THE GINJAN DIGEST

A Blog for modern beverage adventures

Like, want free Ginjan?

We’re feeling generous.  For your chance to win a case delivered to your home, do one of the following.

 

  1. post your best Ginjan picture and use the #ginjan tag and tag us @ginjanbros on instagram.
  2. write an ode to Ginjan on facebook and tag us – facebook.com/ginjanbros
  3. give us a cocktail recipe using ginjan to blow our minds (and add a pic) – facebook.com/ginjanbros – or on instagram @ginjanbros

 

Let’s go!  We’ll pick a winner in about a week.

How We’re Building This – Part 2: Ideation

 Ideas are cheap. You’ve probably heard that at nauseam, especially with the startup crazed environment we live in. Well, ideas may be cheap, due to the low barrier to entry (a somewhat functional brain). But, pursuing an idea is very dear. Today, we’ll discuss ideas in general, and out of all the problems the world faces, why we decided to focus our energies on “solving” the lack of representation of traditional African food products in the global marketplace.
What makes a good idea?
No one really cares.
Typically, when people ask this question, they don’t really mean “good” based on the merit of the idea; they often mean to ask “which idea makes money?”. In that case, a good idea is one that provides a need or desire to enough people, for it to be worth the effort required to make it happen.
Typically, we think of ideas as this one and done process. As if after you get the idea, pretty much nothing else is required of your person. But intuitively, we all know this to be false. It requires tremendous effort to get off your ass day in and day out to chase something that may not even be there. For most of us, it goes something like this: Out of the blue, sometimes after an experience but not always, your brain effortlessly connects dots that make you exclaim to the poor soul nearest to you, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could rent a room from anyone’s house anywhere in the world, instead of a hotel!?”… then five years later, you hear some startup just raised a billion dollars on this very premise. Dang it! That was your idea! 😃
In reality, the initial idea is like JFK’s declaration of a moon landing. Very easy to think and say, much harder to do. There are no physical laws that make it impossible, but you’ll have to test and refute a lot of sub-ideas (we’ll touch on this later) before you can make the landing (your exit or liquidation event). Everyone of those tests require time and money. The same is true for a startup, with one caveat. Unlike the moon landing, where the laws of physics do not change, in the startup world, the rules change and the market shifts; so you have zero guarantee of success. You can end up spending years and millions of dollars and have absolutely nothing to show for it. The lesson, startups are more brutal than Physics.
Early on, you’ll mostly need time if you’re scrappy, but as you start to gain traction, lots of money. People are fond of saying you don’t need money to launch a business, those people are lying to you.

Why do you need money?

This is where this concept of sub-ideas come in. When you thought of your room rental business above; you gave zero thought to what it reaaally takes to make that happen. Then you invest a little brain power into the original clean and neat idea; out of nowhere, it starts to spawn a million unruly questions that will, if you’re doing it right, start giving you new ideas on how to answer them. You start asking yourself: Who will use this? How will they find it? What does it look like to the user? What tech stack should we use? Should we prioritize web or mobile with our limited resources? What kind of regulatory issues will we have? and on and on… Answering any one of those questions, requires new ideas. So, if you are to ever move from the first grand idea to product to market to success; you’ll have to come up with a lot of ideas. The lesson here, seeing the solution is easy, but getting to it is like those heist movies with a massive room and a Cullinan diamond in the middle; protected by invisible lasers and motion sensitive 0.50 caliber turrets hidden inside the walls. You can get to it, but it won’t be easy.
With that highly encouraging prelude out of the way, let’s talk about Ginjan.
The idea for the concept that gave birth to Ginjan Bros, the company, has been more of a journey than a “eureka” moment. As you might have noted above, we don’t believe much in the “eureka” stuff.
The journey went as follows: Two brothers grow up in Guinea (West Africa) eating and drinking delicious West African stuff. Then, they come to America, woohoo, and find a lot of other Africans. In fact, they find people from all over the world, eating foods from all over the world, except Africa. What the hell man!? How come only the Africans are eating African stuff? It’s delicious, and if they tried it, they’d love it!
But at this point, the brothers are too young and disoriented to know what to do about this. Plus, they’re in their early to mid-teens, they have more pressing matters on their minds. Like how to be cool at all time.
Time goes on, and this question lingers. Now, they’ve learned American stuff, they can quote Seinfeld and know what a wedgie is. Awesome; but the mainstream still don’t know delicious African stuff. Shame. Most importantly, it is impossible to get a premium quality of the most iconic beverage of their childhood, a delicious homemade ginger elixir called Ginjan. Fed up with this reality they’ve been observing and complaining about for some 15 years, and having mastered the art of being cool at all time, they decide to be the ones to make traditional African foods and beverages a thing in America, and everywhere. But there are tons of those products to chose from; so instead of taking them all on, they decide to start with the one product they miss the most. Ginjan. Build a brand around that, and introduce the rest.

OK, we now have an idea. What next?

The very first thing we did was to make a powerpoint. We were having friends over – mostly from Africa that day – for dinner and thought, we should pitch them on the idea and see how they react. Although we could’ve done this verbally, we knew that with a powerpoint, they’d take it more seriously, it would make it real for them. We knew they’d love it, because we were preaching to the choir. What we were really after was pushback on why it’s a bad idea. Oddly enough, the most important outcome of that pitch wasn’t the feedback, it was the name of our company. You see, after that event, our friends started calling us “The Ginjan Bros”, so as we toyed around with company names, that stuck.

Great, we have a name, good for us. Now what?

Our next step was to figure out how to make the product, understand the market, brand the company, design a go-to-market strategy, and figure out how we’ll get any money to get started. We had none. Not “I only have a couple of grands” none, more like “I might not make rent this month” none.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about how we got our recipe together and the market research we did to get a sense of what we’re going into, how big it could be, and what it would really take to make it big. Hint: We’re still figuring most of this out. See you next time 😃

Motherland Anywhere

I spent the weekend discussing some new information on my wife’s ancestry. Last year we both sent in a vial of saliva to the leading DNA research company 23andMe. We chose 23andMe for a variety of reasons, mostly because their database is the largest available and because they allow integration with many different specialist DNA research companies such as DNAFit and Athletigen, both of whom offer to take your 23andMe personal DNA report and analyze it to help customers “understand how their DNA affects their response to exercise and nutrition changes, to change the way we train and eat.”

My own DNA report really wasn’t much of a surprise: I’m 97% European. Breaking that down further, my ancestry is 51.4% British/Irish and 32.9% Broadly Northwestern European. No surprises there. In fact the only surprise, which has been a constant source of fun ever since, is that I have more Neanderthal gene variants than 95% of other 23andMe customers.

However, 23andMe’s ancestry report was frustratingly vague when it came to my wife, who is African-American. While it was quite definitive that she has 100% fewer Neanderthal gene variants than other 23andMe customers (not surprising – Neanderthals weren’t in Africa), so far as her African ancestry is concerned all that she discovered was that she’s 83% West African.

23andMe Ancestry composition report

 

A first cousin had spent some time researching family history and traced at least one ancestor back to Senegal; later research led to Ghana, but her search for something definitive as to her roots was still pending. As an aside, my father in law’s 23andMe report generated much excitement as he was found to have an ancient Y chromosome that’s supposedly 340,000 years old (see this story about another African American man with this Y chromosome).

Luckily, however, the DNA analysis business is vibrant and several new players have emerged, including DNA Land, a non-profit run by academics affiliated with Columbia University and the NY Genome Center. My wife shared her 23andMe data with DNA Land and eagerly awaited the new report. She received it over the weekend; it contained much more detail and quite a few surprises (yes, she’s part pygmy). The report agreed with 23andMe that she is genetically 83% African, but DNA Land only associates her with West Africa 70% (East Africa 9.2%, Aka 3.7%).  The biggest surprise was that her DNA suggests most of her ancestors lived in what is now modern-day Nigeria (Lower Niger Valley). You can see the chart below.

 

DNA Land Ancestry composition report

 

The discussion flowed over from the weekend into Ginjan Bros weekly staff meeting where we started discussing the origins of Ginjan. Mohammed and Rahim Diallo, the company founders (the brothers in Ginjan Bros.) grew up in Guinea where ginger was a staple in their diet, often in the form of the traditional ginger juice common in Guinea, locally known as “Ginjan” (spelling varies – Ginjan is our proprietary version). Ginger drinks weren’t (and still aren’t) something you’d go to the shops to purchase; rather they were made at home and in restaurants with each family hewing to a traditional formulation handed down as part of an oral tradition over many generations. Because of this, the taste of ginger juice varies widely from village to village and house to house. So far as Mohammed and Rahim were concerned, though, their mom’s juice was by far the best and it’s her formula that formed the basis of our company’s flagship product today, GINJAN.

While Guineans may think that ginger juice is original to their country, in actual fact there are many variations throughout West Africa, where ginger root is widely cultivated and is a dominant spice in local cuisine. Ginger juice can be found throughout villages and cities in creatively recycled vegetable-oil bottles. It’s often called ginger beer, but it’s non-alcoholic.

West African ginger is extra strong, so some formulations will have your eyes watering, while others go very heavy on the sugar. Ultimately it’s a matter of taste and that varies from country to country, village to village, and in all honesty person to person. One thing we’ve found, though, is that Ginjan Bros. GINJAN is consistently popular with people from countries with a strong tradition of ginger consumption (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean) as well as those from countries where ginger is imported (Europe, North America).

How We’re Building Ginjan – Building From Scratch: Part 1 – Intro

In many ways, the idea that became the basis of Ginjan Bros, the company, had been years in the making.

Long before we knew what our first product would be. Long before we had a logo, a website, a legal entity or, extremely supportive customers that fuel us day-in and day-out, by shelling out monies they worked extremely hard to earn, just to support what we’re doing. The whole process has been humbling in ways we could never truly communicate through words. But, one of the greatest experiences we’ve been having has little to do with the product(s) we sell; you see, once we put our product on the market, and started showing some signs of gaining traction, however small, folks started reaching out to us with questions. Lots of questions!

Questions about how we got started; how we chose our legal entity; how we secured a distributor; How we got into Whole Foods; how we won the FedEx Grant & American Entrepreneurship Award; how we… You get the idea.

These questions come from folks looking to enter the food and beverage space we operate in, and as many other industries as you can imagine. Because in many ways, we all have a million dollar idea. But either life’s circumstances, or fear of the unknown keeps many of us from throwing “caution” out the window and going for it. So when we started to think about the type of material we want to share with you, we wanted it to not only be about the values our company and products espouse, but also about something practical to you. Hopefully you find it useful, or at least entertaining.

So, this series will be about every aspect of building a business, to the best of our knowledge. We’re learning as we go, and we’ll share those learnings with you. If you find flaws in our thinking, or have a better take on what we share, we’ll be very eager to hear from you. We’ll talk about business from ideation to exit/legacy.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Grand Ideation Phase.

To start you off, we’ll be covering everything Brand and Design, click below to read.

 

Ginjan and Sugar – Some Insights

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching an expert at work. Victoria Hewitt has conducted dozens of Ginjan tastings at supermarkets and grocery stores all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, covering lots of different neighborhoods and spanning the incredibly diverse population of New York City.

 

The Ginjan demo station

Victoria Hewitt preparing to sell out a store’s supply of Ginjan.

 

“Hi Honey, would you like to try Ginjan? It’s an amazing African ginger and pineapple drink,” she’ll say as busy shoppers stream through the stores. Her smile is arresting and many of them stop and taste Ginjan, either cold or, in these frigid months, hot from a Thermos flask that Victoria brings along. Her record is remarkable: by the time she leaves nearly every store has empty slots in the cold-pressed beverages refrigerated shelving area where Ginjan had been stocked.

 

People ask us about the sugar in Ginjan

 

There are usually some questions about the drink that Victoria handles with ease, but one recurring theme relates to sugar content. It’s no secret that sugar is the new fat, demonized by doctors and media alike. It’s also not a secret that Ginjan’s proprietary formula of all-organic, non-GMO ingredients includes cane sugar and, of course, naturally occurring sugars from pineapples. How can Ginjan Bros. claim that their flagship product, Ginjan, is healthy given the sugar content, you might ask. It’s something we’ve thought a lot about and the short answer is, it’s complicated!

The first thing to note is that if you are on an uncompromising, absolutely zero sugar diet, then Ginjan isn’t something you’re going to want to consume at this time. If, on the other hand, you’re just careful to limit the amount of sugar or carbohydrates in your diet, or you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, we have potentially good news based on some recent studies on the myriad beneficial properties of our lead ingredient, ginger.

diabetes.co.uk reports that:

Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, found that extracts from Buderim Ginger (Australian grown ginger) rich in gingerols – the major active component of ginger rhizome – can increase uptake of glucose into muscle cells without using insulin, and may therefore assist in the management of high blood sugar levels.

 

And as reported in TIME Magazine, a review published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,

examined the findings of 60 studies, performed on cell cultures, lab animals and humans. Overall, these studies “have built a consensus that ginger and its major constituents exert beneficial effects against obesity, diabetes, [cardiovascular diseases] and related disorders.

In fact, ginger is an incredible overall health aid; GreenMedInfo.com reports that

there are over 2100 published studies on the medicinal properties of ginger in the scientific literature, and the Greenmedinfo.com database contains evidence that it has value in over 170 different health conditions, and has over 50 different beneficial physiological effects. Notably, of all the conditions the research on ginger we have indexed reveals its therapeutic value for, type 2 diabetes is top on the list, with seven studies on our database providing proof of its efficacy.

We’re not medical professionals, so these articles are referenced as a starting point for you to discuss with your doctor. Having said that, it’s beyond dispute that ginger offers multiple health benefits, blood sugar management potentially being one of them.

One last thought: new research reported by The Guardian suggests that:

Artificial sweeteners, which many people with weight issues use as a substitute for sugar, may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to research… ‘This study supports the concept that artificial sweeteners could reduce the body’s control of blood sugar levels and highlights the potential for exaggerated post-meal glucose levels in high habitual NAS [non-caloric artificial sweeteners] users, which could predispose them to develop type 2 diabetes,’ said the authors.

Ginjan Bros. believes in all organic, non-GMO natural ingredients, fully disclosed. We’ll keep bringing you more information about the properties of Ginjan in the coming months. Here’s to your health!

 

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your doctor before relying on any of the information above.

OUR COLUMBUS, OHIO TOUR!

Just Wrapped up our Columbus, Ohio tour. It was great fun, catch up with old buddies. Thanks @moustaphabayo and the # Miss Guinea Ohio crew. Heading back to NY now and here’s what we ran into in PA, safe to say we’ll be here for a while.