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Dallas 500

Meet the Dallas 500: Josh Irving, Socorro Tequila

The co-founder and CEO of I & A Agave Spirits talks about the state of distributor monopolization in the spirits industry, his entrepreneurial journey, and his golf career.
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Josh Irving

Josh Irving, who has golfed in 11 USGA tournaments, co-founded Socorro Tequila alongside Pablo Antinori a month before the pandemic hit. Now, he continues to lead Socorro and has added Soledad Tequila and Jalisco 1562 Orange Liquor under the I & A Agave Spirits umbrella. A proud moment was “becoming a top ten premium tequila in the state of Texas,” he says.

Additionally, for every case of tequila Socorros sells, the company donate one case of water to the Jalisco, Mexico, community where they produce the tequila.

In his extended 2024 Dallas 500 Q&A, Irving—one of our 2024 cover executives—gets real about distribution in the spirits industry, his golf career, and his winding entrepreneurial journey.

Birthplace: Mansfield, Texas

Education: Stephen F. Austin State University (BBA)

First Job: “Caddying at Dallas National Golf Club. After playing college golf and being disappointed in my inability to compete at the next level, this taught me that the game of golf was so far beyond competition. I was obsessed with winning and that was my sole definition of the game. When caddying, it became extremely clear that golf has this keen ability to intensify who a person is at their core. It was the ultimate ‘mirror/reflection’ of that person and insight on how they behaved in their day-to-day life. In my opinion, golf is the best way to truly get to know someone. Since this job, I have used what was learned hundreds of times to understand people more in depth.”

Best Advice: “Create your own definition of success.”

Local Fare: “If I could have dinner with any two business leaders in DFW it would be Field Harrison and Jerry Jones. Field completely changed the landscape of dentistry. An industry that was widely thought of as ‘mom and pop shops’, he created an industry wide brand, Mint. Understanding all aspects of how, when, where, and why would be very interesting and insightful along with the finance portion of scaling. Mr. Jones has never strayed from his ideology that to be successful is to remain in the spotlight and to constantly be talked about (good or bad). He has found and created ways to do just that. I truly believe he is the best marketer and promoter of my lifetime. Hearing specific situations on how he has gone about this would be amazing. Also, learning about what industries he believes his expertise could disrupt would be enlightening.”

Destinations of Choice: “Guadalajara, St. Barths, Crested Butte, and Napa. The culture, care, and craftsmanship of these places have all been an inspiration to me in different ways.”

I Collect: “I wouldn’t say I am a collector but watches are something that I have a bit of an obsession with….thanks dad! To say that my father is frugal would be the ultimate understatement. Ordering anything other than water at a restaurant growing up was pretty much viewed as a sin. However, as it relates to watches, his obsession has overcome his frugality. One of the many things him and I have in common.”

Hobby/Passion: “I golf and snow ski, both for competitive, physical, and mental outlets. Also, I love that both of these hobby’s can be done individually or with others.”

Industry Change: “My industry of spirits and liquor is somewhat monopolized with distributors. What used to be a business of building brands and highlighting great, big and small, companies is now just a ‘shareholder’ satisfaction checklist for distributors. The problem is, 95 percent of market share is controlled by three main distributors. This has created a much tougher path to success for new, small businesses…..unless you’re a celebrity.”

Local Fare: “I recommend Sister and I order the beets and avocado followed by their pesto fusilli.”

Guilty Pleasure: “A Burger House cheeseburger with bacon and jalapeños.”

Fun Fact: “Three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017, I was three matches away from qualifying for The Masters golf tournament via the US Mid Amateur and have competed in 11 USGA golf tournaments since 2014.”

Go-to Adviser: “Jon Kellam has this unique ability to look at things as a whole and breakdown strengths and weaknesses. We also have similar thought processes on work, family, religion, and how to be a leader in all areas. He is an incredible friend that will have extremely tough conversations when others would avoid. Jon continues to make me a better person and businessman. He is someone I am extremely thankful for.”

Toughest Challenge: “Understanding that when starting a business, in order for employees to have parallel passion for your company, you have to break down how and why every employee is motivated. As we have scaled, maintaining that intense focus has become a huge challenge that requires a massive amount of time and energy. However, through weekly calls and team retreats, I continue to sharpen my craft of keeping others motivated by knowing what motivates them.”

First Car: “A silver Volkswagen Jetta. My parents gave me $5,000—and I had saved up $1,000 from being an umpire for little league—to spend on my first car. The true reason I ended up with a standard transmission Jetta was because that is what my older brother got as his first car and I thought it was the coolest car on the planet.”

Proud Moment: “In 2023, we became a top 10 premium tequila in the state of Texas. Due to the success, we reached our ultimate goal of donating over 20,000 cases of water in the past 12 months to local orphanages in Mexico through Socorro Tequila’s Case for a Case initiative.”

A Better DFW: “Growing up, being an entrepreneur was never a thought. Business leaders, including myself, need to get more involved in schools to remove limits on how kids view ‘careers.’ Being an entrepreneur and the work required is not something many can grasp. However, opening up kids minds to possibilities of what a career could be, will encourage them to think beyond the norm.”

Pivotal Moment: “The ‘onboarding’ of becoming an entrepreneur was a pivotal moment for me. There is massive difference from being a comfortable, successful individual and an entrepreneur. In September, 2019 my wife and I had our first child, Jack. In that very same month, I quit my job to chase my dream of creating the best tequila, Socorro. When having a child, there is a protective instinct that runs through your body that is indescribable. I had also taken friends and families pre-revenue investment. So, I have my first child to protect, investment and trust on the line from some of my most respected friends and mentors, and creeping doubt and unknowns.

“Fast forward to March of 2020—I do not like to talk about the pandemic but I truly believe that most people can look back and amongst all the negative, there is positive that was realized through this unique time in our lives—I personally felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. My business partner Pablo and I literally ripped apart our business plan and said everyday to one another ‘the strong survive!’ Reflecting on our launch of Socorro Tequila, the circumstances would tell you that we were doomed, the outcome was beyond our definition of success. We lived in mom and pop liquor stores tasting every person that would allow. While this was not our business plan, it was an opportunity to achieve our main goal of, ‘getting Socorro liquid to peoples lips.’ The feedback was incredible and humbling. I truly believe the majority of people would’ve gone back to their comfortable jobs and chalked it up as a loss. We did the opposite. Pablo and I were so passionate about Socorro and had so much belief in what we were doing that nothing was going to stop us from seeing it through.”

Walk-up Song: “‘A Dream’ by Jay-Z. This song obviously pumps me up but makes me feel like ‘this is my moment to turn reality into my dream’ of whatever situation is in front of me. Side note: That is not really the meaning of the song but the way I take it haha.”

Must-read: How to Win Friends and Influence Others. This book shows that success, personal or professional, comes from genuine care and appreciation for others. Some of the most successful people that have ever lived are not the smartest or most inventive but they have an ability to highlight others talents by truly caring. I love the quote by Charles Schwab, ‘I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop that in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.'”

Spirit Animal: “Cliche, but I would say a tiger. Protective and loyal with killer instinct. I am protective of those I love and loyal to those that inspire.”

Alternate Reality: “If I wasn’t in my current profession, I would be a caddie in professional golf. I have the belief that I can get the most out of people. With my understanding of the game and appreciation for overcoming obstacles to win, it would be a fun job. And I love celebrating accomplishments with others.”

Embarrassing Moment: “Six months in to my first job with Glazers, there was a 700 person conference. I was 24 years old. There was a professional juggler/motivational speaker that said he could teach anyone in the crowd to juggle in 5 minutes. He proceeded to call me on stage. I had never been so nervous. After 4.5 minutes of failure, I succeeded and was somehow juggling. The moment when he called me out of the crowd, I wanted to crawl into a dark hole. Five minutes later it was one of my favorite memories that I will never forget. I really didn’t know anyone and it opened the door for so many conversations with people that I still talk to today.”

Bucket List: “We did our team retreat at Monte Coxala Hotel on Lake Chapala in Jalisco this year. I have a deep love and appreciation for meditation and this hotel really hones in on that. But my bucket list was to do a Shamanic meditation session. The entire team was a part of it and the experience was really special for everyone.”

Key Leadership Strategy: “Lead by example. Develop and exhaust your network to help accomplish your goals. Keep the word inspiration at the forefront of your mind. If inspired, embrace it. If you inspire, reflect on how or why.”

Future Forecast: “Disrupting the category of agave spirits and taking market share from ‘industry leaders’ and brands that have created success through marketing or forcefulness. Being a disruptor when our industry has all but eliminated that opportunity is what motivates me the most. Good product, good people, outworking others, and doing what you say you’re going to do will always be the winning formula—regardless of the amount of money, marketing, or celebrities.”

Author

Ben Swanger

Ben Swanger

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Ben Swanger is the managing editor for D CEO, the business title for D Magazine. Ben manages the Dallas 500, monthly…

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