Eric Brass founder of Tequila Tromba joins the Startup Coach to talk about launching a tequila brand in Canada, becoming the number 1 independent Premium Tequila Brand, and starting up in Canada.
Other Great Podcasts:
Register for Startup and Entrepreneur Events here
Join us for Startup Pitch Battle
Full Automated Transcript below
Tequila Tromba on the Startup Talk Podcast
Announcer: Direct from the six world renowned Canada’s largest city with Canada’s biggest thinkers, visionaries, and hustlers. This is startup talk, featuring the founders, funders, innovators, and community leaders. Who’ve led Canada’s startup ecosystem right here in Toronto. You’ll hear the challenges, the failures, the successes, Toronto startup podcast gives you the full story direct from the entre.
And influencers who’ve made a difference. Now, the host of startup talk, the founder of Toronto starts this startup coach echo Festo is a Canadian equity crowdfunding portal and growing community of over 3000 members. We are currently raising capital to grow our reach and help even more investors and founders.
If you’re interested in becoming a co-owner of echo, Vesto starting at only $500. Visit Aqua vesto.com for more details.
Startup Coach: Welcome back to startup talk. I’m your host. The startup coach and founder of Toronto starts one of the largest startup communities in Canada. And with me today is Eric brass of tequila, Tromba welcoming.
Eric Brass: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Startup Coach: So why don’t you start with telling us a little bit about tequila,
Eric Brass: trauma, excuse me, trauma’s a brand that, um, you know, I found it based on going down to Mexico on exchange with school and falling in love with tequila. So many of us have the preconception of what tequila is and I thought it was that terrible shot at that horrible bar at that CDL.
I ended up trying good to kill for the first time and was amazed at how good it was. Came back to Canada. I worked a day job, uh, for a number of years and then one day quit. My job went for the dream and started Tromba and didn’t really know anything about the boost business didn’t have any major financial backers, didn’t have any distribution contacts, but I saw there was a gap in the marketplace for an ultra premium tequila and accessible prices.
With a great Mexican pedigree behind it. I’m not a great Mexican pedigree in case you can’t tell, but better to be lucky than smart. A friend of mine was a gentleman named Rodrigo Sadana. His father is Marco Sudan. Marco created a little tequila brand. You may have heard of called Don Julio. So when you say, why don’t we pitch Marco to be our master distiller?
It’s basically asking Wayne Gretzky to play in your men’s league team. He’s going to tell you to bugger off, but you’ll ask him. And we did. And he said, you know what? I’ve never been an owner before. I’ve always been an employee. So make me an owner, uh, that’s rule number one, rule number two, no gringos in the kitchen.
Me and my son Rodriguez are going to effectively build this brand the way we want to build it. Uh, and. My self as, as, as a gringo has no say as to how, how we effectively makes tequila, the processes you used and so on and so forth. He’s taking all of these years of passion and craft and experience and putting it into one bottle.
And, uh, um, you know, we said, okay, let’s, let’s do it. And, you know, effectively did a, did a first round of financing, which I like to call affectionately, uh, not so effectually at the time, but effectually now, uh, pity money from friends and. So 5,000 a year, 10,000 air. And we raised enough to do our first production run out about $10,000 off in marketing and ended up selling it out of my backpack bar by bar bottle by bottle.
And we’d built traumas and number one, independent tequila brand in Canada. Number two premium tequila brand in, in Canada. Uh, number one, independence Kilburn in Australia. Uh, number two in Australia and the premium side of. And now when the fastest growing, uh, tequila brands, uh, crop fuel brands in the U S uh, partnered with Sazerac down there.
So it’s been a very interesting grassroots, uh, Um, but, uh, but yeah, I mean, here I am
Startup Coach: today, what you were like growing up, were you a handful for your parents? Were you studious into the music? Socializing sports
Eric Brass: hockey was obviously a big, big thing for me. So some of, some of my, you know, a lot of my close friends today are meant for hockey.
So sports I’m a big, big fan of sports. And I encourage my kids to play sports, not only from, you know, from the exercise point of view, but also from the, you know, the friend making community point of view of building that community that can last for your entire life. Uh, I wasn’t the most student. Uh, child, but, um, whenever I had a challenge, um, you know, that, you know, whether it was on the academic side or, or something like that, I, I liked to effectively, uh, you know, like to effectively meet, meet and exceed that challenge.
And, you know, when it came to, to hockey, for example, I was certainly not the most athletically talented put it that way, but it was probably the hardest worker on the ice. So I’d like to outwork everybody and, uh, you know, get getting, getting people’s faces. And I think that, um, that work ethic translated into, you know, into my career and translate into, you know, being an entrepreneur.
So, yeah, it was a, you know, I certainly wasn’t the top of my class in, in, in marks wives down. I kind of, I goofed off probably a little bit too much.
Startup Coach: So you mentioned you’re working a day job and you said the heck with it, I’m making the leap. Tell me how that mental switch happened from coming home from work or whatever to say.
Damn it, I’m just, I’m quitting and I’m starting a tequila company. Yeah. I
Eric Brass: mean, I’d be disingenuous if I said that it was something that happened overnight nuts to this, I’m going to start to kill company. And the thing is, if anything is I really liked my job and I really liked my boss and I was learning a heck of a lot.
I was in portfolio management. Looking at companies, some of which we’ll look for companies, um, and analyzing companies every day. And it was, it was, it was really exciting. And so it was, it was really a process. I mean, it was, it was a process that took me a long time to do, because again, do all my job and making money and hearing.
Quitting something that effectively is going into the unknown didn’t have any sort of financing. So effectively my salary went to zero and living at my parents’ place and using my father’s garage as my first warehouse, our office for coffee shops, because that’s all we could afford. And so that’s not an easy thing to come to terms with.
And I think, you know, that was, you know, that was. Uh, almost, you know, almost a decade ago. And I would say the infrastructure for entrepreneurship isn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is today. So it was, you know, it was a lot of chats with, with friends and family. It was a lot of chats with, with, uh, with loved ones.
And really it came down to the fact that I knew I had something inside of me in entrepreneurship bug that wouldn’t go away unless I effectively tried. And the worst case scenario is I fail and I want to hack up. And I can either, you know, do something else or I can go back to working and finance. Now,
Startup Coach: did the idea happen where you were talking to your friends?
And he said, well, wait a minute, I’ve got this tequila connection. So let’s make this happen. Or did you make the jump and say, all right, I’m doing this. And then the things fell together. I
Eric Brass: went back and forth after I did my exchange in Mexico, I went back and forth a lot. I would always bring back new and interesting tequilas and the reaction I got first first-line.
Uh, don’t, don’t give me that stuff. I need to kill out. Um, I don’t want to try it. And what’s interesting is, is, is that really like the younger generation now? They don’t have that bad experience. Cause tequila just been premiumized in the last three, four years where, you know, folks like me do and uh, you know, I would affect them to come back with these tequilas and people were firstly, effectively treating it as if it was poison.
And then, you know, I convinced, I convinced him to try it and it’s. Just to see their reaction to that was absolutely mind blowing. I saw more and more people would ask me. Can I, can I mule tequilas back to them? I would get invited to parties. They’d say, Eric, you can come to, if you want to, but just bring your tequila, uh, or just drop it off at the door and leave and leave almost.
So I saw it was just, it was just so exciting and, and, and the misconception and the opportunity to effectively bring. That take a product to the marketplace, really excited me. So it actually came from, you know, from us going down to Mexico and convincing them versus somebody having a product and saying you should sell this.
And I think our approach was different. It was certainly had to be different because we didn’t have any budgets. So we had to effectively think outside the box and that came from talking to. We can buy business partner, Marco Sadana and Rodrigo, um, our distilling teams to the approach of it. Cause he conventional approaches.
You ha you have a master distiller for hire and he, or she makes her stuff and also makes a bunch of other stuff. But, um, you know, it’s, it’s probably the quote unquote cheaper and easier solution. Our approach was no, no, no. This is going to be a founder owned brand and you’re going to be part of this thing, uh, which was not the typical approach when we approach the market to was extremely.
Different and different, not because, you know, genius dream about how to effectively do it, but different, not different almost out of necessity, which I find is probably a bit of an underused blessing. When you start a brand with limited resources.
Startup Coach: Now you started this, you were talking about just beforehand, that you’ve been LCPO for 10 years.
So you started this a while ago. I just reading recently that mezcal based drinks are taking the world by storm. And I said overtake vodka in, in north America as a favorite soon. How big was the tequila market when you started and why is it growing so fast?
Eric Brass: It’s the fastest growing spirit right now, um, in, in the world and effectively Washington world north America, uh, what’s, what’s really propelling is the premiumization it’s folks.
You know, folks like probably we knew that I’ve discovered that tequila can be, can be sip, can be enjoyable. Can we save her, um, can be putting a great cocktail. It’s natural stimulant. It’s an upper it’s, you know, it’s, it’s more in calories. Doesn’t have any refined sugar in it if it’s on properly. So there’s a lot of benefits of drinking, drinking tequila, besides it being delicious well made when made properly.
And then also there’s a whole influx of, I mean, you know, there’s, there’s a whole influx of celebrity brands too, that have come into the world of tequila. Which had been, I think an absolute blessing for the category because they’ve just focused more and more attention into the tequila category. A tequila shows no signs of slowing down.
It’s only, it’s only increasing. And, uh, it’s been a really, I, I think now it’s a second, most premium. Actually I didn’t in the world behind cognac. And if you’d have told me that, uh, you know, even five years ago, I would’ve, I would’ve, would’ve been equivalent to saying that I’m going to be living on the moon in five years.
It’s just, it’s been, it’s been incredible. The premiumization that’s gone on the tequila industry.
Startup Coach: So you’re now number one in Canada. What were some of the challenges starting if tequila brand and getting to number one?
Eric Brass: Yeah. So number one, independence again. So the big boys still, in some respects, I’ll tell us we’re number one in, in Toronto bars and restaurants on the premium side, which is, which is pretty cool.
Um, so we have a lot of bartender and industry support, which is a market that we focused on and we carved out our niche, which grew and grew in group. And we’re always, you know, ever thankful that the challenges, I mean, we’re we’re where do I start? It’s it’s. You know, you’re, you know, on the one hand you have effectively supply chain that’s that’s down in Mexico, which has new challenges being Mexican produced.
Uh Gabe’s uh, uh, the raw material that’s used to make tequila takes over eight years to produce in some occasions. So you have, you have that. You have huge price fluctuations when it comes to a Gabi, it’s a very, very long, long cyclical. And then you have an industry. That’s really appealing to get into because it’s fun.
It’s interesting parties. So if a lot of competition and, and, and your main comp competitors, when you really have to think about are, you know, have, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars, uh, or even maybe your tens of millions of dollars of marketing budget, a huge amount of Salesforce. Uh, brand recognition stablish relationships.
And here you are effectively. There’s nothing brand unknown promoted with unknown products coming in to compete with these, with these sophisticated weld machines and on paper, you don’t, you don’t stand a chance. So. I mean, I remember the first business plan that I ever gave to an industry expert and he gave it back to me with more reading on it than the black and, you know, warrants.
I can possible not the way it’s done, can’t be done this way. Marketing budget is, you know, forget about $10,000 looking at a million dollars at least to started in Ontario, which is, you know, not New York or not, not LA in some respects. And he wasn’t wrong. In a conventional way to do things because there’s just such an incredible amount of challenges that seem insurmountable.
If you effectively take an objective approach and look at it, look it on paper.
Startup Coach: So the LCDO shelves are crowded and notoriously hard to get into you got in there 10 years ago. So, you know, a lot of the startups I talk to now just got in last couple of years. What was it like back then? And did you attack the LCPO first or did you go to a different market?
Eric Brass: LCPO gave us our, gave us our shot. So, um, again, unknown promoter with an unknown brand in a spirit that you know, that wasn’t, wasn’t where it’s at. And so he, uh, you know, jumping in broke Toronto gave us, you know, gave us a chance and basically said, Hey, here’s what you have to do. And here’s a Cody after hits.
And I think they, I can’t remember numbers off hand, but talk maybe eight or nine tequila brands they listed that year. We were the only one that survived after 24 months by should include on then working in the market. The LCB lifeline can be really great partners if you sell well and engage with them and monitor manners and give, give, give back.
Um, so I have a lot of respect for the LCPO and now, because of that, um, but they’re also, they, they they’re, they’re, they’re they’re, they demand, they demand a lot because, you know, I’m not the only one you’re on the woman that knows that they’re, you know, that you are just one of the largest sellers of, of alcohol on the planet.
You know, shelf space is very competitive and there’s a lot of brands coming in and brands going out. So, uh, it can be, it can be a great part of your business. If, if you. Focus with them. And, and, and also don’t, you know, allow them to effectively, you know, help help them, but also help yourself take the initiative to go out and sell the, sell the products yourself, and have your own Salesforce, your own infrastructure there, because if we didn’t do that, and we just said, we’ll just rely on retail, sales, pixie, Dustin, and our bottles.
And they just inserted flying off the shelves. We had to effectively curate and detail, uh, the brand with our own team.
Startup Coach: And we have our first question in the chat room here. So I’m just going to toss it in. What do you think of small distillers self delivery programs that are happening?
Eric Brass: Uh, as a concept, I think they’re great.
I think that the more that we can get independent and micro distilleries and small distillers to effectively get their product into the hands of consumers is, is, is a phenomenal win. I think that people now are looking for new curated, interesting, interesting products. They don’t want, you know, just kind of, kind of the mass, the mass brands that have been thrown at them for, for years.
And they want to try something different and unique. And what. As a result of COVID. And I can talk about this with, you know, bars and restaurants in the, on the, on premise community is I’ve found that, that the premiumization level there is, has been surprisingly strong because folks have been owned for, you know, for, for too long.
Maybe it’s the fact of there’s been income stage, or maybe it’s a fact of. I’m not going to live forever. Life’s too short, but they’re spending more and they’re demanding better when it goes, when it comes into bars and restaurants, there may not be as many people going, but the level of spend the average check size is significantly higher than what it was pre COVID.
Now, whether or not that’s going to last, I don’t know. I believe that element of premiumization will certainly, but yeah, I think that’s, you know, programs like that to get, you know, these really awesome products in people’s hands more recently is. Shelves are
Startup Coach: crowded. And how do you attack the mind share problem when someone’s going into the store?
Are they, do you want them already thinking about tequila Tromba before they enter the LCPO or is it your presentation on the shelf that really makes all the difference? Is it a last minute buying decision or do people come for that brand? The
Eric Brass: way we build our brand is we build the brand on premise and bars and restaurants, and we do.
The volume off premise afterwards, and that’s been a winning strategy for us because we have a product that fits what that strategy has. Another brands try to invoke the same strategy that we haven’t, whether it be cost or story, which is a lot of cases or, or even bottle shape can, can factor into it.
There’s gotta be kind of a 360 connections with the trade. For that to effectively work and for them to get behind it because they are the ultimate detectors of, of, of BS and a lot of cases. And so, you know, from our perspective, a lot of our brand is built, you know, in the bar and restaurant community, where somebody comes in and says, you know, either what do you, what do you recommend when it comes to tequila or I’ll have a brand of
Brand trauma and here’s the story bonds. They become kind of our unofficial brand ambassadors. And so a lot of the, the full three that we see in the El CBO has been, you know, has been built from there. And then also word of mouth is, you know, it’s cliche or maybe old fashioned to say it’s the best, it’s the best brand builder.
But it truly is. It’s folks that hear about it from effectively, you know, maybe the bartenders, the original source of it. Maybe tell us that person, that person buys a bottle, brings it to a, to a party and then effectively it starts to spread. You know, we reached a point where effectively something just clicked and something unique happened, and the brand just really started to roll and build and build and build.
And, you know, I used to go into bars and restaurants and say, do you have, do you have trauma? And they would say, what’s drama points. The bottle. You know, and it’s this thing I’ve never, never seen it before. Uh, and now, you know, I’ll sit down in a bar and in the person beside me around the traumas, obviously I pick up the bill.
Um, but, uh, but that’s, you know, that’s kind of where it’s where it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s gone to him. I think it starts from a specific market that we targeted and it builds and builds and builds and builds and builds. That’s the only way to build a brand and believe me, it’s, it’s a difficult way to build a brand and it’s a long way to build a brand, but that process has been, has been a recipe
Startup Coach: for success.
Now everyone talks about hustle. You mentioned having a backpack full of bottles and going from bar to bar. Can you tell me some of the things that you did to get your traction going in the bars? They start building that brand awareness.
Eric Brass: It sounds very basic, but storytelling, like we, we effectively were, you know, myself and any, anybody in my team.
It’s early on, even today, where we tell the story as to where trauma came from and who makes it and how it’s made, because we have enough a story that’s, you know, the story’s not, we source our golf from a volcano, which corrupted, you know, 150 years ago. And, you know, and kind of it’s, it’s a real, it’s a real story of, of, of effectively of folks putting their passion into a brand and building that a brand that ties back into the Canadian community here, that people are.
You know, really love. And so storytelling is, is a massive part of it. And we didn’t have the budgets to effectively, you know, to quote unquote conventional marketing in that respect. And we really have never really been a conventional type organization, but also one of the things that we did is we went in there and we engaged with.
You know, the typical way to do it is you go into a bar and restaurant at the time and less so today. But, but even certainly, certainly today you go into a bar and restaurant and you asked to speak to the manager or the purchaser or the owner, because that’s the person that’s going to ultimate. Buy your product and it makes complete intuitive sense.
We didn’t do that. We went to the bartender, we sat down at the bar and we had a drink and we spoke to the bartender. We told the bartender the story of trauma and that didn’t always lead to a direct sale. In fact, usually it didn’t lead to a direct sale because that bartender doesn’t have the purchasing power or maybe forgot about it.
It builds. It builds the brand and builds the character of the brand with that, that bartender. And also any bar that’s kind of worth their salt is going to listen to their bartender. So eventually the bartender says, well, I want to stock this product. The whole skip the middleman theory for us didn’t work because that, that middleman was most important part of our value chain.
So really engaging the bartenders and telling the story and knock on the conventional path really, really helped us to, to build.
Startup Coach: I’ve seen people do it, sitting at a bar, having a beer. I’ve seen people come in and talk to the manager. It can be very awkward. How thick skin do you have? Because I always think that.
The difference between a successful founder and an unsuccessful founder is really willing to do those things that are embarrassing. The things that you really need to have thick skin for just beyond the next person. And those ones will be successful. The ones who, who can’t go into the bar and do exactly that for the hundredth time.
At what kind of, um, how long did it take you to get that thick skin and how long did it take you to get that sales script down? How many Vive was it? 10. Was it a hundred times?
Eric Brass: I mean, I’ve been told, I’ve been told no more time than I, more times than I can count. So I can’t even give you a scientific answer on that.
Well, what I will say though, is yeah. Your ability to go from, from sale to sale, you know, and if you’ve been told no nine times and presented the same way the 10th time, uh that’s that’s, what’s going to measure success. If, if you, if you’re told no, and you’re going to get, you know, into a negative loop, the second sale after the first note is going to be just that much more difficult.
And then the third sale is going to be that much more difficult than the fourth sale is going to be impossible. So you’ve, you’ve talked yourself out of it. Right off the bat. Some of my best customers today are people that told me, no, not once, not twice, but multiple times. Some of my favorite bars are people that told me no.
And if I would’ve, if I would’ve, you know, there’s a way to not take no for an answer as well, which is strategically falling up and not being know, you know, what about it? So there’s that element too, but then there’s the element of you can’t. It’s it’s you have to maintain that exact level of enthusiasm, even though somebody told you no, and it can be completely unreasonable now and you can frustrate you and you can be completely correct in the fact that why would this person tell me no, but you also don’t know their circumstances.
You don’t know what they’re up against. You don’t know what cells underneath the hood. So from that perspective, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s important to keep that.
Startup Coach: How do you define success for tequila trauma and how will you know, when you.
Eric Brass: It’s a good question. I mean, obviously we’re, we’re, we’re a corporation, so, you know, we have shareholders, so measuring success based on shareholder returns, uh, you know, whether it’s through dividends or, or acquisition or, or whatever the case may be is, is, is extremely important to us.
I think really for. It’s about, what’s going to get us to success is, you know, sustainable, strong sales that we’re effectively doing based on, you know, based on executing a strategy. That’s not, that’s, that’s not a temporary strategy that evokes a long-term brand building and building a proper brand that people want to try that like that haven’t finished your wounds that have loyalty towards whatever the definition of success is.
That’s the way effectively we’re going to build it. And that’s, that’s what we’re focused on, whether it be in Canada, where we just signed with, you know, With Mark Anthony brands who was, you know, is an awesome, awesome company there. They brought the world to like white claw and Mike’s hard lemonade, you know, whether it be with the Sazerac guys in the U S or whether it be with, um, you know, a company called artists in Australia, having those partnerships are also really important to getting to that
Startup Coach: success.
We talked originally about your funding situation and how it started. It’s a, it’s a long journey for any startup to get funded. Can you tell me how your funding process went the first few times and, uh, did you get better along the way?
Eric Brass: You know, our first funding basically went to one to a few institutions cause I’m an institutional guy and, and yeah, if I could get, if I could get the phone call or if I get the meeting, I was laughed effectively out of the room.
I’m going to. Actual dollars and to premium craft tequila, Toronto, it doesn’t make any sense and it didn’t make any sense. So for us, it was really, you know, they’re not, and that was not a smart route for us to go. We went through through friends and family to start off, and then we went to conduct. I would call them micro institutions, uh, after we built a track record.
And that’s also really important. I think I, I get sometimes calls from, uh, you know, folks that just go to a school that wants some advice or starting their own company. And I commend them for starting their own company at a school. Without any experience because I wasn’t, I was not brave. That’s that’s, that’s, that’s something.
Um, and they’re very, very hell bent on raising money and it’s very difficult, uh, at that point to raise money. And my, my viewpoint is we’ll go and start building successful. In case studies interact records and do it in your own backyard. Right? So for us, it was really important after we raised obviously a little bit of seed financing to get going, to show traction in Toronto.
That’s our backyard. If we’re not going to succeed in Toronto, we ain’t going to succeed anywhere. And once we effectively did that, then we can go back and start, you know, getting some more, some more capital in the door, but we never rushed the process of getting capital in the door and also not having.
Not a minute. Access to capital, certainly helped us understand what a return on investment was, especially for folks that were industry veterans and had to approach a different way. And that’s probably been the biggest blessing we’ve had with the brand, because we always think differently when it comes to return on investment in building our brand.
And if somebody would give me 5 million bucks to start off the brand, I would have probably wasted 4.99.
Startup Coach: Now, I don’t know a lot about tequila, but I do know I’ve tried a lot of crappy tequila. I lived in Mexico for two and a half years doing some work and I tried some amazing tequila. How is Tromba?
Eric Brass: Yeah. So there’s not one specific thing that we do that makes a difference. Right. But you know, the fact that we are distilled our own, so Marco. Are distilling family, this know family, again, 17 years making tequila for, for Don Julio, Marco celebrating his 50th year, making tequila this year.
It’s, it’s effectively the chef making dinner for first family. Um, Marco is making the tequila for himself where the vast majority of, uh, you know, a master distillers are making tequilas for they’re hiring guns are making this. You know, dozens of other brands. And if they’re a big company, then how involved are they in the process?
Really? How much control do they have? It’s different question. So you have a master store effectively that owns a brand. That’s making it. And there’s not one specific thing he does when he makes it. It’s just every single step of the process has a no compromise approach. It’s Marco, uh, taking this 50 years of experience and Rodrigo, who is.
Uh, kind of bringing that modern aspect to it. So we call it a nice tension of modern craft where Marco and Volkov, the old school it’s always been done this way. And he goes, well, hold on a sec, just because it’s done that way. Doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it. Why don’t we try something else? It’s going to not hurt our quality, but enhance our quality.
That’s been a really, really winning combination for us. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not always easy. And having our own office infrastructure down in Mexico is not easy. But it’s paramount to effectively to quality that we have today and having our own team effectively producing trauma versus just outsourcing it so we can control the quality, build the quality, pick our hand, pick our Gabe’s be involved in every single step of the production process from the Gabi harvesting to effectively the cooking to the fermentation, distillation, the bottling, the aging, every single aspect has our master distillers have.
Startup Coach: I like to try to share both success and failures. So there’s a chance that somebody listening won’t make the same mistake. Can you tell us a time where you screwed up or made the wrong, uh, Decision. And what happened? I would
Eric Brass: say that, you know, one of the big mistakes that I’ve made that took me, took me a while to learn was on the hiring aspect of things.
And, um, I always, I didn’t know, but one of the, one of the things I did was sometimes I would hire folks that had really wonderful resumes and had wonderful experiences. And I thought I could accelerate the brand really quickly. And. Uh, really, really good connections within the marketplace, but just didn’t fit the culture of what we wanted to do.
And there’s no, there’s no one saying that education is easier than reeducation. So a person that’s working in industry for 20 years, 15 years, 30 years, and has been successful is going to come with effectively. This is the way I’ve been doing it. This is what’s been me success. It’s very natural for that person to say, that’s what I want to do.
Leave me alone. Let me do it. And if that’s the. In line with what the company is doing. You’re going to have problems. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be six months from now, but you’re going to have problems. I’ve realized that. And I said, you know what? The work or the sales benefits will outweigh any sort of issues with that.
It’s been every time, the wrong decision, and it always seems to bite you and you just throw good money after bad. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s really, really important that the people you hire aligned with your culture, your vision, and, uh, and you know, exactly kind of what their, where their, uh, their downfalls can be.
So, I mean, I’ll also found that, um, every time of hiring somebody and I know that person’s not going to work. And I say, ah, you know what, I’ll change the role a little bit, or I’ll give that person another, you know, get that person’s, you know, some new things to do or I’ll, I’ll, you know, try and do this from my end or to them, another manager.
It also almost every single time. It never works once. Once you’ve hit that point where that person is effectively, uh, you know, you know that person’s not going to fit again. My, my viewpoint is you make, you make a change as quick as possible because it’s not doing that person any favors, and it’s not doing the company any favors.
Startup Coach: Great advice. Um, go with your. If there’s something, you know, you’d feel they’re not gonna work out. They’re not going to work out, you know, you know, your company more than anybody else. And, uh, yeah. When you know that and they’re already. Uh, sooner you can make the decision the better because people don’t really understand how dramatically affects everyone else in the company.
Eric Brass: it’s, it’s really, it’s a really hard thing to do. And it sounds really simple. It’s, you know, it’s really hard thing to do cause you can vote, change on something and listen things. Aren’t, it’s not like it’s a complete disaster, you know, orders aren’t being delivered sales, aren’t going out. Like, so you say, well, I don’t want to, you know, I don’t want a good thing going on in one disrupt the apple cart.
It will and it spreads, it really does spread. And, um, it impacts scene. It will impact the entire organization.
Startup Coach: What do you wish you knew before you started? You said you jumped in, you didn’t know all these things. What do you, what’s the one thing you wish you knew before? I
Eric Brass: mean, I, I would say that that feedback was prob probably the safe NIAC of a lot of time and a heck of a lot of money, for sure.
You know, a lot of things I will tell you though, the one, maybe I’ll twist kind of your question with, with an answer. And another answer, I would say in a lot of cases, ignorance was, was, was very blessed because if. If I would have done things, quote unquote, by the book we wouldn’t be here today. We would’ve been, we would’ve been out of money or of interest in year one year two.
The fact that we didn’t really know anything about the industry, um, we took it from a different approach. People would say, it’s always done this way and we’d say, well, why, why can’t we do it this way? That was too. Inherently our biggest competitive advantage. And I ended up hiring my first few hires in trauma or folks that really didn’t know anything, but the industry, they came from other backgrounds and they took the same approach that I took, which was an under the box new way of thinking approach.
And that, that, that ignorance was extremely beneficial. So. What I would always say is, you know, people that don’t, you know, you don’t have to have 15, 20 years experience or 10 years experience to affect the actually the proper strategy. Sometimes that ignorance can be, can be a curse. Sometimes it can be a blessing.
Startup Coach: What’s your biggest lesson in pitching your company? What did you wrong at the beginning? And what did you do?
Eric Brass: Again, I think it’s, I think it just, you know, it just comes down to, to story time and getting people, you can talk about product attributes, all you want, you can talk about terroir. You can talk about, you know, obviously the product quality is really, really important, but what’s going to captivate people is the stories where it comes from and to be part of something and something they can identify with, it’s going to effectively hit the brain.
But. Also hit the heart. So, you know, one of the things we started off, we talked more about a core value proposition. Now sectional value. This is need to be paying, you know, 30% more to get signed. That’s not as good. I mean, that’s a rational way to go about things, but. It’s not, it’s not very romantic. It doesn’t really get you really attached to brand new.
You don’t go out and say, I drink this product, whatever it is, because it’s great value. That’s not really the way that, that it’s not human nature. So for us, it’s, it’s, it’s all about just telling that story and how do we amplify it? How do we tell that story more and more? How do we get other people to tell that story too?
Because that’s, what’s going to ride.
Startup Coach: It’s so true people, remember stories and connections and that cold, hard data has no convincing value. People think it does. But it doesn’t and the story is so important and I’m glad you emphasized that. Do you have a favorite productivity hack for a founder and CEO?
Eric Brass: I tell my team when I have new people that started, I say, if you’re gonna write me an email, give it to me in the, in the shortest possible form. I love bullet. I’m a bullet point bullet point guy. I love bullet points, but we need to know when it’s, when it’s too long for an email, I will send it back and say, Please summarize this email and, you know, 3, 4, 1, 3, 4 lines.
Cause I get obviously tiny emails every day. I think for me, it’s, I’m a big fan of decentralization as well. So I will put a lot more time on my teams and have them effectively manage their areas of business and put trust in there. And they’re going to make mistakes or make, you know, probably, you know, their fair share of mistakes and that’s to be expected.
But I try to hire people that are self-starters and autonomous so they can affect the. Carry the ball over the goal line. And I don’t like centralized structure, so I don’t need to check on, on things on everything that goes on with the organization. Uh, that to me is I think the ultimate productivity hack is having a decentralized team that you trust that can execute on their own fruition.
Startup Coach: So you’re moving along. And 2020 happens and COVID hits your minds that we’re talking about is bar first, get in the bar, be a high end brand, then move to the LCPO. But all of a sudden bars are closed. Things are changing. What did you do to pivot or react to this change in the.
Eric Brass: So this was horrible. I mean, it was, it was horrible because our business in Canada, we have the retail element of view of the LCPO or strong retail sales.
So, you know, besides the human element of seeing one of my friends who businesses, they put their blood, sweat and tears into for years had great success. Good zero overnight for nothing that they’ve done wrong, uh, was from a personal standpoint, very draining. But yeah, from a business standpoint, our business was decimated in, in March, April, may, June, and during COVID.
And, and for us, you know, we, we, we didn’t have a great 20. Because of that because we’re so bar restaurant focused and where it was a terrible place to be at that time. Now it’s a great place to be again, because of all the new people coming back at premiumization, that’s gone. What do we do? I mean, you know, there were certain things we could do.
We did one of the, one of the risks that we had was we don’t want to change the brand because the brand works and we don’t want to become some of the work because of, you know, an unknown. Um, because of unknown unknowns going on within the world, there was some things where we effectively had to, you know, to stand pat on which may have not been the best short-term solution, but was a medium term solution.
Um, we certainly came out with unique things like, like cocktail kits and we had our art already to drinks and that’s really, we kind of started solidify some partnerships with, with larger players because we knew that distributor attention was difficult. COVID it’s going to be more difficult post COVID yet, you know, the largest tutors, for example, in the U S couldn’t pay attention to you.
And that’s when we worked on our partnerships with companies like size rack and those types of things. So we were less planning for being successful during COVID. We were more planning for being successful once COVID dissipated a little bit, or, uh, you know, or. Goes away at some point or becomes a natural part of life.
And also we, we ended up focusing on markets that were, you know, the handle, the COVID differently, whether one thinks it’s rightly or wrongly markets like Florida and Texas, where they opened things up a lot quicker. That’s where we kind of put budget and that’s paid back then and that’s actually paying back now.
Startup Coach: We’ve never a question from the chat room here. Did you build a distillery from scratch in Mexico and do bottle here or there?
Eric Brass: Well, we didn’t. We, um, we actually, so we have a unique relationship with our distillery, Marco and his team actually go and clean the equipment. Take over the distillery produced trauma and kind of give the keys back to the distillery.
Well, not to do that because it’s Marco, as I knew with me. Uh, and then in terms of, uh, in terms of bottling tequila to heal has to be bottled down in Mexico for it to be a hundred percent of Gavi tequila. You can bottle it outside of Mexico, but it cannot be labeled as a hundred percent of Gavi.
Startup Coach: Good to know what resources or communities do you recommend for businesses starting up in Canada?
Eric Brass: One of the things that’s helped me was, was find yourself, find yourself a mentor and find yourself a group of mentors that, uh, that you trust that you can bounce ideas off of. Or if you have problems, pick the person that you would want to effectively, you know, whether it’s a connection to your school, or even if it’s a complete cold call out of the blue to reach out to that person and say, Hey, can you, you have any half an hour?
Time over the next 30 days and build that relationship with that person. Generally speaking, I don’t from, from my perspective, uh, I’ll always try to donate my time to folks that, you know, that wants, that want help or advice or anything like that. And so, you know, I, I did that with a few of our, you know, one of our investors who was, uh, or whatnot is one of our, we became, became one of my mentors.
He, he went to. Went to IB and, you know, older than myself, um, you know, was CEO of a, of, uh, one of the big companies. And I reached out to him, didn’t know him from anything, and he’s an ex farmer in New York and be up. And so I did, and it went to his office and he actually in the, off, after two, three years of.
Helping he became the chairman of our advisory board. So it’s amazing how things work out in that way. So I think that mentor and a group of advisors as well, so building yourself a good advisory team is also helpful because a lot of, you know, good people want to effectively give back and help coach, you know, young entrepreneurs and try to tell them the same mistakes.
Startup Coach: Great feedback and advice, build your network. Uh, don’t be afraid to reach out to people, but don’t waste their time. You talked about earlier about the wall of text. You’re talking about employees. Now, if you’re somebody randomly reaching out to you, don’t do the wall of text, keep it short and don’t waste.
People’s time. That’s my advice when you’re reaching out. Yeah.
Eric Brass: Keep it short and send, send, send a very, you know, if I get cool. Cold emails or messages or LinkedIn messages, whatever it is. And it’s more than, you know, two paragraphs paragraph I can’t. Um, do you have very short, very, to the point I had one of my communications teachers in, uh, in an IB, you know, Tommy wrote the lesson.
He said, whenever you’re writing a business email, take out as many words as you possibly can. So it’s really to direct and to the point, because that’s what people want to direct them to the point. It won’t be Curt button
Startup Coach: point and it’s simple as hard Hemingway said we was Hemingway. If I had more time, I’d write a shorter sentence.
So keep that in mind. What is next for you and Tromba
Eric Brass: tequila? We have a really exciting partnership in Canada with, with Mark Anthony brands. Um, so that. That’s super, super exciting. Uh, our us footprint is growing. We’re coming out with a special product later this year, early next year. That’s culminating, Marco’s 50th year of making tequila.
So stay tuned for that, but it’s, it’s, you know, it’s continually growing the brand, building the brand in markets where we’re strong and then building the brand where markets, where we’re not, not yet penetrated, which, uh, which is, which is a really exciting proposition for. Where can
Startup Coach: people go to find out more,
Eric Brass: go to our website, SEO trauma.com.
I’ll turn the in the Ontario area. El cbo.com has our Blanca Reposado and Anejo. And we have a little, little minis, which are wonderful, a wonderful stocking stuffers, and a great all around gifts. And, uh, obviously, you know, you can follow us on social media.
Startup Coach: And we’ll put links to all those in the show notes for you to listening on the podcast.
I really appreciate you taking the time today, Eric, to talk about, uh, your journey and trumpet tequila. Thank you for being a part of startup
Announcer: talk. This has been startup talk Toronto startup podcast for more exclusive content, the episode vault, and to be part of Toronto starts community. Visit Toronto starts.com.
Get your name on the newsletter mailing list and check out our upcoming events for more episodes. Subscribe now, and please recognize the time and work behind the scenes. Put into connecting you with the biggest visionaries, entrepreneurs and innovators in Toronto. By leaving a five star review. Join us for more.
Next episode from Toronto is most active entrepreneur and startup community on startup doc.