Sobrii founder Bob Huitema talks about pitching his non-alcoholic gin on Dragon’s Den and what’s next for the brand.
Tell us about how you came to apply for Dragon’s Den.
I've been a fan of Dragon’s Den since the beginning. My friend Leila, who is the founder of Happy Pops, has been on the show and she suggested that I give it a try. That’s essentially what got me into looking at it and also taking a retrospective look and realizing that I'm now at the stage of my business evolution where I could use a strategic partner in the next step of growth.
Why was now the right time to apply?
It's been slightly over a year since COVID and I only launched the Sobrii website store in April of 2020. COVID forced the business to be focused on e-commerce and secondarily on retail. Of course, we put the restaurant and hospitality side on hold.
We have done well in the e-commerce channel and with some awesome e-commerce partners, but retail is still a big hole. It’s very challenging for a small Canadian brand to get retail support beyond some regional and boutique stores. To really scale the brand and business and to get access to the product for people who want it, you need listings at a national players.
Now that the restaurant business will be reopening, there will be changes in the next six to nine months that we haven't been able to participate in previously that will, again, bring some opportunities and some necessity for different partnerships.
What has the application process been like?
I talked to a few people who had been on the show, including Leila, and prepared with their help. First, there's a video submission. I personally don't feel very comfortable on video, so I did it a little bit differently and pitched in a way that would reflect where I'm at with the brand and how I approach the brand.
Then based on the video, they give you an audition with the producers. Of course, everything is virtual right now so there were a number of producers on a Zoom call. You pitch them much the same way as how you’ll pitch the Dragons when you go on the Den.
What are your hopes around what this opportunity will mean for Sobrii?
I am on there to get at least one offer and of course the publicity would be great. I want the deal and the participation of a strategic partner, both in terms of dollars and in terms of their expertise and their ability to help me with infrastructure, logistics and distribution issues.
Not every person that pitches on the Dragons Den will end up on an episode. You have to kind of wear two hats here, not only from the business perspective but from a television perspective. Is this something that people will want to watch?
The goal is to come across as who I am, which is someone who is in this business with thoughtfulness and passion. This is not a pie in the sky thing or something that I think is a neat idea; this is something that I've invested a lot of time and money in and I believe in it completely. I want the Dragon’s and hopefully the audience to see that and share my enthusiasm for Sobrii.
I also want to show them my approach to building a startup that is heavy on self reliance and surrounding myself with people that I believe in and that believe in me. Joining in the pitch is Diondra Filicetti who is my main marketing resource and who has helped me tremendously in getting to the Den.
It’s not only about where we've come from, but where we're going in the next year with the business. We’re launching non-alcoholic tequila in the summer. I also have another exciting project coming in the fall. I’m going to keep the lid on that one for now, but it will be very innovative and good for the non-alcoholic beverage market. There’s also U.S. expansion coming. We will see if the Dragon’s are excited about the future of Sobrii as we are!