Beverage Startups

I want to make sodas that I’m excited to drink and excited to share with my friends says Founder of Q Drinks

Whole Story picI’m the founder of Q Drinks . We make a line of spectacular sodas, as crafty as the craftiest beers and fine as the finest wines. As opposed to the cost-efficient products supported by massive advertising that the factory soda companies produce.

There are three main differences between our sodas and factory sodas.

a) we use vastly better ingredients – for example real quinine from real trees, real ginger from real ginger roots, and real grapefruit from real grapefruit trees

b) we use vastly less sugar

c) We care intensely about making something that delights people – so we agonize and agonize over recipes and then are fanatical about ensuring that each and every bottle that is made is as wonderful as the recipe I personally make. Right now we have 7 flavors – Q Tonic, Q Ginger, Q Club, Q Kola, Q Grapefruit, Q Lemon, and Q Orange.

It started on a warm summer night in Brooklyn. A couple of good friends were in my backyard for gin & tonics. A couple of drinks in, my teeth felt strangely sticky. While Jon was talking, I picked up the bottle of tonic water and looked at the ingredients. 25 grams of high fructose corn syrup! Natural and artificial flavors. And artificial preservatives. Sara was drinking a Sprite. I asked to see the can. It had 26 grams of high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, and artificial preservatives.

“Do you know that tonic water is virtually the same thing as Sprite?” “Really?” “I thought it was like club soda.” And as soon as that we were on to something else. And then something else.

Maybe it was the gin, but the idea lingered. Justin brought this great (and expensive) bottle of Tanqueray over. And we were mixing it drink after drink with something lousy. Right then I looked up. The moon was shining down on the table. The light caught the Tanqueray and it looked like a glowing orb of green gin goodness. Next to it, the plastic tonic water bottle looked particularly decrepit.

In a flash I realized I could make a superior tonic water. One made from authentic ingredients and good enough to mix with my favorite gins, vodkas and rums. I spent four years working to make that great tonic water. I tracked down farmers to source ingredients. Made the recipe in my Brooklyn kitchen. And spent late nights agonizing with one of America’s best young designers to make a bottle as beautiful as the liquid it holds. I came up with a vastly better tonic water. Immediately some of the world’s top restaurants, cocktail lounges, liquor stores, and gourmet groceries started buying it. Then we got a ton of press coverage and some larger chains joined them. And soon I was being asked for other sodas as tasty and high quality as Q Tonic.

For each new Q drink I agonize like I did with Q Tonic. I source the absolute best ingredients and then tinker with the recipe until I come up with something I love. I then work with our great designer to give each one packaging as beautiful and sophisticated as the liquid it holds.

7 Q Bottles high resWe had to make the decision to expand our product line from one product – Q Tonic, a spectacular tonic water – to a full line of spectacular sodas. For 4 years we had great customers, America’s best restaurants and grocery chains, asking us to make other flavors with the same quality and sophistication as Q Tonic. But we didn’t have our act together – production wasn’t perfection, distribution was spotty, and we hadn’t built out a sales team. So we said no. Finally after 4 hard years, we got the right pieces in place and I started work on a ginger ale. 9 months later, after 20+ different recipes, I came up with something as spectacular as Q Tonic, so we released Q Ginger. The next year we did the same with Q Kola and Q Club. And then last year we released a line of sparkling citrus beverages – Q Lemon, Q Orange, and Q Grapefruit.

When we succeed in the end, everybody will say that I was a genius with a “Trojan Horse” strategy, infiltrating thousands of America’s best accounts with one flavor and then once we were in bringing in many more flavors. But the real truth is that it wasn’t on purpose, it was because we didn’t have our act together and we’re ready to make new flavors until we had mastered one. But once we mastered Q Tonic we moved very quickly with new flavors.

It was very hard to find production plants that could make our sodas at the high quality I envisioned. We were (and still are) very small, so the plants with the most sophisticated (that is expensive) equipment didn’t want to work with us and our small production runs. So we needed to work with smaller plants, with less new equipment and this resulted in many different production challenges. Our solution is to go on the line to watch each and every bottle come off the line and help fix any problem that arose – from 5 in the morning to sometimes after midnight.  I did it for the first couple of years myself and now we have a former marine do it so I can focus on sales and the other important parts of building a business. So my advice would be to become the expert on making your product and then personally oversee each and every bottle made. No one else will care as much as you do.

I want to make sodas that I’m excited to drink and excited to share with my friends. The factory sodas out there compromise on quality to become hyper cost efficient to make. I want to make sodas that someone drinks and says, “wow, that’s delightful.”

I think too many people are trying to be too tricky and come up with some revolutionary new beverage rather than just making the regular beverages that lots of people are already drinking vastly better. And by vastly better, I mean something that is easy to justify- taste. So my advice to an aspiring beverage start-up is to be sure you make a product that tastes vastly better than anything else in the marketplace.

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