Three cheers for cheers

Houston hangover pill startup seen on Shark Tank rebrands following multimillion-dollar raise

On his failed investor attempt on Shark Tank, Brooks Powell couldn't secure a shark investment for $400,000. Now, he just closed on $2.1 million for his startup. Courtesy of Cheers

When Brooks Powell's Houston-based startup got passed over by the investors on Shark Tank last year, he didn't let it deter him. Instead, the Houston entrepreneur buckled down and started seeking investments off the screen.

It paid off, and Cheers (née Thrive+) recently closed a $2.1 million seed round. The round was lead by NextView Ventures, which has the likes of TaskRabbit, threadUP, and Letgo among its portfolio.

With the new investment, Brooks says the company is rebranding from Thrive, its original moniker, to Cheers.

"Thrive+ doesn't really say anything about what we did or who we are about," Powell says. "We knew we needed something fitting for the alcohol industry but at the same time has the connotation of fun, responsibility, and health."

The process has been daunting, but worth it, Powell says, citing companies like Ring, which changed its company name from Doorbot.

"It would be hard to imagine Amazon buying a company named Doorbot," Powell says.

It's worth noting that Doorbot rebranded also following a similar rejection on Shark Tank.

Once Cheers had its new name, Powell began the process of the transition — relabeling bottles, redoing marketing materials, etc. There's still a long road ahead for the rebranding, but Powell says he wasn't going to drag his feet, since the change would just become more expensive and more challenging. Ring, for instance, had to pay $1 million for its new domain name.

"We wanted to become Cheers as soon as possible, because it would only become harder as time went on," he says.

From student to CEO
Cheers' formula isn't new. The key ingredient, Dihydromyricetin, a natural extract — like caffeine to coffee, which made the FDA process smooth sailing. DHM started being identified as an anti-alcohol treatment in 2012 following experiments on the effects on rats.

Around that time, Powell was a sophomore at Princeton University, and he came across the science surrounding DHM and knew if he could harness the natural extract for commercial use, it'd change the game of hangover health.

"I started working with some of my professors and asking them if it was safe and would it be effective," Powell says.

At the time, there was very little amount of DHM in the United States, so the company became the first to import the ingredient on a large scale.

Powell graduated from Princeton in 2017 and moved his company to its workspace in The Cannon.

Serving up growth
Cheers has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past year. The company's revenue increased 20 times year over year. A key determiner of success for the company, Powell says, has been strategic marketing and a working product.

"Primarily products such as this, historically, have never worked," he says. "And they've always been marketing toward binge drinkers and partiers."

Another strategy Powell has is giving the company a presence nationwide by having advisers and investors from both coasts.

"What we have tried to do is have our cake and eat it too. We set roots in Houston, but we have our hands in other markets."

In addition to rebranding, Cheers plans to continue its growth, as well as research and development of the product.

Houston-based Corva, an AI-optimized analytics company, is in the process of hiring — a lot. Photo via corva.ai

While the oil and gas industry may be in store for sluggish growth in 2020, that's hardly the case for Houston-based energy tech startup Corva AI LLC.

Corva — which offers a real-time data analytics platform for drilling and completion (the stage when a well is prepared for production) — added 85 employees last year, mostly in Houston. And it's on track to make 150 new hires in 2020, including software developers, researchers, drilling engineers, and data analysts, says Courtney Diezi, the company's general manager. Two-thirds of this year's new hires will work in Houston, she says.

Diezi says the company's headcount currently stands at 120, with 100 employees in Houston and 20 in Ukraine.

Corva has expanded so much and so quickly that it outgrew its previous 11,000-square-foot office and is now at The Cannon, a coworking space and innovation hub in the Energy Corridor. It's set to move later this year to a new 40,000-square-foot space at The Cannon.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Ryan Dawson, Corva has raised just $3 million in outside funding to propel its growth.

"Our business has grown exponentially at the same pace as companies raising hundreds of millions in funding," Dawson says. "While the startup world has chased endless rounds of funding with the notion of either becoming a unicorn — or dying — we have focused on creating a company that cares deeply about our employees and a business that lasts 100 years."

Dawson describes Corva as the "modern brains" of drillings and completions. Oil and gas equipment sends millions of datapoints to Corva to help make complex decisions about drilling operations, she says. About 40 customers use Corva's technology.

In a 2019 news release, Dawson said Corva gauges its success "by the number of days we save on rigs, the costs we can quantifiably cut, and the number of catastrophic events we prevent." Corva's technology has saved millions of dollars for its customers and reduced the length of drilling projects by as many as three days, he said.

"Corva's challenge is to change the behavior of drillers who work for somebody else," the Journal of Petroleum Technology reported in 2019. "The fast-growing company has no shortage of users. Retaining those customers will require convincing oil companies that the real-time drilling data and analysis is creating enough value to justify the cost."

Corva's user-focused approach to developing technology helps attract and retain customers. Executives say they consider Corva a tech company that operates in the oil and gas sector rather than an oil and gas company that happens to develop software.

"Our software platform rivals Netflix and Twitter in terms of giant datasets and real-time processing," Diezi says. "Without a core expertise and founding team in software, we wouldn't be able to provide the amazing technology we do — it's too central to what we do. Corva is the perfect mixture of oil industry veterans and software whiz kids. Our customers love to work with us because we speak their language but provide world-class products solving hard problems."

As it continues to enlarge its workforce, Corva seeks to foster a workplace that embraces both oil industry veterans and software whiz kids.

"We want to be the most admired workplace in Houston, with a Google-like status both for our amazing products and our company culture," Diezi says.