Bill Moses, CEO at Flying Embers | $200 Million Dollar Exit to Pepsi & Disrupting The Entire Alcohol Industry
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Bill Moses is an entrepreneur and investor, specializing in the beverage industry. He is the co-founder of Kevita, a probiotic beverage company. He is currently Founder & CEO of Flying Embers, an alcoholic beverage line made of adaptogenic organic “hard” kombucha.
Moses co-founded KeVita, Inc. in 2009 and served as its Chairman and CEO. KeVita provided the healthy beverage sector with a sparkling, probiotic functional beverage and kombucha for health-conscious consumers.
Bill developed KeVita from a small, regional brand to an international leader selling to 20,000+ retail locations across North America. Under his leadership, KeVita earned consistent recognition as a high–growth brand, transforming the functional beverage space. PepsiCo acquired Kevita for $220 million in 2016.
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00:00 — Bill Moses, CEO at Flying Embers
05:20 — If you’re going to build something — make it extraordinary.
11:30 — The difficulties of starting an alcohol brand.
14:27 — What are “good” ingredients?
21:51 — The importance of innovation.
23:46 — Sales & marketing strategy in a crowded market.
SUCCESS STORY PODCAST
Stories worth telling.
Welcome to the Success Story Podcast, hosted entrepreneur, intrapreneur, investor, executive, public speaker & podcaster, Scott D. Clary.
On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups and entrepreneurship.
Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas and insights.
He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their story to help pass those lessons onto others through both experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between.
Read The Transcript (Machine Generated)
Scott: All right. Thanks again for joining me today. I’m sitting down with bill Moses, who is the founder and CEO of flying embers, a better for you alcohol platform. This includes hard cam Boucher, seltzers beers. He is a global leader in the beverage industry, a veteran and a visionary in the growing field of health brewing.
And we’re going to understand what that is, but he is very focused on. Allowing you to drink a little bit, but still feel good about yourself now. Bill is not new to the beverage industry. He has scaled the flying embers brand to over a hundred plus distributors across Canada in the U S he’s also the co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Cavita a non-alcoholic fermented beverage, which.
Became an international leading brand with thousands of retail locations that transformed the functional beverage space and was acquired in 2016 by PepsiCo for a reported $250 million. This is not Bill’s first rodeo. So bill, thanks so much for joining, very excited to understand your journey, your successes a little bit about what health brewing even means.
And and just to understand how you got to where you are today.
Bill: Sure. Yeah. So, yeah, so, you know, What people are looking forward today or beverages across. You know, all formats and all categories that really that really do something for you really kinda have something that’s beneficial to you. So, so what, what, what I did, what we’re doing here is creating an alcohol platform across different you know, categories that really, when you drink it, you really, you really have, excuse me, you have some benefits that that make you feel good about drinking.
And those benefits could be, could range anything from anywhere from having probiotics in them, prebiotics in them. Having some sort of unique hero ingredient like reishi mushroom or some sort of quote unquote adapted gin, which is very much on trend that that has that basically has a halo around that about being better for you.
So fermenting all these different lines with all these different, unique bacterias and all these different unique hero ingredients that are better for you. So that ultimately. You could, you could enjoy your, you can enjoy your beverage of choice and still have something of
Scott: value in it. And help me understand who starts a beverage industry, a beverage business, and things.
Not only am I going to try and figure out how to build a brand and sell alcohol or seltzer conduits or whatever it is. But also I’m going to figure out how to safely incorporate health ingredients, maybe going to a market that is emerging, but isn’t solidified yet. And these are all, a lot of variables and business is not easy, right?
Bill: Yeah. I mean, look, I mean, look, there’s a there’s There’s a lot of threads that have to go through the eye of a needle to really hit your Mark in any new business. Whether it be technology or consumer packaged goods and in particular beverages, there’s 350 new beverages that. It started every year, what sixteens and those sort of odds are up.
So it really takes extra experience with that background noises.
Scott: Yeah, no, I’m sorry. I’m saying this is, this is a working from home. There’s that there’s really a motorbike going down my street. This is a new reality.
Bill: Yeah, really. So, so back to it takes, you know, it takes a lot of many threads to go through the eye of a needle to make any, any, anything, any new business work. And I think as I was saying, you know Let’s just let’s as you got it, you got something good there I’m just going to, it’s kind of lost my train of thought.
Scott: No, so it tastes a lot. It takes a lot to make a, it takes a lot to make any business really Excel. Right, right.
You are, you are ignoring you’re going against the grain. You’re you’re you’re, you’re trying all these different things. Maybe it’s because of your experience, maybe it’s because you sort of excelled in this, in this area before.
Why is it okay. Let’s let’s say like, why is this important to you? Right. And walk and not just launching another liquor brand or another alcohol brand or the beer brand. Why is that important? Yeah.
Bill: The reason I’m doing what I’m doing now, it’s important to me is it’s really to, is really to provide.
An offering to consumers that is not ordinary, so it’s gotta be extra ordinary. And some really could have something distinguishable about it that really makes it part of current trends. And right now trending in the consumer packaged good food and beverage or. Foods foods and drinks that are really better for you.
So I really wanted to land there in a way that would differentiate us, make us stand out and appeal to the millennials and to others that are really focused on these sorts of things that are really important to them. And what we wrap around that product. That product mission is our purpose and purpose is also that we, we give you know, 1% of our revenues to first responders since flying number.
The name originated from at the time, the greatest, the biggest North American fire in 2017, the brain was birthed out of that. So our purpose is to give back to the firefighters. So you take a unique product. You take something that is really on trend that appeals to the millennials that that’s growing and you wrap purpose around it.
And those are some of the threads that you need to pull through the eye of the needle to create a product that really resonates with consumers. And then once you have that, then you have the business of execution, which is another old journey.
Scott: Now you you’ve obviously figured and cross some of these hurdles already in your past roles in life.
So walk, help me, you know, we, we’ve sort of jumped right into into flying embers. I want to understand you and your background and even how you grew the first or perhaps not the first business, but when we speak about we’re speaking about that Cavita was that the first thing. You did out of university.
What’s your, what’s your professional?
Bill: Sure, sure. So I I came out of college and I did exchange, you know, during college, my junior year, I was over in the South of France and I lived with a garage winemaker and I had a little experience with what it looks like to, from it. Averages came back to the U S graduated at the university of Virginia, went into, and I really just went to New York and was looking for a job.
And I ended up. Getting into the management trainee program of a company called bear Stearns, which was a investment. And I learned I learned the capital markets. I learned business. I learned how to capitalize and enterprise. So one part of my work experience was understanding how to raise money, how to, how to manage dilution, how to put together a board of directors and how all those.
Important components of putting together the financial plan came together. So I did that on wall street. I worked as an investment banker and ended up leaving that after 12 years of looking and living in New York city. So starting different companies, including a joint venture with in China eh, you know, and, and.
You know, 30 years ago with the Chinese Academy of sciences, we actually started the first computerized airline reservation system and the PRC. Long time ago. Did, so I had a many, many different iterations of my career that really built my toolkit, my toolkit of finance, my toolkit of operational experience, my toolkit of marketing experience.
And so, you know, it really afforded me an opportunity to have a running start at my, at my life stage in going into beverages. So all of that kind of cumulated into, into that. And of course, I also then. You know, before I got into Cavita, I had my own certified organic winery, which was the first, at the time in California back in 2000.
And so there, I learned to Furman, I learned to understand about marketing and alcohol product. And at that time, a better for you alcohol product. Anyway, you wrap that all together in that, and you sprinkle a little bit of hard work and commitment and you know, here you are. So.
Scott: It’s no, it’s it’s an interesting story.
I just like understanding because everybody’s path to entrepreneurship is so different. Like there’s some, like you got all, you got all the formal training and then you pivoted a little bit later in life compared to somebody who’s right out of university and they just learn by failing again and again and again, like, so, you know, it’s just interesting.
I find, and, and, you know, part of this podcast is speaking about, you know, what you’re doing and we’ll fly in bruises, but I also like to. Pull out some of those, like this is, this is one way to do it, but it’s not the only way this is another way to do it. So where is so, so walk me through where flying embers is right now.
What have you brought it to? Where do you want to take it?
Bill: Sure. So, you know, I think You know, I really brought it to a place where we build a national platform. We’ve got distribution all across the U S now that the dish distribution network is built, we now, you know, we put different product lines into the pipeline both into retail and interactive, direct to consumer.
And we really begin to curate and cultivate, which. Our sellers and which aren’t, and then begin to apply marketing and sales behind that to build out nationwide and really get the consumer to be aware of it and then to pull it off shelf. So that’s really where we are.
Scott: Do you, do you find that because you mentioned before that there’s so many different products that go to market every year.
Is it particularly difficult to launch an alcohol brand against some of the most established, because I don’t see a ton of, of new alcohol brands. Well, it’s much
Bill: the non ALC world. There are a lot less barrier. Stan tree. Bridge. But when you get into beverages, you have alcohol you’re really, you really, you really have to go through, what’s called a three tier system where you have to go to a distributor that has an alcohol license that then can go to a report and you can go right to.
Right to a district, right. To a retailer. And you don’t have to go through so many distributors. Some of these distributors are old legacy families that have owned it. Multi-generational gatekeepers. You know, you go and kneel in front of them and kiss their pinky ring.
Scott: And then, and so now, so now flying embers is, is actually the so, so walk me through like the, the, the customer you mentioned before, and you touched a little bit on the target customer that, that individual who wants to be healthy, but still wants to drink what’s that market like, is that a growing market?
What would that, how would we know what that market is? Because, you know,
Bill: so there’s a couple analogs out there that we could look to You know, when you look at hard seltzers, which went from zero to, I think it’s going to be a $3 billion, $4 billion category. There’s maybe larger you know, its growth has been explosive and that is that’s the first that’s like, that’s like version 1.0, better for you.
And what’s better for you in a hard seltzer. Well, one, you don’t have all these calories, you have little sugar and very little carbs and there’s no gluten. So right away, that’s sort of the beginning of it. And also you look at like the Michelob ultra lights that are again, low calories, low carbs. So the first version iteration of better for you, it’s just making sure you’re taking the bad out of it.
I want to consider that too much sugar people are concerned about their carbohydrate intake. You know, they don’t want to drink those. They want to eat carbs. And, and then of course, gluten, some people have a problem with gluten and whatnot. So you take all that out. And that’s an offering where I want to go with it as not only version 1.0, but version 2.0, which is you not only take out, what’s good, but you from it in there, what’s better for you.
And those are those hero ingredients and other sorts of bacteria that, that, that is actually better for you and beneficial. So at the end of the day, that’s that’s where I want to
Scott: play. And, and some of those, some of those ingredients. So it makes sense to take it the bad for you ingredients. That makes a ton of sense for me, because it’s like down to very, I guess, superficial things like, you know, you don’t want to think you might be, you don’t want to drink your carbs, you want to eat them.
And I think that everyone’s sort of acclimate that those kinds of drinks, but what are the better for you ingredients that people should be consuming that perhaps they’re not, and this is like a great way to get it into them. So what are some of those hero ingredients?
Bill: Oh, there’s many of them. So, you know, there’s, there’s different kinds of bacterias that make up for a minute beverages that are, that are, that are more distinguishable and, and, and better than others.
So that’s the first thing. So some of those bacteria, some of those different forms of bacteria, so all fermented drinks, all malt, you know, all beers are fermented with some sort of bacteria and yeast. So if you use kind of bacteria and a certain kind of yeast, It’s just it’s just better for you. So we use a bacillus coagulans, which is a bacteria in ours, which is really, really good for your fruit for yourself.
We use you know, in some of our drinks, we have you know, some sort of adaptogens called Rishi and lions bang. So they’re mushrooms, mushroom Bay. So mushrooms now are very on trend and they’re very, they’re being proven to be very much a. Better for you?
Scott: Is it like mental or physical? Like a, the benefits
Bill: geological you know, adaptogens are, are known and these are these fall into the category of adaptogens and they really really go to where your oxidize stresses on the soda and really helps prevent oxidized stress in your cellular level.
Scott: What I am curious about just on more of a commercial side you grew your first company Cavita, which was it was probiotics, but it was, it was what’s the, what’s the proper terminology for it. You said a fermented beverage fermented beverage. When you grew that, have you noticed that the industry has matured?
Is it easier to build a business based on health drinks or are we still somewhat late in adopting this trend? No,
Bill: I think trying to still feel very much on a steep incline. I mean, when I started Cavita we, we started with With us sparkling probiotic drink, that was a fermented beverage. Then we went to an Apple cider vinegar drink, and we all know that Apple cider vinegar, if you drank it could be better.
But then we went to a non alcoholic kombucha beverage, all not out. And at the time we were like, we were one of the early folks in, there was a one 82 brands that were out there. And what we did was we decided to go and spend money to go national really quickly shelf space. So, you know, I think one part of the lesson is to be, we first could be great to be early is essential.
So we weren’t first, but we were early and, and the guys would go first. Oftentimes spend a lot of money. They oftentimes could be the number one leading brand, but they’re oftentimes the learnings and the challenges who get the first. So as it relates to that first company, you’re were one of the first early pioneers.
And we learned a lot and we really grabbed share quickly when share was available to be captured when the retailers and the consumers were saying, Hey, we want more of this, but there wasn’t a lot of offerings. So getting there first, making sure your, you know, your early enough so that you could build your brand before it gets crowded.
Scott: That’s smart. Yeah. So you, so that’s also another really, really interesting point. How do you, how do you spot those trends? So that you’re early enough on that you can get on board, right. But you’re not, you know, you know,
Bill: there’s really in, in food and food and beverage, you know, there’s, there’s a couple of ways that you do.
If you shop at the natural Rocher, whole foods is, or the sprouts or whatever it might be in your local co-op. And you’re growing. They’re the people that read labels that do the research that are really considered early adopters show up there and begin to buy stuff off shelf that you begin to see.
What’s really trending. And if in one category you see that this particular cow is selling a lot then in this category, you know, that. A cow was a, is a particular or goji or chia or whatever my be is all of a sudden something that’s beginning to get on trend. So really have to have visibility into areas where shoppers go and do early shopping and then have an insight around, Oh, with this trend I’m seeing I could puzzle something together to make a product that’s new, innovative, different, but yet.
Leverage is what’s currently becoming on trend with regard to ingredients. And that sort of is how you do it, how I do it.
Scott: And you mentioned one of the things I thought was interesting with Kavita, you said you started with one beverage and you, I’m not sure if you added or, or you pivoted, but how do you know.
Or how do you deal as, as you’re working into the fast moving environment? When to pivot, when to double down, when to add a new product line, what, what, what drove those decisions?
Bill: So innovation is critical in any, in any business, even in all businesses. So in beverages, you know, you launch with, we launched with three skews in our Cavita primary line.
We went to six skews. We went the nine skews and one to the nine different discreet offerings. We started realizing some were working some work with innovate change, push some. We would get to a place where innovation was exhausted with that particular line. But we did notice that in other fermented kinds of beverages, there was opportunity.
So we went from a, a probiotic fermented line. To an Apple cider vinegar. So we were watching the Apple center. People was taking shots of Apple cider vinegar, and then all of a sudden we can make a beverage. That’s not as tart, but just as much that. So then we were like, let’s keep innovating. Let’s keep taking more share.
And so then that’s when we didn’t pivot, but incrementally added that line and then finally, We added the , which ended up becoming one of the biggest for us, which was our third again, by seeing what was trending out there and what was going on. And yeah.
Scott: And I’m also just I guess one more, more business questions.
There’s so many lessons to be learned in, in successfully scaling now two times, and probably more based on some of your past successes businesses in emerging markets. So I’m just very curious, cause like, you’re like we’re speaking about drink and beverage, but these, these are lessons that can be applicable to a lot of people that are trying to build in emerging markets or trending markets.
Are there a specific marketing and sales tactics? That you’ve used in an emerging market that perhaps are a little bit different or is it the exact same? You know,
Bill: I think it’s really important that in any new trending product across any category that you really get influencers to be early adopters to endorse the product so that you can have credibility.
That’s something that Is very important to me and my world and how I, how I build brands. And and then sales. And that would be in marketing marketing. And look, you have to, it’s a DTC world. So, you know, you really need to be super sharp and savvy on your direct to consumer sort of play. And then I think on the sales front, you know, you.
You have to understand that when you’re growing you know, you have a large selling organization that you’ve got a forward spend in order to ensure that you could, you know, continue to drive growth by having selling personnel out there, but you don’t want to afford, spend too much. Too soon on a sales organization, we’re overly burdensome and your burn rate, your cash flow gets impaired because you’ve got too many sales people representing too much of the country or to different channels.
Prematurely. So the learning there is you got affords, then you got to plan on growth. You got to spend to grow, but if you overspend a grow on sales, you oftentimes will find yourself in a situation where you’re not you’re not getting, you’re not very capital efficient. And at the end of the day, any entrepreneur wants to make sure that for every dollar they bring in.
Where they bring in revenue, they get as far as they can with it before they have take on more capital, which will Luther equity that
Ford spending oftentimes relates to sales.
Scott: That’s very good advice. Very and I, and I just, I’m pretty sure that that motorbike for me for is just doing laps around the block. So I think it’s like after work hours and somebody like enjoying the summer weather. So I apologize. But okay. So I wanna, I want to ask like some, a few business life insight questions, but before I move on was there anything that’s happening in your world with flying embers?
That you want it to, you want it to bring up it’s really exciting, or did we cover most of what you’re working on now?
Bill: Well, I mean, I think, I think the most important one right now during this podcast, you know, California’s burning, you know, we have fires everywhere. And so, and so for us, you know, the it’s just really important for us to support and we do in many ways, the first responders We, we give back to them for mental health people don’t realize the amount of mental health challenges they have when they’re, when they’re putting themselves in harm’s way and their family has.
So that’s something we support. We do a lot of different things for them and that’s, that’s it that’s really what makes everything just feel like it’s a little bit more worthy. Selling a great product. Yeah.
Scott: Right. I appreciate that. Okay. So I guess a little bit of rapid fire and you may have touched on some of these before but I like to go over them again.
Biggest challenge in growing business. Think of one thing that you had to overcome there was monumentally difficult. And how did you overcome that?
Bill: Well, yeah. So so, so I think the, you know, I think the biggest thing that I had to overcome was to innovate manufacturing method of manufacturing that would give us intellectual property so that we could develop a product that was so unique and different that enabled us to have a competitive advantage.
So, you know, specifically, how do I, how did we make a shelf stable beverage? That was never pasteurized. So right now consumers, when things are pasteurized, they’re like, Oh, it’s all killed at status. Not really, you know, for those that are really into this better for you space. So, so we have a method of manufacturer.
We could make a brew and not have to pasteurize it. And yet it’s still B. Stable enough so that we could ship it around the country and it could end up on the floors. It tastes stacks or displays in a way that, that wasn’t an issue for quality standards. That was really the biggest thing, that challenge that I had to overcome to, to be where I am today.
Scott: And, and the other, the other question that I really like to bring out. Where did you as CEO and serial entrepreneur, where do you go to stay on top of things? Where do you go to learn? It could be in relation to your business or it could just be professional growth. Yeah, no,
Bill: I mean, listen, I mean, in every, in every industry you have trade shows, thought leaders that are some someone you look up to or hear and Spain in communication.
With the rags, the industry and trade rags is absolutely vital. I worked on wall street. The wall street journal every day was once you know, something we had to read. For me every day there was several different journals and rags. I read the trade shows. You got to go to, you got to shake hands. We got to meet people, network to talk, communicate, ask questions.
Scott: That’s good, easy, easy. It’s simple. It’s simple, you know, common sense. Isn’t common. So no, it’s very good advice. What’s what’s one thing in the better for you space that you’re investigating that isn’t mainstream yet that you’re interested in.
Bill: Here’s a great question. Well, there’s a, you know, there’s this, there’s an idea around these You know, wine spritzers have gotten very popular and there’s an opportunity to make wines.
And one of the great things about traditional red wine is that it gods it’s got a resveratrol in it and it’s got also polyphenols in it. These are like the things that make red wine, like really, really good, really better. And so, but that never really translated in any sort of. No wine spritzers. So I’m really looking at how to make a wine spritzer with all the punch better for you punch.
And that’s really flavorful that you get out of a heavy, big bottle, but in the light format. So that’s one thing I’m looking
Scott: to do. Very cool. And that’s just, is that just like R and D like, this is like leading edge style, but nobody else does this. Right. Okay. So you’re all
Bill: right. Well, it’s a lot of we, we, we invest a lot in R and D.
I think it’s really important.
Scott: One lesson that you would tell your younger self
Bill: boy that’s great. My younger self would be no, I think really find you know, so I’ve had a journey professional career and it would probably be fine. Really. You’re Bluss find what you really, really love to do.
Oftentimes we end up doing things because, you know, opportunity. Need of making money. And I think, I think ultimately really being, being aware and in touch with what, what you really resonate with, what really turns you on and find a way to get to that space sooner rather than later. And for many it’s a long journey and some never get there, some get there too late.
So I would say early on identify what that is. If you can. And do everything you can to get there sooner in life. That’s what I tell my younger self.
Scott: And then the, the last question, and then I’ll get some some info from you to where people can go and check out the, the flying embers with and go check out the website, your social.
What does, what does success mean for you? Yeah.
Bill: You know, you know, there’s, you know, I am a, I am a competitive person. So success is winning success is really for me superlative execution. So in this game of business entrepreneurship, no matter what it is, you’ve got to execute on a plan. If you execute on a plan, you’re gonna, you’re gonna win.
You’re going to succeed. And so that execution of plan is what really. Is what really, I think is how I would define myself as successful. And that will result in more people buying the product more money coming in, maybe eventually selling the company, whatever, but all that all comes down to the chess game, the crafting of the exit of the plan.
So that execute it. That’s. For me. I like that.
Scott: I love it. Every time I ask that question is another answer and they’re all great. Like all these answers are great, but that’s a really, that’s a very fun answer. I think, I think that we think the same way. Cause I also, I really enjoy it, you know, it’s, it’s the it’s it’s the game.
It’s, it’s like the pursuit of the pursuit of the next. And figuring it out and, and connecting the dots. Like it’s a lot of fun, like businesses, a lot of fun. And when it comes together,
Bill: it’s cube and it’s not, and everything that goes into getting it right is is, is, you know, for me. Yeah. Cool.
Scott: Okay. Most importantly, where do people go by flying embers?
Where do people connect with you online? Where
Bill: where can they go? Yeah, well, you know, fly numbers.com obviously you can come to we’re in we’re in Publix. We’re in Harris Teeter. We’re in whole foods. We’re in Wegmans. We’re in Vaughn’s we’re in sprouts. We’re in Albertsons we’re in we’re in a lot.
We’re in total wine. We’re in BevMo. So all these places you can find is I think probably the best national footprint would probably be whole foods right now. But yeah. Thanks.