Stay thirsty, stay foolish
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez
"Live Life All In."
These are the words that come to mind when understanding the typical day-to-day of entrepreneurs, Nicholas Cowherd, 24 and Kegan Klein, 25.
In fact, it’s the tagline for their gold-infused champagne company, 24 Karat.
The two created a product that is both affordable and luxurious. 24 Karat is a sparkling wine infused with real, edible 24-karat gold and sells for around $35 a bottle.
“It’s a lifestyle brand," Klein says. "You are drinking it for the celebratory moment. You are also drinking it because it’s Tuesday. It’s about being exuberant and over the top, but, it’s also about hanging out with your friends or giving a gift to your boss."
Cowherd and Klein are natives to Arizona and met while attending ASU. Cowherd attended Thunderbird High School and graduated ASU in 2011 with a degree in business communication and a minor in economics. Klein attended Desert Mountain High School and graduated ASU in 2010 with a degree in business communication.
Growing up with entrepreneurs as fathers, both Klein and Cowherd always had big dreams.
“I never wanted to flip burgers," Cowherd says. “I was surprised at how early it happened. Both our parents were entrepreneurs. Growing up in that, you see the lifestyle and freedom. There is nothing quite like working for yourself."
The idea for their company started back in college, where the two were brought together with their love for the nightlife on Mill Avenue and in Scottsdale.
“We drank a lot of champagne in college," Cowherd says. "We wanted to make drinking champagne even more fun and exciting than it already is. We loved that lifestyle. We were addicted to it, and we wanted to create a product that was for the people who were going out on Tuesday and Thursday, not just because it was their anniversary or New Year's Eve.”
Inside each bottle of champagne is what makes it truly special – five milligrams of pure 24-karat gold.
“Anything over 24-karat gold is biologically inert meaning your body can’t break it down and it’s going to pass through within 48 hours," Klein says. "No, you don’t see it. I haven’t looked that often. Yes it's real gold, yes it's okay to drink it.”
After the two committed to making their idea a reality, they avidly started learning as much as they could about the industry. They learned how to make champagne, bottle it and take care of legalities such as liquor licenses. Two years later, they built the brand, brought it to market and got a distributor.
“It was really more of a research paper that we thought was a business plan," Klein says. "We just kept checking off those boxes.”
The enthusiasm, flexibility and open-mindedness the two share shows their cohesion when collaborating as business partners.
“Nick and I are the janitor, we’re the executive team, we’re the labeling guy, marketing team, sales force, delivery boys," Klein says. "Nick and I did not grow up in this industry but we are both always willing to learn and accept what people say and implement their feedback. We have surrounded ourselves with a fantastic advisory board.”
It took 17 to18 months from the day of the idea to finance it and bring to market, they say. The champagne is made from vineyards in Mendocino, Calif., bottled in Lodi, Calif., and the incubation market is in Arizona. The juice is sourced from Germany and the gold flakes are integrated sometime between when the juice is being put in and before the bottles are corked and put to sale.
“We wanted to prove it here before we go anywhere else," Klein says. "The key is to grow, but dig deep with same source sales.”
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez
Now they have more than 100 accounts statewide in BevMos, Fry's, bars, clubs and restaurants in Arizona.
As far as a tipping point, they say they still haven’t reached it.
“The most important thing was when we decided to quit everything else and do 24 Karat full-time," Klein says. "We realized no one else was doing anything like it, it could be big.
Cowherd and Klein both admit starting a business from scratch is not easy.
“There have been multiple times when it has been a struggle; every day is a struggle," Klein explains. "There have been multiple times when we didn’t think things were going to pan out. You think, ‘Oh my goodness we’ve worked so hard.’ There’s been a lot of struggle where somehow it just kind of happened.”
Despite the challenges, both Klein and Cowherd agree there is a sense of freedom in being an entrepreneur.
“You never stop working," Klein adds. "The first thing I do in the morning when I’m still in bed is grab my computer and that’s my favorite part of the day. As stupid as it sounds I can’t wait to answer emails.”
As far as what is in store for the future, 24 Karat is looking to expand. They are scaling the country and plan to expand nationally and globally.
“By the time we’re done, I want you to say, ‘What’s Möet?’” Cowherd jokes.
Klein laughs while explaining how much has changed since his time spent on Mill Avenue in college.
“The most expensive champagne I had was an $8 Long Island from Cue Club. Now if you go to Cue Club, Gringo, El Hefe, any of those bars, they have 24 Karat. Gringo Star did 80 bottles in one night once. Unheard of.“
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Lawongsta12.