‘I’m A Fire Survivor’: LIFEAID Beverage Exec Reflects On Company’s Role In Saving Community From California Fires
It has been more than two weeks since Aaron Hinde, the co-founder of LIFEAID Beverage Company, and his family lost their home in Santa Cruz, California, to the wildfires. The experience still haunts them.
“There was a mountain of fire. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” Hinde recalled minutes before his own property was engulfed in the CZU Lightening Complex fire, which has reportedly destroyed more buildings in Santa Cruz County than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Hinde was quick enough to evacuate his family and pets from their home once multiple spots of fire started inching towards them. Through thick smoke and burning soot, they managed to find a nearby hotel to stay temporarily before moving into a RV for several days.
When the fires finally calmed down in Bonny Doon, Hinde came back and took a nostalgic look around. He later posted several images on Instagram, including himself standing in a large woody debris, and a fully cooked deer that couldn’t escape.
“There’s nothing to come home to,” Hinde recently told me via Zoom. “It looks like the devil itself came through and cleaned up everything.”
Despite his own devastating situation, Hinde and the rest of LIFEAID Beverage team decided to launch a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe to help support displaced people in the community by distributing essential supplies and resources.
The campaign quickly garnered over 100 donors, many of whom are also entrepreneurs and investors in the food and beverage industry, including ÈSSE Water’s co-founder Adam Leja, Olipop’s CEO Ben Goodwin, and Filipp Chebotarev, partner at Cambridge Companies SPG.
Hinde said: “Thanks to the enormous support from the industry, outside of our community, and social media, we are able to continue working with the local fire department, and supporting those who are poorly insured to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”
While the rescue and rebuilding efforts take much longer than expected, Hinde notes how his personal entrepreneurial journey of building LIFEAID has helped him tremendously during the process.
“Entrepreneurs are people of action,” he said. “Instead of being paralyzed by fear, my team came together in such an amazing way… I am not a fire victim, but a fire survivor.”
Hinde has carried along the idea of helping people even before co-founding his functional beverage business with Orion Melehan nearly a decade ago, when he was a clinic director helping athletes recover from sports injuries and pain.
“Those patients I had during my old clinic days was really the first group of our consumers [at LIFEAID],” Hinde said. “We don’t have any external marketing because it’s all done by referral… It was an amazing experience of working with individuals one-on-one, and now our products can benefit the health of millions of people.”
He added how a strong customer relationship has also helped LIFEAID alleviate the financial pressure from COVID-19, which is increasingly driving CPG brands to sell online.
“It’s been challenging since gyms represent a significant portion of our revenue — about 35% overall,” Hinde noted.
“Although that channel was shut down overnight, [making] a lot of brands pull back and save on the expense side of P&L, we took a different approach by selling directly to gym members, and doing a $15 kickback per case to gym owners to keep their businesses afloat during this time.”
The LIFEAID team remains optimistic for the rest of 2020, as the company has recently expanded its international footprint through acquiring European distributor HPF Solutions. Hinde also believes obstacles, including the pandemic and wildfires, exist for a reason.
“I may not see it today, but 20 years from now, I’ll see why that was necessary to go through,” he said. “We are going to be better as a company, community, and nation.”