What did you do on your first big break from the kids? Take it easy? Unwind? Or plan on creating a $1bn brand? In just two years, Jatt Life has gone from startup to a £10m valuation. However, according to founders Baz and Sunny Kooner, this is just the start. Their game plan is to build the Black Country drinks brand to a $1bn valuation, making it the Midlands’ second ‘unicorn’ business after Gymshark. And they plan to do it with angel investment, venture capital, a flotation – and then selling out, all within the next five years. It’s a big call: can the couple really do it? “Yes,” says Baz without skipping a beat. “We’ve both set up businesses before, and know how to scale up. We asked Chris Ellis, who’d just left as Pernod Ricard’s commercial director, to have a look at what we were doing. He’s used to selling and buying companies for hundreds of millions. We expected Chris to rip us to shreds and take us back to square one. “Instead, he gave us a massive pat on the back on products, agreements, contractors, marketing and branding. He felt all we needed was to build sales over a couple of years so we have a credible volume.” The Kooners’ idea has been to create an infrastructure that, they feel, can be scaled up quickly for that unicorn growth.
So they already have the plant, the brand, the contacts, the marketing and the people – Ellis has been taken on as a non-exec and gifted shares in the business, while law firm Gateley, which advised Gymshark on its stratospheric rise, has been retained to guide the couple. At the start of this year, the business had input three external investors valuing it at £10m. They have already sold about 200,000 bottles.
If all goes to plan the Kooners, who have so far bootstrapped Jatt Life, intend to get some venture capital investment in 2023. Jatt Life is based in Kingswinford, in a 15,000 sq ft site that is probably like nothing else in the drinks industry. It is a part-bottling and blending plant, part-office, and partplayground for influencers that grow an army of digital good-timers who promote brands through their lifestyle on social media. Every part of the Kingswinford plant is designed to be ‘Instagramable’, encouraging influencers to promote Jatt Life. So, alongside the bottling plant there is the dancefloor;along with the boardroom are two bars – one whisky, one vodka; in addition to sales and marketing desks is the studio, the mic stand for rappers, the dessert stand, the Lamborghini. And that, according to the Kooners, is what sets them apart from the “same old, same old” drinks brands.
Theirs is a direct appeal through social media to an audience that sees success in terms of a young millionaire – maybe a rapper, maybe an entrepreneur getting out of that ‘Lambo’ in ripped jeans and ordering a cocktail in the VIP section of a club. “Although it’s a very crowded market, we saw a gap,” says Sunny. “Everyone on social media was having the same few go-to drinks brands. We saw there was a chance to make something that was fresh and innovative, using the latest trends with influencers and rappers. The real breakthrough was the name Jatt Life, something we say in the South Asian community for the high life. So if someone gets a new car or watch it’s ‘jatt life, baby!’” “We were on quite a lavish holiday in Dubai – the first time without the kids in years – when we came up with it,” jumps in Baz. “I was in my gown and shades by our private pool and wanted to send a picture back to the lads. I took a bottle of whisky, scratched off the name, and wrote ‘Jatt Life’ on instead, and asked Sunny to send the picture. Instead, she said ‘why don’t we create our own brand?’ “That was effectively the end of the holiday.
Because we work together and are married all we ever do is talk about work. The next day we flipped open the laptop, registered the business and got in contact with our IP guy about developing the brand, and spent the next few days brainstorming.” Before Jatt Life both Kooners were successful entrepreneurs. Baz built a chain of convenience stores around the Black Country, going from one to ten in three years. Sunny, meanwhile, started a chain of dessert parlours Delightful Desserts – in 2015, which has grown to 24 stores across the UK and Netherlands, with more openings planned. Weeks before the launch of Jatt Life, the two, with Baz now on board, expanded Delightful Desserts into a food services business supplying about 300 restaurants around the country.
They continue to run those businesses, although their focus is clearly on the drinks brand. After returning from holiday with their plan, the Jatt Life project went ahead at almost indecent speed. The tastings, blendings and branding was done with a company in the north, which was meant to produce the drinks. However, that fell through in a few months: undeterred they took on the Kingswinford site last summer, taking the blending and bottling in-house. This has allowed the business to increase quickly its range from the original vodka to four flavoured vodkas, whisky important for the South Asian wedding market and gin, which is aimed at female drinkers. A range of non-alcoholic drinks is planned for later this year.
In many ways, the first lockdown provided huge opportunities for the Kooners. As bars, restaurants and clubs shut down, people started drinking from home and surfing social media, meaning Jatt Life was well placed to take advantage of the growth of online retail and next-day delivery. “Normally the drink trade tries to build a brand through clubs and bars,” says Sunny. “That was closed to us – but it was also closed to everyone else. We used our contacts in the cash & carry sector to get into the retail market, and they were willing to stock us because they’d seen the brand promoted by influencers. As Baz has worked in that sector, he knows what they want. Now we need to get in with the very big cash & carry operators, and they are starting to meet us.” Those lockdown and repeated Covid restrictions have also meant that many of those same bars and clubs have seen their contracts with drinks suppliers end, allowing the Kooners to get in and offer their own range.
They have taken up more than 30 contracts in the past few months including Birmingham city centre venues such as Snobs nightclub in Smallbrook Queensway, Sobar in the Arcadian Centre, Theatrix and Henman and Cooper, both in Colmore Row. The company has already started shipping drinks to Canada, Australia and New Zealand and plans to add seven other countries including Nigeria and Dubai this year. “We said when we set up Jatt Life that we wanted to do things differently, as well as bigger and better than anyone else,” says Baz. “We’ve got huge ambitions to create a brand that will eventually earn unicorn startup status. We wanted all this to be about lifestyle and flamboyance, because it all leads to our end goal of business mentorship. “A lot of people try to teach entrepreneurship but have not earned their stripes. I want us to be able to stand up in front of 500 people and say we’ve created a retail chain, got successful franchises, a successful food service business – but most of all to be able to say we’ve created a unicorn business.”