Ben Weiss, 44, found his treasure--coffee fruit--in Indonesia, a long way from his company's Hamilton, New Jersey, home. Bai's beverages are loaded with the fruit's antioxidants, a must-have ingredient in any new-age drink. After five years as a regional company, Bai is going national.
--As told to Deirdre Van Dyk
We've been able to build a $125 million company, and only 7 percent of people have ever heard of us. This is our first full year of national distribution. We were fortunate to have the right product out of the gate, and were disciplined, nurturing it and making good decisions along the way. We left the opportunity all in front of us. If I had taken another path, I might've gotten to $125 million, but I would've used all the bullets in my gun to get there.
When I created Bai, I went to health food stores and set up my folding table and learned what consumers loved and didn't love about the brand. Bai, with its natural flavors and just five calories, was very on-trend and quickly piqued the interest of Costco. Selling at Costco is a week of 10-hour road shows on your feet. Most brands our age wouldn't do those road shows, because there's nothing glamorous about them. But we decided early on: Put this drink in front of people, tell them a couple of relevant things about the brand, and let them taste it. That works.
We stayed regional, from Maine to Virginia and in California. I didn't have to grow to meet a number. I kept venture capital and private equity money out of the business. With VC or PE money, I would have been challenged on this strategy. From the outset, we never took the fact that we have a fantastic brand for granted. We were very patient in an industry that is notorious for not being patient. There's a graveyard out there of great brands that were impatient.