Ricky Miller – How A Linebacker From Tustin California Beat Cancer & Forced His Way Into The Luxury Vodka Market.
Ricky Miller has heard it all:
“Stick To Football, What Do You Know About Vodka?”
“There Are Already Hundreds of Vodka Brands On The Market.”
“You Will Never Make It, This Is Crazy.”
Ricky was undeterred. He had found out about a new way to to produce vodka that would result in a more pure product. In the world of vodka production, the less impurities, the better the vodka.
Ricky knew that having an idea is one thing, executing on that idea is another thing altogether.
It was going to take a lot of effort and determination. As far as Ricky was concerned, nothing short of a disaster would stop him.
Ricky’s phone started ringing. It was his Dr. His Dr said 5 words that would change Ricky’s life forever.
“You have stage 3 cancer..”
Find out what happened next when Ricky Miller drops in for a chat on the next episode of the “When It Worked Podcast.”
- Building start-ups
- Lifestyle of dedication
- Developing interest around a product, business, or brand
- Personal experiences such as successes and failures in the topics above
- The importance of grit, personal growth, and one’s mindset
- Having a positive perspective towards failure and learning in spite of setbacks
- Being a lifelong student and being comfortable in uncomfortable situations
Julian Leahy: Today I’m joined by Ricky Miller from the United States over in California former, football star with Fresno State. Ricky has created a luxury vodka brand. Hello Ricky welcome to the podcast.
Ricky Miller: Thanks for having me no problem at all.
Julian Leahy: So you’ve launched Carbonardi Vodka. now Carbonardi is a little bit different from most Vodka Brands out there. Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing that’s different to some of the other brands.
Ricky Miller: You know the first thing that comes to mind when people ask me about the differences with Carbonadi is that you know the vodka category in itself is a very saturated over competitive category, so there’s a lot of monotony. So what we’ve done is, we’ve gone on higher end, where there’s a lot less competition and created a sipping vodka. It’s not intended to be mixed in a cocktail. It has a very creamy texture so that you can enjoy it and it’s super clean so that you’re not smacked in the face.
We have a very different type of process. We filter it through raw black diamonds which extract more impurities than a conventional filter can extract and then we microoxygenate it which is a common wine process. Where it’s basically like simulating barrel aging and that gives it a really really smooth texture.
Julian Leahy: So it’s about as pure as it can get and I just wanted to ask you. How did you come up with the idea that it’s better to not try and compete on low price. The race to the bottom as far as pricing goes. How early on did you identify that you wanted to place yourself as a luxury brand and that way you could just sort of separate from what everyone else was doing?
Was that from straight away you knew that’s what you wanted to do?
Ricky Miller: Yes because I’m more of a brand builder than I am a vodka lover. So i wasn’t into that race to the bottom that you referred to. I wasn’t interested in doing that. You know having only one product, I couldn’t afford to do that. A lot of the brands can’t afford to do that because the vodka is just one piece of their portfolio.
Julian Leahy: Did you have any experience in brand building. I know you’ve got a couple of other brands. Is that sort of where you developed that perspective on the importance of building a brand?
Ricky Miller: Yes for sure I mean after football and trying a bunch of different things. I ultimately fell in love with beverage marketing and just marketing products in general.
Creating a brand and creating a product that consumers want to drink or consume. That competitiveness in me, the creativity really sparked the passion for creating brands.
Julian Leahy: Do you think that the competitive side of your personality is something that you fostered through playing elite sports.
Ricky Miller: Yes I think my mother raised me like that. You know to always compete but yeah playing sports and being in a sports family you know. Everybody in my family played sports it was always a competitive environment. So yeah competition which is part part of me.
Julian Leahy: If you could start again what is the one thing that you wish you had known before you started Carbonadi, that would have helped you with the building of the brand.
Ricky Miller: That’s a great question. I would have gone a lot slower rather than jump into as many markets as I am now. I would have picked one market like Southern California and I would have focused there and gone as deep as I could before spreading out to other markets but you know as a young excited person wanting to take over the world, type of entrepreneur jumping into you know multiple markets was fun for me.
In my head it equated to growth but really you know, it takes developing your systems and processes and marketing and duplicating that in other places so I would definitely focus on a smaller footprint and perfected what i was doing before.
Julian Leahy: It’s a bit of a catch-22 isn’t it with hindsight I could see where you would gain that knowledge but you know you can’t sort of you can’t beat the enthusiasm of thinking that you can just take over the world. That would probably be an asset in itself.
What advice would you give to somebody wanting to get into the liquor market and maybe the luxury liquor market. Somebody that was breaking into it and had no idea what to do or where to start?
Ricky Miller: I would just say that their why needs to be strong. The reason needs to be something other than making a lot of money. There is going to so many deterrents and it is such a tough business to break into. You really need to enjoy the journey. There are so many obstacles and unfair situations that you really need to have a passion for it. If You don’t you will be filtered out pretty quick.
Julian Leahy: I think that a lot of people do have that mindset when they go into business that they just want to try and quickly make it work. It is just not how things work so you need to really embrace the process and love what you are doing.
You talked about some obstacles that came along that could have really made you quit if you didn’t have the right reason for doing it in the beginning. What are some of those obstacles?
Ricky Miller: Lack of money and getting diagnosed with cancer, where I could have just easily said, you know what, I am just going to focus on beating this.
Lack of knowledge in the industry.
Julian Leahy: Tell us about the day when you found out that you had cancer.
Ricky Miller: That was 5 years ago. It was just another day at the office and I had to use the bathroom and there was all this blood poring out. I didn’t know what it was and I ended up going to the hospital with internal bleeding. I went through 9 blood transfusions and a bunch of tests to discover that I had stage 3 bowel cancer.
This happened when I was right in the middle of launching my company.
That could have easily been a reason to quit.
Julian Leahy: How long did it take for until you could focus back 100% on the business?
Ricky Miller: I never stopped to be honest with you. I had chemotherapy every week. Every other week I had to work from home because I would be vomiting for a week at a time. So the week that I felt good, I would be out in the field doing what I needed to do.
That whole process lasted 9 months and 2 operations and then it was behind me.
Julian Leahy: That’s great Ricky. So you have got a clean bill of health now and a new resolve. If cancer couldn’t stop you, I don’t think anything can.
What are some of the resources that you have used that really help you along the way.
Ricky Miller: The internet! I really read a lot. I read all of the industry sites like Shanken News Daily. The Spirits Business which is the UK based alcohol industry blog. I just consumed as much industry information as I possibly could. Ultimately over time, I became very knowledgeable. I also asked a lot of questions to people in the industry. I learned in every conversation. The more questions I asked, the more answers I got and the more clearer it got in terms of how to play this game. Every day it gets clearer too,
Every morning when I wake up, I read Shanken News Daily and the spirits news. Shanken is like the ESPN of the spirits game. It talks about acquisitions, mergers and all of the new products and distribution deals. Anything and everything that has to do with spirit companies out there. If you want to know what is going on in the industry, Shanken News is where it’s at.
Julian Leahy: Who are the people that helped you? How were you accessing them? Was it all on Facebook?
Ricky Miller: No, it was all out in the field. Especially through my distributor, they know the market really well and they know what other brands are doing. I just wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I would ask;
“How are these brands marketing”,
“How much are they spending”,
“Where are they pricing their product at”?
“How many people do they have servicing this market”?
I would just ask question after question and take not. That is how I came to understand how it really worked.
Julian Leahy: Who would be 3 people who have been the most influential to you?
Ricky Miller: My mom, my step dad and my son.
Julian Leahy: What is one common myth about the industry that you believed before you got into it, that you no longer believe to be true.
Ricky Miller: Great question. I think that most entrepreneurs think, that if they have a great brand and a great product, then the business will just come to them. You know, that all of the bars and restaurants will want them and everyone will start ordering and you are off to the races. That is just not the way it goes. I don’t care how good your product is and I don’t care how much money you have to spend. It is going to take time. There is a lot of politics. That is why patience is so important in this game. Everyone has a different agenda and you have to work within that,
Julian Leahy: A theme of what you are saying is that it’s not going to happen over night and you have got to be patient. Embrace the process and the grind. How many years did it take. I mean it must have been rough in the beginning. How long did it take for you to gel that this is all working and you were starting to get consistent revenue.
Ricky Miller: Just now…8 years! I launched in 2013 and now we are starting to get consistent orders. We are getting unsolicited orders. Before this, I knew every single deal, because I was the one making every deal!
Recently I was working through the airport and I saw Carbonadi on sale.
Julian Leahy: That must have been a great feeling!
Ricky Miller: The best. That has started happening in the last year.
Julian Leahy: Where can our listeners connect with you online?
Ricky Miller: Instagram, Rickymillerthethird and our website House Of Carbonadi. I just started on TikTok (Rickymillerthethird) too!
Julian Leahy: I put all of your socials on my blog. Ricky what I want to end on is: Would you say there has been a defining moment in your business? Something that you did to really tip things in your favor? Something that might help the listeners out there.
Ricky Miller: Yes there was.
I knew that I needed to go directly to the founder and the decision maker. There is no point in dealing with the gatekeepers as they ultimately do not have the power to make a buying decision. I needed to connect with the founders and CEOs on a human level. Then when they introduced me to the lower level buyers, the conversation was completely different. They could no longer ignore me. Before this, when I walked into luxury hotels, I would get laughed out of the building.
Julian Leahy: So how did you manage to get connected with the right people?
Ricky Miller: I needed to go direct and I also felt that I needed to have a luxury hotel brand as a client. I found that people would ask, who else was selling my product. If I couldn’t provide a well known hotel or bar, then the conversation would end there.
When I think luxury hotels, I think the Four Seasons. I found out who the founder was, Issy Sharpe. I send him a package in the mail with his own and his wife’s books. I told them I was a big fan and wanted to get the books autographed. I also got a custom shirt from Issy Sharpe’s Alma Mater.
He invited me out to his house in Canada. Before I went out there, I got my dad to paint a portrait of him with his family. I flew out there and ended up spending hours with him at his house.
That is how the Four Seasons became my first customer.