I first met the founders of 18.21 Bitters at a startup competition in Charlotte, N.C. I was instantly a fan of their product, their story, and their journey in the startup world. For this reason, when I came up with the idea for the #AllRiseFactory, I knew that they would be a perfect company that would both contribute to the success of other businesses and would be an ideal candidate for the support from EnrichHER themselves.
18.21 Bitters was a product of cabin fever during the infamous 2014 Snowpocalypse in Atlanta. Missy and Kristin Koefod spent that week in January hunkered down in their home, concocting bitters flavors. Pretty soon, the couple was experimenting with recipes for syrups and shrubs, too. They chose a name for their indie beverage line, 18.21 Bitters. And by November, they decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to see how craft cocktail aficionados reacted to their unusual bitters flavors, such as Japanese Chili & Lime and Earl Grey. The campaign earned $9,225, which was 23 percent more than their $7,500 goal. Things just, kind of, snowballed from there.
Both Missy, the CEO, and Kristin, the COO, are serial entrepreneurs, so setting up their experiment as a full-blown business instead of as a side hustle was a natural next step for them. After getting trademark approval for their label and finding a commercial kitchen, they flew out west, visiting bars and restaurants and selling their original mixers from a vintage suitcase. Their dedication paid off. Within six months, they had accounts in 15 states and three countries. 18.21 Bitters is now carried in 48 states and six countries and has a retail store in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, where customers may sample every product they make.
The co-founders plan to use their EnrichHER investment and Community Capital to scale production and distribution. They have a lot of pent-up interest from potential customers, but no way to deliver that much product. With additional capital, they will be able to meet both the current demand for their products, plus expand their production and distribution significantly. They estimate that they would increase revenue by 150% in the first year alone. Their pre-pandemic projections showed $1.1M in 2020 revenue, with a loss of $8K, and $16.8M in 2021 revenue, with a profit of $2.7M.
When Missy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2011, she and Kristin had just gotten married after she graduated from law school. The timing could not have been worse. After battling her way back to good health, she returned to work at her law firm, but her heart wasn’t in it. Although she was looking to make a career change, starting a beverage company had been the furthest thing from her mind before the snowstorm. Now she says, “I love creating something and then having a customer really enjoy it. It gives me an incredible feeling!” She views entrepreneurship “as a marathon.”
Kristin grew up in a family of amazing chefs and always enjoyed pairing flavors and entertaining. “I know Missy and I make a good product,” she says. “As soon as it gets into everyone’s hands, they know it, too. It’s exciting to think you could be anywhere in the world and see your product on a shelf.”
One look at the 18.21 Bitters website, and it’s obvious how much pent-up demand there is for their products. Everything from the Barrel-aged Havana & Hide Bitters to the Prohibition Aromatic Bitters to the Vodka Gift Set seems to be sold out, an enviable position for a fairly young, small business during a pandemic. Missy and Kristin say that their All Rise Factory investment will help them solve their inventory issues.
“Seeing other Black- and female-owned businesses is inspiring to me,” says Kristin. “I want to work with the movers and shakers, the trailblazers who are making a difference.”
As you can see, 18.21 Bitters is an amazing women-led business that all of us can rally behind. I’m grateful for them for being a part of the EnrichHER ecosystem and for their presence as business owners in this world. I believe that if we have more businesses like 18.21 Bitters, that each of us would feel like there are businesses out there that reflect who we are as people, consumers, and beliefs in inclusive economics.