- Esther Chew
- Jan 27, 2021
Eric Brass, HBA '05, CEO and Founder of Tequila Tromba, shared his startup story, and lessons learned with Eric Morse, Executive Director of the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, on January 21, 2021. Here's a recap of the discussion by Esther Chew, HBA '20.
Putting myself in uncomfortable situations changed me.
- Eric Brass
While other classmates were heading to Europe and Asia for exchange, Eric Brass, Founder of Tequila Tromba, chose to spend his semester in Mexico. It was there that he developed a deep respect and appreciation for tequila. After a successful stint in asset management, Brass decided that he couldn’t ignore “the entrepreneurship bug in [him]” any longer. Even though leaving a safe and stable career path was terrifying, he knew he had to follow this passion. After leaving Ivey, many graduates expect their path to be clear and linear. This may be the case for some, but certainly not for all, and that’s okay.
Brass stated that he is a firm believer in putting yourself into uncomfortable and new situations, both personally and professionally. By challenging himself to do things he wouldn’t typically want to do, he gained a broader perspective and credited those experiences with making him a better person.
Going bottle by bottle, bar by bar
While agility is one of the main factors that Tromba attributes to its early success, agility did not mean ease by any means. Brass explained that the process of penetrating the market was slow-going: it involved going bar by bar, selling the tequila bottle by bottle out of his backpack.
“I’ve been told ‘no’ more times than I can count, but it’s all about going from one sale to the next with the same level of excitement and passion,” Brass says.
Brass said any young entrepreneur or even employee needs to remember that progress may seem slow, but it’s the process and continued determination that will build success.
Changing with the times
At the beginning of Tromba, the team was set on remaining independent in order to operate the way it wanted. Team members had been approached by several more prominent companies and distributors, but continued successfully, on their own, through their “direct-to-bartender” model. However, when COVID-19 changed the entire hospitality industry overnight, Brass realized that it was time to pivot. He recognized what partnering with a larger player could do for his business, and suddenly, what was strategically unappealing, became very appealing. Staying agile and pivoting based on new information or new circumstances is the distinguishing factor between the failure and success for businesses in the growth stage.
Building the best team
Whether the master distillers on the ground in Mexico or the sales reps in North America, Brass had a lot to say about how entrepreneurs should focus on building their team. In the case of father and son master distiller team, Marco and Rodrigo Cedano, it was clear that these men shared Brass’ passion for good tequila and that has made their partnership smooth and mutually beneficial. When young entrepreneurs choose who to work with, it is important to find people who share the same vision for the venture.
On the contrary, Brass’ main regret in the life of Tromba has been hiring based on experience and contact list instead of cultural fit.
“Don’t hire grumblers; this seems simple but hiring bad people is like a cancer,” Brass says.
Instead, he said it is crucial to hire good people that align with the company’s culture and that make it enjoyable to come to work.
Esther Chew is an HBA 2020 graduate who is passionate about building companies, communities, and people. As part of the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, she loves the role she plays in supporting the Western entrepreneurship ecosystem.