Chris Wirth & Camila Soriano: “Honesty, Trust and Respect”

Honesty, Trust and Respect: We are in the middle of 2021 planning and have been doing presentations. I asked Chris for some advice, feedback and help on a presentation I was doing. He was honest and tore it apart in a VERY respectful way. At first I was defensive and annoyed — of course he thinks he […]

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Honesty, Trust and Respect: We are in the middle of 2021 planning and have been doing presentations. I asked Chris for some advice, feedback and help on a presentation I was doing. He was honest and tore it apart in a VERY respectful way. At first I was defensive and annoyed — of course he thinks he can do it better. Then realized and trusted that our interests were aligned. He wants me to grow and is really only helping. Trust that your partner is there for you and has your best interests in mind, even when you don’t want to admit faults. But also know how to approach and respect your partner since everyone has different strengths.

As part of my series about “Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Wirth & Camila Soriano, Co-founders of Volley Tequila Seltzer.

With nearly 15 years combined experience working in the spirits industry between the two husband and wife duo Christopher and Camila are very knowledgeable in the cocktail space. In addition to being the co-founder of Volley, Christopher is also the president of award-winning cocktail mixer brand, American Cocktail Co. Him and his wife worked on the American Cocktail Co. team together before joining forces again to shake up the hard seltzer world and create Volley, tequila seltzers (free of added sugars/preservatives that most hard seltzers have) made with only three clean ingredients: 100% blue agave tequila, sparkling water and organic juice.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?

I (Chris) had an idea in college to make high-end cocktails that you’d find in some of the world’s top bars available to everyone at home. The original idea started with jungle juice but quickly evolved into something more elevated. I partnered with Massimiliano Matte, one of the world’s top mixologists, to create recipes. Massi and I met while working at The Jefferson hotel in Washington DC. We used real ingredients — fruits, vegetables, and spices — and bottled them for everyone to enjoy as the American Cocktail Co. A few years later, Camila and I were dating and she decided to leave her job in banking to potentially return home to the Philippines. She began helping me out as a side gig while she studied for the CFA exam. The side gig turned into a full-time hustle when we realized we worked very well together and that it didn’t (usually) interfere with our personal lives! — Christopher Wirth

We are married now and have been working together since then. Two years ago, Camila read The Dorito Effect and shared it with me after feeling disillusioned by all the mystery ingredients found on labels called ‘natural flavors.’ We looked at all the seltzers popping up and noticed most of them are full of fermented cane sugar as the alcohol base and sure enough, ‘natural flavors’ as the flavor component! Our curiosity got the best of us and after endless googling ‘What is the alcohol base in a spiked seltzer?’ and ‘What is fermented cane sugar?” We came up with the idea of Volley. Volley is a no nonsense and refreshing seltzer made from three clean and real ingredients. We pride ourselves on the transparency of the ingredients we use and urge everyone to question what they are putting in their bodies. — Christopher Wirth

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?

We’ve only been married for a year, but it has definitely been a very full year! With the rest of the world, we have been affected by the pandemic, but on top of that, we moved out of NYC to Charleston, SC, launched a business and had a baby, the latter two being two weeks apart!

Our move had been planned way in advance of COVID-19 exploding in the USA, but it definitely came at an interesting time for us. We happened to be in Miami for a friends’ wedding when it hit NYC hard. I was 4.5 months pregnant and did not want to go back to the epicenter of the pandemic. We were fortunate that my cousin has an apartment in Miami where Chris and I camped out at for a month, fully equipped with a hand carry worth of black tie clothing and bathing suits, all of which were shrinking in size (or was it that my belly was quickly growing?!). On April Fools Day, we drove up to Charleston, excited and giddy to settle down in our home that was furnished with two bar stools and an inflatable mattress — not the most comfortable pieces for a pregnant woman’s back! A month later, our furniture and things arrived from NYC and we finally began to nest in our new home! Volley launched on June 30th and our son Mateo was born promptly on his due date, right after we got off the phone with investors (really!), on July 22. Whew! And here we are. — Camila Soriano

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?

This is tough! Here’s a funny story that was not so funny at the time. Chris and I were at “The Kitchen” (it’s what we called our small commercial kitchen space) doing some product tweaking and VERY preliminary sample making. We squeezed or blended each fruit we were using, pH tested every batch and sealed each can using our hand-canning machine. We had gone through the sample-making process seamlessly — a process we are very familiar with in our old business and one that we know can be tough! After completing all of the samples, we turned behind us to the table they were on and realized, “sh!t, we didn’t label any of them so now we don’t know which flavor is which!” Talk about a true palm-in-face moment. — Camila Soriano

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Volley is the first and only seltzer that settles. We use real juice (NO “natural flavors” and never from concentrate) so, naturally real juice settles. Let us explain this a little. When you buy a fresh orange juice, or a green juice in a clear plastic bottle you see the separation of water from the pulp and juice, right? Well, similarly, the real juice in our product separates from the water, which also separates from tequila — you just don’t see it since it is in a can! SO, before cracking a Volley open make sure you flip the can, because, you know, real juice settles! — Camila Soriano

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are actively working on communicating our key points of differentiation by improving our packaging as well as educating consumers through our social channels. While we can’t reveal it quite yet, I can say that our packaging update in early 2021 is going to ensure that the consumer knows that real juice settles and to flip the can before enjoying. While this sounds simple, we have all been programmed by the big food companies to think that it is normal for a flavored beverage to be perfectly clear and perfectly homogenous. We’ve all made a drink at home and know color is natural and so is settlement! Our goal is to remind people that a packaged product should be as real as something you make at home… chemicals, artificial and ‘natural flavor’ are not needed for the product to be a stable, safe and delicious product. If we can spark this movement, we think people will begin to demand more from food companies and improve the options available to us. — Christopher Wirth

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Empower your team members to make decisions on their own. To do that you need to clarify goals of what the team is working towards so they know what their decisions should be leading to. We believe in OKRs as our goal formatting. OKRs are a way of framing goals by defining the objective and how it is measured. You also need to clarify budgets available. And finally you should have a work management system that facilitates fast communication internally as well as clarity on where a project is at a given time. There are several available on the internet like Asana, Slack and more. If you have these tools in place your employees will be able to make decisions on their own that allow your business to grow without limitations. — Camila Soriano

How do you define “Leadership”?

Leadership is about being accountable. If something’s not working, be accountable to fix it. Be accountable to ensure your team members have the tools to be successful. Be accountable in providing honest and constructive feedback. Be accountable for the well-being of your team. If they dislike the work environment then own that and fix it, if they love it, listen to why and keep doing more! Aside from being accountable, leadership is about communicating a clear vision and stewarding the team to achieve the objectives. — Camila Soriano

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 about that?

I am extremely grateful to a number of people along the way who have encouraged me when I needed guidance or advice. As an entrepreneur it’s hard to describe how much simple encouragement goes in giving you the boost you need to keep going or to think about a challenge in a different way. I’m especially grateful for Camila being willing to help me out when I really needed it in the early days of our mixer brand, American Cocktail Co. She jumped in when I was doing 100 things myself and working out of a small kitchen in Queens through the night to juice and bottle our products by hand. She took the books off my hands and cleaned them up along with a ton of operational steps I needed support on. She would travel to trade shows with me and man the booths and has been an all-around rockstar since day one. Neither American Cocktail Co. nor Volley would be where they are with all the work Camila does on the back end. — Christopher Wirth

One specific story takes us back to around December 2017. We had received large orders from Bed Bath and Beyond and needed to complete the orders through their system. At around 10PM one night, she was about to sit back with a glass of wine when she realized that all the shipping information that had been put into their systems was incorrect and if we left it as is, we would not be paid! Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen creating samples for a private label customer that had to go out the next day. Both of us were up until the wee hours of the morning, but we got it done! I realized that you can’t do everything on your own and having a partner you can rely on makes all the difference. — Christopher Wirth

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I (Camila) am very passionate about the outdoors. I grew up in the Philippines and was lucky enough to be able to go to the beach all year long. Every weekend at the beach, we would go on our morning beach walks. We’d bring along the usual — sunscreen, water, a hat and a garbage bag. We would make sure that the beach we left behind us was spotless. This became second nature to us growing up.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m living in NYC. On my daily walks to/from the subway I was angered by the insane amounts of trash everywhere. Once, there was so much trash surrounding a CitiBike dock station, you couldn’t see the gravel below the bikes! I began to post these photos on an Instagram account, hoping to start a grassroots movement. That didn’t go anywhere, but when Chris and I decided to start a beverage company I knew that I did NOT want to see our cans lying around. If we were going to be the active outdoor brand we wanted Volley to be, we needed to do our part.

This is why we’ve partnered with Leave No Trace. LNT provides research, education and initiatives so everyone can protect and enjoy our world in a responsible way. Instead of spending lots of money on restoration programs, LNT and Volley believe that education is the most effective way to protect the outdoors. Once the world normalizes, we will be planning large clean ups throughout the country and hope you can join us! — Camila Soriano

What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.

Respect, honesty, humor, trust and have fun! We really believe these are basic things one needs to thrive in life, but it applies to us as a couple and as business partners.

Humor: I, Camila, take care of paying the bills in the company. The other day I was taking care of some cash flow items and paid off the credit card. A second later, I get a text from Chris (mind you he is 100 feet away from me) saying “WOWWW, x out the door”. My response, “I know you’re obsessed with me but stop stalking me you creep”.

Honesty, Trust and Respect: We are in the middle of 2021 planning and have been doing presentations. I asked Chris for some advice, feedback and help on a presentation I was doing. He was honest and tore it apart in a VERY respectful way. At first I was defensive and annoyed — of course he thinks he can do it better. Then realized and trusted that our interests were aligned. He wants me to grow and is really only helping. Trust that your partner is there for you and has your best interests in mind, even when you don’t want to admit faults. But also know how to approach and respect your partner since everyone has different strengths.

Have fun: Life can get busy, between working and our baby. Try to fit in even just a little time together doing something! Whether it’s going for a walk, watching a movie, cooking or some home improvement (hello COVID activities), do it with some fun music and enjoy each other’s company.

You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We urge you to question what you are putting in your bodies. What are “natural flavors” and why are they the fourth most common ingredient in food, behind water salt and sugar? How can something that is called “natural” have undisclosed ingredients, often beyond 100 ingredients, packed inside them? One of the many ingredients in a popular flavor is castoreum, a good secreted from the butt of a beaver. Doesn’t this violate the integrity of the word “natural”?

When you consume other flavored beverages, why is it that they are perfectly homogenous and don’t settle? Why is a grapefruit flavored drink clear when grapefruit does in fact have color? And if your drink does have color, why is it consistent? We all know that real fruit color can vary so much and so should the things you are drinking, especially if the drink claims to be natural or real. And most basically, why does your grapefruit drink not taste like an actual grapefruit? — Camila Soriano

We should be fighting for more transparency and for products with real ingredients as they taste better! Everyone should be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, knowing exactly what’s inside it and without feeling guilty. It should not be difficult to find and consume clean and real things. Fight for transparency and never settle! — Camila Soriano

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine

We’re blessed with an opportunity to build something meaningful that can improve the lives of our team members, bring enjoyment to our consumers, and clean up neighborhoods through our LNT partnership. I feel that effort is really a variable that you are fully in control of. What time do you wake up and go to bed? What books are you reading? What podcasts? Who are you reaching out to for advice or feedback? They say it takes several years to make an overnight success. We only hear about the success stories and when we do it seems like it happened so easily. We’re firm believers that you have to put the effort in when no one is looking, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and learn from other people, and if you put your best effort forward you have a shot at being successful. — Christopher Wirth

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Phil Knight and Tim Ferris, authors of two of our favorite books, Shoe Dog and Four Hour Work Week.

Phil tells a raw and inspiring story that we felt we could really relate to, especially relating to American Cocktail Co and the challenges of launching your first business. We appreciated and enjoyed hearing how the business was built — being in and out of debt and the fear coupled with courage that you need to keep going — without feeling preached to.

Tim is an inspiration for any entrepreneur and I must say that we not only listen to his podcast but also read his book. I figured the book would be the same things I had heard on the podcast but I actually walked away with a couple actionable takeaways that honestly have transformed our business into a more streamlined business. We respect all the experiments he does to come up with “optimal” and efficient ways to live and work. — Christopher Wirth

How can our readers follow your work online?

@drinkvolley on instagram and

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