Johnny Heiselberg, CEO, Austin Eastciders Holdings Inc

One of the most fun parts of my job is that I have the opportunity to meet, interact and get inspired by fascinating Entrepreneurs. So I’ve decided to interview some of them as I believe that their story, challenges, and advice will inspire other entrepreneurs as well.

This next interview is with Johnny Heiselberg, CEO of Austin Eastciders Holding Inc.. which is focused on expanding the often overlooked cider category. A genuine challenger brand worth keeping an eye on.

What is Austin Eastciders and why did you decide to join?

Austin Eastciders produces hard cider. We spotted an opportunity to expand the category by making cider influenced by the dry, traditional, English-style and adding a Texas twist (such as Ruby Red Grapefruit). This along with a timeless design and a distinct voice sets us apart from pioneers such as Woodchuck and Angry Orchard who had re-introduced cider in the US as sweet, sugar-heavy drinks.

The opportunity to lead this journey from a very early stage through scaling appealed to me because it offered unrivaled opportunity to have an impact and learn. It also helps that it is a category that I have a personal passion for and that we are HQ’d in a city I have come to love (Austin, TX).

What keeps you up at night?

  1. Liquidity and risks to liquidity: We have tight controls in place and run continuous 13-week cash flow projections. We also vet all headcount decisions with the Leadership Team and have a tiered annual Operating Plan that ensures certain headcount and marketing investments are only unlocked at specific revenue thresholds. In addition, we do of course very proactively partner with our banking and supplier relationships to maximize working capital. Finally, we invest selectively in custom research to build visibility and inform strategy (e.g. Attitude & Usage etc).
  2. People: Keeping our journey critical and high-potential talent fully engaged to ensure we retain and maximize them. We run quarterly HR scorecards, engagement surveys and very active, well-funded learning plans to support retention

What is the single most successful thing you are doing that is growing your business?

Investing heavily in a high-performing Leadership Team through dedicated coaching and courageous conversations. This is driving the development of a powerful, sustainable culture informed by our value set. Members of the Leadership Team are held to a different standard and we are ruthless both in recruiting ahead of the curve for that team and in holding each of us accountable.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?

  1. Be clear about the mission and the broad strokes roadmap. Invest the energy and time upfront to get to clarity. Use resources, network, etc to stress test your thinking
  2. It is all about the strength of the team and the team is all about the people on it. Be clear on the values you want to see guide the development of your business and ensure that the people on the team express them 100% of the time – particularly when under stress.
  3. Staff ahead of the growth curve, particularly when thinking about the leadership team and invest heavily in nurturing your high-potential talent.
  4. Do your runway capital needs assessment for 18-24 months, then add 30-50% (results always seem to tend to the low side of plan…)
  5. Invest in yourself. It can be very lonely at the top. Formal network groups like Vistage are great and very highly recommend bringing on an executive coach as well to support the high pace of learning required to be successful
  6. As the situation allows – set up a strong board to support the strategy work, network development and critical thinking required

What is your favorite online resource?

My better half considers me a Luddite (and she is not far wrong). However, I do love my Economist, the BBC and Financial Times subscriptions. Network-wise, LinkedIn has proven valuable over time both for reaching out to sources of specific expertise and as a recruiting vehicle. Finally, there are some industry-specific tools available such as Lilypad, syndicated data (Nielsen) and VIP (case depletion data) that is invaluable.

You can connect with Johnny on LinkedIn. And make sure to check out the Austin Eastciders website, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

If you are an entrepreneur and would like to be part of this series, send me an email. I’d love to hear from you and your business. First The Trousers is a brand strategy an innovation boutique with a special suite of strategic services for Entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small business owners, check it out.