“The market is going to tell you if they want you to continue or not. You can craft a beautiful plan but if people don’t like the way it tastes or looks, it doesn’t matter”
I met Michelle Da Silva & Dana Masterpolo through the sales reps for my own craft applejack brand. Fellow apple enthusiasts, their cider business was born out of a passion for using the best quality produce and spices to make their products.
Like many of my other interview subjects, half of team Bantam was already bootstrapping before the cider company came to fruition (pun intended). Dana Masterpolo ran a business for nearly a decade in professional services and although she loved her business, she ultimately decided making something tangible would be more rewarding than offering advice to others.
“Creating the flavor and the package and the whole process was a more exciting prospect. Also, once you run your own business, it’s hard to go back to any other sort of environment."
Michelle was in a similar position, having a safe career working in real estate insurance when she made the leap. Her grandparents were winemakers and her love for experimenting in the kitchen spurred her journey to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps.
Michelle and Dana launched Bantam in 2012 in Somerville, MA with their Wunderkind cider, learning on the job as they went along. “A lot of our learning took place in real time. And that’s really exciting to look back on. In five years, we went from having never done this before to making a cider of consistent quality.”
The hands-on experience paid off. They’ve since expanded the line to five year-round ciders in addition to their one-off experiments and secured distribution across five states.
We talked about authenticity, what success means for Bantam and how they connect with their customers and I found (as with other bootstrappers), the biggest challenge for small business owners is trying to scale, while staying true to themselves and not burning out.
“Success for us is making what we want to make and making it viable on a larger scale so we're not still bootstrapping,” Dana mentioned with a laugh, “as you know, bootstrapping can get very tiring.”
Coming from that small business mindset, Bantam’s founders perceive a lot of what’s in the market as inauthentic. They emphasized real taste and real flavor (ground spices over synthetic additives from an eyedropper, for example) as the biggest measure of their authenticity versus larger cider makers. As far as their branding, they don’t take themselves too seriously, “We’re not hipsters. We’re not a farmer and a scientist. We are who we are and we just want to make a really good product.”
Their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Roll with the punches, “don’t be tied to the plan, everything changes by the minute." Festivals, sampling opportunities, and their taproom space are their biggest assets in reaching current and future customers and five years in, they're still doing all that they can to bring their cider to the masses, "Persistence is key."
By The Bootstraps is my way of highlighting the stories of intrepid entrepreneurs as they bootstrap their way to success. Every week I’ll release a video (and sometimes audio version) of these conversations. If you’d like to read more about the project or submit your own entrepreneur story for consideration, visit here.