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The Entrepreneur’s Mind & Finding the Right Niche with Liquor Labs’ Owen Meyer

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Gary Pinkerton starts off the show by explaining the entrepreneur’s mindset, which is, seeing a need and solving the need. Later, he interviews the founder of Liquor Labs, Owen Meyer. He shares how he ended up at West Point and what made him realize to start a business. They also discuss what Owen learned about building a business and ways to test ideas without much money.

Announcer 0:04
Welcome to the heroic investing show. As first responders we risk our lives every day our financial security is under attack. Our pensions are in a state of emergency. A single on duty incident can alter or erase our earning potential instantly and forever. We are the heroes of society. We are self reliant and we need to take care of our own financial future. The heroic investing show is our toolkit of business and investing tactics on our mission to financial freedom.

Gary Pinkerton 0:39
Hello, and welcome to Episode 136 of the heroic investing show. This is a podcast for first responders, members of the military, veterans, anyone looking to improve their financial future and gain some freedom with their time. We teach America’s heroes how to build passive income, build their startup business and safely grow wealth. Through real estate and other alternative investments. We help current and prior first responders put protections and systems in place to enable them to build a life where they can focus on their passion, that service or product they are uniquely gifted to share with the world. My name is Gary Pinkerton, and I co host this show with Jason Hartman. And Episode 136 is exactly what we just mentioned there at the end of the introduction, people building a life where they can focus on their passion, that service or product that the industry or that society is asking for, that they’re uniquely gifted to share. Our guest today is Owen Meyer Owen is a West Point graduate from the mid 2000s. He’s 33 years old, and running an extremely successful startup company in Manhattan. I don’t know how often that happens, startup companies take off in Manhattan, I’m sure there’s a lot of young new companies that are but I also know there’s a lot of establishment in that city, like there isn’t just about any other city. And then you take in the food and alcohol arena. So the restaurants and bars, that has, I believe the highest failure rate of any new business in America. So it was a challenging attempt a challenging path to go down. But Owens story is really not about how to make a better drink. It’s not about trying to just make a living. It’s about someone who looked at their surroundings, and industry, they happen to be in as an early job following his time in the military, and saw a need and solve the need. And really underlying everything is that entrepreneurial spirit that Elon demonstrated, I don’t think he ever dreamed about being in the alcohol space being in the entertainment space. I never really heard that from him in our conversations. But he happened to be working in an industry and saw a need. And it didn’t really matter what industry or what need that an entrepreneur sees that realizes that perhaps they have a gift there or they can partner with people who do have a gift. And they go after it. Right. That to me is the essence of entrepreneurship. So I’ll kind of close with that too, in our introduction here, before we get to Owen. But before I’d like to just kind of paint a picture for what is Owens company liquor lab? Well, it’s about customer experience. And if you see the actual description, it is teaching individuals, and bartenders how to make drinks that are popular, and that will provide a good experience for whoever is participating. But it’s more in my opinion, like the trendy experiential events that you know, as I said, trendy, but they’re very popular right now. And they’re in high demand. Think about the escape rooms that have just absolutely taken over cities across the country, if you haven’t done an escape room with your team. It’s a fantastic time, similar to high end very similar to high end cooking classes, for example, that your team could go and participate in with William Sonoma and some others around the country that are becoming very popular. You know, last summer, I did something similar to this. I did a fun cooking class with my son Ryan and with other friends of ours, when we were on a beach in the Caribbean. And we had some you know, I have some great great memories from that event, certainly with my son Ryan, with our other friends that were there. But I’ll tell you, I don’t remember very much about what they taught me about how to cook and it had nothing to do really with the Margarita just overflowing or the fact that they weren’t good teachers. It’s not why I was there. Right. I was there to have an experience with my child that will last you know, that we can remember for the rest of our lives and with our other friends. And so that’s what this kind of an event is about. People are seeing ways, more innovative ways to bond with their teammates, to bond with family, and to create experiences. Because in the end, what really matters, you know, a friend of mine says that there’s only two things that you can take with you to the grave. That is experiences and relationships, right? And so people come to funerals, because of memories they have of that individual. Right? And because of how that individual touch their lives. So I believe that, you know, yes, growing our businesses is important and serving other people are important. But growing the business part, that’s just to provide us a way to serve people. And it also provides income, and the ability to have experiences with family members. So they work hand in hand, but Ellen’s company here is not about how to get people drunk more efficiently, not at all right. And if you’re opposed to the idea of alcohol, that’s fine. That’s not what we’re talking about what we’re talking about as someone who, again, saw a need, right. And so in his company, you know, he was working, he’ll explain his background, but he was working for Jim Beam, and saw that, and attended a few things that were put on by the company, or people who were using the product. And they were just extremely boring. I’m sure many of you have been to events like that, I certainly have, you know, you go to a wine tasting, a very snooty event where they talk to you about the important differences to them, at least of the different kinds of wine or different kinds of whiskey and how it’s aged, what barrel, it’s aged in, right. And you know, how to swirl the line around and allow it to breathe, and none of stuff matters to me. What matters to me is the experience I’m having with my fellow people who are attending. And I’ve been to a few of those events and looked around and everyone was as bored as I was, but not what happened when I went to the cooking class. So I really related well to what Owen saw as a need in the industry, and how he took how he went after it. And his company is doing tremendously well. In 2017, they had they finished a first round of fundraising $500,000, raised led mainly by West river group. And if you’re not familiar with them, you probably know their their most famous product, which is Top Golf. And that one also was taking the country by storm. You know, again, to go back to a personal experience. In the venture Alliance mastermind, we went to Top Golf in Las Vegas, Nevada, I have some great memories of that none of them are about where I hit the golf ball, or which club I used or how I beat out somebody else with that. I just remember the lights going off when somebody did a great hit. I remember, the guy who won one of them had never picked up a golf club before in his life. And I remember great food and drink and a lot of great friend experiences. And so that’s really what what lens company is about here. They’re doing a second round now probably a couple of months ago when we were talking that’s led by BlackRock and BlackRock allowed them to are actually contracted with them to put liquor lab, experiential facilities in all of their major and a lot of their major buildings, a lot of their major real estate. So they you know, as you know, BlackRock is a lending funding source, investor capital, and private equity is what I was trying to come up with fair. And they have lots of businesses inside large commercial, mixed use and office buildings. And they saw the synergy of bringing in something like liquor lab to allow people to have that experience, actual end of day experience or early evening experience in you know, of the companies that are in the building. So they’re about to take liquor lab across the country, it’s going to become a well known name out there, like the escape rooms like William Sonoma, his experience. But what I want you to do is, is listen to Owen in this one, specifically about how he saw a need in the industry, how you went after it, and how he tried to partner with other companies for that Win Win experience. So, you know, the entrepreneur out there, observes what’s not working in their space, listens to the customer, and fills the hole with the customers asking for it. That’s entrepreneurship. And I think Owen does a great job of explaining that here. Is it directly related to real estate? No, but I guess you can make the BlackRock connection as he does here in the interview. But it’s more about entrepreneurship, right. And in the end, I believe that’s what our real estate is doing. For us. It’s providing that passive income to allow us to start up our own company called liquor lab or to, you know, heck, if you’re the best in the world at basket weaving, you ought to be sharing it with the rest of us. So that’s what I’m after is to get people to be able to be in a position financially and with their time to share their unique genius with the rest of the world. So thanks so much for listening to this one. Enjoy fascinating discussion here with West Point graduate erlenmeyer.

Gary Pinkerton 9:51
So, ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for joining me and as I said in the introduction, we have the rare pleasure of having a West Point graduates and I’m actually bringing him on even though, you know, I’m putting my bias aside. We’re bringing a very successful business owner, completely startup company that’s going really big. And he’ll talk about that in a few moments previously served in the army. A short time after West Point, as I mentioned in the introduction, please help me join. Oh, admire Owen, thanks for joining us.

Owen Meyer 10:21
I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Gary Pinkerton 10:22
Absolutely. So let’s talk about, you know, maybe just chronologically this round. Why did you do West points and kind of, you know, how did things unfold and ended up where you are?

Owen Meyer 10:32
Sure. So kind of a rare path. Yeah, I’m a career hockey player played hockey my whole life. After I graduated high school hockey players go into a thing called Junior hockey. Junior hockey is a really sort of a growth spurt mechanism to where after you graduate high school, you go play Junior hockey for two years, and then colleges recruit you to play for their college hockey team. Mostly because college hockey is such a higher level than when you come out of high school. So this is sort of a developmental spot. You know, I was being recruited by a handful of teams that I had narrowed it down to, I didn’t really know much about West Point, my one of my mom’s brother in law’s had gone there. He’d done very well for himself. He’s actually really high up at Stryker medical. And you know, when you’re young kid, you’re materialistic. And you think about, you know, what kind of car I want, what kind of how many houses you want, and you look at someone like your uncle who has done very well for themselves very well spoken, and obviously had a lot of opportunity in life. And I’ll never forget the day when, you know, he pulled me aside at a family reunion. And I said, Uncle art, I’m thinking about going to West Point, what do you think? And he said, you know, it’d be the best decision you ever made. And I said, Well, I don’t want the best decision I’ve ever made. I just want what you have. And he kind of laughed, and he said, Well, if you go to West Point, you won’t get what I have automatically, but you’ll get opportunity. And so I took the load the road less traveled, I played hockey there, it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself not I mean, it was very difficult and annoying it most parts teaches you and made you who the man you are today, though, I’m sure you can agree to from the Naval Academy. And then, you know, after got out of the military, it was it was one of those things where you don’t really know what you want to do, you know, you want to succeed and be challenged and, and grow something, be part of a team as all those things sort of ingrained in you in the military that that you start looking for. And especially with respect to hockey, too. I mean, military plus the hockey background, it was like, I just need to be part of a team that wants to win. So I, you know, did a ton of interviews, and everybody said, Do you want the job or not? And I was I don’t really know if I want that job. And you know, had a couple friends that were working in the liquor industry that I remembered from New York and my time here, and I said call them up and said what exactly you guys doing again, and they said, you know, you know, you should try it. It’s fun. You know, everybody thinks it’s a big party. But really, there’s it’s business. I mean, it’s one of the biggest businesses in the world is booze. So I reached out to a couple of West Point guys and got a connection and started working at Jim Beam, much to my parents chagrin, because they’re not they’re not big drinkers, but did it and worked in sales there for a couple years and became a spirit specialist, which is really when I started recognizing the just the sheer volume of money that was being spent on marketing activation agencies POS like all every saw all this junk that had very little ROI. And every year millions and millions of dollars with just a budget was reset and it was use it or lose it. So really came to the ideas that I have today. And that’s that’s where I kind of sit

Gary Pinkerton 13:35
right so for those who haven’t, you know, researched what liquor lab is, you’re president CEO of a company, essentially you created right from ground the ground up. And to explain what liquor lab is and where you are now and where you’re headed.

Owen Meyer 13:46
We like to equate liquor lab in a very sort of stretched way to a cooking class, except for instead of learning how to cook, you’re learning how to make cocktails. So the big difference between liquor lab and a cooking class, though that exists is that when you go to cooking class, it’s very high impact and it’s very detailed. You got to grease the pan is that preheated we there’s never a minute off. You know, you’re always doing something when you’re in cooking class, and liquor lab, you come in, you take your seeds, you know, it’s a very fun, exciting atmosphere, you grab some food from the buffet, we teach you how to shake we do Jenna stir, we jump right into the first cocktail. And then in between cocktails, we turn on some light music and everyone can be social and hang out, meet people mingle you know if it’s a corporate event, you can have other touch points with people across the room because you can get up and it’s just a very very like fun learning atmosphere and it’s not that sit down and and throw your salt into the bowl and make sure you whisk it enough. It’s more like yeah, so it’s that’s sort of the relation.

Gary Pinkerton 14:45
Yeah. So kind of key thing is it is not how to make cocktails for people who are going to do it behind the bar you do kind of offer that more advanced class, which is probably like what what most people think of as a cooking class like oh my gosh, I gotta go for hours and you know, learn the details. It’s not really a fun event that you’d take your team to go do. It’s not a team building or a team bonding event. This is more like, I think like the cooking class that I took on, on a cruise that I was on a couple years ago, they taught us how to like, you know, make the frittata, but after like doing the very initial part, they took it away and had somebody else finish it for me and deserving part. And they gave us cocktails, and we talk to our neighbors. And then we came back. And we learned how to make the desserts. And after a couple minutes of learning how to make desserts, you know, that went away, and we had another cocktail and you know, so then we got to eat them all. And it was a lot of fun. But it was more about building the team and having a good time. Then it was about becoming the expert at that thing. Is that anymore? Yeah,

Owen Meyer 15:36
yeah, hundred percent. And I think that’s where the value is, too. I mean, there’s Yeah, the experiential economy is just growing like crazy. We have. When I got done with my pilot year in Chicago, I started this concept in Chicago when I was working there. And when I got done with my first pilot year, I reached out to really only two investment firms that invested in experiential businesses. One was a company that had recently purchased sir Tom, which is, you know, it’s really top is it’s like a cooking class and such like they sell cooking tools and whatnot, sort of like a William Sonoma almost. And then the other company who was we’re partners with today called West river group and their big shareholder in what’s called Top Golf, if you’re familiar with Top Golf, absolutely. Oh, my God, Top Golf, like, Everywhere I go, all I see is like, everyone’s like, Oh, my God is the Top Golf here. Let’s go like, and that’s the, that’s that experiential economy that, you know, this next generation and a lot of people are finding more fun than buying cars and buying clothes and and all that stuff

Gary Pinkerton 16:34
is a great comment. So and, you know, I think the value of this podcast for our audience, and we talked a little bit about it at the big you know, before the event is, is about, you know, anything you can share about lessons learned on transition on the military, but more about how to start a business and how to just pay attention to your environment and figure out where there’s a need. And there’s certainly, as you said, demand for experiential events. There’s the, you know, those escape rooms, right, those are huge.

Gary Pinkerton 17:04
Yeah. And so this, this would apply in any industry, right? I mean, I’m sure you could find shoe makers who think it’s awesome to go, I don’t know, put heels on different kinds of shoes and have a drink in between, right? There’s just it’s across the board. If you could talk a little bit about own maybe lessons learnt on building the business.

Owen Meyer 17:21
Sure. So the way that I sort of mirror my business acumen after is an analogy as a company called paint night. Are you familiar with paint night, paint night is a company where, and I’m not going to do it justice, but I’ll give you the cliff notes. A lady and her friends decided they wanted to get together and paint together and bring their own wine. And a number of years later, the company was sold to a private equity firm for I think it was like five or $600 million. But the company started because it wasn’t really a vision for a company yet, it was a vision of a need that a group of people wanted for themselves. And so my vision sort of is analogous to that in the sense where I was sitting around, like, looking at watching all these marketing companies and agencies do these liquor events. And I’m like, I show up to a whiskey tasting. And there’s six glasses of whiskey with like a quarter ounce of whiskey in it and a blank sheet of paper in front of you, you get lectured for two hours, and then you get to sip straight whiskey out of a glass, not really that enjoyable for most people. And I was thinking myself, like, you know, what I would want to do and what my friends would want to do is they would want to learn how to make a drink, turn on some music, have some fun, learn how to make another drink, turn on some music has fun. And that did not come from me, laying in bed dreaming up a business idea. It came from me thinking about a need of what I would want to do. And, you know, that’s not to say that everyone should think about their business. But in certain industries, I should say mainly the experiential industry. What better way to prove a business model than when you and all your friends were very tough judges of, of experiences get together and have a blast doing something, you know, you’re onto something at that point. Right. So I think you know, to answer the question, the second part of your question, not only, you know, sort of recognizing that need for something that you have interest in, or that you have some expertise in maybe, but also then navigating those waters into starting that business. And that I think is, you know, is another story in itself. But in one sentence, I would say there’s a difference between people who talk and people who do things. And you can start somewhere right that lady took the painting into an empty schoolroom took her friend to an empty classroom in a school room I believe it was and just started painting and having fun like there was no charge that would if she didn’t charge tickets, she didn’t build a website. It’s that proof of concept and first of market that is very important, I think

Gary Pinkerton 19:42
Yeah, makes sense. Like you recognize that the change you made it’s a services not being funded somehow else in there or fielded somehow else in the market and you recognize it in time to take it to market you know, like you said that this is not how everyone should think about this their startup business idea. But I actually think it is. I mean, you just think about the lady that worked at 3am that came up with a sticky note. I mean, no one else had it. Right. She just did it because she needed it. Right. But then she paid attention about how successful it was, I interviewed the gentlemen in the Air Force, who created the game rollers, fantastically successful game, but he created it because he and his buddies wanted to play the game, and then started paying attention when everyone say, Can I buy the game off of you? The sales started climbing. So it’s just about recognizing when you are actually filling a need that people value? Sure. That’s amazing. So big things coming for liquor lab? Are you able to talk about that a little bit?

Owen Meyer 20:39
Yeah, of course. So, you know, we opened up here really officially sort of towards the end of January this year. So we’ve only been cruising for about four months. But every day in here, it’s just an eye opening experience for the customers that come here, you know, we have got a big PR push that that is organic. So people like the New York Times will come in and write about articles. And it’s really an educational experience, not only for the people, but for, for the industry. Because I’ve seen people walk in here and say, Oh, god, this isn’t what I thought it was because they’re so used to going to a crappy whiskey tasting, where they get forced to drink straight whiskey and not have any fun, that it is sort of a little bit of a hurdle for people to learn it. But once they experience it, the word of mouth and that sort of trusted recommendation from a friend goes so much further than buying marketing or ad spending or whatnot. So we’re cruising here for the first few months. And it’s kind of funny, funny story, we’re getting ready to do a series A round of funding to fund our expansion that’s being put together and led by our partner current partners, the Westover group, guys, there’s just so great to because they have an interest in Top Golf, which is experiential business. So these guys are right in line with my vision. I mean, we’re talking about butts, people through the doors, butts in seats, people having a good time having some drinks. I mean, it’s all just such a great relationship there. So we’re putting together our series A and then a couple weeks ago, you know, we had a private event, we do a lot of private events during the week here, we had a private event come through with a big real estate private equity firm. And you know, 20 minutes into the event, one of the ladies corner man, she said, You know, we’re going into business together. And I said, Excuse me, and and you know, I didn’t know much about the firm at the time. They own a huge amount of real estate in this country that is, is all commercial. And you know, things like liquor lab have a good fit in growing cities and new buildings where they’re trying to attract tenants, or they’re trying to attract people to a certain area, be it in, you know, the river, North District of Denver, or in the Sears Tower in Chicago. These are places where people destination for people to go, but why are they staying? Do they go and take a photo and leave? Or are they hanging out around they’re going to the store is going to eat food going to the movie theaters. And so, you know, we have a, we’ve got about a 10 or 12, City expansion planning on the horizon, where we are lining that up for the next two years, two to three years. But you know, something that might resonate with your listeners, as well as that the team that we’re teaming up with to do this expansion, they own all their properties. So with respect to real estate, you know, expanding a business that has an actual physical footprint, comes with a lot of challenges. So to sort of be cut and dry with it. This particular firms, since they own their buildings, I don’t have to spend money on lawyers to negotiate expensive lease agreements, they don’t have to negotiate escape clauses that I need for liquor licenses. There’s a whole bunch of things with respect to real estate and physical spaces of businesses, that sort of become very easy to deal with now that I partnered with a real estate company that owns the properties. So very exciting time. And you know, some of that we’re looking forward to every day, as far as you cities are concerned,

Gary Pinkerton 23:47
That’s awesome. And I think that brings a new definition to a strategic partner, or at least a new viewer, strategic partner, right. And a lot people think of strategic partner is that person who’s there with the money at the right time. But that doesn’t matter if they have the money if they can’t get it off the ground. Right? If they go to the place, like you said, they can’t negotiate the lease, because maybe they don’t want a liquor business on their facility or something. Or maybe the neighborhood doesn’t want that. Right. So having the ability to get the least that’s the strategic part about it. Not to mention that the scripts pretty well funded.

Owen Meyer 24:17
Yeah, exactly. You know, liquor is a strange world, right? liquor is something that people either love or hate or they fear, or they feel brings problems. You know, fortunately for us, we’re not a bar. So we don’t have any of the stuff that bar has, you know, we have, we have a little retail store in the front of every, every location where you can come in and buy tool kits or cocktail kits or laser engraved bottles. And then in the back, we’ve got our experience room. We know we don’t have people up in and out smoking cigarettes at three in the morning and any of that garbage that a bar has so and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to get our initial location here. I mean, we’re in the middle of Soho in New York City, on a street with you know, $50 million condos. There’s no way you could ever get a liquor license here. You’re anything but we’re doing.

Gary Pinkerton 25:02
Nice, nice, very cool. So about the whole idea, you know, thinking back at this is generally first responders, police officers, firefighters, a lot of them in New York City listening, I think and you know, EMTs, and then also active duty members and veterans, we’re all looking for kind of improving our lives and proven our own financial world. And then maybe we got that business like you did that idea rattling around the back of our heads, what have we not talked about you think is most important for this audience?

Owen Meyer 25:28
Sure. I think, you know, with respect to that, and since I was in a very similar position, you know, I didn’t have a lot of money to sign $100,000 lease with. So, you know, what a lot of people don’t know is when I started this company, I was actually doing pop up events. So I was going to places where I didn’t have to pay rent, I could just, you know, get my friends in there get to hire some press to come in and sort of pilot tested on a very, very low level. And I think as an analogous solution to to what your question is, you know, you don’t have to have a lot of money to pilot test an idea these days, there’s several different ways you can, you can approach that too, you know, there’s things like Kickstarter, there’s a couple other crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, as well, there’s, there’s even sites now where you can put up ideas and get feedback from, you know, there’s tons of groups and meetups, and those are, those are highly, highly valuable early on very early stages. But you know, there’s, like I said, Unless you’re building something that requires expensive hardware, like a, you know, you’re trying to make a new computer system or hire some engineers to program something. For the most part, there’s a lot of resources out there online where you can, you can buy things or rent spaces, or curate some sort of pilot program for very low cost. And really, sort of, you know, get a pulse on your idea early on, you know, things cost money these days. But there’s any, there’s a lot of ways, you know, I’m coming up with a cocktail kit right now that will launch I’m launching another company that sort of like Blue Apron for cocktails. And my first prototype was basically made a duct tape. So you know, I couldn’t go to a cardboard manufacturer and pay $50,000 to have stamps and dies made, I’m gonna grab a piece of cardboard from the USPS store and cut it up and duct tape it together and sort of visualize my idea there. So, you know, even that little cardboard thing I taped together, every time I showed somebody, they’re like, Oh, my God, this is amazing. So there’s ways to test it at an affordable rate. That’s kind of where I go to

Gary Pinkerton 27:22
Nice, nice. Okay, well, listen. Oh, and thanks so much for sharing all this with our audience. How can they reach out to you? And what would you recommend the audience check out other than showing up at liquor lab? Yes. In 12 locations in the future?

Owen Meyer 27:35
Yeah. So we have our website is liquor laboratory calm. And from that website, we’ll be we’ll be posting all of our new cocktail club stuff. And also you can see events. We have a blog that we’re putting up on there that has recent updates and whatnot. And then, if you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, follow us on Instagram at liquor lab, like who you are lrB. That’s where you’ll see all the highlights, all the humor and all the fun stuff we’re doing here. Just kind of in a nutshell,

Gary Pinkerton 28:01
I’m lucky enough to live about an hour south of your awesome location. In fact, I’m going to be up there all weekend. With a mastermind group.

Owen Meyer 28:08
You’re going to come by

Gary Pinkerton 28:09
Yeah, I would love to so I can’t wait to do it. Because I think I’m actually certain for me, it’s going to be more fun than a cooking class or a breakout room. But yeah, it wasn’t worth it. Yes. Thanks for everything you’ve done for us.

Owen Meyer 28:20
All right now I appreciate you have a great day as well.

Jason Hartman 28:24
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