*This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn July 30th, 2016
For anyone following Swig + Swallow’s journey to launching a cocktail mixer company, you’ll notice it’s been months since I last posted. Here's a summary of where we came from and where we are.
Cocktail batching and delivery is an idea I came up in 2015 with as a service for spirits companies and caterers throwing large parties. This was born out of my own need when I was a Brand Ambassador for Bacardi, and the idea was that I would take the client’s cocktail recipes, and scale them up for the event, properly proportioning fresh juices and custom syrups in gallon jugs, leaving room to add the spirits directly to the jug. The results were great, and clients loved the convenience, but there were a whole bunch of things wrong with the business model, including the glaring fact that custom recipes were incredibly service-intensive, often requiring tens to dozens of calls and emails for a single order.
Enter February of 2016. I had had a non-equity partner who ran a wholesale juice and syrups business, and they decided to shutter their doors. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I had decided I wanted to launch a consumer product, with a specific selection of iconic, recognizable cocktails that could be prepared as is, or used as a base for custom cocktails. When I heard the news, I last minute applied to an Accelerator, made it into the top 10% of applicants, and whipped together a prototype of the new business model- what I decided to call (tongue in cheek) the Blue Apron of Cocktails for Lazy People. In my second interview they told me they didn’t accept single-founder companies, and “was there any way I could find a partner in the next week?”
The answer, surprisingly, was yes, and somehow I got up the nerve to ask my friend Gates Otsuji (he runs the cocktail programs at the Standard Hotels in New York) if he would consider coming on board so we could get into the Accelerator. The meet-and-greet came and went, and the Accelerator folks seemed to love the product. When we did not get in, I was almost dumbfounded that Gates still wanted to be involved- that he wanted to put in the hard work and hustle and faith that I had, without having any idea what the future might hold.
Fastforward to May, 2016. We had bounced the product of dozens and dozens of people, had run multiple samples through a process that extends shelf life and kills pathogens, and were psyched by the results. We had also done all of the product photography, styling, editing, recipe card layouts, website builds ourselves, and had joined Brooklyn FoodWorks, a brand new food incubator and kitchen in Brooklyn. As I had been bootstrapping the project on my consulting proceeds, I was forseeing a money crunch as we segued into production, and so we decided to run a Kickstarter for the month of May. Again, we taught ourselves how to film and edit video, learned how not to record sound (we now own 2 lavalier mics), and how to better tell our story. Also, my good friend Allison Hamlin- a food marketing, education, and media person, came on board to help us with our Kickstarter. We asked for only a small sum- $5000, and met our goal within 30 hours. We then spent the rest of the month trying to figure out how to keep the interest up, and finished out the campaign with just over $10K- just over double our goal.
June and July have been spent primarily on solidifying production, adapting the business and distribution model, learning about our financial options, and just shoring up the infrastructure of our business. One of my greatest learnings in these past months is that there are zero small manufacturers set up to service a product like ours. No one has full answers, there are very few systems in place, and every single business interaction takes persistent phone calls, emails, and long conversations to get people to do business with you. All this said, we’re making excellent progress. We have a new bottle, a new label manufacturer, a new logo, a new label in the works, shelf life studies, a new co-packer, a business plan, 12 months of projected financials, and a brand new pitch deck. We’ve applied to about 10 accelerators as a backup plan, got to the second round of Shark Tank auditions, were on National TV twice, and are ecstatic to have just gotten a small loan that will get us through at least the next couple months purchasing equipment that we need to supply for our co-packer.
So what now? We’re on schedule to fulfill our Kickstarter orders this month, and have been getting repeated requests for thousands of dollars of product for large scale events and partnerships with caterers. This past month in particular, I’ve been buckling down learning about the benefits and drawbacks of getting investor funding at this stage. The competitive side of me is tempted to go out and raise millions of dollars, but the cautious independent side knows we can absolutely make it on our own, it’s just a matter of how fast we plan on growing.
After feedback from roughly 20 mentors and investors, from food consultants to serial entrepreneurs to VCs, to private equity folks- we’ve decided to keep going it alone- not give up any equity at this point, and we couldn’t be happier about it.