Written by Taylor Mavrakos

Steve Morgan is currently interim CEO at Mavericks Brewing and is an expert in brand management in the alcoholic beverage. After receiving an undergraduate degree in political science from Duke, Steve earned a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.

1. What are your best tips for students looking to create and grow a brand?

You need to have something that is unique and sustainable. Develop a brand concept, a brand name that really innovates and something that when you ask yourself: “can I draw a circle around this? Is there something about this brand and this concept that is unique will continue to evolve? Can I sustain what it is that differentiates my brand?” All of these things are critical.

2. Why did you choose the alcoholic beverage industry? What are the challenges of your industry?

It was while I was in business school. I had seen a posting for a winery that was coming to campus to find summer interns, and it intrigued me because I had always been interested in products like craft beer and wine. So, I got into the interview, it went well and I ended up enjoying the industry and staying in it. One of the challenges of the alcoholic beverage industry is that we have a lot of regulation in the United States, which creates what’s called the three-tier system. It’s an additional layer than what most industries face and you find yourself often times having to work through local distributors to get to your target accounts as opposed to calling them directly. So, it’s a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, what ends up happening is that the distributorships you work with tend to have a lot of resources.

3. How did your Duke experience contribute to your later success?

I think the most important about the Duke experience is the people you meet and interact with while you’re at Duke. That, I think, is every bit as important as the more formal education itself. Certainly the people I met were intelligent, creative, and many of them are still my best friends to this day. There are also good communication skills and people you love to stay up late at night and debate things with. I think that those experiences contribute to one’s ability to focus and define a concept and also innovate. I felt there was such an air of creativity while I was at Duke

4. After graduating from Duke, you went on to pursue additional academic qualifications. How did you make that choice? How did a law degree end up fitting into your entrepreneurial goals?

With law school, the motivation was probably pretty typical for a lot of people. I was a political science major in college, I really enjoyed it, and law just seemed to be the natural evolution from where I was. I was actually interested in politics. So, I went to law school and got involved with a lot of political campaigns. What I actually found was that the retail part of politics wasn’t appealing to me. The law degree can be very beneficial to an entrepreneur because it gives you perspective and, besides the actual degree, you learn to think about both sides of every issue. That’s a big part of how our legal system works in the United States. So, that has really helped me as I’m starting and building a small business. I am able to think about the interests of the people around me, and what they are trying to achieve.

5. What advice would you give to Duke student innovators and entrepreneurs?

I think that one of the things I have found that really works when you are trying to start a new business is motivating the people around you. One of the most effective ways to do that is to create short stories about your brand, the way you make your product, or the people that are involved in your business. Then let those stories evolve and become part of the culture of the organization. People just really love stories, especially if they are succinct and you can keep them under a minute. You can learn what works by gauging people’s reactions to what you’ve created. I think that that’s an important part of how this all works because everything you do as an entrepreneur you have to start from scratch. You have to raise money, attract good people to work with you, and sell whatever your product or service is. You obviously have to be good at selling, and a big part of that is creating these brand stories that give people a way to engage and become part of your brand.