We often gift a bottle of wine as a way of saying something inspirational to others; maybe it’s “thank you,””congrats” or even “I love you.” Over a glass of wine one night, friends Stephanie Fasi and Kerry Sutherland had the brilliant idea to build a brand around this very tradition. And so, Speak Wines was born. They set out to find a bold, delicious Argentinian red and thoughtfully package their wine to perfectly speak to any occasion. We caught up with Stephanie and Kerry to learn more about how they created their dream job.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5-7 YEARS AGO BEFORE SPEAK WINES?
SF: I was in college studying to become a teacher. I was starting to consider other job routes and was interested in perusing a career in Public Relations, that’s when I met Kerry. Kerry had just launched her own PR company (K. Sutherland PR) and I was her first employee! We quickly became close friends, and later, Speak business partners.
KS: I had just had a baby girl, Audrey, and was working for a traditional PR agency in my hometown of Reno. My husband got relocated to southern California for work, so we moved to Orange County when Audrey was 9 months old. A few months after moving, I started my own PR agency, K. Sutherland PR.
IS SPEAK WINES YOUR DREAM JOB?
SF: Speak Wines is definitely a dream job. However, it’s not what I thought I’d be doing. I love Speak because it gives me the freedom to be creative and develop something that I’m extremely proud of, but also something that others love and buy. It’s a great feeling when you’re selling something you and your girlfriends would typically buy for yourselves anyways. It’s a lot of fun! Plus, there is tons of wine drinking involved….who wouldn’t consider that a “dream” job?
KS: YES! Having this opportunity is a dream come true! It’s really so fun to manage this brand, oversee the creative process, and, of course, sample some amazing wines!
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF SPEAK WINES?
SF: Like I mentioned before, Kerry and I work in PR and we actually have some clients in the wine industry. One night, we were brainstorming for a new client brand, and of course drinking wine for “liquid inspiration” – have we mentioned that we have really cool jobs at a PR agency? We thought, “wouldn’t it be so amazing if a wine existed…” The name, Speak, was one of the first we said that night and it just stuck.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
SF & KS: The only experience we had in the wine industry was on the PR side. So yes, it’s been a challenge owning a wine company. However, that’s been our biggest strength too. Without our PR experience and contacts, this project would not have gone very far (at least as fast). We believe there are so many amazing ideas out there, but not everyone with these ideas has the means or expertise to properly promote their brand after they get it off the ground. We have come to realize that someone with insight into the PR and marketing world has a great foundation of knowledge, and most likely great contacts for launching new brands.
HOW DID YOU FUND YOUR START UP?
SF & KS: We pitched our client the idea, but not to use as his own brand, but to invest in us to run the company as business partners. The truth was, he couldn’t build a brand like Speak Wines. He wasn’t the right demographic, nor did he “get it” at all. But, we’d proven ourselves to him as hard-working, result-oriented PR experts, and presented a business plan that, if nothing else, would guarantee him more publicity and consumer demand for the brand than almost any other wine brand in the industry could compete against.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
KS: 1) It can be scary to launch a product that you have not just put so much work into, but your own personal style, taste and personality. You love everything about it so much, and really just hope others love it too (and actually buy it)! 2) Entering a male-dominated industry that I had no real experience in personally. The wine industry as a whole is traditional, a little stuffy and seriously, “a man’s world.” I’m not a sommelier, and I know I have a lot to learn. I also know that our product is so different than other wines out there – but, I believe it and I constantly try to find confidence in the strengths I do have – branding and marketing this product to a very specific audience. 3) Growing the business is scary too! We proved success when we initially launched with the Malbec, but then instead of finding comfort with that success, we pushed forward and added a white wine the second year. Now in our third year, we’ve been doubling our product offerings year-over-year (yes, we have two new varietals we’re working on now that will launch soon!), which just means we have more products that people need to love and ultimately, want to drink and/or buy as a gift!
SF: 1) The entire design process was scary for me! I think that Kerry and I went through hundreds of rounds of edits until we had our first collection just right. It’s intimidating creating something that you’re not sure will resonate with other people. Thankfully, the response was really positive. 2) Our first holiday season was actually pretty scary. We had SO many orders (which I know isn’t a bad thing). But at the time, I was fulfilling them all on my own. I was constantly stressed that they all wouldn’t go out on time and we’d end up with angry customers. I’m always trying to make sure everyone is happy, and in situations like these, I stress out! Let’s just say, I spent that Christmas packing wine boxes. Looking back at it now, it was a great experience. 3) I had a customer that ordered wine for a special occasion. When it arrived, it was completely broken and she was extremely upset (these things happen when you’re shipping something fragile). It was the first time that something like this happened, and it really did scare me. The thought of having an unhappy customer was so horrible to me. The situation was handled and everything ended up working out, however the experience is something I’ll always remember… but I think that’s a good thing! Orders will go missing, packages will break, customers will get upset – it’s all part of running a company. The way you handle these situations and what you learn from them is what really matters.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
KS: If you’re going to bet on anything – bet on yourself!! I truly believe that if you’re passionate about your business and willing to work (really, really hard), nothing should keep you from achieving your goals and making your dream a reality.
SF: Do it! Well, think about it first. Ask yourself, is this something that I think will be successful, and why? If you’re confident in those two answers, then go for it. I think a lot of people doubted Kerry and I when we first launched. Especially people in the wine industry. Now we’ve been featured in magazines like InStyle, Us Weekly and on The Today Show! You’ll never know if something will be successful without trying it. The one thing that you have that nobody else has, is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. Always remember that and use it to your advantage.