Just Start Now
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Just Start Now
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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start i think people really struggle to get started and you know i will say that that action is the most important thing so you know if you're tossling or thinking about an idea um and you can't quite decide like you just gotta go and you gotta go fast and you're gonna like bump into walls and then you go oh okay we're going this direction now and like that's all normal right like startups aren't normal i think that's the other thing that a lot of people fail to understand it's like these are these really weird experiments you know and and you just have to test and test and test and see what works and when you you know you keep that feedback loop tight and you just keep on going but [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin mittler the silver the serial entrepreneur that's a grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as a ceo and founder of miller iplock where we focus on helping startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com we are always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast lauren chitwood and give a bit of a background on lauren so she was wanting to be an entrepreneur for a while uh went to school in uh and graduated in 2008 with a public relations degree from university of kentucky and uh after graduation kind of started getting into lecturing events for kind of business related and events where it's a bit of the higher skill or upscale but or luxury side and skilled that business grew up for a while until 2016 when she sold it and then was looking for something new and the intent what part of it was to take her weekends back and may or may not have ever happened and she could chime in on that but that was part of the intent also was looking for something new that was fun met a co-founder that was in the hospital hospitality business as well and uh was looking or did a lot in the goods and wines and those type of festivals and started looking into different companies and partnered with different brands and kind of was looking for that and also reflecting back on doing a lot of the luxury events they've done and saying there was a i think there was a demand for spirit-less drinks or in other words non-alcoholic drinks or for spirits and how that was often demanded how they could start to build and form a company around that so with that formed a company and has been growing it ever since which is now spiritless.com so with that much is an introduction welcome on the podcast lauren thank you devon thank you very much so i gave the brief 30 second run through of a much longer journey so let's why don't you take us back in time a bit and tell us a little bit about how it got started and then kind of uh graduating in 2008. yeah well so as you as you summarize so i'm i'm a 2008 grad and i think as many graduates at that time as you're coming out of school and looking at the job market you're not exactly sure what's there for you um and i i was really sure i didn't want to go back to school and i was also really sure that i didn't want to call banner ads online and that that sort of felt like maybe my my options and so i said you know what i think i've got a network that will still be entertaining despite the times and you know i think that i think that i i think that i have the organizational skills and the know-how to to start an event business so jumped right in and was wonderfully naive which i think is a really an important skill for for many entrepreneurs because if you knew if you knew everything that you needed to know you probably wouldn't do it right because there's all those problems that we know you run into um and and yeah ended up scaling scaling that business and i sold it in 2016. now one question i'll get into because you touched on it a bit so you come out with public relations saying okay i want to do something first of all 2008 to your point is probably not the most the best type or at least in quotes the best time to graduate in the sense that it's starting to hit the crash and the housing market and things are starting to be a downturn and yet you're still graduating you still have to figure out a way to make an income make a living so how did you how did you kind of land on the luxury events and kind of doing that for in the business space was it hey i'll do something and this sounds exciting and just light bulb moment or how did you kind of land on that yeah i think it just felt accessible to me you know i think if as you look at other businesses you know and and certainly something that we're very familiar with with now and spiritless is you know just the you know the cost of entry into a lot of these a lot of these worlds or new businesses you know take some real real capital and you know what i what i liked about the event business is that um you know it was it was a relatively um accessible business for me from a financial perspective to get going and so that was really you know that would just you know an instinctual idea for my skill set um was really what said like i'm gonna try this so so and so you land on that and i agree with the your comment that you made that you know every i think every entrepreneur has to be a bit of an over overly optimistic or a bit naive in the sense if you really understood all the possible things that you could go wrong all the things that you don't know all the hidden costs all the other things you would probably never get into it because you'd be scared off way too early on and yet there's it presents a lot of opportunities so because you're you know you don't know these things you're willing to dive in get going and you can often times figure those out so i i tend to agree that there needs to be a bit of optimism now you grew that it would have been what about eight years that you were in the luxury event and kind of that you know luxury event business now as you're getting towards the end of that you decided to sell now is that out of a matter of you had somebody come along and making the proverbial offer you can't refuse we're saying hey i want to take a break this is you know the markets drying up what you know kind of what prompted the shift or that sell the business and to go on to something else it was it was an offer you know it was an offer at just the right time to probably if i was being honest which is um you know i had a young family at the time and you know there were over 30 weekends a year that i probably wasn't sleeping and running around you know dealing with some unforeseen you know crisis because that's just really what the the live event world is right just dealing with whatever happens and and you know the best laid plans um you know sometimes go awry so it was it was a really good timing for me i was i was actively already thinking about what was my next thing what what did i need to do you know i think the event business although it's a wonderful business it is um it is for the young i think that you know i knew that as i although i still i still consider myself young but i knew that it wasn't something i wanted for my for my my whole life and so you know i had already kind of had that realization and and when the offer came it was like well yes it was it was great it was just great no and i think that that you know it's usually most of the time you know because people can make an offer in your business a lot of times you say no i want to keep it or i'm enjoying it but a lot of times it's in that timing of hey i'm looking to take back a little bit of my personal life family life i'm you know maybe a bit worn out and all of those things kind of combine and say okay it's the right time so they make the offer so now they make the offer they buy out the business you sell that you know no what did you do did you write immediately go to your next you know great idea and then you know start looking for business say hey i'm going to take some time off somebody else approached you what they did kind of how did you now that you sold the business how did you kind of tackle that next phase yeah and so i you know i i probably took very little time off i think in hindsight i think it felt like an extraordinary amount of time but i think it was probably like three months that was the gap which is kind of laughable but probably i don't know for you know if you're always go go go and you you know you're doing a startup small business that amount of time you're sitting there saying okay i've got a lot of time right now what am i going to do you get you know you oh it always like it i'm kind of the same way i always like you know it'd be nice one time to just have weekends and nights where i don't have to think of anything and i turn my brain off and then i'm like yeah and i'd probably do that and if i would ever step back i'd probably get bored and in a month or two i'd be right back to where i'm at because you know that's i think a lot of times how you're wired yeah i don't think i turned my brain off for a second to be honest i mean i think that i was already incubating what was the what was the potential next thing and so i knew that i wanted to i knew i wanted my next business if i was going to stay in the hospitality and event lane which i felt like i had a lot of power in i felt like it was something that i that i really intimately understood i also knew that i really wanted to get away from the um from the emotion of taking someone or an individual's money in return for an event because that's also just like it's a roller coaster corporate dollars are much more transactional right this has nothing to do with someone's ego or you know whatever they're they're kind of trying to express um and so you know i knew that i was looking for for something that was that was outside of the leisure business i also knew that i was looking for for something that i could do with a partner i think that you know although although being a solopreneur you know there there are benefits to it but they're also just like i will never do a business by myself ever again and so all the while i'm you know just kind of incubating ideas thinking about what's next thinking about what a partner would be and who i should look for and then um you know by by another stroke of maybe luck or you know supreme manifestation i met my my co-founder in my second business abby ferguson who's actually a co-founder in spirit list as well so now how did you how did you guys connect was it somebody already knew you had to happen to meet in a coffee shop and hit it off you went to a business event how did you make that connection our networks pushed us together so um it was interesting so abby has this great history in food and beverage and so she was on the the founding team of the new york city food and wine festival when it came up from south beach from there she went down to atlanta and was on the founding team of the atlanta food and wine festival which also sold in 2016. she happened to be in louisville her husband is a native and it was it was funny because for months both of us kept hearing our network and our our pals say you know you should really meet so and so or you should meet lauren or you should meet abby and it was really serendipitous just on on an evening out she was actually walking into a doorway i was walking out of and everybody said wait wait hold on we've been trying to connect you to wait wait wait until we literally stood and talked in this doorway um in exchange exchanged phone numbers and then and then from there we we say we call it our daily period you know we had a lot of lunches and got to know one another and talked about what could be and um you know how we would blend her experience and you know the value that she brought versus um with everything that that i knew and had had experience who business so uh so yeah that's that's how it happened no and that definitely you know that's always it's always interesting how you connect with people and whether it's clients or founders or co-founders or business partners it's not necessarily the way that you you know it's not like in the movies or the television show where it's just a perfect match made in heaven but it's oftentimes you know different or interesting ways that you make the the connection so you guys said you know you made that connection you finally connected you did you went through the dating period which i think is smart on everybody's head in the sense that once you you know it it is a lot like dating and marriage in the sense that a business partner you're working with them for a long period of time you're going to have your ups and downs you're going to have the business that's going to go through struggles you're probably going to have your fights and you know you have a lot of joint assets so there's a lot of overlap and i think to make sure that that's a good fit is absolutely you know makes sense so now as you you kind of go through that dating period how did did you whose idea was it or how did you guys land on this spirit-less kind of an idea yeah so you know what we we started a company called olio and what oleo did and this was this was the second business and spirit list is the third in my life cycle so um so olio essentially connected the trade and the consumer to big beverage uh conglomerates and the brands that fell underneath them and so abby has the most amazing rolodex i mean if you are a heavy hitter in the food and beverage world she has probably worked with you and probably saved your bacon at some point so um we really use those contacts as a way to do experiential events to do um you know all kinds of marketing campaigns and marketing initiatives by being able to kind of layer on layer on that rolodex and you know that is kind of an additional additional perk um or additional angle if you will and you know really where spirit list was ultimately born is that we kept solving the same problem for all of our customers they were they were calling us and it was it was always an afterthought but always urgent and they were saying i'm so sorry i didn't i failed to mention this but this is really important we need something non-alcoholic and can it not be you know there was water coffee juice nothing syrup-based you know there was there was nothing in a can there was this enormous list of qualifiers and as we time and time again went to try to solve that problem we were really struggling to do it in a way that was creative or that wasn't just water or something that was juice-based and so um so that's really the the aha moment for for when spiritless was born is is you know just solving our own our own problems and our customers problems no and that definitely makes sense you know it's interesting uh how often times the customers will come and tell you what they want some people are good if you're a good entrepreneur you'll listen you know it's always a balance in the sense if you get some customers they tell you it's what they want but they're not willing to pay for it or they're not willing to actually do anything about it and this is kind of yeah this would be a nice to have and they keep telling you and then you go do it and you're not you know nobody it's a failed business because nobody wants to pay for it but all the other times you know if your customers are consistently wanting it and already paying you for it it presents an opportunity for you now one question i'd have is so you have oleo which is the other business that you guys say hey we're going to run these two businesses side by side we're going to spin this out it's going to start out as one business or kind of we're going to close one down close the other business down because this is a better opportunity kind of how did you make the transition yeah so so we incubated it for a while in oleo um you know we had we had kind of a separate half of the world that you know was was working and thinking about this doing some market research you know we were we were kind of plugging away a little bit on the sidelines and then when we when we really were able to just assess the size and the scope of the opportunity we just said this is ours this is ours to miss and so we essentially um we we closed that business and and went full force and into spirit-less well that kudos to you guys now one or follow-up question i have lots of fun or questions yeah and to do that you know what period of time was that over where you kind of had the idea you started to transition it take you know test it out see if it works before you made the full jump and shut down the other business was this over a week a month a year five years it was probably it was probably between three and six months which you know and i think that one of the things that i honestly felt is even you know there was there was also some other strain and some other optics happening which is that for me i really desired out of a key man business but i found myself in another keyman business which is that you know abby and i were really kind of the intellectual capital of that business that that ultimately you know scaling it again and having an asset that probably really um lived outside of us on a day-to-day was going to be really challenging and that was becoming apparent we were still kind of on that client hamster wheel which is just like oh you know every single day there's just a new a new thing and and that's really that's one of the challenges of services based businesses um so you know i was i was tossling with that reality all the while we were working on spirit list and you know to have something that you know while certainly team is enormously valuable but an asset that can really live outside of me um was was something that i was highly interested in and so as we were was we were incubating that i was also just saying like i think this is really where i want to be um no and that that definitely makes sense and so so now you guys you know you figure out okay we do that for a period time we have a transition we say hey the bigger opportunities here we're more excited about it we don't have to be on the hamster wheel of always you're trying to generate new business and clients and we can focus on the product and kind of sales on that so you go through all of that and you jump into spirit list and this was i think he said either you're third second or third startup and it was the other founders now now as you get into it was it you know was it easier after doing it multiple rounds and already have working with your partner would it still present issues would that the businesses take off and skyrocket was it bumpy as you're trying to you know get people to accept the product or how did that launch go yeah no i mean listen the launch has gone incredibly well we're we're so fortunate i think that you know although we had touched beverage and in so many ways over the course of our careers there is there is an enormous hurdle on creating a liquid that then goes to live on a shelf and i think that's also one of those things when i start thinking about the beautiful night vitae of entrepreneurship had we known how hard it was going to be to to create a process to bring it to scale to you know to navigate all the the regulatory nuance with making a high proof spirit and then turning it into a non-alcoholic product and meeting the um the you know food and alcohol regulations and then the fda you know there's so much nuance to it and those are things that we we sort of knew but then as you live it is so challenging so i will say that we have experienced success that is so far beyond my expectation especially for the amount of time that we have been in business but at the same time have had pains and hurdles um that were completely not what we expected as well but i guess if i had to pick the problem um you know having more supply than we have to or having more demand than we have supply for is probably the problem that i would choose that's always a much better it's it can still be a problem don't get i mean i think that people say oh you have sales and you know oh you now you still have to keep up with the band but it's always a much more fun and better problem to solve than hey we don't have any demand now how do we make a business out of that and so now you do that and you kind of you know take that over the last few years you guys have been building it you've been growing it you've been seeing success and finding that that place in the marketplace now looking a bit forward you know kind of the next six to 12 months where do you guys see where do you see things headed yeah so we're really fortunate that we've got this wonderful national footprint now so you know bottles are over all 50 states and that's an off-premise on-premise um also we're shipping of course direct to consumer so you know bottles are showing up on customers doorsteps and they're enjoying um you know i think when we start looking at the next six to 12 months what we're really seeing is of course an expansion of that footprint especially in the on premise um obviously being in this kind of new post almost post covered world um you know there's we're fortunate there's just enormous pent-up demand um you know in the hospitality space that i think we're really starting to feel come back in a meaningful way which is really exciting um and then we're also you know our eyes are on the prize when we start thinking about future innovations so our first product is kentucky 74. it's a non-alcoholic spirit for bourbon cocktails and we're also working on a on a product that is a that will be a similar product but for tequila based cocktails um and that will be launching in the second half of this year for us also size is an is is an innovation um so we're thinking about smaller sizes looking at doing you know specialty mailing experiences and a variety of of other things um but you know right now it's just um it's just frankly like we are still just making sure that we've got the capacity to make all of this stuff because holy moly people are buying it that's awesome that's always that's it sounds like a lot of fun or fun opportunities before you know move forward and it's always whenever you're looking in the future it's kind of you know how much do we expand how much should we try new things how much should we stay with our core product do we do more product offerings we go to different verticals or hey we go to different verticals they can sometimes hurt the brand so it's always interesting to see kind of all the different options available especially as you're seeing success and kind of where things are headed well as we start to wrap up i always have two questions at the end of each podcast so we'll go ahead and jump to those now um first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it oh my gosh um you know i will say along my journey probably the worst uh business decisions that i've made is not um not correcting a poor hiring decision um as quickly as i should have and i will say that i've i've learned that lesson twice and it was enough um and you know not to say that uh you know that it spirals your head's on the chopping block immediately but i think that you know being an empathetic person sometimes we hesitate too much to make decisions that that we know the answers to um and so i will say that i'm that i'm much more highly focused on when i know it's not right i'm i've got the power to say it and i'm and i'm you know i'm much more aggressive and remedying those uh those issues issues really quickly no i and that's one it's a lesson i had to learn as well and you know it's first of all i always found that you know when you're when you're a founder co-founder an entrepreneur you always think and at least i didn't i'll put i won't say always a lot of people think hey everybody is going to work as hard as me and everybody's going to be involved with the business and you come to as you start to grow and as you start to make it higher you come to find out not everybody works as quite as many hours as you are quite as excited and to find those individuals that are really excited about the business isn't quite as easy as it might sound and then the other one is it's hard you know especially in your small business is you get to know the people and you know whether or not they're doing a job whether or not they're good and play for the business you still develop a relationship with them they're they're in the trenches they're with you and so that one is one that you know i think is a difficulty that a lot of people hit into as as they start to get into entrepreneurship they hire people in that that it takes a couple times before you know or even more sometimes to get it right to figure out how to hire who to hire what to look for what to not look for what are the flags because it's it's a much more complex problem so it definitely makes that make sense and when it's good it's so good and i think that's the thing like you got to hold on to that idea of like i know this is painful but the right person in this role is just like you know it makes a huge difference it makes a huge difference and so you got to keep your eye on the prize right the the like the short-term pain is really an investment in a long-term gain and um you know culture culture is everything so no and the one other thing i'll add and then we'll jump to the second question which is i think sometimes especially the temptation with the startup or small businesses you get so busy you have so many things to do you get a demand you need to bring someone on and you tend to hire too quickly in the sense you just need to have you think oh i just need somebody that can do this position and you don't take the time to vet the people or get the right people and those are usually the more costly hires because then you end up having to go redo it anyway let them go after you already brought them on train them and everything and you have to go refine that right person so sometimes slowing it down has a big benefit yep it's you know it's it's hard either way because yes things are moving fast i hear ya so now i'll jump to the second question which is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting to a startup or small business would be the one piece of advice you'd give them to start i think people really struggle to get started and you know i will say that that action is the most important thing so you know if you're tossling or thinking about an idea um and you can't quite decide like you just gotta go and you gotta go fast and you're gonna like bump into walls and then you go oh okay we're going this direction now and like that's all normal right like startups aren't normal i think that's the other thing that a lot of people fail to understand it's like these are these really weird experiments you know and and you just have to test and test and test and see what works and when you you know you keep that feedback loop tight and you just keep on going but um i can't tell you how many um entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs i i talk to you and and they're really immobilized by the unknowns and and that's just that's you can't be like you just have to go um and and just always be testing and keep your eyes open no and i don't like that and interestingly i think we're coming up on a couple hundred episodes i can't remember when this will air or what number it is exactly but i'd probably say out of all the entrepreneurs i've talked with that have been on the podcast and that i work with my business that's probably the number one answer that you know it's usually a variation of get started earlier you know don't get make up excuses or get started now but it's interesting that in many different industries and many different journeys and everything people that's the one thing because people often times you make too many excuses or you make a reason why you know and i i think mentioned a little bit on the podcast before is you can always make your excuse you know i could when i started out it could have been hey you're still in school so you know i got to wait till i graduate once i graduate i got to get a little bit of experience and then once i get a little experience now i started a family and i have a kids and i have responsibilities and then you get in say oh i'll do it when i'm older and then when you get older say well i've done it for so long i'm too old or i can't risk you know too late and there's always a reason to not start now or the economy is not good or the economy or i'm waiting for a different change in whatever it is and it's always an excuse and there's always a reason not to get started and yet just get started just do it freaking rip the band-aid off man yeah well now as we wrap up if people want to uh connect up with you they want to be a customer or client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend and you're all the above what's the best way to reach out or find out more yeah so obviously you can visit and purchase spirit lists at spiritless.com um and then i am available by email so lauren at spiritless.com all right well i definitely encourage everybody to check out the website uh support the com or the business and reach out to lauren if you have a question whether it's eddie or all of the above uh great that she's available well thank you again lauren for coming on it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell we'd love to share your journey so just go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the podcast and we'd love to share a couple more things as listeners one make sure to click subscribe so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so new people can find out about us as well last but not least if you ever need help with your patents trademarks or anything else feel free to reach out to us just go to strategymeeting.com and grab some time with us to chat thank you again lauren it's been fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last awesome thanks devin