- To be sustainable, continually adjust your products or services to meet and align with the needs and demands of your customers.
- Networking and mentorship are vital to the success of budding businesses.
- Support other Black-owned businesses to create more opportunities for meaningful savings, property ownership, credit building and generational wealth.
- Jomaree Pinkard, co-founder and CEO of Hella Cocktail, offers advice to new business owners on how to successfully navigate through the pandemic.
Starting and operating a small business is difficult – and for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) business owners, it's even tougher. A recent study found that Black-owned businesses were financially at risk at a rate of over 111% higher than white-owned businesses prior to COVID-19. With the pandemic causing a national shutdown for many small businesses, minority-owned businesses are even more vulnerable, as many of them are in industries that were heavily impacted.
However, minority-owned small businesses are statistically more optimistic about the country's economic recovery after COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to research from McKinsey and Co. Jomaree Pinkard, co-founder and CEO of Hella Cocktail Co., has successfully navigated his business through this disruptive time.
When we spoke with Pinkard, he shared how he successfully started his small business and navigated the new challenges that arose during the pandemic. He also gave expert advice on how other emerging small businesses can do the same.
"I am a Black man. I am a son. I am a leader. I am a father. I am a brother. I am a teammate. I am a mentor. I am an entrepreneur. I am a co-founder and CEO. I am Jomaree Pinkard. One of my goals is to lay out an entrepreneur's blueprint that anyone can follow. It may not work perfectly for everyone, but I hope to give at least a point of reference, access and a starting point," Pinkard told Business News Daily.
Launching Hella Cocktail
Growing up in the inner city of New York, Pinkard knew it would take a special driving force of curiosity, autonomy and community to reach success, and his way of doing that was through entrepreneurship. In the early 2000s, Pinkard joined co-founders Tobin Ludwig and Eddie Simeon in the journey of building a successful business in the food and beverage industry. Their company, Hella Cocktail, serves bars, restaurants, hotels and airlines with its line of bitters, mixers, and carbonated aperitifs.
"Fundamentally, entrepreneurship is about the ability to recognize, analyze an opportunity and consistently capture that opportunity's value," Pinkard said. "I recognized that our business's success or failure would rest with us, and I viewed this responsibility not as a burden but instead as a marker of freedom."
However, just because Pinkard had a positive outlook and a tenacious drive doesn't mean his entrepreneurial journey was seamless. In 2012, the Hella Cocktail co-creators faced two major challenges: They lacked funding and access to networks, and they were relatively new to the food, beverage and hospitality industry.
As a solution, Pinkard and his business partners bootstrapped their startup with $2,500 from a credit card and some minimal bank account savings. They worked other full-time jobs in the beginning, and they reinvested every dollar of profit into increasing production. They finally made enough profit to start paying themselves and go full time in 2015.
Adapting to the current economic disruptions
Although Hella Cocktail Co. faced struggles in the early stages of business, the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a whole new wave of challenges. As many businesses in the food, beverage and hospitality industries closed during the pandemic, they lost much of the business they spent so long building up. Instead of shutting down Hella Cocktail, the co-founders used their knowledge, experience, and communities to their advantage to successfully make it through and even help out others along the way.
Here are some strategies they used to get through the pandemic:
They adapted to meet consumer needs.
Pinkard said he and his business partners have always been very communicative with their customers and aware of national buying behaviors (i.e., how, why and where they like to enjoy Hella products). They used this knowledge to pivot their business model during the pandemic.
"Because we've always been in contact with our consumers, we realized that during the pandemic, people would still want to imbibe, but where and how they chose to buy our products might change," Pinkard said. "We were able to meet our consumers at their new shopping destinations – online and their local retail grocery store."
They found new ways to fulfill their higher purpose.
The Hella Cocktail crew has always placed a high priority on giving back to their community in order to mirror their individual purposes through business. For example, they initiated culinary education programs for urban youth, sponsored Parkinson's disease events, donated products for auctions, participated in community services initiatives, and sponsored many culinary, health and wellness programs.
Pinkard said that, during the pandemic, and even more so during the Black Lives Matter movement's resurgence, the opportunity for Hella Cocktail to find its larger business purpose came full circle.
In addition to their social responsibility work, they decided to lean into supporting two new initiatives:
- Pay out-of-work bartenders for virtual bartending shifts (#BarChronicles)
- Create space for Black-owned/led businesses to amplify their business narrative (#OnTheMenuNow)
These new initiatives not only serve Hella Cocktail's higher purpose as a business but also help their communities.
9 steps to help your new business to succeed
Although starting a business is hard regardless of your background, BIPOC-owned businesses often face additional challenges. What's more, the pandemic has made it even harder, having a disproportionately negative effect on minority-owned businesses. However, it is possible to achieve success during these hard times, and Hella Cocktail's achievements are a testament to that.
Pinkard listed nine steps for BIPOC business owners to follow both during and after the pandemic to improve their chances of long-term business success:
- Be open to pivoting your business. Keep a pulse on how consumer behavior is changing so you can pivot your business to stay relevant. Your business can be sustainable only when your brand can authentically and continually adjust its offerings or services to meet and align with the needs and demands of your customers.
- Expand your network, and continually ask for advice. Mentorship is vital to the success of budding BIPOC-owned businesses, because it helps to combat overarching inequalities in the working world. Your networks become your personal and business champions throughout your journey.
- Entrepreneurship is a journey, not a moment. Realize that the pathway will have twists and turns and may result in a slightly or completely different version of your vision. If you are OK with that, lock in and enjoy the ride. If not, hop off and try something new. Either way, you must stay true to your personal principles and values and remain passionate about your work.
- Leverage funding websites and government resources. There are resources that can begin to open specific strategic doors of funding or business development opportunities, and many of these – such as The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and The Minority Supplier Development Council (MSDC) – are intended for BIPOC businesses. It's worth your time to understand where networks and opportunities exist even if you're not ready to engage in them just yet.
- Support other Black-owned businesses.Small businesses and entrepreneurs have been longtime wealth builders in society. By supporting more Black-owned businesses, you can create more opportunities for meaningful savings, property ownership, credit building and generational wealth.
- Don't forget that your experiences are valuable. Remember, having a successful business is about having a mindset – imagining new ways to solve problems and create value. Fundamentally, your unique experiences and valued viewpoints are what give you the ability to recognize, analyze and capture value that others may not be able to see.
- Stay grounded in the things that are most important. Prioritize family and friends. Eat well and take care of your health and well-being. Make room for the things you truly enjoy, and then work – in that order. If you're a parent, tell everyone you are a parent first, and do not seek forgiveness for prioritizing family or your children. Explain how being a parent informs your work.
- Let your relationships evolve with you. Reconnect with the people you are closest with, and think outside the box about how to move those relationships forward despite the odds. Be honest, and plan for the time when the pandemic is over; build a new world you'll be ready to thrive in when the time comes.
- Have gratitude and appreciation. Every once in a while, make sure you stop and applaud yourself for being consistent in your progress. Then, applaud and thank everyone who has given time, effort, partnership, support and guidance to enable you to pursue your entrepreneurial dream.