George Youmans, 29, Chief Revenue Officer
Company: Hiyo Inc.
Location: Santa Monica
Employees: 2 full-time, plus outsourced workers
Youmans: Evan and I are best friends from college. We were looking to get into the beverage business. Then we each had the unfortunate happenstance of having family members with drinking problems that simultaneously came to a head in April 2019 with brief hospitalizations. In solidarity with our family members, we both decided to go sober. But when we were in social occasions, we saw the lack of options for better-than-alcohol alternatives. Most of what was out there was soda water with lime and similar beverages. That’s when we decided to develop our own. We spent the last two years perfecting the formula for a nonalcoholic seltzer.
How are you funding the business?
Youmans: We won $40,000 from the UCLA Anderson School of Management Venture Competition. We've since raised nearly $1 million in equity, about $200,000 of that from a co-development agreement with a publicly traded company and the rest from angel investors. Depending on how our launch goes, we may get continued investment from the publicly traded company.
Are there advantages to starting a business in your 20s?
Quinn: One advantage of starting a business in your 20s is that your risk tolerance is higher than it would be if you were further along in your career. This was a vehicle for me to transition out of finance into something I have a lot of purpose and mission in. Also, it was easier for me to make this transition in my 20s rather than later on in my 30s or 40s when I would have a family.
How has the pandemic impacted your business and how are you responding?
Youmans: The pandemic pushed things back a little because bars were closed. But we also used the time to improve our product and our business plan. We’re creating a drink that supports mental health, so this (past) year being the most stressful year in recent memory serves as a good testing ground. Maybe some people over drank to cope with stress associated with the pandemic and lockdowns. That has intensified the need for a product like this.
Where do you go for advice regarding your business?
Youmans: The consumer packaged goods community is close-knit here in Los Angeles. We were able to turn to some people in that community for advice, and they were so willing to help out. We ended up putting three of those folks on our board of advisers. Also, UCLA Anderson and its venture accelerator program have been like our business big brother.
Where do you go for professional services such as legal help, accounting, etc.?
Quinn: UCLA Anderson has such an amazing support system. We turned to them and our own board of advisers for direction on where to go for these services.
Does social responsibility play a role in your business?
Quinn: Alcohol has such a laundry list of negative effects on physical and mental health. We are trying to make being sober be something that’s cool, and people are gravitating toward that mission.
Do you feel that your business is particularly tailored to the Los Angeles market?
Youmans: In thinking about the concept of a healthier and better alternative to alcohol, nowhere else in the nation is so health-conscious and open to change and newness. Our drink is inspired by Los Angeles and all the healthy eateries and organic foods you can find here. It’s a much easier introduction in Los Angeles.
Quinn: That said, we want suburban moms in Kansas City to pick up our product — we truly want to be a national company.
What do you do for fun?
Youmans: I love golfing and anything else that gets me outside.
Quinn: Hours for free time are few and far between. I golf with George — he’s my golf guru. I also like to run and work out every day.
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