Straight Up Advice – The Start-up CFO Spirit

By Nicole Madigan

Since the launch of non-alcoholic spirits collection, Lyre’s Spirit Co., little more than a year ago, the brand has entered almost a dozen markets worldwide, and expects to double that number again by the end of the year.

Chris Best.
CFO, Lyre’s Spirit Co.

Under the financial guidance of CFO, Chris Best, Lyre’s has enjoyed aggressive global expansion during in its short life, with a fundraising journey that has matched that ambition in speed and scale.

“We’ve completed two rounds of fundraising to date and are in the midst of a third round, to be closed shortly,” says Mr Best.

Fundraising in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis hasn’t been easy, but with Mr Best at the helm, the Lyre’s team has navigated a unique situation, tackling the COVID-19 crisis head-on.

“Our team has done amazing work, stepping up to the plate and doing whatever has been needed,” says Mr Best.

“At a personal level, my wife, Yui, has shouldered the burden of a three-year-old and a newborn baby largely single-handedly, for which I am especially grateful.”

Lyre’s is the result of a recognised macrotrend towards healthy lifestyles and mindfulness taking place worldwide – think meat-free meat, dairy-free milks, and the like.

“The most successful entrants into each of these categories has delivered a convincing alternative to the ‘real’ thing.

“Accordingly, we set out to create this within the spirits world by making products that allow you to concoct your favourite cocktails in a non-alcoholic format, simply by reaching for a different bottle.”

It’s a novel concept, and one Lyre’s has introduced to the world with aplomb.

“We’ve had products listed in stores around the world, but only recently have we had a successful listing here in major retail in Australia.

“It was definitely a special moment to see Lyre’s products on the shelves of the local Dan Murphy’s store recently.”

The successful introduction of Lyre’s to the drinks market is particularly significant, given the obvious challenges that COVID-19 has brought, requiring the organisation to pivot at an unexpectedly early stage in the game.

“With the shutdown of bars and restaurants worldwide, our distributor channel of sales into on-premise venues dried up virtually overnight in all markets.”

Chris Best, CFO | Lyre’s Spirit Co.

“Our fundraising activities were also thrown into disarray as potential investors got cold feet due to the uncertain global outlook.”

Lyre’s implemented a strong operational pivot towards its own direct-to-consumer eCommerce channel to replace lost on-premise revenue channels, along with immediate austerity measures across all areas of spending, to cut cash burn.

“The explosion in eCommerce has been one of the largest stories of economic recovery from COVID generally, and Lyre’s was no exception,” says Mr Best.

“We experienced several weeks of triple-digit growth week-on-week across our various markets, which has been an amazing response.

“We are now seeing jurisdictions start to recover at varying speeds depending on their response to the virus, and we are well positioned to capitalise on those opportunities and recoveries as they arise.”

Prior to his role at Lyre’s, Mr Best spend seven years in Chartered Accounting with MGI Sydney, juggling responsibilities between technical tax advisory work and a Virtual CFO role for a group of companies operating in the marketing and logistics space – Brandlink Group.

“Feeling a little like Ellyse Perry needing to make a choice between her two loves of cricket and soccer, I decided to make the jump into the commercial world with Brandlink on a full-time basis, and then when Lyre’s was incubated out of the minds of that group’s incredible team, it became a natural expansion of my portfolio of responsibilities.”

While Mr Best has worked for multiple companies early in their lifecycle, Lyre’s is his first true start-up experience of building everything from scratch, with small teams, and no existing process to follow.

“I always try to keep learning, experiencing, and discovering new things. I don’t think that anyone can know everything there is to know about this role, given the rate of change within the business, the industry and the economy, so it’s important to stay humble and not assume that you hold all the answers.”

So, what next for the brand?

“We will need to rapidly mature from the start-up phase into a business with more established rigour from an operational and governance perspective, while maintaining the agility and unique culture that has given us so much success to date.

“It is sad in some ways to say goodbye to the start-up phase of the Lyre’s life cycle, but I’m also very excited for the challenges ahead.”