Mark Anderson grew up on a farm in North Dakota and graduated from the University of North Dakota in business and aviation with the requisite certifications to be a pilot.
But those jobs were scarce amid airline layoffs in the early 1990s. In the three decades since, he traded commodities, invested in energy equipment and created an organic distillery.
That latest business — Maple Plain-based Drake's Organic Spirits — is one of the Minnesota companies that has raised a sizable amount of venture capital this year.
Last month, Drake's Organic closed a third private placement of stock at $7 million, following two earlier raises that provided $11.4 million. At the moment, investors give the company an implied value of $70 million.
"I just want to focus on the work," Mark Anderson said. "Our goal was to build something new and we're doing it. We've doubled sales every year since 2017."
Drake's, distilled 12 times,is a premium brand that prices competitively at $20 or $21 per bottle, thanks to little overhead and supply-chain control.
Anderson expects profitable sales this year of up to $20 million. Anderson and his wife, Kristen, remain the single-largest shareholders.
For Mark Anderson, who is 51, the success is the climax of a career with several twists.
He got into commodity trading after he saw the 1980s movie "Trading Places," thinking the business would make him successful enough to own an airplane.
"In 'Trading Places,' with commodity trading, they were kind of farming on paper," Anderson recalled of the comedy. "I decided to do some research."
Anderson eventually opened an account with a clearing firm, made a deposit of $4,000 borrowed on a credit card, and leased a seat on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange for $15 a month.
"I walked into the pit, got badge No. 357 and I was an independent trader," Anderson recalled. "Hard spring red wheat contracts. I figured out how markets were made and moved and the dynamics of market makers. When the Archer-Daniels-Midland's broker's phone rang, we knew he would be a seller. And when the General Mills broker's phone rang, he would be a buyer.
"I had some great days and made lots of money. But you also lose 90% of the time. So you have to be good enough to do much better on your winners."
In 1998, he took a position with North Central Cos., buying and selling physical commodities, such as dairy powders, cheese and grain. He started a company called Killer Whale, leveraging with derivatives that helped him control a significant portion of the dairy markets from 2000 to 2004. He retired that year a multimillionaire.
Mark and Kristen, whom he met at UND, live on a 29-acre horse ranch in Maple Plain. They own former race horses and other animals rescued through Kristen's nonprofit, Long Lake Animal Rescue.
Mark Anderson also made money investing in pipe manufacturers serving the North Dakota energy boom in the mid-2000s. He says he missed a huge win by not directly investing in the industry during the 2008-09 collapse, when valuations hit bottom.
"Anybody who only tells you about the wins is probably full of B.S.," he said. "I've had my misses. And I'm grateful for my wife, our kids and our success. We started out broke. I'm also wealthy in everything money can't buy."
Kristen Anderson has a passion for healthy lifestyles that combined with Mark Anderson's penchant for researchingand understanding markets and led them, after careful study, to launch Drake's Organic Spirits.
Earlier, they had launched Captain Drake's — a provider of organic ingredients, such as citric acid and organic cane sugar, to the food and beverage industry.
Mark Anderson said Drake's Organic is the only spirits company to achieve five certifications: vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and USDA organic.
And the Andersons, who raised two college-age daughters, have hired New York investment banker Cohen & Co. to field inquiries from larger alcoholic beverage companies interesting in how they've exploited the organic niche successfully.
They eschewed grain-based alcohol and sourced cane sugar from the Cauca Valley of Colombia, where the organic alcohol is distilled. No herbicides or pesticides.
Anderson doesn't drink alcohol. His wife and others are the tasters. "I choose to be clear-headed at all times," he said.
Anderson, who has focused on sourcing ingredients, markets and the growing health movement, built a lean company of only 12 people. The firmleverages capital and expertise by using contractors to distill, bottle and package products, including the fast-growing "boxtail" line of Drake's drinks.
Drake's distributes nationally throughSouthern Glazer's Wine and Spirits.
"We control our own supply chain for organic alcohol," Anderson said."In 2020, we sold 40,000 cases. This year, we forecast 200,000 cases. We have capacity for 12 million cases.''
Bill Hawks, a 20-year business partner and friend of Anderson's, called him "a humble guy who looks like a movie star. He attracts people. And he's a good guy who does a lot of business stuff really well. He has the vision … and then put all the parts together."