Have you ever heard of Sidney Frank?
^ That's Sydney.
Most entrepreneurs haven't heard of him, but I love his story.
The guy made $2B off of figuring out to how market a generic product (alcohol) and make it stand the f**k out.
He did that twice. Both are smash hits and drinks you've probably enjoyed (or in my case, didn't enjoy, but drank).
Now that I have your attention, it's story time…
He grew up poor and had to drop out of college at Brown because he couldn’t afford tuition.
He married a girl named Louise. Her dad was the head honcho at a spirits company called Schenley Distilleries.
He didn't marry for money (as far as we know), but he did say “It’s easier to marry a million dollars than to earn it.”
He then started working in the family alcohol business, but there was a Jerry-Springer style dispute, and he got kicked out of his in-laws business.
At this point, he had two choices:
A. Stick his tail between his legs like a little baby
B. Start his own alcohol biz, become a billionaire, get revenge, and show her dad up
He chose B.
Sidney sold everything he had to start.
Then to find his “big idea”, he walked around New York at night and popped into bars to see what folks were drinking. One evening while strolling through Yorkville, Frank saw some German immigrants drinking a liquor called Jägermeister.
While Jager tasted a bit like cough syrup (and Germans used it for medicinal purposes), Frank thought it had serious potential in the US college party market.
Over the next few years, Jager blew up thanks to him.
3 things drove the early growth:
- Someone described Jager as “liquid valium” and said it worked like an aphrodisiac. Neither are true. But Sidney made hundreds of copies of the newspaper article and handed it to every bar owner in town
- He created every Father’s-Worst-Nightmare, a job called “Jagerettes”, where sexy girls dressed as nurses and doctors would walk around bars spraying Jager into guys mouths
- He created a cold-tap machine that would keep Jager at the bar at 5 degrees Fahrenheit to make drinking it taste less bad
In 1975 Frank imported 500 cases of Jager to the US.
In 2016, he imported 7.1 million cases.
That’s 14,000x growth in 40 years.
Needless to say, now Sidney didn't need to marry rich. He WAS rich.
Enter, Sidney's next act.
Then, at the age of seventy-five––even though he, and his kids…and his kid’s kids had enough money to never work again––Frank started a new company.
He wasn't done with alcohol. Except this time, he decided to go into the Vodka business.
At the time, the premium vodka was Absolut which sold for $17. So, Frank gathered his most trusted advisors and told them to go to France and come back with a premium vodka.
Why France? Because it sounds fancy. That’s why.
He called it Grey Goose and hired famous artists to design the bottle and packaging.
Here’s his branding genius summed up in six bullets:
- Slapped on a steep price tag of $30 per bottle (twice as expensive as the previous “premium” bottle)
- Spent his full first year profit ($3M) on ads, sponsoring things like high end charity events and sneaking bottles into limos outside the Academy Awards
- Packaged it in wooden crates like fine wine
- Explained that the vodka was filtered through champagne limestone in the French Springs (I don’t know what this means, but I’m f*cking IN)
- Created ads explaining it was the first vodka from France instead of dirty old Russia
- Designed a unique smoky glass bottle that was impossible to forget
Seven years later, Bacardi bought Grey Goose from Sidney Frank Importing Co. for $2 Billion.
Frank then gave away huge bonuses to all of his employees (including a $23.8M bonus to his secretary (!!) and he donated $100 million to Brown University for kids like him who were too poor to afford tuition.
He loved to have a flamboyant lifestyle. When he got rich, he hired a financial advisor to “teach him how to spend money.”
He played golf regularly with Donald Trump. And, as he got older and couldn’t physically play anymore, he hired 4 pro golfers to hit balls for his amusement and he would sit in the cart and watch them play. He also had 4 full time chefs, traveled in a private 727 plane with 20 people (friends, chefs, golf pros, etc).
Lesson #34. When your father-in-law boots you out of the business… Go big. Get revenge. Become a billionaire. And then give back.
P.S. RIP Sidney Frank, who died in 2006.
P.P.S. Before he died, he was working on a new irish whiskey, and an energy drink called Crunk. His motto was “stay busy or die.”
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