Coffee with Aaron Yanagi


Meet my crazy cousin Aaron Yanagi. He is equally inspiring and insane – ask anyone. But that is what makes both coffee brainstorms or pau hana drinks with him so much fun. A true out of the box thinker and entrepreneur.

We have spent years exchanging the latest marketing trends, articles, and memes. True story: our family questions why we spend so much time talking. The simple answer, to all of our curious family and friends.. we nerd out over creating business plans, social media strategies, and advertising campaigns. Nothing to be concerned about – unless you consider it a borderline obsession when our conversations turn into yelling excitement over brand consistency.

A confession.. the first time we sat down for the Coffee With Shay chat, I ended up with a two and a half hour recording that went in all different directions. Below is take two …Perhaps I’ll release take one in the future 🙂

Change-maker: Aaron Yanagi

Coffee of Choice:  Starbucks Pike Place Roast. I also like white mochas – it’s my treat yourself drink.

Age: 24

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Current Home: Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Education: ‘Iolani High School; B.A. in Marketing with a minor in Psychology from Whitworth Univeristy in Spokane, WA.

Field of Work: Sales and Marketing

What do you do?
I work in the beer industry as a brewery rep for Kona Brewing, a supplier of beer to Anheuser-Busch. I am responsible for on-premise sales anywhere outside of Waikiki and Ward. On-premise meaning bars and restaurants. I sell my products to them and run promotions to increase volume velocity. So basically, I want them to buy my beer and sell as much of it as possible.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
Creating promotions and executing them. For example, First Fridays in Chinatown. Most recently, I partnered with a pop up bar for Halloween called Heebeegeebees. I sampled my new Kona seltzer product, gave away swag, and talked about the product. 

How do you create a successful promotion?
Having enough time to plan for one. I want my promotion finalized two weeks before the promotion date so I have time to create my point of sale materials, hire help (i.e. promo girls, entertainers). Communication is important. Collaborating with everyone to make sure we’re all gaining value. I want to make sure all parties gain value from it.

Can you elaborate on that idea of all parties gaining value?
Everyone should play to their strengths. If I have a product that I want people to try or I want to get into the market, then I’ll create a promotion with a new bar. What the bar gets out of it is exposure through advertisements and the event being held there. I get market research and data from sampling out to their customers. They also make dollars off the people coming to their restaurant for an exclusive product. It’s a very simple thing that happens all the time – I do this about once a week.

How do you capture your customers and get them interested in your products?
I’m lucky I work for a brand that already draws a lot of attention. People expect us to come out with a lot of new things. It’s less of generating new interest. The interest is there. 

Is it more about keeping up with demand?
Our brand is so strong that when we’re mentioned, people pay attention. We don’t need to generate interest because it’s already there. Instead, we’re continually trying to bring new experiences under the same brand ethos. We are a tropical lifestyle brand. An event such as a corn hole tournament or a volleyball tournament with a beer truck outside of it – something that hasn’t been done before but still gets the attention.

Does your background in marketing help you with creating these new experiences? How do you keep up with the latest trends in your industry and your target market?
Yes, I think being able to identify trends with demographics and apply them to our strategy is helpful. I think the creative aspects that are encouraged in marketing factor in to how engaging and relevant an experience is. I keep up with industry news through trade publications. However, most useful trends I find come from spending time in the market. Having a beer with customers, hanging out in drinking venues, and people watching uncover the most actionable trends.

With your job, does it help being a ”millennial?”
There are ups and downs, advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages – I’m always the youngest in the room and sometimes people don’t care what I say. Advantages – because I’m young, even though people think I may not have experience, they will listen because they want to hear a younger angle and opinion. Being a millennial definitely helps me capture a different audience. It helps me offer insights on what’s going on in the market.

What do you think about the term “millennial?”
To me, when I think of the word “millennial,” I feel a sense of pride and I think about creativity. I think about quick learners – learning on the run. Thinking out of the box and finding new ways to do things. Millennials take it upon themselves to do something instead of waiting for someone else to take action or waiting for nature to take its course. We try to come up with creative solutions and improve the world. I also feel like we’re fast paced and easily bored.

Do you have any career advice for fellow millennials?
You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. You just have to do it and make the mistakes. And, of course, you learn from them. My greatest weakness at times is being too afraid to do something because I’m afraid of what the outcome will be if I make the mistake. But you’ll realize that either you’ll do it and succeed or the mistake wasn’t actually that big of a deal.

Do you have any overall life advice you would like to share?
Discipline is the most important quality to have a successful and fulfilling life. You can’t achieve anything without discipline.

What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Something that this guy always told me: “You just gotta do it and figure it out. Figure it out.” Which is true. These people don’t want to explain things to you. They just want you to do it and learn. That’s how my employers think. So just don’t be afraid to do it and figure it out.

Who inspires you?
My dad. And Gary Vee (Gary Vaynerchuk, @garyvee). My dad because he’s my dad. And Gary Vee because I sip on his kool-aid and I like him. I sip on the Gary Veekool-aid train. I’m on the Gary Vee express. Choo choo!