Entrepreneurial Spirit: 5 Keys to Success in the Spirits Industry

What does it take for a woman entrepreneur to succeed in the male-dominated alcoholic beverage business? In a recent Forté Changemakers session, Dee Robinson, Founder and CEO, GT Spirits Company Good Trouble Bourbon, and Rosalinda Mendoza, CEO and Co-Founder, Mocel Mezcal, shared insights and advice. Daniel Ingram, Global Director, Customer Experience at Anheuser-Busch InBev, moderated the discussion.

The “spirited conversation” didn’t shy away from the fact that the spirits industry has high barriers to entry. Among them: It’s costly for new businesses to break in, and from the beginning, they’ll be competing with very large brands.

As Dee and Rosalinda built their spirit brands, they faced these challenges and many others — and they continued to move forward. As Dee put it, “We have many stories that we can share about the hurdles, but hurdles are really just things to get over.”

While the conversation focused specifically on their experiences in the spirits industry, many of Dee and Rosalinda’s recommendations will be useful for women entrepreneurs working in other industries as well.

5 Keys to Success in the Spirits Industry

1. Lead with your strengths.

As a woman in the spirits industry, you will stand out, so make that work for you. Rosalinda said, “I truly believe that as women, we tend to operate from a place of abundance and not scarcity. And when you come from that place, so many incredible ideas come.”

Dee also views being a woman as an advantage. She said, “Instead of thinking about what you don’t have, think about all the things that you do — and leverage that.”

2. If someone underestimates you, let them.

When Dee launched Good Trouble Bourbon, she encountered people who didn’t take her seriously. Her advice to other women entering the industry: “People might underestimate you because you’re a woman. Just go do you, and navigate. One of the lessons my mom taught me is, ‘No one ever said it would be easy.’”

Dee’s passion drove her to find ways around the obstacles and roadblocks she encountered. She says, “A lot of this is about being courageous.” In her book, Courage by Design, she urges people to listen to their authentic inner voice.

3. Remember your “why.”

Mocel launched when many people weren’t yet familiar with mezcal, and Rosalinda recalls hearing plenty of criticism. People called the idea “awful” and told her she was crazy. She overcame that negativity by focusing on her “why” — the reasons for creating the company in the first place.

If you’re just starting out, she says, “I recommend you spend a lot of time on thinking about why it is that you’re doing this.”  That “why” will provide valuable guidance when you need it most.

Rosalinda quit her tech job to focus on Mocel at the end of 2019. Then came 2020, and everything that could go wrong went wrong. She remembers thinking, “What did I do?”  Knowing her “why” helped her stay focused and stick with it. “We were able to overcome the global supply chain issues in the pandemic, and we were finally able to launch.”

4. Accept that you will face challenges and make mistakes.

Dee offered a reminder to those who are new to the spirits industry: “You’re going to stumble. This is typical if you’re new to anything. But those learnings, obstacles, or whatever they might be, just leverage them,” she says, adding that those nuggets of learning will make you stronger and grow your business.

Like Rosalinda, Dee learned a lot about the supply chain during the pandemic. “Now I know how to manage it, and I know how it really is about risk management,” she says. “Even decisions I make today, to make sure that I have raw materials to meet demand, I manage very differently than I would have previously.”

5. Focus on building relationships.

 Building a new spirits brand can be intimidating, and you’ll probably have lots of questions along the way. Rosalinda remembers feeling intimidated early on, because she didn’t know the lingo. To get up to speed, she started asking others in the industry for advice. She says, “I always structured them as informational interviews, like in the MBA days. I would say, ‘Can I do an informational interview? I have this idea, and I’d love to get your thoughts.’”

 No matter what questions you have, Dee says, “There are people out there who can help you.”  You just have to be resourceful enough to find the right people. She emphasized how important it is for women in business to support other women. “All of us have an opportunity to elevate each other. And what’s so beautiful is that we all have the power to influence lives.”

To hear the full conversation between Rosalinda and Dee, which includes their advice on critical first steps to take when launching a spirits brand, watch their full Forté Changemakers session. The Changemakers series is part of Forté’s Professional Membership and features global thought leaders sharing insights on change, adaptation, and acceleration in today’s evolving world. 

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