Scotch Whisky Made By A Women
Cheers To Women Entrepreneurs
Meet This inspiring Women That Broke Into A Male Industry Carin Luna-Ostaseski,
Founder of SIA Scotch Whisky. The first American woman in history to create a brand of Scotch.
SIA is a delicious 96-point award winning blend created to change the way people think about Scotch and is widely distributed across the U.S. It makes for an excellent gift item for Mother's Day or Father's Day.
Outstanding! - Highest Rated Blend from Whisky Advocate Magazine
Double Gold Medal Winner - San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.
I’m the first American woman in history to create a brand of Scotch Whisky. Before starting SIA, I spent 17 successful years as a Creative Director for some incredible companies such as ABC News and Reuters in NYC and a few awesome tech companies in the Bay Area. I grew up in Miami, Florida, the daughter of two Cuban immigrants who came to the US for a better life, and taught me about hard work and pursuing your dreams, and never ever giving up.
When did you decide you wanted to start your own company?
So this is a little embarrassing, and I didn’t use to share this story. But I found that a lot of people can relate and have been inspired by it, so now I share freely. In a terrific twist of fate, I came to love Whisky through…a break-up. When my relationship crashed and burned, I found myself with a little extra money each week that I no longer needed for “Couples Counseling.” So every Friday after work, I would visit my local Whisky shop, choosing to spend my “couples-counseling money” on a few really nice bottles of Scotch Whisky instead. By the year’s end, I had almost 300 bottles, and was cured! I became a student of Whisky and hosted tasting events for many years. I soon discovered people were ready for a new whisky, one that would change the way people think about Scotch. A whisky that is affordable, accessible and absolutely delicious, and SIA Scotch was born.
Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
Yes, after I discovered this incredible spirit for the first time, trying Oban 14 in a bar with friends in my early 20s. I quickly tried to convince all my friends that they too must love Scotch. However, they all had the same misconceptions about Scotch that I did- that it was “their grandfather’s drink” – too stodgy, expensive, burned their nostrils and tastes like gasoline. I realized that rather than trying to convince people to sway towards existing brands, that I could create my own that challenged and broke all these stereotypes.
After you made the decisions, what steps did you take? Ah- this was the fun part. Once I decided this is what I wanted to do, I realized I had no idea where to begin. Having never done anything like this before, and not having worked a day in the liquor industry, I was a little frozen at first. So I did what I always do… I ask. I asked 80 people to help me – distilleries, independent bottlers, blenders, etc. The reason I remember this number is because I got 80 rejections. 80 “No- we can’t help you” , “no we aren’t interested’ “no you can’t do this” – until the 81st person finally said “Yes, we can help you!” and all you need is one!
How long did it take to become profitable?
It took a few years to get the financials to work. Thanks to my business partners, we were able to negotiate costs and benefitted from the Sterling and Euro coming down, and were able to make SIA profitable within the first few years of business, allowing us to put all profits right back into sales and marketing initiatives.
Do you think social media is important?
ABSOLUTELY! In today’s day and age, we rely on Social Media to learn about what’s new and also to connect with people and brands that we love. What I’ve learned is that it is impossible for a smaller brand to maintain a presence across all platforms- there are so many. So, we chose to focus on Instagram and will be doing more work with Pinterest in the coming year.
How did you fund this project?
I knew it would be a capital-intensive project, but I had no idea how much! I had been saving enough money working extra freelance design work to get started, I also took out a home equity loan on my house and when all of that ran out, I turned to Kickstarter.com to help finish the first production run of SIA. This raised almost $50,000 from people all over the world who were ready to buy a new brand of Scotch Whisky, all before a single bottle hit U.S. soil. This made SIA the first ever crowdfunded Scotch and the highest raise in Kickstarter’s history at the time.
What were the hardest hurdles?
The hardest hurdle was deciding to quit my full-time job. I chad been doing it for so long (17 years) that the thought of quitting was frankly a little terrifying. I had worked my way up for so long and became so successful that it was such a huge part of my identity. Not to mention the salary was something hard to walk away from, knowing that I would make little to no money for a long time. When I finally made the elap, the first few months were really ahrd. I worked for companies for so long, always taking instruction from someone else on what to work on and what my priorities were. I had never run my own business before, so it was a little disorienting and lonely for a while. I sorted it out, but it definitely took longer than I wish it had.
What advise do you wish someone would have given you?
Before you leave your full-time job, moonlight as long as you can. There’s a lot you can do while you get started that doesn’t take the whole day. Think about how much money you will need to get started and then triple that number. Everything will take much longer and be more expensive than you can imagine. Lastly, if you can, start with a partner. It’s so much easier to have someone to divide and conquer, but also to bounce ideas off of each other.
Did you have a mentor?
So that one person I mentioned above that said “yes, we can help you…” that person was Lauren Shayne Mayer, VP and COO of Spirit Imports, Inc. She was my angel and helped to guide me through the entire process and introduce me to every one I needed to know to make this all happen – blenders, manufacturers of glass, corks, labels, and bottling companies. We continue to work together as business partners and I couldn’t be prouder to call her my partner.
At any point did you want to give up?
Never. I still have the same burning desire to grow this business and share this spirit with the world that I had when I first dreamed up the idea. There are days that are challenging, but the force and the drive to introduce people to Scotch in general and SIA in particular as a way to begin their Scotch journey is as strong today as it ever was.
What made you keep going?
I’m grateful to all of our customers, who I meet at tasting events, and who write to me with photos of them enjoying SIA, and stories of friends they have gifted it to, who love SIA and love sharing it with others.
What was the best thing you did to grow your business?
Kickstarter was a perfect way to launch SIA. It had never been done before, so people were excited to read about this story and try a new spirit. I was hesitant to put myself and my product out there in such a vulnerable way, but I was able to do so and share with my family, friends and total strangers could learn about my passion, what I’d built and where it was going.
Was there any life lessons you learned along the way?
Yes – Ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you will never get what you are looking for. You may get a few (or a lot) of No’s, but you may get the yes you are looking for. Someone else gave me the fun bit of advice as I am currently fundraising to “Follow the ball of yarn” – by that I mean that one person may say no, but may introduce you to some one else, and that person to someone else. Who may become the person you are looking for all along, so don’t get discouraged, by “no.”
Do you feel it was more difficult because you are a woman?
You know it’s funny, that’s a question I get a lot, and one that I had assumed would be the case. Breaking into the biggest “Old boy’s club” of all- Scotch Whisky. The reality though, is that all the doors in this industry have been opened to me by women. One unique challenge that I encountered was when I was pregnant with my daughter, I definitely got a few side glances when I would waddle into a bar with my bottle of booze, or set up a tasting event in a grocery store with my giant belly. I obviously wasn’t drinking my product at that time, and people warmed to me when they realized that it was my business, and as the owner and operator, if I’m not working on the business, than no one is!