In Park Street University’s latest Startup Spotlight, Billy Erickson discusses the intricate process of producing Tequila Fortaleza, his lifelong dream of building a tequila brand with his family, and more.

Tell us about Tequila Fortaleza. 

Billy Erickson: We here at Fortaleza strive to make the best tequila we can. It started with an idea I had as a kid, my grandfather was also in the tequila business and I thought I would end up running that brand, unfortunately he ended up selling the brand. Fortunately my grandfather left my mom a small distillery and we were able to renovate that one to bring Fortaleza to the market. 

What sets your brand apart in the marketplace? 

BE: We make Fortaleza using the most traditional ways we can. A lot of brands have moved to convenience and speed and they sacrifice quality for that. They’re trying to make tequila as fast as they can, and we’re trying to make it right. The plants spend 8 years in the ground before they even reach our doors. Once we get them it takes about 2 weeks of production to get the quality we’re looking for and that comes from us using a brick oven, a stone tahona and making sure we’re processing the agaves right. 

Does your business have any causes it supports?

BE: We support a number of individual charity events, but we don’t have an overarching partnership with one organization. 

What’s the one lesson you learned during the pandemic that will stick with you? 

BE: All things shall pass – is a lesson I’d take from it. We thought we had this one down, and ended up cutting our production runs in May and June of last year as it looked like a slowdown might last for a year. In hindsight we’d have kept running and put all that in barrels for later. We were focused on responding to the right now, and didn’t stop to think “what will happen when everyone can go out again?” 

What is your best business finance tip for other brand owners? 

BE: Cash flow is king. If you’re bringing dollars in from your operations you’re in a great position.

What is your best advice for a mutually beneficial relationship with your distributors? 

BE: Unfortunately it takes time, but being good to your word. We’ve only had two distribution changes in the US, we tell our distributors that we’re there to be a long term partner, and dedicated to making them successful as well as us, and that has made our relations with our distribution partners rock solid. 

What has been your most successful strategy for pitching a new retail partner? 

BE: Being authentic, we’re grateful we’ve got a great history and process to sell our product on. Retailers have people pitching them every day on new products, and they can smell BS from a mile away. 

What are the resources you can’t run your business without?

BE: Data – at the end of the day it is the depletions out of your retail and bar and restaurant partners that matter. 

Do you have a go-to book on business or leadership you recommend? 

BE: Not in particular but I do like sharing one thing I read from Jeffery Gitomer – all things being equal, people like to do business with their friends. All things NOT being equal, people still like to do business with their friends. When you’re selling in the industry, its as much you as it is the product. 

If you were starting a new venture today, what’s the first thing you would do?

BE: Start with a business plan & do some different scenarios  – the plans never work out, but its the planning that matters.