How Lisa Barlow co-founded Vida Tequila and launched LUXE Marketing
Photo by Ori Media
The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.
I’ve called Utah my home for many years, but I will always be a New Yorker. The energy and culture on the East Coast becomes part of you. I grew up there as one of six kids, and both of my parents are fiercely independent and smart. My dad has an amazing science and math brain. My mother is beyond creative, and while growing up, she was an activist. She was constantly educating us kids on everything from how to cut diamonds to how gum is made. The impact these two very driven, intelligent and innovative people had on us was strong.
From a young age, I was raised to think my words and actions were impactful. My parents instilled confidence in us. We were raised not to put value on superficial things but rather on accomplishments and character. I knew who I was as a person from a young age, and that was celebrated. We were raised to be productive. I am happiest when creating and building and feeding off that energy.
Growing up with a father who was an entrepreneur, I found confidence in creating my own brands. I had seen it done time and time again and understood the risks and rewards of owning your own businesses. On the walks I’d take as a teenager, I thought about owning my own brands and doing impactful things. At the time, I didn’t know what it would be, but I knew I was meant to do something bold. I was not that girl who worried about getting married and having kids; though I love being a mom and being married, my focus was more on impact.
After high school, I moved to Utah for college. After spending two years there, I moved back to New York and went to the State University of New York at Albany—there, I learned that I could do a lot. I aligned myself with creators and individuals doing inspiring things and learned from them. I am very sociable and naturally gravitated to those who were examples and mentors and muses to me. Your network is everything, and the individuals I chose to surround myself with impacted me and my success.
I love to work and I worked while in school. The roles I put myself in varied at MassMutual, from learning about financial planning to the insurance world, setting up appointments and learning about investments and money management. I loved the challenge of helping to expand the business for my boss and helping clients understand what was available to them. I became the top appointment setter in the company.
One of my professors at the university was very helpful in expanding my view of the business world. Along with other driven students, we would play chess weekly and talk about our goals. At one point, my professor suggested I do an internship at a lockdown school for girls. Some of the girls were from wealthy families, some were from inner cities, and after about five months of working there, I thought, “Oh my gosh, these kids need more.” I saw people through a different lens. This helped me to really understand compassion, how to really see challenges others face and mitigate them. I learned a lot about myself, and this set me up to be a much more aware person.
Photo by Rachel Spencer
I created an opportunity to impact the girls I was working with by organizing Christmas for 130 girls who would not go home that year. Everything I had been doing up until this point was for a reason. The individuals I worked with helped me create a fantastic holiday, and we received donations of coats, shoes, clothing, etc., for the girls. I learned that even though I was just a kid myself, I am good at organizing and building things. This had a major impact on me and my future—and hopefully the girls at the lockdown school. This is where I can vividly remember gaining the confidence to move forward with other accomplishments in my life.
My husband, John, and I have owned everything from a luxury restaurant in Park City to multiple alcohol brands. I have created apparel brands and a luxury line of professional hair and skin products. That drive was instilled in me at a very young age because my dad always said, “You can have anything you want if you are willing to work for it.”
Moving back to Utah
I decided to move back to Utah, where I had so many friends I kept in touch with while in New York. I started working in technology and learned how multi-billion-dollar tech companies operate. I loved the space and still do. I love change and advancement and was a part of this while working for Novell and later LANDESK Software (now Ivanti) in Salt Lake City.
While at LANDESK, I created a completely different culture for the company. I took big ideas with a small budget and made it all possible. I ended up being one of the heads of HR and worked with all departments in the organization.
I learned and implemented compensation structures, goals, insurance plans and products and educated our large workforce on how to use them effectively. I worked with marketing on how to market what the company had to offer to employees, and it sounds silly, but it’s super important: I started having meetings with employees to help them understand their role in the company and how to keep our amazing culture.
During every single job, I always had something else going on in my free time. In the corporate world, I was learning key skills on how to manage and run a big business. In 2003, I married John, and we wanted to have a baby right away while I was still young and had the energy. We had a little boy, Jack, a serial entrepreneur, and later another son, Henry, who is also Jack’s business partner.
Photo by Chris Martin
Getting into the tequila business
After Jack was born, I started a clothing company called EMBELLISH in 2003. In my free time and on weekends, I would fly to Los Angeles. I hired a pattern designer to create clothes with some of the biggest vendors in the city.
I attended trade shows in Las Vegas and had dinners with the best textile makers. One day while John was working in Mexico, he met with our now-distilling partner who said, “Hey, what do you think about being in tequila?” Within 24 hours, I said, “This is what we need to be focusing on. We need to be in the tequila space.”
My parents raised us with a clean lifestyle—at the time, I had very little knowledge of alcohol. I now have love, passion and respect for the wine and spirits space and am committed to being an expert in it. Everything I had done up to this point was for a reason, and I had the skillset to help John with our new venture, VIDA.
VIDA Tequila was started in 2003 and launched in 2007. It turned into something way bigger than I ever thought it would. We didn’t know anybody in Utah in the wine and spirit space. We were the first tequila brand to emerge from Utah. By law, tequila can only be made in certain regions in Mexico, but as Utah locals, we consider our brand a Utah-based tequila brand. In 2022, we announced the addition of BLUE JAY hard seltzers.
We were mentored by the best of the best in the wine and spirits industry in New York City. We had daily conversations with true leaders in the industry and set up the right infrastructure to successfully build a brand in a heavily regulated space.
We had a strong three-year plan and launched VIDA after almost four years of hard work with a custom VIDA lounge and A-list performers. I learned that the key to success in any business is becoming an expert at what you do and surrounding yourself with people you can learn from. We will always have extra gratitude to those experts who took the time to share and help us create our timeless luxury brand.
Photo by Ori Media
"I never want to stop learning. I never want to be stagnant. There’s nothing off-limits for me when it comes to learning and growing and immersing myself in whatever project I’m working on. I think the biggest time we cheat ourselves is when we don’t want to do things ourselves."
When we launched VIDA, there were fewer than 400 tequila brands in the United States. Now, it’s an oversaturated market, and every celebrity is in it. But I was in tequila long before The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City premiered in November 2020—the franchise didn’t exist when we launched our brand.
Launching LUXE Marketing
Competing with multi-billion-dollar brands compelled me to create my marketing company, LUXE Marketing, in 2008. We quickly learned that we could do for ourselves what we were paying others to do. I said, “I’m going to build a team and do it myself.”
The first year I launched LUXE, profits were slim, but it was only for the first year. I have an amazing Rolodex in entertainment from living and working in Los Angeles and New York, and I had our brand at A-list events. We create unique spaces. It’s experiential marketing—we created everything from big concerts to exclusive parties at mansions in Park City, New York and Los Angeles. By the next year, LUXE was a success in every capacity.
Like VIDA Tequila, LUXE turned into something much bigger. It became a branding house, creating and marketing for ourselves and celebrities. As an entrepreneur, I have learned that all good relationships are give-and-take. You’re both giving, and you’re both taking, but it can’t be both taking. I have created and sold multiple brands, and I want to continue to do this.
I never want to stop learning. I never want to be stagnant. There’s nothing off-limits for me when it comes to learning and growing and immersing myself in whatever project I’m working on. I think the biggest time we cheat ourselves is when we don’t want to do things ourselves.
Even now, I have a great team. I have people that help me, but I like to do a lot of things for myself. I believe it’s when we stop doing things for ourselves that we stop learning and growing.