It's not a stretch to find college kids who enjoy tequila (especially on Cinco de Mayo), but Moy Guindi and Danny Schneeweiss took their fondness for the heady Mexican spirit to the next level: in 1997, the then-23-year olds founded Milagro, a tequila brand made with agave and produced in Jalisco, Mexico. Flash forward to 2007: Milagro wins "Best in Show" in the white spirits category at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco—beating out not just all the tequilas in the world, but also all the vodkas, gins, and rums. Today the brand is one of the top-10 tequila makers in the U.S. The pair, now 38, told Inc.com how they conquered the very traditional industry—and what they have planned next.
You were just finishing school when you decided to make tequila. What made you think you could succeed?
We both loved tequila, but we thought it could become more premium and sophisticated, something that could compete with the best spirits in the world. Our vision was to evolve the tequila category with a liquid and bottle design that represented modern-day Mexico.
How much money did you begin with?
With our families' support, we raised $100,000. We started Milagro with no employees; only Moy and me. Our focus was never on the money, it was about the quality of the product. The tequila market was starting to explode, and people were learning fast to differentiate good tequila from bad. The most important thing was that consumers were beginning to understand the relevance of 100% blue agave tequila and this was our main target. Our vision has always been about the agave, and Milagro is agave in its maximum expression.
How did you find your initial suppliers?
During the agave crisis the price of agave went from .07 cents US to 1.4 dollars per kilo. This almost put us out of business. We were fortunate to find Juan de La Torre, an agave grower that had enough agave for us to produce tequila for three years. With that agave he bought equity in the company, and we are still partners today. All the agave that we use is Estate Grown by Juan.
How did you manage growth?
The brand grew because people who tried Milagro fell in love with it. Our biggest challenge was getting more distribution; however today the brand has nationwide distribution in the US and is available in over 15 countries around the world. One of the biggest accolades for not only Milagro, but the tequila category and Mexico, was winning the award for Best of Show white spirit in the San Francisco World Spirits competition in 2007. This not only means that we were the best tequila in the competition but that we were the best white spirit in the competition. This finally gave tequila a place next to the best of the world. At the 2009 San Francisco Spirits Competition, Milagro SBR Reposado was awarded the Double Gold Medal, the competition's highest honor.
How did entering a partnership with William Grant & Sons change things?
In 2004 we entered into an agency agreement with William Grant & Sons that evolved into a partnership in 2006. This allowed us to take the brand to a different level by reaching nationwide distribution in U.S. and key tequila markets around the world.
We continue to work on Milagro every day, educating people about tequila and converting them to Milagro, and we enjoy continuing to evolve the tequila category. This past March, we launched, UNICO, a super-premium, limited edition micro-distilled joven blend. Although UNICO was only produced on limited quantity and selling very fast, we have plans for additional projects: In June, we are launching a new product, Montelobos Mezcal.
If you could give aspiring entrepreneurs one piece of advice, what would it be?
Follow your instincts in anything you do, and do it with as much passion as possible.
The most important thing we've learned is that when a person buys a product that you created, you have to respect that person and deliver to his/her expectations. You become responsible for the trust that this person has put on your product and you can never betray that confidence. The only way to do this is by always putting the quality of the product first.