Nicole Bernard Dawes of Nixie Sparkling Water on proving that certified organic products can be category leaders

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Describe your business in a few words? 

Nixie Sparkling Water is a line of delicious and consciously crafted sparkling waters that are Organic and non-GMO! Nixie’s sparkling waters are prepared with only filtered carbonated water and infusions of organic botanical and fruit flavors for a vibrant and refreshing taste. Nixie never contains synthetic solvents, carriers, or artificial preservatives and only uses recyclable cans with BPA free liners. 

What made you take the leap to start your own business? 

With my first business, Late July Organic Snacks, it all started because I was pregnant with my oldest son and couldn’t find an organic saltine anywhere in New York City. I realized that I had discovered a gap in the marketplace and set out to create delicious organic versions of classic snack foods. Similarly, with Nixie, I was perpetually in search of a refreshing, and certified organic sparkling water to satisfy my family’s love of sparkling water and couldn’t find one that checked all those boxes. One of the things that drove me the most with Late July and now, what drives me with Nixie, is proving that certified organic products can be category leaders and sell as well as their conventional counterparts. It’s incredible to be in a position where I, as a business owner, can impact change in the industry, while also championing causes that are important to me.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Prior to starting Late July in 2001, I was the director of marketing for my father’s potato chip company, Cape Cod Potato Chips and worked for a management consulting firm. I founded Nixie in 2019.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

My formative years were happily spent on the counter of my mom’s natural food store in the 1970s and the factory floor of my father’s potato chip company so it was almost inevitable that I would follow in their footsteps. This combined with the fact that my first summer job at 12 years old was baking and selling cookies to local delis really makes it seem like I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but the reality is more complicated. It wasn’t until I tried having a normal job that I knew I would never be happy until I started my own company. 

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

As with Late July, we really focused on Nixie’s retail partners from the start – supporting our launch with competitive promotions to drive consumer trial. We also put a lot of emphasis on social media and digital discovery, which turned out to be a great and flexible strategy that we could dial up over the past year while not able to offer samples or interact with consumers at events.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

My father, who co-founded Late July with me, passed away suddenly in 2009. It was the middle of the recession, and our bank used his death to put our multimillion-dollar loan in default. It was a make-or-break moment that culminated in a decision that would change the whole trajectory of our company. We knew we needed to pivot and decided to launch Late July’s tortilla chips that year. We literally put all our chips in one basket with an expensive product launch during a really uncertain time. But it was those tortilla chips that become the number one tortilla chip in natural foods, and our revenue quickly grew from $8M to over $100M. Looking back on it now, I realize that the true lesson I learned was the reason successful entrepreneurs have such good gut instincts is because they have made and solved thousands of mistakes throughout their careers. Mistakes are the building blocks of success.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

It’s my life’s mission to help create a sustainable food system by offering delicious organic products that inspire consumers to seek out and demand more sustainable options. It was incredibly gratifying to see the reception to Late July’s tortilla chips when we initially debuted the product and that feeling continues to fuel and drive me, now at Nixie.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I always recommend hiring slow to really get to know candidates and waiting for the right person versus rushing to fill a position. We like to have multiple people from our team from all different years of experience interview and spend time with candidates. I have a few go to questions depending on the candidate, but they are all designed to get them to tell me about something they are passionate about. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We launched Nixie in July 2019 and had big plans for 2020 in terms of our “official” debut into the world. COVID definitely impacted our approach and strategy as we couldn’t do so many of the things we wanted to implement to introduce the brand to consumers — including events, in-store sampling, etc. But I think I really benefited from my experiences with Late July when we were launching new products during the recession. Facing those challenges helped me to recognize that while COVID presented roadblocks, we could still have a successful year. Instead of going the direct-to-consumer route, we really leaned into retail relationships so when consumers started returning to stores in larger numbers, we would have a strong presence. We’ve since debuted on Amazon, but we continue to focus on retail as a way to engage with consumers and look forward to the moment when we can do more of those interactive moments. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

While we’re still a small team, we’ve been fortunate to experience exciting growth in 2021 that reinforces the potential for Nixie’s expansion as well as consumer interest in organic options. We are currently in over 6000 stores nationwide, on Amazon and recently introduced Nixie in some key Target regions. Nixie’s early growth trajectory is more than tripling that of Late July’s, hitting Late July’s year 8 sales in year 2 at Nixie, so we’re excited to continue expanding into new markets. With that growth, we hope to continue advocating and inspiring more organic options in the industry, while championing sustainable practices. I have a goal of helping to eliminate single-use plastic bottles and Nixie is committed to never using them. In the immediate future, keep your eye out for a new flavor from Nixie this summer.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

2020 was a year that will stay with us forever. As an entrepreneur it reinforced what I’d learned during my time leading Late July — that flexibility is essential to leading a successful business. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish I could tell my younger self that it would all work out. In those early days, it was easy to get wrapped up in those roadblock moments that feel like a “crisis,” but after nearly two decades as an entrepreneur, you realize that there’s always a solution or way to calmly address whatever is thrown your way. We can’t always control those circumstances, but we can control our reaction to it and that is a fundamental part of strong leadership. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Prioritizing family time, getting outdoors, and staying active. Gratitude has also been essential to maintaining balance and finding joy in small moments. I also started reading before bed again.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Building a work environment that allows my team to find balance is important to me. Even before the pandemic we’ve been flexible with working from home, time off and work hours. Flexibility is really the key because everyone’s work/life situation is different, so everyone has different needs. Personally, family dinners are the most important thing for me. Cooking helps me unwind and sitting together as a family everyday keeps us all connected.   

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you? 

I always have donuts on my birthday instead of cake.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day? 

  • I start each day rewriting & re-prioritizing my to-do list.
  • I leave Friday mornings meeting-free to help me organize my upcoming week.
  • I put everything in my calendar.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Powerful women lift each other up, being an Entrepenista means finding ways to help other people succeed, whether it’s a member of your team or a fellow Entrepenista! 

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