Meet Harvard Entrepreneur: Cristina Ros Blankfein , Co-Founder of Be Mixed
Women’s iLab celebrates Harvard University and Harvard Business School for being leaders in education for developing female founders and gender-equal companies through our Harvard Entrepreneur column.
Cristina Ros Blankfein is currently finishing her MBA at Harvard Business School, and together with Jennifer Ross founded Be Mixed, a line of natural zero-calorie cocktail mixers in fresh flavors. While in college, Cristina founded Circle of Women, a 501c3 that builds secondary schools for girls in underserved communities like Wardak and Afghanistan. She then worked at Citi’s Microfinance Group developing cross-company products that she helped market as the bank’s social platform.
Julia Neagu: How did you come up with the idea for Be Mixed?
Cristina: Jen and I were sick of settling for vodka sodas. I love to entertain and find the focus on quality, health, and accessibility in the food space very exciting. We felt that cocktails were having their second golden age, but were falling a bit behind in terms of better-for-you ingredients and at-home replicability. So, we dreamt up Be Mixed, the convenient way to stir up a sugar-free and delicious cocktail. As we learn more about the cocktail experience and what people care about, we are thrilled that Be Mixed can be a more healthful bar juice replacement for those just getting started, or a simple syrup substitute for experts in the know.
J.N: How is a bottle of Be Mixed produced?
Cristina: Creating the Be Mixed recipes is a fun process that involves both bartenders and flavor scientists –to whom our [Harvard] iLab mentor introduced us. It is important for us to replicate the fantastic flavors of great bars using all-natural ingredients and no sugar. We do not have alcohol in our product, so we also hope that the finished product is the perfect complement to each person’s favorite spirit or can serve as a non-alcoholic treat. Working with these experts helps us develop great bottled cocktails made from all-natural fruit, herb, and vegetable extracts. We produce our bottles in New Jersey to keep close tabs on everything that goes into our bottles.
J.N: What is your vision for the company?
Cristina: What we love about cocktails is that they are festive and celebratory. Drinking a cocktail is always fun! Our vision is for people to be able to take ownership of their cocktail with Be Mixed so that they can spend more time enjoying and less time worrying about the sugar or hassle of tasty drinks.
J.N: You founded Circle of Women while still in college. What determined you to start a charitable organization?
Cristina: Two college friends and I started Circle of Women to increase access to women’s education. My grandmother came over from Cuba during the revolution and credited her ability to make her way in the US to her medical education. So, from an early age, I was told that education was the biggest gift. In college I met two friends who felt the same way, so we created a nonprofit to build secondary schools for women in countries such as Afghanistan and Mali. These are places where the literacy gap is high between men and women. Today, Circle of Women is still student volunteer run organization that has grown to other college campuses and continues to build schools.
J.N: While dealing with the risks of starting something new, did you rely on a support network?
Cristina: I could not have had the courage to start Be Mixed or Circle of Women without partners whom I greatly admire and trust. They inspired me to take the plunge! Launching both of these ideas while a student at Harvard is no coincidence. The campus is rife with talent, resources, and support. I very much relied on classmates and mentors to develop these ideas and to see us through the early test phases.
J.N: Do you think business school is a necessary step in an entrepreneur’s career?
Cristina: I am always hesitant to give advice since these decisions are so personal. I would say trust your gut about what you need to gain the confidence to launch your dream. This can come from many different people and places, but in my case, it came from my classmates. I am currently enrolled in the JD/MBA program. The combination of both schools gives me a great perspective on the opportunities and challenges with my business.
J.N: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced when starting your company?
Cristina: My partner and I were new to the beverage industry. Despite this lack of insider knowledge, we were determined to learn everything we could. We spoke to everyone who was willing to meet us. We read every article, case study, and website. Our lack of background in the industry may have seemed like a challenge, but it was also an advantage. We didn’t come into this with any preconceived notions.
J.N: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own company?
Cristina: Starting a company can be intimidating. Reflect on what worries or scares you the most. Then, figure out what you would have to change or learn in order to reduce the risk or scariness. If you can figure out a way to tolerate the risk, then go for it. Pursue the opportunity. There is no shortage of people who will tell you that your idea is bad or that the company will never work. You need to define success for yourself and then pursue it. Ignore the noise.
I’m a PhD student @Harvard, trying to reconcile all the crazy things I want to do. I am broadly interested in collaboration — across fields and cultures.
Read more about and from Julia: Julia’s WiLab Profile