This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
Hey! So, I’m Fern, and I am a 30-year-old, first time, female founder. Off the back of several years in the alcohol industry, I decided to launch an alcohol-free, Tequila inspired spirit… all during Covid-19 lockdown.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Well, my family are originally from Southern California where lots of Tequila and tacos are consumed, naturally! Whilst working in the drinks sector I was noticing some fabulous alcohol-free spirits crop up but was astonished no one had done a Tequila yet. So, when I was furloughed for the pandemic, I decided to attempt to make one myself. My other half is a recovering alcoholic, sober now for almost five years, so as I saw Tequila sales via Waitrose/ John Lewis soaring by 175% during lockdown, I just thought there should be an alternative for those who choose not to drink alcohol.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
When my regular job was reduced to one day a week due to the Corona Virus and the impact it had on so many businesses, I had a choice; I could either complete Netflix or I could forge on with my little passion project of creating an alcohol-free, Tequila inspired spirit. Of course, trying to do so during such a globally troublesome time, came with its own obstacles though. I just started tinkering in the kitchen with ingredients and trawling through tasting notes of my favourite Tequilas, trying to replicate the flavours and smells.
What were the initial challenges you came up against, and how did you overcome them?
Mine were all fairly related to the climate at the time. For example, I was sourcing my Blue Weber Agave from Mexico, my bottles are from Italy, I had ingredients coming from China that were stuck in limbo, and the world had come to somewhat of a standstill, so this definitely added a challenge. However, every day I just got up and started tackling each problem one by one until there was a semblance of light at the end of the tunnel. If there was something that was out of my control, then I’d move on to a task that was within my control. I kind of seesawed between those two modes for a few months.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I didn’t tell anyone for ages while I was working on it, because I was so afraid of failure or bad feedback. I just kept thinking that, if nothing else, it was keeping me busy and focussed at a really stressful time where I couldn’t really do much else. Eventually, I decided to open up to my closest family and friends and let them know, just hearing the words’ oh that’s a cool idea’ meant everything, it gave me the confidence to crack on.
Did you take the investment route for your business, or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
At the moment, fully self-funded. I have looked at the investment route, but I’ve already put so much pressure on myself to make this work, I didn’t know if I was ready to have outside pressure applied too. Now that I’ve launched (and exhausted all my savings in the process), I can see it’s a viable business and would be open to investment if the right situation arose.
What has been your best investment?
Lots of self-help style books, I really recommend ‘Grit- The Power of Passion and Perseverance‘ by Angela Duckworth. It doesn’t sound very cool to admit, but I needed those inspirational reads to keep me going. Then, of course, my trusty laptop, which is with me at my desk, on the sofa, in bed, we have a very close relationship 😉
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Tonnes. Probably my top one is picking the wrong businesses to work with. Along the way I was so eager to make things work that the first opportunity that came along I went with and didn’t take the time to stop, think, research, listen (story of my life really!) and then things would take a turn for the worse, and I’d have to start from scratch. The saying ‘more haste, less speed’ comes to mind. I should have just slowed down, listened to my intuition and done the due diligence process more thoroughly. I’m starting to make some really good connections now and building more meaningful professional relationships, the further down the road I get. That’s really important to me now, working with people I respect and trust.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem, and what in your mind needs to change?
I think the immediate assumption that there must also be a man involved needs addressing. It would be fabulous if one day, it was as much the norm for a woman to start a business as it is for a man to start a business. Saying that though, because it can be a bit tougher for women, you are immediately in a stronger position once you’ve launched because ultimately, you’ve most likely had to overcome more hurdles than your male counterparts- ‘what doesn’t kill you…’ and all.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Whatever you think it’s going to cost, triple it.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
The person I most admire from a business point of view is Sara Blakely, who invented Spanx – I love this quote from her” Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” It’s a great reminder that you don’t need to have all the answers, just the strength to try.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Honestly, if I can one day afford to pay myself (lol), people out there are enjoying my drink, and it’s helped even one person feel that sense of inclusivity that I’m striving for, then I’d be a very happy person.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
Survive it, just kidding! Well, half kidding. I’d like to make it to the end of the year and be able to say that despite everything, this year can be classed as a success and that I’ve learnt and grown from the whole experience.
What can our readers do to support your business?
You can buy Mockingbird Spirit in 50cl (£22.99), 5cl (£3.99) or just follow along with the journey on social media (£0).
What books, podcasts, or resources would you recommend?
I’m a total podcat (?!? I think that’s what we are called)…
podcat (pl. podcats)
- slang – A person who enjoys podcasts to excessive amounts, or who listens to podcasts on a regular basis.
So here are a few of my faves:
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
What have you got to lose, and what have you got to gain? As long as you have more to gain than to lose, go for it.
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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After leaving a job I’d worked years for and spending most of lockdown doing every bit of prep possible, reading any and every book I could find, and listening to hours of podcasts on my daily walks, nothing quite prepares you for Day 1.
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