MBA Program: UCLA, Anderson School of Management
Industry: Food & Beverage
Founding Student Names: Max Berg, Dave Goldman, Joe Schwappach
Brief Description of Solution: Eliqs creates personalized brands of craft beer for social events, corporate events, and the hospitality space. To us, beer isn’t just a drink, it’s a medium that brings people together in shared experiences, and we exist to amplify those experiences through superior design and technology.
Our customers collaborate directly with our team of artists and designers to create a unique label design from scratch and select a craft beer from our curated list of options produced by our local brewery partners. Eliqs handles everything else, from production logistics to cold storage up until the day of the event. We then deliver the personalized beers directly to customer events, cold and ready to drink –all for the same price they would otherwise pay for craft beer at a store.
Funding Dollars: $450,000
What led you to launch this venture? Market validation! As a proof-of-concept, we made a small batch of custom-branded beers with Grandpa’s face on them for a Thanksgiving dinner. We scrubbed off the labels of store-bought bottles in a bathtub, replaced them with mediocre-designed stickers…and our Thanksgiving guests were still raving about them! At that point, we knew we had uncovered an exciting opportunity, and we figured that if we truly optimized this MVP and became innovative experts in a largely outdated industry, we could take advantage of shifting consumer preferences toward personalized products and craft beer. We have only continued to confirm this belief as the tally of interested wedding planners and local businesses looking to create their own custom-branded beers has grown. We decided to forego our post-internship offers to give this opportunity what it deserves – a full-time effort across the board. Beer tastes better with your face on it, and we’re here to prove it!
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? Our biggest accomplishment to date has been our ability to develop a novel supply chain and business model in the highly-regulated beer industry. The three of us all came from industries outside of the alcohol space. Over the past two years, we have become experts in alcohol laws and regulations. Ultimately, this has enabled us to create a new market where one previously did not exist, while also providing us with the operational flexibility to partner with multiple players throughout the existing craft beer value chain. This has allowed us to deliver a truly differentiated product for the same price consumers would otherwise spend on craft beer at a store.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? UCLA Anderson’s Business Creation Opportunity (BCO) capstone program was instrumental in our ability to build Eliqs. The program provided us with a risk-free playground to conduct extensive research, develop our business model, test our hypotheses, connect with investors, and interface with incredibly knowledgeable mentors and experts in the space. The broader Anderson community’s values of “share success” also helped us make strides as countless club and school events served as our initial base of customers who provided valuable feedback that we’ve used to optimize our model and operational structure every step of the way.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? We really admire both John Malone and Rosie O’Neill; they’ve both inspired us so much in different ways that we couldn’t pick just one!
John essentially built the modern telecommunications industry after inheriting the nearly bankrupt Tele-Communications Inc. in the early 1970s. As CEO, he built TCI into the largest cable operator in the country, spun off media powerhouses like QVC & Liberty Media, and eventually sold the company to AT&T where it became AT&T’s modern cable business. Amazingly, he did this all in under 30 years and in the highly regulated communications space. In the process, he even invented the term EBITDA.
Rosie is a UCLA Anderson alum (Go Bruins!), who founded the gourmet candy boutique Sugarfina that has become a nationwide success. We see so many parallels between the incredible CPG company Rosie has built and what we are trying to do with Eliqs. By incorporating visual beauty and creativity into the candy-making process, Rosie and Sugarfina have brought the magic back into an otherwise-stale candy industry. She is one of the best product-focused CEOs that we have seen in the retail space, and her unique, brand-building collaborations with companies like Alfred Coffee and Nintendo have yielded delicious and surprisingly beautiful candy concoctions with equally beautiful packaging. Her incredible branding and business acumen are what have made Sugarfina the success it is today.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? We took a class called Managing Disruptive Technologies and Business that leaned heavily on Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The timely exposure to the related frameworks provided us with tools for evaluating value networks within our core customer segments and identifying opportunities to provide unique value. Equally as important, accompanying discussions with business pioneers visiting the class provided invaluable insights for nurturing our team with the values and mindset crucial for helping us remain ahead of the curve as others seek to enter our market.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? We aim to become the go-to custom beverage provider for every event, bar, restaurant, and hotel. Although we are starting with custom craft beer for the Los Angeles market initially, we have both use case and geographic expansion plans that will extend our offering to wine, hard seltzer, sodas, and other non-alcoholic beverages throughout every major market in the United States. We’ve got more ideas too, but don’t want to give it all away now.