Get To Know The CEO: The Zero Proof’s Sean Goldsmith Talks Dry — and Damp — January

If you are participating in Dry January, you’re in good company.

35% of American adults  participated in last year’s Dry January, a month-long hiatus from drinking that is often associated with New Year’s Resolutions. Even more are liking giving Damp January – the more charitable cousin focused on cutting back alcohol consumption –  a try this year.   

For Sean Goldsmith, that tracks with the intergenerational shifts and new cultural norms setting in across the US. From older Gen X adults to newly-minted 21-year-olds, many people are drinking less. 

Upwards of 45% of Gen Zs of legal drinking age never drink and another 20% drink in extreme moderation, according to available Nielsen survey data. 

“As with any massive societal shift, there are a million little influences. But the big one is that this is a wellness driven trend. It’s objectively healthier to drink less,” Goldsmith told Hypepotamus.

Goldsmith and his childhood friend-turned-business partner Trevor Wolfe saw a big change in individual wellness when they stopped drinking several years ago. After the UGA grad built up his career in Baltimore and New York, Goldsmith moved back to Georgia and ended up taking a break from drinking. That break has lasted over four years.

Around that same time, Wolfe was also moving back to the Atlanta area and was also taking some time off from drinking. 

“We just started talking as friends about this experience and what we were doing, how good we were feeling, how we were sleeping better and dealing with stress better,” Goldsmith told Hypepotamus. 

That led the two to co-found The Zero Proof, as a place to talk about all the tasty, premium non-alcoholic wines and spirits they were tasting. 

Instead of finding unpalatable alternatives, The team behind The Zero Proof team found that giving up alcohol doesn’t mean giving up complex flavors associated with their favorite digestifs, bourbons, or other spirits.  

“At the time, the entire conversation was about recovery…but recovery wasn’t our experience. We thought there was a different, more lifestyle-based conversation we could have,” Goldsmith added. “When you’re out at a nice restaurant, when you’re celebrating with friends, and you just don’t want another alcoholic drink, but you still want something complex, you still want something interesting…and very importantly, you want to be included.”

Example of a non-alcoholic cocktail option on The Zero Proof

Building The Zero Proof  

The Zero Proof started out writing product reviews, printing city guides, and conducting interviews with bartenders and product makers in the non-alcoholic beverage space. Then, they saw an opportunity to both import brands from the UK and the Nordic region – where the zero alcohol movement is strong – and develop their own label, Harmony. 

“This whole journey was very kismet-y. Trevor and I lived together in New York…we both happened to end up in Atlanta.  We both happen to quit drinking around the same time. And we both happen to have time to work on this project.”

That project has grown to be a lifestyle brand, with a website that boasts upwards of  200 different SKUs and products across the non-alcoholic beverage segment.

Harmony, The Zero Proof team’s own brand, will have its second run of product out in 2023 as well. 


Taking On Capital 

The Zero Proof bootstrapped its first 18 months of business, in which time the startup became known as a curator, wholesaler, and leading online retailer of its own emerging brand. 

To scale, the team recently took on its first bit of outside capital with a $2 million seed round. 

Atlanta-based Overline VC led the round. 

“The cash flow conversion cycle is long [in this industry],” added Goldsmith. “We got to a point where we were confident in the space, we were confident in the company, we saw growth trends, and we had a vision for how we wanted to grow.” 

Sean O’Brien, Managing Partner at Overline, said in a statement that the firm had been tracking the evolving non-alcoholic beverage market well before getting to know The Zero Proof team. 

Overline is also an investor in other Atlanta-based consumer product and ecommerce companies like Grubbly Farms and Saltbox. 

Following the funding announcement, Goldsmith said the team is ready to scale. He told Hypepotamus that working with wholesale and three-tier alcohol distributors will be a focus for the team in 2023.  


Dry January…Or Damp January? 

Despite selling all non-alcoholic beverages, well over 80% of The Zero Proof’s customer base aren’t teetotalers in any way, shape, or form. But they are coming to the Atlanta-based company looking for a healthy, tasty way to cut back on their overall alcohol consumption. 

Cutting back is also a common goal for the month of January. 

Whether you are looking to cut out or cut down on booze, The Zero Proof has curated a list of products to satisfy your palate. 

“There is a one to one replacement for essentially everything in the alcohol world,” Goldsmith added. “So if you’re a tequila drinker, there’s a great non-alcoholic tequila. If you’re a bourbon drinker, there’s a great non alcoholic option.”