Haus is a pioneer in the beverage alcohol direct-to-consumer space, launching exclusively online before rolling out to bars, restaurants, and retailers. This bold strategy led to Co-Founder and CEO Helena Price Hambrecht being named one of Wine Enthusiasts 40 Under 40 Tastemakers in 2021. Now Hambrecht is taking a moment to discuss some of the wisdom she’s picked up along the way.
Tell us about Haus.
Helena Price Hambrecht: We started Haus because we wanted to see an alcohol brand aligned with the values of our generation. We knew that drinkers today were looking for products that they could feel good about – easy to drink, made with whole, natural ingredients, and light enough that they don’t have to worry about the hangover.
We realized that apéritifs, which have been a staple in Europe for centuries, could solve a big problem for a lot of people if only introduced to the American market in a different way.
So we created our own alcohol brand, using the highest quality fruits, herbs, and botanicals to create an apéritif with a modern spin – light yet complex, refreshing, and not too sweet or bitter.
We started our business on the internet so we could properly introduce ourselves to the drinker and build a direct relationship with our customers. Over the past two years we’ve grown more than we ever could have imagined and are thrilled to now be entering bars, restaurants and retailers as well.
What sets your brand apart in the marketplace?
HPH: For starters, we’re the first brand of our kind to launch on the internet. Selling primarily direct-to-consumer for our first two years in business allowed us to build a nationwide customer base and massive brand awareness before our bottles even touched retail shelves. Now as we go into wholesale, it’s an advantage for us and our partners. Millions of people already recognize our bottles from the internet and are excited to try Haus from their local bottle shops or bars.
We’ve also taken a different approach to production, which we handle in house. We avoid conventional ingredients, hold ourselves to clean production standards, and maintain an extremely high bar on ingredient quality. Our bottles contain fruits, herbs, botanicals, and a tiny bit of pure organic cane sugar. That’s it. We don’t believe in taking short cuts with dyes or lab-made flavors, and it’s a difference you can taste.
What was the greatest challenge your brand had to overcome initially and what did you learn from it?
HPH: When we were first getting started, a lot of people thought the idea for Haus was insane. They didn’t understand why anyone would buy alcohol on the internet.
Thankfully we’ve validated our idea in a big way since we launched. We’ve always been focused on building an alcohol brand that’s for the end drinker, and the success we’ve seen to date underscores that when you focus on serving your customer, you’ll win.
Does your business have any causes it supports?
HPH: We’re all about supporting the food & bev industry, and other small businesses. When COVID hit in 2019, we focused our business on supporting the restaurant industry. We launched an initiative called The Restaurant Project in which we partnered with 13 restaurants across the country, co-created bespoke apéritifs with their chefs, and donated 100% of the profits back to the restaurants..
Each flavor was inspired by the restaurants’ cuisine, and pushed the creative boundaries of what an apéritif could be. Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco created a beautiful smokey apéritif inspired by their famous roast duck, while Ashley Christiansen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, NC worked with us on a grapefruit, honey, peppercorn apéritif.
Through the project we were able to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars back to our restaurant partners, helping them pay their employees and the bills while their doors were closed.
What is your best business finance tip for other brand owners?
HPH: If you’re fundraising, don’t be afraid to pitch your product to *anyone* who will listen. And don’t be afraid of rejections—I heard only nos for my first six months of pitching until I got my first yes. Don’t give up!
What is your best advice for a mutually beneficial relationship with your distributors?
HPH: Treat your wholesale relationships with the same care and attention that you apply to your product and your customers. Your distribution partners are an extension of your brand and you’ll both benefit from treating them as such.
What has been your most successful strategy for pitching a new retail partner?
HPH: Since we built our business on the internet, we literally have a map of where our customers are concentrated and can pinpoint the exact locations that will have the biggest impact in different markets.
This is fairly unprecedented in the industry, and has been huge in aligning ourselves with the right accounts.
Is your company investing in the fast-growing digital space for beverage alcohol? If so, where?
HPH: We’ve primarily invested in our own ecommerce site, which is how we launched Haus to begin with. That said, we’re also considering other digital spaces that make sense for Haus, especially when it comes to platforms or services that make it more convenient for our customers to access Haus.
For us, digital is a big component of customer experience too. As we started going into wholesale, we redesigned our bottles to include unique QR codes that take customers to experiential pages for each flavor in our portfolio, highlighting recipes, ingredients, and playlists. We’re always thinking about ways to further optimize our website, email, and social channels to make them as helpful, educational, and engaging as possible.
Do you have a go-to book on business or leadership you recommend?
HPH: I have two favorites:
Start With Why by Simon Sinek. This book completely shaped how I thought about our brand and how we shared it with the world. In short: nobody cares about *what* it is. They care about why you built it and the problem you’re solving. The more you can own that story, the more people will be inspired to buy your product and support your company.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Being a business owner is hard. There are a million people coming at you at all times. You need to find a way to set boundaries and stay focused. This book will help you understand exactly how to do this. I re-read it every year!
If you were starting a new venture today, what’s the first thing you would do?
HPH: I’d get a really good night of sleep, because I know it’ll be my last one for a while. Growing a business is not for the faint of heart, but the lessons you learn are worth every moment.