Debra Walker said she understands the guilt one might feel paying $10 for an appletini with a half-filled bottle of vodka left over from a party at home.
She said she knows drinking a Mai Tai in the comfort of one’s home might be more appealing than braving a crowded bar after work — but, hey, who really knows how to make a Mai Tai?
And she sincerely sympathizes with those so busy they cannot catch up at happy hour at all.
“I was once with a good friend of mine, who looked over at her espresso machine and said, ‘I wish I could make a cocktail with that at home,’ ” Walker said. “There wasn’t a lot of space in her Manhattan apartment for alcohol or mixers, so I said, ‘Well, I could do that.’ ”
With that, the idea for the BIBO Barmaid, a single-serve countertop cocktail machine in the image of a Keurig coffee brewer, was born.
“I love coming up with solutions that make people’s lives easier,” Walker said.
Here’s how BIBO, which is expected to reach market by November, will work:
Add one BIBO cocktail mixer pouch, fill the water reservoir and press mix. When it’s done, users will just need to add the 1.7 ounces of the recommended alcohol for each flavor.
When it launches, Walker plans to have eight varieties: Tangerine Paloma, Rum Punch, Margarita, Appletini, Cucumber Melon, Mai Tai, Spiced Apple Cider and Chocolate Peppermint Martini.
Each variety will create 8 ounce BIBO cocktails, costing about $3.50 and taking less than 20 seconds to make.
Walker, the co-owner and president of the Annandale-based company, hopes her concept will revolutionize the cocktail industry at home, making it simpler and less costly for busy professionals to socialize and entertain.
A single mother of three grown children, she plans to market BIBO especially to busy women, so she felt that ease of use was of the utmost importance.
“(BIBO) was very hard and complicated to create, but when the consumer gets it, they will think it is just so easy,” Walker said.
Oprah’s favorite things
Debra Walker said that she is confident everyone will love BIBO cocktails.
Especially because she said her product is being considered for Oprah’s Favorite Things List.
“When (an editor for) Oprah magazine interviewed me, she said, ‘I am shocked at how good this is,’” Walker said. “That’s what we are looking for!”
And while the idea for BIBO came in her friend’s apartment in Manhattan, Walker seemingly had been preparing for that moment for years.
Walker, 50, spent more than 25 years developing a career steeped in innovation, sales leadership and new business development for major brands such as Kraft, Merck and Crayola.
“I had just done all this research on systems such as SodaStream and Keurig,” Walker said. “So, when my friend mentioned the idea to me, I contacted my sister, who is a patent attorney.”
Research found that there was ample room for innovation in the single-serve cocktail arena. So, Walker packed up and left corporate America to combine her background with the opportunity.
“There should be something available in the marketplace for consumers to make single-serve cocktails in a very simple way,” she said. “Everything I have done in my life and career has culminated in this idea coming together.”
Walker started by pulling together a team of over 20 independent contractors with whom she had worked with previously.
“Finding and driving the right engineering team by myself was really new to me,” she said.
Deciding upon the right specifications for the provisional patents proved even more difficult.
“What did we want the machine to do? How big would the machine be? What would go into the system — a cup or a pouch?” Walker said. “It literally took 10 to 15 different thought processes in each aspect of food science and engineering to come up with a solution.”
There were multiple times, Walker said, when she thought she might fail.
“I have tons of advisers and people who are part-owners, but there is no one else doing this 24/7,” she said. “You begin to doubt yourself — women even more so than men, I think.”
For example, while working with T.H.E.M., the manufacturer and co-packer of the BIBO cocktail mixer pouches in Marlton, the company had to test different materials in order to find optimal films for the pouches.
“It can be overwhelming when it is all on your shoulders, but it is critical to understand that setbacks will happen again and again,” Walker said. “You just have to keep going.”
The result was a system that was not only small, but could provide a lot of variety and flavor.
“When we were developing the flavors, I kept saying, no matter what, these drinks have to be mind-blowingly good,” Walker said. “In order for me to keep something like this on my counter and use it regularly, these drinks have to taste phenomenal.”
Walker partnered with Givaudan, a Swiss global flavors and fragrances manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Cincinnati and offices in East Hanover, to create the eight current flavors for BIBO.
A half-dozen more are slated for 2017.
“Givaudan did all of this research and development for us because they believe in the product and they believe there is a need in the marketplace,” Walker said. “They really propelled my business forward.”
Walker says her product already is in demand.
U.S. hotel chains and casinos have requested units with which to conduct room tests, she said.
The general public, she said, will be next.
The BIBO system, including the countertop appliance and six BIBO cocktail mixer pouches, will sell for $229 at select big-box retailers and on Amazon beginning Nov. 15.
Debra Walker recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to expedite BIBO’s push to market.
The campaign ended last week over 70 percent short of its $25,000 goal.
“My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur coming from corporate America is that I don’t know how to do (crowdfunding) very well,” said Walker, co-owner and president of the company. “That is all new to me. I’m going to make mistakes.”
Her biggest, she said, was not devoting enough time or manpower to managing the crowdfunding campaign.
“It was more important for me to get my production done in China than to focus my time on the Indiegogo campaign,” Walker said. “It was a learning lesson for me as a Gen Xer.”
Just in time for the holiday season.
With alcohol controlling about 60 percent of the roughly $350 billion U.S. beverage market, Walker believes she can achieve $10 million in sales next year alone.
“Coffee only controls about 5 percent of the market and Keurig alone is a $5 billion business,” Walker said. “I am hoping to be over $100 million within the next three years.”
And she plans to sell her product globally.
Walker is working with major liquor manufacturers to release premeasured BIBO alcohol pouches next summer, for which the BIBO Barmaid is already designed. And she feels that may be best done internationally.
“Because of the challenges of the liquor laws in the U.S., it may be much easier to launch our liquor products in the European market,” Walker said. “We see this company starting in the U.S. and moving over into Europe within 18 to 24 months.”
Walker knows it will be a challenge, but she’s eager to attack it.
“Corporate America is by no means easy, but it is still safer than starting your own company,” Walker said. “I am so proud that I was able to hop off and do something that is a game changer in a brand new category.
“I’m proud of myself for taking the risk to try to build a better future for myself and for my children.”
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