meet the founders: michael arbanas and carlos soto of nosotros tequila
Nosotros Tequila went from a business school project at Loyola Marymount in 2015 to an industry-leading brand in 2020. It wasn’t easy, but founders Carlos Soto (the passionate entrepreneur) and Michael Arbanas (the Type A financial guy) managed to forge their own path.
Nosotros takes no shortcuts in crafting their award-winning tequila. They source agave from both the sunny highlands and shady lowlands of Jalisco to achieve the perfect blend of sweet citrus and earthy herbal notes. Then, the agaves are slow cooked in brick ovens for 60 hours to help extract their sugar. After distillation, a portion of the juice (Blanco tequila) is quickly bottled to capture its natural flavor. The remainder (Reposado) is aged in French Oak barrels for eleven months to impart hints of honey, cinnamon, and vanilla.
It’s painstaking work, but it’s a labor of love for Carlos, Michael, and the rest of the Nosotros team. Recently, we caught up with the California-based duo to learn more about their journey and hear their advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
01Why did you start Nosotros Tequila?
Carlos: I discovered tequila when I moved from Costa Rica to California and it has been my drink of choice ever since. The concept for Nosotros was sparked by a college assignment challenging me to come up with a business idea that had nothing to do with technology. I was only supposed to do an in-class pitch. Instead, I spent months thinking about the idea before traveling to Jalisco and investing my personal savings in sample development.
After some tastings with friends back home, we found a clear winner (now known as Nosotros Blanco). Then, I asked Mike to partner with me. After some brand work, permits, personal loans, and visa applications, our foundation was set. It didn’t take long for this passion project to become our mission.
The name Nosotros, which means “us/we” in Spanish, represents our mission to bring people together. At the end of the day, sharing a drink is a social experience, designed to bring people together.
02What obstacles did you face along the way?
Michael: Once our Blanco was formulated and imported to the U.S., our biggest hurdle was getting buyers to taste our product and give it a chance. With the support of our friends and our alumni network, we were able to make headway and build a modest following.
At the time, we were fairly naive to the competitive nature of the industry. We had a great product and a strong framework for our brand, but we were limited by our capital. Our big break came from the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. With less than $1,000 in the bank, we submitted our Blanco and won multiple awards, including Best Tequila of the Show! Suddenly, we had the attention of buyers everywhere, and that led to our first string of large order sales.
03What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Carlos: Go all in, emotionally and financially. Not having a backup plan forces you to be accountable and move in the right direction.
Also, never burn a bridge. Life has a crazy way of connecting everyone, one way or another. Being grateful for people’s time, and offering the same, will always lead to better relationships.
Michael: Stay focused and never lose sight of your company’s goals. Obstacles and bad breaks are inevitable, but you’ll always find a creative solution as long as your heart’s in it. Remember the lessons learned and enjoy the ride.
04What’s on the horizon for Nosotros Tequila?
Carlos: The first two years were spent focusing on small boutique restaurants. Now, we’re focused on continuing to grow our retail presence.
After three years of development, we just recently launched our Mezcal. We couldn’t be happier with the final product, a balanced blend of espadín and tobalá that results in a very flavorful sipping Mezcal. We’re excited to join the category and expand the horizons of Mezcal.
05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
Carlos: It’s not often that you get to do business with friends. When you’re able to compartmentalize business and friendship correctly, I think that’s a very powerful thing. We push each other to work even harder, which keeps things fun and interesting. It also helps that we sell tequila for a living!
Fun aside, I love this quote from philosopher Lawrence Pearsall Jacks. It’s a reminder of our ephemerality – we get one shot at this thing we call life, and then it’s over:
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”
Michael: As cliché as it sounds, there is so much passion in what we do. Nosotros doesn’t feel like work…it is just life. Every day, we are presented with the opportunity to learn and explore a vast array of subjects. That keeps us constantly challenged and perpetually driven.