Faces of Entrepreneurship: Kelli Adams, Onda Tequila Seltzer

Kelli Adams is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Onda, a premium Tequila Seltzer brand that is crafted with only natural ingredients. As CCO , Kelli leads Onda’s overall creative strategy and design. Kelli brings ten years of experience at leading creative agencies, where she developed numerous new-to-the-world brands and also helped beloved brands define new identities. Prior to co-founding Onda, she was the Design Director at Redscout, where she worked across NYC, London and Los Angeles offices. Kelli holds a BFA from Parsons School of Design.

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Kelli Adams: For me, entrepreneurship has always been about finding your passion and creating something around it that inspires you. Even before we started Onda, design had always been my professional pursuit and personal passion. After working in branding on the agency side, I knew that ultimately, I wanted to design my own brand with my own creative vision. That’s why when my close friend and prior colleague Noah Gray, Onda’s Co-Founder and CEO, came to me with the idea of starting a tequila seltzer brand, I knew this was the perfect next pursuit for me.

Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
KA: Onda is really my first experience as a true entrepreneur. Prior to launching Onda, I worked for a few different creative agencies where I designed for many incredible brands across fashion and CPG. I am so grateful for the experiences I had working for other brands. Ultimately, it’s exciting for me to create a brand from scratch using your own creative vision and instinct. Plus, no day is ever the same!

What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
KA: Onda was born from our obsession with tequila sodas — it was always our go-to drink, and we didn’t see anything in the RTD category that was premium, tasted good, and emulated the cocktail without added sugars and artificial ingredients. We created Onda to fill the void in premium tequila seltzer by focusing on high-integrity and transparent ingredients, and backed by strong branding and visual identity.

We learned a lot from our entrepreneurial journey and faced many challenges when we were in the initial phases of creating Onda. I’m sure most first-time entrepreneurs can relate to how challenging it can be to launch a new to world product and brand. All that said, the early stages were some of my most fond memories at Onda. In the beginning, it was all about perfecting the liquid and creating a visual identity and packaging that would stand out in the increasingly competitive RTD and seltzer space. I think one of the most valuable things I learned during that time period is that when you are creating a brand, there is no finish line, and you’re constantly perfecting and tweaking things as you go There is always another detail to perfect or a new goal to achieve — this is something that I still remind myself of today!

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
KA: I wish I had known how fast everything would happen. When we were in the initial stages of the brand, it was such an exciting whirlwind, and now only a few years later, I can’t tell you where all the time went! If I could go back, I’d take in more moments of appreciation at how fast we grew as a company and brand. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate it when you’re in the moment, but our growth both commercially and in terms of our community (our Onda Beach Club, as we call it), has been truly amazing.

What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
KA: I have always wanted to design packaging that gains international recognition. We have seen tremendous growth over the past couple of years across the US and one day, we hope to expand to international markets, as well.

What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
KA: My superpower as an entrepreneur is definitely my eye for creative and branding. I think I can digest a challenge – product, packaging, sales needs, etc.- and produce work that clearly articulates our brand vision, while delivering on business needs. In terms of highs and lows, it’s been quite a journey launching in 31 states and growing our internal team. It’s amazing to look out at our team across the US now – when we started, Onda was only a few people! In terms of lows, I can’t think of one in particular that stands out, but there are always day to day challenges that arise when you have a small (but mighty!) team.

What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
KA: My personal principles and top values are balance, resilience, and kindness.

How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles?
KA: At Onda, we believe in integrity – of ingredients, branding, and in our employees’ values. Loyalty and a strong dedication to the brand are crucially important. Onda started with four friends who came together to pursue a common passion, and that love for the brand is still a driving factor in our company today. Without a natural and inherent passion behind everything we do, Onda wouldn’t “work” – everyone is truly committed to the mission and the vision for the brand. I believe our community can see (and taste!) how much work we all put into the brand, and I’m proud to say that every employee at Onda is dedicated to making Onda the leading premium tequila seltzer on the market.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
KA: I am a very collaborative person and I feel so fortunate to work alongside all of our talented Co-Founders and employees across all departments. As a co-founder building a brand from the ground up, I find it so important to have the self-awareness to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and allow the people around you to fill in those gaps with their own strengths. That’s what makes the Onda team so unique – we all complement each other so well and share common values and goals on both a personal and professional level.

Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
KA: I have a mentor that has been valuable to me because she has experienced starting multiple companies and knows how to give great advice on how to navigate the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial experience.

What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
KA: As an entrepreneur, I feel like I am learning something new every day and I can attribute many of those lessons to my mentors in the branding industry, who are entrepreneurs themselves. It’s so important to have people you can look up to when you’re embarking on the entrepreneurial journey because it can be truly overwhelming! It’s nice to have someone to lean on that has already been through the process. In particular, Shay Mitchell, who is one of my fellow Onda Co-Founders, has been a huge inspiration and help to me since she has experience founding other successful brands like BEÍS. I often ask her for advice as we grow Onda.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
KA: I usually start the days by taking my rescue dog, Frankie, for a walk around my neighborhood. Living near the beach is always so grounding for me, and I love to start and end my day outside. I also try to work from my roof sometimes to take in the sunshine – I find that’s helpful in my creative process.

What are you reading or have read?
KA: I just started reading “The 5AM Club” by Robin Sharma. I’m trying to train myself to become a 5AM morning person! I love when I am able to start checking off my list before the Slack messages and emails start.

Where do you go for inspiration? Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
KA: For me to be creative it always helps to step back from my laptop, especially when I’m in a creative rut. One of my favorite quotes is, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” – Charles Eames

What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
KA: I’m always thinking about maintaining Onda’s premium, elevated brand as we grow, and always thinking about how new products, flavors or packaging could help further our position in the market.

How do you think about helping others through your work?
KA: The spirits industry is a notoriously male-dominated space, and I think that can tend to deter many prospective female founders from wanting to enter it. I am one out of two of Onda’s female Co-Founders, alongside Shay Mitchell, which is very rare in this space. It’s inspiring to see so many women joining our team as we grow, as well, especially on the sales side of things, which can be rare. One of my greatest hopes is that Onda’s success inspires other young women to join the industry – or any industry that has been historically male-influenced.

What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
KA: Always trust your gut instinct! One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced on my journey as an entrepreneur is finding confidence in the decisions I have to make on a day to day basis. There is no roadmap to building a company and you will always make mistakes as you learn, but that’s completely normal! No one expects you to know everything on day one – and that just reinforces the need to have the right people around you with complementary skill sets.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
KA: Coming from a creative background and leading on all things design at Onda, I definitely want to leave behind a compelling legacy for the brand I’ve created. As mentioned previously, I also hope my success in the spirits industry invites other women to pursue their dreams, both within and outside of the spirits industry.

Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be profiled in our Faces of Entrepreneurship series? Please let us know by emailing media@thecenter.nasdaq.org or submit your nomination using this form.

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