How do you become an entrepreneur? Drive, ambition, intelligence and a little luck.
Sure those things help.
But for Rikki Kelly her shot at entrepreneurial success involved drinking. As in tequila.
Her background is in accounting and the construction industry, so the move into spirits was a big change. But she knew early on she wanted to be her own boss.
“I knew I wanted to work for myself, I just didn’t know what I wanted to get into,” the founder and owner of Fort Worth-based Ego Tequila said in a recent interview. “And when I started drinking tequila, I fell in love with it.”
There’s that other part of the entrepreneurial experience: passion.
Kelly had it for the liquor distilled from the blue agave plant. And she was catching a wave as tequila sales were taking off. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of spirits showed strong growth in 2021, fueled by high-end tequila.
“Everybody always has a really bad story about it, but I never had a bad story off tequila,” the 26-year-old said. “One day I was watching TV, and I noticed that another celebrity was coming out with her own tequila brand. And it just clicked in my mind at that moment.”
So far those shots of tequila have paid off. After debuting in 2021, Ego Tequila has garnered solid sales, a Bartender Spirits Award and is ready to move forward.
She has done all this without a lot of resources, startup funding or experience in a fickle industry that’s not for the faint of heart. She also did it during a pandemic, when the economy was sometimes questionable.
Turns out, the pandemic was not so bad for the liquor industry. Studies show that liquor sales increased during the first few months of the pandemic. Kelly saw it, too.
“I was afraid COVID was going to hurt sales when we came out, but it turned out not to be the case,” she said. “If anything it helped.”
Kelly also did it without a lot of role models. She is a black woman in an industry with very few.
“There are not a lot of minority women in this industry,” she said. “A few I’ve found, but not many.”
That didn’t seem to matter. When the tequila clicked for Kelly, the entrepreneur-to-be set off to down some tequila market research. After all, she thought, if celebrities can launch a liquor brand with little industry experience, why couldn’t she?
She met with a consultant and was reassured she, too, could do this.
And, like most entrepreneurs, she began networking.
“I was in a girls group on Facebook, and it was just girls living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I reached out to them asking like, ‘Hey, can someone assist me with forming my business?’ There was this attorney, she worked for herself. She helped me set up everything, forming the LLC and also registering with the state and with the county and everything,” Kelly said.
Then, of course, there was making the tequila. That led to more research.
She settled on Casa Maestri, a Jalisco, Mexico-based tequila distillery with a long history.
“I went there and visited the distillery and toured it,” she said. “And I just really got to see all the ins and outs of them sourcing the agaves and creating the tequila.”
She knew what she wanted.
“I knew what I wanted our profile to be,” she said. “I based it off of my experience with tequila and other people’s experience with tequila. I know I wanted something really smooth, something that was also really not overly sweet, but kind of really semi-sweet.”
After tasting several samples, Kelly found what she was seeking.
“My goals were to make sure it was smooth in quality, approachable for newcomers and tequila fans and loyalists,” she said.
She didn’t want anything that detracted from the tequila itself.
“I just don’t typically believe in infused tequilas,” she said. “There are a lot of tequilas that have the lemon-lime or strawberry flavor. “I just feel it takes away the authenticity of the agave flavor. I just choose to stick with either a blanco or reposado. And then in the future, I would definitely like to add on another expression, which is añejo.”
Where to find Ego Tequila
Distribution is through Green Light Distribution, and the product is available throughout Texas. Green Light specializes in providing services to small and mid-size wine and spirits brands. Kelly found them through networking with Western Son Distillery in Bridgeport.
Prices for the 750 milliliter bottles are $39.99 for Ego Tequila Blanco and $41.99 for Ego Tequila Reposado.
Ego Tequila is distilled from 100% blue agave, then finished with volcanic spring water, Kelly said. The flavor profile comes from a mixture of highland and lowland agave, Kelly said.
She describes the taste of Ego’s blanco tequila as delicate with hints of citrus and a smooth, crisp finish. The blanco version is distilled into stainless steel tanks and then bottled, while the reposado is aged in white oak whiskey barrels for eight months. That gives it a smooth flavor with a hint of the oak, Kelly said.
More varieties are on the way. Ego Tequila plans to offer an añejo tequila, which is typically aged a year or more, Kelly said,
That’s the tequila. Then there was the labeling. Kelly wanted to make sure the details on that were right. After all, she was competing in a category with celebrities with plenty of brand power. She worked with a freelancer on the design and then McDowell Labels out of Frisco for the metallic label to help stand out in the crowded tequila field.
“The labels are really detailed, and I wanted to make sure that they could follow through with my design,” she said. “I really needed something to stand out on the shelves, and I just know packaging does that. I really wanted to make sure that I executed that, the labels and the packaging.”
And the name, Ego?
“The name, not going to lie. I’ve always loved the name Ego,” said Kelly. “I thought it fit really well, too, because I know when I drink tequila, I’ve got a whole different ego, a different personality. I don’t start acting crazy, but I’m in a feel-good kind of mindset.”
Next up for the entrepreneur is more tequila and more fundraising. Most of the initial funding came from Kelly, her mother and other friends and family – typical entrepreneur experience.
“Now we need to raise some funding from some investors, so we can produce more and increase distribution,” she said.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.