One of Australia’s most prominent champagne educators and consultants, Kyla Kirkpatrick, has successfully raised $1 million in funding for her online champagne retail startup Emperor.
Kirkpatrick’s champagne love story began in 2005 after she headed to Paris and trained to become a champagne educator, landing a job as an ambassador for the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy empire in Sydney, before launching her own consultancy and education business, The Champagne Dame.
Kirkpatrick tells StartupSmart that in 2015 she began to become aware of the enormous commitment her consultancy business was, and started to look for an additional way she could reach and educate more people.
She eventually landed on the idea of an online champagne retailer.
Plucking 1000 individuals from her 40,000 base at The Champagne Dame, Kirkpatrick surveyed them on their needs and the shortcomings of the current Australian champagne retail landscape. She found the general consensus was that they were being underserviced.
“Champagne lovers don’t see themselves like other wine drinkers. It’s the most expensive wine in the market and the most technically challenging to make, which means they’re more nuanced and special consumers,” Kirkpatrick says.
“So why does that consumer want to go in Dan Murphy’s, get no service, and buy champagne that’s stacked next to hundreds of bottles of sparkling wine?”
Kirkpatrick says the local champagne market is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. With this in mind, she began an 18-month journey of planning her startup, Emperor, building it from the feedback of her existing clients, many of which were lawyers, chief executives, and other “people of influence”.
“I picked up my phone to some of those clients and asked if I could have an hour of time to get some honest feedback on my business plan, and they were fantastic,” she says.
Emperor launched quietly at the end of 2017, and at the same time Kirkpatrick finalised a $1 million seed round, backed by two private investors and $250,000 of her own money.
She says the decision to invest in the business herself was important to show she had “skin in the game”. The initial investors into Emperor approached her out of the blue, expressing interest in the business.
After launch, Emperor locked in $200,000 in sales in the first two months and has continued to see strong growth into 2018. Though her previous experience was in the consulting space, the founder views Emperor as a startup, as the business revolves around an online tech platform, and Kirkpatrick herself has gone through the paces of raising capital.
“I truly believe raising capital is an art form, and it’s daunting doing it yourself, learning the lingo and also learning everything you don’t know,” she says.
“At the same time, it’s not difficult when you have a great business model. If your idea is right and your vision is right, you’ll get capital, it just depends how long it takes.
“Look towards your customers for investors, because if you find people that already know you half the work is done.”
$2 million series A nears completion
Kirkpatrick is also in the final throes of a Series A raise, which despite starting just four weeks ago is nearly wrapped up, though she notes it’s “not over until the fat lady sings”.
While the founder considered going down the venture capital route for her second raise, she ended up returning to private investors. Four investors – two existing clients and two “very experienced businessmen” have made up a $2 million round.
Kirkpatrick says she found herself more confident in the second round of raising, already having an existing business making sales with real customers. The money from the raise will be going towards growing the business in international markets, including the purchase of a chateau in France for Emperor customer experiences.
Emperor is being built into a vertical business with an import side, allowing the retailer to have better controls over margins and pricing. Kirkpatrick says she wants to claim 2% of the market in five years, and 5% in ten years, and has a roadmap which includes an Asian and North American launch in the medium term.
“My true vision for the business is to be the voice of champagne in Australia. When you think of champagne, you think of Emperor,” she says.