How did you find yourself as a one-woman distillery, making rum for a living?
I started my academic career in business school studying finance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. After my MBA, I went to work as a research and investment analyst at a mid-sized, NY based hedge fund where I specialized in publicly traded, global alcoholic beverage companies. I spent about 5 years at the fund where, through my market research, I fell in love with what was happening in the resurgence of the domestic distillery in the US. The proliferation of the craft distiller was being driven by individuals lobbying to change state legislation that was still prohibiting the existence of the industry! [quote_right]I got more and more disillusioned on Wall Street and the pipe-dream got too loud to ignore.[/quote_right]From there, I became enamored by the concept of domestically distilled spirits in the US and the people behind the creation of some really awesome booze. However, I was disheartened to find only a small number of these distilleries producing rum — my favorite spirit! I knew that the market was calling for gins and whiskeys, and that the rum market was more challenging for a plethora of reasons, but I had a real vision to bring rum — America’s first distilled spirit — back to NY. I got more and more disillusioned on Wall Street and the pipe-dream got too loud to ignore. After writing a business plan, studying the intracacies of fermentation and distillation science, and securing a small amount of funding, I left the hedge fund at the end of 2011 to live the dream.
I finished up construction here at our 4,000 sq ft distillery in Bushwick, Brooklyn by the fall of 2012 and started distilling. After selling my first couple of hundred cases out of the trunk of my car (it’s legal as a small distillery in NY!), I quickly picked up distribution and some team members. Thankfully, as of last Spring I am no longer a one-woman-show. I have 3 kick-ass employees who continue to give their all to help me take the business to the next level through increasing production, distribution, and sales.
Running your own business and producing a handmade product is a daunting endeavor. What resources do you draw upon to motivate yourself through life’s challenges?
I rely a lot on my family. They are my biggest supporters. Not only from an emotional (and sometimes, physical!) standpoint, but also from an advisory standpoint. Both of my parents have been in and out of entrepreneurial endeavors their whole lives and can have a lot of advice to offer at the right time.
Lastly, I rely on music and exercise. I try to work out at least 5 times a week — a combination of gym time, spin time and yoga time. It’s really important for me to try to balance my health with my drinking, but it also relieves so much of my stress. Most importantly, some of my best ideas and dreams have come from NY rappers in my headphones and a treadmill!
Do you believe work-life balance is an achievable goal?
In certain career paths, yes. When you are the owner and manager of a start-up, not really. However, I chose a pretty awesome industry to not have much work-life balance. My ‘job’ NEVER feels like ‘work’ — we are always having lots of fun in this business!
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
[quote_right]First and foremost, you have to have a vision that you truly, from the bottom of your soul, can vividly picture, dream and believe in. That vision will drive you to be arrogant, foolish, and unbelievably ambitious — all things you probably need to take the leap.[/quote_right]There really isn’t a ‘typical’ day in my life — the responsibilities of my day-to-day revolve around prioritization and the demands of the business at any given moment. As my team builds, we are better able to share responsibilities. Most recently, the most frequent day starts off at the gym around 7am so I’m at the distillery by 9am to start the first production shift. From about 9am-5pm I will be distilling, answering emails, taking conference calls or face to face meetings at the distillery (with distributor business managers, sales reps, bar owners/tenders, the occasional press person). Our other distiller, Celina, comes in around 2pm every day so that I can physically leave to hit accounts to say hi or take more formal sales meetings/dinners. I try to call it a night early (around 9-10pm) so I can rinse and repeat for the next day — plus our Brand Ambassador, Leslie, can more than handle the late nights. And, Now that we are on the verge of expanding distribution across the country, a lot more of my time will be spent on the road visiting our markets outside of NY state.
What is your favorite indulgence?
Aside from rum? French Fries.
With whom (living, deceased, or fictional) would most like to have a drink with?
I would love to drink Owney’s Rum Daiquiris in my basement speakeasy (my family home houses a speakeasy that was active during Prohibition!) with Owen Madden + Ernest Hemingway. Need I say more?
What advice would you give to would be entrepreneurs?
First and foremost, you have to have a vision that you truly, from the bottom of your soul, can vividly picture, dream and believe in. That vision will drive you to be arrogant, foolish, and unbelievably ambitious — all things you [quote_left]I would advise any person thinking about starting their own business to be patient – it takes 3x as long as you think, to have money – it costs 2x as much as you think, to be strong and stay in the fight – so much of the battle is perseverance, and to keep dreaming bigger – the mind really is a powerful thing.[/quote_left]probably need to take the leap. It’s hard to say ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’ without having any idea what you actually want to do. The dream is a living thing that organically and dynamically changes as the business grows. This is the response from the dreamer in me.
The rational, practical thinker in me says: I would advise any person thinking about starting their own business to be patient – it takes 3x as long as you think, to have money – it costs 2x as much as you think, to be strong and stay in the fight – so much of the battle is perseverance, and to keep dreaming bigger – the mind really is a powerful thing. Also, be prepared to be lonely – hardly anyone in your life will relate to what you’re going through – but that’s ok – enjoy them for distraction. Although it is one hell of a roller coaster, there is nothing in the world quite as exciting or liberating as owning your own business.
And finally, where can we find your rum?
We have been exclusively available in NY for over 2 years so you can find Owney’s in over 500 places here, but we are just starting to open new markets. We launched NJ + CT at the end of 2014, and just officially launched Washington DC/MD and California! Look out for FL and IL come April! Hopefully, you will start to see the rum more and more in these new territories. In the meantime, you can check our store locator on www.owneys.com or ask for it in your favorite local establishment — believe me, it really helps!