Calling the Shots: Guidance Whiskey Raises $120,000 in Crowdfunding Campaign!
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
Guidance Whiskey, a Black-owned lifestyle brand based out of Nashville, Tennessee, is seeking to pave the way for minority-owned businesses in the spirits industry.
Founder Jason Ridgel sees collaboration, community, and the power of leading by example as at the heart of Guidance Whiskey’s success. Read more to find out about how they were able to raise $119,920 from 240 investors for their next moves into expanding the brand!
Jason was a marketing director for a healthcare facility, and was growing tired of the beverages that they’d serve at events for doctors. He thought, what if there was a smooth, nice-tasting whiskey that he could serve?
He saw that his workplace was spending over $100,000 a year on booze for these events, and he said, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for another industry.” So, he decided to start a distillery brand with the mission to craft a whiskey that was enjoyable and smooth.
He connected with a friend who was a wine broker, who put him into contact with who he needed to know in the industry. Soon, the Guidance Whiskey brand was born.
More than just a whiskey, Guidance Whiskey is a Black-owned brand, encompassing spirits, cigars, music, apparel, and other novelty items. The whiskey brand takes its name seriously, wanting to provide inspiration and guidance to minority-owned businesses in the spirits industry by creating a successful brand to pave the way as one of the only Black-owned spirits brands in the country.
“It’s my obligation [to lift up other minority-owned spirits brands], really. It’s the job. I take it that seriously,” says Jason.
“I was given an opportunity to be one of the first - I call us the ‘freshman class’ of minority-owned brands in spirits, and we won’t live to see how this ends, you know. Being one of the first brands in the market, it’s my responsibility to hold the door open for those that are coming behind me. I feel that it’s our job and our duty, and that’s what we do.”
Guidance Whiskey saw incredible growth in its first two years of business. Thanks to press coverage in Travel Noire and a partnership with Larry Dodson, the original lead singer of The Bar-Kays, Guidance Whiskey was able to reach more markets and grow as a brand.
Since 2018, Guidance Whiskey has expanded from 3 markets to 10, and in 2019 alone grew its revenue 2.5 times. Now, you can find Guidance Whiskey online in 44 different states. Even with this monumental growth, Jason was thirsting for more.
Raising up capital, community connections, and the next generation
“We were already thinking about doing a capital raise,” said Jason, “but I was more interested in raising awareness for the business and connecting with the community more so than money.”
Guidance Whiskey had a plan in place for the capital raise - it was going to fund inventory for the distillery, marketing materials, merchandise, and of course expand the capacity to put on more tastings to spread the spirit around.
Some people wondered why Jason would try crowdfunding instead of a traditional route. “I say, if you look at [the Honeycomb campaign], we got 240 people to connect to the business. That means more to me than having a quarter-million dollars. Money is limiting - there’s only so much you can do with it, you spend it, you can invest it, or you can save it.”
Jason sees the 240 investors who contributed to his campaign as more than just a bunch of dollar signs. “We get emails from people who want to get Guidance in different places. You get opened up to a community of ideas when people are invested in your product. When I heard about that part of Honeycomb, in the first 10 minutes, I knew that we wanted to do this.”
There were many high points that came along with the distillery’s campaign. The first, says Jason, was “going through the investor list and seeing people I haven’t even talked to before investing money. Some of the names of people on our campaign are really prominent people, but then there were people who I hadn’t even talked to in like five or ten years, who I didn’t know were following me on social media, that was great.”
In fact, so many people bought into the Honeycomb campaign that Guidance Whiskey became the first-ever campaign to surpass 200 investors!
But, the most important high for Jason occurred on a visit to a business club that he’s a member of. Another businessman in the club approached him and introduced him to his son, who invested in Guidance at just 23 years old.
Jason saw meeting this young man not only as an investor but as a means of building generational wealth. This investor was contributing not only to Guidance Whiskey’s campaign but was building his own portfolio in the process.
“Being able to meet [this young man], talk to him, and we actually had a drink of Guidance - that was one of the biggest moments for me - to connect with this kid, for him to feel it and be proud that he invested.”
Crowdfunding in the spirit of collaboration
Some of the keys to success for Guidance Whiskey’s crowdfunding campaign are collaboration and community buy-in, which is one of Jason’s primary characteristics as a serial entrepreneur.
“Collaboration is how we get where we are: taking my expertise and matching it up with your expertise. Our common goal is the fuel to this mechanism we’re driving,” says Jason. “Collaborating is saying, ‘what can we do for each other?’ and being intentional about it, because I want you to be successful and I want me to be successful.”
This is how Jason sees the crowdfunding campaign as a collaboration between Honeycomb and Guidance Whiskey.
“You look at Honeycomb and Guidance - we collaborated. I knew from day one what the costs were, what the fees were, everything was transparent. I just said, ‘This is Guidance, this is what we have,’ and we put those things together to make something beautiful.”
“I think it’s great what Honeycomb is doing, being able to include people,” continues Jason.
“In our culture, we refer to it as ‘The Barack Obama Effect’ because everyone remembers he raised so much money just from people giving $10, $5, and those little drops made a huge wave. [Honeycomb] being able to take that and put it into a campaign for small businesses, I think it’s very, very important and smart. And I hope that people take advantage of this opportunity inside of their circles to grow their businesses.”
Unlocking potential for both Guidance Whiskey and Nashville
The biggest part of the Honeycomb campaign’s success for Jason wasn’t just the $119,920 it raised for Guidance Whiskey’s expansion, it was the connections that he made in his community along the way.