Interview with Alice Parmiter and Wynter Karo, founders of Pimentae

Alice Parmiter and Wynter Karo shared a love, hate and ‘why did we do that?’ relationship with Tequila for years… until the 2021 lockdown when they decided to wave goodbye to the traditional ‘split second embrace’ they once treasured, and set out on a quest to showcase the true magic that Tequila has to offer.

Discover how that led them to launch bottled cocktail business Pimentae, and how they grew it to the stage where it was successful enough for them to quit and work on it full time. 

What’s your career background? 

We both graduated from The University of Leeds in 2018 having studied business degrees and went on to do graduate schemes, Wynter at Sky and Alice at ASOS.  

Ex Sky Propositions Manager, Wynter has three years’ experience across Commercial, Trading, Strategy and Digital in Sky Sports, Cinema, TV and Future Products. “I strive to disrupt the ready-to-drink sector and redefine how consumers drink tequila. Big budgets and industry expertise don’t guarantee success. Collaboration, creativity and a relentless hustler mentality do’  

Alice spent three years at ASOS, specialising in Digital Media across 30 markets and has developed a holistic skillset in Customer Insights, Affiliate Marketing, SEO & Paid Media. “My admiration for brands that creatively spark imagination, paired with a love for Mexico and appreciation for the Tequila craft is what inspired this exciting chapter. I believe it’s time to ignite curiosity through products that challenge tradition.” 

 Where did the idea for your business come from? 

We’ve always believed that any good product stems from plugging a pain-point, ours was very personal, it came from the hassle and time that came with making (copious amounts of) spicy margaritas.

We’re millennials, we live in a hyper-connected world where consumers expect groceries delivered to their door in minutes and bar quality cocktails without having to do the bartending themselves. We’ve become accustomed to ease and accessibility, so our proposition needed to mirror the evolving and sophisticated demands of our consumers.

Our concept was simple. Premium tequila cocktails, offering the perfect serve, every, time, without the hassle – all you need to do is pour over ice!  

We also travelled to Mexico for a few months and it opened our eyes to the complexity and sophistication Mezcals, namely tequila had to offer when balanced correctly. We realised there was a huge re-education piece to the done in the UK to shift perceptions of tequilas ‘split second embrace’ reputation (guilty as charged for fuelling it’s shot culture once upon a time). 

We know tequila is the spirit that’s about to have its moment as the fastest growing global spirits category. But focusing on the UK, we’ve seen 175% growth in tequila sales alongside the ready-to-drink sector that has seen growth of 81% since 2021.

The markets fast evolving and consumers find spirit-based ready-to-drink cocktails much more exciting than conventional spirits. Our products plug a pain point whilst also capitalising on the synergy between two huge growth categories in the UK! 

How did you move from idea to actual business? 

So many people have incredible business ideas, the main blocker is execution. Whether it be time, funds, or motivation…you have to commit to the never-ending hamster-wheel that is start-up life. 

Taking concept to market is INCREDIBLY challenging, as there are so many moving parts. Coming up with idea was the easy part. You would think there was a business/service that managed everything from trademarking, HMRC, bottle sourcing, labels, design, manufacturing and logistics – this doesn’t exist.

Sadly, there’s no handbook that tells you ahead of launching an alcohol brand you’ll need to take exams, gain certifications and become comfortable wearing multiple hats every-day (Finance, Operations, Marketing, Accounting, Commercial). 

We started by looking at competitors in the ready-to-drink space and building out a commercially viable proposition. A lovely tasting and looking product doesn’t cut it if your margins are weak and you can’t demonstrate a strong path to profitability as you grow. It’s crazy how much foresight you must have in regard to the future of your brand before it’s even launched, or you prove out product market fit.  

Aligning label printing, website development, bulk tequila orders, production deadlines and a strong launch strategy (whilst juggling full times jobs at ASOS and Sky) were huge challenges.

Hundreds of bottle and label samples later, recipe development sessions (in our kitchen) and feedback sessions with our friends we were able to take our desired tasting liquid to a Flavour House to create a commercial recipe that manufacturers can use to produce at mass. Our first round was 1400 bottles. 

We managed to take concept to delivery in 6 months launching in March 2021! Being unfulfilled in our roles at Sky and ASOS at the time, were huge drivers to make-this work. Failure really wasn’t an option. Interestingly, whilst lock-down stole the prospect of freedom from most people across the globe, it actually gave us the opportunity to find ours. 

What’s your USP? 

We’re the UK’s first brand focusing on tequila as our flag-ship spirit for our range of premium cocktails. We aren’t just another brand re-creating ‘classic cocktails’ we’re launching first of a kind cocktails with immersive branding that just doesn’t exist in the ready-to-drink space. 

We strive to be experience-led in everything we do. We want consumers to associate Pimentae with travel, luxury and escapism. Our core brand values are bold, daring and exotic and these are the forefront of our strategic decision-making.  

Who’s your target audience? 

We always encourage everyone to try our cocktails, even if they are a ’tequila-hater’… and trust us, there are a lot of them out there! When thinking about our audience we define two key customer personas. 

Nia, 31, has a highly demanding job so when it comes to shopping, she is time poor and values speed and ease above all else. She’s not afraid to spend slightly more on quality and loves to host a good dinner party to entertain friends. She spends her weekends drinking cocktails at new bars discovered on social media. 

Mike, 28, is a big foodie who craves adventure. He often spends weekends with friends travelling to events and music festivals across the UK where he enjoys discovering new food & drink brands. He is an early adopter when it comes to new products but is likely to stay loyal to a brand based off his experience. 

How do you spread the word about what you do? 

Events have been transformative for us. We use tradeshows such as the BBC Good Food Show and festivals across the UK, such as Pub in the Park, The Big Feastival and Taste as a vehicle to drive mass awareness.

As we operate in a challenging market where consumers are hesitant to try tequila (due to a night they’d rather forget), it’s imperative consumers sample our products which 99% of the time converts into a sale. Most of our repeat purchases across our website derive from events. 

Social media channels allow us to create very cost-effective Influencer marketing strategies with mass reach to a tailored audience. We carefully select Influencers/Food Bloggers who have a community of engaged followers that we know will resonate with our brand and products.

We use collaborations with up-coming brands such as Thursday, MOB kitchen and Wild to deliver interactive events, leveraging each other’s services and network to spark conversation and awareness (despite operating in totally different industries!) 

LinkedIn is an incredibly effective platform to speak to a community of like-minded professionals in the start-up space. We use this to share the truths, sacrifices and uphill battles of navigating a very young business and shift common perceptions of start-up life being ‘glamorous’.

People invest in people, so if they can resonate with each step of the journey, they’ll naturally be inclined to offer guidance, support and even purchase the product! 

We also have a community area on our website to update our customers on our latest products & event schedules! There’s even a ‘comment’ section to encourage questions and discussion within the Pimentae community.  

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy? 

When we launched, we had very little budget for marketing, so we knew we had to be savvy about creating a lot of noise with minimal resource. We decided to tap into the influencer network through gifting – they have huge reach and a really engaged following that aligned to our customers.

We hand-crafted 30 bespoke drinks hampers filled with our cocktails, a crystal rocks glass, round ice moulds and hand-written notes to curate an immersive cocktail experience. The one thing lock-down guaranteed was everyone being at home, so we hand-delivered 30 hampers with the hope that they would organically post. 30/30 influencer posted with a cumulative reach of over 23 million followers.

We saw our following grow by 300% whilst selling almost 500 bottles in month one. We had so many people asking what agency we used for our launch campaign as they couldn’t escape it across socials – mission accomplished!  

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome? 

Tequila. We’ve learnt the hard way, if you need it, there’s probably a globally shortage of it. Due to Mexican law and strict regulations surrounding the Agave plant (tequila is distilled from Agave), tequila can only be produced in Mexico and in turn imported to the UK.

Selecting a good quality tequila, at a competitive price-point to create a commercially viable tequila cocktail was horribly challenging. A consistent supply was imperative for us to regularly produce our cocktails based on demand.

Sadly, we were too early stage to work directly with a tequila brand so we ordered our tequila in bulk via a wholesaler. Five days before our production round (manufacturer’s set-these dates in stone) our wholesaler sold 700 bottles of our tequila to a larger brand so we had no stock for our next round.

While juggling our full-time jobs at ASOS and Sky we had to complete supermarket sweeps (terribly expensive versus wholesale price) and drive and deliver this to Glasgow to meet the deadline (we’re based in Wandsworth FYI). We’ve had to change our tequila three or four times to ensure a consistent supply of tequila, but this of course comes with managing any impacts to the flavour profile of our recipes! 

And your proudest moment so far? 

Launch day of-course. It felt like a million Christmases and Birthdays wrapped up in one. After a long day of delivering Influencer hampers across London, and an all-nighter optimising the website to ensure everything was ready to go, we sat in the kitchen and officially announced on Instagram that we had gone live.

Influencers started posting OUR product on their stories, which drove a huge influx of sales, from the second we launched. We vividly remember the first Shopify ‘katching’ notification from our first sale and the continued notifications for the next month.

It was incredibly surreal and emotional after six months of concept creation – somehow, we had pulled off a product launch, in lock down, with no budget and better yet, people loved the product! 

The second was The Big Feastival in August 2021 (five months after launch). You know the saying ‘walk before you can run’… we definitely sprinted before we could crawl. We were given an incredible opportunity to run a 13m x 13m bar at The Big Feastival (UK’s largest food and drinks festival).

We had never run a bar, let alone for 65,000 people, and the pitch fee alone was more than we had in our bank account. It was a now or never decision, we did the maths, if we could make it work, this would truly showcase whether Pimentae had strong product market fit (alongside incredible revenue).

We both quit our jobs ahead of this and dedicated 200%, the pressure to make it work was insane, we had no other option to fall-back on. If we’ve learnt anything, it’s to get creative and work with what you have. We created a tropical 360 bar out of upcycled pallets, rustic lanterns, faux wisteria (from Amazon) and roped our amazing friends in to help us.

We thought of every last detail from a Glitter Station, DJ, kids colouring area, dancefloor and seating to ensure nobody would need to leave our exotic Pimentae Oasis. With one drink, being our Tommy’s Chilli Margarita, our tent was the busiest of the entire festival – we served over 3000 cocktails across the weekend. Arguably the biggest pinch me moment of our lives. 

Why is work so important to you? 

A huge factor driving both of us to leave our corporate jobs was feeling like we weren’t leaving a meaningful blueprint behind. The bureaucracy and ability to be agile and drive change is challenging at larger companies.

Hierarchy becomes a vacuum for creativity and personal growth. You spend more time at work than you do with your family/friends so it’s imperative you’re utterly obsessed with something you devote so much energy to.

If you can monetise what you love you’ll be set for life, but it’s very difficult to find that ‘thing’. Work for us needs to drive fulfilment, sense of accomplishment and continuous challenge to ensure learning is constant.  

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar? 

1) Just start

It’s very easy to makes excuses not to start, whether it be time, funds or competition. Competitors showcase demand and there’s market-share for everyone if you’re delivering a strong concept. Baby steps are key. Whether it be registering the business, locking in a trade-mark or reaching out to founders in a similar space on LinkedIn.

If you’re launching a product sampling is key for honest consumer feedback. We had a focus-group of 10 friends, try 10 samples of different recipe variation, ranking everything from colour, flavour, spiciness and price. All successful businesses started with a founder and an idea. Nobody is born with the knowledge or tools to run a business. 

2) Ask for advice from anyone and everyone

Collaboration breeds creativity – don’t be shy to ask for help. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the advice, support and guidance from family, friends and industry peers.

We’ve joined community platforms such as FoodHub where like-minded individuals operating in the start-up space offer support and advice.  If they can’t help, it’s likely they know someone who can.  

3) Be resilient and celebrate the small wins

You have to be mentally prepared to feel like you’re pushing water up a hill each day. Every day brings a potential business destroying challenge and others will push back and tell you your vision isn’t possible. In a sea of nos, you only need one yes. If you want it to work, it can, but you have to be prepared to get your creative problem-solving hat as your founding team are the only ones who can drive results.  

Find out more about Pimentae.