As Austin lands at or near the top of practically every list of the nation’s best cities for start-ups, it can be tempting to try to measure the city’s tech economy against Silicon Valley’s. In Texas, though, start-up culture goes well beyond ones and zeros. No one better illustrates this than Clayton Christopher. The founder of both Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka, which he sold for hundreds of millions of dollars, Christopher now runs Cavu, a venture-capital firm in Austin that has helped grow myriad new food-and-drink brands that are every bit as ambitious as the latest breakthrough mobile app. As consumer tastes change and established brands like Pepsi struggle to remain relevant, Christopher is shaping the future. Asked about the various products he has helped launch, Christopher shared the elements of his success.

Clayton Christopher.Courtesy of Cavu Ventures

Combine Trends

High Brew Coffee, Invested, 2017

“My best friend and cofounder of Sweet Leaf Tea, David Smith, came up with this in 2014. Cold-brewed coffee was starting to become trendy. And energy drinks were still a trend, even though there are so many chemicals in products like Red Bull. High Brew is about clean energy.”

Channel Austin

Waterloo Sparkling Water, Cofounded, 2017

“One of the cofounders, Brandon Cason, was our VP of marketing at Deep Eddy. And like Deep Eddy, Waterloo’s brand evokes classic Austin [Waterloo was the city’s first name]. I’m a big believer in Austin as a brand. ”

Be Authentic

Sweet Leaf Tea, Founded, 1998; sold, 2011

“Entrepreneurial brands can’t match the spending of the big guys, but we can beat them with an authentic story. Sweet Leaf was based on my grandma’s recipe, and I ran the company with my best friend. There was something sweet about that.”

Repeat What Works

Mighty Swell Spritzer Co., Cofounded, 2016

“Low sugar, low calories, all-natural ingredients, real fruit juice. It’s just a higher-quality, better-tasting product than the competing hard seltzers. We used the playbook from Sweet Leaf and Deep Eddy.”

Keep No Secrets

Nulo Pet Food, Invested, 2016

“With dog food, unlike with other foods, you don’t have to list ingredients in order of net weight. So the bag will say ‘carrots and salmon,’ but really, it’s, like, 80 percent cornmeal. There’s a lot of dishonesty. Nulo brings integrity and transparency to its ingredients. It lists them all by net weight.”

Get Crafty

Austin Eastciders, Invested, 2016

“Most of the new wave of ciders in the U.S. were using sweet apples, but Eastciders decided to use bittersweet apples from Europe. That creates a cider that’s dryer, with lower sugar content. They’re taking an artisanal, craft-beer approach to cider.”

Make It Healthy

Rhythm Superfoods, Cofounded, 2009

“The thesis was that consumers are looking for healthier snacking. Rhythm is about bringing the produce section to the salty snack aisle [think kale chips]. So instead of potato chips drenched in oil, what if we could take salty snacking and actually make it good for you?”

Use Good Stuff

Deep Eddy Vodka, Cofounded, 2010; sold, 2015

“All flavored vodka before Deep Eddy was clear. That’s because none of them used real fruit juice. We just said, ‘Can we create a product that has significantly better ingredients than what’s out there?’ If this was rocket science, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Turning Texas Into a Delicious Start-up Hub.”  Subscribe today.