The making of… Liquor Loot
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a bit of a background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
Hi, I’m Joel Hauer, founder of Liquor Loot. In a previous life, I founded a variety of businesses such as We Are Visionists, a digital growth consultancy, plus WeCo Sydney, a co-working space for technology-focused businesses. Growing the businesses meant a fair bit of travel, which led me to New York and my first taste of whisky.
Sounds interesting. Can you tell us more about New York and how you came up with the concept for Liquor Loot?
It all started back in 2016 when I found myself in New York sitting at the bar of a downtown whisky bar. At that point in my life, whisky wasn’t on my radar. The taste blew my mind and I started asking the bartender all sorts of questions. That point right then was the start of a journey of self-discovery and my passion for whisky.
After a few weeks, I had an idea: why not create a business that would allow people to explore different types of whisky and learn more about it? The first iteration of the business was literally called Whisky Loot. Our tasting boxes were getting a ton of rave reviews as we evolved the model to include an educational subscription experience to help people learn more about whisky.
In 2019, we took things a step further and launched our hugely successful Advent Calendars. Whilst growing our reach with retail partners such as ALDI, we also brought Gin Loot to life, which as you can probably guess, focused on the growing popularity of Gin.
Earlier this year, as we started to range in Dan Murphy’s and David Jones, we decided to consolidate both of our Loot brands under the Liquor Loot name.
And that's how Liquor Loot was born.
Bringing them together makes sense. It also allows you to extend the model across other spirits which feels like a natural progression. What about research? What did you do to arrive at what you've got today and how did you test your product-market fit?
We conducted extensive market research to really get to know our audience and understand their needs. We also tested our product-market fit by running surveys and focus groups to get feedback from potential customers. We also ran A/B tests to compare different versions of our product and pricing configurations to see which ones resonated. Additionally, we monitored the competition to see what they were doing and how we could differentiate our product.
Finally, we ran pilot subscription programs with select customers to get their feedback and make sure our product was meeting their needs.
Having undertaken so much research, what were the first iterations of your product like?
Unfortunately, they were quite problematic. We had issues with bottles leaking and using handwritten names on each box was unintentionally reducing the luxury nature of the brand.
However, with customer feedback, we were able to launch gift subscriptions and a full bottle shop. We also improved our packaging and changed bottle manufacturers to ensure the bottles were securely sealed. Furthermore, we moved away from the handwritten boxes with a redesign. The revamp also included adding additional features, such as tasting notes and educational materials, to help customers learn more about the different types of whisky.
Overall, these changes helped us create a more premium experience for our customers.
Having worked in food and beverages most of our lives, we can imagine how frustrating it must have been to get the product right. What about funding? How did you initially fund everything?
We initially bootstrapped, but it became clear early on that in order to scale, additional funding was needed. First, I went to family and friends, then high net-worth individuals, and finally to family offices to access the additional capital required.
We also looked into venture capital and angel investors but decided to go with the more traditional route of raising capital. This allowed us to maintain control of the company and ensure that our vision was not compromised.
Overall, our Series A funding allowed us to attract further investors who’ve helped grow the business and launch new products and services that have been instrumental in our success.
You mentioned monitoring the competition in order to differentiate earlier, how did this impact your branding?
From the start, we knew that the company name would eventually evolve to become Liquor Loot and that the brand would roll out with multiple different 'Loot' verticals over time.
We went through a rigorous process to arrive at the branding and packaging we have today. This involved testing multiple iterations of the logo, colours and fonts to ensure that it resonated with our target audience. We also redesigned the website multiple times to improve the user experience, speed and convenience.
Overall, this allowed us to create a strong brand identity that resonates with our customers and sets us apart from our competitors.
With branding completed and your product on track, how are you getting the word out there? How are you scaling the brand?
We use a variety of channels. We’re leveraging digital marketing, such as social media, search engine optimization and email marketing. We are also partnering with influencers and other brands to increase our reach and visibility.
Ranging our product in top retailers, such as ALDI Australia, Dan Murphy's and David Jones has allowed us to reach a wider audience and increase our brand awareness.
What would you say your biggest challenge or challenges are moving forward?
Our biggest challenge is to stay ahead of the competition. The market for whisky and other spirits is growing at a pace with more and more companies entering the market. Therefore we need to stay agile, constantly innovate and keep providing value.
We also need to continue leveraging the latest technology and trends to stay relevant and provide a seamless customer experience. This includes leveraging AI and machine learning to personalise our product offerings and improve customer service.
There’s no doubt we’ll see more AI, machine learning and personalisation in business moving forward… which is something we absolutely love. And knowing all you’ve been through, what advice would you give other or inspiring entrepreneurs?
Starting a business is a long and difficult journey. There will be many obstacles along the way. So it's important to stay focused on your vision and never give up, even when things get tough.
It is also important to be open to feedback and be willing to pivot if necessary. Listening to customers can also mean making changes to your product or service if it will improve the customer experience.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. Surround yourself with a team of people who can help you achieve your goals and provide valuable advice and support.