From dropout to Nude Beverages founder, Julius Makarewicz on making his own path to success
When you know, you know. Julius Makarewicz knew that post-secondary school was not for him. Makarewicz, founder and CEO of Nude Beverages, shocked his family and peers when he decided to drop out of Simon Fraser University.
He still wanted to learn, but rather than doing so in lectures, Makarewicz sought to learn from other people. Despite not finishing his degree, he managed to carve out a position for himself at one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Vancouver—albeit, not in the traditional way.
From there, he continued to pick up new skills by working various jobs in the technology and marketing field.
Then one day, he came up with the concept for Nude Beverages: an alcoholic beverage company that specializes in ready-to-drink beverages that are free of sugar and sweetener.
“I randomly thought about it [the name], and it was perfect. When I thought of ‘Nude’, that’s when I realized that I’m dedicating my life to this,” said Makarewicz.
After launching in 2017, Nude Beverages became a hit throughout his home province, British Columbia, before expanding into Ontario in 2019 and entering U.S. markets in early 2020. What started as testing out recipes in his kitchen, has turned into over 60 millions cans sold across Canada.
Any reservations that his family and peers may have had when he made the decision to drop out of school are long gone. Makarewicz had what all great entrepreneurs have: drive.
“You don’t have to be like the smartest. You don’t have to have all the education. You don’t have to be the best at sales and you don’t have to have a finance background,” said Makarewicz. “You just have to have that will to learn and to keep going. Even when people turn you down and you run into all kinds of issues, you keep going. Just don’t stop.”
With that mindset, it was only a matter of time that Makarewicz would find success.
Nude Beverages are now found in the hands of students across college campuses—kind of ironic, isn’t it? For this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Julius Makarewicz, founder and CEO of Nude Beverages, about the drive to succeed and the ongoing lessons that come with being an entrepreneur.
You dropped out of post-secondary school to start your career early. Tell us about that decision and why you decided to take that leap.
When I was going to university, I learned some valuable things, but I felt like the way of learning wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t learn in a class format and I didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t happy. I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a better way to learn? Maybe there’s a way to kind of bring education into my own hands?’ So, when I actually dropped out, I started to look for companies that were growing quickly. I was looking to work for people that I could learn a lot from. Then, it kind of started my career.
My first job out of university was at a company called Vision Critical, which was Vancouver’s fastest growing tech company at the time. I basically willed myself a job. There was no job listing, but I knew I wanted to work in sales at a fast growing company. I kept hitting them up, and I kept going to HR to ask them if there’s a job available. I did it multiple times, then I actually walked into the office and asked for the HR manager. Eventually she was like, ‘Hey, like stop coming around. We don’t have a job for you.’ So, then I went around her and I went straight to one of the VP of sales, and he actually ended up hiring me. He brought me in for an interview and was like, ‘Hey, you’re in sales and you got to me—that’s what salespeople do.’ From there I started working a bunch of different jobs. I worked at five or six different places between dropping out and starting Nude Beverages.
My real education was working. I picked up skills along the way.
Did you have any critics when you initially decided to drop out and make your own path?
Oh yeah. My family was devastated. My mom and dad were super upset. My brother was asking me what I was doing with my life. Everyone thought I was making the wrong decision. Even my friends were telling me, ‘Why are you dropping out of university?’
It was actually really tough. Obviously, my parents wanted me to have a safe career, a safe life. So, to hear me dropping out of school was probably one of the worst things. There were a lot of critics—and I don’t recommend it for everyone—but for me, I knew deep down it was the right thing to do. And it was the right call.
Take us back to the beginning of Nude Beverages. What was the process of coming up with the concept for it and bringing it to fruition?
I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew I wanted to start a company. So, I was looking for a concept and that’s really tough. I mean, to find something that’s really good, you really have to look and you really have to think about it. I always had my eyes open for that big idea. Then I started getting some interest in the alcoholic beverage industry. I was looking at concepts in the industry and I noticed that I was drinking vodka sodas when I would go out, and all my friends were drinking vodka sodas, but at the bar.
And I was like, ‘Wait, why hasn’t anyone put this in the can?’ It’s a very trendy beverage and it’s a staple beverage. So, I started learning about the liquor industry all while working a full-time job. Before work, during my lunch break and after work, I would work on Nude. I made these little samples in my house, where I would take a vodka soda and add a splash of juice. Then, I would put it in a can, print my own labels, put it around the can and I would test it with my friends and ask them what they think. They were like, ‘Yeah. I would totally drink this.’ So that was kind of the early stage beginnings of Nude; I saw the potential for it back in 2013.
And obviously the name is a little promiscuous, kind of risqué, how did the name come about?
I randomly thought about it [the name], and it was perfect. When I thought of ‘Nude’, that’s when I realized that I’m dedicating my life to this. It’s meant to communicate that the beverage is nude of sugar, nude of sweetener, nude of all the things that you don’t want in a beverage. But it also does have that little bit of risqué meaning to it. It’s a really powerful name because, whether you’re 19 or you’re 80 years old, the word ‘nude’ is going to mean something to you. It’s going to bring up some sort of emotion. It’s a very charged word.
So, you have this idea and you have this name and you’ve tested it out. What was the biggest challenge in bringing it to life?
Raising money. Raising money in your mid-20s is extremely difficult, especially when you don’t have a proven track record of success. It took quite some time to convince people to put that money into the company and give that first little bit of seed capital that was necessary. That was by far the most challenging moment of my career, the startup phase.
What kind of advice then would you give to other entrepreneurs who are either getting to that moment or in that moment? What would you tell them that you wish you knew at that point in time?
I would recommend digging into your network. Talking to basically everyone that you’ve ever talked to and asking them if they want to invest, but then also asking them if they know anybody else who would want to invest. Because your friends and family might not have the money to invest in a risky venture, but they might have three or four friends that do. So, you’ve got to dig into your network and get people involved in it. Don’t be afraid to ask.
You’re calling it a risky venture, so there’s probably been some learning lessons along the way. What was the biggest learning curve throughout this entrepreneurial journey?
Other than raising money? Learning how to read people is really important. Learning how to read people’s intentions. When you see a little bit of success, a lot of people start hitting you up for different things and you have to be able to tell what that person’s all about. So, just being able to read people really quickly and efficiently and being able to tell if they’re for real or not has been a very valuable lesson for me.
And sometimes, if you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself. A lot of people promise to do something, or they’ll promise you the world. But really, at the end of the day, you’ve got to do it yourself. You’ve got to put in the work, you’ve got to put in the hours and you have to pick up the phone and make the call when the time comes. Sometimes it’s best when you know that nobody’s going to care as much as you [as a founder], so you just have to do it yourself. That’s a big lesson I learned too. I would trust other people to do something, but sometimes, it all comes down to yourself.
Obviously we’re in the middle of the pandemic, and there’s been lots of talk of everyone sitting at home and drinking. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Nude Beverages?
We’re very fortunate because people kind of drink no matter what. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, people were drinking more, buying in stores where most of our business is. So we’re very fortunate to not be affected by the COVID pandemic too much. It hasn’t really affected our logistics or manufacturing or operations or anything like that. So very, very fortunate and very grateful.
In terms of looking into the future, what’s down the pipeline? Are you always kind of trying to figure out new flavours? How does that process work?
We definitely have some cool stuff coming up. We’ve only just begun. We have a ton of cool products that we’re going to be launching to the market over the next six months. We’ve expanded into Ontario, and they’re giving us more listings. So, very fortunate for that. We actually have a new Mixer Pack that will be hitting LCBO shelves in Ontario soon, it’ll have Classic Lime, Raspberry Lemon, Mango and Peach. We’re also currently expanding into the U.S.
Do you have a personal favourite flavour that you always kind of reach for when you’re going to grab a Nude beverage, and is there any personal story behind why it’s your favourite?
I don’t have any personal connection to it, I just love it so much. If there was one beverage that I had to drink forever and I couldn’t drink anything else. It would be Black Cherry, 100 percent.
You touched on your expansion, but if you were to think of your wildest dreams of where Nude Beverages is in five, 10 years, where do you hope to see it?
I want to be the number one beverage in North America, in our category—big ambitions. Our team is very serious about that goal too. We have a lot of ambitions for Nude Beverages and we’re well on track for it.
In your own words, what sets Nude Beverages apart from its competitors?
Number one, the fact that we’re sugar-free and sweetener-free. Number two, out of that beverage category [sugar-free and sweetener-free], I truly do believe that we have the best tasting, easiest to drink beverages on the market. One thing we hear over and over is, ‘Easy to drink.’ People say that it’s really easy to drink a lot of them; they go down smoother than any other beverage out there. So, flavour for sure. We put everything into making sure it tastes good.
Also, we’re a small company and we care about giving back. Animal rescue is a big part of what we do. We’ve donated $215,000 towards animal rescue initiatives. We have a goal of $1 million by 2023 and it’s cause that we really believe in.
At the end of the day, we’re not some massive, large conglomerate. It’s just us, all we do is Nude Beverages. So, I’d say those are some of the things that set us apart from the other brands on the market.