Photo: Craig Cordes
Many of the best ideas are the simplest ones. Like on-the-go frozen cocktails.For Craig Cordes and brothers Antonio and Sal LaMartina, the cocktail idea has netted them $350,000 in angel funding and deals with big-name brands like Walmart.
In the five years since they launched Cordina, they’ve gone from three to 126 employees, and moved from a 2,000 square-foot rented space to 75,000 square-foot facility.
When they launched, says Cordes, there was nothing else like it on the market. “We had no experience and hardly a clue about what we were doing,” he says. “So we talked to industry experts and got a good sense of it. But the first eight months were the hardest.”
In the beginning, all three of them had full-time jobs. Cordes worked as an auditor and the LaMartina brothers were sales managers. Between the three of them, they managed to secure a $25,000 bank loan to start them off and rented a 2,000 square-foot space where the trio filled and capped their drinks by hand on nights and weekends.
When they first approached Republic National Distributing Company about distributing their product, they were turned down. After that, they approached a smalled wine distributor instead.
“We told them that we’d do anything,” says Cordes. “We said we’d do most of the leg work ourselves, and go out and basically sell the product for them.”
For the next two years during summer weekends, the three Cordina founders were behind tables giving out samples of their pre-mixed cocktails. Cordes’ mother encouraged them to apply for Idea Village, a non-profit New Orleans-based incubator. But their application was denied.
“And after we got rejected, we had no intentions of applying again,” says Cordes. “But then a friend encouraged us to submit an application anyway, so after a while, we did.”
From the time between the first and second application in 2009, not much changed on Cordina’s side, but Idea Village had implemented some new strategies of its own. When the Cordina founders first applied, it was via an online portal that left little room to comprehend the passion and drive of the trio and their product. The second application required a face-to-face interview with the CEO of Idea Village.
“The interview was brutal,” says Cordes. “He asked us so many intricate questions about the business, like why did it work and would it create jobs. We were still in the early stages, but we answered his questions as best as we could. Still, we had no idea it would turn out to be this big.”
Their tenure at Idea Village culminated with the Coulter Pitch Challenge, named after Jim Coulter, venture capitalist and CEO of TPG Capital. The men at Cordina presented their idea in front of investors and fellow wanna-be entrepreneurs.
During the pitch, Sal LaMartina painted a picture for the crowd: “Imagine yourself sitting on the beach, relaxing by the pool, or cruising on the boat, and being able to reach into an ice tray and pull out a frozen margarita,” he said. “We have your favourite frozen cocktails in a Capri Sun-like pouch. Our product eliminates the need for the blender. It eliminates the need for the ice, the mix. You simply freeze, squeeze, and enjoy.”
The winning pitch resulted in a 350 per cent revenue spike and $350,000 in angel capital, according to Fast Company, where they were featured in the magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. Initially selling 150,000 units in its first year, Cordina will sell 1.2 million cases this year, bringing in almost $27 million in revenue—up $22.4 million from last year.
The company is structured as a limited liability corporation and has created jobs for 126 New Orleans residents. “We have multiple managers to make for everyone is accounted for,” says Cordes. “We have weekly calls with all of our managers to ensure progress and help smooth out any issues that arise.” Their sprawling new location and technology relieves them of the handiwork—an automated filling machine gets the job done for them.
It wasn’t long before Republic Distributing Company, who previously turned them down, came calling. Now Cordina drinks are available in five different flavours at Wal-Marts in eight states and Walgreens nationwide, as well as some local grocery stores.
In the future, Cordina plans to expand its products to more locations and add more flavours. Cordes hopes to be able to have its drinks sold at club stores such as Safeway, Sam’s and Costco’s, to satisfy the customers who want the beverage in multi-flavour bulk packages.
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