From booch bottler to boss, Zack Schneller isn’t forgetting his Tea-Biotics roots as he embarks on his own startup journey — which has him helping his former employer with an eCommerce emergence and social media scale up.
“We did a free trial for them, which happened to fall on National Kombucha Day,” Schneller, co-founder of Oak Media, said of how the newly launched media agency first connected with Olathe-based Tea-Biotics in a professional capacity.
The Gen-Z marketer already knew the kombucha company — one of Startland News’ 2019 Kansas City Startups to Watch — well, said Rich Downs, one of Tea-Biotics’ key investors and an operational leader at the venture.
“We’re a small business with a growing reach, but just like any enterprise, you wind up doing a little bit of everything,” he said of 22-year-old Schneller’s experience at Tea-Biotics. “We had him making the kombucha, working on the bottling line, sweeping and mopping floors.”
He even modeled in photo shoots for Tea-Biotics — before taking his place behind the camera and computer with Oak.
“Tea-Biotics owner Lisa Bledsoe and I aren’t really social media savvy,” Downs said, noting he and the kombucha line’s creator learned a lot through the process of working with their former employee. “Everybody scratches their head about marketing in general — and social media is one of the most affordable.”
“These younger professionals like Zack are more experienced and better-suited to understand the ins and outs of it,” he continued. “You don’t need a big marketing company to grow a brand like Tea-Biotics. These guys live in digital media every day. It’s their life.”
Finding ways to use National Kombucha Day to showcase the company’s signature product, for example, was a no-brainer for the team at Oak and a surprising reward for Tea-Biotics’ marketing, Schneller said.
“They actually got over 1,000 followers in one day and they ended up paying us for the free trial,” he added, noting the company was blown away by the response and intrigued by the value they could find in digital marketing.
But when the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, Tea-Biotics needed a different kind of boost — sales.
“Obviously taproom sales fell off, grocery stores weren’t ordering as much booch — which is really their main source of revenue … so, we proposed an online store,” he explained of the shift, which now has Tea-Biotics offering home delivery — in addition to selling its kombucha in stores and its tap-room, which remained open amid Stay at Home orders.
Quick-thinking amid an ever-adapting digital media landscape can help Oak stand out, Schneller said.
“We’ve really focused on creating clean branding designs … and over the past month have really been focusing on TikTok marketing,” Schneller said, noting a focus on aligning brands with the emerging, short-form video platform appears to be undervalued by other local agencies.
“TikTok is definitely the best way to actually grow and get an audience [organically] and it focused heavily on location,” he said of why the platform is so impactful for brands looking to resonate with a specific geographic area or demographic.
“[TikTok’s design] focuses on people that genuinely care about the content you’re posting. We’ve gained about 100 Instagram followers in the past week just based off TikTok alone.”
Schneller said a similar reach could be just a phone call away for area startups and small businesses who align themselves with Oak and its growing team — which also includes Sean Calderon, co-founder; and Sam Budetti, newly onboarded media director.
The company hopes to make a name for itself and continue to connect with clients through its free trial offering. A unique and fresh approach to traditional agency sales tactics, he added.
“That’s something that only creates a report with clients but will also increase our testimonials,” Schneller explained, noting the offering gives Oak a chance to flex its marketing muscle and prioritize people over price points.
And while bringing the agency online in the midst of a global pandemic might seem like a bad idea, Schneller said a paused city has given Oak time to build intentional businesses, designed to help Kansas City brands reach their full potential by building pandemic-proof strategies.
“We’re very blessed to have started this when we did, because if not, it would be a completely different story,” he said, noting the company’s offerings have been able to be used as relief resources for financially strapped businesses.
“A pressing issue [with the needs of Tea-Biotics] helped us become more creative and look at [what kind] of businesses we’re trying to sign as clients,” he said.
And helping businesses succeed is why Oak Media exists, Schneller said.
“Being able to work for myself might be a little bit more stressful at first, but the benefits make up for it.”