Emilia Fazzalari and her four co-founders including NBA great Michael Jordan, Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens, and Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck founded Cincoro Tequila, an elite tequila brand, after a serendipitous dinner in 2016. Emilia, who serves as CEO and who began her career in financial services at Moody’s Investor Service and then spent 21 years at Bloomberg L.P., has led the charge on creating and launching this new brand after years of research, blending and tasting. The name Cincoro translating to “five gold” in Spanish (cinco meaning five, oro meaning gold) and pays homage to the five founding partners and their pursuit to create the gold standard in tequila. Cincoro Tequila is uniquely made with the highest quality 100% Weber Blue agave from both the highland and lowland regions of Jalisco, Mexico.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Emilia Fazzalari: To me, entrepreneurship means having a clear vision and the ability to execute. It takes drive, hard work, a laser focus on execution and the ability to empower and motivate those around you. An entrepreneur realizes that having a great idea is only the starting point: then you need to get things done, and innovate along the way, doing everything you need to do to turn the idea into a successful company.
As the daughter of Italian immigrants, who were entrepreneurs in their own right, entrepreneurship is in my DNA. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I made my way to New York City with just a few weeks’ rent in my pocket. I had no choice but to create my own path. I spent 20 plus years leading high performance sales teams and running startups within Bloomberg LP, competing and winning in some very challenging markets. I worked with some great teammates and learned a lot about relentlessly innovating and executing.
When the five Cincoro co-founders [Emilia, Michael Jordan, Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens, and Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck] first got together back in 2016, there was such a natural, shared energy that connected us – a dedication to hard work and a drive to do things world class (while having a lot of fun in the process, of course). The Cincoro team is now 34 and growing, and each and every member of the team embodies this entrepreneurial energy. My team knows that they have free rein to continuously push boundaries and do things differently. It’s what makes us better – and makes this journey all the more rewarding.
How did your company come to be?
EF: Like all good stories, Cincoro came together very organically, beginning in July 2016. Wyc – my boyfriend at the time, now my husband – was on an NBA committee with Wes, Jeanie and Michael, and they were having meetings day after day in Manhattan. He told me what great people they are. I suggested to him that we all get together as a group over dinner. Everyone agreed – and when the five of us got together that first night, the bond was almost immediate.
We began the evening as acquaintances and after sharing a series of stories and discovering a mutual love of tequila, we quickly formed the foundation of a real partnership and friendship. We had a drink or two before dinner, and Michael took charge and ordered everyone various tequilas. Some were drinkable, but none were just right. That was when we realized there was an opportunity in the market to create a new world class family of tequilas, made to fit the taste profile we all loved. We had the vision, and that’s what you need to start.
Shortly afterwards, we visited the most awarded distilleries in Mexico and identified tequilas that were made with either Lowland or Highland agave but not both. This sparked an innovative approach to create an ultra-smooth, naturally rich tequila that incorporated the finest distillates derived separately from both Lowland and Highland appellations. We created from scratch and tasted more than 1,000 different handmade, custom tequilas before finally arriving at the incredible formulation that became Cincoro. It was such a great moment when we realized we finally had it! We chose the name Cincoro because it incorporates “five” (Cinco) and “gold” (Oro), paying homage to the five founding partners and our pursuit to create the gold standard in spirits.
The five of us are completely hands-on and involved, from tasting and approving every batch from our distillery, to conceptualizing exciting new product innovations, and to introducing the spirit personally to our chosen family around the country. We believe each of our four Cincoro expressions provide a unique tequila experience that transcends the category.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
EF: Switching to Virtual/Remote Operations: On February 15th, we opened our first official office – and on March 6th, I sent everyone home for (what then was) the foreseeable future. Our sales team immediately stopped traveling and started making sales calls from home. Ensuring the team’s safety was my first priority – it was a tremendous shift and certainly did not fit the original plan. We implemented frequent video conference calls to keep the company connected and communicating. In some ways, the video calls brought us closer together than we would have been in normal times. We see each other routinely now, daily and weekly, instead of just at a quarterly offsite where everyone has to fly in. We even pivoted to launch our brand in new states through virtual launch meetings with our distribution teams. Those meetings had always been in person before, but you do what you have to do.
Focusing on E-Commerce and Direct to Consumer: We always intended to build excellent e-commerce capabilities, but COVID definitely accelerated our timeline. In just two weeks, we launched our own online storefront: shop.cincoro.com. One month later, we launched the industry’s first texting platform: Cincoro Concierge (text us at 325-230-2223!). We have led intimate virtual tastings and interfaced with more of our distributor partners through video chat than would have ever been possible. It has been a busy time, but we have been able to engage directly with thousands of our consumers, and we are just getting started.
Giving Back to the Hospitality Industry: What felt right to us was finding ways to give back to our community, the hospitality community that was heavily impacted by the pandemic including many of our partners, restaurateurs, bartenders, restaurant, and hotel employees. The first thing we did was join the #TipYourBartenders campaign and contributed 30% of proceeds from our online orders to the Bartenders’ Guild Emergency Assistance Program.
We also created and launched the #ToastYourTeam initiative in mid-April that focused on supporting the hospitality industry through the Restaurant Strong Fund and the Bartenders’ Guild Bartender Emergency Assistance Program. The social media movement was simple, “You toast and Cincoro gives.” Cincoro fans participated by showcasing their virtual toasts to their chosen family and those that inspire them, via a photo/video on Instagram and Twitter. The participants included Cincoro sippers and fans from all over including the notable likes of Ahmad Rashad, Michael Strahan, David Ortiz, Jaleel White, Craig Melvin, and Anthony Rizzo. Each participant received $20 to donate to one of the two selected foundations. As a result, we contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the beneficiaries.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
EF: Our proudest moment might be pivoting as a company at the beginning of the pandemic and creating initiatives that are focused on giving back to the hospitality community.
Our darkest moment, and it is ongoing, is seeing many of our friends in the hospitality industry experience devastation to their businesses, resulting in temporary and permanent closures and difficulties. We feel for them and will continue to work towards supporting them and others in need.
How is your company changing the landscape?
EF: Our fundamental “big bang” change is introducing the country (and soon the world) to the delicious, complex, handcrafted Cincoro family of spirits. We love it when people “sip, savor and share” our world class spirits. We are now in over 40 states, and we are seeing great order rates, amazing reorder rates, and receiving many notes from happy customers. People who taste Cincoro Blanco, Reposado, Anejo and Extra Anejo are buying bottles, referring it to friends, and we are thrilled to have them part of the Cincoro family.
The Number Series
We executed a fun, innovative “product drop” – one of the first in the spirits industry, if not the very first. We conceived of offering our delicious Cincoro Anejo in a very special, oversized 1.75-liter bottle. It’s a beautiful presentation of one of our flagship products. Our first production run was a limited edition of 2,020 bottles individually numbered. We raised awareness, promoted the launch exclusively through our digital channels, built a waitlist of thousands of consumers in a few days, offered the product first only on shop.cincoro.com, and then sold out immediately afterwards. We thank everyone who signed up. We also helped our retailers sell through their special allocations of the product by sending consumers to them through our Cincoro Concierge program.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
EF: Embrace all challenges. There is a solution to every problem. I would not do anything differently because every single trial and tribulation we have endured is part of our overall Cincoro journey and makes us stronger.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
EF: I like to live authentically, doing things the right way, for the right reasons. I am proud to be part of the Cincoro family, doing what we can to help the world sip, savor and share our absolutely delicious spirits, and give back to our communities along the way.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
EF: I am a firm believer in collaboration. Growing this business during a pandemic has shown that when faced with challenges, some of the most innovative ideas are born. That is why I implemented companywide brainstorming meetings. No matter if you are in sales, marketing, operations or finance, collaborative thinking can spark some of the most creative, unexpected, and successful ideas.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
EF: Success to me is turning Cincoro into a lifestyle brand that represents a life better lived. We will achieve this by continuing to show up during life moments that are important to our consumers and bringing communities together over what unites us, respect, love, taste and fun.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
EF: COVID has not changed my perspective of success, but it showed me the importance of coming together as one team that has agility and flexibility to problem solve and, in some cases, turn issues into opportunities. The pandemic has pushed our team to think differently, be stronger and resilient during trying times.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
EF: Cincoro is created, owned, and personally run by the five of us who share the same passion, love and vision for the brand. The five of us are completely hands-on and involved, from tasting and approving every batch from our distillery, to conceptualizing exciting new product innovations (stay tuned!). For us, Cincoro is a passion to truly create the finest tasting spirit in the world that you savor one sip at a time.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
EF: I am up early, get a quick work out in, make breakfast for the kids and then I am laser focused on Cincoro. Zoom calls mostly, with my leadership team, agencies, distributors and accounts. I also make a point of checking in with all employees when I can. I take a break around lunch and dinner time to make meals for the family. Clearly a lot revolves around food, what can I say, I am 100% Italian!
What keeps you motivated during this time?
EF: Our employees and their families.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
EF: Caring, innovative, hardworking.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
EF: At the beginning of the Cincoro journey, Michael Jordan said to me “Sit back, chill and enjoy the moment.” Sometimes you need to take a step back, slow down and be present because it is easy to get caught up in the day to day running a business, but taking time each day to appreciate successes, failures, and things we otherwise take for granted.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career?
EF: During my time working for Bloomberg, I was fortunate enough to have many inspiring mentors that aided my professional growth. At Bloomberg, I learned that great companies are built by a great team of people. The people who you work with at the company and the people you deal with outside of the company. During my 21 years at Bloomberg, I was able to form amazing relationships with both mentors and mentees.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
EF: My partners have influenced me greatly:
Wes Edens has this incredible ability to get people to suspend disbelief and make you feel like anything is possible.
Jeanie Buss, arguable the most powerful women in sports today, has shown me that a woman can be in a successful leadership role in a totally male dominated industry.
Wyc Grousbeck has made it his life’s personal mission to cure blindness and deafness and instills in all of us the importance of giving back to our communities.
And then there is Michael. For those of you who watched the Last Dance you saw the power of Michael Jordan. It was not just about winning six NBA championship titles it was also a great illustration of the hard work and commitment that it took to get there. It was so clear that hard work and commitment is what drove everyone and everything.
It is that same drive and commitment that we instill in our team at Cincoro and that inspires me daily.
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