After leaving an extensive career in the fashion industry, Ryan Fortwendel knew he wanted to do something more; something with meaning. Meaning “everyone” in German, Minna is Ryan’s answer to this calling.
Minna is taking over the nation with its line of sparkling teas and changing lives, one can at a time. We spoke with Ryan about how he got started, Minna’s rapid growth, why being inclusive is important, and what we can expect from the company next.
Before founding Minna what were you doing?
Before Minna I was working in the fashion industry, most recently managing Marc Jacob’s e-commerce. In 2014 the president of the company left and there was a drastic shift in company culture. I didn’t see myself in that environment any longer, and I left my position in 2016 after eight years.
And then what?
After leaving Marc Jacobs I took some time off to travel and rediscover my creative passions. I moved to Bali and got Crossfit and yoga-certified. Quite the shift from New York life!
How did this inspire you to found Minna?
In 2017 after coming back from living abroad I spent the summer on Cape Cod, unsure of what I wanted to do next. This was around the time new sparkling beverages like La Croix and Spindrift were becoming popular, and a local place on the beach served the best sparkling tea. This was my “A-ha!” moment. Why wasn’t anyone else doing this?
What were the early days of business like?
Only until recently did I start building the Minna team. The past couple years have just been me. In the start I hauled batches of tea to different brewers, perfecting the recipe. I was new (and still am!) to the beverage world, so I asked anyone and everyone for feedback and insights.
You’ve seen some incredible growth since launch, what would you say fueled this?
At Expo East 2019, we won the NEXTY Award for best new beverage, which got the attention of Whole Foods Northeast’s buyer. In March of this year we will also be rolling out across the Mid-Atlantic and Rocky Mountain regions. Beyond Whole Foods, we work with some great retail partners like The Village Den, Erewhon and Popup Grocer.
What’s more important: brand story or branding?
It’s not that one is more important than the other, but to get a consumer to pick up your product and read about your story, you need good packaging. We’re lucky to have a great design partner (Gander, Inc).
What has been your proudest moment as a founder?
Creating a brand that stands for something, and being able to give back. Also, creating a safe and creative workplace that employees are able to thrive in. Coming from a tight-knit team at Marc Jacobs, this is something that is very important to me as I grow Minna.
What advice would you give to other early-stage entrepreneurs?
Always ask yourself, what can I do better? Not better than your competition, necessarily. But better than you are already doing things.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being personal.
How do you practice this at Minna?
We are always listening to feedback from customers and constantly evolving. We recently moved to sourcing fair trade tea, because we feel this represents the brand better. We also transitioned to minimizing plastic with our packaging. And we are working on broadening our scope of charities to partner with in an effort to be inclusive. Minna is more than just a name, it is what we stand for.
What can we expect next?
We have some exciting plans for Expo West next month (booth #H1112) … stay tuned!