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Joe Cruz Jr.: “Prioritize that recovery!”

Schedule meetings or work sessions in increments that give you back a little time in your day for recovery. Prioritize that recovery! For instance, instead of scheduling an hour meeting, schedule a 45-minute meeting and take the last 15 to stand up, stretch, get your coffee, etc. Create time in your day for something that […]

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Schedule meetings or work sessions in increments that give you back a little time in your day for recovery. Prioritize that recovery! For instance, instead of scheduling an hour meeting, schedule a 45-minute meeting and take the last 15 to stand up, stretch, get your coffee, etc. Create time in your day for something that makes you happy mentally whether it’s making your favorite tea, taking a walk around the block, or making a quick call to a family member.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Cruz Jr. He was born and raised in Harlem, New York. He made a career out of building brands in the Liquor Industry and took the leap of faith to create his own Spirits brand. His drive is to create a Tequila that is so smooth that everyone of age can enjoy it. He is on a mission to set an example for aspiring entrepreneurs to prove that you don’t have to come from a great privilege to create a meaningful and successful brand.

Joe has a teenage son that is his world and he wants YaVe to become a legacy to pass on to his family and support local communities.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Asa single father living in Harlem with only minimal startup capital, I knew that building a company from the ground up would be a harder task for me than most startups with access to a team and vast set of resources. I started YaVe Tequila with $20K and the mindset that this was going to work no matter what. My initial motivation was to provide for my family, however, after 20 years of experience in the alcohol beverage industry, I clearly had a passion I was waiting to explore. After much time and thought, I set out to create a premium Tequila after recognizing the rise in demand for a naturally flavored, extremely smooth, easy-to-drink tequila without added sugar.

At this point in time, I’ve been in the beverage alcohol business for over 25 years, working all three tiers of the industry (retailer, distributor, supplier). My dad taught me everything he knew but he knew everything short of how to create and build a brand from scratch. I considered building YaVe Tequila as a challenge and the perfect way to get the Cruz name to a whole new level.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

I went from sitting alone on the couch ideating every aspect of my ideal brand to sharing responsibilities with others. It was hard for me to delegate because I was doing everything on my own and it was hard to trust others with the exact vision of what was in my head and how exactly things should get done. This was not because I didn’t trust my new team, but because this company was my “baby” and I had to adapt to being open to and excited about thoughts other than my own.

Creating a line of Flavored Tequilas was also a bold move and initial challenge that nearly dissolved the relationship I had with our distillery in Mexico before our first product had even been made. To provide background, the basis of a premium Tequila is all about staying true to the pride and tradition of Tequila hence no mixing in flavors. After an incredible shift where the master distiller brought on his team of women chemists and many attempts to get the right formulation, we finally created the world’s first natural flavored Mango Tequila.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Having an inspiring purpose helped me and the company get to where we are today. The Mango Tequila was created in honor of my Abuela who had passed away as mango was her favorite fruit. The team of women chemists that had been brought on to bring my vision alive really understood the level of innovation that needed to occur to create our best-selling product to-date and make it into something my Abuela would be proud of.

Treating people the way you would treat your Abuela or your mother or how you would want people to treat whomever you love dearly, being a hardworking man of intent and integrity, and optimizing the variables in life that you CAN control have also played a huge factor in the leader I am striving to be.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

I honestly don’t have 5. I’ve been studying everyone I’ve ever been around and continuing to learn for the past 20+ years.

The most important thing I wish someone could have told me is to prepare to learn how to delegate. I went from sitting alone on my sofa, planning the creation of YaVe, acting as my own lawyer, accountant, HR department (crazy how much you can disagree with yourself when you’re all alone for a year.) Then it quickly escalated to sitting down with one of my best friends as we designed the bottle together and slowly adding team members. Before I knew it, I had a full team who did whatever it took but at the same time, it was hard to let go and trust that they would deliver things EXACTLY as I saw them. Truth is, to grow as a person and company, you need all the different perspectives and opinions. It helped me broaden my mind and expose the company to a world of possibilities.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

If you can get something done in 5 minutes, might as well handle it right way instead of adding it into your growing to-do list for the day. This will create a steady efficient flow to your workday and leave time and mental capacity for the larger projects on your to-do list to be prioritized.

Schedule meetings or work sessions in increments that give you back a little time in your day for recovery. Prioritize that recovery! For instance, instead of scheduling an hour meeting, schedule a 45-minute meeting and take the last 15 to stand up, stretch, get your coffee, etc. Create time in your day for something that makes you happy mentally whether it’s making your favorite tea, taking a walk around the block, or making a quick call to a family member.

Try to have the mindset and take on some tasks that the position above you would do. While you’re taking the steps to make your dream come true the average person is dreaming about getting to the level you’re already on, instead of making the effort to take action.

Replace “if” with “when”, “might / Hope” with “will” and “maybe.

You can’t keep everyone happy. You will mentally exhaust yourself if you try. If something is looking like it’s not going to work in your favor (don’t worry it will most likely work), understand that you put your best foot forward and tried.

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 am grateful for my mom. She NEVER believed in excuses. When I was a young teen, my mom worked full time and went to night school to try and give us a better life. Because of this, I felt that it was my duty to step in and take the role of a guardian and care for my sister and make sure she did her homework, ate, showered and went to bed on time. One day my mom came home early and made dinner for us and I remember telling her I’d make dinner so she could relax but she insisted on making dinner. She told me not to worry about it and take the night off from taking care of my sister. I remembered after relaxing a bit, I came out of the shower to find dinner ready on the dining room table. My mother had only said two plates, so I asked her where hers was and did not think anything of it when she brushed the question off, stating that she wasn’t hungry and then went off to bed. Years later, I was watching a comedy special where Martin Lawrence joked about being so poor that his mother would make his family dinner while her stomach would rumble. In that exact moment, it resonated with me that my mother’s stomach was also rumbling when I asked her where her dinner was. She had in fact come home early knowing we had just enough food for my sister and I to eat and she didn’t want us to start making dinner and worry.

It’s because of this I NEVER leave food on my plate and do not allow anyone around me to go without. 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.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

The goal is always to be better than I was yesterday. Being a leader is about adapting and being open to constructive feedback whether it’s positive or something harder to hear. I am learning from my team and the people around me every day and striving to incorporate these learnings into my actions for the next day.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

My son continuing to be the amazing young man that he already is. My son is a man of action and accomplishes everything he sets his heart and mind to. From graduating high school with honors to get a scholarship to the only college he chose, I like to think I helped instill this mindset of intent. One day I would hope to feel like I was my son’s hero through my actions, not my words.

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!

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.

I have 3 rules, that I live by:

1) Always do the right thing and treat people how you want to be treated. 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.

2) Always do what will makes you happy … within reason. You should always be happy. If not, what’s the point of spending energy on it. Keep rule 1 in mind. Don’t screw someone over just to get ahead. Intent and integrity are everything.

3) Always follow your gut. Your gut is ALWAYS right. If it doesn’t work out, you won’t live in regret. It’s better to have tried and not succeed than spend the rest of your life wondering “what if”. “What ifs” are a waste of energy!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@YaVeTequila

@TheRealJoeCruzJr

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