Last Updated on September 8, 2022 by
Dariusz Paczuski is the Founder and CEO of Rocket Vodka — California vodka handcrafted from 100% apples and fresh Sierra Nevada mountain water. Dariusz came to the US from Norway on a swimming scholarship to study business and later earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from California State University, Long Beach.
During an involuntary sabbatical and a ‘what if’ moment on a ski trip, Dariusz launched Rocket Vodka from his garage in Silicon Valley. Today, Dariusz works in the tech sector while he runs Rocket Vodka as a thriving side hustle.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- The story of how Dariusz Paczuski came up with Rocket Vodka on a ski trip
- Dariusz shares how and why he decided to use apples for his vodka
- Dariusz details how to set up a spirits brand
- The reason behind the Rocket Vodka brand name
- The challenges Dariusz faced launching a side hustle while working in a tech company
- How Dariusz made the Rocket Vodka name known
- How does a new spirit get distributed?
- The COVID struggles of a spirits brand according to Dariusz
In this episode with Dariusz Paczuski
The spirits industry has plenty of established brands, making it tough for new brands to make themselves known. Barriers to entry are significant, and new brands will need considerable time and monetary resources to pierce through the market.
What can entrepreneurs and solopreneurs do to stand a chance against the giants if they don’t have much time and money? For Dariusz Paczuski, all it took was a dream to own a vodka business, his expertise in marketing and customer insights, and the free hours after his full-time job.
In this episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks sits down with Dariusz Paczuski, the Founder and CEO of Rocket Vodka. Dariusz talks about how he has been running his spirits brand as a side hustle while working in the tech industry. He also gives a detailed walkthrough of how he grew this business from the ground up while working with limited startup funds on nights and weekends.
.Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Barrels Ahead
- Drew Thomas Hendricks on LinkedIn
- Dariusz Paczuski on LinkedIn
- Rocket Vodka
- Rocket Vodka on TikTok
- Rocket Vodka on Twitter
- Rocket Vodka on Instagram
- Amador & Dry Diggings Distillery
- Cheryl Murphy Durzy on LinkedIn
- Cheryl Murphy Durzy on Legends Behind the Craft
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.
At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.
Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.
So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!
Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show
Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19
Drew Thomas Hendricks here I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead, at Barrels Ahead we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. One that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. And I really want to give a shout out to Barrels Ahead right now because we just launched a new wine club reengagement product. If you’re interested in that, send us an email. hello@barrelsahead. So today we have Dariusz Paczuski on the show founder of Rocket Vodka. Vodka made from 100% from apples that’s handcrafted here in California, Dariusz came to US from Norway on a swimming scholarship to study business and currently works in the tech sector during an involuntary sabbatical after the tech company’s strategy change, and a what if moment on a ski trip, Dariusz launched Rocket Vodka from his garage in Silicon Valley, which today he runs is a thriving side hustle. Welcome to show Dariusz. Dariusz.
Dariusz Paczuski 1:23
Thanks, Drew. It’s great to be here.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:25
I’m so happy to have you on. How’s it going today?
Dariusz Paczuski 1:28
It’s great. It’s a beautiful sunny day in California. As always, I’m in my garage is always where we founded the company. So but yeah, it’s a great beautiful day. A true
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:39
Silicon Valley garage startup story, we got to investigate today. So you say the the idea came to you on a on a ski trip?
Dariusz Paczuski 1:50
Yeah, it was, you know, I had the idea for many, many years before I actually had any time or motivation to actually go pursue and execute the concept. But yeah, I was on a ski trip up in Tahoe skiing with my buddies, it was a beautiful day, blue skies, fresh powder. There on the lift. And I was trying to imagine, you know, doing this more often with my friends and family. And I had the insight, I guess, perhaps, you know, the entrepreneurs insight that if I want to create wealth, and space and time and flexibility and autonomy, you know, I needed to do something on my own. And I I’ve been very entrepreneurial inside of big companies before, but I’ve never done anything on my own.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:39
Yeah, let’s ask you about that. Because entrepreneurship, everybody talks, big ideas, but to actually activate one is another story.
Dariusz Paczuski 2:47
Well, I guess, you know, I didn’t really pursue the idea initially, because I was so busy at work, you know, even in large organizations coming up with new ideas, and, you know, testing them with customers, and finding, you know, will be in tech called product market fit. And getting going on the idea. And so I was just so busy doing that at work, I never had time to fully developed everything I needed to to actually start a company. But I was on the lift and I was you know, I had that what if question, and I was like, Yeah, you know, I could, I could ski in the morning on the freshest powder with my friends, before the tourists show up and use up all the goods now. I could go pitch this vodka idea to bars and restaurants and clubs and whatnot, in the afternoon, and then in the evening, I could operate ski, you know, and hang out with my buddies. And that was sort of the silly epiphany for just like, well, wouldn’t it be fun to start something and obviously, you know, starting a company takes a lot more serious thought and consideration than that. But when I had the an opportunity, like I called it the involuntary sabbatical to kind of move things along. You know, I basically said look, it’s not going to be a full time job to find a new job. And, and so, you know, I, I decided to, you know, spend time with my family. I trained for a half Ironman, which I completed, kept looking for a job, which I found, but during the nine months in that, you know, leaving one company before I started the next, I got the concept far enough along that I could work on it nights and weekends, and that’s what I did and a year after I joined I joined Yahoo. A year after I joined Yahoo. I launched my first product which is Rocket Vodka. Vodka made from 100% apples. We make it in El Dorado Hills. We source our apples from Apple Hill, which is near the distillery and the we use this year Nevada Mountain water So it’s cut with the Sierra Nevada mountain waters get the best water in the world. And, and you know that was it
Drew Thomas Hendricks 5:09
truly a handcrafted product? So I do want to ask you what, how did you decide on apples?
Dariusz Paczuski 5:15
That took a little bit more of a process, but there was probably three key drivers of the apple decision one. So I did add just a ton of customer insights work, and competitive intelligence work to figure out figure out how to drive you know, product innovation, and in looking at the market. So first of all, actually, let me take a step back, the first thing I always start with is who’s the customer. And I had decided that, you know, I thought that I could target athletes, active people, aspirational lifestyles, people like me, who like to swim, bike, run, ski, non bike, you know, be outdoors, be active, but you know, we all drink. But we, you know, some of us care about what we put into our bodies, even if it’s an alcohol. So without making any health claims, we decided to kind of focus on, you know, athletes and active people as a easier to identify target audience. So, so that was sort of one inspiration is the customer and the idea, you know, the association that apples have with being healthy and tasty and refreshing and delicious. And you get the better added benefit of it’s also gluten free, which, you know, my cousin has celiac. And so, you know, we would drink a lot of potato vodka back in the day was my favorite. And now you all we drink is Rocket Vodka, because of the apples, but that was one. The second was, again, in studying the market, not the customer, but the market. There was no leading brand in you know, that was made from apples. And there’s a good reason for that, because apples are expensive. The raw ingredients are quite pricey. But, you know, Tito’s is the king of corn based vodka. You’ve got all the wheat based grain based markers, of course, you got Japan and potato. But there wasn’t really any major fruit based or certainly no Apple based vodka. And so we thought that was a point of differentiation. And so in terms of thinking about differentiating a product beyond the gimmicky stuff, use stuff or the gimmicky bottle or the giving names or gimmicky marketing campaigns, like we wanted to actually create a true high quality sippable product. And so we, you know, we made we that was another driver to choose the apple and then the third may be most important. In the at the end of the day was my dad used to make moonshine from apples. Oh, yeah. And I was a kid growing up in Norway. You know, we were Polish immigrants. My family’s polish. I was born in Poland, but we we moved to Norway when I was young. And we had three apple trees in our yard, and my parents would make me go pick up the ground apples because they were the sweetest and the ripest and my mom would use the apples, my dad would ferment and distill the apples and he would make an apple spirit or moonshine, and you’d put into oak barrels and aged essentially, he was making Calvados
Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:36
Yeah, I was wondering about that
Dariusz Paczuski 8:37
we, we sort of took that same formula. So we use a combination of apple juice and apple concentrate, we ferment it, we distill it twice, you know, we filter it, we double carbon, filter it, and then we have the Sierra Nevada mountain water, but the family story was really sort of what kind of sealed the deal for me in terms of you know, creating a product that was authentic and was born from some, you know, meaningful place and besides on the slopes and so that was fun to kind of think about all that stuff. And in literally every time I have a sip of my vodka, I can, I can have this flashback memory of you know, being our little potato cellar and looking at equipment and all this stuff is boiling out and you let me put my pinky in there and, and taste it and I can sort of it’s like that ratatouille movie. Where are you? Like, go back to my childhood and, you know, tastes my father’s apple spirit. But, but yeah, so three reasons for why we went with apple.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:38
That’s great. And then the fourth one, I would think is that the complementary It complements juices and mixes so well. Versus like a martini with an all of it.
Dariusz Paczuski 9:46
Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:48
Absolutely. So the the product that the experience benefits of the apple are quite unique, because we don’t boil the crap out of it. Hmm, you know, we we cut the heads and the tails really aggressively keep the pure heart. So that’s how we’re able to keep, you know, high, high quality you know, without distilling it so many times and you lose everything that makes it unique. So what you’re what you’re left with is a vodka that has a subtle, you know, subtle hint of apple on the nose, but you know, a smoothness a mouth smooth mouthfeel that suddenly sweet as well, then it doesn’t, you know, you don’t make the grimace of a face. You know, when you’re drinking, some of the cheaper vodkas is really smooth. So it’s quite sippable. And then yes, it it just because it’s fruit based that it pairs beautifully, not just with fruit based cocktails, juice based cocktails, but also veggie, I had someone make me they use the celery, simple syrup. Oh, and it was just spectacular. And so yeah, it just creates these really unique, tasty, refreshing cocktails as well.
What’s that? Almost like that hidden ingredient that? You wonder how you got it? Yeah, no, no, you mentioned Calvados are Calvados. So when someone’s going to buy this, they’re not really, they shouldn’t expect an apple brandy type of experience. It’s more more on the vodka side,
Dariusz Paczuski 11:25
it is 100% a vodka, a pure, clean, smooth vodka. And, you know, what’s interesting is what, what makes the vodka is the process more than the ingredients. Okay? So you can make vodka from almost anything that you can make a spirit out of, or that you can ferment. So, you know, I learned during all my research that the Mongolians used to make vodka or spirit from horse milk, because that’s what they had in abundance.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 11:55
And that would be something to try.
Dariusz Paczuski 11:56
It’d be well, you can because I think there’s one, there’s a cow’s milk based vodka from Scotland. Yeah, and I don’t know their exact formula. But you know, they basically take probably the way from the, the milk, right, and they ferment it and distill it and you know, it probably, you probably don’t taste milk or you know, anything that you would associate with a milk based vodka. It probably tastes like a spirit like a vodka, but you might have some, maybe more earthy notes grassy notes from from what they from the product, I actually haven’t tried it, but make it from anything. So what distinguishes the vodka from a Calvados or other spirits is this process of, you take something that you can ferment, you ferment it, you distill it, you distill it up to 190 proof that is a standard. And then you cut it with water down to the 80 proof, which is a standard. And, you know, when I was experimenting here in my garage, and with the formula, we tried a couple of different things, we try to actually take it down to Slovakia, Staters 40% tried to take me down to 35% thinking like maybe we can create a leaner and sort of lean into the health and fitness and your calories, kind of a, of a positioning for for the brand and the product. And then we tried a 45% and a 50%. See if we should lean into that, like the rocket fuel side of the brand. And as a marketer, and like I’m getting a little wonky here, but you know, any name that you choose for your brand or product has pros and cons, you know, some have more than others. And so you’re always kind of, you know, as a marketer, you’re thinking through like, Well, how do I mitigate the negatives but amplify the positives. And so in our case, you know, rocket really stands for acceleration and an amplification, elevation, aspiration, achieving great things and then celebrating, operate, we talked about, you know, always operating and but, but in the development of these formulas, like the 35% it was like, it wasn’t really that good. Not because the apples but because it just wasn’t strong enough, like it didn’t have any, any back. And then the 45 to 50 and 50%. They’re just too hot. It sort of it was so it was so hot that it took away from the the flavor and the smoothness and the apple notes and everything. It was just sort of a punch in the face. And so there’s a good reason why the vodka standard is 40% or 80 Proof it’s, it’s perfect. It is why vodka is defined as a 40% pure spirit.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 12:23
That’s that’s very interesting. Now we can talk about the
Dariusz Paczuski 14:59
You know, maybe this is interesting because I find people don’t know this. But the the word vodka is Polish. And it comes from the word vodka, which means water. And polish. And vodka means a little bit of water. So adding a little bit of water to spirit is literally the definition of vodka and where that word comes from.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 15:26
Interesting. I did not know that. That’s, that’s very interesting. Now, as far as to get the percentage right now, how did as far as the apples, how did you decide on the Eldorado County? And is there a particular like variety of apples that you’re looking at?
Dariusz Paczuski 15:45
So this is maybe on the business side of things, you know, I wasn’t in a position to raise 10s of millions of dollars or whatever it takes to build my own distillery, I couldn’t even have a proof of concept, right. So I was looking for the best, easiest, cheapest way to get started and get something created. And there was sort of two stages to that. One was serendipity. I ended up connecting with Roman, this engineer at Google. And he’s Russian guy. And he, he used to make vodka in this like Mr. Coffee little machine at home. And he would make different kinds of vodkas from different things. And he didn’t confuse them. But a friend of mine knew him and he’s like, You got to talk to Ron Roman. So I talked to Roman and he’s like, Okay, well, you know, go to the farmers market. And I went to the Menlo Park farmers market and I bought some Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji apples. And we, we kind of went through the process of of making it so we, we cord, the apples, we we peel them, we drilled them basically to mash them added water. You know, we’re yeast rather mixed in water, but I didn’t it was important that the temperature of the water was this this room and not me the temperature of a cow’s teat? No, come on. So, after this, that was the temperature that we were aiming for. And we create, we put them into these, you know, Home Depot, white buckets, literally in this garage right here. And so the mashed up apples from each of the three variants, the the yeast in the water, and we let it sit for for three weeks to ferment, basically. And the granny smith opened the lid. And this got this green layer on top. We’re like, Yeah, we’re gonna distill this anyway. So we just scraped off the green stuff, and ran it through his little, you know, distilling machine. And yeah, that was no good. I ended up with a rash from that one. That basically, I think we might have made penicillin or something like, and the learning was simply that there wasn’t enough natural sugar in the grannies for it to ferment properly. The Red Delicious, similar issue, but no rash. It just, you know, was a fibrous apple. And so it didn’t have it didn’t do enough. And then the Fuji was like, oh, there’s something here. He made it through it has enough natural sugar in it, it kind of made it through that test. And so that was one way of hacking, basically. And finding out the right formula, but then, you know, okay, well, how do I build a distillery? I can’t like, distilled from my garage. Obviously, it’s not legal. And so I reached out. So first, I went to Poland. On a, you know, vodka journey to see if I can find something there’s find like a crusty old Polish dude making some amazing vodka that I can then import and you know, rebrand and sort of changed his life mine in the process was the idea. I think that Polish crusty old dude might be me in the end, but I’m at that I didn’t find anything there. So then when I came back, I started researching micro distilleries. And of course, there was an explosion and micro distilleries are realized. And this is maybe you know, something that you’re, you’re aspiring spirit makers might consider a lot of the distilleries have excess capacity. They start with a passion for the craft. And so you have these amazing people up there with these amazing distilleries making really, really good product, but they they They don’t necessarily come to the space with experience and expertise and sales and marketing and branding and distribution and all those other things that make this industry so hard to break through. And so the result of that is they often have excess capacity. And so I reached out to a handful of distilleries here in Northern California and
I found Dry Diggings Distillery. And he had, they’re an amazing distillery. They have their own line of spirits, and whiskies and rise and gins, and just incredible portfolio of product, really tasty, delicious spirits of many different kinds. And they had recently won Best lock at the American distillers Institute conference. Oh, wow. And, and it was a great baseball because I knew they knew how to work with fruit. They knew what they were doing. And I met with them and we just sort of kumbaya’d on on the vision of an apple based spirit. And so we brought in an expert who was an apple winemaker. And then collectively, we kind of worked on the formula. But the formula essentially is, it’s a combination of, of apple juice and apple concentrate. The Apple mix tends to be Fuji, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious is in some different ratios, it kind of depends, obviously, on seasonality. Most of the time, we get our apples from Barsotti farms up in Apple Hill near El Dorado Hills, when but you know, because availability is seasonal. So we augment it with with apples, or apple juice or apple concentrate from Washington. So but that’s kind of how we, we get it done. And that model works really well because I get, you know, it’s my family formula. It’s our brand. It’s our product, everything is unique. But I have this amazing partner that just knows what to do, and how to do it really well, an award winning partner, and they have, you know, excess capacity that they’re happy to let me tap into. So everybody wins.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 22:16
That was an excellent walk through through your process. That’s a wholesome masterclass and someone that wants to on how to actually go about setting up your own sort of spirit brand, that I’ve taken one step back to entrepreneurs, and you talk about how you did have the entrepreneurial spirit within the larger kind of tech ecosphere and larger companies? What sort of challenges did you face when you’re going out on your own? It’s like a side hustle, entrepreneurship, where you’re actually activating you yourself?
Dariusz Paczuski 22:43
Well, you know, when you’re, when you’re entrepreneurial inside of a big company, it has its own challenges, right, because, you know, some companies don’t want the entrepreneurship they want you to just execute the current thing. But the places I’ve been you know, with has always been taxes, there’s, they’ve always been very welcoming. And, you know, even so, have side hustles. So, Yahoo was amazing, my boss loved the fact that I had my own brand and my own product and that I could bring those, you know, that hustle those lessons, those learnings back into a big organization like Yahoo. You know, he was a, a multiple times entrepreneur and exit guy, so, and the whole company sort of embraced the two, there was a lot of entrepreneurship going on there. But big companies have that, you know, stable job, you got a paycheck, you’ve got ways of innovating inside the company, there’s an ecosystem that you can tap into, you have none of that when you start on your own, you got to do everything from scratch. The but the good news these days is that there’s so many incredible platforms available. Most of them are free. I mean, everything that we do we run on Google Docs, Google Gmail, Squarespace on the website. We have commerce capabilities through passion spirits. We we have you know, marketing access to our customers through Oh, shoot, the email provider escapes me right now. We have access to customers through social right through Instagram and Tiktok and Facebook. And you know, it’s just so many powerful amid QuickBooks on the finance side, right? You have all these amazing tech tools that make life easy. Yeah. And make you not have to worry about so many things that you had to like 5 10 15 20 years ago. And so the platform sort of help you keep things lean and mean and fast and nimble and you know So with the Google Docs, you can onboard crew members really easily so. So that’s sort of one way of thinking about, you know, how do you start something, you know, all the tools are there, you just need to take advantage of them. The tougher journey I find is that most people don’t really think through systematically, is usually, you know, all the stuff that I’ve perfected in my marketing career in Silicon Valley, which is, you know, who’s your audience? Like, who’s the customer today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? Do you understand what they’re looking for? And why and, and how you’re relevant in their in their daily life? You know, like, that’s sort of the starting point for everything that I do. And then, you know,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 25:47
what an excellent point, that’s something to reemphasize. Because so many spirits are started just as a passion project, with something that they like, and if you like it, this, you assume that everyone else is gonna love it. And then you bring it to market, and it may or may not be the case.
Dariusz Paczuski 26:01
Yeah. And it’s hard, because, you know, when you’re talking about craft, and art, and those kinds of things, you know, you want to lose the authenticity ease, either. So I found in, you know, that, but by starting with the customer, I found authentic insights, and ideas for innovation and differentiation, that sort of, you know, I can map to the customer. And from there, so I think that’s, that’s sort of one. The second is, is that product, you know, positioning the awesomeness, like what makes your product unique and different and better, in some way that’s meaningful to that customer. And again, you know, you think about, well, I’m just making a rye, I’m making it my way and, you know, maybe so but, you know, now you’re just competing with everybody else who makes a rye, and, and is maybe going out to the same customer, right? So you sort of two things are, I think, are really, really important to just the fundamentals of who’s your customer? And what are you offering them that’s going to, you know, provide them with some pleasure or address some pain point in their life? And, you know, in our case, yeah, it’s just a great tasting apple based spirit that, you know, complements the active lifestyle. Yeah, and lets you celebrate life’s peak moments.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 27:24
No, that’s fantastic. So in your day job, you, you know, you help fortune 500 companies amplify their brand and promote their brand. It’s very different to like, build a brand from square one. You may have you may be resonating with people. But if no one knows you’re there. There’s no resignation. How did you go about getting the Rocket Vodka name out? And
Dariusz Paczuski 27:50
well, things like this help, obviously. But the way we got started was, look, I can’t just go out there in the world and say, Hey, we got luck. I’m here, you know. And so there was some storytelling that evolved from it in terms of, you know, the audience that I talked about, and the awesomeness that I talked about, but literally, it was starting from ground zero, which is okay, well, let’s create some social media accounts. Probably the fastest, cheapest, easiest way to start, you know, making people aware that you exist and and, you know, and then we got some good targeted local PR. And then we started doing events, you know, at our my first customer is literally, you know, half a mile from my house. It’s the willows market. in Menlo Park. Nick’s been a great customer from day one. He now just texted me when he needs a reorder. You know, he let me do tastings there. That was one way that we started getting the name out. And then we started in kind sponsoring events that reached our target audience. So we sponsored the rock Tahoe half marathon a few times. We’ve sponsored Georgene, Cappies, GranFondo bike ride and South Carolina a few times. And with this idea that, you know, we basically give people free samples, you know, after the ride during the party, at the dinner, and also often serve cocktails. And so the brand is there, I’m there we you know, we get the word out in those kinds of channels, but it’s very much for us. It’s been very much social media, a little bit of local PR. Really good engagement with events events are fantastic because you can have, you know, 200 people come through and taste your product. And Aaron was like, wow, this is vodka. It’s sippable Oh, this is from apples. I thought you know, like it just starts this amazing conversation about the product and the brand. So I found social and events to be very powerful. And then of course, you know, getting the word out through PR. But probably social is really the most for most people that will be the best tool. And, you know, we honestly kind of stuck on Tik Tok right now. You know, it’s more of a generational thing in terms of who I am and what I’m really good at. But we’re there, and we’re trying and we’re learning. But, you know, we we built a great following across Instagram and Twitter. And we have over 100,000 followers across the board, and we’re able to not only sort of associate ourselves with the lifestyle and the audience that we’re targeting, but you know, get across that this is a delicious vodka from 100% apples as well.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:46
Absolutely. And as far as your current marketing mix, and not your current your current sales mix between like three tier, and then through through your website. How’s that breaking down?
Dariusz Paczuski 30:56
That’s a great question, especially for new people who think like DTC is the way to go. Direct to consumer and new spirits really don’t mix. And here’s, here’s why. Here’s why I say that. We’re new spirit, the best place for people to discover a new spirit is a bar or a restaurant. And so most of our focus has been on premium quality upscale establishments that care about their customer and the customer experience, and desire to offer something new, different, unique, they pride themselves on it, whether it’s new ingredients, and food, or new spirits and their cocktails. You know, that’s kind of been our main focus, because we need new people or to try our product. And that’s the best place to, for us to introduce our brand, introduce our product and get people tasting it.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 31:55
How do you get how does the How does a just a brand new spirit, get the distribution. And then I see I see Cheryl from live Deb on your Instagram feed. I don’t know if you’re still working with them. But she’s been on our show helped a lot of a lot of like fledgling spirits now actually get out there. But there’s a key to that. And I think you can talk talk to me about how just because you’re on the list doesn’t mean you’ve made it?
Dariusz Paczuski 32:21
Well, this is the challenge of our business. So you just sort of quote unquote, getting a distributor is not enough. But Cheryl and her her team, especially in our platform, have been fantastic for someone like us. You know, when I talked about those platforms that are available to people, this is one of them. I mean, Google Docs is great for communication, and marketing materials and planning and all the other stuff. But in terms of actually getting your product distributed, it is by far, the best platform for a new brand to get, you know, to get an opportunity. And that’s all it is, it’s an opportunity, you have to go get the app, the opportunity, and react and, you know, you think that by getting a deal with a big distributor, you got an opportunity, maybe you do, but at the end of the day, the reps for the big guys are going to sell the big brands
Drew Thomas Hendricks 33:18
or the little offshoots of the big brands is it
Dariusz Paczuski 33:22
or something Yeah, something new or twist on the big brands, but you know, getting mindshare of the rap in a big company or with a big distributor, you know, forget about it. So the you got to earn it, and you get to build it on your own. But that’s why Cheryl’s platform is so powerful the LibDib platform is so powerful it creates the platform that enables you to get the distribution with the backend and the fulfillment and all that kind of thing. But then you got to go hustle pitch talk to people or build a Crucis you know, a crude model or sales team of your own to go out there and evangelize the brand. But then the orders are taken obviously you know, are submitted to LibDib and fulfilled through through LibDib but that’s that’s our model that’s been our model from the beginning
Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:12
of your strategy with LibDib was it to concentrate on certain areas like ski towns or Menlo Park or areas that have an affinity or what was your strategy and going to market three tier
Dariusz Paczuski 34:23
the story was so the strategy evolved over time, but it was sort of back to that customer insight perspective. The world busy right our days are 24 hours no one has a longer day no one has a shorter day. 24 hours is all we got
Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:44
I fell like my shorter but that’s
Dariusz Paczuski 34:49
when you’re busy it feels it is not is the same amount of time that everyone has, because everyone’s so busy, working sleeping social media-ing. pursuing their, their hobbies and passions and spending time with their family, all the things that people do in their life, everyone’s busy. And so when you think about a brand and you think about a product, you kind of have to think about like, Well, how am I relevant in someone’s life? What’s the moment that I can be a part of? Right, given that ever, everything’s so noisy and everything’s, you know, happening in the world. And so, the thought the hypothesis was, if we could become part of the après-ski moment, that we can evolve and grow from there. And so that journey is still underway. Because, you know, it’s hard to sort of integrate yourself and put enough time and effort into marketing that, but that’s still the concept. And that has actually proven to work out. But now we were more about like, après-sport. Right. But but that was, so what came from that customer insight need to own a moment, maybe we can own the après-ski or après-sport moment, who we’re targeting how we’re relevant, blah, blah, blah, and then match that with Look, I can’t just like spread my efforts, then across the country or the world in terms of building the brand and the audience, I need to concentrate, Concentrate, concentrate. And so the whole strategy is, we need to be in restaurants and bars and care about the customer experience. We need to be in, you know, just Northern California, I mean, California is the fifth largest economy in the world. So great if I had all of California, but like, if I could just penetrate, focus deeply on Northern California, and show that I can get into places and get reorders and drive growth. That would be the thesis that would a earn me distribution with a large distributor that would want to promote because I have the metrics to back it up. And or an acquisition by the Azure, or Constellation or someone like that, because they want to need brands that can grow on their own. They know how to scale a brand, but they they’re not necessarily amazing at like, curating from scratch, yes, a new brand. And so that’s why they acquire so many companies, right. And so, so that’s been our thesis and our focus, and that that continues to be so we were on a good track before COVID. You know, we’ll probably get to that too. But you know, two years after COVID, we’re kind of in rebuilding mode. But so that set us back a little bit, but in terms of where the business is going, we want to prove that we can create and keep customers, which is really the purpose of any business. And we figured out the mechanics all every single step it takes to create a customer and to keep a customer and to get a reorder from that customer. And now we just our next stage stage to you know, pass the proof of concept stages, do what we know works, but do it consistently with full time people. And that’s that’s the pivot, you know, that I’m going through merch is how do I go from this crew base commission based only part time people like me who do it on the side, too, you know, more of a real business, if you will, where we actually have one or two full time salespeople that can go chase after opportunities, but tell our story the way it needs to be told because it works. Educate the staff on our story, because we know it works. Get on menus, because we know it works. And then go back ask for the reorder on a consistent basis because we know it works. But that’s that’s that’s, you know, the fundamentals of stage one and sort of the pivot to the next stage. Sure that I
Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:01
mean, your critical point there on like pivoting and is it becoming increasingly hard as a side hustle? Or is it drawing you into your main main hustle now, as you grow?
Dariusz Paczuski 39:14
I would have given you a different answer right before COVID than I
Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:17
that’s and I want to talk about COVID for a second to
Dariusz Paczuski 39:21
well, we’re all struggling, you know, post COVID. And obviously, especially during COVID Our customers are struggling, which is why we’re struggling. I’m not struggling because of you know, my own environment necessarily I’m struggling because my customers are struggling. Right, our customers are bars and restaurants etc. Who lost all their customers for a long period of time. And so, and also we couldn’t even sell to them even if we wanted to because you know, we weren’t, you couldn’t go talk to people physically and taste our product, which is so key to our strategy, right. So our events went away. And, and then even when our customers sort of started figuring things out meaning not, even during early COVID, they could do cocktails on to deliver all what happened, I think, from my perspective is that they concentrated their product mix to the brands that they knew they needed to have. Yeah. Right. Smirnoff Tito’s kettle Grey Goose, maybe. Right. And so to make it easier for them less inventory, because no one’s like, oh, I want to try this new spirit, and have it delivered to my house, right like that, that just doesn’t happen for enough people. Yeah. Or that could be an opportunity, an opportunity to, to build on. So now that we’re on the other side of things, and restaurants are open again, and and they’re seeing customers out again, you know, we need to go back. And, and, you know, we have great reorder rates from our current customers. There’s a lot of them that we need to service that we need to get back out to and talk to. And then we got to go after some new customers. But rebuilding that next stage is sort of the challenge that I’ve got right now. Which is, before COVID, we were on a growth path where it would make sense to raise money. And not a lot, just a little bit to pay for our full time salespeople. But now coming out of COVID, you know, our numbers are great in terms of our reorders, and our most our best customers. But it’s not a story. It’s not a financial story that I want to go out and raise funds on today. Yeah. You know, mostly because, I mean, I could go tell it, I think I would find a lot of investors in the concept. But I probably would have to give up, you know, a lot of share in the company for the right valuation to get the money. So is I’ve chosen to, you know, keep self funding it, keep growing it organically, you know, now that I know what works and what doesn’t work. Next stage, I need to rebuild, you know that a little bit with more crew members, same model as before. And then, you know, later this year, next year, probably will be in a position where, you know, it makes more sense to go out there and raise money.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 42:30
Dariusz Paczuski 42:32
To answer your question in terms of harder or easier, it’s not a, it’s not a harder, easier, it’s just different challenges.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 42:32
Part of that entrepreneurial journey
Dariusz Paczuski 42:32
time is still the same as 24 hours. And you know, so I put whatever time I can into, into this. And I have a long game on it. So I’m not in a hurry. But it’s been a great journey. It’s been a great experience. And the brand has legs to travel, not just around California in the US, but really around the world.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 43:02
I can imagine that. Were you selling on online pre COVID?
Dariusz Paczuski 43:06
Okay, so our strategy, like I said, was, we need to get people to taste the product, which is why we went with restaurants, bars, events, like that was the thing. But we did have a backup just in case people were, you know, tried it in California, but you couldn’t get it in Georgia, and which is our website. And so we do see, you know, not volume wise, it’s not a lot, but some consistent purchase behaviors through the website. And but, again, we didn’t see a increase there during COVID. Mostly, again, because people aren’t in discovery mode when they’re online, usually online as a fulfillment channel for someone who already knows what they want. Okay, that’s not true for everybody. But for most people, that is true. It’s also our
Drew Thomas Hendricks 43:57
newest vodka that I can buy online.
Dariusz Paczuski 43:59
Yeah, you know, I mean, like, that’s, it’s just not a it’s not a behavior. And it’s similar to the retail customer. Right, which is why we’ve been very selective about our retail. We’ve got into Willows, because, you know, it’s, it’s local, they, they people who go to Willows market, go there for convenience purchases, but also discover new spirits because he’s got hundreds of beers, for example. Sure, lots of wines, lots of spirits. So it’s a place where discovery can sell wine, ways for discovery, Raileys, Safeway, etc. It’s not a place for discovery. So those places just are harder. People who go there they’re refilling their Tito’s or their Smirnoff or their Jack Daniels and you know, few people, not everyone, but few people are like, what’s this? Even if you get on the shelf, it’s hard to sustain that can consistently so we’ve been focused on on different things then and online is a similar kind of experience where once they’ve tried your brand, it’s a fantastic place to go. But the one
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:09
thing I see that I very rarely see on spirit sites is that you do have a subscription model, which is brilliant, because you know, you’re gonna go through so many bottles of vodka a month.
Dariusz Paczuski 45:18
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:20
How have you seen this subscription uptake?
Dariusz Paczuski 45:24
We have not done subscriptions. On our site, this subscription is for the newsletter.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:31
Oh, it’s for the newsletter. Okay, I saw it. Yeah, I saw some.
Dariusz Paczuski 45:37
But, but that’s a great point. I mean, there are companies out there that, that do discovery of spirits on a subscription basis. And, you know, usually those come with heavy fees. So when you’re starting out as a new brand, it might not be the best place for you to start. It ends up being quite costly. And if you sort of look at like the amount of money you’re sending them versus, you know, paying your crew members, for example, it doesn’t make sense at least us but but subscription as a as an option for your own business. It’s not a battle when you start to fulfill it through somebody.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:17
Yeah. Obviously, that may be why I haven’t seen it too much in the in the spirits.
Dariusz Paczuski 46:22
I think it’s a cool idea. I think that subscriptions could be very, very interesting. For your own spirit. And I know companies are I’ve talked to some companies are looking into it, but I haven’t found anyone that’s doing it with a business model that works for us. Yeah,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:43
I saw it but I got confused. You know, as we’re kind of wrapping down here, I got to ask you, what’s your current favorite mix for which current favorite cocktail for Rocket Vodka?
Dariusz Paczuski 46:54
It’s seasonal. I, I was in Georgia last week, my cousin’s lake house and there was a lot of rocket cosmonauts being consumed. So just a Cosmo. You know, Rocket Vodka and cranberry juice is just super easy and refreshing and tasty. I like when it starts getting colder. Which you know, there’s a heatwave is kind of hard. I like the hot rocket, which is also very simple. It’s Rocket Vodka, hot apple juice or hot apple cider. Put a stick of cinnamon in there and you know, it will warm you up. And then you know the rocket mules always popular. I make those those are also very easy. I take Rocket Vodka fever tree ginger beer is my you know, go to not too sweet. Really, those those two. They break they bring out the best in each other. And so that’s really delicious. You know, squeeze a half line in there. Those are those are probably like the three that I drink the most. But I’ve also found not just with Rocket Vodka with any spirit. You know, I like to experiment like I’ll even go to a restaurant and I’ll look at their mocktails say, you know, I’d like some you know, Bramble Berry, something you know that they’ve got on their menu. That’s a mocktails got no alcohol and I’ll say but but add a shadow rock in it for for me, or, or some of my favorite bartenders. This guy Massimo is one of them. He’s from Italy. Whenever I go to wherever he’s working, I just asked for a rocket surprise. And he always comes up with something mind blowing, actually, when it comes to our cocktail, so it’s just, it’s just fun. You don’t have to take it too seriously.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 48:56
It’s making me thirsty. Where can people find out more about Rocket Vodka and you?
Dariusz Paczuski 49:02
rocketvodka.com of course is the go to place. You can find us Rocket Vodka on Instagram and Twitter are great places to discover more. And there’s also you know, on Instagram, there’s a text or call or email that literally goes straight to me. So if anyone has any questions about anything, I’m happy to answer it there. So that’s a good place to go as well.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 49:30
Awesome. Well, Dariusz thank you so much for joining us today.
Dariusz Paczuski 49:34
Thanks, Drew. I appreciate the conversation. That was fun.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 49:37
Yeah. Thank you. You have a great rest of your day.
Thank you. You too. Bye bye.
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