Entrepreneur’s dream made possible by organic drink

Charley Snell is a man with a vision. That isn’t to say that the vision didn’t take some time to realize.

Photo courtesy of 2balance

After nearly 15 years at Nestlé, the Chicago native and Marshall School of Business alumnus decided to combine his love of the outdoors, his passion for health and his experience in food production in order to create something delicious.

Snell is the founder and owner of Chicago-based Tenaya LLC and creator of a new, all-natural drink, MADE. He meshed his penchant for responsible production and a healthy small-enterprise environment to bring about a refreshing beverage. Available in eight flavors, MADE is a combination fruit juice and green tea for a health-conscious and enjoyable drink experience.

As a lifelong Coca-Cola drinker, Snell only occasionally stopped to question the ingredients in the soda. The day came when Snell’s background in food production, his growing awareness of what he calls the “food-body connection” and his market research results made him reevaluate his food and drink choices — and their origins.

While making his way through Yosemite’s Tenaya Canyon — after which the company is named — Snell had an idea.

“I had been asking myself, ‘What goes into [Coca-Cola]? What’s actually in this?’” he said. “It was time to become more aware of what I was actually putting in my body.”

That question brought a change of focus to Snell’s life.

“In Yosemite, while I was reading John Muir, I had to ask myself what I was doing,” he said. “Then I had a lightbulb moment.”

That moment came when he decided to mix fruit juice with green tea to create a beverage that is both refreshing and healthy.

From there, Snell made like many an entrepreneur and took the project home. He began drafting recipes from scratch in a friend’s kitchen. One day in March 2008, Snell generated nine test recipes. From there, Snell’s brainchild picked up speed, but the process was by no means an easy one.

“For the first year, I ran [my idea] out of my dining room,” Snell said. “I no longer used [the room] for eating. It had my desk and it was a workspace.”

In May 2008, Snell made use of his contacts in business with Nestlé and from his time as a student at USC. His background working for Nestlé allowed Snell to make advances in areas like bottling the drink in earth-friendly bottles

“I wanted my product to be good for us and good to the earth,” he said.

MADE began distribution in January 2010. By June, MADE had hit shelves in Los Angeles. The Southern California area was Tenaya LLC’s first market, where the beverage was distributed to gourmet and all-natural grocery stores such as Sprouts, Mother’s Market and Erewhon, as well as USC’s Seeds Marketplace.

To date, MADE has also been distributed to the Midwest and select worldwide markets.

Because of Snell’s avid belief in his product and the power of small enterprise, Tenaya LLC is run by a handful of carefully chosen partners and employees who are encouraged to pursue their own passions and love what they do.

“[At USC], I was the so-called ‘marketing guy,’” said Snell, who doubled as a graduate student at USC while working for Nestlé. “[Tenaya LLC’s] current finance director sat in the front of the room during my core classes at Marshall. Half of the people in the company now, I met from my time at USC. I built my business plan with these people specifically in my mind.”

Having hand-picked his personnel, Snell set out to form a company where the inner happiness of the organization is just as crucial as customer satisfaction.

The biggest struggle for Snell and MADE has not been the inner harmony of Tenaya LLC but the process of expansion and distribution.

“Sometimes, it’s a challenge to be realistic,” Snell said. “At a big company [like Nestlé], things just happen quicker. With a smaller enterprise, things happen in a natural process, in a word-of-mouth flow. But I believe that if we just focus on what’s right and people band together to create new business opportunities, a lot of little guys can make a huge impact.”

Snell made it clear that he has not forgotten about the struggles of college life. He still appears as a guest lecturer at USC for Marshall’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies — a program which, Snell said, inspired him and his ideas.

“A professor at the [Lloyd Greif Center], Thomas O’Malia, warned me that it would be harder than I thought [to start a business],” he said. “I came back later, and he asked if it had been difficult. I said yes. He asked if I was having fun. I said yes. And he said, ‘Good. Now keep on going.’”

Snell will not be slowing down anytime soon. He has ideas and plans for the future, but for now his focus is on MADE and its distribution.

“I believe that MADE is the best drink out there,” Snell said. “And until that changes, I’m going to keep on going.”