Caroline Howard

College of Arts & Science, 2014

Co-Founder, Walker Brothers

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Vanderbilt?

Since graduating in 2014 with a degree in Communication Studies, the bulk of my career has been in the entrepreneurial world. I spent nearly four years (in NYC + London) with Index Exchange, a high-growth advertising technology start-up. There, I was responsible for client relationship development and new market expansion.

My broad range of experiences at Index Exchange confirmed a desire to become a true business leader and, given my liberal arts background, I felt that an MBA would be helpful in that pursuit. To that end, I joined the class of 2020 at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School. During my time at Oxford, I experimented with entrepreneurship’s many branches – from investing into start-ups as the co-lead of the Oxford Seed Fund to interning at Meta, a start-up-turned corporation. 

All the while, I was also working on Walker Brothers, which has now become my full-time focus + brought me back to Nashville in the process!

What is your company and where did the idea come from? 

Walker Brothers is a Nashville-based craft kombucha brand that brews both non-alcoholic and hard kombucha. 

Brothers Sam and Luke Walker started the company with a SCOBY inherited from their aunt and a desire to develop a better-for-you craft beverage that creates space for moments of connection while also being conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

I fell in love at first sip when Sam and Luke (longtime family friends) introduced me to the project in 2018 – then in its infancy.  Between my experience with high-growth companies and a passion for propelling innovative ideas, I felt I could offer a unique business perspective for the brotherly duo and joined the company first as a hands-on investor. In 2020, I joined full-time as a co-founder, responsible for providing strategic leadership for the business, working hand-in-hand with other members of the management team to establish long-range goals for the company, and coordinating cross-functionally to see those goals accomplished.

What are you most proud of about your business?

I am most proud of the quality of our product and how we’ve been able to scale without sacrificing that integrity. This has required both resolve and ingenuity. There are many points where it would have been easier and faster to take shortcuts to increase output, but that would have meant compromising our product’s primary point of difference: flavor. To that end our production team has had to be incredibly innovative, developing unique production processes that allow us to grow reasonably quickly while maintaining (and even enhancing!) the quality of our kombucha. 

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

I find that the most challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur, either as a founder or as a first employee within a start-up, is that it becomes very easy to find your identity within the business. As you can imagine, tying your self worth to business outcomes is a dangerous path to walk, and, unfortunately, without taking intentional steps, it can be hard to avoid. 

Psychologically, I find that centering on the truths of what my Christian faith says about who I am to be an incredibly helpful reset when I find myself wandering down the “work = worth” path. On a more practical level, I do my best to avoid talking about my work on the weekends and focus on cultivating hobbies that bring me joy – like skiing and hiking.

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? 

Be patient and be persistent. As the adage goes, “the day you plant the seed is not the day you bear the fruit” and that is incredibly true in entrepreneurship. In the day-to-day it can sometimes feel like there’s no forward progress, but then in three months’ time you look back and can say “Wow. I can’t believe we accomplished all that!”.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

I’m a keen off-piste skier and like to try new backcountry routes each season. I also love hiking and walking with my dog, Maultsby, and completing the New York Times crossword with my husband each day.