Featuring Will Fischer, Class of 2019
[ChiBus]: Tell us about the genesis of this company.
[Will Fischer]: I’ve been building cocktail robot experiences for over a decade, starting in undergrad. I built a beer sculpture that was a metal phoenix dispensing beer when you pulled on it. I like cocktails, I like robots, it makes perfect sense. I got into building costume party-themed robots and went back to cocktail robots in 2014 for the SF Cocktail Robots Challenge. We’ve actually won the last three challenges. Our team includes 3 Google software engineers, one of whom I went to high school with and we were on the HS robotics team together. The team built our first robot named N.E. Bree-8 in 2014. It still has a website (nebree8.com). First iteration of the robot was awful. It would pee itself (drain the liquor) on the table randomly. But the judges were entertained. The other competitors weren’t engineers, so we dedicated ourselves to win the shit out of it the next year. Went to the garage, welded a new aluminum frame, added polycarbonate panels, which won us the 2015 contest. For 2016, we had online ordering, we could announce the drink, you could add ice and stir the cocktail.
To backtrack a little bit, when we saw this online drink ordering platform, we thought, “Can we roll this out into a product for nightclubs, sporting events, etc?” So we registered a website drinkapult.com, but nobody could spell it, pronounce it, anything. The concept morphed from a joke idea to something serious, actually using machine vision to shoot a shot directly into someone’s mouth. So that’s where the idea came from, for what we first called the Kamikaze Blaster (named for the drink), which switched to The Blaster, and now we’re calling it the Snapshot.
We came back, won again in 2017, and made a name for ourselves. A month later, I showed up at Booth very much wanting to do entrepreneurship.
[CB]: So how did you know this was the right company to start?
[WF]: Well, I wanted my business to be fun or else I wouldn’t be motivated. First, we looked at our robot and it seems a lot like a photo booth, so we could monetize it that way. Sell it to operators who can bring it to weddings, parties, that sort of thing. We applied to NVC thinking that’s our market. When we got to photobooth expo in March, and people just weren’t ready for it. But we talked to an experiential marketing firm, and they loved it, wanting to pitch it as a way to advertise alcohol. That was a simple pivot: we have a great magic sauce for advertising alcohol brands. It combines social media, a spectacle, and sampling which is proven to increase brand loyalty to alcohol brands. But we have no intention of stopping here; this isn’t our first or last cocktail robot. What we have is an incredibly talented team that is good at creating these experiences and implementing in a way that is joyful and fun.
[CB]: How did you find the right team members? What skills did you need to find and how did you identify who could meet those needs?
[WF]: The most important thing to me was absolutely team fit. In addition to the technical team, I wanted people as excited about the product as I am. When I first spoke to Disha, she was super stoked about it. She also had a consulting background, worked over the summer at ABInBev - so there was alcohol experience - and she started her own start-up in the past. So that was a real hat trick. And more than anything else, I absolutely trusted her. And when you’re working with someone, it’s like getting married. It has to be the right fit; after we work 8 hours, we are still having fun. And that is so important. Trust, fit, and passion for the product. That’s the best way to make a team. Everyone at Booth is capable - you have to find people who are motivated.
[CB]: What have been the biggest challenges with getting your company off the ground?
[WF]: I think a lot of it has been team wrangling. It’s hard to coordinate across different time zones, particularly with people who have full time jobs. And they have a different background; they’re engineers. We’ve had disagreements about IP. I need to make sure everyone’s on the same page; to make decisions boldly and not have them micromanage me but keeping people in the loop enough so they can make good decisions. They’re my best friends and they’re incredibly good at what they do, so I doubly don’t want to piss them off.
[CB]: What part of starting a business has been the most exciting or fulfilling part for you?
I’ve never done sales before, and I have to say, I’m digging it. Particularly because I love the product, I love talking about it, and that makes it really fun. Sales is something not everyone likes. It’s been really amazing when things go well, and things have mostly gone well, so it is incredibly exciting. When you have a potential client express excitement. When you had an advisor who really wants to join the team. When you have a new product line and people are interested. When a potential client approaches you to try and develop new products to match more of their offerings. The entire thing has been exciting. I’m not sleeping much; clearly, I’m motivated. Even learning how to pitch, build a slide deck, look over financials of my baby.