Gabriela Alban, the co-founder of Seattle-based Capuli Club Sips and Treats, is both an avid dreamer and a focused doer. Passionate about the beauty in the world around her, she has found a way to capture the essence of nature to bring joy and purpose to both her and her customer's life.
Alban produces more than just fruit-infused drinks, she has also crafted a brand story around her passion for beauty. She's inspired by the way people interact with the world and wanted to put her skills and passion to share with the world the beauty she sees. That's why she started Capuli Club, a company that produces fruit-infused drinks and snacks.
This wasn't always her path. Alban started off in the architecture world - a place where, at first, she could take her realistic visions and turn them into reality. Yet, after a few years she felt lost. She felt as though she wasn't on the right path and not quite doing what she was meant to do.
Looking for an answer, she attended Ventures Non-Profit, a resource for " business training, capital, coaching and hands-on learning opportunities for entrepreneurs with limited resources and unlimited potential." Soon after, she began dreaming up the concept for her own brand, and the idea for Capuli Club was born.
She began working with her mom to develop the concept around Capuli Club. She explained that, "with not much clarity about supply and demand or market fit, we began by thinking about what we would like to see in the market."
Eventually, they came up with the idea for the sugar-free, colorful, and minimally-processed fruit-infused drinks and decided to use it as a platform to change the way people think about their food, beverages, and the world around them.
Today, she's growing the business by launching subscription boxes and even has a pop-up coming soon to Seattle. Her biggest struggle is nailing down the production process and learning about the food industry as her and her mom create a brand they're proud of.
Her vision for the business is to create a thriving community of like-minded brands and experiences. She plans to launch a "couple of Capuli Centers (infusions cafés and cultural/ market centers) in Seattle" and expand to other cities through organic supermarkets.
Read her inspiring journey in the full interview below:
Ashley Hoffman (AH): So, tell me about the path that brought you to the beginning of Capuli Club.
Gabriela Alban (GA): There are only a few things I enjoy more in life than dreaming. I think that you can call me an idealist. When I have a vision in my mind, I can place my entire body into that alternate reality.
When that reality is an imaginary place, I can walk around and peek through every detail. I can see it so clearly that I want other people to see what I see. That's why, for a very long time, I thought architecture would be the perfect profession for me.
In the summer of 2014, I graduated with Honors in Architecture at the University of Washington and took off for my first job in Copenhagen, Denmark. I thought I was taking off to start my dream career. However, in the midst of all the comfort, I soon discovered in me a yearning to make a big difference with my work.
You see, I am originally from Ecuador, a place with much poverty and many social challenges. The contrast of the ubiquitous comfort in Copenhagen and the harsh reality I had grown up observing outside my window ignited in me a deep desire to develop the ability, to one day, do something about the challenges I see in the world.
With this new perspective, I began to feel incredibly lost. The image of an ideal career I had built up for myself felt so empty. I did not desire it anymore. Therefore, I returned to Seattle looking for answers.
I jumped in and out of jobs looking to learn “ how to make things happen”; how to build, how to move resources, and how to move people. While I was working I discovered Ventures Non-Profit and for the very first time, I was introduced to the idea of good business.
Many artists were coming to these introductory business classes seeking to learn to make things happen and to share their art with the world. I felt so identified and inspired that I began dreaming about my own brand. I thought that if I wanted to make an impact on how people interact with the world then the best place to start is with food and so that idea of Capuli was sowed.
AH: What made you switch from architecture to creating fruit-infused drinks?
GA: When I was able to hone in on the "why" for my love for architecture I realized it is grounded on the fact that I want to share with the world the beauty I see in it. I think beautiful spaces allow people to discover a latent reality and appreciate a place in a powerful way.
I think food can do the same in a more scalable and visceral way. In fact, I would even say the role that a rekindled appreciation for our food can have is urgent for developing a renewed culture of appreciation for our environment.
So, I began by bringing my mom into the process. I thought that if I would start a business it would be with her. With not much clarity about supply and demand or market fit, we began by thinking about what we would like to see in the market.
Coming from Latin America, we thought we definitely wanted to see more fruits, more colors and just more minimally processed food. So with that, we launched our infused water packs.
AH: What has it been like figuring out the production process?
GA: The production has been one of the hardest parts. No one else really does what we do so I would say that at this time we are the experts on how to make infused water packs. :)
At the very beginning, I never really thought about what this would imply. But while this is a challenge I think that this allows us to be more creative as to how we approach our business model.
Neither my mom nor I have had any experience in the food industry before starting so it had been an iterative process with a steep learning curve. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the process has been to see how it all evolves from a craft into a science
AH: What has been one of your biggest struggles so far?
GA: There have been so many. I think that I would start by sharing about the challenge to build a profound sense of confidence in myself, on who I am, on what I want and on what I am good at.
The decision to grow a business is not one that you take one day fueled by a burst of courage and then you are set forever. The decision takes a discipline of re-commitment every day. I can share that even when I had already quit my full-time job in architecture I was still hedging on my dream for a while. I kept on trying to convince myself that that is just a stepping step towards a “real job”.
I felt silly sharing with people that yes, building Capuli is actually my real dream. I have learned that this is such a harmful mindset because if you are not 100% certain of the value of what you are doing it is hard to convince anyone else. I constantly need to continue building the strength of mind to continue moving forward with clarity.
AH: You often talk about your passion for beauty - where can people find more beauty in the world?
GA: I talk about beauty because it is what drives me, and it is the source of my joy. I want the world to see the beauty I see. I think that people can find it everywhere and in everyone. I think that the key to seeing this beauty is to develop a sensibility for the world and those surrounding us. This means to develop a sense of empathy and compassion towards people, to try to feel for the other and to really put yourself in the shoes of the other.
I think building sensitivity means to learn to love. I would also say that a good way is to exercise your creativity. To make things that have meaning, form, and function, to write, to draw, to sculpt, to talk, to play music, to act, or to cook. I think all of these things allow us to learn to perceive the beauty that surrounds us with our entire bodies.
AH: What's your vision for Capuli Club and where do you see it in 5 years? How do you plan on getting there?
GA: In five years I see in Capuli Club as a thriving community of like-minded brands and experiences. I see a couple of Capuli Centers ( infusions cafés and cultural/ market centers) in Seattle and in other cities I also see our Capuli Infusions and ready to drink drinks, available at different organic supermarkets and enjoyed by many.
AH: What is your biggest learning point so far?
GA: Perhaps, the biggest lesson I have learned from this is how to persevere and commit. When there is no option to quit because things don’t work out as I planned, because I feel sad or because I had an argument with my business partner and mom, everything changes.
The mindset that there is no going back until we take this to the finish line allows me to discover in myself a powerful and latent strength. In the decision to commit I also find the motivation to forge all the rough edges in my work practice, communication skills and behavior to allow me to lead this project forward- to transition from an avid dreamer into an assertive doer.
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