What’s the inspiration behind Backyard Sodas?
Backyard Soda was started as a soda cart for handmade sodas, slushies, and other treats. We wanted people to think about the fun they have in their backyard with friends and family. As we grew, we wanted to expand that idea to make gourmet drinks simple..like the enjoyment of your backyard. We wanted to provide people the experience of being able to have a great cocktail or soda without having to leave their own backyard.
This is not your first time working in the startup industry. How has your experience shaped your approach to Backyard Sodas?
Starting and running a startup and even working in a startup is very similar across industries, whether that be consumer packaged goods, software, or manufacturing or financial services. First, you wear a lot of hats, and that is great because you get to know your business incredibly well. Second, you are always dealing with some type of adversity. Unlike businesses that have been running for years or decades, a startup is inevitably going to face challenges that seem like they are too big to overcome. However, meeting and overcoming those challenges is what makes the business stronger, and ultimately helps to put the processes in place that allows the next challenge to not seem quite as big.
The team is critical. It has become clear that having people on the team that understand that there is no chance that only executing your given job description gets the whole job done is necessary.
The startups that succeed have a great team of doers who don’t have excuses. They figure it out.
What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
The ability to put together a team that has the ability to adapt to market and consumer changes is critical. It is also what allows a startup to succeed. When you can adapt quickly (a great example is our current environment of health and social challenges due to COVID-19), you can continue to grow without having to shut down and retool your entire plan. It also means that everyone is in tune with the goal. At Backyard Soda, we quickly adapted from a focus on on-premise and retail sales to online when businesses started to shut down for a period of time. As restaurants and retail is starting to come back, we are now adapting to sharing the focus.
How did you meet your co-founder? How do you work together?
My co-founder is my wife, Leah. We have been married for 22 years and have 2 teenage children. We know exactly how the other works, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and have the same goal of what we want from the business (i.e. to make the best all natural syrup with interesting flavors, to grow the business rapidly but not in a way that jeopardizes the overall health and financial position of the company, and ultimately sell the business to a company that understands why our customer loves and is loyal to our product). She is unbelievable at the details. She loves being behind the scenes and making things happen. I am definitely the front facing component and will be out talking to customers face to face, going to events for networking, or pitching the business on a stage. She doesn’t want to do what I do, and I don’t want to do what she does. We both understand there are plenty of things neither of us want to do, but we get it done. It works out pretty well.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Risk is not something that can be taken out of an equation. As an employee of a large company, many people believe that there is inherently less risk. I believe that to be untrue. You have no control over what the CEO or Board of Directors does. They may decide to downsize, or they may sell to another company, leaving you in a very different position than you had. Or they may make a terrible decision about how to handle a PR issue.
When you run a startup, you are in control. You may not have control of outside market forces, but you have control over the decisions made for the best interest of the company, and to me that takes a lot more risk out of the equation than just being an employee.
Competition will always be a part of our business and having good competitors keeps you on your toes. However, if you focus on what you do best, focus on making the customer joyful and excited about your product, and ultimately how we can leave our backyard cleaner than we found it, then we can be less worried about what the competition is doing. If you are always trying to match your competitors, you lose focus on what you do best. Use competitors as great case studies, and adapt those learnings to the mission of your company.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Launching a simple syrup and beverage company in the cannabis market has a number of challenges, from potential regulatory challenges, to an incredible amount of noise and competition. However, the biggest challenges have been the amount of work with the little resources a startup company has to work with. You become very scrappy and very conscious of every dollar spent. Money in the bank certainly helps diminish those challenges.
On a much more granular level, adapting to a world that has to be much less social, that doesn’t have bars and restaurants operating at full capacity, and that has people worried about really big things in life has been an incredible challenge.
We adapted our business model in March to focus much of our sales online. Since then, we have grown our business by over 500%, and now look forward to increasing sales as the economy works itself back in the (hopefully) near future.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I have learned that I am better at public speaking than I thought I was. I don’t necessarily like getting up in front of people. However, with practice and added confidence due to no other option than presenting, I feel much more comfortable. I was recently interviewed about our company by the local Denver7 news, and I honestly didn’t watch it when it aired. But then I got a call from someone who saw it and said it was great. After finally watching it around 10 hours later, I realized it really was a great interview (I have to give a lot of thanks for really great editing), and sent it out to as many people as I could. Getting that positive feedback really helps.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
Republic seemed like a great opportunity to get in front of seasoned angel investors that see a lot of deals and have experience with start up companies. They had a great team that is incredibly responsive, and to me that is a critical part of raising money. I don’t have to wait for long periods of time for questions to be answered.
They also have a bench of extremely qualified advisors and professionals from the legal, accounting, and marketing worlds. We have an awesome CMO, but obviously don’t employ an in house accounting or legal team. While we have legal counsel and an accounting firm for our regular business, raising a crowdfund is a very nuanced exercise.
What’s your team culture like?
Our culture is about fun, and making people enjoy the present. People that are having fun are great customers. We want to provide that to others. There is so much to worry about in the world right now, that taking a little time to hang in the backyard (and that proverbial backyard doesn’t have to be a patio with green grass), with friends and family makes those worries melt away. If we can help with that, we have succeeded in our mission. We look for people in this company that have that same attitude. We love music. We love great food and cocktails. We love being with our friends, and we enjoy doing that together.
Have you run into any unexpected challenges or surprises working in the CBD industry?
The challenges in the CBD/Cannabis world are numerous. There are a lot of bad products out there and right now there is still a lot of education around CBD that needs to be disseminated. Colorado (where we are based) is pretty knowledgeable about CBD and cannabis, but much of the population around the country is still pretty unclear and unaware of what CBD even is.
There is also the challenge of explaining that all CBD is not created equally. Potency is a huge aspect, and right now, people just see a number and often think that 25mg must be better than 15mg or so on, without really understanding if they are consuming a quality product.
The other challenge is simply the rules and regulations around CBD. They can change on a dime, and are different state by state. It would be great to really have some studies of efficacy that could be published and used in marketing. There are so many incredible anecdotes about what CBD has done for people in a positive way, but it is important that we are extremely vigilant in not making any claims about that until actual studies have been approved and published. The federal hindrances of banking, and credit card processing are challenging for our customers in the retail world, and it just doesn’t make sense. Thank goodness there are some companies out there that are forward thinking and on the side of this industry trying to make it better and more accessible.
What is your superpower?
Planning and coordination. It always has been. From planning vacations for 10+ friends 1000 miles away in college and making sure everyone has their house and space and time of arrival, to planning a dinner party with the perfect wine pairing and playlist, to the coordination and planning of creating 4000 bottles of syrup in a week when a company calls and asks if that can be done. I can usually tell someone where I will be within minutes even if it is a week away and the location is 500 miles away. I love the process of making a good plan. And while I do love spontaneity, to me, a good plan incorporates that aspect.
What’s your kryptonite?
Disorganization, but you may not believe that by looking at my office. When things are left to chance, I find it hard to deal with. I like to be around other people that I can trust to handle things, and also have a plan. That way I know how they are going to execute the plan.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I don’t drink hot drinks. That's not necessarily a habit, but I do get a lot of raised eyebrows when I say that. I think that is one of the reasons I love this business so much, and relate to what we do so well. I want to make a great beverage, and nothing is better than a full glass of ice for that drink. I also get up really early in the morning.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I used to see at least 50+ concerts a year (I love to travel for live music and see shows). There is nothing like the energy you get from a crowd that is totally in tune with the musicians on stage. I miss that so much right now, but live streaming concerts have been a real savior. As of 8/4/20, Phish has played 19 archived shows every Tuesday and I haven’t missed one of them. I also like to hike, ski, and get outside. That has been a great way to get out of the work routine.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Persevere. Success doesn’t happen overnight. I was always enamored by what seemed like overnight success of tech companies and young entrepreneurs. Some of that was certainly timing and the right skill set to meet the needs of the market. However, that is truly the exception and not the norm. Make sure that you realize that the key is endurance, and being able to adapt, stay true to the vision, and finish the race.