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The idea for D2C subscription mixology brand Kocktail was the product of UK lockdown. The goal? To bring freshly made, world-class cocktails straight to peoples’ doorsteps, so they could create memorable moments and enjoy blends designed by the best, even from home.
Seven months later, and the startup has generated over £120,000 in revenue and moved to a new facility with industrial machinery to cope with demand.
We sat down with co-founder Emil Stickland to find out what Kocktail is really made of.
What’s your background and how did it inspire you to start Kocktail?
The inspiration came at the beginning of the first lockdown, when my wife bought me a pre-mixed cocktail pack. While the gesture was greatly appreciated, ultimately the contents fell flat. My co-founder Andrew had a similar experience buying online cocktails, and we spent the better part of an hour complaining about how we could do it better, when it dawned on us… maybe we should. So, we reached out to Neil, our third co-founder, as we knew that the drinks had to be something special. That’s how Kocktail was born.
Andrew and Neil both come from a background of bars and events. Andrew is somewhat of a cultural trailblazer – he’s the type of person you ask for advice on where to go in a new city, and he’ll give you a comprehensive list of the best bars, restaurants and music venues. It will include where to go, what night to go on, what time to go on that night, and what to order – and none of it you will find in a guidebook. Neil has an incredible pedigree from working in some of the best bars in the world. Personally, my background is actually in ecommerce. I have worked for large international companies all the way through to hacky little startups. We feel we’ve built the perfect team.
Kocktail launched quite recently, how did you achieve such impressive turnover in a short time?
There are a lot of factors. We created the right product, at the right time, but we’ve also been hugely fortunate with the people that have helped us do it. James, who handles our paid marketing, is incredible at what he does – he helped to launch Peloton and worked on campaigns for the likes of Google, YouTube and eBay. Laura has been incredible at handling our PR. We were featured in the Stylist in our first month and it grew from there. The team at Mother Mercy have also been a huge asset. George, one of the barmen from Mother Mercy, is now our production manager.
Our list of supporters goes on to include the teams at Hi-Spirits, ESC Packaging, Sainsbury’s, Hepple Gin and many more. This support and goodwill, combined with our boundless energy as a brand has allowed us to find ways of making new opportunities happen.
What is Kocktail’s current offering?
The current offering focuses around the discovery box, for which Neil creates 8 new drinks every month (4 light and 4 dark). We give patrons the option of purchasing a light box, dark box, mixed box or “all 8”. The mixed box is a best-seller, with 60% of customers opting for diversity.
We also just launched our Spritz box, which will be live all summer. This consists of 4 different takes on a Spritz, including flavours such a Earl Grey and Rhubarb & Cucumber. The Spritz box has been enormously popular, and has already sold out twice! It was also featured in the Stylist and Good Housekeeping.
Have you had any feedback from customers, and if so, how did you use it to improve your offering?
One of the great things about Kocktail is our passionate community. We’re continually getting feedback from customers which we then incorporate to improve our offering, whether that be the drinks themselves, our website, packaging or even communications.
We have also done a lot of first-party qualitative research, going out to our customer base through phone interviews. This has been enormously helpful, as it let’s us know how and where our customers are interacting with us, and how we can improve each touchpoint.
What have been the major growth highlights so far?
The Sainsbury’s listing is definitely a big one. We knew it might happen, but the day we for confirmation, our whole team was together for the first time on a brand-building day. That was a pretty emotional moment after all the work everyone had put in!
In some ways, I think that brand-building day itself was a major growth highlight. Generating our first £100k in revenue and signing an international spirits partnership were huge milestones, but that day really represented the beginning of the next chapter for Kocktail. Having started the business during lockdown, there were lots of moving parts and not everyone on our team had met everyone involved. We really wanted to get the team together to celebrate the successes, understand the roles everyone was playing, and look forward to the future. I think everyone left that day with a sense of ownership and excitement (and a hangover). The things that have come from that day have been immeasurable in so many areas. We have seen improvements across the board in communication, manufacturing, design, marketing and more.
What new products are upcoming?
The next product to launch on our site will be an Old Fashioned box in partnership with Buffalo Trace for fathers day. We also plan to launch a Negroni and Margarita box. For the website, we would also like to offer a range of glassware, merchandise and a bottle shop.
For retail, we have developed a gift pack for Sainsbury’s, along with a range of 750ml carbonated Spritz bottles and 500ml stirred down drinks. We will also be developing some canned products too. For on-trade, we have developed a large format offering for bars. At the moment, this is a limited range of drinks in 20L cans, but we hope to expand this pending a successful trial with a national bar chain.
Kocktail’s proposition is definitely beneficial for a post-Covid world, how do you see the business model adapting as the world returns to normal?
I think two major shifts have occurred. Firstly, people operate on shorter time horizons now. The question that used to be “what am I going to do later this week?” has shifted to “what am I doing tomorrow?”. In response to this, we have added a next-day shipping option on the website and drastically reduced shipping time across the board. We have also increased focus on retail as part of a “be where people are buying” policy.
Secondly, people are now sharing cocktails beyond their household. This really triggered the development of the larger format bottles, along with a change in messaging to focus more on gifting. In addition to this, bars have begun to open and the 20L options for trade which is a key product development. There are a lot of mid-priced bars who would love to offer more premium cocktails, without having to hire professional bartenders. We expect these to do very well in the future.
Why did you choose to crowdfund, did you look at other forms of financing?
We did look at other forms, but community is really at the heart of what we do at Kocktail. It made sense to give people the opportunity to become a part of what we are doing.
That being said, we have been overwhelmed with the response, not just from friends and family, but also from people who we only know through Kocktail. Many of the investors simply love the product and what we’re about. Receiving messages like “I have never invested in something before, but really love Kocktail” is really magical for us. We’ve managed to build a growing, engaged community in a very short space of time.
What is the plan for the use of proceeds from this round?
The funds raised will be spent mainly on marketing, to bring the focus away from selling cocktails and toward selling Kocktail. While our performance marketing has been extremely effective to date, we want to build a brand with longevity.
We will also be bringing on board a few more members of staff to help with manufacturing, along with buying a few other bits of kit and raw materials in larger quantities so we can really supercharge production and keep up with demand.
What’s your personal favourite cocktail?
I like whisky and bourbon-based cocktails, but my new favourite is The Commission (which was created for Kocktail). The drink itself is a merger of two modern classics: The Revolver (a coffee old fashioned) and The Godfather (Irish whiskey and amaretto). It’s an original drink created by Neil for our March box, which takes its name from when Charles “Lucky” Luciano took control of the American Mafia in 1931 and formed The Commission – a new governing committee headed up by all five bosses of New York City’s Mafia families.
What’s one mixology trick every beginner should know from the get go?
Ice! This is the thing that people get most wrong, most often. Fill the shaker to the top, and shake for longer than you think you need to. 3 cubes won’t cut it. Go and get yourself a bag from the supermarket and use as much as you can.
Shaking with ice chills the drink, but also dilutes it and adds body. If you have ever made a cocktail exactly to the recipe, but it tastes too sweet, strong and a bit flat, you haven’t shaken it with enough ice.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to launch a startup?
Say yes! There are a million reasons not to do things, but if you dwell on those, you don’t do anything. Say yes, and start with a mindset of “I can do this”.
To find out more about Kocktail and for the opportunity to invest, check out the campaign now.