Playing to his passion for music, the co-founder of Daily Juice and Rhythm Superfoods launches Karmakaze Productions.
By Jane Kellogg, Photo by Elizabeth Shear
Keith Wahrer did not set out to be an entrepreneur. Sure, he had a newspaper route and was selling handmade tie-dyed shirts at school, but even from a young age, Wahrer has always just been doing what he loved, and that means playing music. He never went to business school—in fact, he never even finished college. But now that he’s elbow-deep in his third startup, if he’s doing what he loves, then what he loves is being an entrepreneur. Wahrer doesn’t even deny the label anymore: He’s sitting across from me at a table outside The Steeping Room Restaurant and Tea Lounge, wearing a T-shirt he got at a rock show, the word “ENTREPRENEUR” emblazoned on the front of it.
I should also point out that he’ s chowing down on a vegan and gluten-free tempeh bacon sandwich, something he challenges tastes better than real bacon, though I don’ t dare to try it. I f I didn’t know any better, I’d label him as a man who thinks carefully about every decision he makes, from what he wears and what he eats to who he hires and who he sells to . But in reality, it is his impulsive nature that has guided his entrepreneurial success.
“Had I known more about what was in front of me, which I would have if I had studied business, I may have been intimidated into not trying,” Wahrer says. “I see that people who learn a lot about business, they become very hesitant to take risks.”
Wahrer’s decision to open Daily Juice with his friend and partner Matt Shook in 2003 was the very definition of risky. They borrowed $10,000 from their parents to get the ball rolling, but the economy at the time was still suffering after the dot-com bubble burst. Conceptually, the business model was also a risk; while Austin has a more health- and eco -conscious community than most, at the time superfoods such as maca, goji berries and raw cacao had not y et been formally introduced to the capital city, so it was unclear if our town would embrace a brand firmly based around these “new” ingredients. But embrace it we did, and Daily Juice quickly became something of an Austin institution.
“We grew from grossing $200 a day to $2,000 a day and beyond per shop,” Wahrer says of the company, which this summer announced plans to expand nationally after multi-million dollar investments. “We were on the cutting edge; no one in town was selling that stuff—not even Whole Foods.”
Building on the success of the Daily Juice brand, Wahrer began pack aging and selling organic snack foods at the juice bar that were both vegan and gluten- free, such as goji bars, nut butters, flax crackers and kale chips. The folks at Whole Foods caught wind of it and wanted to start selling them too, as did a few other natural food stores around town. And within a year, Wahrer was running two successful businesses in the Daily Juice brand.
“I quickly learned I was in over my head,” he says, referring to his lack of startup experience.
So in 2009, Wahrer reached out to his connections and assembled a powerhouse board of directors—most notably Scott Jensen, co-founder and former CEO of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and the man behind bringing Stubb’s famous sauces to the masses; and Clayton Christopher, founder and CEO of Deep Eddy Vodka and co -founder and original CEO of Sweet Leaf Tea—to take his ideas to the next level. They split Daily Juice the product line from Daily Juice the storefront and rebranded it Rhythm Superfoods, a nod to Wahrer’s first love, music. He continued to tap into his creativity by developing new recipes.
“I’m so glad I acknowledged that I needed help and leadership,” Wahrer says. “I learned so much from them about being an entepreneur and about developing strategies for raising money. It takes a team of people, and you’ve got to let people do what they’re good at. I was lucky to find these experienced people who were willing to invest and become partners in my business.”
From the beginning, Rhythm has been selling nationally with a demand higher than they could produce, but now with a superteam helping Wahrer run the place, it’s smooth sailing. Its success has allowed Wahrer more time and energy (and money) to spend on making music.
“Austin has been good to me,” he reflects. “I think this town is a really fertile place for an entrepreneur, especially someone who’s into the things I’ve been into . My projects were definitely born of Austin; they wouldn’t have been able to happen anywhere else.”
With the growing success of Daily Juice and Rhythm Superfoods, Wahrer is now able to develop his primary passion: music. With the help of angel investor and partner John Ramsey, Karmakaze Productions launched early this year. The audio and video production company booked its first major client during South By Southwest, Snoop Lion, and they are currently producing a reality-based educational TV series.
While Wahrer would be content if he just made good music for the rest of his life, he has big plans for the venture. One of the most important lessons he’s learned over the years as an entrepreneur is knowing when to bring in outside support, so he has recruited local talent such as award-winning filmmaker Seth Blaustein and New York City transplant Rob Murray, a recording engineer who has worked with a range of musicians including Britney Spears, George Michael, Wiz Khalifa, Major Lazer and the Metropolitan Opera. Combining music and video, Wahrer admits Karmakaze isn’t easily definable, but that’s what he envisioned from the beginning.
“A lot of studios get pigeonholed into one sort of vibe or musical genre, but our thing is all genres because that’s the way I am,” he says. “I think that some of the best music crosses those types of divides.”
Karmakaze is able to offer clients a unique package, such as the ability to produce a professional music video for live in-studio performances.
“We offer this on a payment plan and only to a certain number of people so that we can be selective about the quality of the artists we’re working with,” Wahrer explains. He is also looking into music licensing.
“There are a lot of little directions that we’re exploring and we’ll continue to explore. I imagine certain ones will take off faster than others and lead us from one thing to another, and maybe define the business over time. But right now it’s loose, and that’s the way it needs to be. We’re focused on quality.”
9705 Burnet Road, suite 112, 512.228.8521, karmakaze.tv