Longform

Pour It On

Page 6 of 6

"When I started talking to Dan, I felt like, someone needs to give this guy a chance to create his own thing. Here is a guy who is truly obsessed: He drinks all of the energy drinks, he tastes all of them, he probably knows more about energy drinks than anyone. I thought it would be really neat to give this person a chance."

While he and Mayer try to find a time when Mayer can go to Los Angeles to start creating his baby, Lawner has already begun copyrighting and trademarking names, and lining up chemists to help with flavors and ingredients. He's also come up with his own idea for a new type of drink, for which he plans to solicit Mayer's opinions. But Lawner intends to give Mayer complete control over his own separate energy drink, from taste to name to market niche.

"In creating my own drink, I'm learning a tremendous amount and going through the motions of learning the business," Lawner says. "Dan's probably about a half-step behind me right now, so when he's ready, I've got the people in place. In Dan's world, I'm just someone who invests in him, but he has full creative control. I really believe that he's going to come up with something that is going to be a killer product, and we will both profit from it. It's a $100,000 investment and risk for me, but I've been fortunate and done well enough that I can afford to take that risk."

Lawner's wife is less convinced. She recently asked her husband why, exactly, he was sinking money into some kid from Colorado. When he explained that Mayer's site appears first when you Google "energy drinks," she wasn't impressed.

"Who types in 'energy drinks'?" she asked.

"And I told her, 'Well, imagine typing in "automobile," and the first thing that comes up is this guy's rant about cars,'" Lawner remembers. "It's kind of a big thing. I don't know how it ended up where this guy is in this position, but that he is says a lot about him."

But making a splash with a new energy drink won't be easy. The $1.1 billion industry is saturated with over 500 choices -- Steven Seagal has a drink out called Lightning Bolt -- and last year, 790 million cans were sold in the U.S. alone.

"It becomes increasingly difficult to enter a category as it becomes more dominated by larger brands," says Hemphill, who notes that even Anheuser-Busch is distributing "energy beer." "Entering the category now with a me-too type of product that offers no uniqueness or point of difference really doesn't make a lot of sense."

"The future of the energy-drink business is that you're going to get rid of all the trash," says Troy Widgery, president of Go Fast Sports and Beverage, a Denver-based company whose energy drink Mayer ranks in his personal top three. "It's like the microbrew industry ten, fifteen years ago. There was this boom with brands everywhere, but soon it consolidated and all the sort of strange brands disappeared and the strong ones remained."

Although his lips are sealed on the specifics of the drink he plans to create, Mayer is confident that it will work. He's already got a pretty clear picture of the flavor of the drink, as well as its price, packaging, marketing and even the best places to distribute it. And if his creation flops, he's got plenty to keep him busy.

"Besides," Mayer says, dutifully cringing through another sip of the cranberry-flavored drink that will keep him awake for far longer than he would like to be, "I'm really just along for the ride."

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Adam Cayton-Holland