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In this episode of Spilled Salt, Will Blum, the founder of Bluebird Hardwater, shared his experiences and insights into launching and scaling his innovative beverage company. For entrepreneurs in the beverage industry, his story offers valuable lessons on finding a market gap, overcoming regulatory hurdles, and the importance of adaptability and perseverance.

Discovering the Market Gap for Spiked Water

Will’s journey began with a simple observation: the lack of truly light, refreshing alcoholic beverages that weren’t carbonated or full of added sugars. Traditional light beers and even the newer wave of hard seltzers left him and his friends feeling bloated and sluggish. This common complaint sparked the idea for Bluebird Hardwater – a beverage combining real spirits with pure water, devoid of the bubbles and additives found in other drinks.

“People talk about innovation in the alcohol industry, but compared to other sectors like tech, it’s quite repetitive,” Will noted. “I saw a huge white space for a product that was genuinely light and refreshing.” 

His solution was to create a range of drinks, including vodka and water, whiskey and water, and tequila and water, that offered a clean and simple alternative to the existing options.

The Challenges of Launching in the Alcohol Industry

The path from concept to market was far from straightforward. One of the most significant hurdles Will faced was the regulatory landscape of the alcohol industry. “If you’re not in the alcohol industry, it’s hard to get into it,” Will explained. “There’s not a lot of info on Google, and the barriers to entry are incredibly high.”

Finding the right co-packers and navigating government regulations were particular challenges. For example, getting approval to sell a beverage as simple as vodka and water required persistent negotiation with regulators. “We couldn’t get the drink shelf-stable at first, and I didn’t want to compromise by adding preservatives,” Will shared. “It took months of back-and-forth before we got the green light.”

Will emphasized the importance of seeking expert advice early on, particularly from specialized lawyers who can guide entrepreneurs through the regulatory maze. “Contact a top lawyer in your field,” he advised. “They’ll connect you with the right people and save you a lot of time.”

Lessons in Adaptability and Customer Feedback

One of the key lessons Will learned was the need to remain flexible and responsive to market feedback. Initially, Bluebird Hardwater launched with its core concept of pure spirits and water. However, customer demand soon led them to explore flavored options, despite Will’s initial reservations about maintaining the product’s clean profile without preservatives.

“Listening to your customers is crucial,” he stressed. “Don’t fall in love with your product to the point where you can’t see its flaws. Be willing to adapt and improve based on feedback.”

This openness to change extended to their production processes and packaging. By involving retailers and consumers in the development stages, Bluebird Hardwater could fine-tune its offerings to better meet market needs and ensure a successful launch of new products.

Strategic Growth and the Importance of Starting Small

Will also underscored the value of starting small and testing the market before scaling up. “You can learn so much from just a few local stores,” he said. “Going too big too fast can be risky. It’s better to iterate and improve on a smaller scale.”

This approach not only minimizes risk but also provides valuable insights that can inform larger-scale rollouts. For Bluebird Hardwater, focusing on a limited number of stores and refining their product offering allowed them to build a solid foundation before expanding further.

While Will was fortunate to have initial support and guidance from his entrepreneurial father, he acknowledged the challenges many startups face in securing funding, especially in a capital-intensive industry like alcohol. “The barrier to entry is high, and it’s tough out there for startups,” he said. “But being strategic about your resources and managing your burn rate is crucial.”

His advice to other entrepreneurs is to explore all funding options and be prepared to bootstrap in the early stages. Building a lean operation and being resourceful can go a long way in sustaining a new venture through its initial phases.

Embracing the Startup Mindset for Bluebird Hardwater

Throughout his journey, Will remained committed to the advantages of operating as a startup. “As long as you can, embrace the startup mentality,” he encouraged. “It allows you to be agile and innovative, which is your edge over larger competitors.”

This mindset extends to all aspects of the business, from product development to customer engagement. Will’s experience highlights the importance of leveraging the unique strengths of being a small, nimble company in a competitive landscape.

Will’s story offers several actionable insights for those looking to enter the beverage industry:

  1. Identify a Unique Market Opportunity: Look for gaps in the market that you can fill with a distinct product offering.
  2. Seek Expert Guidance Early Engaging with industry experts and legal advisors can save time and prevent costly mistakes.
  3. Stay Flexible and Customer-Focused: Be ready to adapt your product and strategies based on market feedback.
  4. Start Small and Iterate: Test your product on a small scale to gather insights and make improvements before scaling up.
  5. Manage Resources Wisely: Be strategic about funding and resource allocation to sustain your business through the early stages.
  6. Embrace the Startup Advantage: Leverage the agility and innovation potential of being a small, dynamic company.

For entrepreneurs in the beverage industry, especially those navigating the complexities of alcohol production and distribution, Will Blum’s journey with Bluebird Hardwater is a testament to the power of perseverance, strategic planning, and customer-centric innovation. As he looks forward to expanding his product line and continuing to innovate, his experience provides a roadmap for others looking to make their mark in this exciting and challenging field.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited from its original form to support readability.

Maureen Ballatori: I’m Maureen Ballatori and this is Spilled Salt, a podcast on the thrills and spills from the food beverage and agriculture industries. Today’s guest is Will Blum. He is the creator of Bluebird Hardwater, which is the original beverage made with only real spirits and pure water.

Bluebird Hardwater offers vodka and water, whiskey and water, and tequila and water as well as some other new products coming out on the market soon.

Many of our guests that we have on the podcast are talking that are related to food and beverage consumer packaged goods (CPG) and are talking about scaling. I really wanted today’s focus to be more about Will’s experience with the launch of Bluebird and its products. And so we focused the conversation there and it was absolutely fantastic. 

Will talks about what it takes to launch, specifically in the alcohol industry which has some of its own complications, but also what some of his scaling experience has been like. Enjoy the conversation.

Will Blum: Thanks for having me, Maureen.

Maureen: I’m glad to have you join us today. So I would love for you to kick us off like we always do. Tell us a little bit about the career path before getting to the work that you’re doing now.

Will: I can touch on it a bit. There’s not much career path for me because this is really my first venture out of college. But before that, I grew up under an entrepreneur dad, really like just a kind of a serial entrepreneur and knew that was something I wanted to do. I got a lot of exposure in that and a lot of different industries. And then I went to school at Pepperdine in Malibu, a really small school. And I really was kind of searching around for what I wanted to start.

I kind of stumbled across this idea just through talking with friends and kind of having a similar problem that I was having, just this idea for an alcoholic water. And we looked around and nobody was doing it. 

I was always taught to do stuff that no one else is doing. And we hopped on it right away and just started making little samples for our friends, seeing if it had any kind of any kind of pull.

Maureen: You’re right. It is. They say that you find the problem, right? And then especially if it’s something that you can resonate with and then solve that as opposed to kind of working from the opposite. 

Sometimes we experience early stage startups that have a solution and they’re trying to find a market. They’re trying to find what industry does this fit into whereas I think you’re right. I think you naturally find some more traction when it’s the other way around.

So what is Bluebird Hardwater and why did you want to launch it other than the fact that it was just, it was a problem that you could solve for yourself and your friends.

Will: I think I really wanted to launch it because the really big thing I saw was this huge white space in the alcohol industry. And I think what really sparked my interest in the space was how repetitive everything is. 

People say there’s a lot of innovation nowadays in the space, but coming from other industries like tech, the alcohol industry is way less “out of the box”.

It’s not as innovative as I think it comes across. A lot of people talk about the [ready to drink] RTDs. 

What my really big problem was and what a lot of my friends’ problem was, a light beer would make me feel really sluggish and bloated and just full for days. It would affect me so badly for so long. I had a couple of friends that would have the same problem. 

Then I saw the seltzer industry kind of come out in the RTD space and I didn’t see a difference between [light beer and seltzer]. They were still bubbly. They were still sugary.

For me, they were almost effectively worse. I saw an attraction for people wanting lighter beverages through that kind of growth. 

But I really thought there was not much difference between a light beer and a seltzer. To me, they made me feel the exact same, and they didn’t fix any of the problems that I was dealing with, in how I felt while drinking, or how I felt the next day. 

We really stumbled upon this idea. We were talking one night and we were all holding a bottle of water. All of our parents have taught us to have a drink and then have a bottle of water with every single drink

We thought, a light beer is light enough where you could do that in one can, but you don’t because you have all these added ingredients, all these preservatives. And we wondered, why does nobody do that? 

Maureen: I want to say there was a beverage that I encountered at the Fancy Food Show a number of times over the last handful of years, an alcoholic beverage made with coconut water.

I recall talking to the brand, Sunboy, at the show. They said they couldn’t claim that it was actually going to hydrate you because the alcohol is dehydrating you. Are you able to say or claim anything in respect to hydration and the water component?

Will: We can make any health claims. The drink isn’t healthy. It’s still alcohol at the end of the day. But if you were going to drink, it is the cleanest way to drink. 

What we have in the can is about a shot of alcohol. It’s about 1 .5 ounces of 40 proof alcohol. If you boil it down and through that you lose about, I think it’s about 25 milliliters of water. And then our product has almost double that. 

You’re replenishing that and more, but we can’t really claim those things or go and collect [health benefits]. But you are, in this sense, especially taking out all the preservatives, you are gaining your water back. But if you did drink them for long periods of time, you would net lose. If you were drinking for many, many hours, you would eventually start [decreasing hydration].

Maureen: How does Bluebird compare to something like a leading High Noon on the market?

Will: The biggest thing for us is the no bubbles. I think that was a big thing for me, just getting away from the bloated feeling. I don’t reach for bubbly water when I’m really thirsty or if it’s hot outside or even when I’m at a bar or something. 

I want something that feels like it’s hydrating me. And I just felt like everything in a can [is bubbly].

Golfing, everyone reaches for light beer, but I just don’t like that bubbly feeling when I want something hydrating, refreshing. That’s the biggest difference. 

Then just how clean our product is. I know High Noon really pushes the real vodka, real juice aspects, but they also have a list of ingredients beyond that. 

We really push having no sugar in our drink. They have sugar, we really push the no carbs. Ours is all about being really clean and not having those preservatives in there, not having anything to weigh you down.

We went through a lengthy process of developing a way to manufacture this. And I had to find somebody that was capable of even developing something like this without preservatives. It had never really been done before. That was really our biggest challenge. Another really big difference for us is just how clean the beverage is.

Maureen: I’m glad that you just took us there because that’s one of the things that I want to talk about. So Bluebird is vodka and water. There’s a whiskey and water, and there’s a tequila and water. Let’s talk about what the research and development (R&D) looked like in terms of, what was it like for you to find a manufacturer? Tell me about the R&D, from idea to let’s do this. 

Tell me about those very early-stage, in terms of finding manufacturing and getting your first product on the market.

Will: Early-stage for me was incredibly overwhelming. It’s actually really hard to find co-packers. If you’re not in the alcohol industry, it’s hard to get into the alcohol industry. And there’s not a lot of info on Google. 

Even from three years ago to now, a lot has changed in the canning industry because people are asking for cleaner stuff. So there is a lot more you can find on it. You can Google stuff now and you can find great manufacturers.

But back then it was just a lot of hunting for people that had been in the industry. If I knew somebody that had been in the tequila industry, I just tried to call all my contacts to find somebody. 

I think great advice for other entrepreneurs is to just contact a lawyer, like one of the top lawyers in that field and he’ll pass you to the right people. I think that’s what really worked for us, and that was just by accident. I was talking to them because of our formulation. You have to talk to a lawyer when you’re getting into the alcohol space.

And I was looking around for a lot of them and I just found an amazing lawyer that was amazing that connected me with a lot of different manufacturers. 

Maureen: That is excellent advice. Just to put a point to that before you move on. I don’t want people to miss that when they’re listening. That is incredible advice. Call the leading attorney in your area and say, who is best for me at my stage? There’s no one better to make that recommendation. That’s incredible.

Will: Yes, that’s going to be six months to figure out. That will save a lot of time.

Developing a new drink that has never been done before, even though it’s just vodka and water, it seems so simple, and it was not simple at all. I think that’s where it really started progressing for us to the point where we thought it might not even be possible at one point. That’s where it gets a little harder for our story, and I think a lot of people’s story. 

Maureen: From the manufacturing standpoint was where it was getting difficult.

Will: Yes, from the manufacturing standpoint. 

We couldn’t get the drink shelf-stable. We wanted a year-long shelf life. We couldn’t get stable and I really didn’t want to compromise and put in preservatives or take any shortcuts.

I started looking at alternatives and I got really lucky. I met a great formulator in the industry that had been working at Diageo for 20 plus years. He wanted to leave and open up his own practice. 

I was searching for other co-packers in the meantime that could possibly manufacture something this clean and really looking for the cleanest facility possible to make something that’s super self stable because there’s no preservatives and there’s just two ingredients. 

At the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles about the growth of canned water. And my drink is probably most similar to a canned water space. 

I found out then, too, some of the top canned water people, like Liquid Death, weren’t producing in the US at the time because they couldn’t find a plant that could can water. That blew my mind. 

I didn’t see that problem coming, that canning water was more difficult than canning a soda. It’s one of the hardest things to can, just because it’s so not shelf stable. 

You need a really clean way to do it. And everything in the U.S. was around bubbles and sugar and stuff on canning lines. It was never around water. 

Since the growth of brands like Liquid Death, there are now facilities that can can water. During that time I saw a couple of facilities coming on the map that could can water and I went to them and that’s really how it started. 

Even going to them, we still had to develop a unique system to get shelf stability. That was really the longest lead time. It was, I would say, a year just in development on “how can we make this actually exist and maybe it’s not even possible”, which was scary for a minute. We thought this might not actually even be possible to make.

Another really big roadblock ran into was, you have to submit your formula to the government. We submitted the vodka water and it’s just vodka and water and we got denied. I couldn’t figure out why.

This is probably why it had never been done before. That’s actually how I ended up hiring the alcohol lawyer who ended up passing me to my first co-packer.

I couldn’t believe it, why can’t I make vodka water? I see High Noons, I see these other places that are doing vodka soda. And the ruling was that you can’t make vodka below 40% without adding some sort of ingredient, like adding a flavor.

I went back and forth with them for probably six months on the subject until they finally allowed me to make the drink. I finally got approved and then I submitted the tequila and whiskey one right after that. That’s when I knew we really were the only people making tequila, whiskey, and vodka at that four to five percent level.

Maureen: So what was the change? What happened to get approved? You were just a squeaky wheel…

Will: It was just a lot of talking. After six months of just talking to them and not budging, I think that was really it. There was just one person who wanted to hear my case out. And yes, it was like one guy finally listened to me and he approved me. 

Maureen: It’s so funny how that happens. We work with products that are regulated with clients on projects that are regulated by FDA, some USDA, and in many cases, it is all about who you get.

We can advise on the guidance and follow the guidance, and we work with a third party consultant to actually gut check us from a risk management standpoint. It’s always great to have an outside party weigh in on that, but none of it’s a guarantee because it’s so subjective based on how the rules are being read that day, if you will.

Will: It’s definitely scary in this industry, having those things because one person can approve it. And then you go to Florida and try to get a separate approval and then you get denied and you’re like, you may have to go back and do it all again. 

That’s also something we really look at seriously, too, is not only can you pass the government level, but you need to be able to pass the state level. And I learned early on, if you submit to the government, also just submit to a couple of states to make sure your labeling is also good there.

Maureen: So from the time where you decided I’m going to do this and I’m going to start pursuing it to the time where you had your first product in a package, what was that timeline like?

Will: It was probably around a year and a half, maybe pushing a little closer to two years. And that’s just the industry itself with being in it. 

I think that’s almost an expedited timeline for inventing something new. We were really wanting to get this. I just thought it was such a white space and I was like, I really want to do it before anybody else does. So I felt like I was really pushing to do it faster.

I think that’s really pushing hard for a year and a half to get it done. If you’re inventing something new in this space, I think that’s going to be as quick as you can possibly move. Once you’ve done it before and once you’ve been in the industry before, you can turn around a product and a well-tested one in a year, which is what we just did actually currently for our new products coming out this summer. 

Maureen: Anything you can tease about those?

Will: I think really everything that I’ve learned in the last three years of being in the beverage space and learning the industry and just working 24 -7 in a startup and also inventing a new product, I think I took all of that knowledge, everything we learned from our customers, because we saw that they liked the white space and we just asked them. 

I think that’s also something really important for entrepreneurs. I always tell my employees, don’t get stuck in love with the product. Always be willing to listen to the consumers and make improvements. Everything can be better. 

I think a lot of people have this love for the product. I think they should have more love for the company and the brand and be willing to listen to the consumers on what they’re asking for in the products. That’s really what we did. 

We rushed it to market. Like we did in a year and a half and two years just to see what it was. That was something I took from my dad, always fail fast. 

Get into the market and just see what the consumers are telling you right away. And we saw this large white space where people really liked the drink. And we were like, okay, this is amazing. And we were flying high on it. 

Then the consumers came back and kept asking for flavor and flavor and flavor. That flavor was going to be tough because I didn’t want to compromise on the preservatives. 

My whole thing was, make it whatever flavoring you want. A lot of people would do that. A lot of our main customers that were repeat customers were always adding flavor.

And then, I reached out to the same developer that was able to develop my first drinks and I said I really want to make a clean real juice version. Do you think we could do it? 

Especially with all the new technology coming out in the canning industry, we both kind of thought we could do it. And we spent about six months doing that. 

Beyond that, we went really above and beyond. Instead of just focusing all on how to make the product, which was my first go, I got to be hands-off on making this one and really rely on the experts that I had kind of ran into in the industry. 

I let them develop the products. I was able to sample it. Stuff that took me three months in the past would take me a day. And then that was what’s great. It’s based on what you learn as an entrepreneur. You can start getting things done much easier. 

We went more intensive with that. We developed consumer studies around the packaging. Since it was a new category, a new type of product, we asked how we want consumers to interpret that on the shelf and have it differentiate itself. 

We did a consumer study on not only the package design, but the liquid, all the way through kind of the experience of where you’d want to find it on a shelf. 

I think that was really what sets us apart in this new launch is how heavily tested the branding is, the every word is thought of on the packaging. Every word is purposefully there. 

It’s all through just what the consumers and our customers were wanting to see and translated to them and we really used our current products as a benchmark. We compared the two, and we were like, what do you guys like about our current packaging? What do you not like about it? And what would be better with these new products? And also, at the same time, do you prefer the unflavored or the flavored version? 

Even with our current product, we did one just with our customers that loved the brand and just would come back and get it over and over again. And even 90% of them preferred the flavored. So that’s why, really, we were like, okay, even our repeat customers are really asking for flavors. That’s when we dove in for the flavored options.

Maureen: Wow. When will those be available? I see that you’re in many of the liquor stores in Florida, Tennessee and New York, and then you’re available online to ship to a number of other States as well. Right? So when will this new product be available?

Will: It’ll be available in July. And yes, we’re really excited too. 

The other thing I think that’s great about the products that I should touch on, too, that’s really important I think for entrepreneurs. We asked a lot of our retailers, what do they see selling and what do they see that’s working for them on the marketing side. 

What I really love about this one and what really helps us with this new launch is we worked with a lot of retailers on what they prefer. We asked if they want a variety pack or they want an A pack or they want Slim cans right now.

And I think by doing that and looping them in on the development process, which I think anybody can do even earlier on, just loop in anyone that you’re close with at any chain store and just get their eyes on it. Because now that we’ve developed it with chains, we’ll be able to get in the chain much easier. That’s always the biggest roadblock.

Maureen: That’s great advice. One of our former podcast guests was Alicia Albinder -Camac from Hudson River Fruit Distributors who spent a number of years in retail as a produce buyer. When they were launching, creating and launching a new line of apples, she did that in collaboration with Trader Joe’s. 

She said, hey, this is what we’re thinking. What do you think before launching it? Right. And then when it was available, it was pulled in, of course, by Trader Joe’s did so well that they expanded it to six more SKUs and additional retailers and everything. 

That’s great when you have the opportunity to get the retailer’s ear in that way and have that back and forth conversation to say, here’s what I’m thinking. You know, do you have a preference in these areas that’ll help you with directional changes to improve it in those early stages. 

You spent 18 months to two years getting the product out there. I’m glad that you shared that because I think sometimes there’s a perception that, hey, I’m an entrepreneur too. I started Agency 29, and especially in the early days and even now you want to go fast, right? 

There’s something to be said for the slowness that comes in those very early days sometimes where you’re just waiting for feedback and regulatory compliance depending on the industry and that sort of thing. 

And the consumer feedback studies that you’re talking about, the actual manufacturing of the product.

Let’s talk about capital. What does that look like for you? Are you self -funded? Did you seek VC capital? Talk a little bit about the financials behind launching the company and what that was like for you.

Will: I’ve been fortunate not to have to go out to funding, especially in 2024. I know it’s rough out there for entrepreneurs and getting startup capital. I think that’s the benefit. 

I knew I was in a beneficial spot with having a dad that’s been an entrepreneur for years and getting advice from him and being able to bring him in on the company and help us grow it in an effective way or we don’t burn too much capital. 

Maureen: It is.

Will: But I also think looking at the industry, I think it’s really important to know if you’re looking at getting into this space, that the barrier to entry in the alcohol industry is as high as it gets. 

I think that’s something that people need to consider looking in this space, because I don’t know any other industry where you have to hire lawyers and you have to go through formulation and they have to go through minimum order quantities that are huge on cans. 

It’s just a very daunting industry to take on. It’s a big thing, the barrier to entry. And I think that’s why there’s only four or five companies that control the entire industry. And I think they’re going to get stronger and stronger just because the barrier to entry is incredibly difficult in the alcohol space. And I hope it changes. But yes.

Maureen: I think with any industry though, I mean, yes, you’re right. However, I think one of the things that we’re also seeing in the whole greater landscape of the food and beverage industry is that those startups that are able to push through and innovate and launch and scale, those are the ones that are being acquired by larger companies, right? Because they can’t move in that nimble, quick, fast as a bunny, because they’re behemoths

They’re the elephants, so you can run laps around their feet and it’s a different approach.

Will: I had a conversation recently with one of my friends who was opening up his own business. He kept calling me and I kept telling him to stop pretending he’s a big company. 

I said, you don’t pretend like that. He’s like, don’t you do that? Don’t you want to be? I said no, you’re a startup, you need to act like a startup. 

As long as you can ride the startup, ride it. Like that’s what you need. You need to tell all your employees that you’re a startup. You’re not in this big corporation. 

That’s exactly how you win, is being a startup. I think a lot of people think they need to act like they’re this big operation and pretend to be big. And it’s like, no, do the opposite. Let people know you’re a startup, bring them in. The reason you’re going to win is you’re a startup. If you’re acting like a big company, you’re not going to beat them.

Maureen: I think the other side of that, too, is people love to help the little guy. It’s David and Goliath. They want to support the small. Say, this is my company, I bootstrapped it, I scaled this personally, I figured this out. I am passionate, my team is passionate. You want to support that.

Will: Yes, and every meeting, if you’re buying cans or buying ingredients or going to co-packers, every meeting should end with, hey, I’m a startup. Give me the best thing you can. Just remind them that. 

I think that’s always important. I do that with every new person I’m either doing a deal with. I think just remind them that you’re a startup. And normally that deal that they send you the first draft is going to be a lot more attainable than what it would be. I always try to finish my meetings with, hey, just so you know, I am a startup.

Maureen: Great advice. For my last question here, I’m going to hit you with a double. I would love for you to tell me about a high point and a low point from your last handful of years scaling the brand.

Will: High point, I guess, buying the first product off a shelf. That was really cool. Especially because I was in New York City, which I never could have fathomed of being in New York City. 

I’m from Wyoming, so I’m from the complete opposite of New York City. I could never fathom launching in the city or living in the city. But that was really cool just to see it be in one of the business capitals of the world, just where you’re buying a product off a shelf.

Yes, I guess that’s tied also to seeing it run on the manufacturing line was amazing. And then also seeing it in the first big retail store. That was really cool. 

Low point. There’s a lot, as an entrepreneur. I don’t know what the biggest low point is. There’s so many.

 One of the biggest things I would go back and change is, I think every person in this space should know that you can go as small as you want to start. And I think the smaller the better. 

You can test it in three local stores, three of your local grocery stores. Just do that. Don’t go too big. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I think we did. That will never affect your sales. You can always make more product. 

I know there’s minimum order quantities of these manufacturing facilities, but it’s always best to search around for someone who’s willing to make you a test run and then put it in three stores. 

That would be kind of my initial way. You can figure out so much about customers just in those three stores and really develop a final iteration of your product quicker. And then probably the low point for me, like on the actual brand, was probably just getting to a point where we had not done that and we invested in cans, invested in all this and we thought, maybe this isn’t possible. That was the conversation we were having with our developer. That was the scariest time of like, wow, like, no, I did go out and buy cans and that would be possible.

Maureen: I think also as an entrepreneur you continue to plow through. 

It’s like, okay, I’ve got this inventory. I’m going to do something with it. You know, either my product’s going in that can or I can sell the can to somebody else, right? You know, there’s solutions to every problem. 

I think, if I can make this assumption, I wonder if it’s sort of hard for you to put your finger on a low point, because as an entrepreneur, as somebody who’s scaling and figuring it out along the way, you turn every minor hiccup into the next solution.

The next solution is just around every corner and you’ve got to figure out the path. 

I also totally agree with your deep before wide philosophy. Go deep into a handful of retailers before you try to be in every single one of those stores. I just had a conversation with somebody about that yesterday, launching a line of artisanal cheeses that had an opportunity in front of a big retailer. And I said, just be sure of what you can handle.

You don’t have to go into every store out of the gate, maybe you suggest three or five local stores in your region that you can start with and see how those go to give you confidence for the rest of the chain.

Will: Or even as you grow, exactly. Even as you grow, I think I’ve gotten great advice from some people that I’ve brought in to help me. 

Now that I’m able to afford employees and stuff, I think they’ve really told me that. Right when we first started, I was very much like, if Publix offered me 200 stores, I was going to take all 200.

When I first made a sales hire,he was like, no, we’re going to take the top 30 and just focus on those 30. 

I think every startup founder is going to want to jump on the 200 stores and be like, yes for sure, why would we not do this? But I think that the great advice I got was, let’s just look at the data. We looked at the best 30 stores for our products and then just started there. 

I think the same thing with marketing. If you’re in LA and you’re thinking about marketing, even if you’re an e-commerce brand, just market in your city.

Maureen: Totally agree. End us with a piece of advice for listeners, anybody who’s looking to start or scale a CPG.

Will: I think the best advice is just learn from it, just like you said, learn from every single mistake. 

I think like I mentioned earlier, I was able to make a new product and everything that I’ve learned, I was able to bring into it. And because of that, our product will be so much stronger going into the summer. 

Just take every single failure point as a lesson. I think it’s always hard to do as a founder because you get hit with so many different fail points. Get out of the office, do something that you like, and just remember that it’s a good time to learn and not do that again. 

Also, don’t not fix problems. I think that’s what a lot of people get stuck in is they don’t fail fast. Like just if it’s not working, don’t try and make it work. 

I always tell people, be lazy. Obviously you’re going to be working 24-seven if you’re a startup founder, but find the path of least resistance. 

I think that’s what a lot of people don’t do. I always remind myself, what is the laziest way to do this? It might sound kind of bad, but you are working 24-seven, you’re a startup founder, but what is the laziest way to do this? That’s going to be effective.

It’s really the simplest way to do something. And don’t feel bad. I used to feel bad about passing tasks off to somebody or not manning the ship. I think that’s where I really try to remind myself that it’s OK to like it along and kind of be lazy, even though it’s not.

Maureen: You mean like delegating tasks? 

Will: Yes, delegating tasks.

Maureen: It’s what is the path of least resistance. A lot of my work is new business development. There’s highs and lows to that process, too. And so I ask myself, what’s the low hanging fruit, right? What is the thing that I can do right now that’s going to make an impact on my larger goals? And so if you’re thinking in that way, you can be nimble, you can be the bunny and you can also still keep the ship moving forward. 

So great advice. 

Will: Yes, my transition into that was hard. So, I said transitioning into that is always hard, but I think that’s what every entrepreneur has to go through. 

I think the other piece of advice I would have that I wish I learned early on is like, I think don’t be afraid to make changes with people in your company early on. I think that was something that scared me in the beginning, and I think some of the best changes I’ve made are the people in my company.

Maureen: You have shared some excellent advice on today’s episode. I really appreciate you taking the time. 

Will is one of the few folks that I didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with before that for the folks that came on to this podcast. And so it was a delight to have you on today and really appreciate you sharing your journey to where Bluebird Hardwater is these days. Thank you so much.

Will: Yes, I’m glad I hopefully can help some entrepreneurs streamline stuff a little faster and avoid mistakes. But yes, it was great to talk about it and go through that whole startup phase again. Thank you.