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Awakened Convos: William Benson and Patrick Ductant Chat on the Humble Beginnings of Champagne Empire, Billionaires Row

“Billionaires Row has a unique passion for distinction, exclusivity, and uniqueness, fueling its rise to one of the most recognizable brands in the world”.

Entrepreneurs William Benson and Patrick Ductant are the owners of Billionaires Row, which is an aspirational lifestyle brand. Their flagship products is their world-famous Champagne, their Rose, which is the product that they wanted to introduce to the world first. They also just launched their Cognac and they also have their water, which they will be launching in 2021, as well as their fragrance collection. 

These young men are phenomenal and have created an aspirational brand that focuses on other humans, being the best version of themselves. It was a pleasure to interview them both.

Check out the interview below:

The Empress Dee:  What inspired you to create this brand, Billionaires Row?

William Benson:  Well 2 interesting things happened in my life. In 2010, I was in the investment banking world and a lot of the relationships that were being built were based off of the night life and being in New York City, I always tell people that the magic happens after 6 p.m., money is made after 6 p.m., it is never made 9 to 5. When you are courting clients in their high net worth, you are out for dinners, you are at parties and in New York, it is the greatest city to be able to do that. So, taking clients out, trying to convince them to become clients of a hedge fund, it is not the easiest task, but I was blessed with the skill to be able to do that and so I got really good at it. 

I realized that we were spending a lot of money on champagne and wine and dinner, so one day at my apartment, an associate of mine was sitting in my living room and I told him that I had a crazy idea and he asked what I was thinking, I told him that we should create something called, ‘Thinkers Thursdays’ which was really just a concept where every Thursday we would do dinner parties with people that we would call, pioneers of industry. For example, we would have the head of an insurance company, sitting across from a rapper. The reason why we did that was because we realized that when you sat people together from different walks of life, and you put them in a room with good food and drinks, that they have a lot more in common than they ever thought that they did. So the energy that was created around those dinners, those moments, those nights…I want to capture that and put it in a bottle so that people could leave with that experience. 

 We throw some of the biggest parties in the world and that party may be 2 or 3 hours but that is a moment in time that is almost like a dream to some people and then they wake up after that 2 hours but we wanted them to continue dreaming by offering them a product that they can have at home with them and enjoy that same type of energy that we have created, through our failures and our successes, through love, and our tears…all of that is embodied in the products.

The Empress Dee: I love the back story. Can you guys tell me which is your favorite, the brandy, or the champagne?

Patrick Ductant:  I guess that we can answer that respectfully. So for William, it is definitely the champagne…that is his baby. We like to call it…it is a different project for me, The BR Cuvee XO… is my baby. I cherish it a bit differently than Benson, not to say that he does not cherish like it is his but there is just this inside thing where we are both just super inspired to see customers finally able to taste the product, if it’s the champagne, if it’s the cognac, XO Cuvee, we are just looking for consumers to finally enjoy this experience with us. 

Just to add to William, just from his back story, he has created an amazing company and it is just an honor to share the same space with him. He has dreamed about this that consumers would have the experience and we are just super excited for all of you guys to finally try it. For me, it is definitely the XO Cuvee (William adds, and we are Black)

The Empress Dee:  What made you all decide to go with a cognac as opposed to a vodka?

William Benson:  In doing research into the market and certain industries, and typically in the vodka industry, you are going to need between 25 to 50 million dollars just to make an impact into the market. Because there is a new product released into the market every 3 days. You look at your barriers to entry and you look to minimize any type of liability or any type of risk with the money that you maybe borrowing or your own money, we have our own money tied into this, so anyone else that comes into the circle, they would see that we have spent quite a bit of our own money…we put our money where our mouth is. We look at markets or products that would do well, not now but we are both very visionary, so we like to see around corners and brown is expected to become the largest consumed product on the planet in the liquor space. It is also doing very well in Asia and in India.

The top 4 selling brown liquors in the world are…3 of them are brandies, 2 of them are out of Asia, 1 is out of India and the other is from France. We looked at the market to see how we could mitigate the risk because to be honest, we were not born wealthy. My mother was a single mother, I watched her work ethic…I watched her struggles and her downfalls, and I tried to learn from that the best way that I could. When I look at a product or anything now in my life, I treat it like it is a Rubix’s cube. So, the brown for us was a no-brainer, with the success of our first launch of our Cuvee, our first major market was Africa. We were selling in 200 or 300 retail restaurants in South Africa alone and with the success of that, I knew that the product was viable and if you could sell it in that market, you could see the product in any market, especially Europe and the U.S., which has credit, most people live off that here.

But in those markets, those are considered credit-less societies, a lot of things that are purchased are purchased with their form of currency. So, their disposable income is a little bit different, even in Nigeria, the average consumer there that is spending money on a premium champagne is spending between $250 to $300 a bottle, U.S. dollars. So they are spending the money, the money is there. So I looked at that and I also looked at the fact that a lot of the markets get overshadowed because some of the biggest buyers in the world are people that look like me and you. Nigeria for example and South Africa, are the top 3 consuming spirits as far as premium champagnes in the world. Out of the 350 million bottles that are produced out of France, they are consuming a big bulk of that. Consumption is overshadowed for whatever reason but those are the markets that I feel that we could have capitalized on. One of the last components of this is that I am really big on economics, I am really big on creating something for our people so that we can create group economics and have something that we can actually leave for our children and for our community.

For example 100’s of millions of dollars are being spent on Hennessey and certain browns, but these guys are in the south of France on their yachts, they are not a part of the culture and they are not held accountable nor should they be held accountable. Because the money that we are spending in our community, if we do not know where it is going, shame on us. One of the reasons that Patrick and I did this extension is because of that, now you have someone that looks like you that you can hold accountable In the market. If you are going to spend 100’s of millions of dollars with us, you want to know where your money is going. Is it going towards creating scholarships to our HBCU’s, to our universities for people who look like us that we can put back into the food and wine space to teach them so that they can be chefs either at the White House or at Per Se or Jean-George or at Mr. Chow all the places that we and people who look like us aspire to eat that may not be able to afford to eat there but they aspire to once a year take their significant others there. 

We want to be held accountable in that sense that okay, now we have something that is owned by us, we want consumers who look like us who spend 100’s of millions of dollars in this space if you want to see change in your community, redirect your spending towards people who look like you. Practice group economics and then you can now hold us accountable as to how much we are grossing or generating, how much of that money is going back into rebuilding our communities, our inner-cities and what are we doing to give back to the community, how are we helping our community. So that was another key component as to why we specifically picked the cognac, and it is because people who look like you and me are the biggest consumers throughout Brooklyn. NY and Detroit, those are the 2 biggest consuming cities of brown liquor.

So we look at those details, we do not just look at the surface, we actually do a 10,000 ft. dive and really try to understand the market and where it is going, that it is changing and we are also in a pandemic and people want to see new things and cool things.

The Empress Dee:  I love that you all are doing that research and it is so funny that you mentioned Detroit because I am in Lansing, MI, a lot of my friends drink dark and they are from Detroit and as you said they are drinking the Remy Martin, Hennessey and Captain Morgan…you know things like that. I am also glad that you went with a brandy instead because one thing that I have noticed with vodka, after you drink dark for so long and you go back to light, it is really harsh as opposed to the dark…it seems a lot smoother.

William Benson:  Yes, because it is actually not cool to mix liquors, so mixing light with dark, they always say that you should not do that. Also, one thing that you can take from this conversation, I will give you something that you can take back with you when you go and drink either vodka or brown, take a teaspoon of it and put it in the palm of your hand and like you are wiping your hands and then take it and put it on your face. If it is sticky, then it’s all a lot of sugar and it’s no good. Alcohol is supposed to feel like alcohol., it is like rubbing alcohol. It will not stick to your face when you put your hands on your face. So, understanding the quality of what you are consuming, because if it feels like that on your hands and your face that is what it is going to feel like on the inside of your body. So, you just want to be careful with what it is that you are consuming. 

Everyone is health conscious now even when it comes to drinking. So that is something for your audience to take into consideration. 

The Empress Dee:  I appreciate that information. The one thing that I noticed about the champagne is that you also provide a list of foods that it can be paired with. Was that something that was essential in creating the taste of the champagne?

William Benson:  Yes, consumers would like to know what they can mix a cocktail with. Even now during Covid-19, if we put together a 20 second video of a nice-looking man or woman making a cocktail on YouTube or on our website, people like to have fun, they are at home. A lot of states are still under phases, so they are at home. They have a bottle at home, and they want to participate so they will follow along and make a cocktail and if you give them a really good recipe like with our cognac, Twelfth & Ocean, they become loyal in that sense (He shares the recipe for Twelfth & Ocean). 

What is happening now because of the pandemic, people are doing better in wine clubs, they are doing wine parties on Instagram and on Zoom. So, if your host is making a cocktail and 50 people are on Zoom or Instagram, they are following along, and it is also creating brand loyalty. 

The Empress Dee:  Since I am not much of a champagne or brandy connoisseur, can you tell me what other factors went into creating the quality and flavor of the brand?

William Benson:  Do you want to start with the champagne?  

The Empress Dee:  Yes, ok. 

William Benson:  Let’s start with the notes. It is like an art, it is almost considered like making a Basquiat or an Andy Warhol piece, there are so many components that go into making a Rose, especially because most of the houses in Champagne, France (Champagne is a Province in France) cannot produce Rose because the color has to be maintained for 4 to 5 years, which is very separate from producing a brew. It is very difficult to maintain the color and so what we do is we use a 100% of premiere Krug and that is in Montagne de Reims which is also in France. The product is packed during the fermentation process for a minimum of 3 years. Every single bottle that a consumer is opening from our champagne, that bottle has been closed for at least 3 years. They are opening up a product that has been going through the fermentation process for 3 to 4 years. So we are preserving these bottles for 3 years before they even go out into the market. 

The Empress Dee:  That is beautiful, that is amazing.

William Benson:  So, as far as the notes are concerned, the finish is a fresh hint of almond paste and cocoa. The palette is more like an elegant red fruit flavor, that is what you are tasting. The aroma is strawberries and cherries. So if you are smelling it, you are going to smell a really strong aroma of crushed strawberries mostly and cherries. The color is a salmon pink, that is what you are going to get when you pour that product into the glass. It is going to be a really pretty colored salmon pink background. These things are always important. Hence why this champagne is dubbed, the pink diamond of champagnes. 

The Empress Dee:  I love it, it is super fancy. 

William Benson:  Yeah, well you got to go hard or go home. We believe in being disruptive in the market and also in making history. It is not just through the French government, through the President of France, if you look at the bottle, it’s William Benson, which is my name…which is a history maker in and of itself. When we sold our first bottle of champagne to a consumer, she asked why should I buy this and the response was you cannot associate yourself with dead people, so she laughed and purchased the very first bottle. It is true Louis XIII, is no longer here, you cannot associate yourself with dead people…that is an interesting one. 

The Empress Dee:  I definitely agree. I wanted to ask what makes your brand stand out from the competitors, but you have pretty much summed that up for me. It is an amazing brand; I can definitely tell. You talked a little bit about the water which I did notice has an 8.0 pH, which I absolutely love, so can you tell me what motivated you to create the alkaline water?

William Benson:  Yes, so the vision is very clear for me. I understand that 1.3 billion people on the planet do not drink alcohol for religious reasons, but I also want them to be a part of the movement. One of the major things that is going to happen here soon is that there is going to be a major water crisis. It is happening now all over the world. You see it in the Middle East, where it is literally a desert where people are getting diabetes at a high rapid rate, it is not just African Americans that are getting diabetes, people in the Middle East, people all over the world where there is low quality water are too and we believe that we can provide something that is very high quality. 

We do not believe in plastic; we know that this market is going to fade out of that space of plastic products. So we created a glass bottle, we are still doing a little R&D (Research & Development) currently, because we are looking to see if we can raise that alkaline up to 9.5, so we are still in the R&D phase of just creating the best product that we know that every young kid and older person, when they pick up that bottle that they feel like billionaires…they feel special, they feel rich, they feel welcome, they feel the aspiration, they feel cool. So we are creating something where people can feel all of those things in one and it will touch someone because we feel that you have to touch a consumer emotionally and they will spend because people will spend on emotion. Also the packaging is super dope, it is not hard in that sense but one of the other things that we really focus on within that water space is our philanthropic side which is giving back to the community and helping communities in the U.S., like Flint, MI, to help provide in a time of emergency… natural disaster anything like that where we can “pull up” and help people who look like us.

My daughters are Haitian, Patrick is Haitian and when the earthquake happened, I watched as the President did not even want to land. There were thousands of Haitian people basically begging for food and water. They were waiting for other people who did not look like them to save them. I did not want to allow that to happen ever again. I wanted to create something that if a natural disaster was to happen again, that we would be the first people on the front line helping our people who look like us so that they do not have to depend on anybody else who does not understand their struggle or just the culture of the community. 

So, we wanted to add that element and not just people who look like us, for everybody. In Africa there is a huge water crisis in South Africa, and I have been on the phone with the government there about how we can transport water from here to them. It is a huge task but there is always a philanthropic side to every product that we release into the market. So that sums up the water in a nutshell.

The Empress Dee:  That is amazing, and I thank you so much for keeping those things in mind. How do you and Patrick pool your creative energies together to make the brand what it is?

William Benson:  So we have our spiritual moments. I think that Patrick and I, have so many things in common but we use our conversations for therapy, and we challenge each other. We call each other “Jordan” and “Scottie” and that is like being the best version of us and understanding that sometimes in the sandbox when you are creating, you are going to go at it. So we always go back to the Chicago Bulls. What made them great? They used to fight each other in the locker room, fight each other at practice, but when they got on the floor, they were unbeatable. You are only as strong as your weakest link but you go through these things with your teammates and there are certain things that you find out about them and certain things that they find out about you and what we try to do is we try to help each other become better or be the best at your strong points. 

Patrick brings a lot of strong points to the table that I do not bring, and I bring a lot of strong points to the table that he does not bring, and we play off of that energy and it works for us. We can be fighting with each other and then 5 minutes later we are having oysters and champagne. We could be working on a deal in Canada or China, but they do not know that 10 minutes before that we had it out with each other because my vision was not clear, or his vision was not clear. We want to make sure that moving forward it is clear. 

Patrick Ductant:  I think one of the things for us in the African American community is brothers working together. That is probably one of the hardest challenges that we have to face. But as Benson has mentioned on a spiritual level, we are definitely connected in ways that most people could not imagine. I think that the company is where it is at today because of our spiritual connection. 

It is true, we are going to fight just so that we can make each other better and that is meant in a positive way. I think that for us as we are going into these new chapters and challenges, it is for us to make sure that we control our ego and we have these conversations of making sure that we can share the same space, that it is okay to acknowledge that you can be great and I tell him all the time that it is his dream…it is his dream first and I am just honored to share that same space with him.

 I said that with respect, it is a sincere thing that no one can take away from me. For us as brothers and we are going into this new luxury space, I think that it is not…we could not change it, I would not want to change it. Both if us growing up without fathers you just literally have each other, you have to recognize that, that is all you have…is to be tough on each other and understand the challenges of guys who look like us and make sure that those guys can have someone that they can look up to and say that we can do it. 

The Empress Dee:  It is very refreshing to see 2 Black men working together like this and really holding themselves accountable and as you said checking your ego because a lot of people get into these businesses with each other and it just goes down hill from there because of different ideas, different perspectives, everybody wants to be in the spotlight all the time, so to see those things from you all is absolutely amazing. 

What is the ultimate vision that you all have for Billionaires Row?

William Benson:  We are building a rather large company. Some of the things that we did not discuss with you is that we are launching a Billionaires Row chain of Hotels and Resorts. We are also creating a boutique fashion collection along with a Bath & Body line that are all organic, trend setting futuristic products that will be focused on hair care and skin care for women of color.

For me, one of the main things that I stand on, and I tell my brother this…is that, I never want my niece, nephew or my daughters to go through the motion of obtaining the best degree and education to then have to sit across from someone that looks different then them, to tell them about their value and worth. So, what we are creating is an opportunity for young entrepreneurs and people who look like us to be able to own something that they can call their own and when they receive their various degrees, they can come here. 

This is what we are creating for us and this is really what the focus has been, it has been about us and if it does not include us, we are not included…we do not want to be a part of it. That is big as we see all the things that are going on around the world. So I want to be able to leave a legacy for my family. It is not even about the money at this point. I always tell Patrick if it is not fun, count me out, moving forward…we just want to have fun. So, if it is not fun or I am not in that creative space where I can expand the brand, I am out. There are 7 Black billionaires in America, there are 1702 billionaires in the world. I tell all my friends all the time, there is someone that Jay-Z is related to that is still struggling. There is someone that Lebron James is related to that is still struggling. There is no one related to Jeff Bezos’s that is still struggling. He just gave his wife 30 billion dollars, so he basically gave her 30 Jay-Z’s. 

We are only as strong as our weakest link and I feel that we are all suffering economically, and we have to change that narrative and so this is one of the ways that we can help to do that, so other people who look like us have opportunities to build wealth and say that they are a part of something. 

Patrick Ductant:  What I would like for people to take away from Billionaires Row is that it is a part of our core value to inspire others. I think that we are building one of the largest companies in the world and people are going to be blown away. There is no company in the world that is like this and I think that the magnitude that we have to put people in position that look like us, that is on our shoulders. It is our job to make sure that we are inspiring others to know that they can do it. That is always going to be our mission and I am excited to be a part of it.

The Empress Dee:  Well you know guys; I am blown away myself. I am speechless about the work that you all are doing, I think that it is absolutely amazing, and I am honored to be able to speak with you all about this because, what you all are doing is incredible. 

So lastly, please let everyone know where they can follow you, buy your products so that we can make sure that everyone is in the know.

William Benson:  Yes, absolutely. They can go to www.billionairesrow.com, they can go to @billionairesrow on Twitter and Instagram, they can also go to www.reservebar.com,www.wine.com and they can purchase right there. 

The Empress Dee:  It has been a pleasure to talk with you both, thank you again for this opportunity and I wish you all the best of luck on your future ventures and hopefully we can check in again with you in 6 months or so to see how things are going. Have a wonderful day!

ABOUT AUTHOR

  • Destinee Porter

    Destinee (The Empress Dee) Porter is a Restorative Justice Facilitator for Sexton High School in Lansing, MI. She is also the CEO of Empress Training Inc. which, educates young African American women about their African Lineage promoting self-love, divine femininity, and the expression of knowledge and grace. In the near future she aspires to become a Life Coach and Therapist for young men and women of color.

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