Startup Stories BuzzBallz
I MADE THIS: Telling the inspirational stories of entrepreneurs, their startups, and how they made it.
Starting your own company is a long and daunting process. Actualizing a great idea can be incredibly difficult and challenging, but doing it successfully can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life.
When I started Crafted it was an idea that lived in my head for almost a year. One day, I decided that if I just got it started in some way I would be farther ahead than most people ever get. So with just a few hundred dollars and the help of my amazing friends, we shot the first season of the show and released our first beer.
Crafted is still a very young, bootstrapped company, and every day is a challenge but it’s something I live for and love. This dream is starting to come true, but on some of my lowest days, I find that reading the stories of other successful founders can be that spark of inspiration I need to remind myself to keep going. I figured if these stories help inspire me, they will certainly help others, so I decided to tell some of those stories here through Crafted with the ‘Startup Stories I Made This’ series.
BUZZBALLZ - A BRIEF HISTORY
For our first startup story, I was inspired to tell the story of Merrilee Kick and her brand BuzzBallz; ready-to-drink cocktails that come in a wide variety of flavors in unique spherical containers that you’ve probably seen in stores like Walmart or Total Wine. BuzzBallz was started in 2009 and is now one of the most successful, ready-to-drink cocktail brands in the country. But like most big brands, it started from a hobby of sorts…
Merrilee loved to create unique and delicious cocktails at home during her downtime. She was working as a high school teacher in Texas teaching entrepreneurship and entertainment marketing. She came up with the idea for BuzzBallz one day while grading papers by her pool. She noticed that many of the pre-mixed cocktails on the market were lacking in taste and quality, and she decided to take her love for making cocktails and create a product that would change that.
To bring her vision to life, Merrilee began experimenting with different ingredients and flavors. She wanted to create a cocktail that would be both convenient and delicious. The initial product was a line of cocktail drinks in a sphere-shaped container, making it easy to take on the go. They are literally like holding a tennis ball in your hand, you pop open the top like a tennis ball can and drink up. The unique design of the container was one of the reasons for BuzzBallz’ early success. It was eye-catching, tasted great, and was easy to carry, which made it popular for outdoor events like tailgates, picnics, or a day at the beach. The brand’s fun and playful image also helped it stand out from competitors.
As BuzzBallz gained popularity, Merrilee continued to innovate and expand her product line. She introduced new flavors such as Choc Tease, which is a chocolate-flavored cocktail, and Lime ‘Rita, which is a lime margarita. In 2010 she started the company Southern Champion which is now home to many ready-to-drink and spirits brands including BuzzBallz. All thanks to her innovation and the creation of her OG brand BuzzBallz which is now a $100+ million business.
BUZZBALLZ - A Q&A WITH FOUNDER MERRILEE KICK
It’s so exciting to learn more about this success story and the key takeaway for any startup founder is this… I was fortunate to have Merrilee answer a few questions about her experience starting BuzzBallz. These are some inspirational words that are helpful and can be folded in to anyone’s approach to growth.
At the most difficult point in the startup process, where did you find the drive to keep going?
The most difficult part was money, and I had no choice but to keep going and work harder, longer, and sleep at work if I had to. My every thought (other than my family) went into making this successful. If I let it fail, I would lose all my money. That fear definitely was a driving factor.
Were you more into the creative process of making and marketing BuzzBallz or were you naturally better at the business side?
Both. I’m creative and a dreamer inherently but I also have a degree in Computer Science, Economics, and Finance, and an MBA, and just finished Harvard Business School’s OPM Program. You can’t be just one or the other. You have to be good at both.
On the creative side, you have to think about what your brand is going to BE.
What does it look like? Who would buy them – what do they look like? What does it look like in the store? Where does it sit (placement), and how will it be displayed (POS)? What are the risks a retailer might push back with (and answer those with your thoughtful POS displays)? What is the personality of the brand – is it funny, serious, classy, budget-conscious? How is it priced? How are you going to build the market? You have to have distribution first, so how do you get the distributors to bring in your brand, and how do you get the retailer to put it on the shelf? And then finally, how do you tell the customer about the brand so they can buy it? Why does someone buy it – what attributes about your brand are cool or memorable? What would make them remember your ad? How will you reach them?
On the business side, with alcohol sales, it is tricky and highly regulated. You have to have the compliance and business side of it down pat. It’s important to do your homework. It takes an understanding of finance, sales, and marketing, and excellent communication/negotiation skills to succeed on the business side. People have to like working with you. You have to network and get to know people, so they can know YOU.
How did you balance out the two?
You just do it instinctively. You’ll never be done with your to-do list, but you can prioritize, make decisions quickly, and move on so you can get as much done as possible. Delegating is great. It is hard to find good people that fit you and your work culture. I think getting good people who match our culture is a priority over whether the person has the exact skills we need. As long as they fit the culture and have a “roll up their sleeves/get it done” mentality, they will learn the rest on the job.
So many valuable points to be taken and applied to any start-up. Thank you Merrilee!
If you have your own ‘Startup Stories I Made This’ story to share or know someone in the food and beverage CPG space who does, please send an email to us at [email protected].
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