That was a whirlwind of success for a home-brewed product. Still, Ellsworth had more in mind. She and her husband Stephen left their jobs to dedicate themselves to Mother Beverage full-time. To find funding and exposure, they appealed to “Shark Tank,” in an episode airing in December of 2018, where guest shark Rohan Oza proposed to invest $400,000 in exchange for 25% of the company. The Ellsworths, despite having sought to sell just 10% of the company for the same price, agreed right away.
Oza, a one-time Coca-Cola Co. marketer who later made a fortune guiding Glaceau to a sale to Coca-Cola Co. in 2007, has been a key figure in Poppi’s growth, bringing investment and experience to the brand. Oza’s venture capital firm, Cavu Consumer Partners, has been the lead investor in Poppi’s three funding rounds, during which the company has raised $52.3 million overall, according to Crunchbase. Oza has said he envisions Poppi as a $1 billion brand.
“As a brand starting out, you can waste a lot of time and money trying to find the right people to put in place like talent and resources, but what was amazing about Ro is, it was like, ‘Hey I’ve done this before. I have a playbook,’” said Ellsworth. “You avoid a lot of those mistakes, and it jumps you forward a few years.”
Immediately following the “Shark Tank” investment, Mother undertook an eight-month rebranding, assisted by Uncommon, an agency within Cavu.
“We changed the name to Poppi. We did positioning work, we did focus groups. We asked, do we do white cans or do we want color cans? What is the hierarchy of our messaging? What is our tone of voice? How are we to show up visually? Who is our consumer?” Ellsworth recounted. “A lot of brands don’t do that; they kind of figure it out as they go.”
Poppi’s rebrand was ready to reveal in March of 2020—and the pandemic was not going to stop it.
“We were like, this COVID thing it will last three weeks, we all thought that back then,” Ellsworth said. “And so we went full-force and continued to relaunch the brand, we didn’t hold back, because we’d been working on it so long and we were ready to go.”
As it turned out, the pandemic has lasted far longer than Ellsworth imagined but, in a way, the early lockdown was good for Poppi. “Shark Tank” aired an update on the Mother beverage episode in April 2020. With hundreds of millions of Americans staying home that Friday night, the episode drew 5.2 million viewers, and Poppi knew so right away.
“Our website broke,” Ellsworth said of the reaction. “We went from doing basically nothing on Amazon to $9,000, to over $250,000 just a few weeks later. What that did was right out of the gate, gave us the knowledge to be a digital-first brand. We had to find ways to communicate digitally because demos and real-life events were off the table. Nobody was going to the grocery store and doing sampling.”
The brand had another pivotal moment in January 2021, when Ellsworth made a TikTok video discussing her Poppi origin story. The post drew thousands of likes and comments and helped Poppi find another way to communicate with consumers.