Alejandro Russo: Co-Founder of Candela Mamajuana
Alejandro Russo is the Co-Founder & CEO of Candela Mamajuana. Candela Mamajuana, meaning “on fire” in Spanish slang, is the finest expression of the Dominican Republic’s native spiced rum. Known for its smooth, sweet taste of the finest rum, exotic spices, and honey, this spirit is made with all-natural ingredients and distilled from fresh-pressed sugarcane in its native country. The approachable spirit can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or mixed in a speciality cocktail. Candela was created in 2016 and is distributed throughout Florida, California, New York and the Dominican Republic. Russo has utilized his background in entrepreneurship and leadership to create this brand that is well-recognized for making the Dominican Republic’s legendary native drink a household name.
Where did the idea for Candela Mamajuana come from?
Candela, meaning “on fire” in Spanish slang, was created in 2016 after I was fascinated by the drink served to me at a hotel bar in the Dominican Republic. It was called “mamajuana”. Intrigued by its smooth taste and exotic spice flavors, I was surprised to find out that I could not buy this and take it home with me. Millions of people were drinking mamajuana every year, yet there wasn’t a brand making it. It was only made artisanally. That’s how the idea to bring the finest expression of this iconic Dominican drink to the rest of the world was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
We’re a small team doing a lot with very little, so productivity is key! I wake up every morning at 6am and go to the gym from 6:30-7:30am. At 7:45am, I’m already in the zone getting through my emails as quickly as possible. At 9am, is when our team meetings usually start. By 11am I try to take a few minutes to eat a quick snack and refill my coffee. I try to do this in the sun, when I can! Mornings are all about execution. About moving things forward as effectively as possible. At 1pm, I eat a light lunch then head back to work.
Afternoons are about opportunities and discovery. Most of my “discovery” meetings (new partners, new initiatives, new accounts, new ideas, etc) are scheduled in the afternoon. Each day is different, but I usually try to close my computer around 7:30 p.m. and then spend time with my wife and adorable baby daughter. We’ll spend a good time playing together, cooking our dinner and winding down. Then, depending on the time I go to bed, I usually try to read right before bed – even if it’s just a little. It helps me shift into sleep mode and turn off the work brain.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start with an idea then try to create the version of it that can be sold. I developed a methodology that helps determine where exactly to draw the line and say “okay, this is good enough for me to hit the market and test my hypothesis.” Next, I test the product in the market and see what works or needs to be changed. I keep repeating this testing process until the product/service develops super fans. Then, it’s time to expand.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m excited to see how consumers are starting to care more about what goes into their body. Whether it’s the yogurt you’re eating, shampoo you’re using or, in the case of Candela, the rum you’re drinking, people care about how things are made.
The modern consumer wants better ingredients, better processes, and more accountability than ever before. That’s actually one of the reasons why we developed Candela in the way we did. We take huge pride in the fact that our rum is made from fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses. The sugarcane is all estate-grown in the Dominican Republic, so it’s as “farm-to-bottle” as possible. And then there’s the sustainability component to it. Our distillery is carbon neutral and uses all renewable energy to operate.
Our story is just one example. Big brands and small brands alike have all started to catch on to the fact that the consumer is more informed, has higher expectations and holds higher standards. I think this trend is incredibly exciting and will no doubt make the world a better place.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am obsessed with being productive. I am constantly stopping myself and asking “Is this the best use of my time right now?” or “What can I be doing differently?” Most times, you’ll find you are working in your business rather than on your business. That’s when you need to shift your focus and go back to systemic thinking and find a balance between the two, rather than getting lost in the day to day. Being able to seamlessly shift from high-level systemic thinking to detailed execution is where the magic is. The best entrepreneurs are able to think in big buckets, and then bring large ideas down to tiny, itemized execution points.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The first step is always the hardest, but it’s important to have a bias for action. It’s okay to make mistakes, but the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is overthink an idea. I’ve always been pretty fearless and a risk taker when it comes to business. But I’d tell my younger self to take action and be less afraid of what other people might think.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I really think college degrees and MBAs are overvalued. Some of the best people I’ve hired don’t have the “qualifications,” yet do an amazing job. If you’re young, smart and hungry you will do a better job than someone older who is more complacent and feels entitled to their role. I’m not saying to skip college or not to do your MBA, but seriously take a moment to consider if it’s the right move for you and the career path you’re interested in taking. Sometimes it’s smarter to spend those years joining a company you admire as an intern and grow from there. You learn way more doing the work than reading about it in books. Again, it really depends on your personality, your skills and the ambitions you have. At the end of the day, it is important to think about these things and not just enroll in an expensive four year degree out of inertia.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I always recommend being helpful to fellow entrepreneurs. Starting a business is hard, so I always try to help in any way I can. Make introductions, become a customer, offer honest feedback, dedicate some time to answer questions and to share your experience when others are trying to start a business. It will all be paid forward.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our overarching strategy is to create products and/or services that are new to the market and don’t directly compete with anything. The famous blue ocean strategy. We’re still in the early stages of this, but as the strategy proves, we have a vast ocean of growth ahead of us.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There have been so many. As they say, “the road to success is paved with failures.” It’s true. The most meaningful failure for me was the one that actually got me started in being an entrepreneur. I was 19 years old when I produced the biggest college party my school had ever seen. More than 8,000 people attended and we only had the capacity for 2,500. It was absolute chaos. The security fence broke, each person came in for free and looted the bars. I was only 19, lost the little money I had made until that point, and had over $200,000 in damages due. And on top of that, my school was threatening to kick me out if the event space cashed the deposit check they provided prior to the party. This was by far one of the toughest points in my life. And it was the trigger to start my first business, SoyGourmet.com.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Ideas are abundant, it’s the execution that matters! I love projects that turn waste into assets. There are infinite opportunities here. What can you make with old tires? Why aren’t we repaving roads with this? What can you make with the plastic waste NGOs are extracting from the ocean? Can we make bricks? Other building materials out of it? There are so many industrial processes that generate tremendous amounts of waste that can be used for something useful, but just lack a system to do that.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Best $100 I recently spent was on a date with my wife after a long period of hosting visitors non-stop. When they all left, we finally had a weekend to ourselves and it gave us the time to reconnect. My family is important to me and having that alone time with my wife was amazing. We watched the latest James Bond movie and ate some great food, all for under $100!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
My favorite tools to be productive are Whatsapp and Monday.com. There’s just no faster communication tool than WhatsApp, and Monday is incredible at helping you stay organized, create to-do’s and assign tasks. The other app that’s saved me hours is Calendly. It minimizes the back and forth of scheduling calls/meetings.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I wish there was only one book. There is so much to learn from so many inspiring people. I personally really enjoyed Richard Branson’s “Losing my Virginity,” and Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog” – both inspiring stories of the ups and downs of starting an iconic business.
What is your favorite quote?
There are so many good ones and I think the best one depends on the stage of your life/business you’re in. Here are a few:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
“I shall find a way or make one.”
“You can have excuses or results, but not both.”
- Remember to find time to work on your business, rather than in your business.
- Being productive is a must, especially when you’re operating a small team with big goals.
- The first step is always the hardest, but it’s important to have a bias for action. It’s okay to make mistakes, but the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is overthink an idea and not take action.
- Ideas are abundant – it’s the execution that matters!
Reference link: Ideamensch