Spirits dadpreneur started with WHY when launching new biz

I am excited to introduce you to a great guy, Simon Ford.

Simon and I worked together at The ABSOLUT Spirits company before it was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2008. Back then, Simon was a respected taste maker in the spirits game, who traveled the globe befriending and influencing the world’s best bartenders. Some of these bartenders may well have taken melbourne rsa courses to kickstart their careers in the hospitality industry and improve their practices behind the bar.

Today Simon is an entrepreneur, recently starting his own spirits company, The 86 Co., and he’s a new dad trying to figure out how to balance the startup grind and raising a family.

I caught up with Simon and talked with him about how things are going.

Simon said his favorite book is, Start With Why, and starting with why made clear his reasons for launching his new biz. His company’s WHY has everything to do with bartenders.

What inspired you to start the company?

The main inspiration came from the 1,000’s of conversations I had with professional bartenders over my twenty years in the spirits business and hearing what they would like from a spirits company. From these conversations we created a company that considered what the professional bartender wants at every stage of the development process for each of our brands. The professional bartender looked at the quality, mix-ability, uses and stories behind our spirits before any of them came to life for the consumer.

What’s an example of how you focus on the “WHY?”

It’s regarded as a sign of quality to put a foil wrapper on the cap of a bottle. But we don’t put foils on our bottle caps. When bartenders ask why, I explain to them that I understand that having to fiddle with foil on the cap of a new bottle at 3 am when they are trying to go home just wastes their time. The bartenders think that is “brilliant” and it further endears them to me and The 86 Co. brands.

How did you transition from working for Pernod with a steady paycheck, to being an entrepreneur?

Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Not working for a pay check went against every instinct I was ever taught and losing the security of a job is quite daunting.

As an entrepreneur, you want your energy and focus to be on the business. You don’t consider that a lot of your worry will also be about paying the bills at home. I have a belief if you are doing something for the money, you are doing it for the wrong reason. I love what I do, but for now it’s tough.

I know that once I’ve started to have some cash flow coming in, that everything will be made easier. But I didn’t realize how much we’ve been impacted by not having my paycheck. Even things that you didn’t expect to make a difference have, like paying for the electricity, and if I want to become a successful entrepreneur, the electricity is vital to that. I should probably decide to start looking for providers similar to these Reliant Energy rates to see if I can cut back a bit on other areas so that we have extra money left over for more important things like food and necessities. I just didn’t expect it to be this hard.

Maybe money will be a reward for the hard work and passion one day, but that’s not why I am doing this. There is a famous saying I like to remind myself of: “overnight success takes at least five years.”

How were you able to get the business funded?

The funding of our Business has mostly come from friends, which also adds a huge amount of pressure because the last thing you want to do is let your friends down.

Since we launched, we have been underfunded as a company, which makes you become very creative. In hindsight, I am glad we never got the funding we were looking for because we have gotten quite far without it. We will need funding in the future to grow, which will hopefully be easier to find now that we have some success stories to share which hopefully means it will be a little easier to secure merchant funding options available to us.

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of time raising capital takes. It is a full-time job in itself.

How do you manage the startup grind and raising your toddler daughter?

I travel a lot, which makes it tough to balance fatherhood. But I work from home when I’m not traveling.

I used to be good at my job because I stayed out till 4am, but I can no longer do that since I have an 18-month old daughter. I am the only guy I know who gets more sleep because he has a baby!

Simon shared this video online with the following caption: “My daughter is getting more and more like me everyday.” That just cracks me up!

Here’s a cheeky video from this year’s Tales of the Cocktails awards featuring Simon as the bartender, in an attempt to explain how the cocktail shaker was invented:

Simon has been fortunate to receive lots of great media exposure, like this WSJ article about how to upgrade your gin and tonic. Here’s a quote from the WSJ about Fords Gin:

Fords Gin is beautifully balanced with just the right level of friendly citrus notes to keep you sipping and sipping.

And for all you gin and tonic enthusiasts out there, here’s the WSJ’s four tips you can use to transform your next G&T from the ordinary, to the sublime:

Simon is a tremendous dude and I am rooting for his success as an entrepreneur and dad. He seems to have the right focus, so I have no doubt he will succeed. Please support Simon’s brands if you see them at your local spirits store, or on the back bar of your favorite watering hole.

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Feature image credit: drinkmemag.com


  1. I loved learning more about your friend’s new startup business and that video of his little girl totally made me smile so much this morning!! 🙂

  2. Good to read what Simon is up after the ASCI years. I have so much respect for him launching a spirits Co. While the timing seems right with the “craft” boom, all the juggernauts are doing similar. Best of luck Simon! Cheers to 86 Co.

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