At This Tequila Company, Women Call the Shots
“Starting a business is like having a newborn”
What if drinking tequila was as easy and smooth as a glass of your favorite Pinot Noir? Enter Kat Hantas. She joined forces with her sister Nicole and her best friend Sarika Singh to start 21 SEEDS — an all-natural real fruit infused tequila company where women are calling the shots (literally). In an industry that’s run predominantly by men, 21 SEEDS partnered with a distillery in Mexico run and staffed by women. Even better? The distillery’s hours coincide with school schedules, so the moms don’t have to pay for childcare. Read below for conversation with Kat to learn what drove her to dip her toe in the tequila biz eight years ago and her most important piece of advice to entrepreneurs.
Katie Couric: Why did you want to start a tequila line?
Kat Hantas: About 8 years ago I started having night sweats. I was too young for menopause, so I paid a visit to my doctor and he said, “Stop drinking fermented spirits like wine and beer and drink distilled spirits like Blanco Tequila instead.” There was too much organic matter in wine and beer that can be hard to metabolize as you get older that isn’t found in distilled spirits. He was right, and the night sweats stopped. But pouring myself a tequila on a Tuesday night felt a bit aggressive, and I missed holding that wine glass.
How do I make drinking tequila as smooth, light and easy as drinking a glass of wine? I started infusing it and that did the trick. It made it incredibly smooth, a little lower ABV than regular tequila, made it smell amazing and it tasted greatI After years of bringing it to parties and making it for friends, I finally took the next step and turned it into a real business.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
To start, neither of my two co-founders nor I had any experience in the spirits industry prior to starting 21 SEEDS. We had a lot of stuff to learn and really wanted to understand all aspects from production to the laws that govern the industry to the various players in the business. We drove our advisors crazy with the number of questions we had — so much so that one of them said, “This isn’t the CIA. Just call the guy and ask for the pricing grid.”
We also faced an industry predominantly run by men. We had picked a lane and wanted to create a product that was designed by women for today’s female drinker that addressed all of her pain points. She was always top of mind and never an afterthought — from how it tasted to how it looked to how easy it was to use. This was a bit scary for many of the men in the spirits industry who kept cautioning us to stick in the middle. These were guys with many years of experience which can be very intimidating as you hold firm in what you believe. It wasn’t always easy, but we know we made the right choices along the way in all of our decisions.
Tell me about what makes your products unique?
21 SEEDS is an all-natural real fruit infused tequila that allows you to make easy low-calorie cocktails with absolutely no sacrifice on taste. Unlike most “flavored” spirits in the industry, 21 SEEDS is actually infused and that’s what makes all the difference. The infusion process makes the tequila super smooth, smell incredibly fresh, and imparts a hint of flavor without making it sweet. I liken us to Hendricks Gin. Before Hendricks, in the world of gin the predominant flavor notes came from Juniper. Along came Hendricks and introduced Rose and Cucumber. Before 21 SEEDS, natural flavor notes in Tequila came from the barrels they were aged in so flavors like Caramel and Vanilla. With 21 SEEDS, we are infusing fresh and light notes into Tequila like Cucumber and Jalapeno, Valencia Orange and Grapefruit and Hibiscus expanding the category in an exciting new way.
Was it hard to figure out how to infuse the flavors into the Tequila and how did you choose what you wanted?
Infusing the tequila in my kitchen was not hard. It was a bit of trial and error but the actual process is not that complicated. One cautionary tale though. My first infusion ever was the Cucumber Jalapeno infusion. I would start by adding both to Blanco Tequila in an old Brita water pitcher and keep in the fridge. I always took the Jalapeños out first and would keep the Cucumbers in for an extra 24 hours. On one occasion, a friend returned from a long run and saw the Brita with Cucumbers floating in what looked like water in the fridge and poured herself a full glass. She’d taken 3–4 gulps before realizing it wasn’t water!
Infusing tequila at scale was also really challenging. None of the distilleries down in Jalisco had refrigeration to store our perishable ingredients nor did they have the equipment we needed to do our infusion process. We needed to find a partner who would allow us to build both, which was a big ask for three unproven tequila makers. In regards to the flavors, I chose fruits that I was already using to pair with regular tequila in cocktails. I also love spice which is where the concept of a cool heat in the Cucumber and Jalapeno pairing came from.
I love that this is made by a female run distillery in Mexico. Why was that so important to you and how did you go about finding the right place?
The truth is we originally chose the distillery based on the exceptional quality of the tequila. We asked for samples from many distilleries. We were in search of the smoothest possible tequila and Celia’s was it. When we arrived, we were surprised to find two things. First, we couldn’t believe how many women we saw working at the distillery. When we inquired about this, we were told that Celia, the owner, was very pro hiring female employees. So much so, that she purposely set their hours to coincide with their children’s school schedules so that they could work during school hours since they could not afford extra childcare.
She’s been an incredible partner for us throughout. She allowed us to build what we needed on her property and oversaw all the construction herself since we were based in San Francisco and the distillery in Mexico. She has turned into a real mentor for us, educating us on the industry as a whole as well as a good friend. We could not have done this with any other partner, we truly believe that.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned and what advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Starting a business is like having a newborn. The first year you are excited, panicked, confused, sleep deprived, and constantly worried you might do something wrong. It takes a while and no matter how much you read and talk to folks for advice, the best thing you can do is go with your gut. Then at some point about 13 months in, you know things are going to be ok with the baby, but it goes from being a novelty to the realization that you are raising this thing for life and that too comes with its own set of fears.
The same is true in a start-up. At some point it goes from being a “project” to being a real company and at that point you realize you can’t do it alone. You have to surround yourself with a good team or you won’t be able to scale. The same is true with a child, we can’t do it alone. We have family, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. that help raise a child. I had a real moment of panic during this transition and my husband Quincy who has helped many entrepreneurs scale gave me this great analogy and it really struck a chord and helped me get to the next level of building 21 SEEDS into a real company!
This originally appeared in the September 24, 2019 edition of Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.