How We Started a Modern
Tequila Brand to Pair with Tonic
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Jack Vereker and I am the co-founder of El Rayo Tequila, a modern Tequila designed to be paired with tonic.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
We’re Tom & Jack, mates for 20+ years and Co-Founders of El Rayo. A couple of years ago, tequila conjured up thoughts of 3am shots, lime, salt and hazy debauchery we’d sooner have forgotten. We were pretty clueless until one night when we ran out of beers in our flat in Peckham. Instead of popping to the local shop, we thought we’d crack open a bottle of tequila Tom’s brother brought back from Mexico a few months before. Until then, (we’re ashamed to say!) it had been sat gathering dust on the shelf. We were hooked from the first sip.
Intoxicated by that first taste (figuratively and literally), we delved deeper into the world of tequila. We quickly realised that aside from shotting, sipping or sugary cocktails, our options to enjoy it were limited. We wanted to enjoy tequila on different occasions – at the pub after work, with dinner or on a Sunday afternoon.
After explaining our problem to a bartender, she made us our first T&T, and there it was. The perfect way to enjoy tequila – fresh, clean and full of natural flavours.
We then made the ridiculous decision to quit our jobs. We headed to Guadalajara, where we met Mario from @toro_pinto and immersed ourselves in their incredible culture. A far cry from the old fashioned stereotypes we’d been fed, it was vibrant, contemporary and full of art and design. This was modern Mexico.
With the help of Mario and one of only 200 Maestro Tequileros in the world, Oscar Garcia, we set to work on developing the perfect modern tequila to represent it. Two years, multiple blends, a few logistical nightmares and a little bit of fun later, we launched in May 2019 – and have been supplying you with T&Ts ever since…
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Tom and I first came up with the idea for a modern Tequila designed to be paired with tonic in 2017 and did not launch until May 2019. It took us over 2 years to bring the product to market. Tequila is a DOP product. This means a huge amount of regulation and hoops to jump through in order to be certified as a Tequila brand.
Doing this in a country over 5000 miles away, in a different time zone with people who don’t speak your language was a major hurdle.
We are both from a non-drinks background and had zero networks in the industry. We spent a lot of time building one and proving to people that we mean business. However, I will say building this network was one of the best things we did. Now we have a great set of colleagues to bounce ideas off.
Having come from a fairly cut-throat industry, it’s so nice to be in an industry where everyone is willing to lend a hand. People want to help your business grow, rather than see you as competition.
Thirdly, we have approached distribution very differently. We are the first direct to consumer spirits brand, doing the majority of our sales through our own website or Amazon. While traditional spirits brands will target on-trade (bars and restaurants) and off-trade (shops), we focus heavily online.
This is an untrodden path as we are trying to navigate distribution and the complexity of selling alcohol online. Our bottles are heavy, glass and have liquid inside so do not lend themselves to being based around in a Royal Mail van!
Who is your target market?
We always thought with our brand and aesthetic that we would be a female-oriented audience. Sales have shown that over 75% of customers are female. Because of the premium price tag we are targeting fairly affluent, urban females with an interest in design and wellness.
Given our key serve is the Tequila and tonic, we are actively targeting the gin and tonic audience and trying to convert them from a G&T to a T&T!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Given our direct to consumer business model, we do the majority of our marketing online, using various digital channels (Paid Social, Google PPC, Amazon PPC). We invest heavily in engaging and memorable content to capture the first purchase, and we aim to make the buying experience as seamless and premium as possible. This includes everything from our website to our e-commerce packaging and the contents of packages.
We include a handwritten note from us founders in every order as well as postcard consumers can send and serve booklets. We use CRM in order to really retain customers, sending interesting and engaging emails pushing that second purchase.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I think the main thing I have learnt is to trust your instincts. You will have a lot of people who will want to give you their opinion and if you are new to the industry you will often listen. We have made the mistake of taking someone else’s point of view just because they have worked in the industry for a number of years but it turns out your gut instinct is the right way to go, so back yourself.
Another thing I would say is don’t rush it. Make sure you are super clear on your plans before you launch. You only get one chance to launch so make sure everything is as spot-on as possible.
Invest in your brand, it is the first thing people will see so make it stand out and memorable, know your sales plan, who you’re targeting and what business model and write a detailed marketing plan. This takes time and if it means launching 3 months after you planned then its worth it.
So many brands launch without a plan and it shows. That being said not everything is going to be perfect and things change so quickly, but you will know when you are ready.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m a huge fan of podcasts for inspiration! How I Built This with Guy Raz is a favourite. So many successful entrepreneurs tell their story and even if it’s in a completely different industry there are so many parallels that you can learn from.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
At the moment are just in the UK, but in a couple of years, we would like to be in a large number of European territories with a bigger team helping to grow the brand and show the world the magic of the T&T!