I Quit My Job in Silicon Valley to Reinvent the Way We Drink
Haus’s cofounder on the power of one good idea.
Updated Oct 10, 2018 4:42 PM
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Whenever a Silicon Valley company wanted to show that it was more than just its software, hardware, interface, what have you, they’d turn to Helena Price Hambrecht. A hobby photographer since childhood with a background in PR and communications, she came armed with a mélange of skills to give tech giants a human touch, an aesthetic revamp, or a compelling campaign that helped them stand apart from their competitors. Simply put, Helena is a storyteller.
So when she had the idea for an innovation of her own, the alcohol brand Haus, she knew she had all the tools necessary to create something truly captivating—especially with the expertise of her husband, third-generation winemaker Woody Hambrecht.
Haus isn’t just a drink—it’s more of an idea. Technically an aperitif, the spirit is made with all-natural ingredients from the couple’s farm, with a low ABV (just 15 percent) that makes it pretty much hangover-proof. You can mix it with Prosecco, seltzer, ginger beer, and the like—or sip it with ice. Either way, it’s about a third less alcohol than the vodka, whiskey, or gin you might normally order. Helena’s goal? To give people a delicious cocktail that doesn’t make you feel bad—and to change the norms of drinking culture at large. Here, she shares how she came to challenge an industry that’s hardly ever been challenged before.
She Stumbled Upon a Specific Problem
“I was pursuing my career in Silicon Valley for 10 years, and found myself drinking all the time,” Helena says. “Half of that was for business, but then it was also catching up with friends and going on dates. I would ask myself over and over, Why is there not a better way to drink?” Then Helena met Woody.
Serendipitously, this same question plagued him—at the time, he was making aperitifs, which he became passionate about after living in Germany, a country with a vibrant drinking culture that includes a far wider array of low-alcohol drinks than can be found in the U.S.
“I did some research and realized millennials care about their bodies and their image and transparency and authenticity and convenience. But when you look at what alcohol was doing to meet this need, it was nothing,” Helena says. “I thought, Wow, what an amazing opportunity for someone to tackle this market.”
She Juggled Two Jobs at Once
Her years spent researching consumer trends and developing brand identities meant Helena knew a good idea when she saw—or heard—one. The name Haus came to her immediately (a nod to her husband’s Berlin days), and a trademark shortly after. “It only took us a year to get from idea to launch, which is pretty darn fast,” Helena says.
That meant metaphorically keeping several—maybe even dozens—of plates spinning all at once. She continued working on her creative projects (including one for Facebook!) through her production company, Dagmar Studios, up until a few months before Haus’s launch in June 2019. “I did it in tandem for a while because we had to financially,” she says. “But the hilarious thing is now I use that production studio to produce photo shoots for Haus, so I still work with my old crew.”
She Was Told No Again and Again
“Our first $1 million raised took us eight months and me pitching about 500 people. It was hard—there were hundreds of people telling me no in both nice and unkind ways. You have to have a deep confidence in what you’re building,” Helena says. “There’s an anecdote: Women are judged on their results, while men are judged on their potential. I’ve definitely experienced that in the fundraising process, and all I could do is continue pitching and connecting with people who were willing to take that risk.”
She learned it’s okay if not everybody’s on board. “Of course, there were people who thought it was stupid, a direct-to-consumer brand with no substance,” Helena says. “If I have to convince you that this is valuable, then you’re probably not my customer.”
But She Thought Big-Picture Anyway
A delicious, low-alcohol, display-worthy drink option is a welcome addition to a bar cart, but ultimately Helena has never seen Haus as just a direct-to-consumer product. “It’s about people getting together and making products for how our generation hangs out today. Alcohol is clearly a problem that needs solving first,” she says—but that’s just the beginning. “For us, it’s also about bringing aperitif culture to America and leading that charge.”
With a brick-and-mortar gathering space established in New York City, Helena plans to host more events in the year to come. “It’s not just that people hate the state of alcohol—they hate a lot of the environments that we drink in,” she says. “There’s a lot of work that’s still to be done.”
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