Lawrence Cisneros was at the grocery store picking up some pre-made cocktails for his girlfriend when he had the thought: Why doesn’t something better than this stuff — Skinnygirl Cocktails or Mike’s Hard Lemonade — exist?
Lawrence, who at the time was a third-year law student at the University of Southern California, couldn’t get the idea out of his head.
As a kid, his mom had made fresh juice drinks all the time. What if he mixed those with alcohol to create cocktails like the ones he and his friends enjoyed in LA and NYC bars?
Lawrence went home that very night and started experimenting. For a self-described cocktail novice, the results were encouraging. After some more experimentation, he recruited his friend, Brandon Schwartz, with experience launching a consumer packaged goods company to partner with him in moving the company — dubbed In Spirit — forward.
A Good Time for Juice
Lawrence’s idea came at a good time in the beverage industry. In the last few years, high pressure processing technology has emerged, extending the typical shelf life of fresh juices from 3 to 45 days, with no need for pasteurization or preservatives. Companies like Suja and Evolution Fresh have thrived thanks to this technology, buoyed by high consumer demand.
The juice was one thing. But in order to create a prepackaged alcoholic cocktail, In Spirit needed to solve one problem. If the alcohol and the juice came pre-mixed, the spirits would denigrate the juice. They needed to create a dual-chamber bottle that separated the two — but then also made it possible to mix the two ingredients together in the same bottle.
Lawrence found an engineer to build a prototype, then went out looking for funding to manufacture it. A week after Lawrence graduated law school, a group of potential investors flew the team out to pitch the idea. Three days after he took the bar exam, they closed a $100,000 angel round.
The Bermuda Triangle of Fundraising
Recently, In Spirit recruited Jeff Grad, co-founder of Naked Juice and Evolution Fresh, as CEO. Lawrence — who readily admits he doesn’t have the right experience to run the company at this point in time — will be involved in operations and strategic vision.
In Spirit is currently working on raising its next capital raise. “Right now we’re dealing with what I like to call the Bermuda Triangle of capital raising,” says Lawrence. Alcohol investors are reticent to invest in a perishable product, juice companies don’t want to touch an alcohol product, and tech companies are skeptical of investing in a food and beverage company. “We’re a unique company with a unique product and a unique business model,” says Lawrence. He has no doubt they’ll be “very profitable and very valuable at the end of the day” — but they need to find an investor who will take a risk and perhaps venture outside their typical domain.
An Uncharted Path
“I never heard the word entrepreneur growing up,” says Lawrence. He’s the person with the most education in his family. “But I’ve always had different businesses, and always been hustling to make ends meet.” First, he “hustled to the next level as a law student,” and now, he’s doing whatever necessary to grow In Spirit. Law school isn’t a typical springboard for an entrepreneur. But Lawrence didn’t let that stop him. “As a first-time entrepreneur with no experience, no network, and no money,” he says, “I’m proud that I’ve been able to come this far.”