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Houston software entrepreneur discusses company growth and the importance of remembrance during Pride Month

For Cody Gremminger, this month is about remembrance. Courtesy of Cyber One Solutions

One day, Cody Gremminger sat down with his fiance, Brian Carrico, and decided going into business together was something they wanted to explore. They put their heads together, thought of a name — Cyber One Solutions — and created a management, service and IT support company that serves the greater Houston area with satellite offices in Austin, Dallas, Lufkin, Brenham, and Beaumont.

Cyber One Solutions has experienced massive growth in less than two years of being in business, and InnovationMap sat down to talk with Gremminger about Cyber One's next steps, what it's like working with your partner, and the importance of the support gained by the LGBTQ community.

InnovationMap: Your company is less than two years old, but you’ve had massive growth and success. What are some lessons that you’ve learned throughout that time?

Cody Gremminger: We're an IT company, so definitely making sure that we have a huge book of processes and everything like that. Organization is one of the most important things. Finding good people that treat your clients that way that you treat them. Whenever you start off with a company and it's just the two founders, you know how you want to treat all of your clients. But it is hard to find people to treat the clients the same way you want to treat them.

IM: What do the next steps of Cyber One Solutions look like?

CG: The next steps of the company at this point are to keep growing and keep taking care of our current clients, just like every company in their infancy age.

IM: Are you planning on growing your team or slate of services anytime soon?

CG: We are looking into both. We have a couple of our team members working on getting further certifications and further training into new aspects of IT. We're also working on growing our current client base past what we already have.

We have some clients that we work with every month because we have a contract with them, and we have some clients that kind of come and go. On a monthly basis, we probably work with about 25 to 30 clients and then as far as people who need a hard drive replaced or something like that, it adds about 10 to 15 extra clients a month.

IM: You and Brian own the business together. What are some of the pros and cons of being a couple and working together?

CG: There's a lot of pros. It's really good because you are both fully committed. We're normally on the same page; we're always on the same team. We're both here for Cyber One Solutions. It kind of helps that this is how we pay our bills too.

We're very actively involved and dedicated to it. Some of the cons could be that work never quits. Once you get home, what are you going to talk about? Well, we've been working together all day so we're going to talk about work.

I suspect that other couples talk about their different jobs, while we talk about things we worked on at the same company. It is a different dynamic. My parents actually own a company together and work together too, so it's not abnormal for me, I guess.

IM: As members of the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, you’re connected with a wide variety of entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ community. Why is having that support system so important?

CG: We're members of the LGBT Houston chamber, and we're also recently, as of March or April, we got our National LGBT Chamber certification. The Houston LGBT Chamber is one of our favorites. It's just a place where we feel like everybody is actually there for each other. They are there to meet new businesses and talk to everybody. It's super friendly, and it's a place where you can just be yourself. It's awesome. I love going to all of their events.

IM: What does pride month mean to you?

CG: Pride month to me is all about celebration, awareness, and remembrance. At Pride, everybody is there and we are all celebrating the fact that we are who we are, and we're all celebrating each other. Awareness kind of goes with celebration.

We start to see corporate logos change color. For example, I took a photo of the HP float at Pride because we are HP partners here at Cyber One, and I do a lot with HP computers. It was cool to see them have a float in the parade. A couple of our vendors that we use, their logos turned rainbow. It's just been really cool.

I would say that remembrance because at pride, they give you a second to stop and look back and see how far this community has come. We've had the Pulse nightclub shooting…we've had Stonewall, which was a theme of the Pride parade this year. It's just all of that wrapped together.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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