Startup Spotlight

Insights from a solopreneur: How bayjoo’s founder navigates the RTD landscape

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags startup RTD

While bayjoo’s founder Ana Bautista Lee embarked on the solopreneur path to bring bayjoo, a traditional Caribbean beverage, to the United States, she relies on a vast network of other founders and experts to help her navigate the competitive and complex ready-to-drink (RTD) landscape in this episode of Startup Spotlight.

Bayjoo, the namesake of Lee’s brand, made from the bark of the mauby tree, sugar, and other herbal flavors. The sugar is critical for the beverage, as it helps mask the bitter flavor of mauby; however, Lee opted for a sugar-free version, using monk fruit instead for the brand’s three flavors: the hibiscus-infused Childhood Bliss, the black tea and lavender-forward Herbal Trip, and the citrus ginger blend Citrus-y.

Lee spent several years experimenting with different brew times and techniques, which helped her understand bayjoo’s complex flavor profile.

Along with the bitterness of mauby bark, the ingredient is uncommon in the United States, Lee said, which was a challenge when she was searching for a formulator with which to work.

“It was really challenging, even when trying to find a formulator because a lot of people are not familiar with the ingredients here. So, they did not feel comfortable working with it because they did not know how to brew it,” she said.

Lee noted also that since bayjoo is a small brand, it was difficult to finfd co-manufacturing partners. She explained, many co-manufacturers “were not open to working with small brands because they have very specific minimum order quantities that are sometimes way too high for small brands.”

With the help of a network of other founders and experts, in addition to her own experiences including participating in the Target Accelerator Program in 2022 where she learned about the “mass retail ecosystem,” Lee partnered with formulators to develop an extract of the bark that is part of the base formula today, she said.

bayjoo’s retail strategy: From specialty stores to corporate offices

Bayjoo currently is available on its website and in specialty stores like Popup Grocer in New York City, grocers in San Francisco and markets in Austin, Texas, where Lee is based. The brand also relies on social media and word of mouth to connect with potential retail partners, with the goal of establishing a national retail footprint.

The brand has caught the attention of non-alcoholic category buyers and retailers, expanding bayjoo’s presence in the RTD space.

Recently, Lee participated in a demo at one of the Meta offices in San Francisco, which not only allowed for her to collect feedback but also win the account for the young brand.

“I went for a demo, got to pitch all day and sample the beverage. … I was able to collect real time data and feedback from their employees. … The employees themselves would vote for their preferred product, so we got voted [in]. And then we got the order later this year,” she said.

Getting ‘into the mindset of an investor’

While bayjoo is self-funded, Lee is building her investment acumen by taking courses around venture capital “to get into the mindset of an investor,” and another program on how to build a company “from ideation all the way to raising capital to continued growth.”

Throughout the development of bayjoo, Lee connected with other founders to “understand how they got started,” like joining the Slack group, Startup CPG, which has helped “cut the time that you have to invest in researching.”

She added, “I joined them really early on … because they have it split between operations, financials, ingredients, suppliers, co-manufacturers, co-packers … there are a lot of resources that made it a little easier to navigate because there are so many options out there.”



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