26: James Yoakum | Founder and Chief Distiller of Cooper River Distillers

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-yoakum-1b87564
Website: http://cooperriverdistillers.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/njdistiller
Personal Twitter: https://twitter.com/jamesryoakum

May 15, 2016 23 mins Download (MP3)


00:30 - Introduction
01:45 - How Did James Start Cooper River Distillers?
03:05 - Passion Comes From...
05:35 - What Makes a Good Rum and a Good Bourbon?
07:30 - Resources and How to be More Precise
09:10 - Getting Investment For His Idea
12:00 - Efficiency
14:30 - Sales Calls VS Cold Calls
18:15 - You Have To Have a Core Network, Plan Properly, and Be Stubborn
21:50 - TACOS

The founder and chief distiller of Cooper river Distillers story is very similar to how great bourbon is made. Developed and store in a high quality barrel for aging. Ok, may not exactly in that fashion, but to build anything great, it takes time! James and his team has developed the first craft distillery in Camden, NJ. Their signature rum is called Petty Islands Rum and their products are in over 75 restaurants and liquor stores in just under 2 years.

James Yoakum grew up in Kentucky as a kid and then later moved to the Philadelphia area for college. During his college days, he started getting distilling his own beverages. He researched a ton about one of his true loves, bourbon. Over the course of several years, what was once a hobby, later turned into a business. How you may ask? Well, James doesn’t quite remember but he knew what he was doing felt right.

Started in 2010, Cooper River Distillers went through a few stages. Unlike typical startups in the tech scene, James could not get the same kind of angels and VC’s. Distilling is such a specific and niche market, it was difficult to find investors interested into the production of a rum/bourbon facility. Over time, James got financial backers from the likes of family and the bank. Yes, a loan. Which is an old school tactic that small businesses use to obtain the funds needed to begin their business. Teaming up with a local bank can be incredibly important and something more startups should look into.

(DISCLAIMER: Please note that loans and other bank deals should be looked at in a case by case basis and are not the right fit for every business.)

James later got fully licensed and began operation in 2014. CRD was originally created to run as a one man distillery, but after a month in business he later hired help to aide him with the day to day production. Currently James and the CRD team are up to five employees.

You’d think that a man that loves booze, may have came from a family of drinking enthusiast. But that wouldn’t be the case here. Throughout the early part of his life, James was not around spirits. So when he moved to Philadelphia, he needed something that connected him back home that filled that void of when he got home sick. Bourbon was that vice.

In the world of distilling bourbon takes a long time to make, however it’s counterpart rum, does not. So being a relatively new startup, James needed to create something immediately that would make him money. So he started with rum! By starting off with rum, it allowed him the capital and time to properly age the bourbon that he grew up loving.

As James cleverly states: “We don’t put things into bottle unless its good!” And actually going to their facility first hand, I got a good taste of their quality. Incredibly smooth and effective for a great buzz. When asking James the candid question, “What makes good rum or bourbon?” James answers may be different than most. James is always looking for something different to make. He wants you to say a variation of the words: “Wow, I’ve never had anything like this before.” James says “You have to pay attention to when you’re making it (Rum and Bourbon) and how, so there needs to be quality throughout the entire process. Quality control and consistency are important…”

One of James’ toughest tasks was his ability to gaining investment off the bat. Being that he’s a “chemist” he needed to look in different directions to obtain capital. But what James has credited a lot of his success to was his business plan. James had to plan every piece of his business out and be honest that things could change in an instant. His businesses plan needed to be calculated and based off of how he thought business was going to happen. He needed to justify every number and every projection. The contact came after a year and a half of hustling and ended being an old contact that he had during his “previous life.”


You Have To Have a Core Network

James has a family that is supportive of his ideas. If he didn’t have that, none of this would be impossible. “Whether its family or friends, you need to have that support network. Having someone push you to do better is always good…”

Plan Properly

“Plans never go exactly how you expect. If you don’t have a baseline plan to start with, success is much harder. You need a plan to communicate and say: Here is what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. Get used to writing it down and your plan not just being in your own head.

Be Stubborn

“Throughout this process you have so many people giving you ideas of what they think you should be doing. People throw out their ideas, some are good and some are bad, but knowing what you want to do and knowing your vision is important. Be stubborn enough to stick to the plan. Have that ability to know this is your baby and you’re the one driving it. Stick to the path.