Liquid Death Murdering Your Thirst with Steve ‘Stix’ Nilsen

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Liquid Death Stone Cold Mountain Water VP of Marketing Steve Nilsen

Stix started his career off in the world of action sports at Airwalk as a Snowboard Boot Developer then Snow Division Manager. He then went on to be Sports Marketing Manager at Red Bull followed by creating the Lifestyle Marketing program for Pabst Brewing Company pushing the limits on creative branding. He is now VP Lifestyle Marketing Liquid Death canned water taking the drink to the action sports, music and lifestyle segments. Liquid Death Water is canned water from the Austrian Alps that debuted January of 2019. With savvy marketing campaigns they have gone full throttle in the CPG space and beyond. 

Tune in to find out how Stix started his career in action sports, his journey in marketing and what future projects he has in the mix. 

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Read the transcript:

Oli: Hey guys, it’s Oli from Rad Season. I’m stoked to be joined today by Stix, otherwise known as Steve Nilsen, the Vice President for Lifestyle Marketing at the water brand Liquid Death. Stix, thanks for coming on the show, man.

Stix: Thank you for having me. Really appreciate it.

Oli: No worries. Whereabouts are you at the moment?

Stix: I’m in Evergreen, Colorado. I’ve actually been here for 20 years. So, especially in a pandemic, as you can relate to where you’re at, it’s just nice to be in a beautiful part of the world.

Oli: Yeah. What’s the situation like? Have you been able to get out?

Stix: I have actually. To me, honestly, I feel safer on planes than being out at Target right now with the pandemic. So apparently, you know, we had shut down. It was crazy because for the first time in my life, and I’m sure for everyone who rides, we went from having a wonderful snow season to literally a hard stop. Everything’s closed, so it’s been very odd. 

I know I speak for billions of other people, but I guess if I’m going to be stuck somewhere, my home in the mountains of Colorado is where I want to be. But it’s getting crazy here in Colorado. We’ve had a big spike in this plague, and just god-willing it’ll pass. 

Oli: What are they looking to do with the resorts?

Stix: Yeah, I was just in Vail this weekend. I was meeting actually, ironically, with the Parking Pipe crew, meeting with the Ski and Snowboard School, introducing them to Liquid Death. As we were talking, they had launched last Friday a reservation system for the Epic Pass. For anyone who doesn’t know about the Epic Pass, I think half the world has an Epic Pass. My point is, it’s very odd for all of us to have to actually make a reservation to go ride because usually in the outdoors you can go where you want to go when you want to go. So it’ll be very interesting how they’re gonna be able to curb the traffic because Vail was probably the epicenter of the craziness. 

I mean, that place is nuts. They’ll get 20,000 people on a busy weekend. Now that they’ll have to do a reservation system to do every other chair, it’s gonna be really interesting. God bless those lifties who are gonna have to deal with some angry customers.

Growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Oli: It’s gonna be interesting, man. Before Colorado, you’ve been there for 20 years, but you grew up in Minnesota, is that right?

Stix: That’s right. Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a matter of fact, I summer there a lot. I have a cabin there, which was really kind of a great getaway this summer. It’s in a small little town called Spicer, Minnesota, a one-stoplight town. Basically, and it’s like the world used to be when you go there. People look at you like you have three heads if you have a mask on. 

No, I’m kidding. People there were very respectful, it’s Midwest. Just to be on the lake, to be on the water, you just feel like it’s kind of normality. That’s where I grew up, still have my family and a lot of friends. So it’ll always be home. I just haven’t lived there in a long time.

Oli: Was that where the interest started with action sports for you?

Stix: Yeah, ironically, there’s a lot of ski areas in Minnesota. That may sound crazy, because people consider it kind of a flyover state, if you will. As a family, we would go on our token trip every year to the little resorts. There was one called Lutsen in northern Minnesota, or Quadna in Wisconsin. Basically, between Christmas and New Year’s you get a bunch of families that go do that. Of course, snowboarding didn’t exist at the time, but it was always fun, and it was limiting for me because I was always busy with ice hockey so that took up a lot of my time in the winters. 

Going to Hawaii

What really pushed me over the edge is that Minneapolis was the home of Northwest Airlines, which became Delta. We would vacation in Hawaii every year because we actually had relatives there. That’s really where the antennas went up.

I was just fascinated with the brands. As a matter of fact, the two brands that I was really fascinated with, one was Mossimo. I remember they had these iconic neon shorts that had an M on the back and I just thought they were so cool. Of course, that brand is dead matter of fact, the guy who founded it I think is in prison now. Anyway, that and then Stussy was one that I really liked. I don’t know, just something about the designs, the clothes, the colors, the logos, all that. I’m still a fan of that brand to this day. They’ve somehow been able to stay relevant all these years. 

That was really when the light bulb went off with the whole thing. It was really more surf, to be honest with you, previously before snowboarding really got going. It’s kind of funny how that happened because it’s a nine-hour flight from Minneapolis to Honolulu, and that was where the lightbulb went off.

Oli: Where would you guys go? Would you be in Oahu?

Stix: Yeah, the relatives were in Oahu, and then we would spend some time there and then go over to Kaanapali Beach in Maui. I can’t say I started surfing there because frankly, a lot of beaches aren’t surfable like right at Kaanapali Beach is more body surfing. But again, it’s that whole lifestyle. You’d see some of the locals hanging around, and that whole beach lifestyle was really, really attractive to me. Just everything about it. 

Later in life, one of my siblings had a home in Kauai, and that was another level. I’ve been to Fiji, Tahiti and the Cook Islands, and it kind of reminded you of that, you didn’t think you were in a US province being in Kauai. So that was one that I found out later in life like I said Hanalei Bay and everything like that. 

I took my children there. It’s amazing. They’ve got the surf bug themselves. Matter of fact, they keep boards in Encinitas, my identical twins. They’re actually going over Thanksgiving to go surfing. 

Studying and working in Australia

Oli: So from doing those holidays and then coming back, were you thinking, okay, I want to go move somewhere, I want to go traveling?

Stix: Kind of. My siblings have gone overseas to study. My sister went to Spain and Norway to study. I had a sister who lived in France and a brother who was in London, and so I went back to Hawaii, so attracted to this whole beach, that I wanted to go somewhere warm, basically. 

I got into a program in Australia, and that was for school, part of college. I was living up in Queensland. So we had access to all the amazing parts, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Surfer’s Paradise. Again, I’m still to this day not gonna get barreled anytime soon, but I just fell in love with it and started. I got the bug to learn how to surf, whatever your definition of learning is. 

When I got back, I finished college and then I went right back to Australia to work. That’s where I had my epiphany, where I was like, this is what I want. I lived in Bondi back before they even put pools in or anything, they were haggard little vert ramps. I just remembered it just hit me. I knew exactly where I was sitting. 

That’s really how it started. It really is. I was just living it because I almost felt like a poser. You know what I mean? Just being down there. But then I was like, you know, I want to get into this, I want to participate in all of it. That’s what lit the fuse, so to speak.

Oli: What were you doing for work in Sydney?

Stix: I was working for, it was called Land of Oz Consulting, no joke, and they did nonprofit work. I thought I was gonna be a copywriter, I thought that’d be the least painful job to have as an adult. So I went in there to write for nonprofits like the Arthritis Foundation of New South Wales. I still have some of the ads, they’re super simple, but truthfully, it was to get a work tax file number there so I could live there legally, and work, and live the life so to speak. 

I mean, just being a part of the Sydney crew, taking the bus, taking the public transport, it was such a beautiful place to be. I found out how to discover the city very cheaply. I would just spend money on the ferries across Sydney Harbour and whatnot, just to experience and to see. Again, something about that country, I mean, it spoke to me in a way. 

The people are out all the time doing things and enjoying the outdoors and it’s very family-oriented. I don’t know, there’s something about that. I, unfortunately, left right before the Olympics. I would have loved it. I’m sure it would have been crazy when the Olympics were there.

Oli: Yeah, and then when you came back, was that back for college? 

Stix: No, I’d already graduated at that point. But I will tell you, there were some dark days there when I got back because you go from that high of being down in the Australasia area. I love Australians because you go anywhere on this earth that’s fun and there’s probably an Australian there. You could be at Coachella, you could be at fashion week in New York City, you could be at Pipeline Masters in Hawaii, and an Australian will be there. They’re out and they’re about doing things, which I always really admired. 

My point is, being there I would save up money and go jump over to New Zealand, or I can make a stop on the way home as I said in the Cook Islands, or Tahiti or somewhere, just to absorb more culture. Again, I’m sitting there going, ‘Oh my god, like look at how beautiful this is.’ It’s so relaxing too. You don’t have the stress to go, go, go, go. 

So how was I going to replicate that and make a living when all my buddies were all about finance and Wall Street and all that? And there’s nothing wrong with that. I was surrounded by some very driven, very successful people, which is awesome. I’d like to think I am too, but I knew that I would die on the vine if I was chained to a desk. 

I knew I just couldn’t do it. You know? So it was rough for a while there, sitting on my parents’ kitchen table making cold calls to action sports brands. Trying to find a job, and basically getting the door slammed, not shut in my face, but slammed in my face.

Back to your original question of Minnesota, you know, you’re calling Quiksilver, they’re probably not going to pick up the phone if you’re from Minnesota. I hate to say that, but they’re like, why would we hire a kid from Minnesota at a surf brand? So that’s what I was up against and that was a bit rough.

Oli: Would you say that just because it was a bit of a boys club back then, particularly in the early 90s? 

Stix: It still is a bro club. Yeah, it was, and I don’t fully blame them, especially back then. This is pre social media. It was an all-boys network. The flip side is, being born in the Midwest, I was a little taken aback at how rude some people were and how they’re kind of shallow, to be honest with you. I wasn’t raised that way. 

If you’re talking to someone, you don’t look over their shoulder and start talking to someone else, which I experienced at the trade shows. It’s fine, I’d turned the other cheek, you move on, but I also have a very, very good memory. There are some folks that are still out there that were the ones who slammed the door in my face that are still around. Some are still doing it, some who know what they’re up to, are not in the industry anymore. Let’s put it that way. 

I just left it at that. It was very eye-opening for me, but it didn’t stop me. Some people may get discouraged. I’m not patting myself on the back, I’m just saying that it meant so much to me to try to figure out a way to make a living in action sports. I also wanted to prove to everybody that it’s possible, and what I mean by that is, being from Minnesota, and again, surrounded by a bunch of people who are very, very successful and driven, I could do that but I can do it my way. So that was the motivation, to be honest.

Getting into the action sports industry

Oli: So were you just cold calling and trying to network and sort of get in?

Stix: Well, yeah, and I would literally take ads from brands that I really admired, and I would take them and doctor them up how I think they should be. I always tried to make them funny. I think that even in school with my professors and teachers, I always got along really well with my professors and teachers, because I think that even if I didn’t know all of the information on the topic, I think I made my papers and my projects really funny. So they would go, ‘Uh, well, he may not fully have all that we are looking for here, but it’s pretty creative what he’s done.’ 

So I kind of applied that to doing these ads, where I would just take an ad from Freshjive or take one from Burton, or whoever it was and send it back to them with something funny. I got a few callbacks, but not really. Back then, it wasn’t like sending an email, it was snail mail and then phone calls. Not many people today have office phones, but back then, the chances of you getting someone on a phone are slim to none.

Landing a job at Airwalk

Oli: Yeah and then Airwalk? So what happened with that? 

Stix: I’ve told the story a few times, people have heard it. Long story short is I was attracted to them because frankly, they were in every magazine. So one of the things that I took upon myself was to just be a student of the game. So I went out and bought every single magazine. I’ve been getting Surfer and Surfing for years, just because I was fascinated by it. Then I was buying Thrasher, and I was buying even the little zines that are out. There was one called Raygun that was out that was pretty cool back in the day. I would get them and just study, study, study. What the brands are, what they were doing, and I started noticing that Airwalk was in every single magazine. They were doing so much in snow, skate, and even surf. They had some surfers too. 

Basically, I kept hammering, sending out, sending out, and I was calling as I said, and the woman who was the director of marketing at the time actually picked up one day. I said, ‘Hey, It’s Steve Nilsen.’ She interrupted me, she’s like, ‘Kid, like, I’ve gotten everything you’ve sent.’ She’s like, I get it. 

She goes, ‘Listen, my house burned down and I got to go to Europe in about an hour. Like I’ve got zero time, good luck.’ So I sent her a smoke detector in the mail, and she called me back. She’s like, ‘Man, you’ve got balls. I gotta fly you out here. I gotta talk to you.’ and I got a job. That was a Hail Mary. 

That was like I had nothing to lose. Some people may look at it like, talk about punching someone when they’re down, you send them a smoke detector when their house burns down, but before that, I shared a lot.

I’m a mentor for the University of Colorado. There’s the Leeds School of Business. I use that story only because I want kids to know that you’ve got to. How are you going to stand out from the crowd? How are you going to know, you gotta take chances. Now you don’t want to offend anybody or do anything that’s violent or anything to be assault-wise or anything. You’ve got to be very careful, very PC, but there is a fine line between being PC and really getting noticed and thinking outside the box. I guess that would be my first taste for myself. 

Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t been hired by Airwalk. I mean, I still would have chipped away. 

There was another brand if you recall called SMP. I was super interested in that brand. I think what caught my eye is that they took the STP logo and made SMP, which I don’t think anyone’s ever heard the full story of what it stands for. Sex, money, power. I mean, I never figured it out, but it looked like STP and I was just fascinated. That was back in the day when everybody was ripping off corporate logos and doing their own for their brands. 

I almost went to work for them for like nothing, like working their warehouse in Chula Vista. I literally was, I went down to visit, everything. I fell in love with San Diego and was like, ‘Oh my god, this is it. Like this is the part of America I could totally see myself living in.’ They were absorbed by Ride Snowboards, and it just kind of fell apart. I bet if I’d taken that job, I never would have left the Chula Vista or San Diego area. I’m sure I would have figured out something, but I was really close to moving down there. At the time, Airwalk was in Carlsbad.

They were and then they moved. That’s a whole other chapter, but they were in Carlsbad, and they were crushing it too.

Oli: So when you got your start there, you were working at Airwalk doing merchandise?

Stix: Well, I was like the lowest man on the totem pole, but what I think they appreciated it. It comes back to when I said I was absorbing things, is that I spent so much time at retail that I was constantly telling everyone what the competition’s doing. I started seeing the surge of shoes that were getting really technical. 

At that time DC had started to really gain momentum and take shelf space in skate shops. They had all those trinkets and giblets. I mean, they kind of looked like something that Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes would wear. Like these huge shoes, but that was what the trend was. The funny thing is if Airwalk footwear back then would be out now, they probably would be doing well because they were super suede upper cupsole or a vulc bottom, very clean, very nice. Kind of like the success Vans has had with some of their silhouettes. 

So we’d go to these meetings and I would just sit up there and explain what other brands are doing whether I was asked to or not. The funny thing is, I almost felt like I knew more than the reps did, and they’re out there. At the time, I’m just gonna be honest with you, some of the guys we had, they weren’t working, they weren’t selling, they were taking orders. No one was getting pushed, you know, and I’m sitting there going, we are going to get our lunch handed to us if we don’t change up our product. 

We’ve got to change our product. At the time Vans was, again, just kind of wallowing. They didn’t have much presence. Their shoes looked really kind of poor at the time. People hadn’t caught on to the authentic stuff, the stuff that will right now be in their line forever. 

Long story short, they basically said, ‘you know what, don’t you want to be in product?’ It was like, again, right place, right time. ‘Would you want to be product development?’ 

Not only did I get to touch and feel and handle product, but I’m so anal-retentive. I’m not OCD but I’m very, very organized. I kind of fit with what I do because you have these tech packs, you work with a designer, you have to make sure they get over to the factory, and it’s very detail-oriented, and I loved it. 

I loved going to the factories where I was spending like weeks at a time because frankly, a lot of US brands shared the same factories, so I can literally trot down the stairs and go see what Burton’s doing, or go and try and see what the other brands are up to. They did the same thing to us, but I really, really enjoyed it. 

Again, at that point I was a very seasoned traveler, it was nothing to me to be over. I mean, I was living in a furnished place and I was on the road. I was seeing the world and getting paid to do it. I really enjoyed it. 

But with that, it was the frustrations that anyone has in a company where you want to make a change, it’s not happening, and you see you’re losing market share. I just refuse to go back there again, and with any brand, I work with. We’ve got to be swift. We’ve got to be looking ahead. Dead fish follow the stream, right? And it’s just like you had to keep going, right?

We were kind of resting on our laurels, and they’re hiring people that didn’t understand the industry or how it works and were there because they had a network of sales outlets or whatever it was. Then next thing you know, our products are ending up places where brands go to die. 

It’s frustrating, you know, but the joke I’ve said over and over again to people, 

The bottom line on how to run a brand. I mean that’s no disrespect to anyone, but it was literally a perfect storm of just poor decision making, poor product offering, just wasteful spending, and I learned a lot. 

Starting at Red Bull

Oli: What was the transition from Airwalk?

Stix: Truthfully, I interviewed with Burton a few times, because at one point, I mean, Airwalk was just eating their lunch. When you consider the number of boots we were selling, we were eating everyone’s lunch in the industry. So I’d spoken to them, but there are many reasons why it didn’t work out and I had a lot of dear friends that worked there for years. As a matter of fact, ironically one is their president now. I used to send Tony Hawk shoes when he was in customer service. How crazy is that? You know, we’re still friends, and he’s literally the president. 

They’ve done a great job with their brand, reinventing themselves. They make quality stuff. Frankly, in this day and age, you can’t survive if your profit doesn’t hold up. I mean, gone are the days of having a fancy top sheet, but then it’s flapping in the shins halfway down that run because it’s garbage. You have to have a really good product. 

So long story short, back to your question. Red Bull kind of came out of left field to be honest with you. But one of the Red Bull athletes, I’m sorry, well, he’s also an Airwalk athlete, Zach Leach, was one of the first snowboarders I would say in the U.S. I want to say, that’s how I learned of it. 

He was in town for Super Park. At the time I had a relationship with Sobe. We were doing some things with Sobe, and Sobe was making some noise back then. They had these little school buses they brought to all the events. They were doing a really good job. This is before they were bought by Pepsi. 

I started talking to Zac about it, and the light bulb went off with that. I’m like, wait a second, these guys are supporting all the sports I appreciate and participate in. I want to hear more. No one had done anything like what they were doing. It took a while, when I first talked to who became my boss, the position that I had, Sports Marketing Manager, didn’t even exist yet. It was a long year. I mean, we talked quite a bit. He’s busy trying to build the sports marketing department and he was living in Tahoe at the time, and all we do is compare notes on snow and stuff. Meanwhile, in the back of my head, I’m like dude, let’s keep talking about this position. Let’s go, let’s go. It happened, but it just took a year for it to finally come to fruition. 

Honestly, I feel like I’d won the lottery, and I mean that. Like literally work-wise, brand-wise, budget-wise, I mean, a different world. The Europeans, you know, the Austrians, they’re very, very disciplined themselves. They know what they want, and be damned they’re going to get it, and they’re going to do it, and they’re going to do it their way. 

So there was a bit of a learning curve, a few growing pains learning that way. But once I did, it made sense and it still does to this day. They’re still family. Matter of fact, the guy, the number two over there, is still a friend of mine. We exchange messages every once in a while. But that’s essentially how it happened. Long, long-winded way of telling you how it came to be.

Oli: Then with that new role, were you creating your own path there? Were you traveling quite a bit, going back and forth between Austria and the US?

Stix: Yeah. Originally we ended up having five on our team with sports marketing. And yes, we would go back to Austria. The thing was with Denver, I could take Lufthansa over, fly directly to Frankfurt or Munich and then hop over to Salzburg, and then you drive to Fuschl. I don’t know any different. I’ve always had jobs that travel. Frankly, I think I would perish if I had to sit still very long. 

The flip side is, they’re very serious about their business. Red Bull has a really gnarly business planning process that just almost steals your soul for about a month or two trying to put it together for the year. The beautiful thing is they push you so much. The excuse you don’t have, which not many companies or brands can say this, you never had an excuse that you wouldn’t have money. That was the thing. Never say, ‘well, I want to do this, but it’ll be too expensive’ and they’re like, ‘excuse me, what did you just say?’ 

Not many people know the story that I’m going to say to you right now. We were sitting in a room because at the time we just did the channel crossing. Felix Baumgartner had just put on the fixed-wing and went across the English Channel. So that was like the bar had been raised, and the options are like, what’s our next crossing, what’s our next crossing? And we’re sitting there, and my counterpart who’s based on the east coast, we’re throwing around ideas with the Austrians, just sitting around throwing out just everything you can imagine. No one cared at all about a rail jam, no one cared at all about it. That stuff was played and other brands are doing it. When he said jokingly,

Everyone’s like, ‘haha, you know, put the pipe down.’ I’m joking, but they stopped and were like, ‘what did you just say?’ And he’s like, ‘a race to the moon.’ And they’re like, ‘that’s the kind of thinking we need.’ I’m sure the owner of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, is friends with Richard Branson, who is obviously doing the whole space thing. So maybe it was a race amongst those guys. You know, that’s 1% problems, right? Anyway, this is after I’d left Red Bull but then Felix steps out of a space capsule. I’m not saying it’s because of that meeting, but that’s the way Red Bull thinks. 

It’s like, what are we doing to really be next level? No one’s done it. We’re not gonna have partners. I mean, I think they’ve changed a little bit, they’ve loosened it up a little bit, but back in the day if I was doing an athlete project, it was ours and ours only. They weren’t gonna let any other sponsors jump in and basically hitch their wagon to our momentum. You know, it was a fascinating time. I still to this day, I’m so thankful for what I learned there.

Oli: That’s awesome. Would you say pushing the bar on what can be done and you started thinking you wanted to try it in a different sort of industry? 

Stix: Yeah, it’s so funny you say that because, you know, when I think back you’re always gonna have your misses too. You’re gonna have an amazing event or activation, then have something that’s not so great. Red Bull is known for their big brand building events, you know, the Flugtag where people make their own flying contraptions and go off of the deck into a body of water, and they have the Soapbox races, both of which make sense for cities. 

It’s great, you can’t miss the branding. Red Bull has it on lockdown. I did a Soapbox race in St. Louis that was not up to my bar, whatsoever, and Austrians were just patting me on the back like you win some, you lose some. But it was a disaster. We had horrible weather, there basically riots the night before because the local baseball team won the World Series. I mean, it was just everything you could have gone wrong did, and they were like, win some, lose some. I’m sitting there in my head knowing what I spent, what my budget was. I’m like, that’s amazing, that they’re just like, well, you tried. 

I never got one bad comment from anyone, but in my head, I was just dejected. I was like, oh my god. But then I throw something else at them like I need a Snowcat and I get to buy a Snowcat. I mean, who gets to have their own Snowcat, you know what I mean? That’s insane, but you know, at the time, our risk management stepped in and we had to pump the brakes on it, but I would just take it to mountain passes. We trailered it, we had a guy who drove it, but we’d say go Red Mountain Pass, and we’d literally just drop it on the snow and shuttle people all day. Let them take fresh runs and give them a Red Bull when we’re inside the cat. 

We had to be careful, and again, we stopped that just because of liability, and I understand why especially in America where everyone is so litigious, but that’s the kind of thing that just raised you back up again. You’re like, oh, this is Red Bull. I probably was just too hard on myself because back to what I said earlier about being anal-retentive, but it just wasn’t where I think it needed to be, and up to Red Bull standards. They just shook their arms and the Austrians were like, yeah, it happens, whatever. So what do we have going on for next quarter, you know what I mean? Just like yeah, move on. We’re not gonna brood on this, we’re gonna keep evolving, you know.

Moving to Pabst Brewing Company

Oli: Yeah, so after Red Bull you then went into beer? What was the reasoning behind that?

Stix: I gotta be honest, and this isn’t a negative, per se at all, but I think just with what I’ve been saying so much about evolving and growth. There were some changes internally at Red Bull, some things that whether I agree with it or not, there’s nothing I could do about it. I almost felt like I was hitting a glass ceiling because there was a reorg. The way they did it and the way they did the approval process on things, those fly by the seat of your pants days were gone. Which I get in the evolution of any brand, you’ve got to kind of tighten things up. Even where I’m at now, we’re like, putting our big boy pants on and actually have processes and procedures, instead of just flying and every day winging it. 

With Pabst Blue Ribbon, it’s ironic. I worked at Red Bull, ended up over there and they said, hey, we’d really like to talk to you because we are sensing that this brand is on the up and up. We need help resuscitating this brand, which is an iconic American brand, and no one can argue with the legacy of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the United States. But somehow, again, it happened naturally. There’s not one person that can put their finger and say, oh Pabst had a revival because of me. No way. I cry baloney on anyone who would try to claim that.

Again, it was a recession when I started. Alcohol always goes up when there’s a recession. For me, a case study on how a brand is being authentic is the word that gets thrown around a lot lately, but there it wasn’t shoved down anyone’s throat. There were no ads, there was no punch line. It wasn’t forced. And I think a lot of people, even to this day when we talk about influencers, I don’t care how old you are, you can figure out an authentic ad versus just one you could tell it’s product placement and the playing. I mean, someone’s still got to convince me of this, I get the influencer thing. I understand. But someone’s really got to show me the ROI I’m going to get with some of these people. Some they call themselves influencers or they have X amount of impressions, whatever. 

Well, there wasn’t any of that with Pabst. It was like, no, we’re gonna grow this thing, strictly, like, I know, myself, I kept a really short leash on what we were gonna do. I know a lot more than I said yes to things. But it was also a challenge. I went from having massive budgets on Snowcat to literally nothing. Really, there was no budget. I mean, when I started there was, but it was like, what are you gonna need? Right out of the gate my boss at the time was like, what do you need? How are you going to do this? And there were some assets in place, don’t get me wrong, but it was the exciting part where I just don’t think I slept the first few months I was there. It was so exciting. There was so much opportunity because so many people were starting to really gravitate to the brand. 

Energy drinks, good or bad, have kind of a negative connotation sometimes, unfortunately. Not that beer’s good for you. The flip side is alcohol is not going anywhere. I mean, we’re in this pandemic right now. I think where you’re at, Portugal, where I’m at, you ask anyone who sells vino, they’re probably doing pretty well, you know what I mean?

Again, to be in the recession and have a view of this price, we’d like to say we were the top of the sub-premium, we like to say, and it’s just the stars aligned. I was able to create programming and learn from the Red Bull days too. We’re taking some pages out of their book and what I learned, but I knew right there, there are certain aspects of that I couldn’t apply to the beer business versus what they were doing in the energy drink business.

Oli: That’s cool. You were there for almost 10 years, right?

Stix: Almost 10 years. Yeah. That’s actually the longest tenure I’ve ever had. I haven’t skipped around a whole lot, to be honest, I’m very loyal. Like when I go somewhere, I dig in. We kept evolving as a brand, and I think it got to the point of you having everyone and their mother wanting to work for the brand or have the brand and most events need liquor or need alcohol. So we created a situation where we could get products anywhere very quickly, when a lot of other companies couldn’t do. So we were beating everyone to the punch, and we were the bee in the bonnet of all the big brands. 

The cool thing is, the management at Pabst, you know, the executive team did give us enough rope to hang ourselves, but I was still able to do things and evolve personally and professionally, like to step out of my comfort zone which I still try to do this day when it comes to doing some things that I may not know much about. I would say to them, hey, we need to do this collaboration with this brand or we need to do this and that and they’d listen. They didn’t at first, it fell on deaf ears a bit, but then when they saw that, like Red Bull with their new era hats, when you make things but they’re not available to the public. Everybody wants what they can’t have. So I definitely took a page out of Red Bull’s book with that one. A lot of people do that now. 

To be there almost 10 years, I wouldn’t have been there for two years if I’d been miserable, you know what I mean? But I was able to still evolve professionally which is great. It was fun to see the brand grow and I’d like to think I was a bit of an influence on our whole field marketing team. I learned from them too, it’s a two-way street for sure.

Lifestyle Marketing at Liquid Death Mountain Water 

Oli: That’s cool, man. Now, taking that experience at Red Bull and Airwalk with this new venture as Lifestyle Marketing Manager over at Liquid Death, just the concept behind it, would you say is mixing your interests with music, it’s got this strong punk and metal influence in there, along with action sports and the whole culture behind it? Then with humor combined, right?

Stix: Oh, god yes. I mean, anyone who knows me, knows I like to have fun. You know, I’ve had to reel it in a bit even in conversations. As I happen to talk a lot which probably shocks you, but I like to have fun at the same time. I also think that people are loosening up now but people aren’t self-mocking enough. 

Nobody wants to admit their failures. But that’s the first thing as a father, right, my identical twins are 16 now and we have the most amazing relationship ever. It started when they were really young, where it’s like, if they fired a puck through the window, or broke something, I don’t care, like, I don’t. Just own up to it, let’s clean it up and get it fixed, and move on. 

Mike Cessario, he’s our founder, he’s the visionary, he’s the one who brought me in. He is the king of that. He’ll make fun of himself, you know. He even runs our social. So if you look at someone really jumping on us, he’s the first one to fire back, and not only fire back, but it’s really funny. You know what I mean.  You should just hear our conversations, but Mike and I are totally on the same wavelength where we want to have fun. We love action sports and we love punk rock and metal. He played in bands himself. 

The first time we ever got connected, it was via snowboarding, no joke. I mean, that’s the funny thing, talk about full circle. I get connected with Mike because of a friend, we go on a trek to Baldface Lodge every year, and it’s kind of a reunion of some Airwalk people too, ironically. One of them, his name is Joe Babcock, a dear friend. He’s at Nixon Watches now. He says, ‘Oh my God, my brother invested in this brand. You two are two peas in a pod, you have to talk, you have to talk.’ So through his brother, I’m connected with Mike. 

I think Mike and I were on the phone together for two and a half hours. It just clicked immediately you just know it, and whatever kind of relationship you have in this world with whoever you just know when you click with someone. He and I talked about everything under the sun, our careers, music, you know, all sorts of stuff. To me, I was like this is great, and then when he sent me a product, and I got it in my hand, and I know that it’s cliché, I’ve said it 10 times now, but a light bulb went off. I’m like, wow, wow, wow. 

Like the branding, if you read the side, have you read the copy on the side of the can? I mean, Mike’s an ex-creative director it’s brilliant, right. I could do so much with this. Oh my god, could I do so much with this? The funny thing is, to this day, I don’t think Mike and I have ever sat down and put an actual framework together. This is what we’re gonna focus on. He’s just like at Red Bull, my boss there, that’s like just do what you do, which is flattering, right? But it’s daunting at the same time. 

So now I’m actually building a team, a lifestyle marketing team and from all different walks of life. They always say hire people smarter than yourself. It’s ever-growing, but we’re getting some framework in place now. As I said earlier, you know, we’re getting our big boy pants, we’re becoming a company and it’s exciting. When I think back on my career, it’s kind of like Pabst and Red Bull both because you know, it’s a product that people are like, ‘What is this? What is this?’ But my god, I knew we were onto something. But then you got Pabst, where most people knew of the brand, but always say, ‘Oh, that’s my grandpa’s beer, that’s what I drank at college, whatever.’ 


You were like part of the group. You were cool because you had that can in your hand. Well, now with being water, it’s the same thing. That it’s like a badge of honor, but there’s a lot of people that don’t drink. There’s a lot of straight edgers, like I’ve known even punk rockers, there’s a lot of bands that are straight edge or musicians that are sober now. So for them even. 

We all know, water bottles to be refillable is the best thing for the environment, we know that’s just not a reality with the way we’re out and about at festivals, events and wherever you’re traveling. So finding out that people that will instead of having a cup of water, they’ve got this can in their hand that some people mistake is a beer. The other part is the funny stories we’re getting from people, including my own sons, who were literally, like almost tased at school because they walked in with their cans and the security thought they were bringing in beers. 

The stars have aligned again, I guess. As I tell my students, it didn’t come without working for it. It wasn’t like this just fell in my lap. It was building a relationship with someone and believing in their vision and what they’re doing and here we are.

Liquid Death Team

Oli: Building up that team are you looking at different verticals like sports, music and events when they can come back again? 

Stix: Absolutely. Matter of fact, I just approved this flyer. We’re doing Banger in the Hangar this weekend out in Houston, Texas. It’s a vert contest, and they’re holding it in a hangar and I was just exchanging messages with Bucky Lasek, who I’ve known since the Airwalk days, because he’s gonna be participating in it. So it’s such a small world. 

My team right now consists of Pat Moore, who is a pro snowboarder, but he’s not a sponsored athlete, not by Liquid Death. I mean, he’s still a sponsored athlete, I mean have your career, fulfill your obligations.

He’s an employee, and he’s going to transition from being whenever he decides that, a pro-athlete to being aboard, which he’s just hit the ground running. The kid’s a sponge. I knew it and truthfully, he was one of my athletes at Red Bull. I’ve watched the kid not only progress as an athlete but as a person. Anyone can tell you Pat Moore is one of the more solid people you’ll meet, just a good human being. 

The other individual we brought on was Chris Cole. Chris and I had a relationship from Red Bull. I sent him a Red Bull fridge and product when he was living in Pennsylvania, before he even moved to California, way before his career took off. He is on board too. Still doing his thing as a pro, but he’s on as an employee. We have BLASKO who’s the bass player for Ozzy. He’s also been with Rob Zombie. He’s onboard on the music side. Another girl, Jen Razavi, I call her Jen Pop, she is in the band The Bombpops, but she’s kind of handling the punk rock side. 

So I’m looking at other pillars, but that’s my team. Then every week I bring in someone from the company, whether you’re in logistics, or whether you’re in accounting, and everyone sits in on our meetings so they can learn what we’re doing and we can learn what they’re doing. Everything from how to make our expenses, we’re gonna look at budgets. I really like this because some of the stuff was already set in place from previous brands. Mike just looked at me and just said, ‘Do it, build it.’ 

I’m learning from pitfalls I’ve had in the past, maybe some poor hires. That’s why we’re gonna bring on the right people. We can’t afford to bring in the wrong people right now. We’ve got to have killers. 

People come in and can hit the ground, and I’d like to say every single one of them. Maybe they’re not used to setting up a Google Hangouts call, whatever they’re going to learn. The communication we have is great, the number of ideas that are thrown around, even on our sales side. A lot of guys and girls that are in bands, they just get it. I’m not saying everyone has to be this way, but they look the part. Most of them have full sleeves, you know, tattoos, they’re walking into these stores. We’ve got this team, and it’s so exciting to be here. And again, it gets me going because it reminds me of where I’ve been before. So it’s amazing, you know, and I just keep charging.

Liquid Death’s Greatest Hates 

Oli: It’s healthy too. 

You’ve got Fat Mike from NOFX who’s one of the investors. I saw that he was streaming his concert from home during lockdown. 

Stix: Oh, yeah. Yes and then Steve Berra has invested here from The Berrics. We get some haters you know, hence the album Greatest Hates using the negative comments we get on social media, making an album. 

We actually have Greatest Hates 2 coming out, which then I just spoke about, has brought in from Rise Against, from Lawrence Arms, some of the bands like NOFX coming in and making an album. We’ve had a lot of this hate, but I would like to say that if you get some hate, you’re doing something. You’re gonna have people that just want to be negative and try to knock you down a peg. It’s like Australia, have you ever heard the term the tall poppy syndrome? 

Oli: Yeah, yeah. 

Stix: Yeah. Right. Anyone gets taller than anyone else they want to chop them off, which I don’t agree with, but at the same token, again, we’re gonna have fun doing it. The fact we’re able to just go, we have time to do another Greatest Hates. Let’s do it. The only issue we’re having right now, honestly, is the uptick in vinyl, is we’re not going to have these pressed until probably the beginning of the year. That’s how backed up the companies are to press vinyl. So we’re all excited to see it and it’s actually in the can now, it’s done. It’s been mixed. I have not heard the tracks yet, but the lyrics are hilarious, you know. Again, I think people appreciate it, plus, with the uptick in vinyl collectors now. So we got a whole other wing of people going, ‘hey, there’s this water brand making an album,’ you know, ‘we need your hands on it.’ 

Also to your point of being healthy. Really, how can anyone argue with water? Literally, it’s tough for anyone to have to. They could say, ‘oh, I don’t really like your name.’ Fair enough. That could be off-putting I guess for some people. But come on, you know, it’s water. I think the thing is, I love to this day, I can go anywhere. I could be at a nurse’s station, I could be getting my car oil changed. I could get up and give some cans and I’ll walk around the corner and watch from a distance. I watch them crack it, sniff it, sip it, and then there’s usually a forum and then they’re talking and then they start talking to each other. I mean, is there anything better than word of mouth, and so these things we are watching this evolve, and it’s really, really exciting.

I’m going to continue to build my team, because I want to arm myself with, again, killers. People out there who know what they’re doing. They get respect, but yet, they’re gonna follow up and be professional about it, you know, and they’re professional in their own way in what they do. But they’re gonna be professional business-wise, too. You know, 

Oli: Would you say during the pandemic, has there been a massive switch to online versus retail?

Stix: Oh, yeah. Well, so here’s the thing, why this has been. We had a great relationship with Amazon, and so with the pandemic, to be considered essential, that’s huge. So at that time, just when it kicked in, our exclusive grocer was Whole Foods. United States people, like I used to call it Whole Paycheck, you know, it’s a beautiful shopping experience, but it’s not cheap. Let’s put it that way. 

Now we just did this back in August, launched 7-11. Started in Southern California, we just had a crew out here in Colorado, hitting all the 7-11s here, as well as Chicago, and that’ll be nationwide. Then we’re bringing on even bigger retailers in the spring. Target, probably by April, and then Walmart, which I didn’t know this, again, learn something every day, that we’re the youngest beverage they’ve ever brought in. Which is pretty flattering. With that, you got to remember, you know, we’re having to stay on it. 

I mean, if you probably saw that there’s a shortage for aluminum, or alum-in-i-um, as they say in Australia. We’re immune to that because we actually can our product in Austria, so we have a different can, and it’s a European size. How ironic is that, that we’re canning it down the road from Red Bull? You know, it’s talking about full circle again. 

So we just launched Canada, and I’ve been sending some products, actually, Pat Moore has as well, to some pro-shreds up there. I’m getting slowly but surely sending some products over to Vancouver and some different brands and making inroads into Canada, then who knows where next. 

Career Advice

Oli: That’s cool. So looking back over your career if there’s one bit of advice what would you tell your students, when you’re starting off and they want to try and get into this industry or get into any industry?

Stix: Well, first of all, this isn’t my saying, but it’s one I live by because it’s happened to me. The saying is, 

I say that because as I was trying to start my career, and this is my second bit of advice, you can’t give up. And it sounds like something a coach would say or something, but if that’s something you really want, you’ll make it happen, you will, but it’s going to take a lot of meeting people. It’s a lot of getting noticed. It’s going to be a lot of, you know, there are so many different platforms to get a hold of people now, as you and I are connecting via LinkedIn.  

You can’t just take no for an answer if you’re that passionate about it because we don’t want to go through life woulda, shoulda, coulda. As I sit here today, I’ve known woulda, shoulda, coulda. I can honestly say about my career, and I’ve never actually said that publicly, but I think about it. It’s like, this didn’t happen by accident, right? But I didn’t know everything at the time. I’m not saying I’m the best at anything anywhere I’ve been. I’d like to think I’ve been a good listener for as much of a Spaz as I am running around, I do listen. I think, you know, just be respectful to people. 

There’s another one that I read today was like, 

But running around and stepping on people or trying to step on people to get ahead of people, that could come back to bite you. Just be cool and people will remember that. Just be nice, you know, firm handshake, look them in the eye. I require my sons to write thank-you notes if they get a grip tape from someone, but that was what I was taught. Show some respect, and I think if you do that, you’ll be alright. But be sure you cross your T’s and dot your I’s because I was also really big on details. Maybe it’s after my development days where if the eyelets are in the wrong place, you can screw up the whole production. You have to make sure it’s perfect.

I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect, but I’m saying that a handwritten note goes a lot further than a little quick email or a DM or a text. So just nail that, set yourself apart that way, so that you know what you’re doing. You’ll take pride in what you do.

Oli: That’s good advice. 

Are there any projects that you can share at Liquid Death? What you guys are working on either later this year or early next year?

Stix: You know, I wish I could tell you. We have one that’s really funny, but I can’t let the cat out of the bag. I just can’t. You’re gonna have to just watch, but I do put everything on my LinkedIn, and I do put it on Instagram, my own as well as our channels. So I wish I could, but there’s one, we’ve got coming, that’s gonna be pretty funny. If I even tell you the first two words of what it is everyone’s gonna kind of figure it out, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this what they’re doing.’

Oli: So stay tuned basically, right?

Stix: That’s the fun part is we have these calls during the week and just some of the banter back and forth. We just have really creative people internally. The girl who runs our customer service is effing hilarious like she throws these chirps out of nowhere and we’re just like, oh my God, that’s amazing, like, just a comment. So everyone’s welcome to contribute, and no one’s gonna sit and claim. That’s because of me, everyone’s on the same boat, grab an oar. So that’s really, really fun. Everyone’s welcome. 

It would be a salesperson, or someone in accounting, or HR, jump in. I think it’s kind of ironic because some of these people would come off kind of quiet and then when they open up, I mean, our logistics guy zingers every single day, he’s got a funny thing. So, I wish I could, but it’s just we’ve only got so much bandwidth with things and I don’t want to share anything before it’s time.

Oli: No worries, man. What’s the best way for people to follow what you guys are up to?

Stix: Well, just at Liquid Death for Instagram. We have a YouTube channel as well, which you can just type it in, Liquid Death and it’ll pop up. I have my own personal, Stixaround for Instagram. Then Steve Nilsen for LinkedIn. So usually I share all that only because I probably post on all those channels or platforms. Everything you see on Liquid Death, you’re probably gonna see it on my personal. 

I just can’t thank you enough for having me. I really appreciate you. It’s great to have that and it’s fun to tell these stories. If I hopefully motivated someone out there or inspired someone, I always am happy. I get a lot of inquiries via LinkedIn, from students, kids who are trying to finish college or they’re an account executive and they’ve been put to the task of trying to drum up business. I’ll even answer it and just say, ‘you know, we’re not interested in what you’re doing, but this is what I suggest you do.’ I don’t know. I just think that I didn’t have anyone doing that for me, and I think that paying it forward is the way to go. Unless it’s something that’s a really lame pitch, I usually get back to people.

Oli: That’s cool, man. It’s been great chatting with you, and we’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next Liquid Death campaign. Cheers, man!

Stix: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. I really respect what you do with Rad Season. That’s awesome. 

Oli: Thanks, Stix.

Watch the video:

Missed the last episodes? Check them out!

Episode 27: The Powell Movement Podcast with Mike Powell

Episode 28: Challenge fear by seeking unique experiences in strange places with Mike Corey

Episode 29: Breaking snowboarding speed records with Jamie Barrow

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Oli Russell-Cowan

The concept for Rad Season came about when I was trekking around Latin America. I found it difficult to find cool events and festivals going on that were a bit different and had an element of adventure and general radness to them. I knew that there was always something rad worth going to somewhere in the world, but there was no single platform bringing them together for like-minded people. With over 15 years experience in international business development, spanning multiple industries including action sports, events, media, digital, ICT, travel and tourism, I decided to combine them all with Rad Season.


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