The Entrepreneur Bringing You a Different Kind of Buzz

Brynne Gosch is an MBA RC partner. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of California – Los Angeles and most recently worked in diagnostics of infectious diseases.

Mariah Wood, recent graduate and co-founder of Tilden Cocktails, wants you to find a deeper, more magical social connection.

It’s my first time meeting Mariah Wood (MBA ’22), and after climbing up the old stairs to her apartment, she greets me with the simplest question I’ve ever heard: “Do you like chocolate?”

I nod and she storms into the kitchen and I ask her husband Brad about the art on her walls. He points to the one in the center, a soulful blue and gold piece reminiscent of Picasso’s Blue Period. “Mariah did this over the holidays last year.” He then briskly thumbs through a few framed pieces on the floor, waiting to be arranged on her gallery wall. He finds what he’s looking for and gives it to me. “Look at this one. This is from Mariah’s grandma.” It’s a black and white infographic guide to fabrics and their use cases. “At first I thought it just looked cool, but it was actually very helpful.”

Ten minutes later, Mariah emerges from the kitchen holding a wooden tray with glasses filled to the brim with frothy dark chocolate. She looks at me with wide, expectant eyes as I take my first sip. It’s paradise: deep, sweet and creamy. “It’s amazing,” I say, her whole face lighting up in delight at my joy. “Is not it?” She gushes and then dives into the story of how she got this chocolate from a small craft shop in Utah and teaches me what the different notes in the bean are. Before business school, she was a management consultant, and she would sometimes buy hummus and bags of pitas for her meals and spend her dinner money on the fanciest and most interesting candy bars she could unearth in her work towns.

All of this makes Mariah the entrepreneur she is. In her own words, “I want to create magical moments.” Mariah is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Tilden Cocktails, which sells a line of non-alcoholic cocktails. Creating something special, “that moment at a party that everyone will remember in a month’s time,” drives her leadership.

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Why Non-Alcoholic Drinks? It’s easy for Mariah. “I believe people should have options.” Alcohol consumption is an integral part of many professional and social events. Tilden aims to provide consumers with ways to engage in these activities without consuming alcohol. “At Tilden, we are driving a cultural shift towards being yourself. We support that authenticity rather than feeling like you need a mind-altering substance to create a personal connection.”

Mariah Wood is a great spokesperson for the brand. In her own words: “I can dance on a table sober. I don’t need the alcohol.” Many consumers feel the same way, and the market for non-alcoholic beverages is growing. Recently, there have been major acquisitions of startups in this space by alcohol giants, including Diageo, which owns Smirnoff, Guinness and Captain Morgan. Researching this growing market and defining its core customer segments were the first things Mariah and her co-founder Vanessa Royle (MBA ’22) did.

Mariah and Vanessa met during their freshman year at an HBS pitch night. Vanessa introduced a non-alcoholic single-serve imitation of a classic cocktail in a can. Mariah jumped on board and teamed up with two others for the HBS Startup Bootcamp over the winter break. This dedicated time developing their idea was critical to their success. According to Mariah, “Ideas alone are worth nothing. Aside from some really specific IPs, if you can pitch someone your idea and they can execute it in front of you, then you probably weren’t the right person for the idea.” She explains that the best first step for an entrepreneur is to get yourself Taking time to educate yourself about the space of ideas and to test hypotheses. Startup Bootcamp was the best way for Mariah and her team to push their concept from scratch.

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Startup Bootcamp wasn’t the only HBS resource Mariah and her team used. When asked about the most useful campus resources on her entrepreneurial journey, she began checking off a list of courses. Startup Operations, Creating Brand Value and How to Price Everything were off her tongue first. She also conducted an independent project with faculty member Martin A. Sinozich, who teaches several HBS classes and is a mentor to entrepreneurs. Mariah also cites a classmate who gave Tilden a crash course in design principles and iLab to help with legal resources. Also, she and Vanessa spent the summer between their RC and EC years as Rock Summer Fellows, working full-time on their startup.

Her advice to current HBS students interested in starting a business straight out of business school is to make time for it. “Make a list of your half-baked ideas and take a few hours each week to look at the market.” The biggest challenge of starting a startup as a student is how low-risk it is. According to Mariah, it’s almost too easy to say as a college student, “I work at a startup.” It’s difficult to decide how to allocate time, both the hours in a week and the precious summer of exploration between RC and EC years. For RC students, Mariah has one piece of advice: “Don’t waste this summer doing something you could have learned without spending three months on it.”

During their EC years, Mariah and Vanessa prepared pitch materials for investors and hit the sidewalk right after graduation. Last month, Tilden completed its first round of fundraising. They raised almost $600,000 from angel investors, family and friends. Mariah demystified the fundraising process, an effort that, in her words, relies on “contacts of contacts of contacts.” She explains: “We started with a counselor from school who knew us well and they put us in touch with so-and-so who put us in touch with someone interested in the space. You have to make six or seven calls before you find someone that’s right for you.” For administrative work, they used SAFEs for Angels and a rollup vehicle in AngelList for Friends and Family, which Mariah says is “much easier from a legal and bureaucratic standpoint is”.

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Now Mariah is focused on completing product development. “It’s not a linear process. We had prototypes, sold prototypes, but getting the product to something you want to bottle and mass produce is difficult.” Harbus readers may know these prototypes by a previous company name, Jasper Cocktails, which made three ready-to-serve non-alcoholic cocktails. Transforming something that worked on a small scale to a larger scale is both an art and a science. From a scientific point of view, the pH and sugar content of the drink must be within certain ranges. On the art side, Mariah comes into play as a creator of magical moments. She teaches me about a “interrupter,” or the spice that hits your throat and what makes you sit down and swirl your drink instead of gulping it down. We go through the beginning, middle and end of the drinks, and I’m transported to a world where I don’t have to settle for sodas or, horribly, a Shirley Temple every time I’m at a work party .

“People who don’t understand the space say, ‘Oh, you’re going to bottle some juice.’ No! We’re going to change the culture of drinking,” Mariah proclaims in a video for Tilden, her eyes wide and twinkling. Her enthusiasm and vision fill a room. A few weeks ago we were both at a lake house with a horde of HBS families and people were laughing and bonding, not a drop of alcohol in sight.

“Where’s Mariah?” someone asked, and someone else suggested checking the basement. From the stairs down we could hear the pulse of upbeat techno music and see tiny flashing lights of red, yellow and green. Happy screams revealed the scene: Mariah leading a dance party for a squad of three-year-olds, giving them a magical moment.

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