What I Realized About Entrepreneurship From Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson | by Aaron Dinin, PhD | Jan, 2021


“Following your Instagram is like attending a master class in creating business ventures.”

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer / FilmMagic / Getty Images

So much for dry January. The New Year began badly with Slack’s first Monday outage at work, and the chaos quickly escalated from there with the storming Capitol Hill, President Trump’s second impeachment, and fears that there would be a peaceful change of power would. Yes, 2021 was so stressful that people everywhere were quick to give up their 31-day wellness and detox plans and instead reached for their preferred alcoholic drink of choice to numb their PTSD 2020.

In other words, 2021 wasn’t what the general public was hoping for. The growing consumer demand for alcohol e-commerce, sparked by the pandemic and the near-constant whiplash of current events, has been a boon to budding tequila entrepreneur Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. When he’s not busy jumping off skyscrapers, rescuing drowning swimmers or singing his way through animated films, the pro-wrestler who has become a blockbuster megastar uses his huge fan base and sets new records: First, by playing officially becomes number one, following the American on Instagram with more than 210 million followers (and a total of 300 million followers on all of his social media platforms). Second, by selling 300,000 nine-liter cases of tequila just one year after launching its Teremana Tequila brand – a record number for the distillate industry.

The wrestler turned actor Instagram account is spectacular proof that building an audience is more important to business success than having a great product.

Following his Instagram account is like taking a master class on getting business ventures off the ground. Johnson’s Instagram account, in particular, is spectacular proof that building an audience is more important than a great product to business success. A typical example? Johnson recently released a 15-second promo video showcasing ZOA Energy Drinks. His new performance beverage line is scheduled to hit the market in March of this year. But long before ZOA Energy took any place on its Instagram feed, Teremana Tequila and his brilliant marketing strategy caught my attention:

According to her website, Teremana Tequila is:

“A high quality, responsible tequila that brings people together. One that starts conversations, creates laughter and creates moments to cherish with us on this life journey. “

Like me, your eyes are probably glassy over the feel-good marketing jargon. To be fair, I’ve had a lot of conversations about Teremana Tequila lately, but probably not the kind of conversations they allude to. Instead, I spoke to my entrepreneurship students about Teremana to teach an important lesson about why audience development is more important than product development. This is a lesson that most new business owners desperately need. They always focus on creating products and I have to keep reminding them that most products are relatively easy to create. Hence, creating products isn’t what makes a startup valuable. The value of a startup is based on its ability to attract customers.

My example to demonstrate this lesson is Dwayne Johnson. I’ll show them how Johnson – or more precisely the business behind Dwayne Johnson – is constantly using the global brand awareness of the wrestler-turned-actor to sell products that may or may not really matter to him.

A good example of this is of course the tequila. Given that people have been distilling tequila since the 17th century, we can assume that Johnson’s entry into the liquor business didn’t require many technological breakthroughs. Instead, Johnson hops on the not-so-current trend of celebrities using their fame to quickly build an alcohol brand and then selling it for hundreds of millions of dollars. Long known for its collaborative culture, the hip-hop community pioneered the movement that saw Cîroc Vodka’s equal footing between Sean Combs and Diageo from 2007 until Jay-Z took over the Armand de Brignac champagne brand in 2014 . In recent years, A-list athletes like LeBron James and Michael Jordan, as well as celebrity chef Guy Fieri, are getting on the Tequila Express, and there’s a particularly compelling business model for it, especially in the context of the pandemic.

The resulting chaos from political transition and the ongoing pandemic has resulted in booming times for alcohol e-commerce. On election night alone, Drizly’s Washington, DC alcohol shipments increased 133%. This trend doesn’t seem to be slowing as more states allow restaurants and bars to sell alcohol off-premises. According to research firm IWSR, which provides analysis and insights into the global alcoholic beverage industry, online alcohol sales in the US were $ 5.6 billion last year, compared to $ 3 billion in 2019. In a recently published According to the research company’s report: “After growing in value by over 80% in 2019-2020, the US is poised to overtake China to become the world’s largest alcohol e-commerce market by the end of 2021. ”

So The Rock is certainly not the first celebrity to turn their on-screen fame into a booming alcohol business. But it wasn’t until George Clooney – and his Casamigos Tequila – that we entered the status of a stunning tequila tycoon. In 2013, Clooney, Rande Gerber, and some drinking buddies at their Cabo vacation homes signed a deal with a local distillery company to create a premium spirit to give to their friends (#CelebritiesArentLikeUs). Eventually they realized they could add a premium price to their tequila, put Clooney’s star power behind it, and drive lots of sales. It was so successful that alcohol giant Diageo bought it for a whopping $ 1 billion in 2017. Although no films were made this or the previous year, the sale of Casamigos made Clooney the highest paid Hollywood actor in 2018. Number two on that list was Dwayne Johnson, who starred in five major blockbusters (Johnson) at the same time, has since dwarfed Clooney to become the highest paid actor in the world and earn more than $ 20 million per film .

To do Clooney justice, Casamigos’ success seemed – at least initially – more of an accident than a carefully crafted plan. However, it laid the groundwork for more deliberate entrepreneurial celebrities.

Then came Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has a much stronger social media game than George Clooney, and he took advantage of it when he became a partner in Aviation Gin in 2018. The distillery was originally founded in Portland, Oregon in 2006. It jumped around between different owners until it ended up in the hands of a New York-based distributor called Davos Brands in 2016. While I don’t have any direct insight into the deal, Davos Brands has likely given Reynolds a stake in Aviation Gin. In return, Reynolds would have agreed to use his major social media to drive sales. The aim was to make the brand so big that one of the major alcohol retailers would want to buy it. And that is exactly what happened, of course. In just over two years, Reynolds and partners sold Aviation Gin to Diageo for $ 610 million. Not bad for two years worth of tweets.

I am not suggesting that teremena is good or bad tequila. It honestly doesn’t matter.

This brings us back to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his Teremana Tequila. Teremana was launched in early 2020 and is not an established brand like Aviation Gin. Instead, it’s a new brand apparently trying to position itself as Trader Joe’s of Tequila, with an indy vibe and vague hints that it’s healthier than its competition. Personally, I’ve never thought, “I really hope this tequila isn’t too much sugar” while pouring myself a margarita, but maybe I’m in the minority. Regardless, the most carefully crafted part of Teramana Tequila seems to be its near-natural aesthetic. A closer look at the website reveals that Johnson’s team is outsourcing production to an unnamed, family-owned distillery in Jalisco, Mexico.

Translation: There is a tequila producer who has agreed to put things in a bottle with our label on it.

To be clear, I don’t mean any of this like it’s a bad thing. Remember, I wrote at the beginning of this article that Dwayne Johnson’s Instagram account is like an entrepreneurship master class, and I meant it. Every few months he promotes a new product, from the aforementioned energy drink to his recently purchased soccer league to a brand new TV show about his childhood. But nothing seems overly self-promoting as its advertisements are seamlessly strewn with inspirational videos, self-deprecating humor, and adorable pictures of Johnson with his kids. All of this content combines into a marketing giant who, with the unprecedented success of its tequila, continues to show why a large audience is more valuable than a great product.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that Teremena is a good or a bad tequila. It honestly doesn’t matter. What matters is that they use The Rock’s tremendous popularity to raise awareness of the Teremana brand with the clear goal of positioning it for a quick sale to one of the major liquor stores. You can do that because Johnson has a huge audience. If I tried this, I’d have lots of bottles of tequila in my house, no business, and a bad hangover.

As clever as Johnson’s strategy is, I’m even more impressed with how everything is done without much direct involvement from Johnson himself. This becomes clear if you take a close look at Teremana’s Instagram posts. In the last month there were about 30 of them. Very few include Johnson and he almost always wears the same outfit, which makes it likely that the photos were all taken during the same commercial photo shoot where they created this marketing video: