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How to start a wine company with Courtney Dunlop and Michelle Feldman.. The story of how they sold out of their first ever drop of Good Clean Wine

by Female Startup Club
July 10th 2020

While running a day spa together Courtney Dunlop and Michelle Feldman had a lightbulb moment to launch their own natural wine brand that wouldn’t leave you feeling hungover the next day, or with an... More

It's been a few months since I joined the hubspot podcast network and I'm so excited about the other shows in there that I'm learning from, especially the gold digger podcast hosted by Gina Kolata Jenna's show helps you discover your dream career with productivity tips, social strategies, business hacks, inspirational stories and so much more. I just finished listening to her recent episode about how she grew her show to 60 million downloads and was blown away by some of the insider tips she shares and here's something else you should know on january 3rd, you're going to hear a certain someone in Jenna's show that certain someone being more, make sure you pop it in your diary because I am so beyond excited. I can't wait for you to hear it. Listen to the gold digger podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This is Courtney Dunlop and Michelle Feldman for female Startup club. No, Hi guys, welcome back to another episode of Female startup Club. I'm your host, Don rasheen. And joining me on the show. Today is Michelle and Courtney from Good clean Wine while running a day Spar together, these two women had a lightbulb moment to launch their own natural wine brand that wouldn't leave you feeling hungover the next day or with any blemishes on your skin in this episode, we cover their move to differentiate themselves on the shelf through branding and doubling down to make their price point highly attractive to women who want good quality european natural wine.

That doesn't break the bank account. This is Michelle and Courtney for female startup Club two. Yeah. Mhm. Instead of our regular ad spot today, I'm taking this opportunity to touch base about female startup club's new course. The ads, N. B. A. It's the best course on the internet for women to master the technical skills needed to scale profitable facebook and instagram ads in partnership with leading performance marketing agency amplifier. Through the course, you will learn. The exact strategy is used by amplifier agency to create and scale your facebook and instagram ads from scratch. These guys have collectively spent over $100 million 15 years and are sharing the exact strategies they're using on their clients today. We currently have an introductory offer on the site for $149 and $30 from every sale is donated towards girls secondary education through the Malala Fund. You can find all the info in the show notes or via the female startup club website.

Let's jump into this episode. Female startup precincts, let's get started. You guys obviously have this amazing ethos behind this brand and you know the name speaks for itself, Good clean wine. Can you tell me about the brand and why you decided to start a business in the wine industry? Yeah, definitely. Thank you for having us. We're really excited to talk to you today about this. The reason we started the brand. It honestly, it started with the customer always with us, starts with a customer but we have a spa called Good Skin Day at the spa and facial studio and Skin care studio in Springfield Missouri and we had that for several years. Um L has had a spot even much longer than that and the wine came from the customers are customers, they were quite frankly demanding it. Um We have always loved wine and Michelle even loves wine more than I do.

And we had found that through the spot. We were doing a lot of actual wine education as well. And the reason why that is it might sound like two things that don't belong together spa and wine. But what happened was is that in addition to skin care, we are very much about not just skin care and products but whole lifestyle we call the good skin lifestyle. So what we found is that we don't just talk to people about skincare, it's very much about health, mind, body spirit. You know, we were spending a lot of time talking to people about their diets and health and it's really a place where people come to get all kinds of advice, not just skin care advice. Well what happened was as people started realizing that we drank a lot of wine and we love wine and we were always serving it at the spot. Like you could have a complimentary glass of wine. We would have events and we would serve lots of wine and what we notice is that people started coming to us for skin care. Yes, and for the facials, but also for the wine.

Um, and immediately asking us upon entering what we were drinking, what we were pouring and all of the wine questions started coming out almost more than the skin care questions. And we're like, what's going on here? Well, what we realized is, is that we had taken for granted what we knew for ourselves, which was that it is possible to incorporate wine into a healthy lifestyle. For me, it was all about being able to drink wine without it affecting your skin. You know, all the negative traditional effects that you would get in your skin from drinking wine or what people think you're going to get and damaging your skin and Michelle can talk about this for her. It was more about the health journey with wine and being able to drink wine and not get reactions. So what we did was we started educating people about the wine we were drinking and what was happening is that we realized there was a lot of confusion, a lot of intimidation out there. People didn't know generally how to shop for wine. And it wasn't that the wines that we were serving were even hard to find.

It's just that the customer didn't know how to go find them because they, I don't know how to read a white label, nor should they have to if they don't want to and they didn't know where to find what we're calling clean wine, which is low intervention, minimal intervention. It's another term for it wine, which is no additives. And we can talk a little bit more about the wines in particular, basically. We were selling wine for other people because we were serving wine and then customers would buy it at the store that we bought it because where'd you get this? And then they would go down the street and by cases of it, and we would get these phone calls from our wine stores in town being like, did you guys have an event? Because we just for some reason just sold, you know, three cases of this cab franc that is kind of an obscure wine that no one ever ever really heard of, and we just sold out of it and we were like, okay, there's something here. And you know, the number one rule of businesses don't create a product people don't want.

And it was kind of smacking us in the face like people want this. Like, it was so obvious, we had like, clear sales. So we're like, well this is what we need to do because the market is demanding this, you know, we can do this and make it so clear to people when they look at the wine and through our marketing and our conversations and you know the way we speak about the wine, it will be so obvious to them what it is that it will take the confusion completely out of the process and then they'll drink the wine, they'll feel great, they'll love it and they'll become repeat buyers and that is exactly what has happened. So that is the origin story as far as like how we decided that this was the product that we wanted to make, that's amazing. You really just proved the concept before you had your focus group through your existing customer base. I love that. Well, yes, and it actually ended up being the best way Michelle can talk about this because she had a lot more one on one with the clients. But we didn't realize that's what we were doing in the beginning.

Um you know, we just knew we were talking to people day in day out and it just kind of surfaced, Yes, I'm the esthetician. So I'm doing facials, I'm doing hands on facials with people and people who follow my personal instagram page. My clients would see, I was drinking all this wine in my travels and they would ask me, you know, how can you drink, why in it so bad for your skin? You know, the negative effects of alcohol and sugar. And of course, we are obviously supporting drinking responsibly and don't say wine is not healthy for you. Sugar is not healthy for you, alcohol is not healthy for you, but in small, responsible quantities, you should be able to incorporate it into your daily lifestyle. Like we noticed when we travel to europe, you can have a spritz at lunch or before lunch or after work or have a glass of wine at lunch and you feel fine and then you can go to work, you know, I feel like in a, I don't want to stay in America, but if I go have a glass of wine somewhere, I would stand up after a glass of wine with a salad at lunch and I'd be like, oh I shouldn't have had that, I have to go back to work like this is, I shouldn't have done that.

And in europe, I was finding, well I can do that. Um and so I would talk to clients, even just doing a facial, tell them all about the wines and about my story and about how I used to react to wine 20 years ago and first I thought it was red wine and I couldn't drink red wine. So I cut red wine out. Then I realized, oh, white wines aged in oak are bothering me. That's weird. So I just cut them out and then it kind of, I focused in, this was 20 years ago just personally drinking wine when I became of age and I, I started realizing that sauvignon blancs for some reason aged in steel where wines I didn't react to, so I started looking for those, but you can't really find them unless this was even before we had iphones. So I would go to the wine stores and write down all these sauvignon blanc names and I would go back home and look them up on the internet and research them to see if they were aged in oak or steal, then I'd go back. And so this is a lot Of research that I've done over the past 20 years for my personal pleasure of drinking wine.

And I realized I had all this knowledge and experience I didn't realize was unique and special and that was something that our clients are skincare clients wanted and wanted access to. So we started talking about it so much and at our wine events, people were wanting like Courtney said to know more about the wine almost than the skin care. So for fun, we started, it wasn't quite a podcast, but we would do some instagram lives where Courtney would pick a skin care that we sell in the spot. We usually did this on friday afternoons kind of as our own version of happy hour on friday after work. And then I, Courtney would pick the skin care and then I would pick a wine that would pair with it a clean wine, something that we drink. And it was really fun and just for fun, we were really trying to sell our skincare and make it fun and we were having fun and clearly drinking the wine. And then after those events for days, people were messaging us about the wine. Where did you get the wine?

Tell me more about this idea. Oh my gosh, I haven't been able to drink wine. We didn't realize how many people react to wine like we do. We thought it was just us and we realized there's this huge market of people who love wine, who don't drink wine anymore, who can't drink wine because of the same problems that we were having and the wine industry is really not talking to them. And we meet people every single day, we were just having a meeting the other day at dinner, we were at the pool, you know, fully covered in our SPF and hats and sun gear, but always, and one of a girl that we know walked by and she's like, how are you guys doing? How has it been? And oh yeah, we're working on the wine business. And she goes, oh, I just, I wish I could drink your wine. And I'm like, why can't you drink our wine? And she had heard about it, this is local. And she's like, oh, I just feel terrible. I was like, wait a minute, do not know about our wine. Like, so we also are learning, we, you know, needed, how do we reach people like her to like this is how we do What we're talking about.

How do we market our wine better and talk about it more clearly because she knew about our wine, but she didn't know really about our wine and so every day we meet 1-5 people just in our personal lives that not this one Yeah. People who she had completely given up wine because she hated the way it made her feel and she was hesitant to try our wine because I totally get that, I'm always hesitant to try any wines that I don't know about. Um so you know, we have to find a way to convince them, we're pretty good at convincing people like peer pressure. It's like, let me tell you about it, we'll just take us to, you know, it becomes like really creepy, like that were like so adamant about it, we're like, no, I swear it's different. That's so funny. And so you guys have this, you know, stroke of genius, the lightbulb moment, you're like, oh my God, we should sell our own wine. Mhm. But then what happens? Because like how do you even create a wine brand? How do you make wine?

Yeah, well that's what we've been trying to figure out for the past two years. Pretty much so it's so funny because almost have to look it up and I'll be able to find the exact date, but almost to the day, so you know, we're recording this june almost to the day is the day that we had our idea um two years ago, so two summers ago and it was one of those days like Michelle said where we were doing our skincare and wine pairings and you know, we were drinking wine on a friday afternoon in a spot and yeah, absolutely. And having a great time and you know, on Fridays, like spot clients would come by and our friends would come by and it really used to become a friday known thing to come by the, you know, good skinned a spot to like have one. So what we were doing and we were just having fun and thinking of ideas because we're always thinking of ideas and was throwing out crazy ideas and that day, I don't know what it is, but that day was the day we came up with the wine idea and we sounded great when you're drinking one and having fun.

But you know, the key to a big idea is, does it sound good the next morning when you wake up and you're faced with the harsh reality of what's been going on and we will, I woke up the next morning and you know, thinking to myself, oh my gosh, like that's it like that by, you know, we sober morning harsh reality time. I'm like, no, that was, that's the idea. I remember texting machine sounding like, okay. I think that that was the idea and all the other ideas we had that day. We're kind of weird, but this one is the one and then we were like, we just knew instantly were like, okay, we're doing this. I was elated because I wanted to be in the one industry since college for some reason, I didn't know how and this is of all the things I've done to get here. I haven't even been in the wine industry until now and but I've prepped for it unknowingly and I was elated when she thought that we should go this direction because like she said, we come up with a lot of ideas and the more we thought about it, we just were on fire, but you're right, how do you do that?

And it was a lot of trial and error. So we, Our experts that wine drinking we are and I had already started gaining a lot of knowledge in my travels um about wine. And personally, I had been visiting wineries since I was 21 just for vacation and pleasure. So I really had been gaining experience and knowledge personally as a hobby and I, we decided we needed to hire an expert in the wine industry to advise us. And um, he's basically a negociant if you will and we went to him and presented this idea and we said, is this possible? He said yes. And so we hired him as a consultant to help us do this. Yeah. And then the first thing was finding the wine, which is the most difficult and most fun part. So it's challenging and fun at the same time, but you know, they're really, there are easy ways to do a wine business and then there are the really difficult, high integrity ways of doing a wine business.

And we definitely chose the difficult way, which is the high integrity way because it is so easy to buy wine on a marketplace, you don't know what's in it, you can slap your label on it and I can get it out onto the shelves in a month. But we chose the other path, which was literally going to europe, going to countries, taking trains and cars and busses out into the middle of the countryside in Austria and Portugal in France in Germany in italy all these places to physically meet with wineries, the quality of the wine and the integrity of the wine is first pricing and how it works with importing laws a second, you know, whether they even want to work with you is all those pieces have to come together, you may have one piece is that the other, but you have to have all of them and it just, honestly, and this is a lot, a lot of industries are like this, but the wine industry is very opaque about who does what, and you literally just have to go to everything, you can and you talk to this person who gets you touch with that person and then you take a train to that person and eventually you come across the right people.

I mean it is not, there's no spreadsheet or website of like here's who you go talk to if you want to do this. Like you just you literally just go out there and you just throw a lot of darts and hope someone's you know, one of them sticks, There's no playbook for this, what we did no blueprint. No no no there is. But it does sound like the absolute dream to be like yeah I'm gonna go and pursue my dream and I'm going to travel around europe and I'm going to taste one all day. I'm going to find people that I like. I mean we're not saying it's not fun. That is the best part of it, that part. Well that is the best part because you just get to meet so many amazing people. And yeah, we would definitely get frustrated through this process because it is dreaming to just go for it. But it's also frustrating when you get unexpected surprises and roadblocks which are just mostly related to wine laws and regulation because it's alcohol and it's importing also into the U. S. So the laws were new for us and surprising and unexpected and we realized that when we would get frustrated, Give ourselves some grace and say okay we've never done this before.

Some people have never done this the way we're doing it. So alright let's just relax and be patient and and figure it out. And in the beginning did you have to raise money or you know, put a lot of startup capital in between you to be able to fund the production of your first batch. Is it called a batch of wine? It's a batch, right? Michelle vintage? Yeah, it's a batch or a lot or a vintage. A lot. Michelle is the one person. Yeah. So I have a lot of feelings about startup capital and funding in general. Um you know, yes, it is an expensive business wine because you really have to buy large quantities of inventory up front. Um, you know, it's not like a drop ship business or something like that, you know that sometimes people want to set up. So I have worked in the past for VC funded startups. So I learned a lot from those and I actually came into this business thinking that I did not want it to be VC funded at least in the beginning.

Um, I did not want to raise money. I did not want to have a lot of money. I know that sounds weird, but I didn't have seen what happens when a business has a ton of money to, to have in the beginning of a business and it's easy to just throw money at problems or hire people to fix problems and then, you know, spending all your money and you haven't really solved any problems and I saw that happen in a job that I've had in the past where I worked for a startup that was VC funded. So what I have always been when I, you know, lowest infant, sorry, lowest overhead possible as few employees to know employees in the beginning. And if you can do that, then you are on a good track because if your overhead is low and you don't have a ton of employees to pay for in the beginning, you, it's a slower start and you have to start small. You don't come out of the gates. You know, just raring to go with big splashy articles and you know, on the cover of INc magazine and all these things, it is a slower burn, but you're set up for, um, I think you're set up for a more success.

So what we did and again, this is not the most efficient way, but it's the way that we wanted to do it. We used good skin day, which was already going and we just got real scrappy and just rocked it with the spa and we used that to fund our first sort of round of wine and also the branding part because then it became, once we get the wine in our hands, now we have a product that once we start selling the wine that will create cash flow. So the goal was always get the wine well we actually had cash flow because we were taking preorders because science already wanted it and we had something fun called the wine on the water party. And when you ship wine from europe it's really exciting when you do what we're doing and Once they put the wine that's done and ready into the containers and ship it, the wine will be here in about 3-4 weeks. So we are able to take pre orders when we have the wine on the water party.

So we already had that cash flow coming before the wine arrived in the United States. That's so cool. And so did you just launch that to your customer pool of the spot or did you also launch kind of a bigger campaign to get the word out. It was just local in the beginning and we had online sales shortly we sell online so you can order online online. We shipped a 49 states. But in the beginning yeah it was very local. We didn't have the online sales set up yet the website and that's a whole other beast shipping line is a whole other situation. But yeah, we just, it was local in the beginning and like for the first batch of wine that you ordered, how many bottles is that? I like to paint a picture of like you know it does just start small and it does just start through an existing community. Well it does but when I tell you how many we have, you're going to think like, you're going to be like, that's not small. But you know, it it actually is. So our first wine that we got was red and white And it was a minimum of 300 cases each.

And that's 12 bottles per case. Okay, so that's a lot. So I know it wasn't like we had, you know, 100 bottles. Um you know, you're like, that doesn't sound small And that's 7200 bottles and you're like, okay, at least worst case scenario, if this wine doesn't sell, we're going to keep it in the garage, we're gonna turn it into a wine cellar and we're gonna have like, wine for life. No, that's 100% right. Yeah. People would say to us at the beginning when they would hear about what we were doing. The naysayers. Yeah. They were like, well, what are you gonna do if you don't sell it? And my instant responses, we'll just drink it. I'm like, we're not mad at that. Yeah. And we actually just placed are red wine is our largest seller, our biggest seller. And we just placed our order right now yesterday for the second vintage, which will of red, which is coming because we've almost sold out of our red. Oh, congratulations. That's so exciting. Yeah, it was it's been amazing. What's it like I'm wondering of like women in the wine industry and the representation of women in the wind industry.

My assumption and what I know of wine is that it's male dominated. It's, you know, the men would pick the grapes, the men would make the wine, the men would sell the wine um unless we're talking about, you know, that period of time when men or went to war and then the women would pick the grapes. But what's it like now, are there more women entering the industry that you know of? Yes, but not enough. You're correct. The wine industries traditionally very white and very male. Um the diversity and you know, that kind of thing is a is a huge hurdle, but it is changing pretty rapidly. I would say there's still a lot of pushback, but you know, we haven't personally run into a lot of it in our personal journey a couple of times, we've had some misogynistic encounters which have frustrated us, but it also spurred us on to keep going and be like, we don't care about him. And those encounters actually fire us up.

I think well, and personally for me through my journey of drinking wine and learning about wine, I find you know, there's a lot of intimidation in the wine industry, it might not always be for the faint of heart just because of those specific things you mentioned at the beginning, but when I'm visiting wineries and winemakers since the beginning, they've always been amazing and wanting to communicate and talk. Um and I would say where I have encountered more of the challenges are just really in more personal circles kind of smaller circles almost more like with people not even in the one industry where you'll have someone a male maybe for example who will either be intimidated by my wine knowledge or passion about it or I think it's attractive um in a non good feeling way if you might, I don't know how to say that, what creepy.

So yeah, so um you know, and that's our brand is to take the intimidation out of wine buying and choosing and drinking and to make clean wine easy to find, easy to access affordable and make it fun, good, clean fun are good, clean wine is for good, clean fun. So yeah, we don't encounter any challenges from that, you know, and I mean we meet a lot of people, a lot of women winemakers and maybe it's just because we're women, but yeah, it's weird. It's like, I don't know if it's just getting better, but we haven't, we haven't run into it as much. It usually like the production level and the higher level is usually amazing where we encounter the misogyny and the, you know, just bad attitude is usually on the sales level. I don't know if it's like they're just the men are intimidated by us or they wish they had thought of the idea and so they're, you know defense mechanism is to tell us that our, you know, to like insult our wine to our faces which has definitely happened.

Um and just be kind of all around jerks I think that happens in every industry and help that happens at the you know grocery store when I'm just like walking down the aisle. I think every woman encounters that in our daily life no matter what they're doing, you really have to be tough as nails and just kind of be like okay he doesn't matter, I don't care and you just move on and that's with any business, you're going to run into that with any business and it's about how we created this brand to talk to this huge market of people that the wine industry is not talking to. I mean that's basically what it is, it's creating a label that clearly communicates and stands out on a shelf From the rest of the other bottles on the shelf so that the person who's in the grocery store can see that and understand the concept and buy it and pay $20 for it. You know our wine from the winery from Italy where it's made, there's another brand that's only sold in Italy in Europe that is a similar by wine to ours, not the same one ours is the only one like this sold in the US but there's another brand similar that we encountered there that in Italy it's €40 for a bottle which equates to about 45 american dollars.

So you're getting the same exact quality and clean organic handmade wine, minimal intervention in the U. S. For $20. And that was really important for us to keep it as low as we could to make it accessible for people and our wine. We've learned there are other wines out there like this and we're excited to be part of this new movement. But most of them are online wine clubs and that's the only way you can get them is through an online order. We wanted people to be able to buy our wine in stores and in grocery stores and drinking at restaurants by the glass and it to be affordable. And we do get some pushback when we meet with distributors or sales people that say, we describe our customers and our demographic and say, you know, people drinking our wines stopped drinking wine and now they're only drinking like gin or bud light and men who like bud, light lime or women who like bud light lime, love our white wine and they will say to us, oh that's that's not our client. You know, we're not going to work with you because we don't sell wine to people like that.

We don't sell to grocery stores. So we've just had to find out who we need to talk to to get our wine to the right client. Yeah. The second somebody throws some snobbery our way. We're just like okay bye. Yeah. Not into it. Not, no, I'm just like you like, we're done, we're done with the snobs. Yeah, for sure. Get him out, get him out Alicia out the door. Yeah. Do you think that the branding piece and you know, obviously the name and being different to other brands, like sitting on the shelf? Is that what makes you attractive to the retailers or is what makes you attractive to the retailers? Just the fact that you're two female founders? What do you think it is that, you know, because I imagine still wine is a saturated market, right? And lots of wine brands want to be in all the stores. How do you think? What's the angle that you guys come in at? Yeah, I think it's a combination of all those things, but mostly we are able to present from our backgrounds not being wine people. I mean we are but we aren't because this is the first time we've worked in the wine industry.

Um you know, my background is actually I was a beauty editor for magazines and I was the health and fitness editor. So I was really entrenched in that world. So I'm very knowledgeable and like what kind of topics and health topics and things that are bothering people in what kind of knowledge they're seeking with their health and skin and lifestyle and all those things. And Michelle's an aesthetician. She's Somalia too as well. She's also comes from the culinary world as well. So what we can present is when we present to people is we're like, listen, I'm like, we know this customer and we know that you're not reaching it and the second we tell them that they can gain market share or that they can gain new customers, they're they're very interested. And when we tell them, we're like, listen, wellness is not a fad. Clean, the clean movement is not a fad. Well, basically tell them like you either get on board now are going to be left out and this is how you get on board. And then they're like, oh, okay, I never thought of it that way, because they're entrenched in the wine industry.

And when people talk to themselves, they talk to each other in a big circle wine. People talk to other wine people and you just have to insert a new perspective and the people who get it, they get it and they are on board. And I think that we also present ourselves really well because we're, we excel when we're able to be in person with tastings. And so for us, they see how excited we are about it. And we're like, we do tastings and we drive people to your store, we support the retailers. We basically tell them, listen, you're going to make money and that's all they really care about the end of the day is the dollars. So we're just present all the way they're going to make money from us and then they taste the wine and they're like, yeah, okay. And then they look at the price and they're like, oh yeah, okay, this is a no brainer. I love how you guys have, like, reinvented yourselves in this new um, like, second phase of your career in wine, and I think that's like, your superpower that you have a different background and that you didn't start out like spending your whole career in wine, which I'm sure like a lot of people do, and I think it's really important for people who listen to this podcast to not be deterred by the fact that, yeah, okay, maybe you're a beauty editor, but you can still go and create a wine brand if that's what you're passionate about.

You don't have to have known about why since you were a kid. I think it's better say if you don't know your I mean, the problem with the skincare industry is that, you know, I know too much and I get in my own way and you know, I'm so knowledgeable about skin care and it's very difficult for me to create ideas and projects within skincare because I am my own worst enemy because I'm like, well that's already been done even, I don't know, I just know way too much and I find all the reasons why I shouldn't do it and I find all the problems first and I don't really think about the opportunities. So I think for me really not knowing about wine, Michelle knows way more about actual wine than I do. For me it's been really fun because it's like I get to put my journalism hat back on and like do research and talk to new people and discover new things. And that's what keeps me going because the research part was always the part I loved about being a beauty editor. Anyway, um, was the research and the finding of the new information.

So for me it keeps me going and I don't get bored, I'm not bored and that's what you brought to the business because, you know, my wine experiences and tasting and drinking and knowledge, but you were able to bring that aspect to the design because there's not as much of that in the wine industry. So like everything Courtney knows about marketing and branding and tone of voice and design and what's coming next. And her ability to kind of sense that and know that and be ahead of it is what we brought to the branding and the design and the way we communicate about the wine, because if you look at the front and the back of other wine labels, they're confusing and you have to have the experience, I have to find clean wine and we wanted to create the labels on the front and the back that talk about wine in the way you and our clients can understand it easily. So we've made it easy for the retailers to sell the wine, we've made it easy for their clients to find and buy the wine.

And when we are trying to get a distributor ourselves person to take our wine in onto their shelves we say we can make this easier for you. I will say to someone you know do you have people coming in asking for clean natural organic wine and sometimes they will roll their eyes and I was like why are you rolling your eyes? And they say well it's just really annoying and I say well why is it annoying? And they say well it's just such we just don't have it, you know and they go into this thing and I wait that's what our wine can help you with our wine, says it, good, clean wine. So it's just really easy, you put it on the shelf when that client comes in everyone in your store who works with you can easily go oh well there's like this whole shelf of clean wine but it's really confusing and it's chateau this and it's you know blah blah that vouvray this and people don't understand those words, they don't even understand the grapes in our wine, it's multiple piano, Alicante merlot, psychology leo you know if we just put that on the label that would be very confusing to everyone, even me, like I forget how to say those grapes or what they mean sometimes.

And if you just put clean read, good clean read on the bottle. The salesperson who's working that day might not their expertise might be spirits or beer and not wine, but they can easily go there's the clean line right there and sell it to their client. And I think your point was like when you said our backgrounds not being in the wine industry, that actually helped us because we were able to see that hole, You know, if we had grown up in the wine industry, we've been working in the wine industry forever, I think we would have said to ourselves, well there's already clean line, why would we do this? Because there is, but we wouldn't have seen that the marketing and the communication was all wrong. So us not being in the industry has given us a fresh perspective. So I absolutely think that if you have an idea, it's outside of your knowledge base, I don't know sometimes, I feel like that's the idea you do pursue. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Um I want to talk about the marketing that you guys are doing now and how you acquire new customers, obviously your dTC, but you're also wholesaling and you have stock tests what's working for you in marketing at the moment?

So in the, you know, this would have been a much different conversation in february because of the pandemic, what's working for us now because we've had to rely so heavily on just online communications. We haven't been able to do in person tastings, which is where we really excel. But what's really worked for us marketing wise is partnering with like minded brands outside of the line industry. So um skincare brands, we've done online giveaways and promotions with skincare meal delivery, healthy meal delivery services, those kinds of things because are good clean wine. Our tagline is pairs with a healthy lifestyle pairs well with a healthy lifestyle. Well, part of that is your skincare, your fitness, your eating habits, those kinds of things. So we what works for us is pairing with other businesses that have like minded customers and that's been working really well for us online giveaways, tagging, you know, just, you know, just instagram stuff, newsletters, that kind of stuff.

Yeah. Cool. And what's kind of like, what's next on the cards for this year in your marketing? Well, hopefully, yeah, you know, ideal plan is to get back out there for tastings because we truly excel when we're in person. And again, it's not the most efficient or cost effective way to market, but it is the most effective way to find your ambassadors and those are the people who are your customers for life because the second they taste our wine, like it's done and the second they listen to us talk about it, it's over. I mean it's all it takes. And so we just have to get back out there so hopefully we'll be able to do that because that's that's I mean that's the plan. I hope that we're you know, still able to do those tastings. I mean we're already, you know right now it's summary for us and we are it's all about the spritz and we have these plans to tour around with our sprints cart if we are able and then we're already we have a little cart.

Yeah and there are little spritz bar and and we um right now we just do it in our house and we do by ourselves, we film it and we try to teach people recipes on how to make cocktails and spritz this summer at home and while they're sheltering in place and while they're having their summer parties and you know planning fun promotional events with free shipping and themed events like rosa days, this saturday and um Father's Day is coming up. So I'm working on some cocktails for dad and wine pairings with barbecued and burger foods and you know those are the kinds of things we can provide value to our clients and how they compare their wine and incorporate the wine and cook with the wine and make simple cocktails. Um right now we're already even thinking about the fall our wine or red wine is our most popular wine. Um The majority of people we hear from get headaches or hangovers from red wine and that's typically people, it's easier to find clean white wine.

So we're really talking a lot about our red wine and exposing, you know, telling people who had no idea that you could find red wine that didn't make you feel that. So that is going to already be really big in the fall and we're hoping all ready for the fall will be able to be fully in person with people. We hope, yeah, we hope, yeah, I want to sign up. I want to subscribe to what you want to live it to me often you've really sold it. We get that we actually get that a lot of people, this is the funniest thing. So it will get, you know, I see all the online orders come in and what will happen is we'll get, somebody will try All as we have five lines in our portfolio. Generally people will buy three or more bottles because they want to try out different kinds. Sometimes they buy all five at once, then I will see like a week and a half later, they come back online and now I can see what they like because now it's a case of one of them and then two weeks later it's two cases.

I mean it is so funny and amazingly wonderful for me to watch the progression of our clients online in real time, like what they like and then they start then I suddenly start seeing orders come in and it's being shipped to other people. And I'm like oh now this person is now ordering several times a month and they're shipping it out to people across the country. I mean they're like it's insane that like the second people taste the wine, they're like they don't want to keep it to themselves. They're like oh no this needs to be shared. And then I get these messages like hi I need to send the case to six different addresses. Like is it what's the easiest way to do that? I'm like oh my gosh this is crazy. I mean amazing amazing. It's amazing but high return customer rate. So we get that we actually do have a um So we Shopify on the back end and I get this pop up every time I log on that says your conversion rate is you know X percentage higher than most stores on Shopify. Congratulations. We have a huge return and customer and conversion rate.

It's really cool. But we get that a lot like can I just sign up for a monthly subscription and just have it set. And we are looking into that. But the shipping logistics of wine is really complicated. So that's just a little bit of our you know work in progress with the shipping. Yeah I bet I mean it's heavy right? So shipping shipping implicated. It's heavy and expensive. You have to pay for an adult signature. And yeah it's the law, each state in the U. S. Has a different law and that's why Utah is not able to receive our wine. They're the only state. Um So they're every state has different laws. Damn. Damn it. Yeah. I know it's complicated. You know, I would suggest to people listening if they want to go into a business that is highly regulated industry. So wine alcohol CBD, you know, anything that requires licensing any regulated industry, you know, just be prepared for a lot of complicated laws you have to handle.

You just have to be willing to do it. A lot of non wine headaches. Oh yeah. You know, most of the time is spent on licensing and laws and you know that kind of stuff. So you just, if anybody's going into that type of industry, they just need to be prepared for that. And like, so it doesn't take you by surprise. Yeah, for sure. I've heard a lot about, I've spoken to companies that also work in highly regulated spaces like CBD the sex industry. Um, and it's also obviously really hard for paid marketing and yeah, that's about to learn for your new startup founders. I want to ask you, um, I want to ask you both, what is your number one piece of advice for women who are starting a business or have a big idea. You want to go first. Yeah, sure that no idea is too big and or unattainable really, we have been told that this is a big idea, we didn't realize it was, I mean we knew it was gonna be hard, we didn't know how to do it, but now that we think about what we've done over the past two years, it is really big and it was hard, but you know, think big, think bigger than you already think make your dream list and your goals list higher than you think and the things you want to attain larger than you could even imagine and just start and go for it because if you, you know it's the glass ceiling, if it's only this high, you know, go higher um and just be honest with yourself and know yourself and be patient things take more money and more time than you think and that's cliche but really takes more money and more time and I like, you know how Courtney points out at the beginning about when you have all the money or maybe all the time in the world, you throw money at problems and when you don't, you have to be more creative about fixing those problems and just stick to that, try to be um as tight hold on your budget and as you can, cash is king.

Yeah, I think Don't be upset if you don't have $1 million dollars to start a business um very short side story before I tell you my advice is that I actually left new york city because I wanted to start a business there and it would have involved physical locations and I kept being told over and over again, I need a minimum of a million dollars and I was like, well that's never going to happen. I mean I'm living in new york city, this is financially, you know, I don't have a trust fund, I don't have huge investors, I don't have any connections to be able to start this business really. So I I left new york city and I moved back to my hometown of Springfield Missouri on purpose so that I could start a business. I don't know what the business is going to be yet, but I knew that I could do it in a place where I didn't need as much money, you could bootstrap it. Yeah, and the cost of living is lower and it's less stressful place to live and I didn't have to, you know, do it as a side hustle while I worked another job 12 hours a day and I didn't need a million dollars of funding to start a business like that was a a purposeful decision to do is move to a lower cost city.

Um So that's a huge decision that is, you know, not necessarily for everybody, but that's something that I did on purpose so that I can start a business because I didn't want to deal with the money aspect that way. And so I do think that don't beat yourself up if you don't have a million dollars to start a business, um you will read articles that tell you that you have to have that and you just need to ignore them because that's the lie that the VC funding world is telling you and they have everybody, you know, sucked into that myth. But I think what we're seeing now is that the B. C. You know, mythology is kind of crumbling to ashes around us every day. The news is showing all these businesses that are suddenly admitting that guess what, they've actually not made money for the past two years or three years and they just have to keep raising money and money and I'm like I'm so glad we don't have that. So my biggest advice for people who have an idea I want to go for it is get rid of the idea of passion. I hate that word, it's too much pressure.

I I don't know what I'm passionate about, I haven't found my passion. I hear that all the time and I'm like you think I have, I'm like maybe you know, is this my passion? Sure it is. But it was also just something I was curious about that I thought could be cool. So I went and looked and did it. So I think get rid of the notion of passion, Get rid of the notion that has to be your life's work that you're going to find your entire, you know, everything is going to be completed in your life. If you find this one passion that's going to make you, you know, this better version of yourself. I tell people just follow your curiosity if you think something sounds cool, explore it. If it sucks, you stop doing it and eventually you'll find the thing that you want to keep pursuing and maybe it's your passion. Maybe it's not, maybe it's just something that you are good at and that's enough satisfaction for you. You know, I have this weird thing where like, I love finance, I find it super fascinating and I'll read like super boring books that everybody else thinks it's so boring is finance.

My passion. No, I just like reading those books, you know, so I think I just always tell people to go follow what they're interested in that moment and maybe it leads to something else. And that's what's really helped us with this is Courtney's interest in finance because that is very helpful for creative types like myself or my creative mind does not stop. And I'm recipes and events and themes and plans and coming up with ideas and spritz kits that never ends. And Courtney helps rein that in with me. I think the one thing we forgot to say Courtney was really the number one thing is don't start a business that doesn't already have an existing customer. Well, yeah, that's that's the best piece of advice. I had that in the mix too. Yeah, I know that you know, don't solve a problem that you've invented. 100% great words to end on. I finish every episode with six quick questions so I'm gonna run through um you both separately.

So Michelle, let's start with you. Okay. Number one is, what's your why the why is we created this business for the customer because we didn't realize we were the only people that needed clean wine. So we created it for us and everyone who needs it. Number two is what's the number one marketing moment that's made your business pop. Um the collaborations that we've had with other skincare brands on instagram right now during the pandemic, Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter with our clients? Which is where the brand started in the spa with our clients. I love that. # four is how do you win the day? I'm a morning person. So I'm typically when it's not the pandemic, I'm up by at least five and exercising meditating, going over my to do list with over coffee and I know we can all get overwhelmed by our to do list.

So one thing that I do is I start with the I I prioritize my to do list for the day based on how long, you know, whatever it is and I focus on the top 1 to 3 items for that day and I don't think I have to do the whole list and at night before bed when I'm in bed, I usually mask with a mask on my bio mat and read some books that Courtney has sent me about finance, boring finance, great, I love them, I love them. Um number five is, if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account for good clean wine, where would you spend It? We would use that $1,000 to create promotion and collateral and graphics to host a themed in person event here in town and bring, hopefully that would, that would bring in $5,000, which we've done and we do. And # six is how do you deal with failure? We don't like that word. We think everything is a learning and a journey and a process and a surprise.

You can be surprised by lots of things and things that we have no control over. Like we had two days after we moved our wine into our storage unit, a bad storm with a little tornado came and ripped the roof off and damaged a bunch of wine that was drinkable but not sellable really. So we've had some tornado wine sales and um, challenges for us are typically wine laws and things we didn't expect in the wine industry and we're just learning and the things we didn't know two years ago were becoming experts at. It's really cool tornado sales. That sounds really fun, you can get more midwest than that, That's crazy. Okay Courtney, yeah, what's your, why the y is to create wine that doesn't give you headaches and a hangover because I love wine and I'm not willing to give it up neither. I'm just absolutely not, definitely, there had to be another way life's not good with that one. I know. Uh number two, what's the number one marketing moment that made your business pop in your opinion?

Yeah, So right before the pandemic, we were invited to serve wine at the Credo Beauty Summit Clean Beauty Summit out in san Francisco um that was a two day event and that was our very first huge partnership and it was amazing because you know, if you're familiar with Credo beauty, you're, you know, definitely look them up if you haven't, there's just this amazing clean beauty retailer that is growing really rapidly and they have an online store, so definitely check them out and they just got our concept immediately. They actually asked us before we had launched our line, all they had done was seen our marketing and our teasers online, We got a message in november before we had launched wine saying, hey, we're having our clean beauty summit with all their brands and experts in clean beauty customers in february, do you want to come for your wine? And I just was like, wow, they get it? I mean they get it and, and I was like well sure, but you know, do you want to taste the wine? You know, they're like no, we we trust you. We, it seems awesome and I was like okay, we're doing this and we went and we, for two days we poured wine and got to talk to our exact customer and we love credo and we are going to continue working with them.

We haven't really been able to do much during the pandemic, but I'd say that was a huge starting point for us and right off the bat, being able to partner with a company with so much integrity and such great people was really important. Sorry, that wasn't very fire responsive. Hey, come here for a lot of little long. Good. # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? Um This is so funny, I'm like, I feel like Michelle and I was always together so I'm just wherever she is. Where do we hang out with our customers at all times in wine? Yeah. With our customers with drinkers and wine makers. Actually, that is true. So yeah, so yes, our customers in our spot and with, when we have wine events, but we also like to go to any wine, cool boutique or cool wine bar that we can to talk to them about their ones and just get to know more people in the wine industry because we are still learning and we love connecting with other women in the wine industry. So like in new york, we love to go to sell rose um Mi garba is a great place, you know, we love to go, there's vino gallery in ST louis cote in new york.

Like we love to go to like cool wine boutique e places and just talk to the people that are there, whether they're just they're drinking, whether the owners or you know, we just, we really will talk to anybody so you kind of can't get rid of anyone who will talk back. Yeah, we just don't really shut up. So we just go to these places and just kind of like make ourselves known, start looking to everybody there. Question number four is, how do you win the day? Okay, so I'm the exact opposite of Michelle just like in many ways. And so I win the day by like sleeping as late as possible and then not looking at my phone or doing anything except drinking coffee in my dark cave of a bedroom for as long as humanly possible and I stay in bed as long as I can and if I can do that, I'm very happy, I'm more like you, I'm a sleeper, I need to sleep in. It just makes me so happy to sit in my bed drinking coffee. I don't know that's how it was the day I hear you.

Uh number five is if you only have $1000 left in the business bank account, where would you spend it? Okay so I would buy us plane tickets to europe to a winery that we haven't visited and I would probably, I don't know the legalities of this, but this is a hypothetical situation would take preorders from our customers here and tell them that we're going to bring them back wine because Michelle has these wine suitcases, How many do they fit? Michelle? I have three of those ones that fit 12 each, but then I have two more. So I kind of have five cases of what we Can bring five cases of wine back with us from Europe and we've done it many times. Um so I would bring the wine back from this cool family owned winery and and sell it to people. Well we're going to do that, we will do that and we do do that. But last question, how do you deal with failure? So I love that question because I look back in my life and I'm thinking I guess there are times that wouldn't be considered a failure, but I never really considered them that um I have never even thought of something as a failure.

I always see something as a quote unquote failure as like a new beginning, like I get really excited by them. Like I've been laid off from like four jobs. I always found it like exhilarating. Like I never like thought it was upsetting, I was like, oh gosh, now I get to go do something else or a business doesn't work out and I have to close it and I'm like, well that was a learning, like what's the next thing? Um so I always get really excited about new opportunities, so failures to me, you know, if they're large scale failures, I just see them as a new opportunity, but small scale failures that we have encountered um over the year, two years with this business, you know, we had a winery, ghost us and that was a huge deal, but all we do, we, you know, we drink a lot of wine and we have like a nineties dance party and we cry and shout and get really mad and then the next day we, it's like cathartic and the next day we just get up and move on and I get facials. Guys, I want to come hang out with, you know, it's not bad.

You're my people, please come hang out with, love you to visit Oh my gosh, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really loved recording this episode with you guys. Yeah, it was so fun for having us was awesome and great to meet you. Hey, it's just me here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you want to hear more, head to my instagram at Dune rasheen to see my filmed interviews with incredible female founders like Erica from Fluffy Beauty Greta, from drop bottle and Sammy Leo from breeze bomb. And if you like what we're doing here, visit our website and sign up to female startup club dot com to get all of the good stuff delivered straight to your inbox and lastly subscribe to the female startup Club podcast. Mhm. Yeah.

How to start a wine company with Courtney Dunlop and Michelle Feldman.. The story of how they sold out of their first ever drop of Good Clean Wine
How to start a wine company with Courtney Dunlop and Michelle Feldman.. The story of how they sold out of their first ever drop of Good Clean Wine
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