Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Charlie Markland and I founded Bodega Bay hard seltzer in June 2019. It's a revolutionary new type of alcoholic mixed drink that is very low calorie and very low sugar [just 73 cals per 250ml can].
The category of hard seltzer in the United States has grown from virtually zero to a $4.5bn dollar category in just three years-now selling more than more volume than vodka in the entire United States.
After just 18 months, we're now making over $50,000 a month and expanding globally into several markets. we believe that drinking is good and that a balance can be found between leading a healthy lifestyle and enjoying socializing with friends over a drink.
That is why we call our tribe Healthy Hedonists. It had always been my intention to launch a business with a social mission and this is why for every can you purchase we send 17ltrs of clean drinking water to people who need it around the world through our partnership with the Thirst project charity. Practically speaking this means we give a minimum of 1% of all of our sales to the Thirst project.
Watch the 2020 Nov TV AD:
Now available in:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After 15 years in the UK alcoholic drinks market in various senior sales roles for the largest drinks brands, I became convinced that the dominant consumer trends of Convenience and Wellness, and Well-being we're not being met by the current alcoholic offerings in the market. I was thinking at the time of launching a vodka fresh lime and soda in a can to meet both convenience and wellbeing by way of being low calorie and very low sugar.
Then whilst on a surf trip to Bodega Bay in California, chatting to the lean and happy locals in the water they told me about hard seltzer, which is American slang for alcoholic sparkling water, it's any time you take an alcoholic base and blend it with sparkling water and natural fruit flavorings and nothing else, no added sugar sweeteners colors or preservatives, naturally gluten-free and vegan.
I then came home to the UK and cold-called some alcoholic drinks developers and we came up with Bodega Bay using a unique combination of three flavors always including one superfood which used a carbon filtered fortified apple wine base.
To test Bodega Bay, we took it to 5 music festivals where we were doing sampling and sales from a small stand-get a feel from this video of us at Kendall Calling Festival doing everything on a shoestring, using a mate with a video camera and props from home...desperately trying to look as big a brand as possible at the time, with all hands on deck!
What blew me away was how often we could convert someone who would sample the product to then purchase one there and then a lot of people were drinking Strongbow Dark Fruits cider and it was very compelling for them when I gave them an equally delicious drink and then informed them that it was exactly 80% Less Sugar per milliliter than what they had been drinking so far at the festival.
Every conversation I have had along the way, even the ones that don't seem like there's any real agenda or benefit from speaking with someone, tends to throw up some useful information or idea or contact that you had never considered before reaching out to that person.
It was from there that we decided this was going to work, before going onto into the UK premium pubs and bars operators predominantly in London, to begin with. This all means now that we are the premium hard seltzer in the UK, surrounded by plenty of competition who are trading on price rather than 1/8 social mission and quality ingredients.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In terms of how we actually got the product to life, it started with just me and some part-time help from close friends. I relied on Google to find drinks producers-ingredient suppliers and production companies who could ‘can’ our product for us. The first production run actually lost me 18p for every can I sold even at full price! The minimum run size with these producers tends to force you into a very high cost of goods, to begin with, and then release margin as you scale. I'm delighted we are beyond those days now as it always felt ridiculous selling a product and losing money!
As someone with incredibly limited knowledge of how to create a website with the capacity to take orders, I relied heavily on the simplicity of platforms like Shopify and the good advice that was offered freely by other people who I approached through LinkedIn, people who had started drinks brands in the UK or even not drinks products. It still amazes me how much value you can get from people who have done it before and are willing to give you a few pointers to stay you in the right direction
Describe the process of launching the business.
The way I financed the launch is quite an amusing story in so far as I wasn't entirely convinced I was confident enough to actually pull the trigger and hand in my notice at work...I was chatting to a family friend who gave me the confidence to believe that there's an incredible amount you've learned over your career whether it is industry-specific to what business you were trying to launch or not, and ‘what have I really got to lose’.
I can always get a job in my industry if it were not to work out so the ‘risk’ is actually higher to not try given the potential upside of owning one’s own business! He said if I get up off my bum and start moving the project forward he would invest £10,000 as he believed in me and the idea. Given how much we are raising now [close to £2m] this actually seems like an incredibly small number but it was the most crucial show of faith anyone has given and I couldn't be more grateful.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Understanding my weaknesses, I went on the hunt for people who understand how to navigate things like Facebook, Amazon, Shopify, Google Analytics, SEO and approached some consultants via LinkedIn to help me set up a strong e-commerce platform to deliver our products so that we could acquire customers and direct people to somewhere they can purchase our drinks before we won any of the major brick-and-mortar retail listings.
If you don't know it, go and find someone who does and get them to help by hook or crook...I owe a lot to time spent researching on Google and reaching out cold to people!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The competition in our category has become absolutely fierce in just 12 months with many buyers telling us they've received upwards of 40 proposals from new startups/and major drinks companies in our space.
Read books instead of getting an MBA.
It was this relentless piece of land grabbing going on that led us to decide we should partner with an exclusive distributor with the reach and scale to launch us globally. So after stalking several board member directors of major brewers and drinks brands via LinkedIn, we eventually found an opportunity for us with Molson Coors Beverage Co, who had been looking for a Hard Seltzer to work with and considered us the best available product at the time.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have made some impressive mistakes along this journey, not least having a spelling mistake on the first production run of 20k cans!
I've wasted money on paying for radio editorial slots which in hindsight may have been more about vanity than promoting the brand.
What I have learned is, no matter how much you think the market is ready for your brand, you still have to put in the hours: you get what you pitch for.
You need to tell yourself not to be embarrassed to cold call/email and look for partnerships. Every conversation I have had along the way, even the ones that don't seem like there's any real agenda or benefit from speaking with someone, tends to throw up some useful information or idea or contact that you had never considered before reaching out to that person.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The main tools I found incredibly useful have been Shopify for our website and e-commerce, LinkedIn for reaching out to partners/customers and for creating, essentially, our own media platform to share the news with fellow industry folk [by quite simply adding everyone in our industry to my LinkedIn] and the reminders app on my phone as the to-do list is relentless and things slip the net so easily that this has been an incredibly valuable tool to stay on top of all the several plates spinning any one time.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a voracious listener of audiobooks with the Audible app. I listen to at least one book a week walking to and from work... in terms of the most impactful ones I recommend strongly [in order]:
- The 10x rule - Grant Cardone
- Atomic Habits - James Clay
- The 4 hour workweek, Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans - Tim Ferris
- Play Bigger - Al Ramadan
- The Infinite Game and Start with Why - Simon Sinek
- The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday
- The Rational Optimist - Matt Ridley
- Purple Cow and This is Marketing - Seth Godin
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
- Read books instead of getting an MBA.
- Ask yourself: What is your life’s moon-shot?
Know this: The only difference between the people you admire and the people you don’t, is that the people you admire all read to expand their knowledge of their field!
- There has never been a better or easier time to raise money.
- CV19 has proved the importance of managing one’s own destiny.
- You can jump first and build the plane on the way down.
- If you are thinking of launching a business tell everyone you what you ARE launching. This unlocks opportunities/advice and corners yourself into committing.
- You get what you pitch for.
- Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. Most people choose unhappiness rather than the uncertainty of breaking the status quo or their own assumptions. Embrace the unknown possibilities...you will always be qualified to go back to what you do now in the unlikely event it doesn’t work out!
- Pretend you are sat interviewing yourself 10 years from now...what would you say, picture what they would tell you they wish they had done differently, risked, or had achieved, and then go and do it.
- There are no adults, everyone is figuring out as they go along, figure it out and do it’ [Raval Navikant]
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At the moment we are a lean and very strong team with no need for headcount growth just yet, but watch the space as the international picture unfolds with us launching in Brazil, Japan, and the US this year.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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