In 2012, to help her mother through chemotherapy, Jesslyn Rollins’ father began developing a hydrating drink meant to work like an over-the-counter IV. Now, 10 years later, Biolyte, of Marietta, Georgia, is booming, having recorded nearly $17 million in sales in 2021. It is also well positioned to continue growing: the global beverage market electrolytics is expected to reach $56 billion by 2030, up from $33 billion in 2020, according to Allied Market Research. Here’s how Rollins, 30, went from selling in the back of her car to securing major retail deals across the country. –As told to Brit Morse
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. As she went through her chemotherapy treatments, our family tried everything to keep her hydrated – sports drinks, children’s hydration products, electrolyte powders – and nothing was working well enough. She continued to have IV bags.
My father is a doctor, anesthetist and pain specialist. He had all these years of experience adapting his patients’ IVs with nutritional supplements. His concoction seemed to help my mom, so he took about $750,000 of his own money and created a product that would be like an IV in a bottle. It is said to contain electrolytes and liver detoxifiers – without all the sugar – to relieve headaches, fatigue and nausea from dehydration that can result from medical treatments, excessive alcohol consumption or simply insufficient of water. To put it into perspective, one would need to drink nearly seven bottles of the leading sports drink to equal the amount of electrolytes in one bottle of Biolyte.
I didn’t know what he had done until four pallets – 5,184 bottles – arrived at my parents’ house in July 2016. My father had been working on the project in secret. At the time, I was selling tickets to the Laughing Skull Lounge, a comedy club in Atlanta, and he told me to try the product for myself after a drunken night. So that’s exactly what I did. I went out with my friends, drank way too much and woke up the next morning feeling nauseous with a really bad headache. Dad told me to pour a bottle of Biolyte over ice, drink it all, and set a 30 minute timer on my phone.
No kidding – until the 28 minute thread my nausea and headache started to subside. That’s when I knew we might have something. I worried that my data was wrong: of course, I wanted my dad’s drink to work, and maybe I was biased. So my next step was to get other people to tell me that it worked.
I loaded some of it into my Toyota Highlander and went to the local high school. I spoke to the sports coach and suggested that he give it to the players of the football team. He gave a bottle of Biolyte to 10 guys who used to get cramps, and for the first time, he said, nine of them had no cramps at all for a match. It was then that I realized how popular the product could be. From there I shopped around and sold it to teams all over the Southeast.
A few months later, my brother-in-law, who works in the wine business, told me that if I really wanted to grow the business, I would need a distributor. He introduced me to someone at Savannah Distributing who set up a meeting with Randy Waters, head of Kroger Atlanta’s all-natural division. I showed up with a Biolyte rolling cooler and three copies of my 10-page sales pitch.
My argument was that Biolyte was the natural evolution of recovery. I had this chart mapping the evolution of man: caveman was your average sports drink and Biolyte was the fully evolved human. There were plenty of opportunities for him to try Biolyte, but he never did, so I thought I had bombed. At the end of the presentation, he told me that he was going to put the product in hundreds of Kroger stores in various states. I thought I hadn’t heard him correctly, so I said, “Wait, Randy, just to confirm, do you like Biolyte?” He said, “Yes! I’ll put it in Kroger!”
That first year, when I sold Biolyte from my car, we did $157,000 in sales. When we started to grow, I saw that we needed real hierarchy and real leadership. My dad was CEO, but he didn’t do the usual stuff – he didn’t have time. I wanted to lead Biolyte, so for two years I explained to my parents why I would be a good candidate. They turned me down several times, but I finally got the title in 2019. We’re now in nearly 20,000 outlets.
As for my mother? She’s thriving and in remission – and our family has never been stronger. It feels like a mission we built together, and I hope it stays that way.
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Excerpt from the September 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine