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Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Samantha Franklin and Eric Trueheart of Black Yeti Beverages

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Samantha: I would say to allow people to have access to their unrestrained creativity. When employees are allowed to infuse their irreverence, magic, and unexpected ideas into their work, that’s when they get really engaged with what they’re doing. Also, pay your employees the top of industry standards!

As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Franklin and Eric Trueheart.

Samantha Franklin and Eric Trueheart are co-founders of Black Yeti Beverage, the company responsible for the new cosmically delicious, Ready-to-Drink, canned bourbon and cola cocktail, Grisly’s Cosmic Black. Their experience in their respective creative industries has informed their dynamic approach to crafting the perfect cocktails, made to bring transcendent joy, fun, and flavor to the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?

Samantha: I hail from the music industry. I’m a founding member of an all-female power Pop band called the Holograms. It made its debut in the early aughts. We had a number one song on the Billboard charts! It was bombastic, rock and roll, irreverent, punk music.

On a total 180º turn, I segued into the integrative health care sector. I got my feet wet in product development and released several Nutraceutical lines. I’ve been able to wield that background experience towards our current business venture.

Eric: In terms of my background, I used to write for animated children’s cartoons. They don’t write themselves, contrary to what a lot of people think. (Laughs.) I’ve written scripts at some point or another for just about every kids’ network in town. Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, I was on a show called Invader Zim years ago, which, for some reason, still has followers to this day.

I even had a podcast about drinking called The Army of Drunks. So, I guess it was natural for me to go into providing drinks for people.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?

Samantha: You know, it’s the craziest thing, there was this global pandemic that hit! We were locked in the house together. We certainly solidified the fact that we liked each other because it was just us nonstop, 24/7. Within that milieu, we created our amazing company. It was the fruit of our pandemic stir crazy.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting your business? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Samantha: A mistake we made early in the process was not delving deep enough into the arcane laws that are the U.S. alcohol regulation system. It’s so antiquated that it feels like we have gone right back to prohibition. (Laughs.)

We had no idea we couldn’t sell our product directly. We were about 75% of the way through when we discovered that you need the equivalent of a record label to sell your product to stores. You need a distributor. Bit of an oops moment on our part!

Eric: Luckily, we figured that out early. However, there was that moment we were doing our research and tracking down the source of our booze and the flavor companies. Suddenly, Samatha comes running in the room and says, “Did you know if we talk straight to a retailer we could go to jail?!” We researched more, and technically it is illegal to sell alcohol directly to a retailer.

We got a quick education in what they call the “3 tier system of the booze world.” We realized that we probably wouldn’t go to jail, but we did have to contact a few people first!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Eric: We have an oddball approach to everything we do. We don’t put a pastoral scene with an image of a lovely sunset on our packaging. No, we decided we want a Space Yeti! When our designer suggested a rock and roll poster artist from Austin we said, ‘Yes!’ When they said things like, ‘You should put the name on the front of the can,’ we said, ‘No!’

We’ve basically approached this whole thing like an art project, and not just the packaging and marketing, but the flavor too. We went through a lot of rounds on the flavor because we really wanted it to be something different and delicious as well.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that these projects will help people?

Samantha: As far as RTD [Ready to Drink] cocktails are concerned, it’s definitely not a health food product, but it’s a happy food product! We wanted to create something that was purely joyful, vibrant, goofy, completely sans of any pretense. We’re in a healing world right now. The scene is right for a great pudgy Space Yeti. We hope people can vibe on the weirdness and enjoy the toasted marshmallow, caramel notes, and aged bourbon. Sensorial fun is what we were going for!

Eric: And we’re definitely not pretentious despite the fact that I just recently said, “We approach everything as an art project.” Maybe we approach everything as an art project that an elementary school kid would enjoy. Well, apart from the alcohol. An elementary school kid should never enjoy alcohol. I want that on the record. (Both laugh).

As far as new projects? We’re working on a couple of new flavors. Cosmic Bliss which is a toasted marshmallow cola flavor. Cosmic Blood is in the pipeline and that’ll be blood orange. We’re thinking about making Cosmic WTF, which is Winter Time Fun. Also, Cosmic STFU which is Summer Time Fun Unlimited. What will those taste like? It’s a secret…

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Samantha: I would say to allow people to have access to their unrestrained creativity. When employees are allowed to infuse their irreverence, magic, and unexpected ideas into their work, that’s when they get really engaged with what they’re doing. Also, pay your employees the top of industry standards!

Eric: Yes, and fortunately for us, we are our own employees. We’re not paying ourselves top of industry standard, but we hope that day will come, some day…

How do you define “Leadership?”

Samantha: Diving in, rolling up your sleeves, and being enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious. If people see that you’re having light hearted fun, it gives them permission to approach tasks the same way.

None of us are able to achieve success without help along the way. Is there a particular person who you’re grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about them?

Samantha: We have had so many phenomenal allies since our very first phone call. Everybody has been so generous with their time and enthusiasm. From our accounting company, to our branding company, to our PR firm, to every artist that we’ve worked with, to all of our friends. This is a collaborative effort. It’s an art forward brand. Even the most straight-laced companies we’ve worked with have been able to let their hair down and have fun. We feel their passion and we couldn’t possibly be more grateful. This company was built upon the efforts of really creative, really beautiful people. We’re super happy.

Eric: Everyone we’ve worked with in this industry has wanted us to succeed, which is the opposite of the entertainment business! (laughs) It’s been great! They give us advice or recommend others who can. They help us with anything from basic information to more in depth strategies, like ways to approach sales or flavor creation.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Eric: Well, we’re still waiting on the success part. We’re not big philanthropic millionaires just yet. We’re still on the launch pad and we’ve just started launching. The way we make things good in the world is… Being kind to animals and children, calling our parents when we can, letting older people go first in line. The usual stuff so far!

What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.

Samantha: D&D is a good foundation!

Eric: We just introduced her to Dungeons & Dragons. She’s already taken by it which makes my 12 year old self very happy! But it’s all about being kind to each other. Taking time to actually do fun things. We haven’t had a lot of time lately, but we’ve managed to do fun activities related to work so there’s that. Also, you should always respect your partner.

Samantha: We have a lot of fun together. We’re very informal, offbeat and quirky. As long as we’ve got a good Pandora station in the background, everything’s good! As of late it’s been vintage Ska and a lot of The Smiths. You want to underscore all you do with music and creativity and kindness!

Eric: Work in general is a lot of stress. It’s really important to be able to turn that stress off and put it away so you can actually enjoy the other person.

You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Eric: There are so many issues out there it’s hard to know what to choose. Our biggest value is that all people should be treated with respect and the same rights, no matter their race or orientation. We live in a time in particular where there’s been a lot of pushback to that idea. We are all human beings with value and potential. When we donate to charities for millions in the future, it’ll probably be around those areas of equal human rights.

Additionally, we really like animals and already donate money to ‘Best Friends,’ a no kill animal shelter.

Samantha: I’m vying for my psychopharmacological Post Doctoral degree. Behavioral health care is my passion. My dream is that the Black Yeti business will sustain me and enable me to be a practitioner of mental health care to help people. There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of sadness in so many of us and I’d like to have an impact on helping people feel happy.

Eric: My passion is getting other people drunk. Eh, that’s not really true actually. But I may spend my retirement years as a professional bartender.

Can you please give us your favorite, “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Eric: How about, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” by Hunter S. Thompson. Or, “Don’t take any guff from those swine.”

Samantha: I also like Mary Shelley’s, “Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul can focus its intellectual eye.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Eric: Elizabeth Warren, because she’s brilliant, tough, ethical, and good with dogs. Niel deGrasse Tyson. He’d be awesome. Or Tim Gunn, because he’s dedicated his life to passing on his passion to people eager to learn, and inspires people to greatness.

Samantha: There are so many! Dolly Parton would be amazing. RuPaul, who forged their own path through a world that didn’t know what to do with them until they showed it. Debby Harry, because she’s an apex iconoclast.

Eric: There’s too many! Bootsy Collins, because he’s Bootsy, baby. Noel Fielding. Bernie Sanders.

Samantha: Oh sweet Bernie!

Anything I haven’t asked you, but feels urgent or important to share?

Eric: We’re at this place where we’re just sort of ramping up our launchpad and just getting out there. Knowledge of our product isn’t really out there yet. So, we just want people to stick their necks out and give us a try!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Samantha Franklin and Eric Trueheart of Black Yeti… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.