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True change comes from asking tough questions.

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I n August of 2018, I sat outside the office of John Kruse, a Worldwide Auctioneers principal and the President of the Reppert School of Auctioneering. A week prior, the meeting had seemed like such a good idea. But as I heard the door creak open, and saw him appear from within to wave me into the memorabilia-filled office, the only thought running through my head was, “Really, Robert? You’re really going through with this?”

I had never met John before. To me, he was simply The Only Person In Auburn, Indiana Not Drinking Crossroads Kombucha. At least that was the nickname I’d given him after sources confirmed he still preferred the big national brand to the up-and-coming local one started by myself. And on that warm August morning, in my outlandish pursuit of difficult questions, I had driven up to Auburn to find out why.

Truth be told, I could have washed my hands of the matter entirely. I had left Crossroads Kombucha 2 1/2 months earlier, and whether or not he was a customer was out of my control and of no importance at that juncture. But there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, “But perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the one naysayer; find a crack in the foundation no one else had ever mentioned.”

But there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, "But perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the one naysayer; find a crack in the foundation no one else had ever mentioned."

It was the first of several difficult questions I’d pursue over the next few months. After leaving the first business I’d founded, and in the preparation/planning stage of my next, one of the most important tasks at hand was coming to grips with what went wrong, how I could grow, what I could change moving forward, and how to apply all I’d learn to become a better entrepreneur, leader, and person in general.

What followed was a rather enlightening Fall and Winter of 2018. I gave up my addiction to fiction novels in exchange for a collection of nonfiction books recommended by local, more experienced entrepreneurs on topics such as ego (Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holliday), hardships (The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holliday), failure (Failing Forward, John Maxwell), scaling back and saying no (Essentialism, Greg McKeown), and control (various Roman Stoic authors, such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca). Thus began an uncompromising study of myself not as I wanted to be, but as I was- a flawed man who is prideful at times, lacking in strong leadership skills, with a penchant for taking on too many projects and not asking for help for fear of letting others down.


While it’s true that truth hurts, it’s also true that physical exercise is excruciating – especially in the early stages – because the muscles affected are literally torn and replaced with stronger, tougher ones. In the same sense, when bad habits exist within us, we have a choice to ignore the weaknesses and try to work around them, or find them, exercise them, destroy their hold on us, and replace each weakness with toughened, stronger traits that encourage growth rather than hinder it.

True change comes from asking tough questions. The first is always the hardest.

After a pleasant half hour of small talk in that Auburn, Indiana office, the dreaded moment came at last. I held my breath as Mr. Kruse asked, “So what brings you in today? How can I help?”

I laughed a nervous laugh, told myself to spit it out. My first difficult question, the one I was so afraid to ask for fear of exposing a weakness in the creation I still held dear. “So I was wondering….you were the only person who never jumped on the Crossroads bandwagon up here in Auburn….and I was wondering why. What could I have done differently to earn your business?”

The first muscle tore, soon to be replaced by stronger, denser fiber. Even still, I winced as the words came out.

He laughed and leaned forward just an inch or so, his smile hinting that big questions sometimes lead to very small answers. “Your kombucha was great. I’m just a creature of habit, and switching brands was a hard habit to break.”

I laughed and eased up quite a bit. That wasn’t so bad, after all.

Article written by Robert Johnson, Fortitude Founder and Owner of Bukál Beverage Co.

Q & A with Karly Wolfcale

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“I have fallen in love with business and entrepreneurship, so no matter what I decide to do when I am older, I am sure it will have something to do with this new passion.”

What is it like running a business while balancing school?

Running a business while balancing school can be super challenging. Trying to balance the SAT and meetings can get very overwhelming, very quickly. I have had to learn how to manage my time wisely a lot quicker than most of my classmates have. It is challenging working with people that have more normal business hours when I don’t get home until 9:00 at night, therefore my workday starts pretty late. However, the time management skills and people skills that I am learning early on in my career will serve me well for my future, which makes it extremely worthwhile.

What do your family and friends think about you running a business?

I would not have started a business and received all of these amazing opportunities, such as the Fortitude Fund, without my parents. My dad has always been there to discuss business issues I am facing and has kept me motivated throughout the process, especially when I get discouraged. My family helps keep the flame inside me alive. On another note a lot of my friends have heard a lot about my business because I will enthusiastically tell anyone who will listen to me, but many of them are truly not sure what I’m actually up to.

Does this affect future plans such as college, career, etc?

This has impacted my entire future plans! In my earlier teen years, I was convinced I was going to be a Veterinarian. Because of these opportunities, my vet school plan has gone completely out of the window. I have fallen in love with business and entrepreneurship, so no matter what I decide to do when I am older, I am sure it will have something to do with this new passion.

Why should students just "jump in" and not wait to start their own business?

Students should just “jump in” and start their own business because…why not? Why wait until tomorrow when you know you can accomplish something today! Don’t think you are required to have college or business school completed before you can start your own business. I was worried because I knew I didn’t know every aspect of business, however I found out that there is no written guide to entrepreneurship when you are passionate about something. Every single person’s experience is different, so, yes, having a degree in business would be extremely helpful but it shouldn’t stop you. Not to mention the amazing people in the community that have had my back through everything. School can’t teach you how to have a passion for an idea or motivate you to change the world, this is something you have to find in yourself. I have talked to a lot of people my age with revolutionary ideas but are too afraid to start something. There are a million reasons not to do something and if you don’t start something now, when are you going to?

“School can’t teach you how to have a passion for an idea or motivate you to change the world, this is something you have to find in yourself.”

Credits of the app creation: Benjamin Steyer, Nicholas Hawn, David Bell, and Andrew Luttenbacher

Jon Rehwaldt

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Jon Rehwaldt – Fort Wayne Makers

Jon Rehwaldt noticed that Fort Wayne needed a community for creators and innovators to bring their ideas to life. He wants to build a community space that would house equipment and personnel so qualified individuals can reach prototype and testing, taking their products from ideation to reality. He can use a micro-grant from Fortitude Fund to identify partners for this venture, evaluate a pilot program, and identify next steps to guide and grow the program.

Daniel Hart

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Daniel Hart – 3D Printing Prototype

3D printers have been around for a few years, but Daniel Hart discovered that the ones available lack innovation when it comes to the consumer market. He would like to create a line of printers that are easy to use, high-quality, and low cost, making them usable for just about anyone. With a micro-grant from Fortitude, Daniel can invest in new parts for his products.

Leah Eber

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Leah Eber – Life Solutions Fitness

As a personal trainer and coach, Leah Eber knows the benefit health and wellness education can have on lives and communities. She wants to provide free workshops in Fort Wayne that provide people with a better understanding of why health and wellness matters and how it can have positive physical, mental, and spiritual impacts. Receiving a grant from Fortitude allows Leah to invest in effective marketing and any equipment she needs to provide high-quality, educational workshops.

Sean Barker

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Sean Barker – Summit Cold Brew

Sean and his wife Kristin started Summit Cold Brew, a local cold brew coffee company. They’ve been selling their product at the local farmer’s market and select pop-up shops around Fort Wayne, and they’re looking to expand to a commercial space to continue production. They can use the micro-grant from Fortitude to pay for required permits and subsidize the cost of renting a commercial space.

Derek Taylor

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Derek Taylor – Simple Nature

Crafting soap, candles, and cleaners, Derek Taylor started Simple Nature to provide simple, all-natural products without all the harsh chemicals. His products are high-quality and made in small batches so every product meets the standards of their customers. A micro-grant through Fortitude Fund will allow Derek to find a permanent place for production.

Willie Ivy

By | Allen, Cohort #5, Foods, Stories | No Comments

Willie Ivy – Ivy’s Jerk Joint LLC

Ivy’s Jerk Joint is the only Jamaican jerk restaurant in Fort Wayne, recently opened by Willie Ivy. Willie has big plans in mind for the success of his restaurant, and with the right resources, he can thrive and eventually open another location. With the micro-grant from Fortitude, Willie will be able to invest in a sign outside his restaurant so his customers can easily find his location.

Sarah Trombley

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Sarah Trombley – Lunar Infusions

Sarah Trombley makes kombucha, a fermented tea that has little to no sugar with incredible health benefits, like probiotic health. She started Lunar Infusions after brewing her own kombucha for a few years and selling it to friends and family. Because of Fortitude, Sarah can invest in marketing that will help her get the word out about the benefits of kombucha.

Molly Grimm

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Molly Grimm – Wool & Cottage

In Auburn, crafting and community have come together through Wool & Cottage, a place for women to learn useful skills and have fun doing it. Molly Grimm started Wool & Cottage to provide knitting classes to the community that anyone can join. She currently uses knitting kits to teach her classes, and through a grant from Fortitude, Molly can purchase more knitting kits, allowing her to teach more classes per month.