Sweet Leaf and Deep Eddy founder Clayton Christopher on taking risks and beatingthe odds
Clayton Christopher says, “The greatest rewards come to those that embrace risk and drive forward with passion to achieve their goal.”
As the founder and former CEO of Sweet Leaf Tea, Christopher took the many risks necessary to build a successful, iconic brand from the ground up — a legacy he has continued as the co-founder and CEO of Deep Eddy Vodka.
“I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about,” Christopher says of launching Sweet Leaf Tea. “A product that was really ... best in class.”
"T“The mantra was, ‘No doesn’t mean no,’” Christopher says of the early years at Sweet Leaf Tea. “It just means ‘not yet.’”
With $14,000 in savings and an inherent entrepreneurial spirit — Christopher says he knew from an early age he would be an entrepreneur — he planted the roots for Sweet Leaf Tea Company, a small operation that has grown into a national beverage brand.
“It was the classic startup on a shoestring budget,” Christopher says of the early days. “There were so many times that I thought we were that close to going out of business.”
Luckily for Christopher, his own bootstrap upbringing — fueled by “very humble beginnings” and an entrepreneurial father — gave him the determination to keep moving forward, no matter how many “no's” he encountered.
“The mantra was, ‘No doesn’t mean no,’” he says of the Sweet Leaf spirit that developed in those early years. “It just means ‘not yet.’”
Such was the case with retailers like Austin-based Whole Foods Market. After calling on the store for more than a year, Christopher received a concise message: “We are not interested in your product at this time.”
But that didn’t stop him, or his team, from pursuing their distribution dream. Four months later they got into Whole Foods through a distributor. “That allowed us to get into the rest of the stores throughout the country,” Christopher says.
“The sweet tea vodka will definitely be the No. 1 selling sweet tea vodka in the market,” Christopher says. “It already is in Texas.”
After his success with Sweet Leaf Tea, Christopher started a new beverage company from the ground up, this time with a twist. “I knew I wanted to stay in food and beverage,” he says. “Deep Eddy Vodka — the spirits industry —is very similar.”
In just two years, the locally sourced vodka brand is already bigger than Sweet Leaf Tea was after nine years, with representation in 16 states. Over the next five years, Christopher is confident that the Austin-based spirit will be in all 50 states.
“The sweet tea vodka will definitely be the No. 1 selling sweet tea vodka in the market,” he says. “It already is in Texas.”
Although much of the success of Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka can be attributed to Christopher’s tenacious entrepreneurial spirit, it’s also due in part to the community that surrounds them. “Austin played a huge part of the company's success,” he says. “[It’s] one of the best cities to start a branded company.”
Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka show no signs of slowing down. Neither does Christopher.
“If you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight times,” he says. “You haven't failed until you've decided you're not going to get back up.”