Rohrer College of Business graduates Mike Lombardo and Kayvon Jahanbakhsh turned their journey to better health into a lucrative iced tea business: Halfday Tonics, with the help of the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund.
Every great business starts with an idea, and Rowan University alumni Mike Lombardo and Kayvon Jahanbakhsh were inspired for their healthy iced tea early on.
“Years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis,” Kayvon says. “For those who don’t know, ulcerative colitis is a very debilitating digestive disease. I was training to be an Olympic swimmer, so this diagnosis really set back my progress. Part of dealing with that diagnosis was giving up a lot of sugary products that I really liked because sugar is not good for gut health. Mike was here at Rowan and embarking on his own health journey at the time as well. He was trying to lose weight and get in shape because, in college, it’s pretty easy to not be the healthiest. Essentially, we were both pushing each other to be more healthy. We used the idea of a healthy iced tea for a school project, so it all started from a health journey.”
Co-founder Mike Lombardo says Halfday Tonics “is the iced tea revamp that we’ve all been waiting for. We make classic iced tea flavors with a fraction of the sugar, around 90% less than those classics that we all grew up with. Halfday Tonics also contains prebiotic fibers, which is good for gut health.”
That journey to a healthier lifestyle turned into something much bigger with help from investors. Kayvon talks about how the pair got introduced to the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund.
“When Mike and I first took our entrepreneurship class in 2018, we had Dr. Dominic, and he had told us about the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund, which helps fund students that have their own startup ideas.”
Mike explained that when the time came, the duo was ready to show their stuff. “It took us months to prepare for the pitch deck for Halfday Tonics. It was a lot of going over the numbers, understanding what the market share was, and developing our financial model, which all took a long time. We wanted to make sure everything was buttoned up before presenting to the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund because it is a really seasoned program. We had already been pitching and fundraising with other investors, so we were able to jump in and were ready to go.”
Their hard work paid off and Halfday Tonics reaped the benefits. Kayvon explains the impact the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund had on their business.
“We had raised 425,000 prior to the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund. Rowan came in at the end and gave us $75,000. This gave us a lot of validation within the investment community. It was nice to have an institution come into the round at such an early stage of the company and back us. That funding made us more legitimate to other investors in the community. The money itself helped us with stocking inventory and marketing materials.”
Although the pair faced rejection along the way, they never gave up hope or let it deter them. Kayvon says, “You’d be amazed at the number of emails that we sent. At least 100, 200, 300 emails were sent, and a lot of the responses were no’s.”
What helped Kayvon and Mike persevere through the rejection was using their connections. “There is a lot that can be done with a well-worded email or even a cold outreach on LinkedIn. Tapping into those connections is important because even if it doesn’t work out, you got more practice with pitching,” Mike says.
Both Kayvon and Mike were successful in garnering the funds needed to finance their idea, but just as any journey, it was not without its disturbances. However, the pair was able to learn from these different business issues and experience what it’s like to start up their brand. When asked of the different ordeals that they faced, Kayvon recalled instances that challenged them, but ultimately prepared them for their future endeavors.
Kayvon says, “Starting a business out of college, I think, is one of the most difficult things you could do. It works to your advantage because you have the naivety and you don’t necessarily perceive the risks as gravely as maybe someone that worked in the industry, but you don’t get the ability to understand the industry from a very fundamental level as if you worked at a beverage company before.”
Even with their growing pains as a newly-started brand, both Kayvon and Mike did not let challenges cloud their vision. Instead, any hurdles provided the duo with some much-needed perspective in regards to how far they’ve come and what they can do to keep what they have going. On this self reflection, Mike believes that “the highs are high and the lows are low. That’s the truest thing that I ever heard. And it still holds true today.”
Looking ahead, the duo wants to see Halfday Tonics in all convenience stores near you.
See our video with Mike and Kayvon here:
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Loredonna Fiore, public relations and advertising graduate
Stephanie Batista, senior business management major