Profiles of Innovation
Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka founder Clayton Christopher on taking risksand beating the odds
"The greatest rewards come to those that embrace risk and drive forward with passion to achieve their goal,” says Clayton Christopher.
As the founder and former CEO of Sweet Leaf Tea, Clayton Christopher took the many risks necessary to build a successful, iconic brand from the ground up — a legacy he has continued as the co-founder and CEO of Deep Eddy Vodka.
“I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about,” Christopher says of Sweet Leaf Tea’s humble beginnings. “A product that was really unique… best in class.”
"T"The mantra was 'No doesn’t mean no. It just means not yet.'"
With $14,000 in savings, and an inherent entrepreneurial nature (Christopher says he knew from an early age he would be an entrepreneur), he planted the roots for Sweet Leaf Tea Company, a small operation that has grown into a nationally recognized beverage brand.
“It was the classic startup on a shoestring budget,” Christopher reminisces of the early days. “There were so many times that I thought we were that close to going out of business.” Luckily for Clayton Christopher, his own bootstrap upbringing — fueled by “very humble beginnings” and an entrepreneurial father — gave him the determination to embrace the risks and keep moving forward, no matter how many “nos” he encountered.
“The mantra was ‘No doesn’t mean no,’” he says of the Sweet Leaf spirit that developed in those early years. “'It just means not yet.'”
Such was the case with retailers like Austin-based Whole Foods Market. After over a year of calling on the store, Christopher received a concise message: “We are not interested in your product at this time.” But that didn’t stop him, or his team, from pursuing their distribution dream. Four months later they were able to get into Whole Foods through a distributor.
“That allowed us to get into the rest of the stores throughout the country,” Christopher says of the move that solidified Sweet Leaf Tea as a viable national brand.
"The sweet tea vodka will definitely be the number one selling sweet tea vodka in the market," Christopher says. "It already is in Texas."
After his success with Sweet Leaf Tea, Christopher started a new beverage company from the ground up, this time with a twist. “I knew I wanted to stay in food and beverage,” he says. “Deep Eddy Vodka — the spirits industry —is very similar.”
In just two years, the locally sourced vodka brand is already bigger than Sweet Leaf Tea was after nine years, with representation in 16 states. Over the next five years, Christopher is confident that the Austin-based spirit will be in all 50 states.
"The sweet tea vodka will definitely be the number one selling sweet tea vodka in the market,” he says. “It already is in Texas."
While much of the success of Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka can be attributed to Christopher’s tenacious entrepreneurial spirit, it’s also due in part to the community that surrounds them. "Austin played a huge part of the company's success,” he says of Sweet Leaf Tea. “[It’s] one of the best cities to start a branded company."
Clayton Christopher beat the entrepreneurial odds, successfully launching two brands that show no sign of slowing down or failing. And neither does he.
"If you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight times,” Christopher says. “You haven't failed until you've decided you're not going to get back up."