President/CEO and Vice President/Director for Zevia LLC
Hometown: Mercer Island, Washington
Family: Two sons, one daughter, and two dogs
How they met: They were in the same section their first year at Pepperdine and dated throughout law school and while taking the California and Washington bar exams. Derek completed law school in two years.
Law practice: Derek first worked a stint with an internet company, while Jessica worked at Seattle law firm Reed McClure. In 1999, they formed Newman & Newman LLP, where they litigated high stakes intellectual property cases and grew the firm to 11 attorneys with annual revenue in the millions of dollars.
The idea that changed everything: They began the quest to develop an all natural diet soda in 2005. By early 2007, they had launched Zevia in stores such as Bristol Farms all over the West Coast. They sold their law firmâ€"now Newman Dichter LLPâ€"to invest fully in the product.
Derek and Jessica didn't plan to get into the beverage business. Their law firm was successful and their three kids kept them busy. The idea was born out of a bad habitâ€"Jessica was drinking about 5 cans of Diet Coke per day.
As health-conscious people who participated in triathlons and tried to eat well, Derek and Jessica knew that regular diet soda is loaded with chemicals such as aspartame, which has been linked to some diseases. Jessica looked around for an alternative, but she found no zero-calorie options.
They started researching natural sugars and landed on Stevia, a natural herb native South America and Central America. They hired a flavor artist and chemist to begin developing a formula. Success did not come overnight. "From that point it was over a year before we had anything that was ready to put in a can," says Derek.
They tried sample after sample that wasn't quite right; the cola flavor was particularly hard to replicate, but they knew they had a good idea. Eventually, they found a production sample that tasted good. They rolled out the product locally and it took off. They built an in-house staff of seven and started promoting the soda in earnest. "We got in 50 stores in 50 days around April of last year," says Jessica. "Zevia is now in more than 600 stores."
Zevia (a composite of "zero" and "Stevia") has exploded in the last 6 months. Its four flavors were reviewed favorably in at least 27 publications and it became available on the East Coast just a few weeks ago.
For their part, Newmans' tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit keeps them going in this new field. They still make time for other important investments: marathons, the PTA, coaching T-ball, and their family.