Owning Your Dreams
Life Lessons from a Mom, CEO, and Inventor
“I either wanted to be the president of the United States, and I definitely don’t want to be that now,” she says jokingly, “or I wanted to start a company of my own.”
Sharelle Klaus knew from an early age that her career path would be atypical.
That entrepreneurial spirit was born in part from a business deal she made with her dad. At 10 years old, Sharelle partnered with her father to sell Christmas wreaths in her hometown of Bend, Oregon. That winter, she fell in love with marketing and the thrill of working hard to earn her own money.
And just like that, she had outgrown her small town. Dreams of city-life flooded her mind, and Sharelle’s focus turned to becoming a full-time entrepreneur.
Exactly one decade later, Sharelle married a fellow Seattle Pacific University student. When they were dating, she made a deal with her future husband—the couple would share the responsibility of caring for their future children so they could both have the careers they dreamed of.
So when they welcomed their first daughter, Anna, into the world just a few years later, it came as a surprise to Sharelle that she was having a difficult time leaving her child to return to her job in the corporate world. “I’d always been so focused on my career, so that was a truly interesting point where I realized my life was going to look a little different than I thought. I really didn’t want to leave my children.”
And she didn’t. Instead, Sharelle decided to stay home with her daughter. A year later, the family of three grew, and another daughter, Willa, made her appearance.
When Anna and Willa were still very young, Sharelle started her first company. It was the late 90s, and the internet was taking the world by storm. Sharelle created a secured internet portal for tweens called PlanetSquid. She realized how deeply she loved building a brand and came to find that she was pretty good at raising money—an important skill for any entrepreneur. Unfortunately, the internet bubble burst, and Sharelle was forced to close the company.
While some might consider her first company a failure, the lessons Sharelle learned there were invaluable. “Whatever it was that I did next, I had to be super passionate about it. At the end of the day, I didn’t really care about what 10-13 year olds were doing on the internet. What I liked about [my first company] was building a brand, and so I took that to heart because I also realized how hard it is to [build a company]. You have to give your heart and soul to it.”
Her third child, Zane, was born shortly after the closing of PlanetSquid. With three children at home, Sharelle decided she was ready to start a new business. Then, you guessed it, Sharelle found out she was expecting. With her fourth baby on the way, her business plans were put on hold.
Luckily, that’s not the end of the story. Sharelle’s dream of being a CEO didn’t come to fruition in spite of motherhood, but because of it. And her passion pointed her toward her dream.
“I was a total foodie. Wednesdays were my favorite day, because that’s when The New York Times Dining Section came out. As a stay at home mom, that was my creative outlet—reading about food, dreaming about food, cooking food, buying food—that was my thing.” And while she didn’t get to go out often, pairing wine with her meal was as important to the dining experience for Sharelle as the food itself.
Months later while dining out as a nursing mother to her youngest son, Burgon, Sharelle became frustrated with the lack of nonalcoholic beverage options to pair with her dinner. She realized her frustration was actually uncovering a new business idea, and Dry Soda Company was born.
Her kitchen became the testing site for thousands of trial runs. The goal was simple and clear from the beginning—to elevate beverages by bringing beautiful branding and packaging along with amazing flavors that would make you feel special when you couldn’t drink. After months of testing, refining, and retesting, Sharelle was finally ready to launch with four original flavors. So in 2005, she began pitching her new sodas to restaurant owners and sommeliers across Seattle. Every single one bought in to not only the beverages Sharelle was offering, but also the new experience they could offer their guests.
That was only the beginning for Sharelle and Dry Soda Company. The company’s product lines, Dry Sparkling and Dry Zero Sugar, can now be found in 12 different flavors, including Lavender, which Sharelle is most proud of, and in thousands of stores across the country.
And while the occasional naysayer has tried to discredit both Sharelle as a working mother and the company she’s built over the past 13 years, she simply shakes their negativity away and gets back to work.
Sharelle, along with her nearly all-female team, is responsible for the company’s massive growth and success—from its humble beginnings of testing recipes out of Sharelle’s Seattle home and sharing the prototypes with friends and neighbors to its current headquarters in the city’s oldest skyscraper, Smith Tower.
And as a working mom herself, Sharelle recognizes motherhood as a strength for women, not a hindrance.
“I love to hire moms because I know what amazing skill sets we have. We know how to multitask. We know how to handle tantrums. There’s so much you have to manage as a mom. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and I think women should never discount that skillset.”
So to mothers who are dreaming of creating something new, just like Sharelle was all those years ago, she offers some advice:
“Don’t limit yourself. Don’t let labels limit you. You have to own what it is you want to do and get over the guilt! I’ve been able to show my children you can do whatever it is you want to do. You can start your own company and be a good parent. But remember that every parent has to do it their own way. Don’t just listen to what other people think you should or shouldn’t do. You’re going to know how best to mother your child and fulfill your life. You just have to own it and don’t let any other voices in your head. Own what you’re doing and be proud of it!”
Words by Lexie Bear
Photos provided by Dry Sparkling