Christopher Lai and Danny Huang Of Marquis: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
More points of distribution isn’t always a good thing. We thought that the more places that sold Marquis the better, boy were we wrong.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Lai and Danny Huang.
Christopher Lai (CEO) and Danny Huang (President) are the co-founders of Marquis, an innovative beverage brand on a mission to change the way consumers drink caffeine. With both having experience in business management, brand building, and entrepreneurial growth, Chris and Danny developed Marquis to prove that caffeinated drinks can be good for your body and your tastebuds. Today, Chris and Danny continue to act as the men behind the brand that’s educating consumers about caffeinating responsibly, with hopes to keep the future bright for Marquis and the brand’s loyal consumers.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Interestingly, our story actually began between a boardroom and a nightclub. Danny and I had similar routines — coffee in the morning, an energy drink mid-afternoon, and a vodka-energy cocktail at night. Over time we found this mix of too much low-quality caffeine and sugar was doing damage to our bodies and our minds. We knew that we needed a change, but when we looked for better-for-you alternatives, they all fell short on taste. For us, it didn’t matter how healthy something was, it still had to taste great otherwise we’d continue to drink the bad stuff. We eventually became tired of trying to find a caffeinated drink that was both good for the body and the taste buds. So, instead of waiting for another brand to make the drink to solve our problem, we did it ourselves.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Learning how the beverage business really worked wasn’t easy. For example, when we finally got Marquis produced all we thought we had to do was find a distributor and get it into stores. Little did we know that they needed data to prove that we had a product that people wanted. So, we had to do a lot of the heavy lifting ourselves in the beginning — a very humbling experience.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
From day one, we have been confident in our formula and our brand, but it was really the positive feedback from our consumers that created positive reinforcement to keep going, so we always seemed to find ourselves progressing.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are awesome today — better than ever even. Grit and resilience helped open our minds to allow for change and growth within our product and our brand. We actually just launched our rebrand in January with an updated package and formula and are already seeing great results in both retail and e-commerce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We had about a thousand PO’s printed without the actual order number printed on the sheet.. So we had to unfortunately hand write every single one. Back then it was just Danny and I and what we learned was that one day we would need some help — it couldn’t just be us. Now we have a team that can help us double-check the small stuff.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Marquis is the only drink in the world that uses a blend of yerba mate, green coffee and green tea to provide 100mg of caffeine. We found that this unique combination provides more of a balanced lift unlike the ups and downs of the other caffeinated drinks we tested. Another element that makes Marquis unique is the fact that each can only contains 100mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to a small cup of coffee. For comparison, most other drinks in our space have between 200–300mg of caffeine, which almost maxes out the 400mg daily allotment recommended by the FDA. Our beverages also remove all the bad stuff and put in the good — Vitamins, Antioxidants, Minerals, and more with Zero Sugar, Zero Carbs, and Plant-based Ingredients. It’s truly a winning beverage on all fronts!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s simple, don’t start a beverage company (just kidding). But for those that are resilient… you must put tons of effort towards learning as much as you can about what you don’t yet know. The beverage industry is really a war of attrition, so however much money you think that you need… you probably need more. Having a great product is just the start, after that you must be able to pay for good people who can bring forward good ideas.
Just because someone has more experience than you in the beverage industry doesn’t mean that their recommendations are applicable to your business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, as we stated above a mentor is key. We crossed paths with Rick Volpo who built his career with Pepsi over a 25 year span. He spent many years at the executive level, so he’s been able to provide insights from experience instead of emotion. The most important lesson we’ve learned is to not only how to have high expectations for our people but also what we need to do in order to help them hit their mark.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are big on the empowerment of our people. We love being able to not only create jobs, but opportunities to help those individuals to grow within an organization from a very early stage. It’s very easy to get ‘lost’ in other organizations, we assure that everyone’s hard work is seen and in turn rewarded.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You will eventually be a leader of people, not just a brand. In the beginning, I didn’t realize how much energy it would take to manage teams both big and small.
2. Your role as CEO is meant to evolve as the brand evolves. So, just as you can change the design on your can, you must be able to change yourself. It’s not something that you can really read from a book, it’s something you can only learn from experience.
3. Learn from the brands that came before you but understand that you can’t just copy and paste. Following someone else’s playbook doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to score.
4. More points of distribution isn’t always a good thing. We thought that the more places that sold Marquis the better, boy were we wrong.
5. It’s ok to be selective. Being selective does not decrease your opportunities, rather, it increases your success rate. Just because you have the opportunity to open 100 new stores doesn’t mean you should, you must assure that you have the infrastructure to support it.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Don’t celebrate wins too early. Just because you open an account, doesn’t mean that it’s a win, that’s when the hard work really starts. Also, don’t let the losses sadden you for too long because you can always create new opportunities. You must take each day as it comes otherwise you can lose the very passion made you want to start your own brand.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Knowledge is power. We are living in a time where we have unlimited amounts of information at our fingertips. Today, information travels at the speed of light (literally) but, for some reason most of us are still living in the dark. If everyone knew that they had the power to fix most of the problems that they face each day, the world would be a much different place.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Danny: You can follow us on Marquis’ social channels @drinkmarquis or check out our website www.drinkmarquis.com for more about our story and products. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn — just feel free to search for our names!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!