Joe Cruz Jr of YaVe Tequila: “Imagination”

Imagination: You have to think outside the box and create something that will make people happy or solve a problem. Create something that makes you happy, which will translate into making others happy. The understanding that not everyone will understand: This is YOUR dream, no one else’s. It’s on you to make the world understand through […]

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Imagination: You have to think outside the box and create something that will make people happy or solve a problem. Create something that makes you happy, which will translate into making others happy.

The understanding that not everyone will understand: This is YOUR dream, no one else’s. It’s on you to make the world understand through your actions.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Cruz Jr.

He is a single father and Harlem, New York native with 25+ years in the Beverage Alcohol Industry. Having worked all 3 tiers, Joe had all the knowledge necessary to create and build the next big brand. In 2015, Joe pursued his passion and started his own Spirits brand with a mission to create a Tequila that is so smooth that anyone can appreciate it. Joe’s goal is to inspire and encourage entrepreneurs that may not come from great privilege to follow their dreams and create a meaningful and successful brand and for YaVe to become a legacy to pass on to his family and support local communities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born and raised in El Barrio located in Spanish Harlem, NY. I was living in Harlem before it was “cool” to live there. I grew up in the era where the only answer to the question “what size sneakers are those” was “not yours”. Growing up in a rough neighborhood prepared me for life and gave me perspective on how much worse any situation could be. I was raised by a single mom, grandmother, great grandmother, with aunts, godmothers and sisters. My dad was always in my life but I lived around all women, which made me the man of the house. I’ve been through a lot but everything I’ve gone through has made me the man that I am today.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

August 26th, 2015, 7:30am was the exact moment I decided that it was time to stop building brands for others and create my own legacy. I didn’t have a plan nor know exactly what I was going to create but my heart told me it was time and I listened, I called my son, my mom, then my dad and told them I was going to create my own brand and they all got excited and essentially told me it was about time. From that moment on, I jumped off the cliff and built the plane on the way down- now we’re soaring. There was no telling me YaVe Tequila wouldn’t be the next big brand in the world.

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?

Well it’s not a funny story, but it is a story that brings a smile to my face every time I think about how we created our YaVe all-natural Mango tequila.

When I wanted to create VaVe tequila I had many, many talks and meetings with the master distiller about our Blanco liquid. WhenI told him I also wanted to make a flavored tequila, he could not understand why I would want to do that and he was not at all keen to try to create one. I brought the subject up several times with him and each time he seemed reluctant to even talk about it. Eventually, I tried to explain to him why I wanted to make it, sharing that the Mango was my grandmother’s favorite fruit and I wanted to create it in honor of her. When I next visited the distillery in Mexico, he surprised me by sharing that they had something for me to try and it was the first all natural mango tequila. It tasted amazing and I asked him what had changed his mind. To my surprise, he told my story to all the female artisans that work in the distillery. Deeply moved after hearing that my late grandmother was my inspiration for wanting to create a mango tequila, they decided to make this liquid in honor of my grandmother despite the master distiller’s reservations.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Many people make a product for themselves without doing any real market research. When creating YaVe, I worked in a liquor store and went back to my old distributor job so that I could speak to consumers and account owners to see what they liked and disliked about brands and the industry as a whole. I spoke to over 7,200 people and out of that group 6,422 said the top 2 reasons they don’t drink tequila was because of the burn or “tequila face” and that bad night in college with an inferior tequila. This became my obsession and exactly why YaVe Tequila is so smooth and will not give you a massive hangover, as long as you drink in moderation. As we like to say: “Turn Up Responsibly”.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Do as much research as possible. We live in a time where everything you want to learn is at your fingertips. Once you do the research and feel it’s something that can be successful, you have to live and breathe it. Then you should write a list of every single thing that could go wrong or you might fail. Doing this will help you answer the tough questions before you face them or prior to being asked by potential investors. After you’ve done the research and prepare for the worst, it’s time to apply all this theory into practice.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

Take the first step.. While it may sound simple, most people overthink things and don’t take action. Every marathon winner ever has begun the same way, with the first step. Everyone has an idea but few do anything about it. There are few things worse than regret. It’s better to say you tried and it didn’t work out than it is to say you “had that idea first.”

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Give yourself one solid chance to get as much done by yourself without incorporating anyone else. For the first 2 years, I did all my own research, was my own lawyer and my office was my apartment. YaVe Tequila was my obsession. That being said, my biggest accomplishment was building an amazing team around me. You can only get so far by yourself. If/when you do take on investors, try to incorporate people who will invest more than just money. Try to find people who “wanna get their hands dirty”. It’s amazing to share all the victories with people who are invested as much as you are.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

The only one way to build your first brand is without anyone trying to take control of it before you get to genuinely begin the process. What’s the point of starting your own company if you still have to answer to someone else? If it’s all about the money, then do whatever you have to do to get the money. The best advice I can give is to enjoy the journey. Whether you’re motivated by money, travelling the world, or supporting your family, at the end of the day we’re all chasing a smile on our faces and that feeling you get when you accomplish something great. Even on your worst day you’re still chasing your dream and not working for anyone else.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

It may sound crazy but the first step I took when it came down to making YaVe real was Googling “how to start a liquor brand”. I did a ton of research on the top distilleries, top brands, trends, etc. We live in a world where you can literally research anything without picking up the phone or having to leave your home so take advantage of it.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Imagination: You have to think outside the box and create something that will make people happy or solve a problem. Create something that makes you happy, which will translate into making others happy.

The understanding that not everyone will understand: This is YOUR dream, no one else’s. It’s on you to make the world understand through your actions.

Heart / Unwavering determination: It won’t be easy and it’s not supposed to be. If it were easy, everyone would have it. Do it to prove those who didn’t believe in you wrong and more importantly, to prove those who believed in you right.

Integrity: No matter what, stand by your word and do the right thing. I don’t sleep a lot but I don’t lose one minute of sleep due to me ever doing anyone wrong. Karma is real and will come full circle. This Applies to the good and the bad.

Appreciation: Appreciate every step of the process. The money will come from feeding your passion. Just don’t get so caught up in the end result that you don’t enjoy the journey. You’ll only be able to live it once.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

It has to come from the heart. How can anyone be crazy about something you created if you aren’t? As a salesman, I was only successful selling brands that I actually liked. Create something you truly believe in and feel proud of creating. People can feel your passion and will respond to that positively.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

During the COVID-19 shut down, I was proud to begin an initiative with La Fonda restaurant co-owner James Gonzalez in our East Harlem neighborhood to provide free meals for New Yorkers in need. Growing from 50 meals a day to 5,000, our program grew to partner with José Andrés at World Central Kitchen. I am currently working with The Fridge Girls (@TheFridgeGirls), filling community fridges to make sure the less fortunate don’t go without one of the most basic of human needs; food. These young Latina women are simply doing their part to ensure “Everybody Eats”.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

A movement I would start would be encouraging people to accept and embrace all cultures to just live life positively, not taking themselves too seriously and having fun. Your intent and integrity are 2 things you can control. Karma is real and The Golden Rule is true. People may forget what you say but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. If something does not make you happy or add to your life, there is no point in allocating energy towards it. Follow your gut and take chances. You can’t control the weather nor when Covid will end .. you CAN control how you treat people, how hard you work and what you do with your time.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

My top 5 would be:

Will Smith: Went from the good to world renowned icon. All while staying true to himself.

Marc Anthony: One of the few Boricuas I could look up to, as someone who made it out of the hood. He actually grew up across the street from where I grew up in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Boricua visionary, whom I would love to sit around and brainstorm with.

Oprah: Obliterated every obstacle in her way, to become so big she reached first name only status.

Tito Beveridge: Creator of Tito’s Vodka. I respect his vision of creating a gluten free vodka way before gluten free was cool and sticking by his dream, for years, before the brand exploded “overnight”.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this in

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