Summer Hassam and Michele Vanlangenaeker: Approaching Success in Business through Hard Work, Humility and Passion

Each of us have a unique journey in the course of our lives. Some of us may begin our careers in one industry and years later find ourselves working in a completely different one. This is the nature of our professional journeys: it’s going to take time to find the right, the most suitable or the most meaningful job for each of us. In fact, the decision to stand up and work hard for a meaningful purpose reflects the essence of entrepreneurship.

Summer Hassam and Michele Vanlangenaeker are two new to the game small business owners in Singapore recently having established ‘Wild Boocha’, a brewery for a natural, fermented and healthy drink called kombucha (also affectionately known as “booch”).Interestingly, both ladies come from very different backgrounds: Summer worked in the USA, Canada and Singapore as a fine wine agent for savvy collectors, while Michele was in the legal industry as a consultant, business developer and both have served their time as stay-at-home mums too. After becoming friends in Singapore, their mutual interest in kombucha sparked an idea that they themselves could start brewing and eventually making a business from selling the drink. 

Wild Boocha

In 2019, these friends took the bold step to start this business together wanting to produce healthy and delicious kombucha, which otherwise was a niche product with limited variety in Asia. In the long term, they hope to introduce the benefits and the taste of this drink to many more people across the region. 

Embarking on the Journey of Entrepreneurship

“I realized that I was really bored in my previous corporate jobs. I have always been more of a hands-on person; I love to make things and experiment with food. One day Summer invited me to go to a kombucha brewing class with some friends. We were both bitten with the “booch bug” and started experimenting making the drink at home for our family and some friends”, Michele recalls. 

Summer’s palette that had been trained in wine appreciation and fermentation techniques after 20+ in that industry gave her a natural advantage to lead the brewing process and to develop flavour profiles for the kombucha.“My passion for fermentation brought me to experimenting with various teas and flavours. Our kitchen soon turned into a mini-brewery. Between family and friends, I couldn’t keep up with the demand,” she explains further. 

Michele suggested that they could start a business venture. “One day, I threw an idea at Summer that we could team up and set up a proper business. I could take care of the back office operations, and she could focus on sales and brewing,” Michele says. Their diverse prior experience could complement each other well. 

They initially rented out a small, 400 sq feet space above a shop and started brewing on a larger scale. “We kept our production simple, created a website and started promoting our company at vendor fairs. We quickly gained local notoriety and people gravitated to our first set of flavours like yuzu & lavender and lemongrass & ginger turmeric”, Summer says. “We then developed more products like strawberry & mint and raspberry & passionfruit. Now we even have a coffee flavoured booch!” she goes on.

In the initial days, the two women presented their products to popular cafes, brunch locations and niche grocery stores to strengthen their commercial presence. As demand grew, Wild Boocha moved into a bigger manufacturing facility. This allowed them to brew in larger quantities, attracting more customers. The business is now predominantly business to business but retains a very loyal consumer following, which served Wild Boocha well through the pandemic as they deliver directly through online channels as well as its in-house delivery platform.

Nurturing the Popularity of Kombucha in Asia

Kombucha is an ancient but little-known drink, prepared with tea as the base ingredient. It’s both tasty and healthy, laced with nutrients and probiotics which are a variety of microorganisms required for our digestive systems’ well-being. 

“Kombucha is a natural and functional beverage that promotes good health and a more desirable alternative to high sugar sodas, juices and sweetened iced teas. It’s refreshing, tart and fizzy.  Everything you want in a soda or a drink! It’s kid friendly as well!” Summer shares with enthusiasm.

“Because kombucha is slowly becoming mainstream, accessibility and sales has been growing steadily worldwide. You can find kombucha well beyond traditional retail outlets now. We want to see kombucha as the new alternative to soda or juice,” she explains further.

Wild Boocha’s kombucha makes use of organic teas and organic raw cane sugar. Having carefully curated their tea blends to complement fruit and herb combinations, they bring a wide variety of flavours to their drinks which makes their products diverse enough to satisfy everyone’s tastes. 

Towards a Bright Future

While other sectors within the Food and Beverage industry have suffered through restrictions from circuit breakers and social distancing, the health and anti-oxidant benefits of the drink have actually acted as a catalyst for their growth in spite of supply chain challenges for equipment, raw ingredients and packaging.

As part of their growth journey, the business also needed to work with new industrial scale equipment, like large closed ferment vessels. Kombucha is a ‘living organism’ and very sensitive to change and the environment which in turn requires patience, attention to detail and lab like manufacturing conditions. 

Both partners are also married with children, presenting a further challenge to balance their personal commitments with professional obligations. “I am a business owner, a wife, and a mum of three kids. As an entrepreneur, I’ve learnt to stay true to myself, listen to the guidance from those close to me, have clear goals, stay humble and act with decency with my employees and customers. I’ve also realized that I’m not Wonder Woman, but just a woman with many responsibilities. It’s not easy to do everything. If I can stay humble and honest, I can start to accept my shortfalls and bounce back!” Summer says. 

Although kombucha is new and niche today, it’s slowly and steadily growing. Wild Boocha is very excited to be at the forefront, and is even collaborating with other local, craft businesses within the heath and wellness community. “This has been an amazing adventure. Taking a hobby and turning it into a business isn’t something you can do every day. For now, we want to continue in this way and steadily grow our presence. In 2 to 3 years, who knows what the future might bring!” Michele sums it up, optimistically.