Entrepreneur John Korkidis considers himself a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. His multidimensional background in advertising, tech, and creative has proved instrumental in building the Proposition Cocktail Co. brand.
He’s also no stranger to challenging times, either. He lived in Beijing, China not long after SARS (the first pandemic of the 21st century) during the worst year of Bird Flu (H5N1), and throughout the first Swine Flu outbreak. While he agrees COVID-19 is unlike the others, he brings a unique perspective to brand building in today’s climate.
We caught up with him to learn what companies should be doing now to set themselves up for success after COVID-19, Proposition Cocktail Co.’s growth strategy, how today’s pandemic will influence consumer behavior in the long-term, and more.
ForceBrands: You have a pretty atypical background for a beverage entrepreneur. What aspects of your background best prepared you to launch Proposition Cocktail Co?
John Korkidis: I think it’s my diverse background that gives me my competitive advantage and shaped me to be the CEO that I needed to be today. I pride myself on being a sponge for knowledge. I’m a creative thinker and an analytical problem solver who thrives in ever-changing and challenging environments. Over my career, I’ve accumulated unique skills that allow me to navigate turbulent waters and function in multiple roles. My time in advertising taught me the DNA of great brands, my time in tech thought me how to leverage data to validate (or invalidate) decisions, and my background as a creative has nurtured my childlike wonder for creating beautiful things people want.
FB: Describe your role within the company.
JK: I’m a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. I’m the company’s head formulator, designer, sales manager, and marketing director. And while it would have been great to have a dedicated employee for one — or all — of these roles, at my stage, there really is no one better suited to establish a strong foundation than myself. I do however go deep in the area of customer acquisition and I’m an expert at developing growth strategies that acquire high lifetime value customers with a solid return on investment. Also, it allows me to move quickly and implement changes without dependencies as I design all my packaging website, and sales and marketing materials.
FB: How have you had to pivot your business model or strategy in this changing climate?
JK: The world of entrepreneurship is always volatile, and adaptation is key regardless of global and economic factors. Being multifaceted and nimble is what has enabled our growth from the beginning. And I’ve found those who only thrive in perfect conditions struggle to adapt when situations change. In my experience, it’s my ability to adapt that has meant the difference between failure and success (both in business and in life). We’ve always been a digitally native brand focused on creating unified experiences across channels, so it’s been easier for us during this time to focus on channels that are still operating normally while our on-premise and hospitality partnerships are temporarily paused.
FB: You worked in China shortly after the SARS outbreak. How does that time compare to today’s coronavirus in terms of business uncertainties and momentum?
JK: I lived in Beijing, China not long after SARS (the first pandemic of the 21st century) during the worst year of Bird Flu (H5N1), and throughout the first Swine Flu outbreak. This pandemic (COVID-19) is unlike the others, but I truly believe we will eventually emerge stronger than ever and with a greater sense of purpose and community (however, we will need each other to do so).
The most important business advice I can give to companies of all sizes is to prepare for the day after.
FB: What does your current distribution strategy look like and how has it evolved or changed in recent weeks?
JK: Our on-premise partnerships with hospitality groups like ACE hotel have come to a bit of a standstill for the moment but we have doubled down on our direct to consumer channels pretty seamlessly as our packaging was designed with e-commerce in mind and we have always focused on Amazon-like fulfillment speed supported by referral programs. Additionally, we have been working with our existing on-premise and retail partners to be able to provide same-day delivery in more cities. Our experiential retailers like Pop-up Grocer have pivoted and now offer curated boxes to their loyal fans. This quote has resonated with me during this time and has applied to our distribution strategy: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” —Sun-Tzu, Art of War.
FB: How will today’s pandemic influence and impact consumer behavior in the long-term?
JK: We are living through a major historical event that will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications on society, but it may not look exactly how we imagine. In the early days after SARS, but especially after Bird Flu, face masks became commonplace and it wasn’t odd to see people wearing them in public, especially in crowded cities like Hong Kong. So don’t expect masks to go away anytime soon here in the U.S.; in a few months from now, your server, bartender, and Uber driver might all be required to wear one before the discovery of a global vaccine. Here’s a glimpse of what things might look like from inside modern-day China:
(Yes. That’s the temperature of everyone who handled my friend’s takeout order on the receipt!)
FB: What about supply chain?
JK: I think this pandemic has forced brands to reevaluate their processes and where they source components from. I doubt large corporations like Apple with stop producing the iPhone in China, but smaller brands will likely source more locally to avoid disruptions that a global supply chain can cause. We luckily produce everything for Proposition Cocktails in California and have a pretty future-proof supply chain. In the short term, I think you will see more brands implementing new social distancing enabling steps that prioritize the health and well-being of employees and their community at large as we have. For example, we have implemented extra precautions that set us apart from other food and beverage companies as our customer’s health has always mattered more to us than money. Enhanced steps we’ve taken include:
• Online and delivery orders now left in a place of customers choosing
• Contactless pickup and drop-off at all our warehousing partner facilities
• Disinfecting is done hourly, with surfaces cleaned multiple times per hour
• Warehouse employees are trained in enhanced sanitation standards
• Carrier partners and drivers are asked to complete temperature checks
• Paid sick days have been provided for employees across our supply chain
FB: Tell us more about the product and how you’re marketing it.
JK: Welcome to a new era of plant-based alchemy and the future of drinking. Our zero-proof (alcohol-free) cocktails powered by feel-good plants help our stressed-out consumers cope with stressors, boost cognitive function, and celebrate occasions without any change in behavior or dreaded hangovers. A major shift in mindset has occurred, and our better-for-you plant-based alternatives allow our time-poor, yet information-rich consumers to enjoy the benefits of drinking without the negative effects. All our drinks have significantly fewer calories than even the lowest calorie alcoholic drinks and are free of the top allergens without compromising taste or functional experience. At just 26 calories, our 100 percent vegan and organically sourced zero-proof cocktails (not mocktails; we are not mocking anything) are always free of gluten, dairy, soy, and GMOs. Simply serve over ice (on the rocks) or enjoy chilled.
FB: When things do turn around, which they will, what excites you most about Proposition Cocktail Co. and the future of the brand?
JK: I’m excited about the positive ways we will continue to impact our community. Amid this unprecedented pandemic, brands of all sizes have come together to do what they can to give back and we’re no exception. For example, we’ve been donating 20 percent of our online revenue to health care workers on the frontlines who are shockingly still facing critical shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) all across the country. Giving feels good and even after this pandemic is over, we will continue to give back in meaningful ways. For example, we plan to create an option at the checkout that allows consumers to match our efforts to offset carbon emissions. And personally, I can’t wait to see our products in minibars all across the nation and enjoy them on-premise.
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