Three entrepreneurial best friends are changing the Australian drinking culture and creating better health and working practices, and more connection with their recipe for ancient health elixir kombucha.
Travelling exposed Kommunity Brew co-founders Mason Bagio, Jarred Dickie and Beau Neunuebel to many new and positive experiences, one of which was kombucha, but an aspect of travel they weren’t so fond of was the stereotype of the Aussie larrikin that often followed them around the globe.
“When you’re travelling, it comes up all the time where people think Aussies are binge drinkers and we’re labelled Aussie larrikins which is really not the best stereotype,” Mason says. “Beau was working in craft beer, but was going through a change and not drinking much and if he did, it was something really high quality and because of the way it was made, not because it was a social stimulant and Jarred and I were the same, we only drank something handcrafted and really special. So the problem we wanted to tackle with our business idea was drinking culture.”
Mason was studying nutrition at the time and had come across kombucha in his travels, so when the three put their heads together it became obvious that a handcrafted version of the ancient health drink could be established as an alternative to alcohol or soft drink.
“We realised that kombucha not only served as a functional food that has positive health impacts, it could also replace dysfunctional foods such as alcohol and soft drinks that have obvious drawbacks so it could have even more impact,” Mason explains.
From there, they started brewing from the South Fremantle house they all lived in before rapid expansion led to a state-of-the-art microbrewery being built via multiple sets of helping hands. “The people who built our brewery was a collection of the founders’ family members and then a friend of ours was an electrical contractor on his way to becoming a sustainable builder, who is now qualified and has been involved in future expansions,” Mason says.
Despite family and friends alike jumping onboard to help them get started, working with friends wasn’t exactly encouraged by surrounding loved ones.
“Every supportive family member told us that our business partnership was a horrible idea and we needed to concrete everything in brutal partnership agreements,” Mason says, laughing. “I think it’s great, I love that I work with my best friends. I have two fellows who appreciate my personal life and what I’m going through, and we really take into account that we’re all human and that’s translated into our approach to hiring staff too in that we’ve always hired friends because the five people you spend your time with in life reflect the best and worst of yourself.”
To prevent any issues, Mason swears by weekly business meetings where everything is put on the table to discuss.
“Every Monday, it is a ritual for us to take the first three hours to take the time to check in with each other, what we’re doing on a personal level, what we’re grateful for, what we’re struggling with and it’s a bit of a counseling session because each of our roles in the business are quite autonomous because we each do so much, we can’t all do one job together,” Mason says. “We’ve done it every Monday bar two for almost two years and it’s the single most important practice we do in our entire week.”
Coming from a human resources background, Mason observed the lack of regular communication in previous businesses he worked in and realised it was triggering discontent. Through his own business, he hopes to establish change not only by making people healthier via the product, but encourage greater work culture by open communication channels, appreciation of staff and weekly rituals to include staff on the direction of the business.
“Working for other businesses I always thought there needed to be more time for peer meetings, because you might be working towards the same goal in a big setting but on the day-to-day stuff it’s very easy to step on people’s toes or say something that meant one thing but was received as something else,” Mason says.
Establishing positive work culture hasn’t been a feat the Kommunity Brew directors have attempted on their own either. After leaving his university degree to start the business, Mason recognized how undervalued students were and made a commitment to work closely with education institutions in mutually beneficial ways.
“When we first started we didn’t have amazing business acumen, so we approached UWA and joined their business incubator called Prospectus where people came to learn entrepreneurial mindsets,” Mason says. “We met like-minded people at the weekly meetings and workshops and eventually UWA ran an entrepreneurial contest and asked us to be the case study. We then had 100 students try to innovate our business and at the end we had a presentation ceremony and got to meet a bunch of enthusiastic students about to graduate and a very big player in the engineering and advisory realm.”
Since then, the KB team provides six-week internships within the company and have recently hired a food science graduate from Curtin University.
“It’s something we’ve done from the beginning because I was a student and stopped studying as an economic decision whereby my student loan was going to exceed my income and I had entrepreneurial interests so I went that way instead,” Mason explains. “I feel for students, there isn’t a lot of work and if there is a job, they often want more experienced people so there needs to be more incubation in business especially with students. For us, we get high quality service and enthusiasm in return. So we encourage a lot of other businesses to solve problems by using universities, they’re such a fantastic tool.”
As Kommunity Brew expands, next is the opening of a small bar at The Mantle in Fremantle where kombucha will be poured on the weekends. As the bottles pop up in more quality supermarkets, cafes and health foods stores across WA the demand for a drink that provides energy and a huge dose of antioxidants, and aids digestion, is growing. And if Mason and his team have anything to do with it, alongside the growth of their handcrafted bottles of kombucha will be a healthier, more connected tribe of people knocking them back.
“Our mission has never been to build a beverage empire,” says Mason. “It’s to change culture.”