Imagine you’re trying to eat relatively cleanly. And you know that habits are really hard to form, and really, really easy to break.
So you plan your meals. You use choice architecture to avoid temptation. (For me, if there’s ice cream in the house, I’ll eat it.) You avoid compromise whenever possible, because compromise is the slippery slope of habit maintenance.
But what happens when you want to enjoy a beer or two with friends — yet empty calories are the last thing you want to consume?
That’s the problem Hall of Fame quarterback, Fox Sports broadcaster, and serial entrepreneur Troy Aikman set out to solve.
Keep in mind Aikman isn’t new to business. For example, while still playing for the Cowboys, he and a partner took over a struggling auto dealership and grew sales by more than 200 percent the first year. (In fact, Aikman made his investment back within a year and a half.)
“Roger Staubach has been a bit of a mentor, and an example of someone who was successful athletically and built a real estate business,” Aikman says, “and I’ve always wanted to prove to myself I could do it outside of football. I’ve done well with a lot of different investments, but the car business was the first thing I was really active in.”
So when the idea for creating a healthier beer came along, Aikman jumped in, both because he loved the idea but also to continue to scratch his lifelong entrepreneurial itch. “I felt like this is the ‘next thing’ for me,” Aikman says, “where I’ve gotten involved not as a passive investor, but where I’m all in.”
The result is Eight, a beer made with organic grains and antioxidant-rich hops and without adjuncts, fillers, or sugars. “I thought we could create a ‘better for you’ beer,” Aikman says, “and we’ve accomplished that.”
The “we” includes seasoned beer industry co-founders, and product development by award-winning brewmaster Phil Leinhart as well as food science researchers at Oregon State University.
“I don’t feel like I have great strengths,” Aikman says. “When I objectively evaluate myself, I don’t think I’m great at many things. But I do think I’m great at judging people, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts.”
Instinct is actually developed through time and experience. According to Aikman, whenever he’s been wrong — whenever he’s “missed” on something — it wasn’t because the idea wasn’t good. Or the concept wasn’t good. Or the product wasn’t good.
“It’s because we couldn’t execute,” Aikman says, “because we had the wrong people.”
“So what I’ve learned,” he continues, “is to bet on people more than anything else. If you have good, smart, hard-working people, then you have a chance. So when I met my now partners, what made me feel we had a chance was that they are really smart people. I couldn’t be happier with them, with the way we execute. I’m pretty strict and regimented on how I feel things should be done, and they’ve been with me every step of the way.”
Which is crucial, since the beer industry is incredibly competitive — especially this segment of the beer industry. Taste matters. But so does marketing. And distribution. And myriad other challenges and roadblocks that can derail any startup.
Including competition. There are approximately 9,000 breweries in the U.S., and Eight enters arguably the most competitive segment.
Which, as Aikman realizes, makes execution crucial. That’s why the introduction of Eight will be measured: In draft form in bars, restaurants, and other on-premise accounts in Texas in February, and then starting in March in can form at retail locations throughout the state.
“We felt it was time or something fresh and something new. Then, talking with people in the beer business, it became apparent that what we felt is how a lot of people feel. I was excited initially, but I’m more excited today because of the two years we’ve spent putting it together, getting distributors involved — we’ve had a lot of good things go our way.”
So what does success look like for Eight?
“If we expand outside of Texas,” Aikman says, “that would be great. But if we never left Texas, that would be OK too, as long as the business is successful. But I don’t have an end game or an exit in mind. I enjoy it, it’s been fun, and I’m proud of the product of the brand. That in itself is success.”
So is the way Aikman has crafted (pun intended) a life that balances family, his job as a broadcaster, and his entrepreneurial pursuits. What could seem overwhelming is actually energizing. By the time the football season is over, he’s eager to spend more time on business; by late summer, he’s excited and looking forward to football.”
So why add even more to his plate by launching a beer business? “When you’re in business, the scoreboard is money, but for me that’s not what this is about,” Aikman says. “It’s not about wanting more, or accumulating more.
“It’s about a challenge — and that I don’t ever want to feel like I’m not being productive, not doing what I want to do, and not learning more.”
Which sounds like a perfect definition of what success looks like.