Learning From Tito’s Vodka

Life’s too short to just learn from your own experience. Here is some really great wisdom for business owners who struggle with competitive strategy.

Learning From Tito’s Vodka
NYTimes Article

Beveridge built a nationally recognized brand, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, despite competing in a very crowded industry. Most impressively, he did it without the help of a big wallet or an advertising agency (imagine!). Here are some tips, based on his experience.

Get aligned: Before starting his vodka company, Mr. Beveridge went through many careers, including selling mortgages, but his path was, in his own words, “failure, failure, failure.” Even then, though, he used to make vodka for friends as gifts. One night at a keg party, a guy came up to him and said, “You’re the vodka guy.” No, Mr. Beveridge replied, he was the mortgage guy. But that night, he went home and did an exercise he saw on a PBS special. Taking a sheet of paper, he wrote on one side what he was good at and on the other, what he loved to do. He saw where they intersected — and never looked back.

Be authentic: Don’t try to be something you’re not. Deliver a good product and the market will find you. Tito’s wasn’t a Russian vodka and it didn’t come in a sexy bottle. It took time, but being counterchic has given him staying power.

Remember your value proposition: Success often changes business plans. Mr. Beveridge got started with a plan to make the best vodka he could at the best price he could. Even after he succeeded, he stuck with his plan for plain bottles and low overhead.

Tell your story: People love stories. Look at our diet of reality TV. Stories are the campfire that draws people around your business. They work because they give others hope — that could be me! And people like to champion someone who has a dream and makes it happen. Almost every business owner has a story to tell. Get it down and put it out there on your Web site, on your business cards, and in all of your communications.

Word-of-mouth begins with you: When your name is the brand, the brand is you. So you are selling you. Are you comfortable selling you? If not, put a different name on the door. Either way, make time to tell people your story. Be available to talk about what you do and why. Think of yourself as the sheriff of your brand — you need to deputize people to spread the word

Be hopeful: Before starting his distillery, Mr. Beveridge mowed lawns for cash, worked as a geologist on oil rigs, started an oil company, dealt with the Environmental Protection Agency, did seismic surveys and accounting for an oil company in South America, and negotiated contracts in Spanish. “Even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while,” he said.

But he also cites those experiences as the perfect background for the liquor business. “It’s really made me a hopeful person,” he said. “No matter what happens in your life, you’ll see that in six or seven years something good will come from it. The very first thing every entrepreneur must have is good pain tolerance. When it works out, you forget the blood, sweat and tears and keep your focus on the future.”

Have fun: People want to do business with people who enjoy what they do. And, if you enjoy what you do, you’ll pour yourself into it, which creates success. If you find you don’t enjoy your business, do the alignment exercise that helped Mr. Beveridge. “The great thing about the vodka business,” he said, “is every now and then you sit down and drink a few vodkas.”

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