Just a few years ago, Jaqui Rice was dealing with burnout. She entered into the world of entrepreneurship, starting an online peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling hair called Tressly. The whirlwind pace that comes with starting your own business, which many are familiar with, led her to exhaustion.
“When you are an entrepreneur, you are tired, you are grinding it out, you are hustling,” she tells ESSENCE. Her fiancé TJ was also overworked as a singer/songwriter for television. The couple, trying to fit time to exercise into their already packed schedules, started to rely on energy drinks. They would consume them as a pre-workout beverage to get the stamina necessary to power through their training and their overall day. However, they weren’t really proud to drink the offerings due to what was a part of their ingredient lists.
“We never felt like any of the drinks that were available to us aligned with our values, our wanting to be healthy,” she says. “They had artificial ingredients and ingredients that we didn’t feel good about.”
It wasn’t until Jaqui took note that her father, Jerry Rice, Pro Football Hall of Famer and whom many consider the greatest wide receiver to ever play in the NFL, had a boundless amount of energy. He was getting up at 5 a.m. to crush a spin workout in his late ‘50s, while she was young and weary. While conversing about how he managed to do it, a lightbulb went off.
“I got a little jealous of my daddy,” she admits. “He’s got so much energy and I’m in LA grinding and trying to do my thing. And I had known that he had done some investing in the beverage space with Muscle Milk back in the day. So we just started talking and I said, ‘Dad, you’ve always been so meticulous about what you put into your body, obviously. And I’m trying to drink energy drinks now because we need it. Clearly, you’ve got energy. Let’s figure something out. Why don’t we go into the space and create an energy drink that aligns with your values, my values, and a lot of the values of people who are just more health conscious?’”
They worked together, including with TJ, to create G.O.A.T. Fuel. It’s an energy drink that Jaqui says has “integrity.” What that means is no sugar, no aspartame, no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup. What it does have is natural caffeine, vitamins, BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and cordyceps mushrooms. The latter, is a marvel. It improves the way your body uses oxygen by increasing your VO2 max. G.O.A.T. is the first energy drink on the market to use adaptogen mushrooms, cordyceps militaris specifically, to be effective. The end result is a drink that provides energy with no jitters and no crash to everyone from busy entrepreneurs and athletes to sleep-deprived moms and more.
With this perfect formulation, G.O.A.T. Fuel launched in January 2020. And while there was plenty of excitement about the energy drink due to Jerry’s association with it, and him being the G.O.A.T., Jaqui quickly found herself dealing with a feeling of impending doom as the pandemic began and halted deals they made, including a major one with health and nutrition company GNC.
“This is after a year of really turning the pavement and trying to get investment. But we had secured it and we were super blessed. But the day the last wire came in, it was the day that Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York. We didn’t even know if we were going to get the money at that point,” she says. “We were so paranoid and nervous because I think everyone was starting to feel that we were on the precipice of a disaster and something that we have never experienced collectively before.”
But as someone who had navigated the world of online marketplaces, Jaqui decided to utilize the online space since they had no physical store presence to get G.O.A.T. not only into people’s hands, but more importantly, into their mouths.
“We had to pivot and we decided to go and actually just stick to our direct-to-consumer model for the first six months of 2020. We really couldn’t go out into wholesale departments and retailers, everything was frozen,” she says. “We convinced people essentially to buy a case, which is 12 cans of a drink that they had never heard of, or tried before, for $35.99, online during a pandemic.”
It ended up being quite the success. Plenty of people were working long hours or doing everything from home and were worn out. G.O.A.T. was able to reach people online and sales exploded during a global epidemic. More than a year later, the deal with GNC, their first retailer, has been solidified and G.O.A.T. is now available at stores nationwide in addition to being available online in delicious flavors ranging from gummy bear and mango passionfruit to blueberry lemonade and peach pineapple. It’s a win that makes all the stressful, exhausted moments she went through at one point worth it.
“There’s nothing more gratifying really than seeing something that you’ve essentially put your blood, sweat and tears into for hours and hours and days and months and even years, to see it actually manifest and become real out into the world. It is the most gratifying feeling,” she says. “Beverage, it’s a hard space to be in and it’s also very male dominated, too. So me being a Black female in beverage and really us being a Black-founded company in the space in general, it’s a fight. It’s a fight but it’s so rewarding.”