Drizly doesn’t use the word “disruptive” liberally. Ask anyone else to describe the alcohol delivery service, though, entrenched in a city rife with antiquated liquor laws, and the adjective is bound to fall from their lips — yet with an authenticity the regarded buzzword isn’t known to own.
“We’re not trying to rip down an industry and build it back up,” explained Drizly Co-founder Nick Rellas. “All we’re doing is trying to give small businesses tools to be more profitable at the end of the day.”
After graduating from Boston College in 2011, Rellas started working at New England Coffee Company, a big-name, family-focused brand brewing up millions of dollars annually without even a touch of technology. Imagine how the industry could have evolved, however, with an added dose of innovation.
It’s an idea Rellas will admit to obsessing over; it’s the same idea that spawned Drizly.
After cracking open his fridge only to find it bone dry, Rellas shot fellow Boston College classmate Justin Robinson a text: “Why doesn’t alcohol delivery exist?” The question, seemingly random, left him curiously pouring over the state liquor laws until 5 a.m.
But Uber was doing it.
Hotel Tonight was causing a stir.
“We didn’t see the hurdles we had to get over,” Rellas said. “We just knew we needed to jump down the rabbit hole.”
And they did, successfully landing on a $2.25 million pillow propped up by some of Boston’s biggest names — one of the most influential being the former CEO of WHERE Walt Doyle, now a venture partner at Highland Capital Partners. Drizly was introduced to Doyle by EverTrue Founder Brent Grinna, who describes Doyle as his Guardian Angel. Or rather, the first investor to commit to the alumni networking platform’s seed round and who ultimately gave Grinna his starting chance.
When Rellas and Robinson showed Doyle their very first pitch deck in the EverTrue office, they assumed they would never hear back from him again, given how other meetings with investors had gone. Weeks later, Doyle returned to a trip from Africa saying, “This alcohol delivery service is kind of stuck in my head.”
And in that time span, Drizly had expanded its reach from one liquor store to five.
The success started with Gordon’s Fine Wines and Liquors, which boasts one store in Watertown and two in Waltham. Owner David Gordon met the team at an annual trade show when they had nothing but a banner and a prototype app. He saw the vision. And, very quickly, other owners started seeing it, too.
“We were the first store employees doing deliveries,” Robinson said, reminiscing on Drizly’s earlier days. The task was crucial, however, in helping the team both understand the process and then iterate on that process, including ID verification.
Early on, Drizly partnered with Advanced ID Detection to create what’s become the Mident Advanced ID Guide, a mobile catalog complete with IDs from all 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and more. Mident has become “a cornerstone of the Drizly process,” according to Rellas, and has provided several stores with a system capable of forensically verifying IDs that has been more secure than what they already had.
“We needed to have this for investors,” Rellas acknowledged, “but more so for our stores. At the end of the day, there is risk associated with being in this industry.”
Stores continue to take the leap, however, and are now the ones doing deliveries, using Drizly more as their “21st century middleman,” or so described Rellas. With the increasing interest, however, also came the need to hire more employees, which is where Dan Devoe and Cory Rellas came in.
Cory Rellas left his job at Bain Capital and became the first outside investor in Drizly, admitting, “I believed more so in Nick and Justin than the idea itself.” Yet, after doing a few deliveries and seeing how vast the opportunity was, he decided “there’s no reason [he] shouldn’t jump on board.”
It’s an opportunity Devoe also recognized. The former Ropes & Gray litigation associate found himself wanting to do something he believed in, leaving his big law job to attend Boston’s Startup Institute. After spending a few months working at Freight Farms, Devoe was introduced to Rellas through Grinna, and he knew he could bring more of the entertainment side of drinking to the Drizly brand.
“Since he’s taken over social and become the voice of Drizly, it’s done amazing things for the brand,” Robinson said. Because, at the end of the day, liquor stores are only one part of the equation — customers are key to keeping the app up-and-running.
“We’re focused on first-time interactions and every interaction after that,” Devoe said. Whether it’s ensuring the alcohol arrives to a user’s doorstep faster, or personally responding to every tweet received, the service is of utmost importance and will only be improving. “You’re going to be seeing Drizly interacting with the public and brands in very interesting ways coming up,” Devoe slyly hinted.
You’ll also start seeing Drizly expand to other cities, casting a wider net outside of their current service areas in Boston and New York.
“If we’re able to do it here, in a state that’s not progressive in terms of liquor laws, we can kind of do this anywhere,” Robinson said.
That’s not to say the team would have founded the company anywhere else, though.
“If we could start this company over again and pick a city to build this in,” Rellas said, “we would have started it right here in Boston all over again. This community has been absolutely incredible.”
Robinson chimed in, giving a slight smirk. “People said we were crazy, but they helped.”