Bombilla closed its doors this week, three years after the promising young company – run by three 20-somethings from New Jersey – debuted its mate brand.
Co-founders Ariel Nelson, Noah Krinick and Thomas Wollmann earned the respect of their peers through hard work, but Seth Goldman, president and CEO of Honest Tea, said the brand failed to find its own niche and he wasn’t surprised that the company closed after failing to find more funding.
The brand initially offered mate teas (competing directly with better-established Guayaki), expanded into Asian teas (well covered by Ito En and others) and then into the crowded field of functional drinks that employ super fruits.
“If you’re just going to have products that are ‘me too’ products,” Goldman said, “then you either have to have a different strategy or more money.”
“I feel bad for them,” he added. “I know how much sacrifice is involved in building
a brand. The last thing an entrepreneur wants to see happen is what
happened to them.”
Bombilla did not return a call for comment, but – despite Goldman’s lack of surprise – the company’s financial shortfall may have shocked its founders.
On Thursday, Wollmann lamented to Beverage Business Insights that “One financing after another collapsed on us in the past few months. There’s just no capital out there. It’s a mess.”
But, in August, Wollman struck an optimistic tone when speaking about the company’s expanding distribution network, and Krinick, in November, gave BevNET president John Craven a peek at rebranding planned for this spring.
Pierre Ferrari, vice president of marketing at Guayaki, said that Bombilla’s departure was unfortunate, as the band had helped build awareness in the fast-expanding RTD mate category, even as it failed to build its own sales.
“They don’t seem to be a major player,” Ferrari said. “I’m not sure where all that inventory went.”
Still, Ferrari said he respected the energy that Wollman, Krinick and Nelson brought to their work, and he expected to see them create another business in the future.
“They’re going to come back as entrepreneurs in something else,” Ferrari said. “I think that’s very cool. It’s very American.”