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Fierce & Kind gives 25% of profits to charity

The co-founders of San Diego-based spirits brand Fierce & Kind spoke to us about donating a quarter of their profits to local organisations and charities.

Fierce & Kind founders Cyndi Smith and Basem Harb
Fierce & Kind founders Cyndi Smith and Basem Harb

Leaving your tech jobs to go and launch a spirits company? Yes, the idea for Fierce & Kind came to fruition in the midst of the pandemic. The company was founded by Cyndi Smith and Basem Harb, who both have backgrounds in technology but wanted to focus on combining their two serious passions: philanthropic work and whiskey.

Alongside Fierce & Kind, the spirits brand, the pair also set up Fierce & Kind Equity Foundation, which is described as a ‘social enterprise’ that helps uplift people in local communities and who run small businesses, to give them more of a safety net to create better lives for themselves. “It’s about building entrepreneurship and helping to build businesses up”, Smith and Harb explain.

The company’s interests are split between the Fierce & Kind Equity Foundation and its spirits production, with money raised from the spirits funding the charity work. “It’s 25% of our profits”, says Smith. “We’re sharing the profits that we’re making with the community, rather than adding surcharges on products. We’re really looking to take that money from the success of the company to where we think we can make the biggest impact.”

Charities that have received donations from Fierce & Kind so far include Niles Sisters Development Initiative, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Barnes Center Foundation, Oceanside Theater Company and Southern California Tennis Association Foundation, among others.

Smith says: “We aim to transform the spirits industry by encouraging other brands to also collaborate with smaller, locally-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Our past partnerships include working with local entrepreneurs such as R&D Bitters, founded by San Diego bartenders, and Collins & Coupe, a husband-and-wife-led bartender supply shop, Curious Juniper, a women-founded simple syrups company in San Diego, and Distillery Products, a woman-owned business in Chicago.”

For the first year, the business was self funded by the Harb and Smith, but with investment from local communities, including friends and family, and equity crowdfunding campaign, as well as a “110% sales growth compared to 2023”, the spirits side of the operation is now able to fund the foundation.

Harb notes, though: “We’re not looking for big money from big venture capitalists who would invest, we really want this to be as community based and orientated as possible.”

‘The business has to stand on its own’

Fierce & Kind’s current range includes two Bourbons and a vodka, with plans to explore the Tequila category in the future. It also works with a family-owned distillery in North Carolina to create the liquids where 90% of the grains are sourced from a 20-mile radius around the distillery.

Harb says that because of the foundation’s mission, “we could either spend millions on stills and infrastructure, or we could put that money toward work that we want to do. So we decided to let someone else own the stills. We work with the distillery on what we’re producing and then we drive up the profit that we need to drive, back to the work that we set out to do.”

He is aware, however, that the “story only gets you so far – the business has to stand on its own”.

“Our products are legitimately solid and winning awards,” he explains. “This acceptance embraces the notion that while our story is compelling, the spirits themselves are what get us invited back to the party time after time. I’m very proud of them, but we also know strategically that if we try to do everything all at once, we’re going to fail.”

Harb says the brand is looking at gaining a nationwide footprint in the next year, owning the Southern Californian market – which he says is the “largest in America” – and importing that model to the likes of Chicago, New York, Miami, Houston. “And then the plan after that is to go international,” he adds. “Starting in Europe and going to Asia.”

Road map

According to Harb, Fierce & Kind “has a rich roadmap” to get the brand into major categories and the major segments of the categories.

On its US strategy, Smith explains: “We like to zoom in on really small geographic places like neighbourhoods, and ask questions like ‘what events do they hold there? And what on-and off-premise places influence what people do there?’

“The focus is on one neighbourhood at a time. Do an event, get on the shelves there and build relationships with people behind the bars. It’s like building these little bubbles, which we hope will all come together. This is a strategy that has served us really well and we’re in over 80 places now in Southern California and we can also distribute via our website to 43 states in the US.

Harb maintains that although the brand is community-focused, it doesn’t mean that it’s just visible in the independent bottle shops. “Those are great and our bread and butter”, he stresses. “But we’re also in some of the biggest retail chains in America. We’ve just been picked up by Albertsons. It’s virtually unheard of for a brand as young as ours to be picked up by one of the largest supermarket chains in the country. So the story resonates and the juice is good enough that it’s gotten us into the right places that are very rapid, very quickly.

In terms of weighing up brand’s potential and seeing what the future holds, for now Harb and Smith want to have their feet on the ground in key markets across the US, before eyeing up overseas markets in two years – the ‘mission’ core to everything that they do.

“Wherever we go, and whatever major markets we enter, our intention, our goal, is to work with local organisations in those communities to make sure that we have the most powerful impact that we can with the resources that we’re directing towards them.

“And we’re hoping in the spirits world that we can be a model for other brands, small and large.”

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