There are a whole lot of new drink products on the shelf at your local grocery store. Here is Bombilla & Gourd's story about how they brought their organic tea to the market.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Bombilla & Gourd, Inc manufactures and distributes Organic, functional, and low-calorie ready-to-drink beverages, specifically teas and juices. The first line developed was based around the popular Argentinean Tea, yerba maté. The tea bas boasts 90% more antioxidants than green tea, along with 24 vitamins and minerals, and a calm energy boost. Originally coming in Lemon, Peach and Mint & Honey, the maté tea line now comes in Pomergranate, Blueberry, Raspberry, Acai, and Goji Berry flavors.
Most recently, the company launched a line of pure teas – unsweetened organic teas, with zero sugar, zero calories, and no artificial sweeteners. The pure teas are offered in Green, White, Oolong and Jasmine.
When did you start the business?
The business was started by me and my partners in August of 2006. The three of us are responsible for putting together the business plan, sourcing all materials and production facilities, and raising money for the venture. We received our first big break when taken national by Whole Foods.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before Bombilla, Tom and I worked together at a Real Estate Investment bank. Tom's banking experience originated at Bank of America's investment banking side. Ariel previously worked for a New York based Real Estate Development Company.
Bombilla is the first business for all three of us.
Where did you get the startup money?
Tom, Ariel and I worked for a little over a year before starting Bombilla. The original seed money came from the three founders. Shortly after the concept had been proven to some degree we approached friends and family for funding. We have yet to take money from institutional sources.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
We really look at anything on the shelf as a potential competitor. The beverage business is a game of shelf space – a fact that is even more relevant to smaller companies and startups. The more facings another company has, the less we will have and vice versa, so while we would not directly compete with something like an orange juice company, we still fight for the same space on the shelves.
In terms of teas, the number of organic iced tea companies is fairly limited. I prefer to look at it as a growing category, and while we may compete with some of the other companies, if the category grows as a whole we are satisfied with it and happy to compete as all the companies within the category grow.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
That is a tough question to answer, because with no prior experience, I think it is safe to say none of us knew what to expect. It certainly is not as glamorous as it sounded. At one point or another each of us has worn nearly every hat possible – from handing legal and accounting work to sales routes. The biggest thing for me personally is having the responsibility of other people working for a company I helped create. It is a very gratifying feeling and not something I expected or thought to notice in the beginning stages.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
We learned a lot from doing things the way we did. I think looking back, it would have been beneficial to delegate work earlier on. Since the three of us had little or no experience, we would find ourselves all working on the same projects. It wasn't until roughly 6 months into it that we started to really delineate tasks. Three people doing three different things is a lot more productive – unfortunately as simple as that sounds, it took us some time to become independent of one another. One other development that could have happened earlier was bringing on experienced beverage executives. It doesn't take long to realize how much of a relationship based industry this is and there are only a few people out there with the necessary contacts along with a good reputation.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Fortunately for us, the past few years have been very exciting times in the beverage industry for independent brands. Companies like Vitamin Water, Fuze, and SoBe and most recently Honest Tea and Sweet Leaf have grown from small local businesses into huge multi-million dollar companies. For a young company like ours, they paved the way, providing a lot of insight into what works and what doesn't. One of the things we have done is pay close attention to things such as their methods of marketing and distribution strategies, which helped us craft our own and hopefully make less mistakes had we simply gone about it ourselves. To that same point, Ed Newman, our EVP of sales comes from a strong beverage background – my partners and I are very aware of the fact that we know little compared to him and have deferred to him on many issues. In every case, and for every issue, we try to surround ourselves with the smartest and most knowledgeable people to help us make the best decisions.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Do your research, know your competitors and diligently plan out how much funding you will need.
That is great advice, Noah. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with Gaebler.com.