Telling stories was always part of Kaelin Merrihew’s DNA.
As a journalism student at Boston University, she imagined a future in the magazine world. Then a post-graduate program in publishing led her in a slightly different direction: books. In her first job at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she worked on marketing and publicity. There she launched creative campaigns for authors like Temple Grandin, Terry Francona, and Paul Tough and helped these authors plan their book tours.
“I loved being able to help authors push their books into the world,” Kaelin says. “It was exciting to be in the industry during this time when everything in publishing was uncertain. I learned to embrace change and try new things.”
She was there when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt partnered with Amazon to create e-books. Being part of that evolution was thrilling, but after a few years in an industry that can take a year or more to bring a book to market, she found herself craving a quicker pace. “Publishing is amazing in so many ways,” she says, “but being fast-paced is not one of them.
In 2014, she joined Late July Snacks, an organic snack food company with a small lean team. “At our largest, we were 26 employees doing about $150 million in business,” Kaelin says. Starting as a marketing associate, she advanced quickly under the mentorship of company founder Nicole Bernard Dawes, who valued Kaelin’s creativity. When the company launched a line of organic tortilla chips with taco-truck-inspired flavors, Kaelin converted a retired USPS mail truck into a sampling truck that became a vehicle for the brand’s evolving story.
As her responsibilities expanded, Kaelin became increasingly aware of the gaps in her business knowledge. “I had never taken a business course, and knew I needed to round out my education so I could continue to grow,” she says. “I loved my job and company and knew I would get the most out of a program if I could continue working while getting my MBA.”
Though she was based in Boston, Kaelin found the Evening & Weekend MBA program at Berkeley Haas well worth the coast-to-coast transition. “I knew business school would be competitive, but Haas wasn’t cut-throat,” she says. “I’d never experienced such a collaborative environment. It was a place where I could thrive.”
As her business skills expanded, so did her entrepreneurial spirit. In an entrepreneurship class, she developed a concept—experiential retail with on-demand manufacturing—and tested its viability. “We spent the semester fleshing out a full business pitch, testing minimum viable products, and presented it to real investors,” she says. “Several of them said, ‘I think you have something here. Love the concept, keep working on the financials.’”
Meanwhile her career growth at Late July continued. During her first semester, she was promoted from Marketing manager to director of Marketing. When Late July was acquired in late 2018, she knew the opportunity to join the new large parent company would be tempting to most business school students, but she passed. Instead, she’s joining Late July founders in their next start-up venture: Nixie Sparkling Water, an organic beverage company launching this summer with both a line of organic flavored sparkling waters as well as a line of sparkling waters with tea and botanical infusions.
“If you had asked me three years ago if I’d be comfortable turning down the opportunity to work for a large CPG company and opting to start a brand from scratch, I don’t know if I would have been ready,” Kaelin says. “Through my time at Haas, I’ve learned to take calculated risks and find a new comfort zone.”