A little bit about Olivia & Sarah:
Olivia (she/her) and Sarah Sears (she/her) are the founders of BuzzCutt based in Portland, Oregon. They share backgrounds in advertising and marketing, with Sarah’s focus on branding / creative direction as an Executive Creative Director at a Portland advertising agency. She strives to work on projects that focus on positive change within communities to elevate stories that matter. Olivia has an ad agency background as well, but for the last 5 years has been in advertising tech supporting national partnerships with mobile gaming clients as an account manager and client service leader. Committing to balancing out hectic advertising lives, Olivia has taught yoga in Portland for the last 7 years, while Sarah teaches and participates as an amateur boxer.
For the last several years they’d been dreaming of ways to apply their combined skill set to enact meaningful change in their communities. Like many, over the course of the pandemic, they spent a lot of time looking inwards. One of the explorations coming out of that time was around their relationship with alcohol and they began to engage more mindfully with drinking. As bars and restaurants began to open back up they found ourselves in a new world, in more ways than one. When it came to going out sober, there was a new anxiety around ordering a drink, unsure what the reaction would be from the bartender when asking for something non-alcoholic, or unclear what the options even were. For the following year or so, any time they had a night out, Olivia would plan ahead by searching the store finders of their favorite N/A brands to find a place where they knew they could order confidently. Laying in bed one night they reflected on what a sense of ease and comfort it would be to have one place (ideally in the palm of your hand!) that would aggregate all of those places serving their favorite N/A brands. And what if it was a tool that pulled everywhere across the nation that served N/A into one big store finder map? It dawned on them that the solution, and the way they could bring the same sense of ease and comfort to the masses, would be for them to build a brand and an app that did just that! It’s clear that mindfulness, moderation, and “dry culture” are here to stay and folks are challenging the decades of norms around drinking culture and partying. They’re honored and elated to be part of this shift, providing an access point with BuzzCutt, for anyone looking to drink less or not at all.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sid Shah: Hey Olivia. Hey Sarah. So nice to see you again and thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I’m super pumped about what we’re about to talk about. I think what you’re working on is at the intersection of two of my favorite things in life, beverages and technology, so I’m super, super excited to have this amazing conversation with you.
Olivia Sears: Thank you.
Sid Shah: It’d be great if maybe we can get… you’re welcome by the way. It’d be great if we can get started by maybe just sharing a little bit about your background and who you are, and then share a little bit about your journey and what you’re all up to.
Sarah Sears: Yeah, of course. I’ll take it away. So I’m Sarah Sears, one of the co-founders of BuzzCutt alongside my wife Olivia, and acting as CCO of BuzzCutt. So in charge of all content and creative development, as well as initiating and launching the original brand, development of the actual BuzzCutt identity, if you will. Historically, my background is within creative in general and creative advertising. So I’ve been within the creative field for about 14 years now, working on the art side specifically, and currently an ECD at an amazing Portland agency here in Oregon.
Sid Shah: Amazing.
Olivia Sears: And I am Olivia Sears. I am the other co-founder of BuzzCutt, so I have a more of a background in client service, project management, media buying. I also was in the advertising world, advertising agency world for a long time, but now I am in the ad tech space. So it was a nice kind of adjacent experience to bring us up to ideation around BuzzCutt and what kind of steps would be needed to move into the tech space and the app space. I work with mobile gaming clients actually across the United States. So familiar with just like app marketing in general, app campaigns, ad campaigns, things like that.
But really I handle all of our communications, brand partnerships, sponsorship opportunities that we’re working on, which has been really exciting. And a little bit of social media copy here and there with Sarah’s watchful eye on our content strategy. So yeah, it’s been really fun, kind of building our brand with our combined skill sets. So we’re really grateful to have the experiences that we do and we’ve been able to find ways to marry those two things and build something that we’re both really passionate about, which is something we dreamt about doing for a long time. Yeah.
Sid Shah: Amazing. So how did you come up with the idea for BuzzCutt now? Would you mind sharing a little bit about the kind of origin or the idea?
Olivia Sears: Yeah, absolutely. I can start with that one. So over the course of the pandemic, we both did a lot of course inward gazing and reflecting. And one of those things that we reflected on was just our relationship with alcohol. And as we thought about that and removed alcohol from our lives, when things started to open back up again, bars, restaurants from the pandemic, we were going out with a new experience where we were looking to be out with our friends or on a date night or whatever it was with our family and what options were there, having to ask about those options.
There can be an awkward kind of back and forth if you don’t know, like do you have non-alcoholic drinks? What does that mean to you? So there was just this newfound anxiety around being out and not wanting to drink, but still wanting to have a great time.
We could just realized that we wanted to be more present and more just a part of what we were doing out at a bar, out at a restaurant just without the drinking. So every time we would go out, I would spend a lot of time on the store finders of a lot of the non-alcoholic brands. One of the ones we always mention is Athletic because it’s really widely distributed. Athletic Brewing Co is a non-alcoholic beer.
We would always go, especially on their website and search our zip code or if we were going to be in a different part of the city or if we were going to be traveling. Definitely athletic was kind of our go-to for distribution. So we would find a place where we knew that we could show up and order just anyone else. So if we were with friends, we could just be at the bar with them and say, “Hey, I’ll take your athletic IPA”. That was it. That was the moment it was done. It felt confident, it didn’t feel isolating.
And I just started to think about, like imagine if there was a place that aggregated all of these different brands because we know they exist and we know that there’s more and more of them popping up. And then one thing led to another and we were talking about an app, and I have told this story a few times, but I definitely came up with a name while I was falling asleep one night. And then I wrote it down half asleep on my notebook next to my bed, and then I shared it with Sarah and the first thing she did of course was, wow, I have to design a brand around this. And she just went to focus on that. And the next thing you know, we had a whole brand that we launched on social media, Instagram in October of 2022. So fairly recent.
Sid Shah: Amazing. And as somebody who enjoys alcohol but also enjoys going out and looking for kind of drinks that don’t have alcohol in it. I truly appreciate it. And I think even from what we’re seeing in the market, we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of different brands over the course of the last few years, specifically in beverages. And we noticed that there’s a huge trend. I think there’s this coexisting thing.
I think there’s space for what you’re doing, and I’m super excited that your eyes are solving this problem is both as a consumer and somebody who I think really believes that there’s a space for it to some of the other points that you said, it’s that you walk into a bar, you want to ask for something that doesn’t have alcohol in it, and having that confidence to know that, hey, when I walk in here, I know they have these five things, so at least I can ask for that. And I can walk away and be like, okay, good. I got what I wanted as opposed to walking over drinking some club soda, which again, it’s okay, but maybe you want something different.
Olivia Sears: Exactly. And what’s cool, I mean, you touched on it a little bit, but the best part about BuzzCutt and our whole focus is that it’s for anybody. So obviously there are going to be people who identify as sober, sober curious, or maybe it’s people who just have a big workout in the morning or have to work the next morning and they want to switch on their second or third drink to something that’s enjoyable. We talk a lot about creating access points, creating access points to be able to choose if you want to choose to not drink, whether it’s part of the time or all the time.
Sid Shah: Amazing. And I’ve seen some of the work that you guys have done on social. I think your brand is full of energy and life. So Sarah, maybe can you share a little bit about what your inspiration for the brand was and maybe some of the ways that you’ve incorporated your work into bringing it to life?
Sarah Sears: Yeah, of course. Yeah, and I think you said it, the brand is really meant to be vibrant and exciting. And I think there’s kind of this stigma around choosing not to drink essentially makes you not fun. And so how can we take our brand and breathe life back into how powerful of a choice that actually is? And one thing that I experienced a lot when I stopped drinking was I was redefining who I was out with friends and kind of got to the point of realization that I wasn’t the life of the party because I was having alcohol. I was just simply that person. And I think it’s reminding everyone that they are just the life of the party because of who they are as a person and a human being.
So the energy we wanted to put into the brand was we wanted it to be lively and fun and playful and essentially electric. And that’s really the choice of the color palette and the use of illustration is meant to really breathe fun back into this really powerful and awesome choice that people are making for themselves to either not drink or switch to a NA drink throughout the evening. We want it to be fun and we want people to feel that they can party sober whenever they want.
And that also really plays into how we converse and engage with our community is it’s meant to be fun and playful. And even the events that we’ve been planning our fundraiser was meant to again, just be a huge party. And if you have really delicious beverages around, we call them “fun bebbies”. That’s what we call them now.
Sid Shah: Love it.
Sarah Sears: You can have a great time. So yeah, our whole sentiment is really, we just want to party and we just want to do it sans alcohol. So yeah, the brand really, really speaks to that from an energy perspective and from a creative decision perspective.
Sid Shah: Amazing. And it truly shows, like I said, on your social media and I’m super pumped, like when your app is launched and ready I can’t wait to be one of your first customers and try it out.
Sarah Sears: That’s great. That’s great.
Sid Shah: So one of the other interesting things that, as we were chatting earlier before this chat or before this call, is both your backgrounds, both in tech and marketing and branding. As you’re building products, I’m sure you’ve built it for a lot of different companies and folks as well. What are some of the challenges that you came across while you were building the platform, coming up with the idea?
Olivia Sears: Yeah, I’d say kind of knowing where to start, definitely we both have these adjacent experiences, but the reality of sitting down and deciding we’re building an app was pretty daunting at first. Talking about being able to financially support that venture. Vetting and finding an agency or a person to develop it was definitely a challenge. We talked to several app developing agencies or more broader creative agencies to really work with someone who aligned with what we were looking to do and really understood the challenge that we were facing ourselves with.
So that was definitely a big piece of it. I think as well, just kind of spreading awareness about something like this was kind of challenging at first because we went into it thinking about our demographic as we really envisioned that it would be a lot of Gen Z. So identifying our target was really interesting because we really thought it would be Gen Z, but then it turns out it’s actually a lot of millennials and older millennials because Gen Z just doesn’t need a tool like this because they don’t really care about alcohol to begin with.
They’re kind of already whatever about it. If they go out they can or cannot drink. It’s not a defining thing for them. But I think millennials and older millennials, we really grew up with it so much a part of everything we did. So I feel like our target is a little older than we were initially going after. So just the challenges of going back to the drawing board and redefining what kind of strategy we want to take, I mean, definitely an exciting challenge and one that I feel like we’ve really kind of overcome based on our growth that we’ve seen just since October, which has been really awesome.
Anything you want to add to that, Sarah?
Sarah Sears: No, I feel like that was a pretty interesting pivot for us because when we originally started the building, the brand, we were looking at it from a Gen Z perspective in regards to even the creative and communication approach. And we were like, well, we won’t be on Facebook because that’s not really a space for… and then as we pivoted, we realized there were a lot of creative opportunities that we hadn’t yet explored.
So it was of course something we realized, but it did open up a lot of interesting doors. And also just once we started getting these kinds of responses from that demographic of millennials and older millennials saying how crucial this app was for them, I think it just really fueled the fire. We constantly get these DMs from people and I think it’s definitely something that is a driving force that keeps us pushing forward as a two person team.
Because I would say that’s probably one of the biggest challenges to start with is the fact that we’re so nimble and we both work very demanding full-time jobs, but it’s just to feel like something is so right without having to really question it. That’s always a sign that you’re doing the right thing. And so yes, it’s definitely asking and we’re kind of working 24/7, but when we’re working on this, there’s just no question that we should be doing it because we know it is affecting people for the better.
Sid Shah: Yeah. And I think that’s kind of a really important tidbit, what you just said is understanding your audience before you build the product. And I think a lot of where I see you guys doing things differently is building your audience before you actually have the product to a certain extent. And I think that correct is a super interesting way to get feedback incorporated into your product, but doing it in a way where it’s a lot more agile. Because you’re learning as you’re going along. Imagine you’ve developed the app, the brand and everything related to it, and you realize uh-oh like this is a different audience.
So, I think solving that audience problem and also the resource challenge in terms of entrepreneurs and founders have to put on a lot of different hats and it’s really amazing what you’ve done in such a short period of time. So super excited to see where you guys end up with the idea.
Olivia Sears: Appreciate that.
Sarah Sears: Yeah, thank you. We did a lot of preliminary research on Gen Z before even diving into the launch of our social media campaign and awareness building and felt really good. We were like, oh, Gen Z’s really choosing non-alcoholic beverages and stuff like that, but they’re so already aware of it that it’s actually what’s so interesting is how unknown it is in the millennial generation that there are these incredible NA options. That’s truly what it is, is the access point that we keep talking about. I feel like every time we talk to someone in our family or something about NA beverages, they’re like, wait, there’s NA beer. And they think we’re talking about O’Doul’s.
Sid Shah: I was going to say like not O’Doul’s.
Sarah Sears: Yeah. We’re talking about the fact that there are these craft beers, right? O’Doul’s did a great job and it’s awesome that there is an access point there. And I’m talking more about these craft beers, which I think are what people are craving. And so it’s sometimes so fun to introduce these amazing brands to people because they’re like, this tastes like beer. And I’m like, well, it is a beer. It just doesn’t have any alcohol in it. And so it’s kind of a fun way to change, again, the perception of, oh, an innate beer. It’s like, no, it’s a beer. There’s just no alcohol in it.
Sid Shah: We’ve all got PTSD from drinking O’Doul’s.
Sarah Sears: I didn’t say it, I didn’t.
Sid Shah: It’s a great brand. You need to have somebody who kind of started it and it was a great option.
Sarah Sears: Exactly. I mean, what a leap to take at that time. That’s such-
Sid Shah: Yeah, exactly. 20 years ago or so, it’s probably.
Olivia Sears: And their distribution really is, like I mean, in small dive bars in rural places you can find an O’Doul’s. So that’s pretty cool.
Sarah Sears: I have an O’Doul’s every once in a while.
Olivia Sears: Yeah, true. When we go to Ohio or wherever, we’ll get an O’Doul’s.
Sid Shah: Love it. For me, I think one of the things from just an overall category perspective, it’s like when you think of non-alcoholic, people think of sugary mocktails, right? Without any flavor. Just basically it’s like, Hey, we’ll make you the mojito with everything in there. We’ll just pull out the alcohol. Right? So that’s what I’m extremely excited to see where the category’s kind of grown, that it’s not just making something that tastes more like a sugary drink, but something with character, with flavor, with a lot of different volumes of flavor that people are used to.
Olivia Sears: Exactly. And it’s been really cool to especially see, I guess NA beer is a little more known, well known, or I guess expected, but a lot of botanical spirit alternatives have been really popping up and are amazing. And one Pacific Northwest based, Wilderton is, we’re a big fan of, they do incredible complex flavors to make cocktails with, and it’s really amazing, and they’re popping up in bars. So Victoria, where we had our launch party here in Portland has mocktails or cocktails on their menu made with Wilderton spirits.
So they’re making it just like they would any other cocktail with the mixer or with the spirit. And it’s really, it’s just a fun, exciting option to have.
Sid Shah: But if it wasn’t for Seedlip, I would not have gone through the pandemic. Right?
Olivia Sears: Yes. Seedlip. Yes. So good.
Sid Shah: Which is my favorite brand, still to this day enjoy it. And it’s just more of making something that tastes good, that gives you that same level of sophistication in terms of the tanks, and it’s not water, so it’s great.
Olivia Sears: Exactly.
Sarah Sears: Sophistication is a great word for it. Yeah, sophistication for sure.
Sid Shah: Is there anybody else in this space, I know this category as a whole is growing, there’s a lot of interest in it and there’s a lot of people that are gravitating towards the industry and specifically this category. Do you guys see any other competitors? Are there people in this space that are already doing either something similar or, in this case, I don’t think of anybody as a competitor. I think of it more as a category still so early. It’s like collaborating. How do we rise everybody up so that you can get more share of voice in the marketplace?
Olivia Sears: Absolutely. Yeah, I can take that. I think what we saw in our initial research, there are definitely a lot of individuals that have focused on aggregating on websites, different bars and restaurants in their cities, or asking people to email them and send them bars that they love that they’ve found across the country. But in terms of a formal capacity of aggregation and being able to enter your zip code and find something in a more, I guess we can use that word sophisticated again, there is an app out of the UK called Better Without. Primarily their market is the UK, but they have branched out into the US and Canada and maybe a few other markets as well. They’re really focused on the discovery feature of finding and introducing people to all the different brands out there, which is also, but they definitely paved the way in terms of being an app focused on the non-alcoholic space.
I will say their focus has been on the bars and restaurants themselves, so having people, certain bars and restaurants in certain cities. So what we found was, and an opportunity of growth for the market is having a place that aggregates anywhere where those brands are. So we’re working with the brands themselves to think about distribution and anywhere that they are, people should be able to find them. So it’s not just a certain few big cities. It’s like if there’s a small town, and we talk about Ohio because Sarah’s from Ohio, but if there’s a small town in town in Ohio and there’s a bar there that serves Athletic, somebody should be able to find that in that small town.
So again, coming back to access points, people in big cities and small towns, if it’s there, we want to make sure that they have an access point to find that product if they so choose for that day or if they are someone newly sober or whatever it is.
Sarah Sears: Because there are so many use case scenarios that we’ve been thinking about. And it makes it so important to have access in large to very small towns, especially because again, the access point or the visibility of these brands existing sometimes dissipate as we get into smaller cities. So having that availability and showcase within the app is super crucial if we’re really going to talk about being someone who leads with the idea of access points. So that was a big differentiator for us.
I think the other part is the different use case scenarios we’re looking for, which is essentially not just being able to find… like we know where we can find NA drinks in Portland, but we have no idea where we can find NA drinks in Ohio. And then if you think about work, if you’re traveling somewhere for work, being able to go on a work trip or vacation and having this tool no matter where you’re traveling to have and find those access points of NA drinks again, for whatever reason, was something that was really important to us.
So that net we’re casting is much bigger in the end. And even within our current trial period of development, we’re already seeing just the huge amount of locations we’re able to have available within the app.
Sid Shah: Amazing. And I think one of the things to add to what you were both echoing, I think one of the things that you do differently is I think you are kind of brand and the way that you’re positioning things. It feels more like a community. It’s not just about, Hey, where can I go to get this? It’s really more about, hey, this is kind of a movement. There’s a lot of people that are kind of behind it. Make it community, make it fun, make it actually like, something that’s integrated into one’s life as opposed to transactional.
Olivia Sears: Exactly. You nailed that. You hit it.
Sarah Sears: Yeah. 100%. That’s such a huge part of it. And I think for us, the long term is not just for BuzzCutt to be this app, BuzzCutt is meant to be a mindset, a lifestyle brand that again puts this choice at the forefront of being very powerful decision you’re making for yourself and having fun with it. So there’s so many fun things to come. I think with the brand that live. And I think every day, twice a day are like, what if we did? What if we did? So we don’t think of ourselves necessarily as… the app is a pillar of this lifestyle that we want to support this culture shift. And the events is a part of that. The community is a huge part of that.
Sharing our wisdom with other people like brands, putting those brands at the forefront. Anytime someone comes to us for a connection, we’re like, absolutely. Because that is propelling this community forward and this culture shift forward. So it is so much more than just this app, even though the app’s going to be amazing, but it’s such a lifestyle driven brand as well. And again, really wanting people, every time someone engages with us, I want them to leave feeling confident, more confident than they were when they came to us.
Sid Shah: Yeah, I love it. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to start playing around with it and start exploring. It’s going to be a little trek that I’m going to have to go on every city that I go in. It’s like where can I find the most amazing drink.
So in terms of your plan, when is the app to be live? How close are you to getting it out the door? And it’d be also great to get an idea of once the app is live, what your plan is for the next couple years to kind of grow this beautiful brand that you guys are putting together.
Olivia Sears: For sure. We are expecting a more concrete date soon for launch, but we know it’ll definitely be long live by June. We have our big app launch party on June 17th, but we expect it to be live even before then. So definitely stay tuned for details on the date when it’ll be available to download. As we go live, we’re really excited about this next phase of development and phase of fundraising that we’re going in towards, because I think we have up until phase five or something like that with our plans.
So our next phases of the app, we really wanted to focus on the immediate need for the tool, which is the map functionality. So typing in your zip code, finding where you want to go, but there’s so much more to come in terms of community, aspects of the app, news about the industry, being able to interact with other users.
Again, community features, but all sorts of things like that that are going to really just continue to propel the community at large forward. And then events, of course, like Sarah said, we have at least once or twice a day we’re like, what if we do this? So we have a big spreadsheet of events that we have in mind for the next few years. We’re looking pretty far out and we’ve built thankful to Instagram. We’ve built a strong connection with several organizations and people in big cities that are focusing on events.
So we are excited to partner with them. We have folks in New York, Chicago where we both moved from. A few people in LA and San Diego. So these wonderful people that are driving that culture shift forward in their cities with events that we are excited to partner with, whether it’s for a pop-up bar where we have a lot of NA brands there, or if it’s a NA silent disco in New York somewhere. So lots of events that we’re thinking through for definitely the next two to three years. And I think the biggest emphasis during that time after launch will be on building out community.
Sid Shah: Amazing. I can’t wait to try it out. And when you have any events in New York, make sure you let us know.
Sarah Sears: Of course.
Olivia Sears: Definitely.
Sid Shah: Have a good time. So thank you very much. Was there anything else you wanted to add to our conversation? I think you guys, we covered a lot of different things and I truly appreciate you all taking the time to share your story. As I said you said you’re tying two things that are near dear to my heart. I’m super excited that you’re solving a problem and you’re more importantly creating this community where I think it really is going to make an impact for people that want to go and try different things, go out and not always have to worry about like, oh, am I going to blend in well? Am I going to be asking for that mocktail?
Olivia Sears: Yeah. It’s like you want to stand out, but in a good way. It’s a badass choice you’re making.
Sid Shah: That’s right. That’s right.
Olivia Sears: Yeah. I guess the last thing I’ll say is… oh, sorry, Sarah, is if anybody’s interested in hearing more about what we’re doing, we have a newsletter that you can sign up for on our website, BuzzCutt.co. It’s two Zs and two Ts in BuzzCutt and our Instagram, we’re always posting giveaways. We’re building out more merch that’s been really popular, so we just always have something fun going on. So if anybody’s interested in checking that out, they’re welcome to follow along.
Sid Shah: Amazing.
Sarah Sears: And I just want to say thank you so much for having us. This was such a blast. So we really appreciate you letting us into your space also to have this really important discussion and helping us in pushing the brand forward. We really appreciate it.
Sid Shah: Thank you so much again, and looking forward to all the amazing things that you guys do. So thank you very much.
Olivia Sears: Thanks, Sid.
Sarah Sears: Thank you, Sid.
Sid Shah: Bye.
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