The First Drop: Sipping at a New Dream

This isn’t the story of a billion-dollar exit, but it isn’t the tragic end to the entrepreneurial dream, either. It’s about a journey completed. Beth Wilson-Parentice is leaving Sipp, the company she started plotting out in her kitchen nearly a decade ago with nothing but a gifted palate, creative ambition, and a well of determination.

At the time, it was the recessions, and Beth had lost her job. A talented cocktail maker, however, she saw that there weren’t many organic craft sodas on the market at the time – and there were even fewer brewed with the expressed intent to work as nontraditional cocktail mixers. (Yes, there were plenty of people like me who typically tried every new CSD we received with either tequila or rye, but, like Beth, I was prescient, and thirsty).

Beth was on to something, but like so many beverage entrepreneurs, she had to scratch and claw to get that first run done. She flew across the country to find her flavor house, she brought in relatives as investors, she knew what it was like to be teetering on broke. Her first concoctions were made by hand, sold out of her car, fueled by bartending gigs that involved the mixes she’d created for her friends at parties. She had the itch, though, and she had to turn pro, just like so many of our readers.

I met her in 2010, at Expo East, not knowing that she had just managed the neat trick of completing her very first production run just a few hours before the show. But she made an impression, both with the products, which tasted great, and on Emil Capital. That family office reached out to invest in Sipp in 2012 – remarkably early for a brand which, at the time, had little real revenue and a tiny distribution footprint.

Over the years, Beth has kept in touch. She’s let me know when she’s been upset with us, whether it’s been over too much coverage or too little. She’s also let me know when good things have happened, when she’s developed a flavor she’s loved – because she does love the way they taste. When she moved the product into cans, when it evolved from “eco-soda” to “sparkling organics,” when she won distribution, she was always proud, because she was working on the dream, and working hard.

The way consumers view sodas has changed quite a bit since Sipp launched, with an increasing emphasis on zero sugar products, and a move to sparkling, fruit-infused waters that don’t rely on sweetness. Competition emerged in the mixer space. Meanwhile, Emil went on to infuse cash into the company twice more, each time diluting Beth’s share of Sipp, but helping to keep the brand afloat.

It’s old advice, that when an investor comes in, the founder isn’t the owner anymore. Beth said she doesn’t regret it, but maybe down the road, she wants to do it differently. “After that Series C, there was something about that day,” she said. “At that point it was that epiphany, that you have to think about how you’ve grown the company, where you’ve taken it, and what my future looks like.”

After the last round, she decided that things had to change, but that she wasn’t done yet. She went back to the kitchen, she went back to the flavor house, she went back to her palate. She came up with a product, an infused water called Sipp Infusions. Like in the soda game, Beth’s not sure that such a high quality product will win on price. That’s what the movement has been, but it hasn’t raised up every brand. She’s clear eyed on that. But she’s done what she wanted to do. The platform is built out, she thinks. “I feel like, for Sipp, the product innovation, it’s done,” she said. “I feel good about it.”

Beth’s leaving the company behind in the hands of her investors, and she’s sanguine about the next journey. She’s doing some consulting. She’s working on flavors for clients – many of them women just starting out in the business, as she had been herself. She’s affiliated with her old friend, Eric Schnell, who she said gave her advice and support in the way that only a fellow Philadelphian can. She’s watched her son, for whom she needed to find sitters during trade shows, graduate from high school. She’s built a brand, lived the dream, and is moving on to the next one.

“It’s sad,” she told me. “Sipp was such a big part of my life, but what outweighed it were what my possibilities are now.”