Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ryan Espi, Co-Founder of First Light Whiskey, located in San Diego, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

First Light represents the start of a new day and the beginning of new adventures. Unlike most flavored spirits on the market, First Light Coffee Whiskey doesn't use artificial sweeteners and is naturally vegan and gluten-free. We combine American whiskey with real coffee extract and organic agave nectar to create a whiskey, unlike anything you've ever tasted.

We've been on the market for over two years, and our trajectory keeps increasing. The spirits industry is extremely capital intensive, and competition is stiff. If you look at any given bar, most brands are represented by a few large companies.

We're a lifestyle brand emerging in a historically product-focused category. Our community ranges across all ages 21+ who have a common belief in celebrating life's best moments with love, connection, and whiskey.

Tell us about yourself

First Light Coffee Whiskey began as a class project at SDSU. My Co-Founder, cousin, and fellow SDSU Alum, David Elizondo, came to me with a spirit's concept in late 2019. At the time, I was working (and admittedly partying) late nights in the startup world while chasing dawn patrol surf sessions in the early morning. I often found myself fueled by coffee in the mornings and whiskey at night…

We decided to take that mentality of choosing adventure and celebrating life's best moments and mix it with two of the world's most celebrated beverages, coffee & whiskey. Motivation is ever-changing. One of the myths of success is that certain people are simply motivated all the time... I've learned that in order to create a pattern of success, you must have the intention toward finding ways to stay motivated each day.

One week, it may be as simple as looking at the surf report and seeing a great swell coming in that inspires you to wake up before dawn and get your day started. Another week could be an inspiring new message from a community or team member that reminds you what you're doing... Always keep searching and know that the energy you carry out into the world is what comes back.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Building a brand that people connect with and creating a drink that people love to share.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

This really depends on where you are in the lifecycle of your business. Right now, we're in a phase of scaling. With that comes the necessity of hiring new team members, delegating tasks, and creating repeatable processes. The challenge has been learning how to manage the three effectively and consistently.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

Be relentless, be authentic, and focus on building relationships with your community.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Shout-out to the SDSU community, the San Diego distillers community, and my close friends and family. None of what I have achieved would have been possible without the love, support, and mentorship from key members of each of these incredible groups.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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