BGBS 026: Laurence Spiewak (Suerte Tequila)
Co-founder, Laurence Spiewak, is sharing how Suerte Tequila came to be. While it may not have been the most direct route, Laurence is happy with all the adventures his heart has led him on. Find out how a kid from Philly left the family business for occupational therapy, only to again follow his heart and build his own tequila brand.
Learn what’s possible when you follow your heart.
What we’re talking about
- The American Dream and A Call For Adventure
- How the Knowledge of Consumer Packaged Goods Led To Great Tequila
- The Tequila Challenge of The Three-Tier System
The American Dream and A Call For Adventure
Laurence Spiewak is the son of an immigrant. His father taught him what it took to be an entrepreneur and own a successful and lucrative business. While Laurence will be the first to admit he didn’t necessarily have the entrepreneurial spirit early on in life, he did embrace the call to adventure and curiosity about other cultures from a young age. Determined to follow his interests and passions at the time, he convinced the dean at Penn State University to allow him to study both international business and art with the vision of combining the two in some way. He discovered his love for ceramics and the history of deep culture rooted in the art. During this same time, he also soon became aware of many of the environmental issues around the globe and learned he could have a significant impact in the world if he took action. He took this passion for the environment and made the move to Boulder, CO for a year after college, to be exposed to the wilderness. This exposure, however, made him realize how curious he was to explore even more of the world, and he soon set out to travel and experience Europe and other parts of the world.
He first set off to Whales to live in community and help care for those with developmental disabilities, which had a very big impact on him. After six months in Whales, Laurence traveled through Western Europe, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. These adventures significantly shaped his future. Upon returning home, and knowing he wanted a career where he helped people to have better lives, he went on to study occupational therapy and ultimately went on to run rehab departments in nursing homes in New York. His love for helping people could not quiet the calling from Boulder, Colorado pulling him back.
How the Knowledge of Consumer Packaged Goods Led To Really Good Tequila
After four years of working in nursing homes back in Colorado, Laurence was feeling some sense of burn out. He decided it was time to make a change, and reached out to a friend who had started a natural organic skin care company, asking if he could help grow this entrepreneurial endeavor. This experience helped to solidify his familiarity with consumer packaged goods. He soon saw that he had a knack for helping entrepreneurs do business and financial planning, and began a career as a consultant.
During this time, Laurence’s friendship with an old co-worker, Lance Sokol continued to grow, bonding over a shared love of drinking and trying new Tequila. They made it their mission to try every tequila out there. Soon realizing they had tried many of the brands out there, and that the really good tequila cost a lot of money, they looked at each other and wondered if it was too crazy of an idea to start their own brand. They already were in the consumer packaged goods world, already knew how to set up products, how to source raw materials, how to create packaging and how to price things. They made a business plan in hopes their dream would become a reality. Lance soon met Pedro Hernandez Barba, a master distiller of tequila in Mexico who was looking for someone in the US to produce tequila for. The three got together and discussed their dreams and created a partnership. Laurence and Lance would act as the importer and brand, and Pedro’s family would act as supplier and distiller.
The Tequila Challenge of The Three-Tier System
Luck seemed to find Laurence, thus suerte or “luck” in Spanish, became the name of their tequila brand. While this adventure seemed to get off the ground flawlessly, there was one challenge they continued to come across. The U.S. has what’s called a Three-Tier System for alcoholic beverages. In the alcoholic beverage industry you have the suppliers, distributors and retailers. So those are the three tiers. You can’t do business on more than any one of those at a time. So a supplier can’t own a distribution business or vice versa. But even within the distribution piece, most laws have laws that prohibit you from selling directly to customers or directly to retailers. You have to do it with a middle man distributor. Each of those distributors have business in many of the brands they represent, which makes it very competitive until you actually generate some volume. These challenges do present themselves, but Suerte Tequila seems to be doing pretty well for itself, as luck would have it.
What was the last adventure you let your heart take the lead on?
- 40:00-40:40 (40 sec LS) But we were at Liquor Mart one night, and we were standing in front… we would start doing some business planning.
- 41:26-42:22 (56 sec LS) And he met a master distiller in Mexico who was looking… growing a tequila brand
- 42:58-43:56 (58 sec LS) He told us that he’d be happy to work with us… It wasn’t very difficult.
- 45:14-46:07 (53 sec LS) I mean, we found it to be very easy… very little trouble getting set up and getting going.
- 47:50-48:45 (55 sec LS) Suerte means luck, so it’s a great… using the name Suerte Tequila for a tequila brand.
- My father was truly an immigrant himself along with his two parents. He got his start in business later on after high school and, so he was truly living and fulfilling the American dream. (LS)
- I could have a very significant impact on things in the world if I took the time and set my mind to it and actually got active and got vocal about it. (LS)
- I had this curiosity to go and explore and to see what the world was like. (LS)
- I want to just use the money I’ve saved and go travel and explore the world and learn about what else is out there. (LS)
- There was a huge need in the world for people who are willing and had the patience to actually care for others. (LS)
- My interest in entrepreneurship started really developing even more strongly at that point because I was working for and helping to run an entrepreneurial endeavor and being exposed to entrepreneurship on a daily basis. (LS)
- It was one of the best traits that we both brought to the business into the creation of the business, which was that we had no fear, and we had no hesitation. (LS)
- One of the most incredible parts of being an entrepreneur or starting new businesses is just that, it’s getting them started. (LS)