By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
V. The Zin Master
More than 300 new energy drinks are launched annually in the United States alone. The industry has grown by 500 percent in the past five years and sales are expected to reach more than $10 billion in the next two. But for every drink that catches on, a dozen vanish overnight.
Among the more audaciously named brands that have seen the light of day: Cocaine Energy Drink, H.I.V.: The Positive Power Drink, Crank, Crunk!!!, Blow, and Pimp Juice. There is a Christian version — 1 in 3 Trinity Energy Drink, "the liquid companion to an active Christian lifestyle" — and Kabbalah Energy Drink: Source of Power."
When I called to ask Tizol if we could meet at his office, he suggested Starbucks instead. "I'm between offices right now," he explained. "Whenever I have to meet with someone, I just say, 'Hey, let's meet at Starbucks.' It's spacious, it's beautiful — and bro, there are lots of pretty girls."
Starbucks it was.
Tizol is tall and muscular, with jet black shoulder-length hair tied in a bushy ponytail — like a Samurai. One of his nostrils is bigger than the other, which is fitting: He is likable, personable, intelligent, and warm, with the slightest edge of total insanity.
He seemed to be perfectly at home in his "office" within the coffee franchise. He met me at the counter, ushered me graciously to one of two big green armchairs against the wall, and placed his briefcase on the table between us.
"How did you start?" I asked once we had settled down. Unexpectedly, this first question completely threw Tizol. He stood up, paced the floor, glanced out at the parking lot, looked back at me, sat down, stood up, sat again.
"How did it start? You really want to know that? You really want to know the juicy story?" he finally asked, looking at me with wide eyes.
I paused. "Yes," I said.
Before he turned to energy drinks, Tizol explained, he was a bootlegger. He operated a vodka still.
When I pointed out alcohol has been legal for some time, Tizol waved the comment aside with a swipe of his large hand. The fees, licenses, and legalities of distilling liquor, he said, made it impossible for a small businessman like him to produce and distribute his own. So he made it himself and sold it, illegally, through magazines and by word of mouth. But at some point — shortly after a close call at a UPS branch, he says — he got spooked and decided to go straight.
He shut down the bootlegging operation and devised a plan for selling Zin Master, a new energy drink. Not that he had the slightest idea how to make one.
"The only research I did was to find out if it would be profitable," he told me. "It was just to see whether I, Julian Tizol, could create an energy drink company. And I could. So I did."
The name, he said, came about for two reasons. One: Calling his beverage Zen infringed on someone else's copyright. Two: "Zen means to be peaceful and meditate — but I don't want people to be peaceful and meditate when they drink Zin Master. I want them to party their fucking brains out."
Since then, he has waged a one-man campaign to keep the drink afloat against competitors who dwarf his operations by several orders of magnitude.
"I was going through a situation where Monster was putting their drinks in front of Zin at the gas stations," he recounted. "So I was taking Monster and putting it in the milk section."
He focused the bulk of his own energy — and dollars — on aggressive advertising, using a homemade, two-pronged approach: DJs and pizza.
"The DJs have five, six thousand people in their clubs at a time. And if they're vibing, man, and they're wearing a Zin T-shirt, that's like, bam!"
Before Winter Music Conference, Tizol decided to run an ad in Miami New Times boasting friendship with a thousand DJs. He placed the ad even though his claim was untrue. "I didn't have a thousand DJs. Not even close. So I had a month to get them. I was doing 12-hour, 14-hour binges at the computer, bro. I supplied myself with Zin Master and Rice Krispies Treats and sat at that computer until I had a thousand DJs."
Then there's the pizza angle. "Maybe you can't get into the club, so you say, 'Man, I'm gonna go get some pizza. And bam, there it is — the Zin Master energy drink in the pizza shop. Wherever you go, bro, Zin Master goes with you."
Tizol's biggest complaint isn't large companies such as Red Bull: it's small companies, designer drinks like his, that don't seem to care about their product.
"The more of these energy drink companies that come out, the harder it is for me to get on the shelf," he said. "It's killing me. It's like a badge, bro; people start an energy drink just out of pride. Even Playboy just came out with a drink.