From Banking to a Brewery: Meet Ohanafy's Co-Founder

Hypepotamus, Inc.

Ohanafy CEO Natalie Waggett

Natalie Waggett’s entrepreneurial story is one of passion and joy and grief. And it is ultimately the story of what good can come when you sit down and enjoy a good beer with someone.

Waggett spent her professional career in banking and consulting before finding her passion for bringing tech solutions to small businesses. The small businesses she and her co-founders are particularly interested in serving through their newly-launched startup are craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries.

Their Wilmington, North Carolina-based SaaS startup Ohanafy is designed to help owners streamline operations and ultimately get back to the community-building nature of their businesses.

Ohanafy does more than just help brewery owners manage COGS, inventory, and purchase orders. It also creates custom data reports, adds in employee management solutions to combat burnout, and customer engagement tools to improve the sales process.

The name might ring a bell with any Lilo & Stitch fans out there. But Waggett said playing on the idea of “family” is very important to the core mission of the business.

“We’ve worked in breweries, and we’ve volunteered and done sales deliveries. We know this is a hard job. And we know every single ingredient matters,” she said. “Everything they do is so intentional. And I believe that there’s a way to help them measure that and become more efficient…but also market why it might be worthwhile to pay a little extra.”

From a technology perspective, the platform is built on top of Salesforce. That decision plays to the startup’s mission and allows Ohanafy to take advantage of Salesforce’s built-in features.

“We’ve been really intentional about hiring people that understand the Salesforce platform and ecosystem. I’ve seen products over-architected or over-engineered with a bunch of custom code that frankly isn’t necessary,” Waggett added. “We’re taking this really wide horizontal platform, we ‘re making it super vertical so that it’s their language and it’s their use cases and it’s their requirements,”  Waggett added.

Waggett is building with co-founders Ian Padrick (CTO), Chris Dowling (head of sales and operations), and Davis Bryson (head of partnerships), and Matt Keeter (head of customer experience).  They are joined by Mackenzie Fenn (the company’s first employee and Customer success manager).

The team plans to hire more in Q4 of 2022.

The platform is bootstrapped to date. That is a strategic move, Waggett said. “We’ve all been at companies that grow too quickly. And that can hurt you. [Brewers are] a really tight-knit community, so we cannot afford to have a bad customer experience.”

A Personal Journey Into Entrepreneurship

Waggett admits that she used to be defined by her job in banking. But she said a series of “wake-up calls” helped her hone in on her purpose and her passion within the entrepreneurial scene.

She lost her banking job during the 2008 global financial crisis, which first made her re-evaluate what was important in her professional life. “Taking care of my customers was a worthwhile cause, but knowing that I couldn’t really control my fate in my career was frustrating,” she added.

After taking some time off, she ended up as employee 13 at an early-stage startup in Wilmington, North Carolina. That startup, nCino, grew to be a publicly traded fintech company and a well-known startup success story in the North Carolina tech community.

Then, she lost her husband suddenly after 19 years of marriage. As she navigated through that grief, she recognized she needed to make a “complete change.”

She told Hypepotamus she spent some time in the consulting world but her career took a pivot after grabbing a drink one day with a long-lost high school friend.

That friend was Inez Ribustello, who had recently returned to her hometown to start Tarboro Brewing Company. Waggett grabbed a drink with her and learned more about the small business brewery’s operational pain points…which ultimately prompted the idea for Ohanafy.

“When I realized all the good that she was doing — like providing a gathering place for book clubs and running clubs and yoga and all the community activities — it was just such a worthwhile endeavor. I started asking her more about our business and how things looked from a technology perspective. And I got a pretty bleak picture.”

She started talking about those pain points with her soon-to-be co-founders and they knew they were onto something big.

“We couldn’t not help this industry,” she told Hypepotamus. “And it was all because of their purpose. When you start Googling breweries and distilleries, they are looking to be a community center where people can come and they can socialize…they are creating really meaningful community hubs.”

There are a lot of things to consider when building technology specifically for brewers, Waggett added. “While [the industry] has been blowing up for the last 10 years, it is certainly not mature. I don’t think we’ve seen everything that these entrepreneurs can do.”

Ohanafy may be new on the startup scene, but Waggett hopes her story might inspire more entrepreneurs who have a unique passion.

“After years of delivering technology to large organizations with massive budgets. I wanted to bring that quality to Main Street because those are the people that truly drive our communities and our economy,” she told Hypepotamus. “[My story] is a story of hope in the sense that after tremendous loss, there is an opportunity as humans to grow and to learn and to stretch ourselves. I could have easily stayed with consulting and been really comfortable. But I wanted to grow and I wanted to have a purpose and passion. And that is what is fueling Ohanafy.”

“BeerTech” In North Carolina

Ohanafy is one of several North Carolina-based tech companies focusing on the brewery community, which makes sense given that the state is home to 370 breweries and brew pubs.

Wilmington’s overall tech scene has also been gaining steam recently. The city — with a population of just over 122,000 —  has grown over the last few years as people look to relocate to the beach and dive into the tech talent pool that has grown out of the likes of Live Oak Bank, Canapi Ventures, Apiture, and nCino.

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