By Eric Nadler, Golden Seeds Managing Director and Deal Lead for this investmentAugust 24, 2021
Nicola Nice has long been a trailblazer in her career. She began her career in research, earning a Ph.D. in sociology and spending 20 years working in consumer insights and brand strategy. The last 13 of those years were spent in New York, where Nicola ran an agency and specialized in the fashion, beauty, personal care and spirits spaces. When Nicola saw a gap in the spirits industry related to the lack of female consumer representation, she seized the opportunity and Pomp & Whimsy Gin Liqueur was born.
Nicola recently sat down with Eric Nadler, Golden Seeds Managing Director and Deal Lead for this investment to discuss the inspiration behind Pomp & Whimsy and what makes the brand so special. They discussed exciting milestones on the horizon and advice on getting started in the alcohol industry as an entrepreneur.
EN: What was the seed of an idea that grew into what your company is today?
NN: The seed of the idea came around the end of 2014. Through my consumer insights work I felt that the female consumer was being ignored or misrepresented by the spirits brand and marketing landscape.
As a woman, I found that frustrating. From an entrepreneurial perspective, I felt not taking the female audience seriously was a missed opportunity. Ultimately as a consultant, you then start to think, there’s a reason why this is not being done well and it has to do with the fact that there are not enough women behind the wheel in the creation, marketing, and selling of spirits. I felt that it was time for spirits that are made by women, for women, and I decided I would step up to that plate.
In 2015, I had a crossroads moment where I decided if I was going to create this brand, it was now or never. I spent the next two years developing the concept and the formulation, getting all of the regulatory approvals, and we launched at the beginning of January 2017.
EN: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
NN: Large spirits companies, like any large global multinational corporation, don’t have the capacity to successfully nurture a new small brand from the ground-up. We fit into this new-world model that’s also happening across beauty and fashion where entrepreneurs are the ones doing innovation, taking the risks, and bringing brands to market.
There are three elements to our approach that I believe really make Pomp & Whimsy stand out in the industry, all of which come as a direct result of our consumer-first approach. The first is that traditionally in our industry, brands are built to fit channels that define the type of brand that is going to come to market, its price point, consumer, and so on. Instead, we said we’re going to focus on the end consumer from the very beginning.
Secondly, most brands in this space are marketed to a male consumer first, on the outdated understanding that women are not as engaged in the space. We’re challenging that assumption by putting the female perspective first and building on it as an innovation platform. This is not about being exclusive to women or excluding the male audience from the equation. It is about looking through the lens of a primarily female experience and taking an approach to innovation that is not the usual way around.
Thirdly, we are marrying the Pomp & Whimsy story to the origins of Gin itself. Not many people know that Gin once had the nickname Mother Gin, so it’s about retelling that backstory of women and Gin, and wrapping the modern-day consumer into that overall narrative.
EN: What is something you wish you had known when you first started your company?
NN: There are two main areas of the business where I’ve had to go through an intense learning curve in the early years. I came into this with a lot of experience in branding and marketing, and my team collectively in the design, consumer insights, and product side of things. However, where we collectively had little experience in the beginning was in sales in the highly regulated three-tier alcohol distribution system. A lot of sales industries operate around their networks and relationships that take years to build, so not having that was a major barrier for us at first.
The second thing, which is where Golden Seeds came in, was the sheer amount of capital that we would need. I wish that I had a more accurate figure in my mind of how much I was going to need, especially in the early years, to get the business to a point where we could be on the radar as a potential acquisition. If I’d had a real conversation around that early on, I may have done things differently.
EN: Tell us how you were able to quickly adjust your business to not just survive, but grow, during the unprecedented turmoil created by the pandemic.
NN: Our business is dependent on the hospitality industry, and as a result of the pandemic, we found ourselves in a de facto prohibition. We had to pivot rapidly to open new channels to get our product to market. For example, we launched an e-commerce business from scratch, and had to rapidly expand our distribution footprint in retail. These things are hard to do and don’t usually happen overnight, especially in the middle of a pandemic. I think what we learned from last year was how to be both creative and highly strategic on the fly. We also had to focus on working with what was inside our control, rather than look to external factors to change in our favor.
EN: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
NN: I’m excited to say that in spring next year we will be launching a dry-style Gin. Our current Pomp & Whimsy product is a very unique liqueur-style Gin, which has been infused and sweetened. However, there has been so much interest in and demand for the basic Gin base, that we’ll be bringing that out as a limited release in March 2022. Our communications will tell the story around the restoration of Mother Gin, and the importance of writing women back into history. I’m excited to tell that story in a new and refreshing way.
EN: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
NN: I started our seed round at the end of 2019 after a previous friends and family round had more or less exhausted my immediate investor network. I started to look at different angel investment groups that would invest in businesses that were female-founded, diversity-focused and looking to change gender dynamics within outdated industries. Of course, Golden Seeds was top of the list.
When I first approached Golden Seeds, I was intimidated. I had been told that Golden Seeds is the original and the best and that other angel groups look to Golden Seeds for best practices. I was of the view that I would have a slim to zero chance of getting past even that initial screening.
An investor friend gave me great advice, which was to use their Office Hours program as an opportunity to find out more about Golden Seeds and get a one-on-one interview with one of the investors to see if my business would be a fit. It was a pivotal moment because not only was it a great opportunity to learn about the investment philosophy of Golden Seeds, but an opportunity to interact with an investor and hear exactly what they’re looking for.
Every step along the way has been fantastic because you start to build relationships within Golden Seeds and the investment group. You know that everyone, whether they’re directly involved in the investment or not, is committed to helping the business. They’ve been very helpful and their due diligence process is very thorough. Because Golden Seeds is such a respected name in angel investing, it’s opened doors to start conversations with other groups. That initial feeling of intimidation eventually evolved into a very close-knit synergy.
EN: Where can people purchase Pomp & Whimsy’s products?
NN: Pomp & Whimsy products can be found both online and in stores. Customers can order directly from our website, through partnered delivery services like Minibar, Drizly, and Wine.com, or find Pomp & Whimsy in retail stores near them. All of our retailers can be found here on our website.
For more wisdom like this from other incredible female leaders, read more on Golden Seeds’ blog.