Kiana Gomes of Cocktail Bombs Shop On 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand
An Interview With Martita Mestey
You need to create something that works on social media and if your product is “boring” make it fun for the socials.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kiana Gomes, Founder & President of Cocktail Bombs Shop.
Kiana Gomes is the Founder and president of Cocktail Bomb Shop, the original bath bomb for drinks. Her brand, Cocktail Bomb Shop became an overnight sensation and was recently featured in Season 17 of Canada’s hit reality show, Dragons’ Den, where she successfully landed multiple offers with the backing of four investors. Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank is also an investor in the brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Hello! Thank you for having me!
To be honest with you my childhood has both a dark and a bright side.
To begin, let’s start with the dark side. I was born to an Indian father and a Canadian mother in October 1999. My father used to own Indian restaurants across the city of Ottawa and my mother owned and managed a kitchen store her father had started back in the 1960s. From age 1–3 you could say I had a pretty normal childhood like most children from what I can remember. However when I turned 4 my father started using cocaine and other street drugs leading him to lose his restaurants and most of what my mother had saved in her lifetime. From that point on my childhood became very rocky. To make a long story short my mother was granted full custody of me when I was 6 and we pretty well all had to cut ties with my biological father.
Now for the brighter side of my story. I definitely believe having my mom in my life along with my grandfather who started the kitchen store shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today. From a very young age I would go to her kitchen store and start business ventures of my own. I would sell drawings, paintings, and bracelets to the clients coming into her store. At one point I had even gone to a rock quarry with my older brother who is a geologist and I had collected some very cool-looking rocks to sell to her clients ( let’s just say I made a killing with those rocks). My mom also remarried when I was younger and my stepfather who I now call my dad has been a very influential part of my life and how I became an entrepreneur. He is a self-employed sales representative and he really instilled the notion of “being your own boss” and “working when you want to” into me.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food or beverage brand you are leading?
There wasn’t really an “Ah ha” moment that led me into creating a cocktail bomb shop but more a series of events that made one thing lead to another.
I used to work at a store called fruits and passion in Montreal. The store sells everything from soaps to shower gels and even ironically bath bombs!! However, like most, when the pandemic hit I lost my job. With no more income and tuition fees to pay I needed to find a new source of income. I had always had a passion for baking so I decided I would start making and selling custom cakes. I did that for a while however it was not very profitable and it was a lot of work.
A few months later a friend of mine sent me a tik tok about something called a “hot chocolate bomb” and she told me I should try selling them. So I went to a bulk barn with my boyfriend and I bought 60$ worth of chocolate and other ingredients. He thought I was crazy but to his surprise we sold over 12 000 hot chocolate bombs from November to February. However after Valentine’s Day my hot chocolate business just died. Sales were quite literally 0$ and at that moment I did not want to go back to cakes so I knew I had to reinvent myself.
So I started doing A LOT of R&D and I stumbled upon an article about a bartender back in 2018 who had made an “edible bath bomb” for a patron special event. I thought it was pretty cool but I had no idea how I would even make something like that so after about a month or lots of trial and error I had come up with my first “prototype” and to be completely transparent it was nothing like what we have today.
Once I had my prototype I decided to make a quick video and post it on tik tok … to my surprise the video went viral completely unexpectedly…. And I had 1000s of people asking me how and where they could buy this product.
But it was really when my video hit 2.5 million views and I had gained almost 80 000 followers overnight that I knew I had something big and I had to give it my all. I would say this was my true “ah ha” moment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when I started was not actually having a product. Like I said in the previous question I had a “prototype” of a potential product. I didn’t have any packaging, I didn’t really even have my flavors decided and most importantly I didn’t even have a website or a logo.
What I had was one viral video , 1000s of people wanting to buy and nothing really to show for it.
So I guess the biggest lesson is don’t promote a product you are not ready to sell 😂 but thankfully I was able to set Myself up with a “shell” website with a form to leave your email for people to be notified when we were ready to launch two weeks later.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think the most common mistake I have seen in the food and beverage business would be the failure to build a brand and personally connect to your audience.
Patenting a recipe is nearly impossible … making the barrier to entry into a specific food market easier than something like tech which is easier to patent. So I believe the food brands that stick are those that are able to create a brand and connect with their audience. I believe you can avoid this error by creating a brand identity early on in your process which includes a logo and other brand assets. I also think that if you are the one starting the brand it is important to put your face on social media so the audience connects to the founder of the business.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
The first thing I would recommend is not to think too much about it because when you start to think about it, you wonder if it’s even a good idea to start a business.
So literally just jump right into it. Maybe not as fast as I did. But the second you have an idea start experimenting and start playing around and once you have an actual product create your brand identity ( you can use sites like 99designs ) and then put it to market. Also create a social media strategy and show up as your authentic self on all platforms.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Take action ASAP! The first thing you should do when you have an idea is write it down so you don’t forget it. Make it the center of your universe ( write down the idea in your notes and make it your background on your phone ) trust me it will be in your face. It is very motivating to do something when it’s in your face all the time. After that I would take the necessary time to develop that idea instead of Netflixing after work or hanging out with your friends on the weekend, take the time to focus on starting your business. In my opinion once you start
Putting time into your business it becomes like your baby. You nurture it, you care for it and you love it. But if you never start it you will never develop a passion for it. I think once you start it becomes part of your day to day and it stops feeling like work.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I believe it truly depends on your budget and your idea. Certain inventions or ideas will require certain scientific experts, but others with enough work and enough time put into it you are able to figure it out yourself.
I personally would not hire an invention consultant unless it’s for an idea that I really can’t do on my own because I don’t have and cannot acquire the knowledge on how to do it on my own.
By doing things yourself and not hiring a consultant you are able to save on start -up costs, and really” get to know” your product. By getting to know I mean, developing a real passion and love for the product because you created it. Kind of like I have done with Cocktail Bomb Shop.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
In my opinion, this depends on the product and or idea you have in mind. In my personal experience as a young 20 year old with no money and barely any experience in business no one would’ve given me any venture capital money. This is also probably the case for a lot of people who are starting out in business.
Certain ideas will require lots of start-up investment because you need to import products from overseas. In my case I was able to make everything from my kitchen, so I did not need any money to start up making venture capital kind of useless for me at that stage of my business.
I think if you need the money to start up your business, then go for it but if you are able to make things on your own, then don’t go looking for venture-capital if you don’t need to.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
Unfortunately, in my case, and in the case of a lot of other food, business owners, a patent is not possible. However, I was able to file for a trademark to protect my brand and this was pretty easy and can be done online. However, if you are just starting out I recommend that you do this process early on in your business to avoid any unfair competition.
Sourcing good raw ingredients has been a challenge throughout my entire business. The second you think that you have all of your suppliers for your ingredients. One of those suppliers has a shortage. Leading to my team and I having to scramble to find a new supplier in order to fulfill our orders. So I believe a good way to source raw ingredients is to have as many suppliers as possible to ensure that you were never missing anything and you were always able to fulfill your orders.
At this time because our product is so new, that we have done all the manufacturing in-house. I tried to find a third-party manufacturer, however, it has not been easy and all of the costs associated with having one are much too high. I also really like making everything in house because I feel I have control over my product and we can launch as many flavors as quickly as we want.
We were able to get 500 points of distribution across counties in the US thanks to sales representatives. Sales reps go into independent retail stores, present your product and send over orders. I believe if you are starting out, it is best to deal with independent sales reps as they work only on commissions for sales they refer to.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why?
- You need to create something that works on social media and if your product is “boring” make it fun for the socials.
The reason why my brand is successful is because we were able to use social media to get it out there. The reason why Cocktail Bomb Shop exists and grew as fast as it did is because I constantly post on social media ,engage with my audience and share my product. I believe in 2022 if a brand is not on social media, it is set up for failure and this applies to brands in the food space and others as well. In addition, I think having an emotional connection with your audience is important. People want to buy from a person. I often make videos about my personal life, my life as a business owner, and any ups and downs I may have. I have even made videos of me crying and our audience loves how authentic I am by doing that. I believe the fact that I built an emotional connection with our audience is what made them loyal customers.
2. You need to have a plan before you launch.
Please don’t be like me and actually have a product before you start posting about it. Although I was able to pull it together and have packaging, a product and a website within two weeks it was a very stressful time for me. Had I not been able to do all of this in such a short time span…. I would have lost the opportunity to start Cocktail Bomb Shop on the right foot. They say you have one chance with your customers and if you fail and disappoint them they will not buy from you again. If I wouldn’t have had all the help from my friends and family, I would not have made it, and I would have disappointed all the customers I had acquired and perhaps Cocktail Bomb Shop would not be where it is today.
3. Have a product where you can have a lot of variations.
This one may not be true for all businesses, but in my case, I believe it was very important to have a product that I could make a lot of different flavors with. Every few months we drop new flavors and send out an email to our stores and online customer base. This keeps our clients loyal and engaged with our brand. It also gives us the opportunity to create flavors for specific holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving etc. We recently created six special flavors for Christmas and a pumpkin spice for Thanksgiving.
4. Get into as many points of distraction as you can
There are times in a business where things are just slow like January. That’s why we focus on having our products in multiple points of distribution. We have over 500 stores across Canada and the US that sell our products too . We also do a ton of trade shows and we do online marketing. By having many points of distribution, our business never really dies. There’s always one point of distribution that is stronger when the others are slower. Making our streams of revenue constant and keeping our employees at work throughout the year. If I relied solely on retail stores for our business to survive we probably would need to shut down various times of the year like January.
5. Don’t take criticism to seriously — grow from your reviews.
The truth is when you’re working with food not everyone is going to love it. Taste is incredibly subjective and varies from person to person. It’s not because one person doesn’t like it or one person leaves you a bad review that your product is bad. If most love it, and you get the odd person that for whatever reason doesn’t like it, trust me it’s still good. In my personal experience receiving negative feedback about my product has been very hard. I created the product in my own kitchen, developed all the flavors on my own so when someone doesn’t like it, it hurts. There have been times where I have experienced criticism that made me want to stop even though I love my product, those around me love it and we have many returning customers on a day where things are going well. One negative comment can really bring you down. So please, if you are starting a food or beverage business expect criticism, learn from it but don’t take it too Seriously.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
hype, hype, hype. You need to create hype around your product and you need to make it look cool. The way I got the attention of people on social media is by calling my product an edible bath bomb. This created shock value and made people wanna share it and made people want to try it. If I would have just called my product a drink mixer or presented it as only a cocktail bomb . I don’t think my videos would have gone viral. I also think your food product must have an experience and not just be a food. What’s great about my product is you can share it on your Instagram story, you can bring it to parties and enjoy it with your friends. Before being a drink mixer, Cocktail Bomb Shop provides an experience to its customers. Our product provides theater, kind of like when you go to a cocktail bar and there’s smoke coming out of your cocktail. People love things that are shareable on socials and I make them look cool.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At this stage in my business, I have not been able to do the philanthropy work I plan to do in the future 🙂 I hope to one day start a foundation to help people with alopecia ( something I have struggled with in the past)
However, what I have done is I have been an inspiration to young entrepreneurs. I share my story on social media and I am transparent about the ups and downs I have in my business.I hope to motivate people to start businesses or show entrepreneurs that are struggling that we all have ups and downs.
I also strive for my company to be as eco-friendly as possible. I have sourced recyclable and biodegradable packaging for our bombs. I believe all companies should make an effort to be as eco-conscious as they can be.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I had to start a movement, it would be to get young women to be treated seriously in business. Throughout my career, I have not been taken seriously by many professionals because of my age and gender. I know that this is an issue for many young women and it is something that will take a long time to change. However, I think it’s important that we address these issues and injustices. It is not always easy to be a young woman in business and I hope to empower and inspire others to keep on going and to keep on trying no matter what.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Kiana Gomes of Cocktail Bombs Shop On 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.