It's no secret that vodka sodas have become somewhat of a stereotype in the gay community when it comes to bellying up to the bar. For years, brands like Tito's and Absolut have dominated the market for prides, but one gay founder is shaking up the spirit world with a new big gay product.
Gay Water, founded by Spencer Hoddeson, is a canned vodka soda and lifestyle brand curated by and for the queer community.
“I was on a trip with a girlfriend who was talking about a job that she had just gotten in the beverage industry, and we were having drinks,” he said. “I ordered a vodka soda and turned to her and asked, ‘Did you know that within the queer community, typically an older generation of gay men, vodka soda is referred to as gay water?”
Hoddeson, who had already been toying with the idea of creating his own beverage product, said he followed the gay water idea down the rabbit hole to see where it would lead him.
Since February of 2022, Hoddeson has been hitting the pavement with his new company, while working a full-time gig and consistently curating content for TikTok and Instagram. Most people will know him as @hoddsuspenders on TikTok, and he hopes the queer community will help launch Gay Water forward.
“I had, throughout the pandemic, just kind of built my own platform on social media and it was never really my intention,” he said. “When I started, I never wanted to be an influencer or celebrity. "As outgoing as I am, I'm also very private and I don't love sharing so much of myself on the internet.”
Although the popular content creator loves his privacy, he also knows that at some point, people with platforms need to use them for the greater good, or gay.
“[I thought], ‘Maybe I can use this sort of platform that I built for myself and turn it into more of an entrepreneurial focus and create more support for the community.’”
According to the StartOut Pride Economic Impact Index, (last updated Oct. 2022) only 0.5% of the $2.1T in funding for startups went to LGBTQ entrepreneurs.
Given the odds stacked against him, Hoddeson must leverage every tool at his disposal to ensure his company's success. Furthermore, it's advantageous to belong to a community that holds close to $1.4 trillion in spending power. And the gays™ love a colorful brand.
The Gay Water founder said he worked with a queer designer, Hawaiian native Ryan Sagawa, for all things branding, from the logo to the colors.
“We had worked together at my job in tech and he had led the design for our employee resource group that was focused on the LGBTQ community, so I knew his portfolio was amazing,” Hoddeson said. “But I would say, it took us like three to four months on the brand identity work — I really wanted to create an identity for the brand through the logo, through the colors, that really was reflective of the community, without it necessarily leaning only towards gay men.”
There is power in creating a mainstream brand that has “gay” in the name. Hoddeson hopes to create community and destigmatize the word gay by having his product in major retail liquor distributors.
“I grew up in a time where in high school people would say ‘that's so gay’ and it meant that something was ‘bad,’” he said. “There's no reason that the word gay should ever mean that, because its original definition means happy.”
The brand intends to reclaim and recapture the joy in the word, ‘gay’ because he says that the LGBTQIA+ community spreads joy and positivity. Gay Water’s two biggest values are joy and community and Hoddeson said he’s trying to build that into the brand’s DNA.
An integral element of any brand is funding, and Hoddeson understands this well. To preserve Gay Water's inclusive roots, he plans on relying on family, friends, and the LGBTQ+ community as backers…and the allied straights.
“I’m currently working on a pitch deck and will be looking for individual investors before tackling large groups like VCs,” he said.
Even with all of the social media support and big gay branding, not even Spencer Hoddeson can escape an annoying case of founder failure. Gay Water had 40,000 cans run and a launch date set, but when the cans arrived, something was off.
“There was an issue with lining on the cans, so the flavor profile was wrong,” he said. “We did a ton of tests and nothing was hazardous or toxic and I theoretically could sell them, but they just didn't taste right. And as that first venture into the market, I wanted to make sure that whatever I was putting out was reflective of the product that I want to be put out.”
Despite this hiccup, Hoddeson said he hopes Gay Water will start bringing people together this pride season.
“If someone is having a private party somewhere and is having their 10 best friends over in their safe space, I hope Gay Water can be something that makes them excited to be able to express their queerness together,” he said.