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The Story Engine Podcast: Where we teach you how to make marketing easier, more powerful and fun through storytelling. Each week we learn from top entrepreneurs, influencers and world-changers on how to share your story through content, copywriting, speaking and how to make your story your most powerful marketing tool.

Aug 22, 2018


Today we are interviewing Hannah Crum. Now Hannah Crum is a case study that I think Seth Godin would just gush over. She's got an amazing business that she's built all around a unique passion of hers; brewing kombucha. She's transformed that over many years from serving a small audience, a small local group to a thriving eCommerce business. And is even building an association and scaling this up in ways that you could not believe, and I'm sure she never would've imagined possible when she started out. She's got a lot of great information and stories, on how you can organically grow your brand, create good content and build a thriving business based off it. Lots of good tips in here today and I'm excited to share them with you

Key Takeaways

[02:18]  What is Kombucha [03:11] How Hannah started her Kombucha business [05:22] Why Hannah decided to teach others how to make Kombucha and created Kombucha Kamp [6:31] How Hannah transitioned to online [9:37] Hannah’s traffic drivers and how she keeps her customers excited about Kombucha [13:15] Learn how Hannah used the success of her book to drive sales [17:59] The biggest challenge Hannah faces when working with traditional marketing teams [19:36] Why it’s important to give something away [20:46] How Hannah takes her potential clients from reading content to purchasing products  

Hannah Information

Kombucha Kamp Free Kombucha DIY Guide Kombucha Kamp Store Kombucha Kamp Facebook Hannah Crum, the Kombucha Mamma Facebook Instagram LinkedIn YouTube The Big Book of Kombucha The Artist's Way Kombucha Brewers Organization  

Transcript of Podcast

Kyle:                                        Today we are interviewing Hannah. Hi Hannah, welcome to The Story Engine podcast. Hannah:                   Thanks Kyle. Glad to be here. Kyle:                                        Now I'm excited to interview you because you've been involved building up a business around kombucha which is a somewhat new or maybe not new at all, but recently reemerging home brewing DIY kinda phenomenon, and you're right on the edge of this with your business. So why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit like what is kombucha? Hannah:                   Sure. I'm Hannah, known as the Kombucha Mamma. I've been brewing and teaching people about how to make kombucha since 2004. Kombucha is fermented tea, so just like sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, wine is fermented grapes, beer is fermented grain, salami is fermented meat, cheese is fermented milk. Right? We eat all of these fermented foods on a regular basis, sometimes we don't realize they're fermented like chocolate is fermented. But kombucha is tea and sugar, so sweet tea, to that, we add our culture. The culture has a special name, it's called a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. And those bacteria and yeast immediately start consuming the sugar and the tea and break it down into these healthy organic acids. Kyle:                                        Awesome. And so take us back to 2004 when you got started in this. Did you ... Were you brewing kombucha before this or was this when you started teaching and helping others do it themselves? Hannah:                   It was ... I actually probably started a few months prior to then. I had first met kombucha while visiting a friend who lived in San Francisco. It's a pretty groovy town if you've never been there. You definitely gotta check it out and at that time of my life in 2003, I was very standard American diet, didn't really understand health or how the foods I ate impacted that. And I say that by way of meaning that it's really easy to do this at home and anyone can do it. When I first met kombucha, we didn't even have a chance to try it. It was just a friend, they had jars and they were covered and just mysterious things floating around which was the kombucha. So of course, it's one of those weird words, it stuck in my mind. I came back to LA and of course, at the Whole Foods, there were shelves and shelves of it. So I grabbed a gingerade off the shelf and cracked it in the store and my first sip ... Have you had kombucha, Kyle? Do you remember your first sip of kombucha? Kyle:                                        I'm familiar with it. It's not ... It is a bit of an acquired taste in the beginning. Hannah:                   Right. Exactly right. Even your first sip of coffee maybe was an acquired taste, right? Kyle:                                        Of course. Of course. Hannah:                   And now you can't live without it. So kombucha, a lot of people get sour face 'cause it is an acidic acid ferment like vinegar. For me though, it really reminded me of pickle juice, which I had an obsession with as a child. Kyle:                                        Oh, wow. Hannah:                   Like I was sneaking it out of the fridge. My mom would yell at me, "Oh, there's too much salt in that." Maybe I was having a salt deficiency, I don't know. But it just ... I love that kinda savory, yummy flavor and I think the fact that it was alive and because I wasn't eating foods that had that kind of alive quality them, it just really struck me. I felt physiologically the impact of consuming the kombucha and like everybody, my thirst dug through my budget, and because I had seen somebody making it themselves at home, I was like, "Well why can't I do that?" So I went to the library, checked out every book and started making it at home and of course, those first batches just like any time you try a new recipe, weren't necessarily all that tasty. But this is where doing the practice, engaging in the brewing process, you kind of hone your skills, you learn new things and I just really fell in love with it. And I took an Artist's Way workshop, I don't know if you're familiar with the Artist's Way. Kyle:                                        I've read the book. Yeah. Hannah:                   Yeah, exactly right. So I did a workshop format of that, which was really great because by the end of it what I had uncovered is what I really wanted to do, which was to teach people about kombucha. Now that wasn't a career choice, it was just something that I felt impassioned and really wanted to get authentic information into the world. And that's when I started Kombucha Kamp as a workshop in my home where you come and learn about kombucha, see the whole process, try some of my homebrew and then, of course, I would have cultures to give to people so they could start with their own at home. Kyle:                                        That's fascination. So you at first iteration of this business was just inviting people over to your house and maybe having tasting parties or showing them the process of growing this or- Hannah:                   Exactly Kyle:                                        Yeah, creating it. Fascinating. And so how did that go? How long were you just doing kind of your ... the at home kombucha parties and how did you transition into an online format? Hannah:                   Well, it was interesting. Now we kind of take for granted all of these websites with video tutorials that teach you everything you wanna know. But back in 2007, they were just getting started and so I think I responded to an ad on Craigslist, where they wanted to find people who taught interesting things to do a video series. So there was a really great video series on ... I wanna say eHow. I can't remember if that's the name it still has right now, that shows my whole Kombucha Kamp in my home and that was kind of an early genesis and then I started blogging about it because again, I was frustrated by the lack of authentic information about kombucha on the internet. And even today, you can go and read these like circular references where everyone repeats this same thing, but there's no actual original citation. And so I just wanted to put authentic information out there and then when I started the blog. So in 2007, I put it online and just started sharing that information through this new format to reach people and people started reaching back. First of course with questions and then asking, "Hey, do you have any SCOBYs? Do you have this? Do you have a that?" And so that then led to putting a couple PayPal buttons up on the blog so that people could grab a SCOBY if they needed one. Now my husband has a film background. He worked in documentary film and production and all kinds of things like that, and he was kind of in transition considering maybe a career change into doing a video for bloggers. And so as a test case, he decided to help me out and shoot some videos of the brewing process. I needed some educational videos and things like that. And through working together, we found that we actually had a very productive partnership and then around this time in 2010, when they took all the kombucha off the shelves at Whole Foods, we kinda had a surge because all of a sudden people weren't able to access their kombucha. They were kinda freaking out and so, of course, they wanted to make it themselves, and we had already developed a couple of packages at this time. It wasn't a storefront at this point, but that kind of inspired us to get an eCommerce site off the ground and that's when my husband dove in. He learned HTML, CSS, got us onto an eCommerce platform like he really became this driving force behind everything we were doing, and that's basically the launch of our business. Now, of course, both of us still had jobs at that time. This was kind of our side hustle. It's just organically evolved from there and I think finally in 2014, I let go of all of my other side jobs and things like that and been doing kombucha full time ever since. Kyle:                                        That's beautiful. And so leading up to then and maybe since 2014, I would really like to know what are the main channels that you're getting to spread your message out there. You've mentioned you started with video and right now video is very, very trendy, very, very powerful, and if you've had that much of a head start, then I'm assuming that's one of your best channels. How are you driving traffic to your site? Is the blog generating a lot of traffic and yeah, what's keeping people excited right now? Hannah:                   Well ironically, although our start was in video, we have since founded a trade association of which I'm a part-time president in my spare time, and we've also launched a book, our Big Book of Kombucha, which an Amazon bestseller. We've sold almost a hundred thousand copies in just two and a half years. Kyle:                                        Oh, my goodness. Hannah:                   Yeah. So it's a really- Kyle:                                        That's huge. Hannah:                   Right. But then writing the book and all that ... So ironically, we've gone away from video, but it's definitely something we need to come back to. So we do have a YouTube channel, but you probably haven't seen any new videos on there in a little while. What that means though is we have a very robust Facebook group, we another forums site and then we also have Instagram and just do a lot of social media. We write for other publications. So really, anyone who wants to know about kombucha, we're there to do podcasts to talk about. Really, I see myself as an ambassador for the culture. Right? I'm here to tell you why it means you no harm, it means you a world of good and of course through cultivating the industry. Right? By supporting the industry through the trade association, what that means is we've also created all these jobs. Right? So because kombucha has somewhat of a low barrier to entry similar to craft beer in that you can be a homebrewer, love it as a hobby and then actually turn it into a viable business. And because probiotics and microbiome and understanding that we really need to get our nutrition from what we're putting into our body, not just in the form of pills or powders and things like that, kombucha I think is at a very influential point in its development. We see it as the 21st-century yogurt. Right? Kyle:                                        Oh, okay. Hannah:                   Well, you and I probably remember when yogurt was sold in the stores, but a generation before us, you had to be a crazy hippie making it at home on your countertop. Like you couldn't just go to the store and buy yogurt. Now, of course, it's multi-billion dollar industry and sold on the fact it was probiotic and helped people live to be an old age. And so kombucha I think is experiencing a similar phenomenon right now, and the reason I mention all of this is because, think about it like this. The more people who've tried kombucha from a store, the more who've even heard the word- Kyle:                                        Yeah. Hannah:                   And then if they end up like me where their thirst outgrows their budget, at some point, then they're gonna wanna try to make it themselves. And so we've kind of fueled this whole trend of course towards people knowing about kombucha, reincorporating it into its popularity ... It's had actually multiple points of popularity throughout time, but of course, there's nothing like an internet to consolidate all of that information and make it easier for people to find instead of little sheets of paper that they get passed around with a weird SCOBY in a bag. Kyle:                                        Yeah. Tell me about ... I'd love to know a little bit more about your book and how ... Was there a way that you designed your book to drive attention and traffic back your site and your store, and can you tell me some of the strategy on how you leveraged the big success of your book to really ... Because I think a lot of people when they think about books, it's, of course, nice to think about retiring on just book royalties alone. What I find books very useful for and how mine have worked really well is by ... They're like a first step in the process. You introduce them to an idea and often I find a popular strategy these days is to give something that you can collect, their emails or give them a next step to engage with you in the book. Is that a strategy you used? Hannah:                   So ours is with a traditional publisher. So we were limited in how exactly we could ... We were able to put 'Founders of Kombucha Kamp' on the book, which was really important. In fact, it is a way in which a lot of people now find us. Unfortunately though, sometimes will find other brands and they also have our book, but ultimately, of course, it does bring them to us. And you just have to google kombucha and you're a stone throw from any of our content. We've done a great job with SEO and really writing the book actually put us on hiatus from doing all of that, and so now we're ginning back up the content. But prior to all of that, the book really came ... it came from the blog. It was turned into a 100-page pdf handbook that came with some of the kits and cultures that we had for sale, and then we were able to leverage that into the 400-page book deal. Right?   So it had its own kind of natural evolution as it went and these days, I don't know how easy it's been for you to get book deals Kyle, but it seems like they want something similar to like a record deal. They wanna see do you have a platform already, can you actually sell this, are you viable, whereas in the past it used to be, "Oh, I have this interesting idea that nobody else has had. Here, let me write a book about it." Right? These days they want demonstrable ability to sell that book before they wanna engage with you anyways. So that's ... All of that has worked really well in getting the word out, but it's also because there's a low barrier to entry, because the culture's so highly reproductive, it's also led to a lot of competition from sellers on Craigslist and eBay and ... As much as people understand the difference in quality for vehicles, right? Everyone knows the difference between a Lexus and a Toyota, they don't always understand the difference in quality when it comes to something that ... like a kombucha culture, when in fact there is. There's always a difference in quality whenever you're considering what you're gonna put into your body. Kyle:                                        Absolutely. So just retracing the steps of your story, what I love is like this is a ... Yours is a case study that I think Seth Godin would go crazy for because you saw a problem, you saw your passion and you wanted to work in that, and then I think a lot of the questions that I get from my readers or listeners is, "What do I need to do? How can I like ..." They wanna cut straight to profit or straight to having a successful Kickstarter campaign because that's all they see. They see all of a sudden this new invention on Kickstarter and blam, it's a huge raging success and I think that's a very rare case, that it's actually just kind of a spark out of nowhere. But what you've done is again like you were saying, organically you started solving a problem, creating content around it, having conversations and always focusing on serving the people that were right in front of you right away, which brought more people to you and spread the word. And I'm sure ... I wanna ask you about your SEO in a moment because I'm guessing like for the first while, you probably weren't that concerned about it. You were probably trying to just solve a problem and describe it as best as you could, and those took care of itself. And another thing that I loved that you told me is that the book that was this incredibly successful book, was originally just a small handbook that you were giving away to help your customers succeed, which again, a lot of people enter book marketing hoping to just get their ... get the results that you did. You were designing something to be helpful from the ground up for the people you were already serving and I think that that's a really, really powerful story that a lot of people who are in the early stages of a business, no matter if it's in health and wellness and any kind of industry. Just learning how to start these conversations, create good content, tell a good story and share your story online and if you're tapped into the right place, then people are gonna find you. Hannah:                   That's exactly right. And what you're hitting on the head is helping others because ... and it's a lot of hard work, like it doesn't just magically grow itself. You have to put in the work and the other side of this is we have a product based] business, and that comes with its own host of challenges. Right? You have to figure out shipping and managing inventory and all of those other aspects that go beyond just I show up and write a blog. It's very different ... And more than that, we're not even selling a ready to drink product. Like you can go to a store and think, "Oh, I've never had a kombucha. Sure, I'll try it once." But to take home a culture and decide you're gonna ferment and make it at home, that I think has been the biggest challenge with working with traditional marketing teams or a traditional SEO because what works for widgets doesn't always work for a lifestyle. And really, it's giving people the information that they need knowing that when they're fully informed on a process or they understand what it is they're going to be undertaking, that they can move forward into that with more confidence. Not everybody's gonna read everything before they dive into something. A lot of people just wanna jump in and get their hands dirty and kind of learn that way as well. So there are many ways to kind of approach that, but it's just been by like absorbing, reading, researching. That to me is fun and interesting, to kind of learn all of these details, this minutia, and then to have my husband who's this wonderful balancing force. I'm the like, "It's a miracle. It's gonna save the world.", and theoretically that could be true, but you always have to balance that kind of enthusiasm with, "Okay. But it's a food like any other and no one food is ever going to be everything you need to consume ever because that's not how human beings are designed." And ... So it's also not getting totally caught up in the drama or the excitement of the thing that you're working with, but really staying focused on how do we serve the people who need this information, because you're gonna end up answering the same questions again and again and again. But it's important that even if you're tired of doing that, you still show up with a smile and present the information to that new person because for them, you're creating a relationship, you're creating a contact point. They're like, "Oh, I can trust this person because they didn't ask anything of me, and yet they gave freely of their information." And so we've had a freemium for a long, which you probably talk about in many of your shows- Kyle:                                        Yeah. Hannah:                   About how important that is to give something away and that's been an important part of being able to build a list. And then ... Again, marketing to them is very different than to other widgets. Kyle:                                        To that point, I'd love to hear kind of what you have set up right now about ... How do you do to take them from their first point of contact, they're consuming your content, to making a purchase in the store? How do you guide them through that process? Do you have ... You've got a freemium play right now. So what do you do to kind of level them up and show them the value that you can create? Hannah:                   Yeah. Well obviously where we're going to maximize value, not only to them but to us, is by selling our higher priced packages. Right? And again, most people aren't gonna ... who just occasionally drink kombucha aren't gonna think, "Oh, let me drop $300.00 on a kit that's gonna help me make kombucha all the time." So first, you have to be someone who's really excited and into it. And so when you get our ... It's an email a day for five days, so we try not to over inundate people. They also get a downloadable recipe as well as a brewing guide with that. So you have some assets that you can work with immediately and then we just kind of gradually walk them through what kombucha is, how it can help and then leading up to why it's beneficial to jump into continuous brewing, 'cause it really is. It saves time, it saves effort, ultimately it saves money, but people have to kinda come to that information themselves and our philosophy is to trust your gut. That means don't do something because I do it. It means listen to your body. When you're getting feedback, does this resonate? Does this feel good? And so it's a very different sales technique than, "You must have this now!" Or "Limited time! It's all running out!" It's a very different approach because it's very gradual and it's about helping people come to this decision themselves. And so the way we do that is with just really quality information that allows them ... Maybe continuous brew isn't for them right now, they're gonna start with a smaller kit or a smaller package, and then ultimately they know they can come back and get the pieces they need from us. And the other point of specific differentiation, is we try to invent products that fit our niche. Kyle:                                        Yeah. Hannah:                   So we've developed a heater with a thermostat at a time when there were no heaters with thermostats for brewing and fermentation. There were kind of brew belts and things you had to monitor on your own, but we came out with one that has a thermostat. Now, of course, you can find a lot of these in a lot of places, but we also developed a vessel that has a unique shape and we work with a potter. It's made in the U.S.A., so we continue to try to create these points of differentiation that other people who just wanna sell some SCOBYs or whatever aren't thinking of in terms of catering to the entire experience. [bctt tweet="Create points of differentiation in your content and think in terms of catering to the entire experience. -Hannah Crum" username="kylethegray"] Kyle:                                        I think that's beautiful. I think that's really exciting and being able to package a bunch of different products into one big kit to show a lot of value, I think is really powerful and essential for an eCommerce plan. I love what you were touching on where there's much information in the digital marketing world, especially where I live in all the time, which is all this kind of high now urgency, kind of fear-driven copywriting. And that's one of the reasons why I love content and building relationships and aiming for something longer than just a quick sale, which I think you've done so well and which is why I was so happy to have your story here today. Hannah, you've mentioned a lot of your different products, but where can we go to learn a little bit more about you if people are excited about kombucha and ready to start their own homebrew or just wanna learn a little bit more about you? Hannah:                   Absolutely. So, that's Kamp with a K 'cause I'm a word nerd. I'm [kute and klever]. Yes, those all had Ks. But Kombucha Kamp is the best first place to go to, from there you can also go to our store. We do four cultures in total. So we do kombucha, which is the fermented tea. We do jun or jun, which is its green tea raw honey cousin. And then we also do milk kefir and water kefir and all of these are in a living form and we have loads of content for all of them. So if you're into fermentation at all when it comes to fermented drinks, come check us out because we have that information there. And then, if you're someone who wants to start your own kombucha business, we do offer consultation, but then there are also great resources at the trade association, which is So you can also find me there. We have a lobbying effort. Our trade association has really grown quite a bit. So we started with 40 member brands and we're over 300. So it's just a testament to how quickly this industry is growing and how much our efforts are contributing to that process. And of course, people are seeing that there's an opportunity and we wanna make it easy for them to take advantage of that because right now, there's no one producer that can make enough kombucha to satisfy the world's thirst. So it's really ... If you're considering getting into a business and you're afraid of hard work, fermentation whether it's drinks or sauerkraut or whatever, everybody needs it. Everyone's sick and they need a good, local option. So highly recommend that if you're not afraid of hard work. Kyle:                                        Amazing, Hannah. Thank you so much for joining us. Hannah:                   Thanks, Kyle. Really great to be here.