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The Most Complex Thing I’ve Ever Done

A Slice on Jamba Dunn, Founder and CEO of Rowdy Mermaid

Jamba Dunn is an Egyptologist turned Kombucha brewer. Prior to founding Rowdy Mermaid, Jamba attended UC Berkeley where he wrote his own curriculum and syllabi. Egyptology at the time was not a primary focus for the department, so Dunn was given the opportunity to create his own program. After graduation, Dunn lived in Egypt applying his education to the real world.

Upon his return to the U.S. Dunn took a job with the World Without War Council, a think tank that consulted with the state department on policy. Here he built a website, learned how to code, and eventually became manager of the think tank. Dunn wouldn’t be here long before a friend would reach out with a job offer, he needed someone to code and work on his website for his NASDAQ 100 company. Dunn accepted the role, moved to Silicon Valley where he worked for a number of years before…burning out.

Dunn’s Silicon Valley burnout led him back to Boulder, and back to school. He decided to study writing, more specifically small pieces of text, i.e fragments, that are necessary for building narratives. This specialty would end up lending itself perfectly to Dunn’s next venture at Rosetta Stone, the language learning software solution. “As the American English Content Author, I assisted a team of people taking each one of the language levels and combining them, but utilizing the same grammatical nuance of the language to teach conversational language stories, poems and different things like that. We used that for a whole bunch of different projects and worked with Disney for language learning games for children.” 

Language, however, was not the only thing Dunn’s co-workers were interested in. Rosetta Stone is based in Harrisonburg, Virginia, an area steeped in American history. Dunn described how his co-workers had taken a particular interest in the founding fathers, and a unique hobby they had…brewing. Spurred by an interest in the “fathers’” brewing, they had taken up the hobby and it wasn’t long before Dunn followed suit. 

Continuing to brew beer at home, Dunn ran into a small (three year’s old) glitch. His daughter was disappointed she couldn’t drink what her dad had been brewing, so, she asked if he could make her something. Realizing he had to deliver on this request, Dunn immediately thought of kombucha and began researching best practices. By this time he had completed his Ph.D. from the University of Sweden so he applied his research expertise to the beverage, something he realized other founders in the industry had overlooked.

“It is the most complex thing I’ve ever done, or studied or thought about.”

It’s challenging to comprehend, but back in 2011 and 2012, when I was doing the research on how to start a company, what kombucha is, how do you make it, how do you scale it, all that type of stuff, there were no options available and thought well I’ll just do it myself. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather was an inventor, my dad was an inventor and entrepreneur, so it was kind of inescapable. Even though I tried to have solid jobs I always ended up doing side ventures. So I was making kombucha, and I didn’t know what I was doing or how to do it and there was nobody who would talk to me about it.”

Desperate for information Dunn resorted to reaching out to owners of other kombucha companies offering them money if the CEOs would talk to him for half an hour, to an hour. Luckily, a few of them did which just further proved that even these established CEOs still didn’t have all the answers. There was one person, however, the owner and co-founder of a kombucha company in Portland, who was able to offer Dunn valuable help. They would end up working together for a while. This was around the same time that Dunn hired a microbiologist to help him understand some of the problems that existed surrounding alcohol, sugar and caffeine. He also hired a brewer, who was an herbalist and they started experimenting in a warehouse in Boulder. Tinkering with recipes, herbs and fermentation they hit on a product that was uniquely acidic, alcohol and caffeine-free. The stars would appear to align, with their initial product complete, Dunn found himself thinking “there has to be a market for this” at the same time Rosetta Stone laid off hundreds of employees and Rowdy Mermaid kombucha was born.

As the company has grown, Dunn has a few learnings he’s accrued over the years. First, “I would say, definitely plan for growth. Don’t feel like you shouldn’t be spending money because you don’t have money, or that you should have the smallest of everything because that’s all you can afford, because that’s a death knell for a lot of companies. If you’ve got a great idea and a great product and you believe in it, then you should believe in it enough to be a bit more extended and create a bigger space to produce more of it. Secondly, invest in people who know what they’re doing, that’s been a godsend for us. Spending some of your money to find people who really understand how to elevate a business goes a long, long way.”

Today, Dunn has grown his team so much so, that they keep outgrowing their warehouses. Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha can be found in all 50 states and continues to expand, as the beverage company now carries adaptogenic immunity-boosting tonics. After all is said and done, it’s a way of life that’s problem-solving focused that Dunn believes makes an entrepreneur, not your business or your brain.

Founder Bio

Jamba Dunn is Founder and CEO of Rowdy Mermaid. Rowdy Mermaid is a functional beverage company whose kombucha is full of probiotics, phytonutrients, enzymes, and amino acids that are good for your health and great for your pallet. By crafting a great-tasting low acid, low sugar kombucha his 3-year-old would love, Jamba has built Rowdy Mermaid into one of the most popular and recognizable kombucha brands in the fridge. Connect with Dunn on LinkedIn.

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