Jordan Silbert and Ben Karlin have raised tens of millions of dollars to improve your drinking experience with a premium mixer that is proving to be a big hit. Their startup, Q Mixers has attracted interest from top-tier investors like Eurazeo and First Beverage Group.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Saying “yes,” even before you know how to do it
- Refusing to fold during economic crises
- Investing in teams and marketing
- Ben and Jordan’s top advice when starting a business
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Jordan Sibert:
Jordan Silbert is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Q Mixer. He was the Director of Rebuilding Initiatives at Alliance for Downtown New York prior to that.
About Ben Karlin:
Ben Karlin is the President and Co-Founder of Q Mixers. Prior to that, he was the Vice President of Implementation and Strategy at Jurlique and the Director of Sales at Bumble and Bumble.
Connect with Jordan Silbert:
Connect with Ben Karlin
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m super excited about the founders that we have today joining us. We’re going to be talking about a remarkable story, Q Mixers, how everything happened, how they got together, how they met in summer camp, and around this story of the company that they’ve built. They’ve been at it for quite a bit of time, so a lot of successes, a lot of lessons learned along the way, and it’s going to be quite inspiring. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guests today. Jordan Silbert Silbert and Ben Karlin Karlin, welcome to the show.
Ben Karlin: Thank you for having us.
Jordan Silbert: Thanks for having us.
Alejandro: Let’s start with Jordan Silbert. Jordan Silbert, you were originally born and raised in the Upper West Side. How was life growing up there?
Jordan Silbert: Great. Life is what you know. New York City was very different in the ‘70s and ‘80s than it is today. I would say both are great, but it was a little rough around the edges back then. I’m still very much a city kid, like, I do not like driving. I don’t take cars very seriously. I like having people around me. I like doing stuff, so still, very much a New Yorker.
Alejandro: It’s interesting here because in your journey, being in one of the most incredible cities in the world, after college—you went to Brown. Then you moved to California. Why did you go to California?
Jordan Silbert: Because my mother convinced me that I tricked this great college into accepting me, and I didn’t go abroad my junior year. I graduated, and I wanted to do something different, so I went out to Sonoma County, California. By day, I worked doing economic development for the county, and at night, I lived in a little cabin in the woods with no indoor shower next door to this guy’s house who was a real character. He had big parties where he roasted goats. He made his own wine, grew his own pot. We just had a good ‘ole time. I just wanted to get far away from New York City and try something very different.
Alejandro: This was your first contact with startups, and you were able to see how the birth of a company would happen, how they would scale, and being part of that ecosystem of creativity. So what do you think you got from that experience?
Jordan Silbert: I guess there are two parts of California. First, I did this economic development for the county of Sonoma. Then I went down to San Francisco and worked for a couple of startups, one of which went public; the other one got bought by Microsoft. I think there’s some there, but I have to admit, one of the most influential things was making wine with this guy, Shawn. We’ll get to it later, but I had this idea for a better tonic water. The fact that I knew Shawn made wine, that was really good. I was like, “If that yahoo can make good wine, I can make some good tonic water.” With him, we went up to a relatively abandoned vineyard up in Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County and picked wild grapes, crushed them, barreled them, didn’t put any finishing chemicals at all, and then let it sit for a year, and we made some wine that was actually pretty good. The fact that he could do that meant that when I had this kind of drunken revelation that the world needed a better tonic water, I actually had confidence that I could make it. I think that was really helpful. Obviously, being in San Francisco during the go-go days, you saw a lot of money being spent both for good and for bad. I think that informed our approach and spending at this organization that we really want to be careful and watch every single penny and not waste things on ice luges while drinking Vodka because it impresses people. I made sure that every dollar we spend is a real investment in the business.
Alejandro: In your case, 9/11 hit, and you had to come back here to New York City. You encountered all the uncertainty, all the craziness during those difficult times for everyone. I guess this was your time to come back to the Big City, so how was that for you?
Jordan Silbert: I was actually visiting my parents on September 11th in the City, and I didn’t feel comfortable flying back on the 14th. The 14th was canceled, and I ended up flying back on the 21st. By the time I did fly back in late September, I decided that I had to come back and help. So I packed up my stuff and drove back. By Thanksgiving, I was working for this thing called The Alliance for Downtown New York, which was the business improvement district for the area below Chambers Street in Manhattan. Because it was this established organization, it ended up being a real flowthrough for all the dollars that were being spent. My job eventually became coming up with ideas and getting them funded and implemented that would revitalize either the residential and business community in the area below Chambers Street. It was awesome for three years. Then it got pretty political toward the end.
Alejandro: Yeah. Then you ended up in business school. It’s amazing how, in your case, you had that idea on the back burner with business school. I mean, seeing what happened in California and San Francisco, the go-go of startups as you were alluding to, now with business school, perhaps it gave you that framework as to how to think in the future about bringing something to life, which eventually turned out to be Q Mixers. Would you say that maybe business school gave you a little bit more of a framework to understand how to get something done on the business side?
Jordan Silbert: No. [Laughter]
Alejandro: Okay. But maybe a network?
Jordan Silbert: I had a great time at business school. Yeah, the academics were just a bunch of math homework.
Ben Karlin: And Barry.
Jordan Silbert: That’s what I was going to get to. One of my professors or one of the professors at Yale was Barry Nalebuff, who had started Honest Tea. After I came back from my summer internship, the summer between the first and second year, I realized I wanted to do stuff. The reason I went to business school was to equip me to do stuff. I had had this idea for a tonic water company before I went, so I came back. After my summer, I went into Barry’s office. “I’m Jordan Silbert. I want to start this spectacular tonic water company. Can I do an independent with you?” He said, “Sure. I have one assignment.” I was like, “What’s the assignment?” He said, “I don’t need to have some 500-page business plan. I know every single store and retailer in America who sells tonic water. It’s a marketing money bit. What I need you to figure out is how to make the thing. At Honest Tea, we had this bottle of ice tea that they sold to some Whole Food’s division, and the media went so well that they were asked to sell a truckload of products. But we couldn’t make it, so you’ve got a year to figure out how to make the thing. You’ve got to source glass; you’ve got to find a bottling plant and all that.” So I did that for another semester of business school. In that regard, it was terrific in terms of the microeconomics or the macroeconomics foundation for me to understand the world.
Alejandro: Then, in your case, a little bit of sales and marketing, and then, it got to the idea, to the company that we’re going to be talking about today. Let’s pause it right there, and now, let’s go to Ben Karlin. Ben Karlin, born in Boston. There, you went to summer camps, and Jordan Silbert didn’t want to disclose the fact that you guys met in summer camp where you were the athlete, and he was the nerd.
Ben Karlin: Yeah. He didn’t want to disclose that. [Laughter]
Alejandro: Tell us about growing up around that area.
Ben Karlin: I grew up in Boston. Jordan Silbert and I have known each other since we were nine years old; we went to summer camp together in Maine and then went to college together at Brown in Providence. I had always been interested in business since I was a kid. I had a vending machine business that had M&Ms and gum vending machines in a few different places in Boston by the time I went off to college. After college, I did management consulting, which I learned a bunch of stuff. I learned how to approach real-world problems from an analytical and data-driven perspective. But it was far too—whatever the opposite of tangible is. I only did that for two years, and I decided to do the most opposite thing that I could think of after that. I moved to Maine, and I went to carpentry school. I was a carpenter for a couple of years before I eventually went to business school.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. One of the things that I find very unique here on your background, too, is that many of the entrepreneurs that I speak with that end up being very successful are those that have the background of being consultants, I guess maybe to a certain degree because they help you in understanding how you grab a really big problem, and then you break it down into very small problems. What kind of background did that give you to really tackle problems with a really interesting framework?
Ben Karlin: I didn’t love my time in consulting, but the truth is, I did learn how to look at the real world and all its messiness, and break it into discrete pieces, and how to get information, and how to be data-driven about decisions. Those were, I think, important foundational skills.
Alejandro: Both of you guys had that experience in California because you did your MBA at Stanford, Ben Karlin, so I’m sure that many of the classmates went on and started great companies, and you were able to have that exposure too. But instead of launching your own business, you went into more of the corporate side. Why did you do that?
Ben Karlin: Yeah, although I wouldn’t call—we’ll talk about it. I wouldn’t call Bumble and Bumble where I went corporate because it was kind of insane culturally.
Ben Karlin: When I was in business school, actually, my summer internship, I worked for a startup in New York City, where I was the fourth person. It was an educational technology startup company called Readia. I worked there during my summer, and I loved it. I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to do early-stage startups. I continued working for this company throughout my second year at business school. My intent was to work full-time upon graduation. The company, during my second year of business school, did a fundraising round. We raised money from Kleiner Perkins, Bain Capital, and Greylock. It was a great group of funders. Then it collapsed, suddenly, toward the end of business school. I think any entrepreneur who has been through this knows it’s very difficult and quite challenging emotionally. I put a lot into it. Other people put far more into it. It was very challenging to see it go away. I knew that I loved being an early-stage entrepreneur, but I wasn’t emotionally ready to do it again. So I was looking for something. I loved being in New York City. I said, “I want to be in New York City. I want to be somewhere where I’m doing something tangible, but not quite as risky.” I found through the Stanford Business School Alumni Network the company Bumble and Bumble, hair care products. Everyone in business school thought it was hilarious because I was the least stylish person at Stanford Business School. I went to this high-fashion company, and I had a tremendous experience, and I learned a lot. It was not even remotely corporate. This is a company that, when I was there, was still very much run by Michael Gordon, who founded it. He was a hairdresser and a really brilliant entrepreneur. The centers of power in this company were the hairdressers and the artists. It was a fascinating place to be, and I was there for two years. Then I left with my boss to go to a company. My boss from Bumble was named CEO of a company called Jurlique. It is an Australian skincare company. We moved to Sydney for a year and then worked for the company a little while after that before joining Jordan Silbert as he was just starting Mixers.
Alejandro: And he actually crashed your couch while you were gone.
Ben Karlin: He did. He was in my apartment while I was in Australia. When I got back, I had to throw in my towels. He was very—
Jordan Silbert: A lot of quinine everywhere.
Alejandro: So, here you guys are, coming back together to a certain degree. Obviously, at this point, Jordan Silbert is in your apartment. You guys are speaking; you’re overseas but going to Jordan Silbert now. You came out of business school. You were doing your sales and marketing. It seems that you, to a certain degree, had this idea incubating. Then Ben Karlin is coming along, as well, because he gets equally excited about it, but before that conversation with Ben Karlin happened, can you tell us the sequence of events all the way to you actually speaking with Ben Karlin, sharing this with Ben Karlin, and then both of you saying, “Let’s do it.”
Jordan Silbert: Yeah. Let me start a step back. First of all, I feel like we haven’t even gotten into what the company is. In Q Mixers, we make this line and sell this line of premium mixers: tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale. The idea is that more and more people are buying better gins or whiskeys or vodkas. Now, we have mixers of comparable quality and sophistication, so you can make the best gin and tonic you’ve ever had or the best Moscow mule you’ve ever had. The company is Q Mixers. Right now, our stuff is sold at 10,000 bars and restaurants around the country, everything from all the Four Seasons Hotels in the country to a bunch of bowling alleys, and retailed at just about every major retailer: Target, Kroger, Whole Foods, Walmart, Albertsons, all across the country. The whole thing started with that breakthrough idea. I used to be a bit younger than I am now, and I used to be able to have five or six gin and tonics on a Tuesday night or drinks on a Tuesday night and be pretty good on a Wednesday morning. While I was working at Downtown Alliance, I had this great apartment in Brooklyn with a beautiful backyard. One summer night, I had a bunch of good friends over, and we were drinking gin and tonic after gin and tonic. A couple of drinks in, one of my friends started telling this same stupid story he always tells. I stopped for a second and realized that my teeth were a little sticky. I was like, “That’s kind of weird.” So I picked up the bottle of tonic water; it was like a Schweppes plastic bottle, and I looked at it: 25 grams of high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, and sodium Ben Karlinzoate. I was like, “That’s weird. I thought tonic water was some bitter water thing.” One of my friends, then girlfriend; now, wife and mother of our two kids, was drinking a Sprite. She had a stomach ache or something. I said, “Hey Sarah, can I look at your Sprite for a second?” She gave it to me—25 grams of high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, sodium Ben Karlinzoate. I’m like, “Guys, these are the same things. One’s just green, and one’s yellow. That’s crazy.” Being my good friends, they’re like, “Sure.” Then we started talking about 5,000 other things. I think the way I put it is that gin has a real way of clarifying my thinking. I can see exactly what’s important in the world after five or six gin drinks, but I was sitting back, and everything was great about the night. It was this warm summer night with my best friends in the world there. We had the Christmas lights up. I had this Tanagra bottle, gorgeous bottle, and I was thinking in my head that everything’s perfect. It doesn’t get much better than this. Then I looked over and saw the bottle of tonic water. I was like, “What a piece of junk. The thing is plastic and dented. The label is peeling off. It looked like it had been designed in 1958. Obviously, we knew what the liquid was. I was like, “Why is there not a better tonic water as good as this night. Everything else is perfect except for this.” I was like, “You know what? I’m going to make a better tonic water.” So, that’s where I was. A long story short, I made it in my kitchen. I figured out what tonic water was supposed to be. It was supposed to be this alkaloid or salt from a bark of a tree with a little sugar and a little carbonated water. I ordered a bag of bark on the internet and started mixing it up in my kitchen and did that while I was working at Downtown Alliance as well as business school that first year, and I came up with a prototype. I graduated business school; I got Ben Karlin to give me his apartment for six months, and that if he came back for a week or so, I had to clear out and find some other couch to sleep on. I had this prototype that I’d made because Barry Nalebuff made me make it to graduate from business school. I basically went door-to-door in New York City to a bunch of fancy restaurants. I signed on first, Gramercy Tavern, which had won best restaurant in America or something. They wanted to buy my tonic water, and I had to get set up. They asked me who my distributor was. I was like, “What’s a distributor?” He said, “Go get set up with finance.” I did all this paperwork. By the time I got back home, Milk and Honey called me. They were the grande dame of these modern cocktail bars. They’re the ones that made fresh fruit juice, classic recipes like the thing that cocktail places need to do. He loved it. He knew looking at me that I didn’t know anything about anything. He said, “Can you deliver after close tonight?” I said, “Sure.” I said, “What time?” He said, “2:30 in the morning.” So I delivered my [19:16], delivered my first cases at 2:30 in the morning, and got paid cash at the register. About three weeks later, a gin company called me for the gin. They were doing an event at Rockefeller Center, and they wanted to ultimate gin and tonics with their gin and my tonics, and said, “Sure. What do I need to do?” And had to get my phone number.” Basically, I needed to show up the next Thursday night with ten cases of tonic water, and I did. We had a good ‘ole time and drank a lot of gin and tonics. At one point, Florence Fabricant, who is the head writer for the Dining In section of the New York Times, came by, and she loved the tonic water and loved the story. The next morning, I got a call from the Fact-Checking Department of the New York Times that we were to be featured in the Dining In section next week. I said, “Oh, my gosh.” I didn’t have anything. I got a website up in two days that had a pretty picture and said, for my tonic water, call Jordan Silbert. Here’s his cell phone. The article hit, and it was really nice. I got calls from 800 places around the world on my cell phone that week. Literally, bars in Japan were calling me on my cell phone. In retrospect, it makes sense. They had already upgraded to Craft Beer from the regular beers. They had all these fine wines. They had nice spirits, and no one had a better mixer. So I got this call. Meanwhile, I only had a couple hundred cases, so I said, “No,” to just about everybody except a couple of places in New York City and the flagship Whole Foods store in Austin, Texas. They wanted to buy a pallet. Kids, big advice: when you’re starting a company and people want to buy stuff from you, say, “Yes,” and figure out what it is afterward. I figured out what a pallet was. I had to get the stuff on a pallet. I had to get the stuff down to Texas. Then my then-girlfriend, wife, and mother of my two kids now went down for a week of demos. By day, tried my tonic water; by night, Tex-Mex food and margaritas. By the time I got back, I said, “I think I have something here.” I pretty quickly sold into the Whole Foods in New York City, where I did something like 28 demos in 27 days. We were more or less off to the races. I think it was at that point that Ben Karlin joined me. Right?
Ben Karlin: Yeah. One of my first days was us going to get into Whole Foods. We had to have a distributor, and we did not have a distributor. Whole Foods hooked us up with a small, local, independent distributor called McMahons Farm. That was one of my first days; Jordan Silbert and I drove up to negotiate our distribution increment with McMahons Farm. That was actually an important moment. We went up, and we met with them. They were on their way to Whole Foods. They asked us for an exclusive. It was a New York State exclusive. Right, Jordan Silbert?
Jordan Silbert: At least.
Ben Karlin: We didn’t know what to do. We were like, “That doesn’t sound good.” We were kind of scared. We had nothing. We had no business. We were on our way to Whole Foods, and this guy said we need an exclusive to sell your product. We looked at each other, and we were like, “No.” He was like, “Okay, fine.” And we signed up for his distribution agreement.
Alejandro: In this case, too, Ben Karlin, when you guys were getting started here, it was also the big financial crisis. So tell us about that moment of ripping text. What was that like?
Ben Karlin: I left my job at Jurlique to join Jordan Silbert. I was like, “I think I’ll have to take a pay cut. I get it.” I took a 50% pay cut. Then it was pretty clear that was too much, and I took a 70% pay cut. Then we were raising money as the financial crisis hit in order to fund the company. We had a round that was just about set to go, and people sent us checks, and then the financial crisis happened. People called us and said, “The round is off. Tear up my check.” So we tore up our checks. I think this was actually an important evolution in us as entrepreneurs because there were various units. The early stages are very challenging. We were out of money, and we were supposed to go out of business. We decided, “No, we’re not going to do that. We’re just not going to fail. We won’t let that happen.” Jordan Silbert and I both gave up our apartments. We cut our pay to zero. We moved in with our girlfriends, and later each married our girlfriends. They put up with us and funded our life for the next period of time as we slowly built up the business, and the economy recovered until we were able to raise some capital.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. How was that moment when you guys got into Dean & DeLuca? Jordan Silbert, tell us this story.
Jordan Silbert: That was really early. That was even pre-Whole Foods.
Jordan Silbert: I launched at Gramercy Tavern, Milk & Honey, Little Branch, which was Milk & Honey’s sister-cocktail bar, and then Blue Hill at Stone Barns up in West Chester, one of the first farm to table. I wanted to launch with a retailer, as well. I clearly called everybody, including Whole Foods. They didn’t pick up, but Dean & DeLuca was in Soho in Manhattan. It was around the corner from my designer’s office. One day, while coming back from my designer’s office, I was like [crosstalk 24:30]. Dean & DeLuca was the preeminent specialty food store in America. They’re basically the first specialty food store in America. Arguably, it was in the early or late ‘70s. I forget when it started, but they were the first ones who brought in different types of mushrooms, different types of arugula, different endives, or whatever. They actually had good stuff as opposed to the mass grocery stores. I said, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to sell it.” I went to their store, and their offices were upstairs of their Soho store. I walked upstairs. I asked the secretary, “Who is the person who buys beverages?” She said, “It’s so-and-so. He’s out. Can you leave your name?” Or something like that. I said, “I’ll just wait.” I waited for a couple of hours. Eventually, she went to the bathroom. I snuck into his office. Put my bottle down with a nice little note and then told her, “I’ll come back later.” By the time I took the train home and got home, I had an email waiting from the buyers saying, “I love your stuff. We’d love to carry your product at Dean & DeLuca.” That was our very first retail customer.
Alejandro: That’s so cool. So, Ben Karlin, now going back to you. We were talking about financing just a moment earlier. Can you tell us how you guys have financed the company so far? It seems that you’ve had a couple of investors coming in. How has the process of capitalizing the business been?
Ben Karlin: We did. For many years, we were very lean, and we were funded with friends and family. We had a small group through a friend of ours, actually, from summer camp of New York City, a hedge fund investor who provided one of our earlier rounds. It was about $500,000. From 2007 up until 2016, we did small friends and family rounds. We kept the company very lean, and it was something that we were proud of. We built the company up to over $10 million of revenue. I think we had nine people at the time. In talking to other entrepreneurs and funders, we were familiar with that food and beverage startups had notoriously high cash burn rates, and we were proud of how efficient we were. But in 2014, our biggest competitor company called Fever-Tree went public. When they went public, there were all sorts of data. We looked at it, and we saw how they were doing in Europe. We were like, “We’ve been looking at this the wrong way. We’ve been saying: hey, isn’t this great of us for growing efficiently in a lean fashion. Really, what we ought to be saying is: look at the massive opportunity. Look how big our opportunity is. How do we go after this in the most aggressive fashion?” In early 2016, we raised our first private equity round, led by First Beverage Ventures of Beverage Focused Investors in Los Angeles. That was $11 million. Then in 2019, we raised a much larger round, a $40 million round led by a Paris-based private equity group called Eurazeo. This has given us the capital to grow. We don’t make apps; we make physical things, and we have a cash cycle, and we have to make our stuff before we sell it, so we have working capital needs. But also, to put in place an incredibly talented team. We’re very proud of our people. We’re investing ahead of our growth to get the right sales teams, the right finance and operations people, the right marketing people in place to help us deliver on this opportunity that is in front of us, which we think is absolutely massive, particularly in the U.S. We have raised private equity funds; we’ve deployed it primarily to build a team, and also, more recently, to build awareness out there in the market.
Alejandro: In this regard, Ben Karlin, for the people that are listening to get an idea on the size of Q Mixers, and Jordan Silbert was alluding to it with the 10,000 distribution places and things like that. Is there anything else that you can add to give the people that are listening to an idea on how big Q Mixers is today?
Ben Karlin: Yeah. I don’t want to disclose revenue. The way we think about our opportunity is, we’re competing. There are various premium competitors out there, like our competitor, Fever-Tree. People can look up and see how well Fever-Tree is doing in their market cap. But we think of them more strategically as collaborators than competitors. Our competitors are Schweppes and Canada Dry. We look at our market, and all we see is opportunity. We’re in a world here, in a market in the United States, where the vast majority of spirits purchased are premium and above. The United States is the most premium spirits market in the world. People are spending big money to get a nice spirit. But they’re mixing them with mixers, and then most of the drinks have mixers that are generally poor quality. We have the least-developed premium mixer market in the world. They’re still mixing their very nice spirits with a Schweppes or Canada Dry. That’s changing and changing quickly. But still, the relative penetration for us, for Fever-Tree, is quite well. We see an absolutely massive opportunity to get far, far bigger than we are today, and that growth is going to come at the expense of these mainstream brands. If you look, getting a little bit to the question of our relative size, the United States, because the market is so big, the retail environment is highly fragmented. Different retailers are at different stages of embracing this premium mixer trend. Early on, in 2008, Jordan Silbert used to tell everyone, “I think that every retail store in the country eventually is going to have a premium mixer tier. There will be mainstream mixers, but they’re also going to have a few layers of premium products.” No one believed what Jordan Silbert was saying except for himself, including me. I didn’t really believe that. But today, we’re in a world where just about every grocer in the country does have a premium mixer tier, and we’re moving toward a world where grocers are eliminating at least one of the mainstream brands, Schweppes or Canada Dry, and their shelves are going to be mostly premium or private label. If you look at some of the grocers the furthest along in adopting premium mixers, you’ll see that we, mixers, in a number of them, or in our competitor, Fever-Tree, are the #1 mixer brand—already bigger than Schweppes and already bigger than Canada Dry. So, we’re at a meaningful scale, but as we look forward three to five years, it ain’t nothing compared to the scale we’ll be at because this world in three to five years in the United States, our market, the mixer market, will look a lot more like a spirit’s market. It will be dominated by the premium brands, and we’re determined to be the largest.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. I’m very glad you mentioned that. In that regard, because we’re here talking about worlds and what the world is going to look like, and what Jordan Silbert used to say, so why don’t we now get Jordan Silbert to speak. Jordan Silbert, just to expand on what Ben Karlin is saying, imagine if you go to sleep tonight, and you wake up in a world where the vision—let’s say five years later a tremendous snooze—you wake up in a world where the vision of Q Mixers is fully realized. What does that world look like, Jordan Silbert?
Jordan Silbert: I get a little cheesy in my approach, but the big picture: it’s that everybody is having better drinks. People are actually enjoying their drinks more. Your first drink in a day is arguably the best time of your day. If we can make people just a little happier, and a lot of people are a lot happier, that’s pretty awesome. In terms of what that actually means; it means you go to a bar or restaurant, and every time you order a gin and tonic or a vodka soda, or a whiskey ginger, you get a nice whiskey and a nice ginger, or a nice vodka and a nice soda. And every time you go to somebody’s house and somebody offers you a drink, you say, “I’ll have a gin and tonic. If that person was going to give you a Tanqueray, or a Hendricks, or a Bombay Sapphire, they rule you as a premium mixer alongside that. In terms of dollars, two-thirds, 70% of all mixer dollars are premium. But that’s not the way I think about it. I actually think about it in the drinks that people are going to actually enjoy, that people are going to actually be a lot happier with each and every drink that they have in three to five years, and maybe they are today.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Putting the customer first. I love that. One question that I have for you guys is—and this is a typical question that I always ask the guests that come on the show. If I put you in a time machine and I put you, Jordan Silbert, back to business school, and I put you, Ben Karlin, in Australia or wherever you were traveling around the world. You have the opportunity of going back in time and having a sit-down with your younger selves, and giving yourselves based on all this incredible ride; we’re talking since 2007 and 2008 that you guys have been involved here, and you have the opportunity of bringing all that knowledge that you’ve acquired through the ups and downs and give your younger selves one piece of business advice before embarking in the Q Mixers journey, what would that be and why? Maybe we start with you, Ben Karlin.
Ben Karlin: I know the answer to that. I think about it all the time. It’s: have more confidence in yourself. Move faster. Early on, I was always looking for expertise and someone who knew how this was done or this ought to be. Then I realized that expertise doesn’t exist. We’re creating the rules every day. So if I were doing it again, and I had the ability, even if I lost all the specific knowledge about our industry, our products, our manufacturing process, and all that stuff, and I just retained one piece of knowledge would be: have confidence in yourself and your vision and move quickly and aggressively. That would be far and away the most important thing.
Alejandro: I love it. What about you, Jordan Silbert. What would you tell your younger self?
Jordan Silbert: Assuming that I got Ben Karlin to tell that to my younger self, I would say to be sure to celebrate the victories. Anybody who starts a company knows there are a lot of high highs, and there are a lot of low lows. We, I think, have done a very good job of just keeping going. I think we’ve done a good job of celebrating every achievement, but I think if we did even more of that, I think that would help because just that celebration after you’ve done a good thing just keeps you going in that next valley that you’re inevitably going to go through.
Alejandro: You know, something that is amazing that I definitely get from now, having this time together and also having other people listening to your guys’ story. You’ve been together since 2007 and pushing this. You’ve known each other since the summer camp days. What piece of advice would you give the people that are listening on cofounder dynamics because when it comes to a business marriage, you guys know a thing or two because of this relationship that you guys have? So, what would you say, Jordan Silbert, to the people that are listening?
Ben Karlin: I would say that I’m happily married to a wonderful wife with two kids, and I think about the business partnership in the same way that I think about a relationship. It only makes sense going through this: the challenges of having a child and all those associated stresses to do with a person that you love and adore. That makes everything more satisfying and equips you to deal with the investible challenges a lot better to be doing this with somebody, to be able to celebrate those victories and mourn those losses, to be doing it with somebody else makes it all so much more worthwhile, and therefore, likely to succeed because you’ll stay in there a lot longer.
Alejandro: Ben Karlin, what would you say to expand on that?
Ben Karlin: I don’t know how generalizable our experiences are because we were best friends before we did this. Our partnership has been absolutely essential to our success because we compete against—we’re little guys competing against Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and we compete against some of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world, and it is not easy despite having a vastly better product. So just knowing that you’ve got someone there who you absolutely trust through everything, to me, has been essential. I couldn’t have done it on my own. There’s no way.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Guys, for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Jordan Silbert: QMixers.com is our website. We have Instagram: QMixers, but the real answer is, Jordan Silbert@qmixers.com or Ben Karlin@qmixers.com. One advantage of starting a company is you get a good email address. [Laughter] We’d love to hear from anybody.
Alejandro: Amazing. Jordan Silbert and Ben Karlin, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Jordan Silbert: It’s a deal.
Ben Karlin: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
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