money moves

Houston venture capital group enters into new era with rebrand

Samantha Lewis, director of GOOSE Capital, shares how the investment firm has rebranded and is focused on the future. Photo courtesy of GOOSE

A Houston-based venture group has flipped the switch on its rebranding in order to transition itself into a new era of innovation and startup investing.

GOOSE Capital — previously known as GOOSE Society of Texas — is a private investment firm based in Houston that focuses on early-stage venture capital deals. Rather than operating as a fund, the GOOSE Capital model enables its corps of investors comprised of Fortune 500 execs and successful serial entrepreneurs direct access to a portfolio of startups and investment deals. At the same time, GOOSE's portfolio companies are able to receive support from these investors.

GOOSE's rebrand includes a new name and website, but also represents a new phase for the investment firm. Samantha Lewis, director of GOOSE Capital, sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the rebranding and what it means for the firm.

InnovationMap: How did the rebranding come about?

Samantha Lewis: In the autumn of 2017 at Kenny and Ziggy's over a plate of greasy eggs and diner coffee, I sat across from Jack Gill, an immensely successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist and the founder of the GOOSE Society of Texas. I had just graduated from the Rice MBA program. I had decided not to go forward with a "tough-tech" startup I'd been working on for most of that year, and I was looking for my next gig, one that could leverage my entrepreneurship operator experience but also get my foot in the door to venture capital.

Jack laid out for me what is an age-old story in the startup world — a high potential organization that has proven itself in its current form, with loads of raw materials but a need for a leader who could take it to the next level. Fortunately, I was the person for the job, and with my energy and their expertise, it was time to level up the GOOSE Society of Texas. One of my key objectives was to build out the strategy and oversee the transition from GOOSE Society of Texas, a loose collection of highly successful individuals investing in ventures, to GOOSE Capital — a diversified, innovation-focused venture firm that can go toe-to-toe with the rest.

IM: Why now?

SL: GOOSE has been investing in startups since 2005. That's a long time. Lately, though, we've co-invested with some major VCs in some hot deals. For example, GOOSE seeded Outrider, an autonomous zero emission trucking solution for logistics centers with follow-on capital provided by NEA, 8VC, and Koch Disruptive Technologies. We also co-led one of the hottest series A deals out of Houston (am I biased?), Syzygy Plasmonics, with The Engine, a fund associated with MIT, and joined the ranks of other major players in the cleantech investing space like Evonik and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

It was time to ensure our brand represented our successful transition that started in that old school Houston diner in late 2017.

IM: What does the rebranding mean for GOOSE's future?

SL: Working with Houston-based Spacecraft Brands, we really wanted to capture what we admire about Houston and what we love about GOOSE: legacy and tradition combined with new beginnings and innovation. Keeping with the original theme of a goose taking flight to represent the startups we invest in, we added the orange circle in the background to represent a sunrise to reflect new beginnings and a sunset to pay homage to a successful decade and a half of GOOSE deploying capital.

As for the future of GOOSE Capital, expect great things. Our re-branding is one of the many steps we are taking to solidify our position in the Seed and Series A venture scene.

IM: What does investing look like these days for GOOSE?

SL: So far in 2020, all of our capital has gone to portfolio companies to strengthen their balance sheets as we wade through the uncertain waters of commercialization and fundraising in the midst of a pandemic. We are still actively diligencing deals, including three from the Rice Business Plan Competition, one in the TMCx cohort, a few Houston based deals, and a couple outside of Texas.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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