By Eric Dehm
In 1990, Derek Sisson completed five years of service as a recon Marine.
As he transitioned to the civilian world, he immediately noticed something a bit different about the civilian workforce.
While he was used to a tremendous amount of “esprit de corps” and camaraderie as a Marine, he just didn’t see it once he left.
“In the world of recon with such small teams you’re making sure everyone is ok head to toe, making sure they have dry socks and what have you, every single detail,” Sisson tells CBS Radio’s ConnectingVets.
“That was probably the most difficult transition for me, just understanding wow, this is a different mindset out here.”
Sisson worked in the corporate world working for a sourcing company, helping people find different types of equipment.
While doing that he made connections in Italy that were looking for ways to distribute wine in the USA, which would lead to Sisson getting his importers license.
That import license would then lead to him making connections in the distribution world and then becoming a distributor himself and founding his own company, Famous Brands LLC. At that point, his ties to the military began to have a significant impact on business.
With his background, he found that there were veterans who were looking for help distributing their products on the local level in Texas. Those products were met with some success and Sisson says he was finally feeling the camaraderie he had so sorely missed. That brought him to the realization that if he wanted to replicate that sense of team it would have to be with his fellow veterans. He had an idea for a product that wasn’t on the market and wanted to partner with a veteran company to bring it to fruition. After looking into possibilities, he decided to aim big.
“I did a little research and I said ‘I wonder what it’d be like to team up with the number one post-9/11 veteran owned business?’ So I had a friend who was also a veteran entrepreneur and had a media company and he made the introduction between myself and Dan Alarik.”
Sisson and Alarik, the founder and CEO of Grunt Style, hit it off immediately and Sisson told Alarik about his idea. He imagined a veteran-owned spirit comprised of American ingredients and with a patriotic message behind it.
He wanted to create a new and most American version of America’s signature liquor: bourbon.
Several months later, after researching bourbon, searching for the right flavor profile and everything that comes along with creating a new brand, Merica Bourbon was born.
Alarik, bought into the idea of Merica despite not being much of a whiskey drinker himself. He says he believed in Sisson’s vision and saw a veteran, much like himself, determined to succeed.
And since launching Merica in July, Alarik’s belief in Sisson and Merica has begun to pay off handsomely, with the product having won the silver medal in the 2017 Whiskies of the World Awards and become available in 42 states via retail or e-commerce.
In fact, Alarik says it’s been so popular that the first batch was sold out almost as soon as it became available.
Sisson says he’s happy with the success of the brand and hopes it continues to grow.
He also hopes it can serve as a lesson for veteran entrepreneurs that making connections is incredibly important.
He says there’s no chance he’d have found any of the professional success he’s had, both with Merica and before, without working to make those personal and professional connections.
You can hear a full interview with Sisson from ConnectingVets daily morning show “The Morning Briefing” below.