2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: hiyo, UCLA (Anderson)


MBA Program: UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Industry: Beverage

Founding Student Name(s): Evan Quinn (Anderson ’20), George Youmans

Brief Description of Solution: For the mindful consumer who wants a more meaningful social experience, hiyo is a mood-enhancing social tonic that is a refreshing, fun, and functional alternative to alcohol. Unlike boring soda waters and sugary mocktails, hiyo tastes delicious while delivering a powerful mood boost, ushering in a new wave of drinking that allows consumers to relieve stress without sacrificing their health in the process.

Funding Dollars: Our business has been self-funded to date, but we are soon opening our first round to raise $1m.

What led you to launch this venture? We both took some time staying sober last year – and frankly, we felt awesome. While we still have a drink now and again, we continue to prioritize our health. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to do that while out with friends when drinking is the default. The worst part of staying sober are the options: sugary mocktails or painfully boring soda and limes. Coming from families with alcohol dependencies, we are motivated to make it easier for people to tell alcohol “not tonight.” By creating hiyo, we are empowering people to cut back on the booze and become part of a new wave of mindful consumption.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our biggest accomplishment thus far has been winning UCLA Anderson’s 2020 Knapp Venture Competition in May, receiving a $40k grant from the school. It was incredibly humbling to be awarded first place among so many exciting businesses. It helped validate our idea that there is a major need in the market for our unique and innovative beverage. Moreover, our founding team worked relentlessly to execute at every stage of the competition, so being awarded the top prize was confirmation that we have the right team in place to make hiyo into something special.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Some say it is counterintuitive to get your MBA to become an entrepreneur, but hiyo would not be where it is today without the help of so many individuals from UCLA Anderson. My teachers pushed us to research the feasibility of our concept. The Price Center and the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator have opened so many doors to mentors, industry experts, and potential investors. The Wolfen Fellowship awarded by the Wolfen family gave me the opportunity to work on hiyo full-time in the summer between my first and second year. My fellow classmates participated in countless sampling events and surveys, giving us critical feedback. Four MBA classmates – Ben, Julia, Andrew, and Alex – worked on hiyo alongside me for their 9-month master’s thesis project, working tirelessly to position the company for sustained success. Lastly, through the presentations, competitions, and investor showcase I participated in (many of which my non-Anderson co-founder George joined me in), UCLA Anderson pushed me to have the confidence and resiliency to believe that I could become a great leader and entrepreneur. It takes a small army to make any venture successful, and I am forever grateful for my UCLA Anderson small army.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? When creating a business, inspiration is found just about everywhere. Each trip to the supermarket is R&D, scrolling through your Instagram feed can be the spark that creates a new campaign idea, and having a difficult time asking for a non-alcoholic beverage at a bar can be the “aha” moment to go all in. When talking specifically about entrepreneurs that inspire us, Sean Kelly of SnackNation has been a close mentor and a great source of inspiration. From how he looks at disrupting the healthy CPG space to his tenacious positivity to the way he has created such a positive company culture, we hope that we can recreate some of the magic that he has fostered at SnackNation.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The most valuable class I took in business school was business plan development (BDP). At the time, hiyo was just an idea. To be transparent, it was actually a different idea called Willow that looked far different from what hiyo has become today. BPD taught my team and I the basic principles of designing and articulating an effective business plan, which required us to dive into all the functions needed for a new startup business to be viable. I mentioned this earlier iteration above because BPD also taught me to be patient and remain open-minded to pivots that would improve the business no matter how big or small. It was in this class that Willow transformed into hiyo.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Jon Funk was my BPD professor as well as our master’s thesis advisor. Over the course of 9 months, he worked closely with my team and I, helping shape hiyo from its original concept to what it is today. As a successful venture capitalist, Professor Funk knew the right questions to ask us and actually was the catalyst of our pivot from Willow to hiyo when we couldn’t answer the question, “How is Willow going to stand out on the shelf?” He always made himself available to us became an integral part of the team with his own intellectual curiosity, and was always happy to tell us to go do more research.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? For the longest time, we had positioned hiyo to be a high-quality alcohol alternative that filled a major whitespace for on-premise locations. Recognizing that there will be a slow return to bars and restaurants, we have shifted our focus to a DTC launch this fall. This will allow us to control purchasing start-to-finish and get to know our consumers better with a tight feedback loop. We also believe that consumers will be a lot more health-conscious post-COVID-19 and be more likely to seek out “better-for-you” products like hiyo.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? We are at this incredible time in our society where people are taking hard looks in the mirror to try to be better and inspire positive change. We believe that in order to inspire progress, change must come from within. There’s no better way to improve your life and the lives of those around you than by taking care of yourself with healthy nutrition and feeling like a part of a community. Like we said before, we’ve seen how minimizing alcohol intake has benefited our lives, and that recreating this experience for people at scale is something that could really change the world. Empowering people with an alcohol alternative could have monumental positive impacts to their social lives, their relationships, their productivity, and even the way they view the world. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy to say it, but we are aspiring entrepreneurs so we dream big. We want to change the way that people drink…for the better.


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