How a night of partying birthed a startup that successfully raised funding amidst a lockdown

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It was a monsoon night in 2018 in Mumbai when a few friends were on a pub crawl in the hip suburbs of Bandra and Worli, enjoying the finest cocktails the city’s bars had to offer. 

Among the partying bunch was Ankur Bhatia, the then Mahindra Group’s head of marketing for electric vehicles. Eventually, the bars shut, and the party was shifted to one of the friends’ houses. Having indulged in flavourful cocktails throughout the night, just good old alcohol refused to impress the crowd. 

“Some of us dared to recreate the magic by mixing, muddling, shaking, and stirring whatever ingredients we could get our hands on using cocktail recipes available online,” recalls Ankur. 

Two things happened that night — the group’s respect for a bartender’s craft went up “tenfold”, and they “made a commitment to make world-class bar-quality cocktails more accessible and convenient”.  

A year later, in September 2019, Ankur launched Jimmy’s Cocktails in Delhi-NCR, just in time to cash in on the Diwali festivities. 

Last month, the Gurugram-based cocktail-mixer startup raised $350,000 in a seed funding round, led by Ekcle Ventures. Vidur Talwar, Managing Director at Mercedes-Benz T&T Motors; and Angad Bhatia, Operations Chief of Indiatimes Lifestyle Network (Times Internet) also participated in the round.

Speaking of raising funding during a time when the entire country and most of the world is in an unprecedented lockdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Ankur says,

“It’s not just fund raising; I may have not even have dreamt of getting into this business if the idea had struck me now, given that the simple things we have taken for granted are quite challenging. Thankfully, we had the product ready and were already in advanced stages of discussion with our investors.” 

The startup is now looking to raise more funds and has started initial discussions with major venture capital groups.

Ankur (40), along with his co-founders Mirza Baig (43) and Nitin Bharadwaj (44) initially invested around Rs 1 crore from their personal funds to set up the business. Mirza and Nitin officially joined the startup in May this year.

Mirza — earlier a co-founder at a Bengaluru-based entertainment, content, and events company — and Ankur had known each other for a while. 

“Expertise such as his would be critical once the COVID-19 situation normalises and the events space comes back into action. Mirza comes from a hospitality background and has vast experience in activating beverages and other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands,” says Ankur, whose career has revolved around product marketing at prominent telecom, spirits, and automobile companies. 

Jimmy’s Cocktails is not Ankur’s first entrepreneurial stint. In 2007, along with his brother Angad, Ankur had co-founded MensXP.com, a content and commerce portal, which was acquired by Times Internet (the digital arm of the Times Group) in 2012.

The third co-founder of Jimmy’s Cocktails Nitin was part of the India leadership team at Red Bull, heading sales for the north zone. He met Ankur fairly recently when the latter reached out to him through his network to understand more about the non-alcoholic beverage category. 

The two instantly clicked and Nitin decided to come on board. Interestingly, Nitin is a teetotaller, and enjoys Jimmy’s Cocktails’ offerings as mocktails.

In his two decades in FMCG sales, he has worked for marquee brands such as Cadbury, Gillette, and Marico.

The three co-founders put together have close to 60 years of experience in FMCG marketing and sales.

Ankur knows the alcohol business well, having spent close to a decade in the spirits industry, marketing brands like Teacher’s Scotch Whisky, and building the bourbon category in India with Jim Beam. 

Talking about the problem statement of the startup, he says, “While it sounds simplistic, a thumb-rule in spirits marketing is, if you can get a brand to trend in bars, it eventually finds a place in people’s homes. Cocktails have always been trending in bars, but the category never shifted to homes, given the multitude of ingredients and expertise required to make them. As bars in India were moving towards more fanciful cocktails, we saw a space in the good old classics.”

In case you were wondering who Jimmy in Jimmy’s Cocktails refers to, here’s the answer. “I dabbled with thousands of brand names including this, and somehow, Jimmy’s was the only one that stayed with me more than any other. But mostly because Jack, Jim and Johnnie were already taken,” says Ankur.

Shaking it up 

When asked about competition, the co-founder says the startup currently doesn’t consider anyone direct competition, but is candid enough to admit that Jimmy’s Cocktails is certainly not the first in the premium spirits mixer space. 

He adds, “The category is still new to India and all of us are finding our own space.”

Another Gurugram-based cocktail-mixer startup &Stirred operates in a similar space, offering mixers such as Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Bloody Mary, Margarita, Pina Colada, Red Sangria, and Kamikaze Shots. Priced at Rs 50 per pouch, it is available on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Bigbasket.

“Even though a few other options exist, we are the first premium cocktail mixer brand in India. While we stick to the original recipe, we make flavour twists to better suit the urban Indian palette. Like our Mango Chilli Mojito is a twist on the classic carbonated Mojito,” explains Ankur. 

He also points out that the startup’s mixes are not concentrates, but ready-to-drink beverages that can be consumed directly as mocktails.

Jimmy’s Cocktails claims to use the best of ingredients from both India and overseas for its beverages. Ankur says, “For example, the cranberry juice we mix in Cosmopolitan is imported from Denmark, but the Alphonso for our Mango Chilli Mojito comes from India.”

Currently, Jimmy’s Cocktails has four variants — Whiskey Sour, Cosmopolitan, Mango Chilli Mojito, and Sex on the Beach. Each variant comes in a 250ml glass bottle priced at Rs 99. 

The products are available across 200 retail outlets in Delhi-NCR, including 24/7, Modern Bazaar, and Le Marche. In about a month, the startup hopes to retail across the country and roll out its products on platforms such as Amazon and Bigbasket. At present, it is only available for home delivery in Delhi-NCR through its own website.

A ‘healthy’ business

On what sets Jimmy’s apart from others, Ankur says,

“We are ahead both in terms of product quality and our team. I am a strong believer that many can build good products, but it takes a strong team to take it forward in the long-term. Over the years, I have seen many good products fail due to bad strategic direction, or inexperience of the founding team within the sector.”  

Before the country went into lockdown in March, the startup had only three people. Now, it has 15 with “more people joining every week”.

Ankur is reticent about sharing sales numbers, saying it’s still very early days for the startup. He describes its top line and bottom line figures as “healthy” without divulging further details.

The opportunity in India is undoubtedly massive. The spirits market in India is estimated to touch $41 billion by 2022, according to Euromonitor International. Additionally, Goldstein Research estimates India’s packaged non-alcoholic beverages market to grow to $20.4 billion by 2024.

“If the entire premium spirits category is a glass with 60ml alcohol in it, we play in the rest of the glass,” says Ankur. 

Source: Yourstory

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