In this week’s industry influencer interview series, we feature Jason Fandrich, CEO of Cuestion Tequila. Jason is an entertainment industry and spirits industry veteran sitting at the helm of one of what will soon be one of the world’s hottest tequila brands.
Sherman: Jason, it’s a great pleasure to be with you and learn more about your world and the vision you have for Cuestion Tequila. Share with us how you discovered this great tequila?
Jason: For years, I looked above and asked for the right opportunity for me to achieve success. I asked for an opportunity to use my skills and talents and in by doing so, maybe I could finally start a career. The previous ten years of my life had been spent opening restaurants, starting a mobile medical testing company and starting a construction company in Tennessee, developing property, opening another restaurant, and finishing my first degree in Tampa and spending quite a few hours in my family business’s warehouse (they always put me in the back) and managing a couple of artists in Nashville.
Well, nothing happens the way you plan, but I am certain everything happens exactly as it should. And this is the beginning of my story…
In the spring of 2009, I was visiting with my family in South Carolina and was walking into the Margaritaville when my phone rang. It was the CFO of Margaritaville Spirits and he called to inform me that the job in which I had previously been guaranteed was now unavailable. However poetic it was that I received that call at that particular place, the news was no less painful. I had been preparing a change in career with Margaritaville Spirits on the advice and encouragement of a great friend and mentor as well as the recommendation from an executive inside the corporation. It wasn’t until a few years later that I was told that the reason was that the Spirits company had been sold and the job wasn’t available anymore anyhow. I’m glad I didn’t know that then, because the string of events that occurred after may have never taken place.
After the phone call, I looked to my mother and said that the job I was promised was no more. And, in the style that only my mother has, she said I should take a break and accompany her to Mexico where she had already reserved the time-share, so I cashed in my Sky Miles, got a ticket and flew to Mexico to vacation with my mom.
As we arrived in Playa de Carmen, I noticed a group of booths being set up on a side street off 5th Ave. With not much encouragement needed, my mother and I decided to see what was happening. What we found was a local tequila tasting. I tasted a few different tequilas before coming to a booth that had a unique looking bottle on it and a happy fellow by the name of Jose de Jesus Figuroa Dominguez behind the booth. I tasted his tequila about three to four times over the afternoon and could not get past the fact that I had never tasted a smoother tequila. I told Jesus that I thought it was the best tequila I’d ever tasted. I then asked him if it was available for purchase in the US. He told me it wasn’t so I replied simply by asking him if he’d like it to be. Of course he said yes so I bought a few bottles, exchanged contact information and went to the beach to begin my vacation. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that there was some reason that I didn’t get the job, was in Mexico, and tasted that tequila.
I retuned to the US a week later with three bottles and a sales sheet that was in Spanish. I called an acquaintance of mine who is a wine distributor and we met. He sampled the tequila and gave me advice about the label and the conformity of the bottle and agreed that this may be the best tasting tequila that he had tasted and he even offered distribution. Excited, of course, I began calling Jesus and telling him of my successes. Jesus explained his company’s position and the fact that they would be interested in partnering. I said that I wasn’t sure just yet, but needed to investigate further.
I called a friend who called a friend who in turn is a lawyer in Birmingham who happened to be the Executive Director of the Birmingham Angel Network. We agreed to meet and began discussing this opportunity. He gave me advice on the compliance issue, federal license, etc. I came back to him with a business plan, all the paperwork and an increased knowledge about the business. We agreed to work together. And, in 2011, our first bottle landed in the US.
Sherman: What made you take the leap? You could have investigated vodka, whiskey, or bourbon. Instead, you took a tequila launch path. Was it all based on the trip to Mexico or did you have some additional intel that stated tequila was a spirit that deserved attention?
Jason: It was all about opportunity. I felt like I had been put in the right place at the right time. As an entrepreneur, thats the best thing one could hope for. Also, isn’t tequila the best of the best? Its both horticulture and alchemy; its also can be the best and worst part of spirits. So, maybe I just like a challenge.
Sherman: One of the most important features of a spirits brand is the packaging. You nailed it with Cuestion. What was your inspiration? It’s brilliant.
Jason: I wish I could say that it was my idea, but I can’t. The idea of the bottle came from my MX partner Jesus and his curiosity about all things. We talked and talked about the brand and he said that he had always cuestioned everything and that was his inspiration. He drew the bottle and we made it work… I had my team build the label ad we worked together to make the brand.
“But we were also able to conceive a great tag line… and it is truly our company motto; “Cuestion Everything.””
Sherman: What are your visions for the brand? Where do you think it could end up?
Jason: My goal is to build a sustainable company which continues to put amazing products on the shelf. When we make tequila, so many lives are affected and we impact lives in Mexico and the US. We want to continue to be in the tequila making business no matter what happens to our company in the future.
Where can we end up? Who knows, maybe someone will offer to buy us one day; I’d rather build this company so that we can enrich lives, impact people and continue to be the best tequila in the world.
Sherman: What’s a typical day look like for you? You’re the CEO of a growing brand. Many people envy that position. How does most of your day look most of the time?
Jason: Ha ha- Well, I don’t put a lot of stock in envy, but I’ll say this: if you’re willing to give up your personal life to build something bigger than you are, then thats a start. I spend most of my day either on the phone, in the air, on the road and even in the bar. I’d say my liver has suffered but our tequila is so clean, my doctor keeps asking how my liver stays in tact… haha
Seriously though, I play hooky when I can, but this e days are far and few between. Rarely do i find myself in any social situation where my company doesn’t come up and the social setting now becomes the networking setting and then I have to be back on my A game. This is not a 9-5, its pretty much a when you wake up till you go to bed kind of job. 🙂
Sherman: If you could give any new spirits startup a word or two of advice, what would it be?
Jason: Be fully funded. Be willing to be small until you’re truly ready to grow and make sure you always keep good people around you.
Sherman: As we wrap up, I have to ask, what should I have asked? Anything you’d like to share that I didn’t cover?
Jason: Well, I’m not sure what maybe you could have asked; however, maybe we talk about some road blocks. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re the most awarded or highest rated tequila. If you cant get on the shelf because a larger company has ‘bought’ the shelf, then you have no avenue to market. We have to continue to find ways daily to find different routes to market because selling our tequila on our own would be somewhat cumbersome with government regulations and requirements. We are forced to use the same distributors that the billion dollar giants use; therefore, we must compete not only on the shelf but also for the attention of the distributor sales team in order to get you product on the shelf. This is an extra step that basically all small brands have to overcome. So, we have to find creative ways to get our product into the mouths of our potential customers.
Sherman: Where can our readers interact with you and Cuestion Tequila? Twitter, FB, Instagram? Is the product available throughout Middle TN?
Jason: We continuously do tastings an events; many of them pop up events, but we are out there as much as time permits. You can find us on all the Social Medial platforms.. oh wait, I think we disabled our MySpace.. hahah Basically all our platforms are @cuestiontequila as is our website which is cuestiontequila.com
Thank you Sherman for your time and this opportunity to tell my story.-
Sherman: Jason, it’s been a pleasure. Your tequila is fantastic and the story is equally as compelling. Remember people, “Cuestion Everything!”