Jeremy Kasler had a business mindset early. Born in the UK and raised in Australia, the ambitious Kasler started out selling hot dogs when he was a wee lad. The entrepreneurial seed was planted early, and it wasn’t too long before young Kasler was on to bigger and more lucrative ventures.
Fast forward a number of years later, and Kasler is the CEO and founder of one of the world’s most successful art investment firms. You see, Kasler’s business savvy secret is that he loves the medium in which he operates. Kasler loved art, which made wheeling and dealing and the subsequent rewards all the sweeter.
Kasler also loves whiskey and he knows when a trend in the market is about to explode. The demand for luxury goods, and liquor in particular, captivated Kasler enough to sell the art business and pop the cork on a new venture – whiskey barrel investment.
Thinking outside of the proverbial “bottle’ has proved to work well for Kasler. His investment firm, CaskX is the major player for experienced investors who also share his passion for fine whiskey and bourbon. In this exclusive interview, Jeremy Kasler talks about his life, his passion, and how to succeed in business when you work really hard and love what you do.
What made you transition from fine art investment to bourbon?
My art investment firm was based in Hong Kong, where I’d been for almost 15 years. During the course of our business and our day, we spoke to not only art investors, but people investing in other areas as well, including alternative , non-mainstream investments. More and more, we were fielding inquiries and talking to people who were successfully investing into whiskey and scotch. So, of course, we felt it was a good possible transition.
Did you try before buying?
We did a few deals, and then I ended up selling the art business in late 2018 or early 2019. Since I wasn’t allowed to enter the art business again as part of the agreement for the sale, it was the next obvious step.
Did the transition feel natural and effortless, or was it like learning to walk all over again?
The dynamics of the business are very, very similar. It’s something that people have a passion for. Whiskey or art is not produced as an investment. The knowledge required to be able to offer something for investment takes a little while to build up. So I’ve been lucky that I loved art, so I got involved in art investment. And I’d always had a love for whiskey. So we set up a very similar business based out of an office. We’re not based in a bar or a distillery or a retail shop.. On the face of it almost a seamless transition. But of course, there’s more to it than that. There’s a lot of bumps in the road and things you learn and mistakes you make, of course, but it’s worked out very well so far.
Is there a similar mentality between art and whiskey investors?
To some degree, yes. From our point of view, in an ideal world, people would look at our offering just as an investment, as a route to make money. But the reality, 95% of the people who bought art for investment enjoyed art in some way or another. But they may not have been buying the expensive pieces because they saw it as an investment. They felt they could spend more money than just what they wanted to put on the wall. The same applies with whiskey. We would love it if we could advertise on Bloomberg or one of the financial platforms and say,” this is a great investment.” But the reality is, the majority of people who buy whiskey or bourbon for investment love whiskey and bourbon. It’s a nice marriage because everybody likes making money. No one can argue with that.
Are there opportunities for your investors to experience their love of whiskey beyond the financial aspect of investment?
We try to create an experience for our investors apart from buying barrels of bourbon or whiskey that they may never see. We arrange VIP visits for investors to travel to the distillery. They meet with founders and distillery executives and staff. They can even take part in the day-to-day production, like mixing the corn! They get to be part of the process. So it’s unusual for somebody to make an investment and actually experience part of the process. Normally, you get a slip of paper or an email that says, “congratulations.”
How do the distilleries react to this participation?
It’s win – win because the distillery loves it as well. They love to see the people that have helped invest into their business in some way.
How did the pandemic affect your start-up plans?
My staff were in Singapore. Australia. UK, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We were all stuck at home, so we thought we’d open the first office in Sydney. It was, in effect, a virtual office because most of the staff weren’t there, but we launched a business and we had good success. The pandemic worked very well for us in a sense, because all our prospects were at home. They’re all answering the phone. It was kind of a swim upstream. We launched the business when everyone else closed down and it worked well so we could grow organically.
What made you choose Los Angeles, specifically Beverly Hills, as your home base?
Originally the first office was supposed to be in Los Angeles for no other reason than we had to choose a city. And it was really a toss up between being in Kentucky, for example, or New York or one of the other major cities. And it was a place I wanted to live. People say everyone’s leaving LA. I thought, I’m going the other way. We opened our second office in Hong Kong because I’d been there for 15 years with a huge database of alternative investors. After I was allowed to travel from Australia, which had a really onerous travel policy, you couldn’t go back in. We opened the office in Beverly Hills because it was a place that I knew exuded wealth and prestige.
How did you develop your business model and trajectory?
We followed a similar business model to the art business, which was very successful. People said, “You know, you’ll never sell on the phone. You’ll never be able to sell for investment”. And we did. We managed to do a lot. So we’ve learned a lot of lessons before we set up. The legal aspect was a real challenge, because of the restrictions and the SEC policies and guidelines. It’s 10 times more stringent than in the UK, Australia, or Hong Kong. I was having two or three meetings a day with lawyers trying to clear the path because nobody had sold whiskey for investment in the US before. So even the SEC weren’t sure what we were doing and what the right path was. So we managed to clear the path if you understand.
What is the minimum investment required?
As the model stands currently, we can only sell to accredited investors. Our price is around 2400 a barrel, with a minimum of 24 barrels. So you’re looking at around $55,000. A lot of investors spend more, but this is an entry level.
Are you considering programs for those of more modest means?
We are setting up a fund that will allow anybody to invest at a much lower level. So right now, it’s only available to the fortunate 10% of the US, but we’re going to open it up to the other 90%, so literally anyone can invest. Even a group of friends, for example. Or it could be a football team or a baseball team. Anybody will be able to go in together.
Do you ever consider working with distilleries in less traditional markets or locations?
No, because we don’t feel they offer a product. We’re looking for the most reliable route to success, so we tend to focus on blue chip areas like Kentucky, Tennessee and Scotland. For now, that is enough. We are not looking to recreate the wheel.
How did your upbringing prepare you for life as an entrepreneur? Was it instilled in you at a young age?
My first real example was my grandfather, who had an amusement arcade for 45 years. He was
a professional gambler. He instilled in me a very good moral code. How to treat people. You’re not better than or worse than anybody else. I inherited the gambling instinct in many ways that has allowed me to be a risk taker. So working hard and taking risks is probably the way I live my life.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while in this business?
I think one of the important lessons we’ve learned is don’t enter this type of investment if you’re going to sell it in a year. You know, this is not a day trade and you’re not buying Bitcoin where it’s flying up and down, or even stocks and shares. We tell all our investors to make sure you’re here for the medium term to sell quicker. But generally speaking, we offer eight years storage insurance. So once the investor is sent their money, there’s nothing more to pay for eight years. But we would suggest the optimum time to sell would be about four years.