Alumni Achievement Award

Paul Kozub

Founder, V-One Vodka

This Entrepreneur — and His Label — Have Come a Long Way in 15 Years

Paul Kozub, left

Paul Kozub, left, seen here with business partner and former Patriots star Ty Law, is growing V-One into a national brand.

When BusinessWest caught up with Paul Kozub recently, he had just wrapped up some promotional video work with Ty Law, former New England Patriots standout cornerback and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2019.

Law is now a partner with Kozub in his venture, V-One Vodka, and the videos being shot were at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. That’s because V-One has been named the official vodka of the Hall for this year — when most all activities, including the induction ceremony, have been postponed because of the pandemic — and next.

The juxtaposition of all this — official vodka of the Hall of Fame, Ty Law as spokesperson — help show just how far Kozub and his label have come since he became part of the very first 40 Under Forty class in 2007. Back then, he was struggling to get his brand off the ground and into bars, restaurants, and package stores in the 413. It wasn’t exactly a one-man show, but it was very close, with Kozub making most of the deliveries himself.

Today, he’s in four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire — and he’s poised to enter four more, including Ohio. He had plans to be in roughly 30 by this fall, and signed on with a distributor to make that happen, but COVID-19 has put many of the plans … well, on ice.

“In Florida, Texas, and some of these other states, there are so many problems that it’s not a good time to launch a new brand,” he noted. “Are the bars and restaurants open? Are the bars closed? That’s typically half our business.”

But Kozub, who was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur in 2016 and thus has a few pieces of hardware from the magazine on display somewhere, has certainly come a long way in the 15 years since he started this journey in his basement, using a few thousand dollars left to him by his uncle to create his own vodka.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more. You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it.”

Indeed, he now has his own distillery in Poland; work continues to expand his footprint geographically; he’s spent $500,000 to create a new bottle — an important part of the puzzle in this industry; and he continues to defy the odds when it comes to making a vodka label stand out and be successful in an immensely crowded field.

“About 97% of new vodkas fail within the first three years,” said Kozub, who used that statistic to segue his way back to the pro football Hall of Fame and a discussion he had recently with its president, Dave Baker.

“We talked about the 33 million people who have played football, the 27,000 who have played in the NFL, and the 300 who are in the Hall of Fame. What did it take for those people? What qualities did they have to have to be one of those 300?” he asked rhetorically, drawing a parallel to those who get to the top of their field in any business, and especially his.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more,” he said while answering his own question. “You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it. When it comes to vodka … yes, you have to have a great product, but you have to be willing to work very hard.”

Kozub’s been doing that since he first launched V-One in 2006, trading in life as a loan officer at a local bank for the life he’s always dreamed of — one as an entrepreneur.

It’s not an easy life, certainly, but it’s the one he certainly prefers.

“When you run a small business, it has to be your life,” he said in conclusion. “I don’t know many small-business owners who are playing a lot of golf or have a lot of time on their hands. For me, it’s all about my family and about my business.

“To be successful, you have to love it,” he went on. “Like I told Dave Baker … my worst day at V-One was better than my best day of being a banker. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The challenges that come up — the financial challenges, the HR challenges, the legal challenges … all those things don’t end. And we’re still a very small brand; if we do get bigger and become a national brand, the challenge then becomes how do you stay successful — how do you stay on top?”

As Kozub said, the challenges — the roadblocks and the walls — keep coming. And he rather enjoys finding ways to get through them or around them.

—George O’Brien

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