Jesse Altman
Whynatte co-founder Jesse Altman shares the Whynatte story with a group of BBA students. PHOTO: Allison Shirreffs

Whynatte may have had a humble beginning, but this canned beverage concoction has morphed from a hangover-induced afterthought to a company with nearly a half million dollars in sales.

Last week, Whynatte co-founder Jesse Altman shared the Whynatte story with a group of Goizueta BBA students — starting with how he and his friend and business partner, Andy Wessels created a viable business out of a night of excess.

“How the hell do you start a beverage company?” Altman, who majored in biology, recalls asking himself. “I had no idea.”

To figure it out, he spent a year writing a business plan. He admits doing so was more an exercise in getting his head around the process as much as it was an actual roadmap for building the business.

That said, the business plan, coupled with an ongoing grassroots movement (Wessels and Altman regularly ordered their signature Whynattes — a café latte with a shot of Jagermeister — at Atlanta area watering holes, and took photos of themselves and others enjoying the beverage, and posted them online) helped the pair raise money.

It also helped sell their idea to Jim Natoli, a former Coca-Cola Company employee and beverage industry veteran, who came on board to help bring Whynatte to market.

Altman led students through Whynatte’s short history (the company is just three years old), from attorneys to distribution to selling his other ongoing business interest so he could concentrate on Whynatte full time.

“You have to get in with both feet,” he said.

The business partners networked, met with venture capitalists, figured out a path to market, worked on branding, got an introduction to the ruthlessness of competition, made mistakes and retooled.

He showed students the Rogers’ Curve, a concept that suggests innovation is communicated, over time, through social system channels, with successive groups of consumers — innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

“The reality is, you can’t skip a step,” explained Altman.

For Whynatte to become a hit, they’d need to start with innovators and early adopters. Something they did, more or less, by accident in creating a Whynatte following at Atlanta bars. Among the Whynatte faithful are a few celebrities — comedienne Margaret Cho and actor Owen Wilson, who is also a Whynatte investor.

As they’ve moved across the Roger’s Curve, Whynatte has experienced its ups and downs.

“Sometimes it’s going to suck,” he said, but added that most of the time, it’s fun.

– Allison Shirreffs