Seeing the fruits of alumni success only reaffirms the importance of a line in The Univeristy of Tulsa’s mission: to prepare individuals to make meaningful contributions to our campus, our community and our world. One Collins College of Business alumnus, Curnelius Arnick, is doing all that and more with his full-time career and as chief financial officer of his business, Tequila with Friends.
Tequila with Friends is an award-winning tequila brand that started as a blog in 2018 but has since transformed into a smashing success for all co-founders involved. Brandon Scott (CEO), Roddrick West (business operations) and Devin Woodson (marketing) were Arnick’s best childhood friends. Now, the four men get to collaborate and watch each other succeed on a daily basis.
Despite being recruited by many schools to play football, Arnick ultimately landed on the decision to attend TU because of the exceptional academics. In 2011, he graduated with a degree in business management, and he received a second degree in marketing during his bonus year of athletic eligibility. Both of which, Arnick claims, provided him with fundamental business know-how. From accounting principles, budgeting and forecasting, supply chain management and writing up business plans, TU’s business school left no stone unturned. “I can truly say that I have been able to apply the knowledge I learned from TU to the business I’ve been building for the last five years,” Arnick said.
The prosperous path
Arnick has been juggling his successful spirits company and his full-time job with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas as a senior finance business partner for five years. “I’ve worked nights and weekends with my childhood friends to build our brand,” said Arnick, who reports being able to manage both relatively well. “My key to handling the strenuous schedule is having a good balance with time management and understanding the importance of prioritizing.”
Building a start-up has changed Arnick’s life in ways he initially never thought possible. Through his involvement with Tequila with Friends, Arnick’s journey has introduced him to some of the spirit industry’s best. “I have met so many great people who genuinely want to help our company grow,” said Arnick, whose products were featured at the 2022 NFL Draft, the NFL 360 event during Super Bowl LVII weekend and even the Grammy Awards. These high-profile events have provided excellent exposure for Tequila with Friends.
However, the road to success has not always been smooth. Learning the nuances of the spirits industry has been one of the biggest challenges facing Arnick and his team. He reported spending countless nights researching federal and state laws, understanding permits and licenses by market, learning the process of importing products across the U.S.-Mexico border, building relationships with distribution and logistics companies and establishing credibility with new prospective customers. “By being willing to learn something new every day, I’ve been able to overcome these challenges,” Arnick said. “I’m not afraid to make mistakes, and I make sure that a mitigation strategy is implemented when mistakes do occur. I don’t fear them, but rather learn from them.”
In November 2020, Arnick’s team secured distribution and landed their first sale to a retail account. “I will never forget visiting the account to see the Tequila with Friends Blanco bottle sitting on the shelf amongst other brands,” he said. “We had been told ‘no’ so many times that it was starting to get discouraging.” But eventually, the late nights, emails and phone calls finally paid off: “It was inspiring to purchase a bottle of my own tequila from a local spirits store.”
Last November, Tequila with Friends was featured at the Black Alumni reunion during Homecoming weekend. Hosted by the Black Alumni Leadership Council, the visit was made even more special because Arnick was accompanied by his wife, Tori, who graduated from TU in 2014. “She helped me promote the brand at a place where we share so many memories,” Arnick stated, thinking of the steps of McFarlin Library, which was a favorite hangout spot during the pair’s undergraduate experience. “We are very thankful that the staff in the Alumni Association office extended us the invitation. We look forward to future collaborations with TU,” he said.
Due to the long hours and hard work that business ventures demand, any spare time that Arnick gets is dedicated to his chief support system, his family: “My wife has been my No. 1 supporter in all that I do. My daughter, Teigan, is the spark that keeps my fire going. Any free time that I get, I am spending it with my girls.”
Looking ahead, Arnick and the Tequila with Friends team hopes to make their brand a household name. “We want to further saturate our current markets of Texas, California, Washington, D.C., and Maryland with our presence,” he reported. “As we continue to build key relationships, we plan to expand to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana within the next few months.”
A word of advice
After five years of trial, error and success, Arnick has a few critical pieces of advice to share with students and alumni considering the business owner’s path. The first is to conduct extensive research: “No matter what venture you pursue, you must know the business inside and out. This will help with evaluating opportunities and identifying any risk that can impact your business.” Next, do not underestimate the value of building great relationships and the power of networking: “You never know whom someone else knows or the connections they can forge for you.” Arnick’s last piece of advice is to be unafraid of failure or rejection: “One of my favorite Denzel Washington quotes reflects this: ‘Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fail forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.’”
Want to help Arnick and the Tequila with Friends team? Request Tequila with Friends at your favorite spirit stores, bars and restaurants, and follow Tequila with Friends on all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to help spread their story. If you’re interested in learning more about business and maybe starting your own company, check out the Collins College of Business’ new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship!