When you talk to Mack McConnell, it’s clear that he’s a guy who was never going to have a “traditional” career trajectory. He’s traveled the world (ask him what his weekend plans are and he’ll probably say, “Actually, I’m just about to get on a flight to Morocco!”), he’s pretty much always starting a new side project or business, and he drops phrases like, “… so then I just moved to Paris.”
But if you hear those things and think he’s full of bluster or ego, you’d be 100% wrong. He’s all hustle, humility, and curiosity — qualities that helped him build his craft spirits subscription club business, Taster’s Club from an idea into six figures of MRR over the course of several years. We caught him recently between trips to exotic locales to chat a bit about how he started and grew Taster’s Club, why he ultimately decided to sell it, and what he’s up to now.
An Interview with Taster’s Club founder, Mack McConnell
What was the #1 reason that you decided to start your own business? Were you doing it as a side project, or was it your full time gig?
I had gotten obsessed with trying and learning all about new spirits when I was living in San Francisco, and I had this little standing get together with a couple of friends. We would all buy whiskey and learn about what made it special, and then bring the bottle and drink it together. And that was really fascinating to me.
I sort of have this tick where I get obsessed with the things I’m into, so I started to learn everything I could about spirits. I thought if I could just package this experience and give it to people, I might be able to get people as lit up about this stuff as I was.
It was also clear to me pretty quickly that the industry needed a bit of an update. I did my best to create a new way to experience the world’s most exciting spirits, giving people a deeper relationship with what they were drinking.
I was working at Intuit as a product manager when I started hacking around on different projects, which ultimately led to Taster’s Club. Then, for the first year or so of the business I was working as a developer for a startup in Paris.
So Taster’s Club began as a passion and was purely side project while I was working for other people, but it quickly became my full-time job.
When you were deciding on the tools that you were going to use to run and manage Taster’s Club, how did you pick those? Was it totally through personal research, groups of peers, cost based, a bit off all the above? We’d love to hear more about this.
I built Taster’s Club using Ruby on Rails, Shopify, BackInStock, WordPress, Stripe, MailParser, HelpScout and Zapier to name a few.
I’ve found that the startup community is helpful and happy to lend a hand. My favorite method is to find people in the community that I respect and then occasionally turn to them for advice, including whether they know the right tool for a job.
Once you had money coming in and you knew this product just might work, what was your goal? Was it hitting a certain MRR number? Was it selling it? Tell me a little about what your plans were once you saw Taster’s Club could generate real revenue.
After we had established ourselves and I knew this was a real business, I had an aggressive goal of 100% top line revenue growth year over year. At the time, “established” to me really just meant being able to quit my day job and focus on Taster’s Club full time. Once I was able to get free from other responsibilities was when I was able to make those clearer growth goals.
How did you know it was time to make your first hire? What role were you looking to fill, and where did you go to find that person?
I knew it was time to make my first hire when I was simply being spread too thin. As an entrepreneur you want to be challenging yourself to rethink what you’re working on to find higher value, but in the early days of a business — particularly one that’s bootstrapped — it’s hard to think through that filter because you need to be all hands on deck just to get the thing to work.
A strength of mine is that I can wear a lot of hats, but once we got that initial success it actually became a weakness because I was constraining our growth.
The model where I was working 60 hours a week wearing all the hats (customer support, web developer, designer, operations manager, writer, everything) definitely got us from zero to one, but it was driving me crazy and I knew if I didn’t change it we would just stay at one! I wouldn’t say there was a particular day or moment, more of a slow boil that at some point I couldn’t ignore any longer.
Our first major hire was a director of operations which requires a pretty particular profile. I was lucky because he came to us after hearing what we were doing and wanted to get involved. The timing couldn’t have been better.
At what point did you know it was time to sell Taster’s Club?
At some point I knew Taster’s Club needed a fresh perspective. At that point I had been behind the wheel for about six years and was proud of our growth. We had mostly hit all of our growth targets, but more importantly, I felt like we had done a great job at our original goal: Getting people lit up about craft spirits. It was time for me to hand it over and work on something new.
Tell me a bit about the selling process, what were you looking for? How did you know who to trust?
I was mostly looking for someone who would continue to build on what we’d made, a buyer who understood our vision and wanted to keep pushing it forward while treating our customers and team right.
I was afraid that a buyer would want to replace my team and change the company in other fundamental ways, sort of losing what I thought made Taster’s Club special. From day one SureSwift totally understood what I was trying to do and they made it clear they weren’t trying to rock the boat.
They were also very decisive, which was refreshing. After they did their analysis on our growth, etc., they decided they wanted the company in their portfolio and were ready to make moves.
Now that your product found a new home with SureSwift Capital, what are you hoping for with the future of Taster’s Club?
I’m not involved with Taster’s Club anymore, but my hopes for it remain the same: Maintain our position as a market leader by staying squarely focused on the company’s original goal to help people get people excited and passionate about craft spirits. If we can continue to deliver on that mission, I know growth will follow.
SureSwift has done a great job delivering on this promise to our customers, primarily through launching new clubs, and improved processes and content for members. I’m excited to see what happens next!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on growth with a couple of SureSwift’s other portfolio companies and trying to develop a few of my own ideas on the side. I started working on something recently that I’m not ready to share, but I’m really excited about! Traveling is something that has always been important to me too, and I’m doing much more of it these days.
And with that, he hopped on a flight to Morocco.