Ryan Espi

Co-Founder of First Light Coffee Whiskey

Ryan Espi is the co-founder of First Light Coffee Whiskey, an emerging San Diego-based craft spirts company. Their flagship coffee flavored whiskey blends American whiskey with real coffee extract and organic blue agave. Ryan is a San Diego State University alum and prior to founding First Light, he pursued several other entrepreneurial ventures including Invest Balance, a socially responsible investing app and Clients in Abundance, a small business consulting company. Ryan’s vision for First Light Coffee Whiskey is to connect and inspire a community of people who celebrate the moments in life that make them feel the most alive.

Where did the idea for First Light Coffee Whiskey come from?

From a young age I remember always having a desire to create. These foundations have led me on an entrepreneurial path since graduating from San Diego State University in 2013 and I pursued several entrepreneurial ventures prior to co-founding First Light Coffee Whiskey with my cousin, David Elizondo. David and I love to surf and would start many of our mornings with early surf sessions at San Diego’s Ocean Beach. That’s when we originally came up with the idea and the name “First Light.” First Light came to represent new days, new adventures and new moments to celebrate life with people we love. So when the idea of creating a craft whiskey product came up as a project during one of David’s San Diego State University MBA marketing courses, we knew that there was something there and we decided to go all in on a business together. First Light was born during late nights and early mornings of work, surfing and exploration together. We experimented with a few product concepts before landing on coffee-flavored whiskey and after we tasted our first test batch, we knew we had something special.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I typically wake up before 7 a.m. and get in some movement, whether it’s at the gym or out on the water. Next, I check in with my team and review any new communication or messages and file away any tasks that have arisen in my favorite new productivity tool, Motion. Physical activity is the key to my success and energy throughout the day. Making the most of my daily productivity starts at the end of the previous day. I always take 20 minutes or so at the end of the work day to “reflect and project” meaning that I reflect on what happened throughout the day and then project my most important tasks for the next day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life with people. I thrive in a team environment where ideas can grow and flourish at an exponential rate. I’ve found that initial ideas, no matter how great, will always become their best when cultivated through a team of people.

What’s one trend that excites you?

AI. One example that has exponentially increased my daily productivity and allowed me to be more present throughout the day is an AI personal assistant called Motion.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Daily Reflection and Projection. I encourage everyone that works for me to take their last 10-20 minutes on the clock to reflect on their day and project what they’d like to accomplish the next day. This small but often overlooked habit will create a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day and a sense of purpose at the start of every new day. That in itself causes a positive snowball effect.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To run towards my fears.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Point Break is the greatest movie of all time.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Take the leap. Finish your project, release your app, put out whatever it is you’re working on before you think it’s ready. Let market feedback and community testing help you refine, tweak and get better. Perfectionism is fear based procrastination.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Focusing on building my team has helped me grow my business. As a leader of most any business, it won’t be you alone who decides whether you succeed or fail – it will be the core team around you. Know that you’re not the best at everything (no one is!) and as a leader it’s your job is to find people who will excel at every level of your business and keep them inspired to do so.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It’s hard to think of one. Too often we are sold the veil of overnight successes along with the idea that successful people have always been that way. Any journey is bound to be littered with failure, success comes when you refuse to give up over and over again.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

YouTube news automation. Through the use of openAi, rss, and a few other tools, I have begun seeing channels that automate incoming press releases, stitch videos together with relevant images, create scripts and have voice automation read those scripts. Videos are then curated and posted on niche channels generating thousands of views and revenue dollars. Essentially there is a huge opportunity for skilled individuals to begin disrupting the news industry.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

DJI Osmo mobile. It’s a mobile stabilizer for your iPhone.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Motion AI. It’s a personal AI-driven assistant.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter” By Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent. It’s a great perspective on how life emulates business and the value of perseverance and self-confidence.

What is your favorite quote?

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” – Mark Twain

Key Learnings:

  • The initial idea, no matter how great, will always become better when cultivated through a team of people.
  • Any entrepreneurship and business journey is bound to be littered with failure, success comes when you refuse to give up over and over again.
  • Take the leap. Finish the project, release the app, put out whatever it is you’re working on before you think it’s ready. Perfectionism is fear based procrastination.
  • New AI tools have the capabilities to exponentially increase daily productivity and allow entrepreneurs, business owners and employees to be more present and productive throughout the day.