Entrepreneur: Barry Givens, owner of Monsieur, which produces robotic bartending machines for homes and businesses.
“Aha” moment: When Givens was a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, he and his roommate went to a bar to watch an NBA Finals game. Knowing the place would be packed, they arrived early, scored a table and ordered drinks. At halftime, about two hours later, their drinks finally arrived. The staff wasn’t incompetent—just overwhelmed. The two mechanical engineering students conceived a machine that could make simple drinks so customers wouldn’t have to wait for human bartenders.
Distilling the idea: After graduating in 2008, Givens worked as a mechanical designer for John Deere and then as a project manager at Caterpillar. That didn’t last long. “I just didn’t feel right in corporate [America], and I decided I wanted to go full-throttle in a bigger venture,” he says.
As he mulled over ideas, Givens kept returning to the robotic bartender. The Atlanta-based entrepreneur sold his house and car, and he and his co-founder (who is no longer with the company), built a prototype in his parents’ garage. “I spent a lot of time at Home Depot and Lowe’s,” Givens remembers.
They dubbed their creation Monsieur—a tabletop box that holds eight liquor bottles and automatically makes drinks in categories ranging from “tropical” to “Irish pub.” The average drink takes about 20 seconds to make.
Party favor: In April 2013 Givens loaned the prototype to a friend for a party, and it was an instant hit. It caught the eye of one party guest, angel investor Paul Judge, who offered to buy the machine. Givens declined to sell—but in a meeting the next day received a $40,000 investment from Judge.
The company later raised $140,000 on Kickstarter, and late in 2014 wrapped up a $2 million fundraising round from Buckhead Investment Partners in Atlanta, Base Ventures in Berkeley, Calif., and others.
Make it a double: Givens sold about 70 of the original $3,999 tabletop machines, which were intended for home use. Now he is focusing on a commercial version of the Monsieur, priced at $10,000. The larger, free-standing machines, complete with carbonators, use proprietary software that manages inventory and offers analytics, allows for drink customization and handles customer payments via an iOS and Android mobile app. Monsieur’s software packages, which range from $100 to $300 per month, are expected to generate ongoing revenue.
“We call our machines our Trojan horses,” Givens says. “Selling machines is just a starting point for us.”
Next round: Givens is placing commercial units in pilot programs at businesses—at press time, he was expecting 10 of his machines to pour mint juleps at the 2015 Kentucky Derby. He is in talks with Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which provides food and beverage services at dozens of major sports arenas, and with hotels, casinos, cruise lines and liquor companies. Monsieur, which went from three employees at the end of 2013 to 11 in early 2015, expects year-end revenue of $3 million. An even larger commercial machine is in the works for a rollout next year.
Liquid courage: Through his NextIN Line Network, Givens tries to inspire other young African-Americans. “Monsieur is a cool product, but my real purpose is building something big that other people can look to and follow the same path,” he says. “We go around to lower-income high schools and middle schools and talk about entrepreneurship and technology, and we tell kids this is the future. This is where the jobs are going to be.”
Last call: Givens’ drink of choice? “It’s weird because it’s not even a mixed drink,” he says. “I’m actually a Bourbon guy.”
Related Book: Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery