Imagine trying to eat relatively cleanly. And you Know it habits are really hard to take… and really, really easy to break.
So you plan your meals. You use an architecture of choice to avoid the temptation. (For me … if there’s ice cream in the house, I’ll eat it.) You avoid compromise as much as possible, because compromise is the slippery slope of maintaining habits.
But what happens when you want to enjoy a beer or two with friends – when empty calories are the last thing you want to consume?
That’s the problem Hall of Fame quarterback, Fox Sports broadcaster and serial entrepreneur Troy Aikman set out to solve.
Keep in mind that Aikman is not new to the business world. For example, while playing for the Cowboys, he and a partner took over a struggling car dealership and increased their sales by over 200% in the first year. (In fact, Aikman recouped his investment in a year and a half.)
“Roger Staubach was a bit of a mentor and an example of someone who was athletically successful and built a real estate business,” says Aikman, “and I always wanted to prove to myself that I could do it outside. football. I did well with a lot of different investments, but the automotive sector was the first thing I was really active in. “
So when the idea of creating a healthier beer came up, Aikman took the plunge, both because he liked the idea, but also to continue scratching his lifelong entrepreneurial itch. “I felt like it was the ‘next thing’ for me,” says Aikman, “where I got involved not as a passive investor, but where I am completely.”
The result is EIGHT, a beer made from organic cereals and hops rich in antioxidants and without additives, fillers or sugars. “I thought we could make a beer ‘better for you’,” Aikman says, “and we made it happen.”
The “us” includes seasoned co-founders of the beer industry and product development by award-winning master brewer Phil Leinhart as well as food science researchers from Oregon State University.
“I don’t feel like I have great strength,” Aikman says. “When I evaluate myself objectively, I don’t think I’m good at a lot of things. But I think I’m good at judging people, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts.”
Instinct is actually developed through time and experience. According to Aikman, every time he was wrong – every time something was “missing” – it wasn’t because the idea wasn’t right. Or the concept was wrong. Or the product was not good.
“It’s because we couldn’t perform,” says Aikman, “because we had the wrong people.”
“So what I’ve learned,” he continues, “is to bet on people more than anything else. If you have good, smart, hard-working people, then you have a chance. So when I met my current partners … what made me feel like we had a chance is that they are really smart people. I couldn’t be happier with them, with the way which we run … I’m pretty strict and regulated about how I think things should be done, and they’ve been with me every step of the way. ”
Which is crucial, as the beer industry is incredibly competitive – especially this segment of the beer industry. Taste matters. But so is marketing. And the broadcast. And a myriad of other challenges and obstacles that can derail any startup.
Competition included; there are approximately 9,000 breweries in the United States, and EIGHT is arguably the most competitive segment.
All of this, as Aikman realizes, makes execution crucial. That’s why the EIGHT will be measured: As a draft in bars, restaurants and other onsite accounts in Texas in February, then starting in March, they can form in retail stores statewide.
“We felt it was time or something new and new. Then, chatting with people in the beer business, it became clear that what we feel is what a lot of people feel. I was excited at first, but I’m more excited today because of the two years we’ve spent building it, getting the distributors involved … we’ve had a lot of great things to do. “
So what does success look like for EIGHT?
“If we grow outside of Texas,” says Aikman, “that would be great. But if we never left Texas, that would be great too, as long as the business is successful. But I don’t have a final exit in. head. I love it, it’s been fun, and I’m proud of the brand’s product. It’s success in itself. “
The same is true of how Aikman designed (pun intended) a life that balances family, work as a broadcaster, and entrepreneurial pursuits. What may seem overwhelming is actually energizing. At the end of the football season, he is eager to devote more time to business; at the end of the summer he is excited and eagerly awaiting football. “
So why add even more to your plate by starting a beer business? “When you’re in business, the dashboard is money, but to me that’s not what it is,” says Aikman. “It’s not about wanting more or accumulating more.
“This is a challenge – and one that I never want to feel like I’m not productive, not doing what I want to do, and not learning more.”
Which sounds like a perfect definition of what success looks like.