An almost foolish level of perseverance. Believing—against all available evidence sometimes
Devon Trevathan & Colton Weinstein
Q. What were the key driving forces to bringing yourself into the AlcoBev industry? My entrance to the beverage alcohol business was pretty serendipitous. When I was in college I got a job at a restaurant that had a very developed craft beer selection, and even though I wasn’t yet 21 I was expected to be able to sell those beers knowledgeably. That piqued my interest in craft alcohol production and was actually the reason I got my first job at a distillery a couple years later—Corsair, the distillery I worked for, had a small brewing program that serviced the taproom on site. When I took that job, I thought I was going to go in and learn as much as I could about brewing, but distilling quickly stole my heart. I was consumed with the production of spirits. I think the reason for my dedication to beverage alcohol is the fact that it combines everything that’s of interest to me—science, history, culture, flavor, and humanity—in a way that’s engaging and constantly in flux. I’m a creature of change, I like new places and unique challenges. It’s probably why I’ve hitched my business to travel, but I also think that’s why this industry has always felt like a calling rather than a job; it offers so much variety. Because beverage alcohol is universal and historic there are a million different paths within it to explore.
Q. How did you come up with the name for your brand? First let me just say that naming an alcohol beverage brand these days is a near-impossible task, especially if you have a last name that no one can spell or pronounce like mine, so my heart goes out to anyone going through that process right now. It was a huge challenge deciding on the name of our business. At first we looked at words that would communicate the nomadic nature of our company, but that didn’t yield anything, so we turned instead to other important elements, including the why behind our business. We have committed to distilling our spirits in other people’s facilities around the world not because it’s cool to travel or we believed it would somehow be easier but because we absolutely love this industry and the process involved in producing a spirit, and we know that process really comes down to raw materials and place. Terroir or the unique qualities of the soil, air, water, culture, and historic tradition of production is what we love about this business. “Liba” translates loosely from Yiddish to mean beloved or something that’s loved, so we felt that encapsulated the reason for our company pretty well, plus it’s a way to honor my business partner Colton’s grandmother, who was Jewish and used to read the newspaper in Yiddish every day. Without her this business wouldn’t have been possible. Q. What are the secrets to your success? An almost foolish level of perseverance. Believing—against all available evidence sometimes—that I am capable of pulling off this monumental task and that literally nothing can prevent me from doing so. And I guess allowing myself moments to panic or cry or just generally experience a dip in productivity, knowing all the while that I will start back at the grind again the next morning. None of these things are really “secrets” per se but they have been essential to my survival. There isn’t any way to quickly communicate the challenge that is turning a fledgling business into a success so I won’t really try here, but I’ll reiterate that it is a marathon. It is a series of small but significant victories that all pile up to something that resembles success. If you aren’t sure of yourself to a near loathsome degree I don’t know how you can survive the rollercoaster, especially if you’re working on a tight budget. Oh and dark chocolate! Q. How did you raise funding for your venture? Liba is entirely funded by ourselves and our immediate family members, which is great because we retain total control but also poses a ton of challenges since we’re bootstrapping literally everything we do. We are totally tied up in this business, there is no separation, but that can really light a fire under your ass, let me tell you. Q. What are your biggest successes and failures? Biggest success has definitely been launching Liba and surviving the rigors of a global pandemic. Our company’s lifespan almost perfectly overlaps with COVID so I have only really operated in this very rough landscape. That feels like an enormous success. Wow, biggest failure? I don’t know, I feel like I fail all the time! I basically set myself up for it by planning each day very unrealistically, so perhaps my biggest failure has been not coming to this position with realistic expectations because that creates a lot more stress than is necessary. Q. How did you persevere through the tough times? Without a doubt I have only been able to persevere through the hardships thanks to my friends and family, who keep me laughing when times are tough. Being able to laugh through pain has always been my way of coping, and I am so unbelievably fortunate to be surrounded by people I love who really make me laugh. The worst day ever is rarely a match for a couple hours spent shooting the shit and making jokes with your friends. Q. What do you want to achieve next? I want to keep growing Liba, keep expanding our horizons. I have so much faith in this business and our idea, I want to share it with more people. That’s all I can really focus on right now—it’s currently taking up my entire field of vision. I have an incredible amount of respect and reverence for serial entrepreneurs; how they can manage so many operations and shift focus from one endeavor to the next is beyond me. When I’m in something I’m all in it, and right now that’s Liba Spirits. Q. What are some of the challenges you faced or are facing regarding catalyzing innovation? Within beverage alcohol, the most consistent challenge when you’re trying to innovate is being able to communicate the value of that innovation. This industry is so connected and contextualized in its historic tradition, it really can be tough to explain to consumers in particular that you are choosing to defy convention and go in your own direction and then try to communicate why that’s important. With Liba, I am constantly workshopping and refining how I communicate to people the “why” of our business, particularly because the “how” is so involved. I have to get those consumers to understand that we distill our own spirits despite not having a facility, then I have to get them to connect to the idea that the nomadic nature of our business is actually an asset because we can access all these amazing regional ingredients that we wouldn’t be able to use if we were just distilling in the Finger Lakes for instance, so it’s all about communication to me. But what I’ve often found is that the biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity. Q. What are your tips for growing a company? Learn to delegate! Oh my god please get comfortable with the idea of sharing the work and delegating responsibilities because you literally cannot do everything on your own—trust me, I’ve tried. You need to learn to delegate and you should be thinking about how you can involve others and make your company appealing to potential employees from the earliest stages.
Q. What do you have to say to the future aspiring women entrepreneurs? You absolutely have what it takes. It’s going to be terrible at times, and particularly in beverage alcohol there will be people who will look right past you for no reason other than the gender that you exhibit, but regardless you can do it. Your idea is worthwhile and has value just the same way you do. Get started and find those other women in the business (and out of it, honestly) to surround yourself with so that you can talk openly and be given the right advice. If you feel sad, be sad, and if you feel angry, be angry, but then turn that anger into drive and keep working for what you want.