Said Ken Austin, one of the founders of start-up Avión Tequila, at a Harvard Business School Association of Boston event, the CEO Roundtable, on March 5, 2013.
He thrives in highly competitive industries which he thinks of as war. “At Avión, if you are over 21 and have a mouth, you’re a prospect,” although he added that the sweet spot is ages 21-30. But unlike many drinks, Tequila is drunk by multiple ages and ethic groups. Spirits are all lifestyle. But there was only one participant in the premium tequila space, Patrón Tequila, so he decided to create a second (and superior) entry.
“I’m leading the organization to promote brand which means gangsters, disruptors. Brand has a heartbeat. I’m 47, spending time with 21-25 year old bartenders.”
He and co-founder Kenny Dichter suggested tequila to Dichter’s grade-school pal Doug Ellin, producer of Entourage. Essentially, Ellin said tell me all about it and then go away--I want total creative control. So they took risks large companies would not. He looked for magic moments and skated close to prohibited behavior. Entourage made Avión very popular—it was launched in 13 states quickly, but ignored New York and California which are must-win states. He sold a minority interest to major player Pernod Ricard along with distribution rights to solve the logistics issue.
He grew up near JFK so had affinity for airplanes which is one reason he was involved in private jet company, Marquis Jet Cards, a former employer. He chose the name Avión which means plane in Spanish--because aviation transports you. He wanted the name Jet, but Jet Brandy existed in Europe. He did research with bartenders and found that many spirit bottles are hard to hold when wet. “So we made indentations in our bottles to make them easier to hold.”
He has two more products on the drawing board now that he knows what he can do.
“Ask what do you consider yourself to be.” At Marquis Jet Cards, he was the deal-maker with the private bankers who would recommend the card to their clients.
He did not start out in sales and marketing; he started out in accounting and hated it. He evolved to be a general manager.
Avión woke up the sleeping giant, Patrón, which called an emergency meeting and sent a letter threatening to sue the start-up. It’s not stopping Avión Tequila, not with Ken Austin at the helm.