice we are sharing from our dynamic ROAR Models, who have not only forged their own paths but are each giving back to their own communities, will serve as a launching pad and inspiration for others to realize that they too can follow their own dreams and define what success means to them, on their terms.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on Instagram @rolyroar and ROAR Organic on Instagram at @roarorganic.