This Brand Has Something Not Even Jeff Bezos Can Sell
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you, and what’s your business?
We are Tristan Mermin and Jon Lawson, the operating executives of Batiste Rhum. Batiste is authentically the next generation of rum production. People who discover Batiste Rhum are initially surprised by the clean, light and bright flavors, and by the transparent and verifiable eco-positive process that we follow.
What inspired you to create this product?
Living in the Bay Area, we saw food products like coffee and chocolate sourced from the many tropical regions around the globe benefit from a little California ingenuity. The possibility of doing this same process with rum from the Caribbean seemed to be something to look into and hopefully discover.
As luck would have it, Tristan met Hubert Damoiseau on the island of Marie Galante just as Hubert was finishing the reconstruction of his family’s plantation and distillery. We came to a mutual understanding that they could develop Batiste as the exclusive U.S. brand for the plantation and distillery.
How is it different from others like it?
Most rum making uses molasses because it offers a lower cost, lower quality, yet stable base to use for fermentation. Sugarcane-juice-based rums, like Batiste Rhum, are a small portion of the rum market because the juice starts self-fermenting/ rotting within minutes of crushing the cane. Many sugarcane rums are "funky" due to this fact. We monitor fermentation constantly to prevent unwanted mold and bacterial growth. The precision of our fermentation allows for a one-time distillation on a clear rum that can be enjoyed neat. And from the ground up, we pursue practices that limit carbon creation. No field burning, no long-term waste like plastics.
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in producing and marketing this product?
We’ve seen startup brands and new brands launched from within large companies spend a lot of time and money chasing growth. New brands look for “quick wins” while large companies will protect years of investment in legacy-brand marketing and sales from new entrants. If you’re new to the market, start small, be patient, listen to consumers and, most importantly, be patient and persistent, be patient and persistent, and definitely be patient and persistent! If you are chasing ROI, you will need more time than you think, unless you can start with a meaningful contract in place.
What does the word entrepreneur mean to you?
Unwavering belief in yourself and enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Those traits naturally create a sense of ownership that you can’t buy anywhere -- not even Jeff Bezos can sell it! An entrepreneur can mean someone who stands between an idea and the market. The entrepreneur acts as the conduit steering the ideas into reality and success.
What was your toughest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
Our solution to creating market awareness and product acceptance: find professionals in the market that are passionate about this industry and understand what we are doing. Invite them to join us in creating a growing network and reward the individuals for sharing their capabilities and social capital with ongoing meaningful participation in our company. This creates teams of people who work on the brand, not for the brand, and passion is contagious.
What trait do you depend on most when making decisions?
We are dedicated researchers. We believe in following instincts after research and then making collaborative choices with our team. Our final decision-making process has two levers: (1) Is the resistance appropriate? and (2) Will the result be beneficial?
How has your leadership style evolved?
We rely more on trust. After assessing a team member's strengths and weaknesses, we trust them more. If we can’t do that, we know we’re working with the wrong people. If we can’t trust someone, we’ll find another way.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
Tristan – “Understand the difference between excellence and expertise, and always choose excellence.” – Unknown (but excellent!)
Jon - “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” was General U.S. Grant’s response to the observation that his army had been surprised, routed and badly beaten that day (first day of the Battle of Shiloh). It’s a good reminder that mistakes and setbacks will inevitably come, what is important is how you decide to go forward.