April 27, 2023

#116: Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir (Smart Soda)

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Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir — the co-founders of Smart Soda, headquartered here in Cleveland — on revolutionizing the beverage industry!

The revolution is taking the water and soft drink industry by storm where for many consecutive years, carbonated soft drink sales have been in decline as an increasingly health-conscious society is demanding healthier alternatives in face of the $250 billion US soft drinks market.

Smart Soda is meeting that demand with a proprietary and functional beverage platform for major corporations, restaurants, offices, and retail, offering state-of-the-art beverage dispensing products serving healthy and delicious flavored sparkling water made with all-natural alkaline mineralized water, with the option for over 32 flavors utilizing organic cane sugar, vitamin infusion, and much more coming down the pike — to deliver everyday effervescence.

To date, Smart Soda has raised over $7mm building out the company, and has partnered with major brands like Sysco, BareBurger, 7-Eleven, and many others, all in pursuit of their vision to sustainably (WELL Standard adherent) create the best tasting and highest quality health-forward beverages.

Lior Shafir is an experienced executive in the water and beverage industry, with over 20 years in the field serving as the former Chairman and CEO of Aquatal and also as the former CEO of the exclusive US distributor of Soda Stream, the Israeli-based carbonated drink maker, which was acquired by Pepsi for $3.2 billion back in 2018.

Julia Solooki, now the president of Smart Soda, is focused on running and developing retail and online sales operation as well as strategically developing Smart Soda’s channel partner relations. Prior to co-founding Smart Soda with Lior, Julia held a series of leadership positions in the healthcare services arena in addition to serving on the board of education for the Healthcare Billing Management Association.

We cover a lot in this conversation — the proliferation and market for carbonated drinks, Julia and Lior’s commitment to sustainability, expansion plans, go-to-market strategy, and much more — please enjoy our conversation!


This episode is brought to you byImpact ArchitectsandNinety. As we share the stories of entrepreneurs building incredible organizations throughout NEO, Impact Architects helps those leaders — many of whom we’ve heard from as guests on Lay of The Land — realize their visions and build great organizations. I believe in Impact Architects and the people behind it so much, that I have actually joined them personally in their mission to help leaders gain focus, align together, and thrive by doing what they love! As a listener, you can sit down for a free consultation with Impact Architects or leverage a free trial through Ninety, the software platform that helps teams build great companies, by visitingia.layoftheland.fm!


Learn more about Smart Sodahttps://smartsoda.com/

Connect with Julia Solooki on LinkedIn

Connect with Lior Shafir on LinkedIn


For more episodes of Lay of The Land, visit https://www.layoftheland.fm/

Past guests include Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Steve Potash (OverDrive), Ed Largest (Westfield), Ray Leach (JumpStart), Lila Mills (Signal Cleveland), Pat Conway (Great Lakes Brewing), Lindsay Watson (Augment Therapy), and many more.

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Connect with Jeffrey Stern on LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreypstern/

Follow Jeffrey Stern on Twitter @sternJefehttps://twitter.com/sternjefe

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Jeffrey: thank you so much for joining us. I'd love to start, Leora, Julia, if you could just take a little bit of time and let us know a little bit about yourselves and we'll make our way to Smart Soda here, but just share a little bit about your respective stories and paths to entrepreneurship.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: Of course, ladies first. Ladies first. All right. Well, thank you for that. So I'm Julia Saluki. I'm a Ukrainian born immigrant. I came to the United States in 1991 and kind of planted my roots here in Cleveland. Majority of my family actually ended up in New York with the exception of my grandmother's brother who somehow ended up in Cleveland. And so that ended up happening. So. And luckily so, because obviously all the roots are here. All of my education happened in Cleveland. Cleveland State got my undergraduate degree in marketing, went to complete my MBA there as well, and spent a majority of my time in the business development space and marketing. And with the last 10 years of my career as a healthcare services consultant, for a company out of New Jersey. And then of course, smart soda. But that's an interesting story, and we'll get to that soon. But about two years ago, I was also interested in psychology and specifically human sexology. So I became a clinical sexologist and a sex coach. Most of the people don't know that about me. As majority of my life has been in the business world. But that's a story for another time. So I am all part of the clinical sexologist. I don't practice. I haven't since the time I graduated just because, you know, we're so deep into smart soda and for smart soda specifically, I had, you know, I'm the president and co-founder of smart soda and I am also leading the efforts on all the marketing, branding, creative direction. So yeah, that's a little bit about me...You know trying to convince the Americans that they should have a bottle of water cooler at home. He didn't walk out And I thought but this is me. No one can stop me But what happened they got approached by a company Israeli company called soda stream and they just went public in NASDAQ I'm very good friend with a chairman and the CEO or former chairman's CEO and They were looking to take the soda stream professional to the next level soda stream...

Jeffrey: Hmm, like the actual translation of the word.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: I could not call the company's Soda Stream Professional USA. So all the other LLC in my mind smart smart sparkling water And in 2017 we got the registration for smart soda and turn it into a real smart soda And again, which which at this point smart soda is its own beverage category That's how we're launching it and of course we'll get into the the majority of what we do in the various business channels and it. But the interesting part is that very little of our business has actually to do with soda. And it's in our name, but we love it anyway. It's a unique registration. We were lucky to grab it once upon a time. And so here we are.

Jeffrey: So I'm always really fascinated by understanding where the founding insight for a company comes from. And in this case, it feels like it's such a logical next step having the experience that you've had and bring it to America. But did you have a bigger vision for what smart soda would become? You mentioned flavors, but I know it's become a lot more holistic of a vision than that. Where did the idea come from? kind of come from.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: You know, first of all, the honest answer is absolutely no. We Will get to this point. We have hopes that we didn't have the right direction in the beginning, but we had the compared to what we are currently doing, but we thought that we want to build a soda portfolio, beverage portfolio that we will be able to provide not just sparkling or alkaline water, but the actual flavors. We knew that it must be healthy, vitamin infusion, it has to taste amazing and we took almost two years time to, from one side partnering with the largest founded manufacturers in the world, like Lancelot Corporation, the same company that will sell the Pepsi and we got into a tier one pricing and very strong relationship with them. On the other side, then we had maybe two or three rounds of partnering with local syrup factories to formulate our 30 plus more flavors portfolio. And also a dream of a beverage. You know, it was extremely important to us and it still is throughout all of our lines. Whether we're talking it on a, you know, fountain level, we reference it to it as bibs, which which is a bag in a box, that's where the syrups are, and you dispense it for our equipment and we'll get into that conversation. Or whether it's in our already to drink, which we're actually excited to launch, starting May, our first batch of about 200,000 ready to drink products, nine SKUs, three immunity lines, three energy lines, and three flavored sparkling waters are gonna be hitting not the shelves yet, we're not going towards the retail venue just yet, very strong vending distributions that are open for us and we will do a kind of a soft launch just to see what even sticks, you know, what consumers are being drawn to. But in any regard, irrespective of the dispensing mechanism, one thing was always extremely important to us and that's the taste and how clean the label is. in tasting, creating, it took us about 14 months to create an amazing ready to drink beverage and we're super excited about it.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: were asking about the vision, you know, in a very early stage, our vision was to sell to restaurants mostly and to have the best experience for restaurants. And because this is what, where we started from, you know, with SodaStream, There was a chain called Berberger, like 45 locations. For us, it was the McDonald's. Like if we will get Berberger and we will fly into New York and kind of begging them and they become their friends. Now they'll see our seats and our board is a good friend. We did become friends. He's a lovely guy, but... But that was our vision. And for example, we never thought that smart soda will be sold in 7-Eleven. We never thought to sell to companies like Uber or Citibank. to have wellness and sustainable solution for their employees. So you're asking about the vision, one thing lead to the other. We got introduced to 7-Eleven. And next thing you know, we are setting smart soda in 7-Eleven. And a lot of other major Fortune 500 companies. So that was never part of the vision or the plan, but people are asking us what is so special about smart soda. And you never want to talk highly about yourself, but the answer is, companies are choosing smart soda and this is where we feel that we did something very well.

Jeffrey: So I want to get to that differentiation, the vitamin-infused, organic, customizable, tailored solutions that you're offering across the board. But I think it might be helpful before we get there to just layer on a little bit of context, especially in reflection on your experience in the space overall. But just like how has the carbonated drink landscape evolved over the last few years? It feels like there's a proliferation of seltzers and sodas and there's been a real rise of sparkling water and healthy carbonated alternatives. But how has the landscape kind of evolved and set the stage for the work you're doing?

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: Well, of course, as we all know, the consumers are getting healthier, they're getting smarter, and they're demanding a better solution out there. Without giving props to our competitor brands, you can recall that probably 10 or 11 years ago, LaCroix who led the kind of, they started this off, they kicked this off with flavored sparkling waters, because consumers were not going towards the sodas. I mean, don't get me wrong, they're still die-hard sodas. fans out there and usually it divides between Coke and Pepsi, right? There's still a great market for it. However, our niche is primarily towards those who want to have that fizzy feeling with a lot of flavor but have it not be so bad for you, not so calorie heavy and so sugar heavy. So the category started to explode and Leor can get into the actual numbers for you once I'm done took it away from there. It absolutely skyrocketed. It's still projected to skyrocket again. Leor will reference the actual numbers for you. But that was our dream to get into this space and create a product that tastes amazing and that's better for you. Now, as you talk about, you know, why are we called smart soda? And this is a very important key differentiating point. sourced alkaline, you know, waters like Perrier and Pallagrino and there are others, but these are just top of the mind. Majority of beverages, you know, when it's super carbonated, it gets to become pretty acidic, you know, sodas, you know, sparkling beverages. Unless they're naturally sourced, they are pretty acidic and it can be heavy on the stomach. It can be hardened digestive system. And the one thing that we always wanted to do is to make sure that we have a good amount to be, and this was the foundation of even soda stream times, we were smart because the base of everything that we do starts with alkaline water. Not to say that we're bringing a alkaline soda, that's an inaccurate statement. It cannot be alkaline the moment you carbonate it, but what we do is we create a better base by taking an alkaline water, which becomes a mineralized base, right? Heavy on the alkaline. And when we carbonate it, it becomes kind of like a mineral sparkling. And that's the base of everything that we do. It goes through an amazing filtration process that the base of our beverages are not as acidic as some of the other ones that you are familiar with. And that's really an interesting point because it's smoother. It's tastier. It's better for you. And in turn, when we do a lot of our installations, for instance, at like convenience stores, which we never even thought that this would be a category, but believe it or not, so many of those are converting over to smart soda. We actually run our filtration to even coffee machines and we call it smart soda coffee upgraded. So we run the alkaline water for the coffee, which makes it less acidic and just so much tastier. So this is a huge differentiating point and from that alkaline base we of course perfected the formula, perfected the the taste of things and you know here we are this is smart soda and obviously vitamin infusion so every bag in the box with syrup is vitamin infused so when you will drink cola diet cola or any other flavors you will get not just a much less acidic drink but it will be infused with complex BNC.

Jeffrey: So to support the kind of breath of offering that you have your, you know, all the flavors, getting the, you know, the tooling and instrumentation correct, I would love to understand a little bit more just, you know, what the company actually looks like. I know you've raised a few million dollars in funding, you've gone through equity crowdfunding through the Republic. How does that all kind of look and, you know, what does the company actually look like?

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: before we do though, I think we were wanting to reference some numbers in terms of the beverage industry and why we're so excited and why our investors are so excited. It's a big pie to slice. We definitely can be extremely influential considering where the consumer trends are heading. You know, just from the... We have of course our investors and business plans with PWC, so everything is very up to date...in 7-eleven, you want energy drink instead of red bull or sales use, you can customize your own drink, you can get this 45 ounces cup, but during COVID immunity was very important. So when you are dispensing immunity, you're getting 500 milligram of vitamin C, Alda Berry, zinc, ginger, magnesium, so again, this is a freestyle machine, but in sense that you can customize your own drink, ...for everything and think about yourself as a consumer. You want to consume something else here. It can be food, it can be beverage. You know that when you will eat or drink something else here you're going to sacrifice money. It will be more expensive and taste. It will be less tasty. It won't taste as amazing as the unhealthy option and our product won't taste more. Sorry, it won't cost more in general and it will be amazing in taste. So technically you don't need to If you're dispensing Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and 7-Eleven or Smiles order, you're going to pay the same exact price. And actually feel amazing doing so. You know what I mean? It's healthier, it's better for you, but you don't compromise on taste. So sorry to deviate from your original question, but I want to drive in that point because it's pretty important.

Jeffrey: No, I appreciate the detour there. To bring it back though to the company today and what it looks like.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: Okay, so we started very small. We raised $7 million to date, not couple of millions. And we are facing a major rounds in the very near future of in the tens of millions level that we will be able to grow even faster. We grew from an employee and a half to 17. We are planning to have 40 by the end of the year and we have a 200 employees. We will have 200 employees in the next five years. We are working on building...this project, a product. So this, again, we are considering SmartSoda as a beverage platform. We want to be available in schools, in universities, in offices, restaurants, at homes, with a different method of delivery. Sometimes it will be a can, sometimes it will be a capsule, sometimes it will be able to be in a box. The company, we change our business model from setting direct into setting through partners. So in a very short time, you will agreements with major companies like Compass Group, Eromal, Gouk and IME, so we are working through the food service management companies that they are serving. Again, Compass Group, they are serving 99 out of 100 Fortune 500 companies. So we are getting access to those type of clients through this distribution. And they are choosing smarts order, by the way, not exclusively, but we are a new vendor, a very into one machine. So our machine will dispense cold brew coffee, tea, lemonade, soda, diet soda, flavor sparkling waters, and instead of having a cold brew machine, another, a baby machine or a cooler with cans, they can consolidate everything into one machine that will actually cost less. But again, to your answer, we are keep growing, we are doing extremely well, we are getting very high traction from the largest players in the world, and we are very excited about the future...

Jeffrey: No, it is all very exciting. I'm curious with the decision to focus on the partnership route. I know Julia earlier, you had mentioned, perhaps aspirations of a strong retail brand and presence. Is the goal ultimately to have you or I as individuals and consumers recognize smart soda as a brand like a Coke or Pepsi? Or is it? through the partnerships just get this into the hands as many people as possible.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: You know, I don't think we have aspirations to become coca-pepsi. Coca-pepsi are, you know, soda categories. They have their markets. They have their die-hard fans. And good for them. We're not trying to compete in that space or compete for their clients. It's a different ballgame for us. To be honest with you, we are already a beverage platform. We are a new beverage category. Smart soda is not just our brand name, but a brand new category to bring out there. It's an elevated, you know, we are throwing the idea around of a new creative brief and it's the brilliant from the inside out. And that is truly unique and truly connects to smart soda because in any capacity, whether it's through the RTD and CANS directly to consumers, whether it's through our partners into the B2B space and offices, whether it's, you know, our, of course, amazing technology and the IoT technology to communicate through platforms, whether it's getting into the micro markets with our unique ability to do so with built-in cameras and QR codes, whether it's the taste or the ingredients, it's truly brilliant in any configuration and capacity. And what we want is to bring communities together of elevated beverage thinkers that, the beverage is the obvious part, but the smallest part of it. people by bringing them healthier, better, more connected, and that's the vision. The way to doing so, it's all of those, you know, it's all of those and then some, but you know, it's of course to influence and make people healthier, make people happier, make people brilliant. So this is definitely the goal.

Jeffrey: I'm with such a kind of a broad and ambitious vision. How do you think about, from the company building and entrepreneurial side of it, like the actual prioritization of what to focus on next? I see the destination where you're trying to go, how through the partnerships, getting the feedback from customers, even to exploring what goes into the development and testing of a new flavor, and having that be marketable and all these different infusions, how do you begin to parse through that?

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: so we can't tell you all of our secrets. No, I'm kidding. with that said, of course, right now the primary focus for 2023's partnership and partnership support. This is a huge category irrespective of all the other exciting things that are happening in parallel. As we were told you, we are launching a new small office home unit for the SOTA Spresso concept. We actually have that name trademark or the process of a trademark. where that's its own independent project with a very interesting global patent and technology on the actual pot itself. It will allow up to three various functional elements per drink. It can be multifaceted from mucktails to cocktails to flavored waters to sodas to any other functionally packed beverage. So we're super excited about that. And that's kind of happening in the background. Of course, ready to drink, which I quickly touched upon, the first round of kind of the soft launch. It's happening in May. We have very strong, through our primary investor or the main investor, and the various vending networks were able to have a nice distribution on the vending side to try this out. So that's already all of the hard work that went into it. Took about 14 months on the flavor profiles and all of the other elements of distribution and immunity You know, function. So that's happening, but the primary focus right now for 2023 is gonna be the partnership nurturing. So we definitely, you know, we have an incredible equipment which is also brilliant, a brilliant equipment piece that we're super excited about and that's the Julie and you heard it right, J-U-L-I. that's our newest, you know, latest and greatest equipment piece. It's able to, point and we're continuing to expand on the technology and the UI and all of that. But currently it serves six beverages and a function. Of course with sparkling, with alkaline, you can make it vitamin-infused. And that's really the star of the show. We're going hard after our partner agreements. We become approved suppliers to some of the best brands out there. And we're super excited. So we are heavily involved in the partnership support. We're building out all of the implementation of that. We're hiring, of course, field reps and regional reps across the country. And with our unique smart soda certification process of our technicians and installation processes and services. So that's the highlight of 2023. Not to say that our other business channels are not exciting, but what we realize quickly is as ambitious as we are and as excited as we are, we're still a small company. In order to be successful,

Jeffrey: Thank you. Thank you.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: we really have to perfect each one of those business sections. And the partner support on the B2B is the star of the 2023. Yes, but again, 95% of the company are super focused in one venture. And 5% of the company, which I occupy most of it, is the vision and the different ventures. And we have SmartSoldier in Canada, we have SmartSoldier in the UK, we are launching in the process of doing smarts for the Australian and the Middle East. So again, we have a global vision, which is part of our global expansion and a lot of other strategies that we are using, but the majority of the company at this time, revenue focused in a very successful already and very more promising venture, which is the partners. Yes, and you know, the head count of 17, 18 people now is in the Cleveland office. have an entire UK team, a Canada team, a student of Mexico team. We have a lot of, you know, our marketing company that's not counted, you know, our production company that's not W2. Yeah, W2. So of course it's more than 18 people, but that's the corporate atmosphere. And then we have all of our various partners and contacts that work for SmartZota in, you know, creating this vision. We have an incredible team of marketing professionals, creative, creative people in New York who have done really exciting things with Volvo and our director, Google, yeah, he headed the...

Jeffrey: I've heard of that one

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: I don't like to drop names and, you know, let our brilliance be carried through everything that we do rather than just to talk about it. But I promise you you'll be seeing and hearing of Smart Soda a lot more soon.

Jeffrey: Lior, how much of your experience at Soda Stream was somewhat directly transferable to the smart soda endeavor? I'm curious, what were the kinds of things that you knew you would want to do a second time over? What were the things maybe you wanted to avoid? You know, some lessons perhaps of things you didn't want to repeat. How much have you been able to leverage from your experience?

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: ...of this specific unit but a lot of the I got inspired by the vision some of the tactics the way to market obviously we will be publicly traded in a couple of years from now so this is another part of the the vision not that this is our exit strategy this is just a very tactic stage for us so in this regards... most of it came from probably 30, 40 books, not necessarily so extreme, but a lot of success stories and again, you can learn from a lot of people that have done it in different ways. So I'm spending a lot of time reading or to be correct listening to audiobooks and a lot of the tactics and strategies came from just looking around and understand what other people are doing, the market segments...Again, our vision, and I don't want to sound silly, our vision or projection is much bigger than this specific soda stream written segment. And also Jeff, you know, we're learning as we go, you know, creative people, visionaries, you know, Leor will, you know, I'll tell you, he's definitely a visionary. He definitely has an appetite for success and making a difference, you know, have we made mistakes along the way? Of course we have. And I think that makes it even more exciting, you know, a lot of newness. lot of not so new, but it's basically, you know, ideas falling into place as they continue to be executed. Did we have such a, we always had an appetite for this and a great vision and ambition. But as it started to, one thing started to play out and it's kind of, you know, you know, balled into, you know, into something bigger and, you know, we're, we're here for the ride. So we're excited. And just seeing the red light. response, seeing the need, seeing the healthier trends and how people are willing and dying to be healthy. Dying to change something, maybe dying is not the right word, but excited to be. Dying not to die. And so many diseases out there, so many things that really affect not just our minds, all the stress that we have. To create a product that's amazing. We don't know if we will or not, but we sure hope we will. If we can change the life of one person, we already accomplished a lot. By an amazing beverage, by an amazing beverage experience at work, by an amazing beverage experience anywhere you are. So it happened to kind of build one thing led to another, but we're still figuring it out as we go. The biggest shift actually happened during COVID. Again, our main focus was also on the COVID. hospitality, restaurants, and this segment, as you know, shut down entirely. And while we were thinking about the B2B, because that was my background, we used to sell a lot of bottledess water cooler to offices, we didn't have the time to take it to the next level and COVID was a very good timing for us to kind of slow down, stay back and create this office concept. And luckily, so the 7-Eleven came immediately after, I won't get you into all the details, but we created something very unique for the office segment that was Extremely unique for the convenience stores market and they said wow They didn't even believe that we have these type of flavors with this type of ratio size and specifications and price And we didn't even plan to offer it to we didn't think about the convenience stores segment to begin with but Something we were doing for the office segment Perfectly fit what we are doing in C-Stores you cannot play out. You don't know how it will play out. But one thing led to another and we see more and more just cease for owners independently. Franchisees just counting, hey guys, and we're making it super accessible. Obviously, we're not going to go through the way that we do it, but more and more people are wanting to run healthier, better for you beverages. And it's a huge hit. taking their most profitable category, which is the fountain, and allowing, we have a patent that is on demand function, so we're able to pack an amazing functional beverage at an extremely affordable cost. I mean, it's a win-win for all. Again, we are more targeted towards the B2B space and offices right now. We're kind of letting convenience stores just, you know, as it comes great, but we're not actively seeking that, but it's definitely a huge category for us As soon as we have the alignment and the projections actually become real numbers and the B2B space, convenience stores with some of these large brands out there that we wore as reference, we will continue to be super successful.

Jeffrey: Oh yeah, well I think it's very rare that the business that you start with is the business that you succeed with. Part of it is just like Julia, you mentioned this iterative process of improvingover time and figuring it out. Yeah, absolutely.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: And we have investors who, you know, everyone invests for their own reasons. Obviously, everyone wants our ROI, right? But, you know, we've heard many times, well, you know, with one specific group of investors who become our dear friends, they said, you know, we don't care what you guys are selling. We love you guys and you're so passionate about what you're doing. Anything you touch, we just know will be successful. whether it's whatever it is, we're here backing you guys up. And I think that's so, you know, if anything else, you know you're doing things right. And I'm not saying it's always right. We've made mistakes along the way, you know, you live and learn, right? You get bruised, you stand up, you keep fighting, you keep going. You know, there is a lot of firsts in this. And the only thing I would say is to those who are in the same shoes, and I can't really say, hey, we've gone so far, We're still figuring it out, but I think perseverance and just passion and belief. I also think that Leor and I are lucky because we're also partners in life. And we, you know, when I was ready to give up, he wouldn't. And when he was ready to give up, I came in strong. And not really, but I would say mostly it was me trying to give up and Leor just would let me. So, you know, you look back and you're like, man, you know, his endurance, his perseverance. perseverance. It's like, I know for a fact we're going to make it just because, you know, when no one else was standing, he was. And under any circumstance, under any condition, and I think, you know, if you love what you do and if you believe in what you're doing and if you have a greater mission for what you want to accomplish, of course financially it's exciting. Of course it's exciting to make money. Who isn't in it for the business to make money? But if that's the only thing you're in, I don't know how successful that will be. I really want a difference. I really want to make a difference. I really want to create a platform and a product that is truly brilliant from the inside out in any capacity. I want it to be the cleanest label possible within limits, of course, but as much as I can to have a taste amazing, to have people come together when they're having a beverage experience, a new elevated beverage experience. So all of these things in mind, the money will come in, of course it will and it does and it's exciting. What is what is your the highlight of your professional career? Or maybe the highlight of your existence, you know, we're all here for a purpose. And if you're able to connect to this life, I'm a very spiritual person. If you're able to have meaning in what you do and see how much it influences others, even this story, maybe someone is going to be listening to this and they were ready to give up or maybe they're depressed or, you know, mental health is so important. That's another topic that we can talk about. But if they're hearing this, like, don't give up, there is always, you know, every, you know, the bad, the good dose, but so does the bad. Life is full of ups and downs and just believe in yourself, believe in your product, believe in your people and keep moving. Something we'll give for sure. And another I think very important component, every smart soda employee is a shareholder. Everyone,technically from day one, but they have 90 days probation. And if you will walk into our office, you will feel the energy, you will feel the excitement, you will feel the commitment, you will see it. And again, I won't go into examples, but we have an amazing team and the energy, the being part of something that is bigger than yourself, something that can be a life-changing event to a lot of people. This is what I think put the glue or speak everyone into one big mission. Yeah, the employees, I mean, they're just a phenomenal group people, is it always awesome and exciting? Of course not. Is it stressful at times? A lot. Do we have expectations and demands? But everyone is just, you know, they're there, we are a family. You know, it's always, you know, it's always, we're all, you know, one for all and all for one, truly. It took some time and some adjusting. It wasn't always the case. There have been, you know, ups and downs. But I believe the way that it stands today and as we expand, we have I mean the best people truly and we're really blessed. Super great.

Jeffrey: Well, if anything is apparent, the passion that exudes from both of you, I imagine is captured by the company in its whole, so it's awesome.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: We have this specific group of investors that they have much bigger businesses at this point in their lives And when they are walking into the office, they said this is where we are enjoying This is fun And they see me and they said the energy is amazing. I said hey, I'm 80% sleeping already. I'm tired 20% that left get excited. I'm happy because it is a lot of work again This is not always fun We just came from a full working vacation with five to six Yes, it was by the ocean, it's nice, but again, you have commitment, waking up super early, working for sometimes 15 hours or more, but again, there is- My day, right. It's worth it though. I mean, truly it's worth it. And every single person that contributes, we have, you know, kind of newbies that are coming and just starting their careers with us. And the amount of, you know, just so diligent, so loyal, so committed, so excited. is what it, this is what it's all about. I mean, whether the war is a visionary and I'm the executioner, it's really about the people that are around us, because it's not always, you know, this is a startup still, you know, we, not every process has its own process, not everything is protocoled out, not everything is seamless and, you know, not everything has its own place, it's the building of that and if people are able to see past that, and really just stick around and continue to go through this. it means we're doing something right. And if we're not, you know, I'd like to apologize in advance. If anything wasn't smooth, if any of our team ever hears this, but we just, we are so grateful and so appreciative of everyone. I just see the level of commitment through the weekends. I mean, we have our sales team, you know, and it changed a lot. You know, there was, you know, ups and downs through that process as well as we perfected the way that we are selling now and the commitment, the way that they're working Saturday, Sundays. I mean we're like guys, enough, you know, like it's the weekend, go relax, you know, vacations, go on vacation, my policy personally, not for myself but for our people, when it's time to relax, do not do work, do not, like disconnect entirely, I don't expect anyone to stay on but they still do and it's just, it's it's humbling to be honest with you because their mission, it's it's aligned with ours and it's just it's incredible.

Jeffrey: Hmm. Well, I could talk to you both for a lot longer, but I know we're coming up on time here. So I want to bookend it with a traditional closing question that we ask for everyone who comes on the podcast, which is totally unrelated to everything we're talking about so far, but is actually just for a hidden gem in Cleveland for something that other folks may not know about, but perhaps they should.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: A hidden gem in Cleveland. I don't think it's a one hidden gem. I think Cleveland has phenomenal food restaurant options. And you know, you think when you think of restaurants specifically, New York, LA, Miami, Cleveland has some of the best look like we love squook, Doug Katz, a friend, and we love his place. We do a lot there. some of the Thai places. We love Red, of course, as a staple, even though there are, you know, we're actually going there tonight, Red and Pinecrest, a little plug in. Cleveland has some of the best restaurants, honestly. So it's not really a hidden gem, but really give Cleveland an opportunity. I think Cleveland is just an amazing city. It's a great city in general to raise a family, the cost of living, and it's so understated. not the mistake by the lake that it once was and had the better reputation for the beautiful city with phenomenal restaurants, museums, art centers. And it's like, we're literally seven minutes from Whole Foods Trader Joe's, our office, the highway, pools, and it's like no traffic. So the hidden spot is really just the city and the way you interpret it. And I think now that we're a little bit older In my early 20s, I was seeking out Cleveland's so boring, but it's really not. It has the best people, the best places, some of the best companies here, so we're really fortunate to have our headquarters here. My short answer, Cleveland is where Smart Sword has started. He will ask it in a few years, people will say, Seattle Starbucks, Microsoft, Cleveland will be smart solar. Ha ha ha. So Julia's

Jeffrey: Oh, I love that.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: grandmother's brother, they decided to move it. Cause I was, I followed. Yeah, we were in New York and it's my uncle, Benjamin Rutman actually. So he got us here. And my cousin actually is also working for the company. She's our director. And her dad actually so a little plug there but anyway Jeff thank you so much for your time we had a great time and you know we should do this again it was fun

Jeffrey: Yeah, absolutely. If folks said anything they wanted to follow up with you about, wanted to follow along on the journey as it unfolds, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: Feel free to reach us at our emails. It's Julia at smartsoda.com and Leor at smartsoda.com. And I think you can, I don't know how this is going to be displayed. If it's going to have a little bit of a copy like a messaging, but if not, it's A-U-L-I-A

Jeffrey: Mm-hmm.

Julia Solooki & Lior Shafir: at smartsoda.com. And Leor is L-I-O-R at smartsoda.com. We also have a communications team that's Chris Miller with Mabel. And for all of and inquiries we're going to direct it towards our communications department.

Jeffrey: Awesome.