Ask for help, search for advice, learn about everything! We always try to learn everything about the business from top to bottom, so it was not just production. My sister, Stacey, did all the importing, shipping, and warehousing without any experience. She just knew how to ask the right people for help.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaime Whitton.
Singer-songwriter Jaime Whitton is the co-founder of El Sativo, the 2020 Tequila of the Year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Born in Reno, NV, Whitton’s first passion was music. Shortly after graduating school, she moved to Los Angeles, CA, where she began pursuing her music dream through touring, film, and television. Like many aspiring artists, she sustained her music career through working jobs in the hospitality industry. During this time, Jaime discovered that she had a hidden talent and passion for the culinary arts. Eventually, music, mixology, and culinary arts combined, and she has been hands-on in the bar and restaurant industry in California for over 15 years.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/a5bdad8ec9bae976cb78e407483dc0cb
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have three obsessions — Tequila. Music. Environment. I have been growing my own organic, sustainable vegetables since I was a teenager and that passion launched my dedication to the environment. My music led me to Los Angeles, where my family has been in the spirits industry for over 20 years, involved in everything from bartenders to bar owners to spirit educators and distillers. After many trips to Jalisco, we fell in love with the agave, particularly the USDA certified organic production process. My curiosity for tequila and sustainability of the planet grew from there and here we are years later with the 2020 Tequila Of The Year (San Francisco World Spirits Competition).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
So many stories to get this point, but I will start with the present. After years of collaboration, and many distillation trials, we were bottling and getting ready to launch in August 2019. As luck had it, my brother stopped our bottling and decided the liquid was not exactly what he wanted (for the fifth time) and had to ask them to pour out all 3600 bottles (none of it was wasted). We were devastated and deflated but my brother-in-law, Dr. Bob Summers, who helped create a proprietary temperature balanced distillation (this process maintains some of the beneficial elements in the agave), went back to work with our distillery. We finally finished and got our first bottles in January 2020, which coincided with the last day to submit for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC), a world-renowned blind tasting. Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 shuts down the US but then in April, we won Double Gold and 2020 Tequila of the Year at SFWSC. A rollercoaster that continues to this day!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I am not sure we notice the success in the moment because it is part of the up and down process. That said, success for me is creating something you love and watching people connect with what you have created. That is my joy. It started with music, continued with bars, and now I feel so honored to be sharing our tequila with the world. So, I would say “no tipping point;” just be patient and know that the rollercoaster can be really fun if you don’t mind the dips.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Trial and error can be exhausting. Patience. Partnerships. Vision. Trying to get each right can be time consuming and expensive. And I can tell you I have made a ton of mistakes! I once opened a bar in LA known to be the city’s first walk up bar where all we wanted was guests to walk up to the bar from the street (a-la New Orleans and Bourbon Street). Our neighbors did not like that idea, so they would just sit and wait for service. For years we had to continuously accommodate while pushing toward our original vision. I ended up relinquishing ownership in the company, but they continued to push forward with the concept. In March 2020, the pandemic hit and after they reopened after the shutdown, everyone was forced to walk up to the bar! Be patient. Nurture relationships. Share in the same vision. Even a pandemic might hold something in the cards for you.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always working on new ways to help with the environment and climate control. We have created partnerships with only sustainable companies and give back percentages of every bottle sold to ocean conservancy. Our bottles are 100% recycled glass and our labels are organic soluble, so we do not put pesticides back into the environment. Along with our efforts to help ocean and climate change, there is also a new distillery being built with only green and solar energy for production. #bettertequilabetterworld
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”? Please share a story or example for each.
- It is a long process! Took us three years, an expert team, and over 20 years of experience in the industry.
- Building a brand is a ladder; after each step there is another. We have a partner, Tony, who helped create our branding and continues to help us with our marketing even after our launch. It is crucial to understand that your brand is going to be evolving constantly and that you need to be flexible. It is also important that your team understands everything changes while also evolving.
- Make sure you have sales experience! We were lucky enough to have two sister partners that have national chain expertise and understand distributor management. Without them, we would be done!
- Lineup your distribution. We had the best relationships and it still took us over a year just to get logged into the system of our distributor.
- Ask for help, search for advice, learn about everything! We always try to learn everything about the business from top to bottom, so it was not just production. My sister, Stacey, did all the importing, shipping, and warehousing without any experience. She just knew how to ask the right people for help.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Every day is a new day! You always have overwhelming and bad days where things just do not connect; we have them all the time. Keep your head up, keep a smile on, and know that the following day, great things can happen. And they do!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would not say there was one particular person as there are so many different parts in the journey and even the most seemingly random people have helped. Something as simple as a recommendation from an acquaintance can be life changing. We had a friend who told us about a wonderful tour guide, Gabriela, who became one of our closest confidants in Guadalajara and has since been our guiding force through this whole process. So, never mind, I guess there was one person!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Finish what you start. Help create change. Give back. Be proud. Be loud. Be courageous and always keep a smile #bettertequilabetterworld
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow us on Instagram @elsativotequila.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.