Vodka, my kind of new venture!
I drank vodka last night. I love vodka. So do a lot of people. But there are so many vodka brands on the shelf these days it’s hard to know which ones are really good or are just pretty bottles. This is why Noah Cohen and his team saw an opportunity to bring a new, high-quality vodka to market, Clique.
Noah is the founder of Premier Innovations Group, which makes and distributes Clique Vodka and Don Pantaleón Tequila. Voda Magazine calls Premier, “An aggressive, young, forward-thinking spirits importing company.” It is exactly that. The team is all in the 20s and early 30s and they are disrupting the liquor industry by marketing Clique first through large scale high-end events and aggressive grassroots tactics that cater to the target demographic of 21 to 35 year olds. “This builds demand,” Noah explains, “Once you create demand you can expand and end up on store shelves everywhere.”
About Clique. Noah has created Clique to be “a socially interactive brands.” Premier uses social media like QR codes and text messaging to communicate the value of Clique and to build loyal followers. To Noah and his team, a brand has a persona. With Premier, Noah believes that he is building a brand assembly line: “Most people develop or buy one brand. I am organically growing brands using a strategic and cost-efficient infrastructure.”
Clique is priced at the mid-range, around $15.99, which is, “where the most opportunity for growth lies.” Clique has much higher margins (50-60%) than industry averages (~20%).
To create Clique, Noah had to travel the world. He visited vodka facilities around Europe and Eastern Europe, including those manufacturing glass, labels, caps, and of course the spirits. Striving for the best quality, Noah ended up with caps from Poland, bottles from Russia, and labels from Latvia. The vodka is made and bottled in Latvia and sent to the US on a 40-foot ocean container.
Premier also launched a low-priced tequila primarily for margarita mixes in Mexican restaurants. Noah recounted elaborate stories of touring by himself to some 22 private tequila factories in his mid 20’s: “It was a humbling experience that I will never forget.”
Background. Noah knows about vodka through a past position with a small liquor distributor. During that time Noah saw Absolut get acquired by Pernod Ricard for €5.6 (almost $9B). Noah studied Grey Goose: “That guy spent all of his life’s savings. It was basically cheap vodka in a fancy etched bottle.” Grey Goose was acquired by Bacardi in 2004 for more than $2B. Noah’s research showed that small brands get acquired for about $50-100M. The strategy of developing what Noah calls a “nuisance brand” is that you can sell it to a larger company for 10 times revenue.
The goal of Premier to have a portfolio of brands. Noah is counting on Clique Vodka and Don Pantaleon Tequila to fund future forays into other liquors. Whereas it normally takes $1-3M to start a new liquor brand, Noah is proud that he has been able to get Clique off the ground on $250K.
Noah Cohen. Noah was born to be an entrepreneur. In his words, “I was not given any God-given gifts but I can build great relationships and I meet everybody.” Noah is passionate about interacting with people, learning from them, making them happy.
Noah did not have a lot of encouragement from his family to travel the entrepreneurial path. He discovered that path on his own. At age 17, he became a Cutco salesman and saw the company grow from $70M in annual revenues to $300M by the time that he left as a franchise owner. He chuckles as he recalls, “They turned me down when I was 16 because I was too young!” In college, Noah bought a condo which he sold for a profit. He also started an advertising company. By the time he was 21, Noah was making six figures. Noah has an interest in social enterprise, and formed a non-profit boxing gym to help inner city kids – Gym of Future Champs.
Post-college, Noah bought a self-storage facility and several commercial buildings. He grew this business, doubling it each year for the first few years. Noah still uses the annual proceeds from this business to help fund Clique.
Premier was founded in early 2007. It took three years to develop his team and more time to decide on the vodka, development strategy and distribution model. Clique launched in the summer of 2010.
Since then, Noah has been a maverick in start-up development , growing an ownership portfolio of more than 12 companies that he has advised or started. He is involved with mineral rights buying for Marcellus Shale, media, music, services, concrete treatment, and technology start-ups.
Clique Vodka today. In only its second year of operation, Clique is selling well in over 700 stores in four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee. The last quarter 2011 revenues were greater than the first three quarters combined. With distribution agreements in over 20 states and four countries, Noah and his team are optimistic about the future.
Parting advice. Noah has10 guiding principles for those who dare to try entrepreneurship:
- Business is not for the emotionally weak. It constantly dumps on you and you have to be able to brush it off and stay the course.
- Bad things happen, problems arise, mistakes are made. Without them, there is no way to learn and you would not be able to recognize good.
- Set your focus on what you are truly passionate about and never, never quit.
- Money will come from doing what you love, so focus on passion first not money.
- There are no excuses when you are doing what you love because it’s not a job but a llife.
- The grass is not greener on the other side; you have to start growing it over again. Stay where you are and grow the grass.
- Business is simple.
- Be a student every day and realize no matter how great you are you still have a lot to learn.
- Set your ego aside it plays no role in success.
- You are closer to success then you think. Just press on and make it happen.
Try Clique! It’s good vodka…