Founder & CEO, ‘Merican Mule
When Dean Mahoney and friends Pete Weil and Steve Pawlik saw people drinking Moscow mules in a Santa Monica bar, and found that liquor stores didn’t sell them pre-made, they realized they had an opportunity to create something new. By cashing out their savings, 401K’s and finding any spare change to contribute, they embarked on a mission, to build the brand from the ground up. Their mission: to deliver premium quality and ultimate convenience with the hottest cocktail on the market. After crafting the original beverage, Dean returned to the East Coast to spearhead distribution. He got a big break at the end of 2017, when a major liquor distributor agreed to add the company as a client. In 2019, the team launched their Mexican Style Mule with tequila, ginger and lime, as well as their Tropical Style Mule with rum, ginger and pineapple, as well as seasonal varieties.
Dean Mahoney is doing things WerthWatching:
- ‘Merican Mule, based in South Norwalk, CT made its beverage debut with its reinvention of the popular Moscow mule cocktail.
- The company has joined with the Bishop Family, founders of both the SoBe beverage company, which grew to a $220 million firm in just four years, and Blue Buffalo pet food, which became a $1 billion business. In addition to their role as investors, the family will advise and help guide ‘Merican Mule’s growth and brand-awareness strategy.
- Dean is a mentor with the School of Business’ Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, has hired Huskies for marketing and sales positions, and is considering starting an internship program.
How is ‘Merican Mule changing the canned cocktail industry?
As a cocktail, the Moscow mule, made traditionally with vodka, ginger bee, and lime, has consistently ranked as a top searched cocktail on Google for many years. You can’t miss the copper mug vessels at your local gastropub. ‘Merican Mule has been served as an upper echelon option for customers, crafted with in a variety of styles with premium spirits.
Having founded the company in 2015, the brand is now viewed by many as one of the original canned cocktails to pave the way for the space. We continue to evolve every day and stive to provide the best in quality, taste, and experience.
In comparison to the competition, ‘Merican Mule is the first to focus on delivering a slew of mules for both lovers of the cocktail and first-timers, using its proprietary ginger base. They are commonly described as balanced, smooth and refreshing. We make “Mules for the Masses,” including a Moscow mule with vodka, a Mexican Mule with tequila, a Tropical Mule with rum and pineapple and a Southern Mule with bourbon whiskey, as well as our seasonal Pumpkin Mule with vodka. No matter the customers' preference in liquor type and flavor profile, there is something for everyone.
This year we launched a Mule Variety 8 Pack – the first canned cocktail to do so with four different liquor bases in one package, a huge point of differentiation versus seltzers and other canned cocktails that use the same liquor in their variety packs.
Where do you see yourself and the company in the next year?
The company expects to grow exponentially, outperforming growth numbers for the canned cocktail industry, as it has since inception. As more individuals try the liquid, they become lifelong supporters of a brand that delivers a superior and highly differentiated taste and continue to spread ‘Merican Mule via word of mouth. In 2021, we had exciting announcements to share including the expanded availability of our products in upwards of nearly 20 states. We will also announce brand new Mules dropping early in the year, to further evolve our customer reach. The goal is to continue to make ‘Merican Mule a household name in each market that we are sold.
How did UConn prepare you for your entrepreneurial path?
UConn was a special place both socially and academically during my time. Some of my best friends came out of my time during school, friends that have been at my wedding and continue to be meaningful people that have truly supported my entrepreneurial endeavors.
It’s so important to learn from your relationships and apply your personal experiences to how you approach building a business. It’s also important to have trustworthy outlets that you can rely on to share ideas and test the waters on whether an idea is worth pursuing. In terms of academics, the UConn School of Business provided a nice portfolio of core tools from finance to marketing, but even more interestingly, courses such as real estate and business law have helped when evaluating leasing office space or negotiating contracts.
What’s your favorite UConn memory?
Hard to pick a favorite but rushing the court (and field) after some UConn basketball and football wins is a top contender. Just seeing the enjoyment of all my fellow Huskies coming together when victorious is something that lasts for a short period of time, but the rush is incredible.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Growing up, my family, including my parents and my brother, really pushed me. They are so talented in each of their own ways and I wanted to prove that I could do something that could make an impact on the world. Building an alcohol brand has so many benefits, from job creation to providing enjoyment in people’s lives. Today, I am married myself, with an amazing wife, a 2-year-old, and a daughter on the way. My inspiration has definitely shifted to continuing to learn so that I can be a role model for my kids and help them understand that they too can make an impact on the world if they work for it.
Describe a time you took a risk. Did it pay off? If not, what lesson did you learn?
In 2015, ‘Merican Mule started as a hobby after drinks at the bar. Eventually as the brand continued to grow, the demands became greater and greater. It required more focus and attention to make sure it was successful.
The risk of leaving a stable corporate job to pursue a business that was started on the back of a napkin will likely be one of the greatest risks of my life. When speaking with aspirational entrepreneurs, I think this is a question that comes up often. When is the right time?
I believe that everyone had their own journey and that the answer will find them in time and determination. You need to be able to invest your full self to what you are building to give it the greatest chance for success.
Did my risk pay off? I am learning more about business and frankly life than I ever could have imagined. The opportunities, challenges and memories will forever change my perspective.
You recently hosted a dinner for students involved in the Stamford Startup Studio (S3) program. What advice do you have for today’s students or aspiring entrepreneurs?
You might have heard of this thing called the 80/20 rule, which universally applies in many situations in life and business. When it comes to entrepreneurism, I find this rule to be of great importance. Many try to get a product or idea to 100% completion before a launch; however, I find it smarter to get to 80% completion. The reality is that you will learn a lot from your customers; finding out what they like and don’t like. This focuses your attention to tweak and make changes to your approach. Anyone can have an idea, but entrepreneurs act on them.
Do you have a professional moment you are most proud of and why?
I’ve had a few that I am most proud of. Anytime that I hire someone and end up learning something from that hire that I didn’t know before, it’s a proud moment. You go into managing people thinking that you need to teach them everything. In reality, your people learn your mission, they can teach you more than you can teach them. I think inspiring my own team and helping them realize what they’re capable of has been the most rewarding part of building a brand, and culture.
Which business tool or resource do you recommend to others, and why?
I’m all about the School of Google. You can basically learn anything you want, just use the internet. It’s going to come down to your motivation to pursue what you’re truly passionate about.