Kat Hantas – Co-founder of 21 Seeds Tequil‪a‬

Episode 106

Kat Hantas is the creator of 21 Seeds Tequila, which I consider the most badass tequila business in the industry. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Kat loved her evening wine drinking ritual, but after some time, she started to feel crappy. Her doctor recommended that she move away from fermented spirits and into distilled spirits. In the process of exploring tequila options, Kat came up with the idea to start 21 Seeds Tequila - a fresh natural tequila made with real fruit. With her sister and her good friend, Kat turned her idea into a reality. On this show, Kat tells her story about the creation of 21 Seeds Tequila. She also talks about brand awareness, being a woman in the spirits industry, how her business has dealt with the pandemic, the importance of knowing exactly who your customer is and much more.

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Kara Goldin: Hi everyone. It’s Kara from The Kara Goldin Show and I’m super, super excited to have my next guest here. We have Kat Hantas. For those of you who do not know her, she is the CEO and founder of 21 Seeds Tequila. She is a bay area, female founder and has just created the most bad-ass tequila company. That is all natural, real fruit infused tequila disrupting the industry. I absolutely love her and her story and if you guys are not familiar with 21 Seeds Tequila you definitely need to check it out. But I am so excited to have her here to really talk about going from a totally different industry as I did, into really creating what 21 Seeds is today. Anyway, welcome, welcome, welcome Kat. So first of all, let’s talk a bit about where you came from and why you did this and like you were not in the tequila or spirits industry prior, please share with us exactly why you decided to do this.
Kat Hantas: Thank you so much. And you have literally paved the way for many other female founders like myself I think and inspired us, regardless of where we came from, when we come across an idea that makes a whole lot of sense just to act on it. So thank you for being an inspiration to all women out there.
Kara Goldin: Thank you.
Kat Hantas: Absolutely. And congrats on the new book and I hear it’s New York Times bestseller already. So woo hoo.
Kara Goldin: Wall Street Journal, not The New York Times.
Kat Hantas: Wall Street Journal. Okay, we’ll take it. We’ll take it.
Kara Goldin: Exactly.
Kat Hantas: Conquering all of the journals and everything.
Kara Goldin: Conquer all of them right.
Kat Hantas: Conquer all the list. But yeah, to your point, I don’t have a spirits background. I didn’t come from spirits. My prior career was actually in the film industry. So always telling stories which is such a important part of any brand but I’d taken time off to be with my kids when I had my two kids and really wasn’t looking to get into the spirits world. It was born out of necessity for myself that then I realized was sort of this trend that was happening that I could capitalize on. So I was a wine drinker, I drank wine and I very gladly happily drank wine. I loved it. I loved everything about it including holding the wine glass, that ritual holding a wine glass.
And I would finish off my nights every night with a couple of glasses of wine. I was a rosé and sauvignon blanc drinker. And about now 10 years ago I just started feeling crappy. So I went to my doctor and said, “What’s going on here?” And he did some tests and then was like, “Let’s see what you’re eating and drinking,” and told him I was drinking wine every night. And he said, “Oh, there’s the culprit. Let’s move away. We’re going to get you off of fermented spirits, which are wine, beer, champagne. And I want you to move over to a distilled spirit. If you want to drink cleaner, let’s move you to distilled.” And I thought, “Okay,” I kind of sort of hoped he was wrong. Then he recommended that I switch to a blanco tequila and I wasn’t really like a tequila drinker at the time.
I would have tequila on occasion, maybe in a margarita once in a while, but I wasn’t drinking tequila every night, a couple of glasses a night. So I thought, “My God, what am I going to do to this blanco tequila to make it not remind me of college, not smell like those horrible memories from college days and not have it be so harsh and just kind of change it.” And so once I stopped drinking the wine, within three days I felt totally better. All my symptoms had gone away. So now I knew, I was like, “Okay, I really got to tackle this blanco and do something to it to make it more approachable.” And I love to cook so I started infusing it. And by infusing it, it completely changed it. It made it smell delicious and the things I was infusing it with and it got rid of that harshness of tequila. I was buying a good blanco, it didn’t matter.
It got rid of that harshness. It made it so smooth. And most importantly, it was not sweet. Infusing it made it not sweet, just a hint of flavor. It imparted just a hint of flavor. And I found that most flavored spirits, because at first I tried a flavored vodka, for example, I thought, “Okay, I’ll move over to a flavored vodka,” but I tasted them all and I just found them to be overly sweet, had this weird aftertaste like you were sucking on a nickel and they kind of all smell like jolly ranchers. And so I wasn’t finding exactly what I was looking for. Again, I wanted something amazing, not just booze. I needed it to be exceptional because I wanted to look forward to it every night as a treat. And so as a reward for raising my kids and everything else that was going on. And so infusing it did it.
And even though I had solved this for myself, again, I wasn’t looking to make it a business at that point. But over the course of the eight years, what I noticed was a lot of my girlfriends were switching from champagne and wine in particular over to tequila and blanco tequila. Really for the same reasons, lower carb, less sugar, just the wellness aspects. And they didn’t want it to taste like tequila. They were either asking me for my infused tequila that I was making that they had tried at my house or they were ordering a blanco tequila and having the bartender squeeze a bunch of fresh lime juice into it again to make it not taste like tequila. And so I noticed this trend of people, especially my girlfriends and like guys I knew who were into wellness, who were moving away from beer for lower carb and less calorie switching over to tequila. And they didn’t want it to taste like tequila though.
So I thought, “Huh, there’s this whole trend happening? Maybe there’s a business here.” And it was really armed with that, that I decided to talk to my two co-founders now, my sister and my girlfriend Sarika and pitch the idea to them. And this was two years ago and I said, “Hey, listen, I’m thinking of turning my infused tequila which they had been drinking for the past eight years into a business. What do you think?” And they were both down and in and at that point we sort of took a field trip down to the tequila aisle again two years ago to see what was in the aisle, like what existed.
Kara Goldin: And I think so often when you take a consumer approach, like to actually figuring out where’s the hole. Oftentimes I view actually getting these ideas is kind of this gift and it’s sort of like a sliding doors model. You can either pay attention to the idea like , this just came in front of you. You had this problem that you weren’t feeling great after drinking wine. And so you’re trying to figure out like, well, what else is there that I could have that I’m not going to feel like crap. And ultimately that’s how you discovered it and then took it step-by-step and tried which is a lot of what my book is about. It’s like you didn’t come from this industry, you just knew that you wanted this product.
And I know that there’s so many products out there. And so many people listening to this who think I don’t have industry experience. I have no idea how to make this product. But over and over again, I hear these stories in every single category that are so inspiring like yours, where you just decided to just go try. And you could always go back to being in the entertainment and film industry. You could always go and do something else. But why not just go try it and see what would happen. If nothing else it would be a great story like, Oh, I started this tequila company and I had this idea to solve a problem and whatever, the world wasn’t ready for it. Or it was whatever it was. I just love the idea that you went out and tried and now you’ve got a successful company which is really making strides, not only in the alcohol industry, but I love the way that you also think about just really bringing it to market. Can you share with people how you thought about that too?
Kat Hantas: Yeah, absolutely. So again, I think it was one of our advantages that we didn’t come from spirits. We had this outsider’s perspective in and could think about it without that burden really. Because I think when you’re in an industry for a really long time and there’s a way that it’s done, when you suggest otherwise, they kind of look at you funny. And with us, we had no track record, we had no history. So we could just come at it with our approach which was very, very different. So in spirits in general, when you bring a product to market, you basically the brand awareness, the awareness of that spirit, call it a vodka, scotch or tequila, whatever it is, you generate that awareness in the on-premise which is like the restaurants and the bars.
And the idea is that like you’d go into a bar, you might have a conversation with a bartender who turns you on to this like rare scotch or something or that makes this incredible cocktail that’s so delicious that you love it so much that you want to go home and replicate it at home. And so the awareness is in the on-premise and then you sell it. Really the volume of sales come in the off premise, which is retail. Because you think one customer buys one whole bottle versus one customer buying one cocktail in a bar, you got to sell 12 of those to equal out that one bottle. So the volume comes in the off premise. And if you think about spirits in general, traditionally, most spirits are actually marketed to men and especially most tequilas.
If you think about, and this was what we found when we went in that tequila aisle when we did that field trip two years ago and we really saw what was on the shelf, everything on the shelf was a blanco, reposado and anejo, those are the three types of tequilas. One is a blanco and the other two are just aged versions of the blanco. And they were all being marketed like scotches and whiskeys and really towards male drinkers. They would be marketed to men and there was nothing in the aisle that was being marketed to women. So already we knew that there was nothing that was light and bright and you drink it like a spritz. Easy, you’d have a couple of these, everything was like sipping and very like a scotch or whiskey.
And I thought, this is not even, you know, there’s, there’s nothing like us in the aisle. So certainly any way that a product like that traditional tequila had been brought to market might not be the way that we should be bringing our product to market. So when we looked at that, we thought, we’re marketing this really to women and women don’t discover brands in a bar. Women aren’t saddling up to a bartender and having a 20 minute conversation about the history of agave. Women are like, “Hey, can you make that less sweet?”
Or I can grab it and go over to my date night or my girl’s night out or celebrating my work drinks or whatever it is. We’re more communal, we were more social in that way. That’s just not how women behave and we didn’t need a focus group to tell us that, we’re the women, we know how we behave. So we had that going for us, the fact that we’re three female founders, we knew about how women behaved. We could just rely on our own experiences. And it’s like, where do we go to discover brands? And for us right now in this day and age, you go online to discover brands. Whether it’s a refinery 29 or pop sugar or bustle or goop or well and good, you go there. Whether it’s Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, influencers that we like and listen to, whether it’s podcasts that we’re listening to online, we’re discovering brands online.
And I like to call this the outer premise. So there’s on-premise, there’s off-premise and this is the outer premise. And so for us, we were like, we don’t want to focus on the on-premise. We want to launch this brand in the outer premise. We want to make sure that we’re reaching her where she is, not forcing her to come to where we are, but literally going into that online media universe and letting her know about the brand and discover the brand that way. And that’s how we did it. And we did it obviously before COVID because we launched last April and then obviously COVID hit, which then forced this whole industry, the spirits industry to very quickly try to pivot and go online and really look to the online world to message, to communicate with customers because people weren’t going into stores even as much.
And they certainly weren’t going into bars and restaurants anymore because they got shut down. So it was sort of like a bit of luck, and as far as like listen COVID is horrible and it’s awful and it’s devastating to this whole industry of on-premise. But for 21 Seeds, we got a little lucky in that we were always in a different space in terms of where we were pushing discovery of our brand. So we got really lucky in that regard. So COVID didn’t affect us as much as it did some other brands. But from the beginning, we were always looking to part of that distribution pathway for us was always a little bit disruptive because we weren’t playing ball and we weren’t really focused on the on-premise like they all wanted us to be.
And every conversation we had with any distributor they’d say, “Oh no, you can’t do that. You can’t do it that way. You got to build it in the on-premise, that’s how you do it.” And we’re like, “Hmm, we hear you, but we only have so much money to spend. And if we’re going to be spending it, we’re just going to spend it over here where we know our girl is.” And I think part of that was that the spirit was for women and traditionally tequila had not been marketed to women, it was really focused on men. And so we were doing a few things very differently.
Kara Goldin: And the spirits as compared to like wine to actually go direct to consumer is you go through a distributor for that, that there’s rules that date back I’ve heard to prohibition.
Kat Hantas: Prohibition, exactly, that’s absolutely right.
Kara Goldin: Which is crazy on so many levels. But the fact that you actually had this set up and ready to go was so much further ahead of so many other companies that just really weren’t focused on it. And again, like you know who your audience is, you know absolutely like super, super, and that doing it differently, like you said, is just another… And really you not knowing the answers to it but just going and trying, I think is just the way to go. And the way that it’s if there’s a will, there’s a way to go and ultimately get a product out there and really get it moving. So are you not focused on stores at all? Or you’re a little bit?
Kat Hantas: No, no, we’re absolutely focused on stores. We’re absolutely focused on the retailers because that piece of it we’re not disrupting. We are absolutely selling in stores and breaking into different chains left right and center. So we just found out we’re going to be in all the Walmarts. We tested in Target it went well so now we’re getting expanded to eight states. We’re at we’re at all BevMo!’s, we’re at all the Total Wines, we’re at Safeway, all the Safeway stores here in Northern California, all these stores. So we’re absolutely not disrupting there. There we for sure are in stores. It’s that first piece of the distribution model where we’re not as much focused, which is the on-premise. And as it turns out, the on-premise is pretty much more or less shut down with limited openings.
There’s certain restaurants that certainly are remaining open, but bars are closed. So we got lucky in that our dollars weren’t being spent there. And instead in this outer premise, which is this online universe. And one thing that you bring up which is really important to everyone out there that’s listening it’s like we had to go up against serious folks who’d been in the business for a very long time to get them to try to see our perspective and to get them to understand that, “Listen, we’re doing it differently. We know our product and we know who our customer is.” And I think that’s the most important thing in my mind is really understanding and knowing who your customer is. Because when you have clarity there and you’re very certain of who your customer is, then you can go out and find them as opposed to trying to be the product for everyone.
I feel like when you’re a product for everyone, you’re a product for no one. It’s so important to just really know who that customer is and then get everyone to sort of fall in line and believe it. And it was tough and it was a little scary because these are folks, it’s a predominantly male dominated industry. Spirits as a whole, at all levels, all the gatekeepers along the way, it’s male dominated. And so here we are three women bringing this new brand, 21 Seeds, an all natural infused tequila. So already we’re trying to do something different there. And we’re saying to them, “Listen, this is how women want to be drinking. And yes, we want to focus on that female consumer because she’s the lion, she controls the shopping cart.” And even with all of that, and yes, we are women so we can tell you that we know this from experience.
We know this also from the industries that we come from. My sister was the CFO of Refinery 29 who’s my co-founder. So she had all this data and we’re saying, “Look, guys, here’s all the data, this is where our girl is.” And even then, they still didn’t buy it. They were still like, “You still need to address the male demographic. You still need to focus on the on-premise.” And we were like, “No, we’re just not going to do it.” And you just got to hold your ground. You have just as much of a right to that opinion. And if you have the numbers to back it up, go with that, go with your gut and believe in it and just don’t listen to the noise and don’t get distracted by the noise.
That was what we did, that kept us, kept our course and now has proven to be the right course. And now they’re circling back. And we just signed a national deal with Southern Wine and Spirits, the largest distributor in the country because they got it. They finally saw what we were trying to do with the independent, smaller distributors. And they saw what we were trying to do, they saw that we were making the inroads, they saw us cutting into these chains left, right and center. We were told by one of our Southern reps they’ve never seen Walmart take a young product like this. It would take five to seven years to get the number of stores that we got awarded in the spring reset. And it’s because Walmart saw it. They saw that we had the numbers to back it up. And that’s the thing, you got to have the data in the end.
Kara Goldin: Well I think more and more to whether it’s Target or Walmart, they’re looking at these online brands in every category and recognizing that they’re going to bring traffic into the stores because people are going to see it. So it’s very smart. It’s taken them a little while to sort of get there, but I really think that’s happening. And you see so many examples, whether it’s in beauty razors or water. I mean we had a smaller presence in Target in particular and then when we went online and we really built up a pretty significant online channel, people were coming in to Target and saying, “Oh, do you have this flavor that Hint sells online?” And then they started calling us saying, “Okay, why are you keeping these flavors from us?” And I was like, “We’re not keeping them. I mean do you want them?” So we actually built out, we have like 16 feet of space at Target.
Kat Hantas: It’s amazing.
Kara Goldin: And that really happened by just continuing to grow any way you can. So I think that’s just such an important thing for entrepreneurs in any category to know that the main thing is you keep moving and keep growing any way you can and ultimately if you keep doing that, and having enough money in the bank and having and all of those kinds of components. As I always like to share with entrepreneurs too, it’s like being an entrepreneur it sounds really sexy and all super good. It’s a lot of work. And you mentioned your sister is one of your co-founders. Do you have another co-founder as well? And what were you looking for when you were looking for co-founders? How did you think about that?
Kat Hantas: Great question. I knew I wasn’t, I didn’t want to start the company on my own. I certainly didn’t have the right skill set to be able to do all of like the product development side of it. How do you take this product I’m making in my kitchen and bring it to market, commercialize it and to scale without compromising on the quality of the product. Making sure it’s like what I was making at home. And so I had none of that background. Fortunately I had a good friend also here in the Bay area another fellow mom, who was in that space.
So I knew I needed someone on the product side. And then I knew I needed someone on the finance side. Someone who really understood how you grow a business, how do we raise money? How do we write a business plan? How do we model out forecast and things like that. And fortunately I didn’t have to look too far for that one. That was my sister. She’s been a CFO of a number of companies, has done all of the things that I mentioned and I knew I trusted her. And so I want to make sure trusted the person handling the money. And also she had this incredible background in exactly how I knew I wanted to reach my girl. This online media universe. She had worked again as the CFO of Refinery 29. Then she was the CFO of Britain co, which is another Bay area female founded company. And so she’d sort of been in this space specifically focused on that female demographic for quite some time.
So I knew that we were going to get a two for one in that instance. So the only thing I didn’t know was whether or not they would be on board for the journey because to your point, it’s a heck of a lot of work. It goes very quickly from being this romantic idea and being a project to being a company. And that’s like a real critical moment and I think for each of us founders, it hit us at a different point where we sort of it dawned on us that, okay, this is now happening. And it’s not at the point usually where things are going wrong because that’s very clear to everybody and you’re like, “Okay, this isn’t going to work.” It was for us actually at the moment where things were really going right and things started to take off.
And just the weight of okay, the work has outpaced us. The three of us can’t possibly handle everything that’s happening on a day-to-day basis anymore and we now need to grow this thing. We need to hire people, bring others in, really make this a company. And I think that we all had that moment at different times. And part of being good founders, co-founders is finding people who you can share those moments with who are open to hearing about them, who are supportive. So just from that to then finding people who supplement where you have a void.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, no, definitely. And I think that the interesting… I remember when we were going through the phase that you’re talking about, I feel really fortunate that I actually know every single job in this company because I’ve done it. And so I can actually, I can bottle the product, I can also do the PR, I can do the marketing. I can do really basic code on like websites. But what I’m really good at is actually hiring people who can take it the next level, take it that next step. And so I think that is really you need to have curiosity which you’ve definitely shown. But in addition to that, you need to be able to hire people ultimately that can really handle it and really take it to the next level.
And then as you and I were discussing earlier, I think that also recognizing if people are not going to be able to take it to the next level too, because I think that it’s one thing to kind of get out of the way and let somebody do something, but if they’re not going to come in and actually hit the ground running or sort of bring all these old habits from their old company and sort of beliefs like, “Oh, you can’t do that, you can’t do that.” It’s like get the negativity, you got to have people that are passionate, are curious are like, “Okay, how do we do this? Will you show me? I don’t know how to do this. Please show me how to do this.” And have to be quick studies on this stuff. And that’s ultimately how I think you get a company. And so it’s an exciting time for you guys for sure.
Kat Hantas: Yeah. I mean especially with disruptor brands like yours was when you first started. You were the first one that was doing it and you caught it right at the way of right as that pallet was shifting. And we were seeing people moving away from sugary waters and sugary drinks to wanting something cleaner. You were the first that did, it all natural hint of flavor. So it was a disruptor brand with the luck of good timing. And I feel like that’s kind of where we’re at as well in that tequila had seen this huge growth. A lot of people were interested in the category. It was absolutely on the upswing. It’s the fastest growing spirit that there is right now and was even before COVID and all we’ve done is it’s a slight pivot.
It’s like, yeah, people want to be drinking tequila. They don’t want it to taste so harsh. Women are coming into the category in droves. They just want a hint of flavor, they don’t want it to be sweet, but they want it to be smooth. And that’s what this product is, it’s that offering. And so I think we’re benefiting from a little luck as well in terms of the category had been built up, more awareness had been brought to it and now we’re just slight variation on it and really just addressing a need that we’re seeing out there. And that’s been the most exciting part is just getting that feedback. 80% of our customers are women, which is an insane stat for any spirit, let alone any tequila. We’re talking about a tequila here.
And it’s a real testament to just addressing the needs, listening to the consumer, paying attention. And we were able to do it from an outsider’s perspective. So we didn’t come with all of the baggage and all the preconceived notions that so many come to in most industries. We had it’s a gift. It’s the ability to see clearly with no preconceived anything.
Kara Goldin: I love it. So where do people find, the best way to get 21 Seeds tequila is where?
Kat Hantas: I would start, because we are national now, so you can get us in all kinds of chains all over the country. I would start with our website. So come to 21seeds.com. And that’s the number 21 and then seeds with an S at the end like you plant in the ground. So 21seeds.com. Come to the find us tab and just type in your zip code and then it’ll show you all the places you can get it. But other than that, and you can get it online. We put you to third-party retailers where you can order online through our website as well. So that’s another easy way to get it. And other than that, if you’re in California, New York, like again, we’re at BevMo!, we’re at Total Wine, we’re at Target, now Safeway, Pavilions, we’re cutting into shells in all of the resets, they’re a little behind cause of COVID, which backed them up. But you can get us everywhere. By next year you’ll find us anywhere, but come to 21seeds.com you’ll find us. And you can always email us. We’ll tell [crosstalk 00:29:29]
Kara Goldin: And you’re giving online tastings too right?
Kat Hantas: We’re doing a ton. Yeah, we’re doing a lot of cocktail making sessions. So if you have a company out there that wants to do something interesting for the holidays or an offsite, we can host a cocktail making session with your team which had been really fun. So we’re doing those which have been great. And just showing people how we make our easy cocktails at home, which we like to keep everything sort of all natural, clean, easy to make. That’s been a big part of it as well.
Kara Goldin: I love it. Very, very cool. And how do people find you Kat? [inaudible 00:30:04]
Kat Hantas: Yeah, they can find, well come to 21seeds, our Instagram as well, follow us on Instagram @21seeds is our handle. And then yeah, you can find me on Instagram Kat Hantas, or you can just email me [email protected] I’m happy always to talk to anyone about anything. So reach out. If you have a question about anything or you just need an interesting cocktail recipe, I’m here for you.
Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Well, thank you for being so inspiring and everybody, if you would give this great reviews and come back and visit us at as well on Mondays and Wednesdays, we’re now doing two podcasts a week and really working to bring inspiring people like yourself that really are helping people to think about the hard stuff as they’re building their business or thinking about starting a business and really hopefully giving people lots of confidence to actually just go out and do it. So thank you so much, Kat. I really appreciate it.
Kat Hantas: I loved it, thank you.
Kara Goldin: Bye everybody.