Ivey grad mixing up success in tough market
By Paul Mayne
January 09, 2014
Don’t tell Bobby Besant his idea won’t fly.
The recent Ivey School of Business graduate got the cold shoulder from a professor during his fourth-year New Venture Business project. His idea was simple: When making a mixed drink, why the need for two bottles? Why not put a bottle within a bottle so the alcohol and mix could be contained in the same packaging, but still separated to maintain freshness?
“I threw out the idea in class and he (professor) turned it down,” said the 22-year-old Besant. “He was more into the technology side of ideas and solving larger world problems. This really wasn’t about solving a problem, per se, but more of an opportunity. I was told manufacturing would be tough, too many incumbents in the industry and that it’s extremely tough to get in the LCBO.”
Flash forward to today. Besant and friends Cam McDonald and Daniel Bartek, both Rowe School of Business (Dalhousie University) graduates, are taking their product, Sage Mixology, to the shelves of 250 LCBO stores this April.
Besant and McDonald have been friends since early high school and have always bounced business ideas off each other. McDonald was visiting Besant when he shared his latest business undertaking.
“We always talked about doing something right out of school, and if the right idea came around, we’d go for it,” Besant said.
“Although it being a very ‘first-world problem,’ I recognized people have a lot of disposable income that, let’s be honest, goes toward alcohol,” McDonald said. “I had no idea the manufacturing hurdles we’d have to overcome along the way, but I think the fact he (Bobby) wasn’t allowed to do it as a business project, that his proposal got rejected, was the motivation for us.”
But how do guys in their early 20s, still in school at the time, find the financial backing to get their idea even a little off the ground?
“First off, we had to find out if we could even make the bottle to begin with,” Besant said.
The bottle turned from glass to plastic over weight and liability concerns.
“It was definitely hard at first to get any sort of backing because investors were interested but a bit skeptical with us going back to school and being a long way away from commercialization,” he continued. “Ignorance was bliss, that’s for sure.
“If we had known how tall the mountain would have been back then, it might have been hard to convince us to go on that journey to begin with.”
But the three forged ahead. A pair of Halifax businessmen, entrepreneurs themselves, liked what they saw and bought into the idea.
This April, two flavours of Sage Mixology – cranberry and elderflower rose – will be in more than half of the major urban LCBO stores. After a long and eventful journey to get to this point, Besant is excited, but he also knows a tremendous amount of work lies ahead.
“We’re just starting to get up the mountain,” he said. “The top of the mountain is when we see more product in the stores. We’d like to build innovation to different categories as well, perhaps beer and wine. This is an opportunity to get in the market and build a great company around our product.”
While his Ivey education has played into the early success of the business, Besant has an interesting motto for being successful in the industry.
“One thing that calms our nerves is finding people who are smarter than us and know more about it than we do,” he said. “We’re not ignorant to the fact it’s a tough market to break in to. But it can be done. It’s simple in idea; putting it into practice is much harder.
“You have to believe in it. It’s like stepping off a cliff; sometimes you just have to go for it. Every day something happens we need to mitigate, but we’re 22 and working on our dream.”
And perhaps one day this year, Besant said the business could come full circle – sharing a drink with the professor who shot down his idea.
“That would be nice,” he said.
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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