Founding 21Seeds Tequila

Kat Hantas
Founder of 21Seeds
1hr 33min
April 18, 2024
About the Show

"Immediately, it had a good product-market fit. From the day we launched to the day we sold, it was three years from start to finish. That's incredible. It was such a run and the biggest exit ever by a female-founded spirits company in the history of spirits."

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Kat Hantas is the co-founder of 21 Seeds, an infused tequila brand that was acquired by Diageo in 2021 for $160 Million after just three years in business, being the largest exit ever by a female-founded spirits brand. Previously, Kat had a 15-year career in the film industry, working at Creative Artists Agency and as an independent producer developing horror and music-driven films.

In this interview, Kat shares her entrepreneurial journey, from starting her first business right out of college to pivoting to a film career focused on specific niches to launching 21 Seeds to solve her own pain points around finding an easy-to-drink, low-calorie alternative to wine and cocktails. 21 Seeds differentiated itself by targeting a specific customer - women and moms - with an elevated, all-natural infused tequila. The brand took off quickly, landing national distribution in under two years.

Kat shares candid insights useful for entrepreneurs and business leaders, including the importance of focusing relentlessly on a specific customer, hiring people with complementary skills, building a culture of respect and results, and understanding the operational drivers in your business. This is a must-listen interview for anyone interested in consumer products, branding, entrepreneurship, and learning from a founder who defied the odds to build a category-creating brand and successful exit in record time.

Episode Resources: 

21Seeds (company co-founded by Kat Hantas): www.21Seeds.com
21Seeds Instagram: www.instagram.com/21seeds
Kat’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathantas/
Kat’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kat-hantas-ba0621163/

Key Moments

From Kitchen Infusions to a $160 Million Exit In 3 years: 5 Lessons From 21Seeds Founder Kat Hantas

In the world of entrepreneurship, success stories serve as powerful sources of inspiration and guidance. Kat Hantas, the visionary founder of 21Seeds Tequila, recently shared her remarkable journey on the Forward Obsessed podcast, offering valuable insights into the key decisions and strategies that propelled her brand to a $160 million acquisition by beverage giant Diageo in just three years. As the largest exit ever achieved by a female-founded spirits company, Hantas' accomplishment is a testament to her entrepreneurial acumen and unwavering commitment to her vision.

1. Surround yourself with entrepreneurs and be in a constant state of learning

One of the most influential factors in Hantas' success was her deliberate effort to immerse herself in a community of entrepreneurs and high achievers. "Throughout my whole life, I've totally believed that you are a reflection of who you surround yourself with," she explained. "I've always been around entrepreneurs." By actively seeking out and engaging with individuals who had achieved the success she aspired to, Hantas created an environment that fostered growth, inspiration, and continuous learning.

This exposure not only provided valuable insights into the mechanics of building a business but also fueled her desire to dive back into the entrepreneurial world. "I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, and I was in these conversations all the time," she recalled. "There was a part of me that had serious FOMO. I wanted to get back in the game. I was able to deal with that by just having the conversation. For me, every conversation was like being a sponge. I wanted to learn the mechanics of that business."

Hantas' approach to networking and learning aligns with the findings of a study by Harvard Business School, which found that entrepreneurs with larger and more diverse networks tend to be more innovative and successful (Nanda & Sørensen, 2010). By continuously expanding your knowledge and surrounding yourself with those who have achieved what you aspire to, you can accelerate your own growth and increase your chances of entrepreneurial success.

Putting it into practice:

To surround yourself with entrepreneurs and foster continuous learning, consider joining local entrepreneurial networks, attending industry events, or participating in online communities. Platforms like LinkedIn, Meetup, and Eventbrite can help you discover relevant groups and events in your area. Additionally, seek out mentorship opportunities with experienced entrepreneurs who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your own entrepreneurial journey. Don't be afraid to reach out to individuals you admire and request informational interviews or coffee meetings to learn from their experiences.

2. Translate your "aha moment" into an actionable plan

For Hantas, the lightbulb moment came when she recognized a disconnect between how tequila brands were marketing their products and how consumers, particularly women, actually wanted to enjoy the spirit. This realization sparked the idea for 21Seeds, an infused tequila brand designed specifically with the female palate in mind. "Nobody was speaking to that," Hantas explained. "I noticed it was girls ordering it more than guys. For the same reasons my girlfriends were switching, they would come to me. Women love tequila."

Translating an "aha moment" into a viable business plan requires a deep understanding of your target market and their unmet needs. By identifying a clear problem and envisioning a solution that resonates with your intended audience, you can lay the foundation for a successful venture. Hantas' ability to recognize and capitalize on this opportunity was a critical factor in 21Seeds' rapid rise to prominence.

Putting it into practice:

To translate your own "aha moments" into actionable plans, start by keeping a journal or digital document where you can record your observations, insights, and ideas. When you identify a potential opportunity, conduct market research to validate your assumptions and gauge the viability of your concept. Tools like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, and social media polls can help you gather feedback from your target audience. Once you have a clear understanding of the problem and your proposed solution, create a lean business plan that outlines your key objectives, strategies, and milestones. Remember to stay flexible and adaptable as you test and refine your idea in the real world.

3. Build the right team with separate swim lanes and expertise

Hantas attributes 21Seeds' rapid growth to the strength and diversity of her team. "Separate swim lanes are so important," she emphasized. "That's why we were able to run so quickly. Find experts in that space and have that be something you don't love to do."

By bringing together individuals with complementary skill sets and clearly defined roles, the company was able to operate efficiently and effectively. This approach allowed Hantas to focus on her strengths while trusting her team members to excel in their respective areas of expertise.

"I think about culture more than anything else because if you're pulling your weight, people respect you," she shared. "If you looked across the board at the team we compiled, I don't know that any of these people would go to dinner together outside of work, but they were all really, really good at what they did. Everyone had respect for each other."

Building a strong team culture based on mutual respect and trust is essential for long-term success. A study by Google found that the most important factor in determining team effectiveness was psychological safety, or the ability for team members to take risks and be vulnerable with one another. By fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and supported, you can create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Putting it into practice:

To build a strong team with separate swim lanes and expertise, start by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities needed to bring your vision to life. Create detailed job descriptions that outline the skills, experience, and qualities you're looking for in each position. When interviewing candidates, prioritize not only technical expertise but also cultural fit and alignment with your company's values. Once you've assembled your team, establish clear communication channels, set measurable goals, and provide ongoing feedback and support to help each member thrive in their respective roles. Foster a culture of psychological safety by encouraging open dialogue, celebrating wins, and learning from failures as a team.

4. Focus on a niche and a specific target customer to enable fast growth

One of the key factors in the rapid rise of 21Seeds was Hantas' laser focus on a specific niche and target customer. "I went into the tequila aisle and saw this sea of sameness," she recalled. "All these bottles were being marketed like scotches and whiskeys. We didn't invent flavored tequila; we perfected it."

By zeroing in on the unique needs and preferences of female tequila drinkers, particularly moms, the brand was able to create a product that resonated deeply with its audience. "I know a bunch of moms. That's who I hear it from the most," Hantas explained. "The person coming into the category is the mom, and I'm a mom. I know this person, her pain points, and I want to solve them. I know where she discovers brands, and I'm just going to focus on moms. That's the focus."

This targeted approach enabled 21Seeds to gain traction quickly and stand out in a crowded market. "Immediately, it had a good product-market fit," Hantas shared. "From the day we launched to the day we sold, it was three years from start to finish. That's incredible. It was such a run and the biggest exit ever by a female-founded spirits company in the history of spirits."

By deeply understanding and catering to the needs of a specific customer segment, the brand was able to foster a loyal following and achieve impressive growth.

Putting it into practice:

To focus on a niche and a specific target customer, start by conducting thorough market research to identify underserved segments and unmet needs within your industry. Use tools like Google Trends, social media listening, and customer surveys to gather insights into the preferences, behaviors, and pain points of your potential target audience. Create detailed buyer personas that capture the demographics, psychographics, and key characteristics of your ideal customer. Use these personas to guide your product development, marketing strategies, and customer experience initiatives. By tailoring your offerings and messaging to the specific needs and desires of your target customer, you can foster deeper connections, loyalty, and ultimately, faster growth.

5. Timing matters in business

Hantas' entrepreneurial journey is a testament to the importance of timing in the world of business. Before launching 21Seeds, Hantas experienced firsthand the challenges of being too early to market with her startup, Rentals Online.

This experience taught Hantas the value of not only recognizing market trends but also being prepared to seize opportunities when they arise. By staying attuned to the evolving needs and preferences of consumers, entrepreneurs can position themselves to launch the right product at the right time. "Timing is such a big part of business," Hantas emphasized, underscoring the critical role that market readiness plays in the success of any venture.

Putting it into practice:

To recognize and capitalize on timing in business, stay informed about the latest trends, technologies, and consumer behaviors in your industry. Subscribe to trade publications, attend industry conferences, and follow thought leaders on social media to stay ahead of the curve. Regularly conduct market research and gather feedback from your target audience to identify emerging opportunities and potential disruptions. When evaluating new ideas or product launches, consider factors such as market saturation, consumer readiness, and regulatory environments. Be prepared to pivot or adapt your strategies as needed to align with changing market conditions. Finally, trust your instincts and be willing to take calculated risks when the timing feels right.

Kat Hantas' remarkable journey with 21Seeds serves as a powerful case study in entrepreneurial success. By surrounding herself with successful individuals, translating insights into action, building a strong team, focusing on a niche, and recognizing the importance of timing, Hantas was able to create a brand that not only resonated with consumers but also attracted the attention of a major industry player.

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